March 21 – Day 153 – So much Atlantic, so little time

Monday is over, so that means one of the busier days in the week is today. In total, 11 games will be played tonight, starting with four (Ottawa at Boston [RDS2], Pittsburgh at Buffalo, the New York Rangers at New Jersey and Calgary at Washington) at 7 p.m. and three more (Detroit at Montréal [RDS], Arizona at Tampa Bay [TVAS] and Carolina at Florida) half an hour later. 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of Philadelphia at Winnipeg, with a pair of contests (San Jose at Minnesota [NBCSN] and Vancouver at Chicago) waiting 30 minutes before getting underway. St. Louis at Colorado acts as tonight’s nightcap, starting at 9 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Ottawa at Boston: Chris Kelly spent six seasons with the Bruins, but returned to Ottawa for this season.
  • New York at New Jersey: The Battle of the Hudson River rages on tonight in Newark.
  • Detroit at Montréal: For those that love Original Six rivalries, here’s your game of the night.
  • Vancouver at Chicago: Remember when this was a heated rivalry? Pepperidge Farm remembers.

As someone who is not a fan of any teams in the Atlantic Division, I can understand why regular readers might be annoyed by tonight’s featured matchup. But we must simply focus on the Senators‘ first visit of the season to Boston, as it will act as a playoff preview  and have huge implications on determining home ice when they meet.

 

 

 

 

 

This is actually Kelly’s second stint with the Senators, as he was selected by the club in the third round of the 1999 NHL Entry Draft. His first tenure lasted 463 games over seven seasons between 2003-2011, and he registered 188 points.

In mid-February of the 2010-’11 campaign, the wing was shipped off to Boston for a draft pick that became Shane Prince (currently playing for the Islanders). It proved to be an effective swap for the Bruins, as he provided 13 points, including five goals (tied for sixth-most on the squad) in the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs en route to Boston‘s first title in almost 40 years.

He was originally expected to become a free agent in the 2012 offseason, but instead signed a four-year extension to stay in Boston. In all, he registered 101 points over his six seasons with the Bruins, including his career-best 20-goal, 39-point effort in 2011-’12.

Unfortunately, Kelly’s career with the Bruins ended with a tremendous dud. In only his 11th game last season, his season came crashing to an end when he broke his femur. Making matters worse, it was a contract year for the then 35-year-old skater. Not surprisingly, the Bruins were cautious about offering a contract to an aging player coming off rehab, so Kelly entered free agency for the first time of his career.

Kelly and Dorothy Gale from the Wizard of Oz seem to share one main mantra: “There’s no place like home.” Kelly returned to Ottawa this season on a one-year contract, but to limited success. Although he’s played every game this year, he’s managed only 12 points – easily the worst production of his career.

Kelly’s 39-24-8 Senators currently occupy second place in the Atlantic, trailing the division-leading Canadiens by the exact total they lead third-place Boston: four points (Ottawa has a game-in-hand to boot, so keep that in mind as the last couple weeks of the season play out).

The Senators‘ claim to fame this year is goaltending, even though it has not been an easy season in the slightest for 21-9-2 Craig Anderson. It’s an impressive record in its own right, but when the situation regarding his wife’s cancer treatment is added in, it’s arguably among one of the best performances in the NHL this season (hint: I like him to win the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy this year). He’s marked a .928 season save percentage and 2.3 GAA – the fifth and (t)13th-best performances, respectively, among the 54 goalies with at least 16 appearances.

Not to keep heaping the praise on Anderson, but he’s been stellar this year even in light of a below-average defense playing in front of him. Even with Erik Karlsson‘s league-leading 194 shot blocks, the Sens have allowed 30.4 shots-per-game to reach Andreson’s crease, which ties for the 13th-highest rate in the league.

In addition to struggling defensively, the power play has also not been a strong point for the Senators this year. Successful on only 17.6% of its attempts, Ottawa ranks 10th-worst in the league. Although both Mike Hoffman and Karlsson have 23 power play points to their credit, goals have been hard to come by. Hoffman is the biggest contributor in that department, with 12 on the man-advantage to lead the team, but that total doubles the second-best scorer. In essence, the next step for the Sens this offseason is to develop or add another scoring threat to make their power play less predictable.

Losers of their past two games, the 38-28-6 Bruins are trying to both keep pace with the Senators as well as fend off the Maple Leafs (that didn’t go so well for them last night, as you’ll see below).

When Boston has been at its best this season, it’s been when the defense and goaltender are playing lights out. As indicated by his record, that’s been more often than not for 33-17-4 Tuukka Rask. He’s marked a .912 season save percentage and 2.32 GAA, the (t)25th and (t)10th-best efforts, respectively, among the 38 goalies with at least 28 appearances.

A poor save percentage but an excellent GAA? Looks like the mark of a solid defense. That’s exactly what you’ll find wearing the black-and-gold this evening, as Captain Zdeno Chara and Adam McQuaid have paired to block a total of 238 shots and limit Rask’s workload to only 26.6 shots-per-game, the second-lowest mark in hockey.

As you’d expect, that adds up to a solid penalty kill. Led mostly by Rask and his .894 save percentage when his club is shorthanded (that ties for the seventh-best effort in the NHL), the Bruins have effectively neutralized 85.2% of their opponent’s power plays to rank second-best in the league.

Boston‘s power play is also one that strikes fear into their foes. Led by Torey Krug, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak‘s 21 power play points apiece, the Bruins have registered a goal on 20.7% of their man-advantages to rank 10th-best in the NHL. Pastrnak has been exceptional on the power play with his team-leading nine extra-man tallies.

The Bruins hope that bringing this series to the TD Garden will yield better results, as both their visits to Ottawa have resulted in losses. The Senators last hosted Boston to a 4-2 victory on March 6.

Some players to keep an eye on tonight 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 fourth-most in the NHL] among 33 wins [tied for fifth-most in the league]) & Ottawa‘s Anderson (.928 save percentage [third-best in the NHL] for a 2.3 GAA [tied for ninth-best in the league]) or Mike Condon (five shutouts [tied for sixth-most in the NHL]) and Karlsson (51 assists [third-most in the league]).

Given the fact that the Bruins just played last night on the road in a tight game, I’m worried about their chances tonight – and that doesn’t even factor in the success the Senators have had against them this year. If Ottawa doesn’t win tonight, I’ll be surprised.

Hockey Birthday

  • Ryan Callahan (1985-) – In his fourth season with the Lightning (although he had surgery on his hip and is not expected to return this year), this right wing was part of the Martin St. Louis trade in 2014 after being selected by the Rangers in the fourth round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.
  • Erik Johnson (1988-) – St. Louis selected this defenseman with the top-overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, but he’s spent most of his career with his current club: Colorado. Johnson is another player who’s had a tough go this season, as he broke his fibula in early December and missed at least 2.5 months of action.

Don’t let the 4-2 final score deceive you, yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day between Boston and Toronto was played by two fantastic goaltenders.

Although they ended up losing the game, David Backes (Marchand) got the Bruins on the board first with a snap shot 7:26 after the game began. They couldn’t get to the first intermission with the lead though, as Morgan Rielly (Mitch Marner and James van Riemsdyk) scored with 4:55 remaining to tie the game at one-all.

Although not the game-winner, a Second Star of the Game Tyler Bozak (van Riemsdyk and Nikita Zaitsev) power play goal with 1:57 remaining in regulation was the tally that tipped the scales in the favor of the Maple Leafs. Since it was scored so late in the game, it forced Bruce Cassidy to pull Third Star Rask for an extra attacker.  That strategy did not work last night for the Bruins, as William Nylander (Auston Matthews) and Nazem Kadri (Connor Brown and Roman Polak) both scored on the empty net in the span of 22 seconds to set the score at 4-1. Dominic Moore (Noel Acciari) scored a snapper with 10 seconds left in the game, but it was too little, too late to impact the final result – a Toronto victory.

First Star Frederik Andersen saved 33-of-35 shots faced (94.3%) to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Rask after he saved 26-of-28 (92.9%).

For the fourth game in a row in the DtFR Game of the Day series, the home team has earned at least a point. That streak has pulled homers within a point of the 78-55-22 roadies.

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