March 20 – Day 152 – Who’s going to win? Boston Orr Toronto?

Another Monday, another week in the greatest hockey league in the world.

There’s five games on the schedule this evening, starting with two (Boston at Toronto [TVAS] and Buffalo at Detroit [NBCSN]) at 7:30 p.m. and another – Arizona at Nashville – half an hour later. 8:30 p.m. marks the puck drop of San Jose at Dallas, with tonight’s nightcap – Los Angeles at Edmonton – getting under way 30 minutes later. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Boston at Toronto: Not only is it an Original Six matchup, but it’s also an integral contest in the fight for third place in the Atlantic.
  • Los Angeles at Edmonton: Nothing makes a rivalry better than both teams fighting for playoff position.

Hopefully you haven’t had your fill of Atlantic hockey yet, because tonight’s offering at the Air Canada Centre is too big to ignore.

 

 

 

 

 

So, as things stand in the Atlantic after the weekend series between the Canadiens and Senators, Boston trails second-place Ottawa by only four points and both have played 71 games (of course, the inactive Senators are going to end up with a game-in-hand after tonight’s contest).

That’s the good news for the Bruins. The bad news? They lead Toronto by an even slimmer three points – and the Maple Leafs still have a game in hand.

Boston goes to battle this evening with a 38-27-6 record, thanks in large part to its defense and goaltending. The Bruins have played solidly on both ends of the ice, but I’m most impressed by the fact that they’ve allowed only 186 goals, which ties for 11th-fewest in the NHL.

That effort always starts with the goaltender, and 33-17-4 Tuukka Rask has been a darned good one over the past eight years. With his .912 season save percentage and 2.32 GAA, he ranks (t)25th and 10th-best, respectively, among the 38 goalies with at least 28 appearances.

Although that save percentage is in line to be his worst since playing full time with Boston‘s senior team, he’s been bailed out multiple times this year by one of the better defensive units in the league. Led by the 238 evenly-distributed shot blocks by Captain Zdeno Chara and Adam McQuaid, the Bruins‘ blueline has allowed only 26.6 shots-per-game to reach Rask’s crease, the second-best rate in the entire league.

Pair a good defense with a good goaltender, and – what do you know – you get a great power play. In fact, Boston‘s 85.4% kill rate is second-best in the league. This has been when Rask has truly shined this season, as he’s faced the (t)11th-most power play shots this season, but has saved 89.4% of them. That ties Devan Dubnyk – the probable winner of the 2017 Vezina Trophy – for the seventh-best mark in the NHL.

Special-team success continues for the Bruins when they earn the man-advantage. The three-headed attack of Torey Krug, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak (all of whom have 21 power play points) has converted 20.8% of man-advantages into goals, the 10th-best mark in the league. Of those three, Pastrnak has been the most impressive, as he’s buried nine extra-man goals.

Of course, it’s not as if the Leafs are the only teams applying pressure. Toronto is also in a heated race for the second wild card spot, as it leads the Islanders by only a point. To apply even more pressure, this game against the Bruins is Toronto‘s game-in-hand on New York. Since the Isles would win the regulation+overtime wins tiebreaker if things came to that, Toronto needs this win in the most desperate way.

The Maple Leafs have their offense to thank for their 32-23-15 record, as they’ve managed to produce 211 goals in 70 games – the sixth-highest rate in hockey.

My, what youth can do for an organization. Last season, Toronto accounted for only 192 goals – the third-fewest in the NHL. Enter Auston Matthews, and everything has changed. The rookie has been unstoppable, and it shows in his team-leading 56 points. Even more impressive? 32 of those points have been goals, another total where he leads the squad.

Where Toronto has been truly unstoppable is the power play. They convert 23.6% of their opportunities into goals – the best in the league. To compare, Anaheim had the best power play in the league last year and converted 23.1%.

Yes, these Leafs are better than last year’s Ducks. For those wondering, the tank is over. The Maple Leafs are back.

While you’d be correct in assuming a rookie is the cause of the success, you’d be wrong to guess it’s Matthews’ doing. He’s been good, but the power play has actually been William Nylander‘s personal project this year. He’s registered a team-leading 23 man-advantage points, even though it’s Nazem Kadri who’s scored the most goals on the power play with 11 to his credit.

Toronto is even good on the penalty kill. It refuses to yield a goal on 83.3% of opposing power plays, the ninth-best mark in the league. Frederik Andersen – another added player for this season –  deserves the credit for much of that success, as he’s faced the second-most power play shots in the league, yet yielded a goal only 10.9% of the time, which ties Mike Condon for the eighth-best mark in the NHL.

If there’s one team the Bruins have dreaded playing this year, I’d venture to guess it’s the Maple Leafs. Three times they’ve gone to battle with Toronto, and three times they’ve fallen in regulation. In total, the Leafs have scored 14 goals against Boston, including six on February 4 the last time these clubs met.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Boston‘s Marchand (37 goals [second-most in the NHL] for 79 points [tied for third-most in the league]) and Rask (six shutouts [tied for third-most in the NHL] among 33 wins [tied for fifth-most in the league]) & Toronto‘s Andersen (four shutouts [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]) and Matthews (32 goals [tied for ninth-most in the league]).

Given the fact that tonight’s game is taking place at the Air Canada Centre and the Leafs‘ success against the Bruins this season, I’m very surprised Vegas has marked this contest at +110. I think Toronto wins its fourth-straight against the Bruins tonight.

Hockey Birthday

  • Bobby Orr (1948-) – There are few that have accomplished as much in their career as this defenseman. Although he played only a dozen seasons (most of those with Boston), this Hall-of-Famer was an eight-time James Norris Memorial Trophy winner, seven-time All Star, three-time Hart Memorial Trophy winner and two-time winner of the Art Ross, Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup.
  • Sergei Kostitsyn (1987-) – Montréal selected this left wing in the seventh round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, but he actually played more of his 353 career games in the league with Nashville. Last appearing in the NHL in the 2012-’13 season, he registered 176 points over six seasons.

When these clubs met in Ottawa Saturday, they needed a shootout to determine the winner. In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, Montréal hosted the Senators to a 4-1 victory.

Only 28 seconds into the game, the Canadiens had a one-goal lead thanks to a Second Star of the Game Tomas Plekanec (Andrei Markov and First Star Paul Byron) backhanded shot. Tom Pyatt (Mike Hoffman and Jean-Gabriel Pageau) leveled the game 4:08 later, but Jordie Benn‘s (Nathan Beaulieu and Alexander Radulov) slap shot with 2:15 remaining in the frame proved to be the game-winning goal for the Habs.

Byron (Third Star Brendan Gallagher and Shea Weber) and Beaulieu (Andrew Shaw and Phillip Danault) provided the two insurance goals in the third period.

Carey Price saved 30-of-31 shots faced (96.8%) to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Craig Anderson, who saved 33-of-37 (89.2%).

Montréal‘s victory is the first by a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series since Tuesday, and it pulls hosts within three points of the 78-54-22 series visitors.

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