March 22 – Day 154 – Wait, there’s other divisions?

There may only be three games being played this evening, but they are three good ones. The action starts at 7 p.m. with Toronto at Columbus (SN/TVAS), followed an hour later by the New York Islanders at the New York Rangers (NBCSN). Finally, Edmonton at Anaheim drops the puck at 10 p.m. to close out the night. All times eastern.

Like I said, a great lineup tonight.

While I would love to feature the city rivalry taking place in Manhattan this evening, there’s some serious business taking place in the Pacific Division that we simply must keep an eye on.

 

I can only assume that regular readers of the DtFR Game of the Day series forgot that divisions outside the Atlantic existed. That’s probably my fault since I chose rivalries from that group of teams for the last four days. Whoops.

I also assume that every SoCal sports fan that didn’t get tickets to the Team Puerto Rico vs Team USA World Baseball Classic championship game at Dodger Stadium tonight will be in attendance at the Honda Center this evening.

Of course, we all know what they say about assumptions.

Anyways, tonight’s game in Anaheim is absolutely huge. Both clubs are tied at 87 points for second place in the Pacific Division. They’re on track to face each other in the Western Quarterfinals (they trail San Jose by four points, but lead Calgary by only one), so earning the two-seed is of the utmost importance for home ice.

So who’s winning the games-played tiebreaker? After tonight’s game, they’ll both have played 73 games. Next?

Who has more regulation+overtime wins? What do you know, we’re tied again. Both teams have won 35 games without the shootout this season. Next?

The third tiebreaker involves the season series between the tied clubs. This is finally where we find our answer, as Edmonton has won two of three games against the Ducks this year, in comparison to the three points Anaheim has earned against the Oilers.

Although it was a while ago, the most recent game was the one the Ducks would like need back. The Oilers came to the Honda Center – the very surface they’ll play upon tonight – and destroyed the Ducks with a four-goal shutout performance by Cam Talbot.

This time around, the Oil comes to Anaheim winners of their past four games and with a 39-24-9 record, their most wins since their 2007-’08 campaign that ended at 41-35-6.

You might call me crazy, but I’d venture to say that what is truly propelling the Oilers this season is actually their defense and goaltending. Yes, I know Connor McDavid is on the team, but Edmonton has allowed only 181 goals against, the eighth-fewest in the league. That starts with 37-20-8 Talbot.

Since a goaltender isn’t in complete control of their own record (they can post a shutout every game, but if their skaters don’t score they don’t get wins), we’ll just have to approach this statistically. How good has Talbot been? His .922 save percentage and 2.32 GAA are seventh and ninth-best in the league, respectively, among the 36 goaltenders with at least 33 appearances.

Having a top-10 goaltender is made only better by Todd McLellan‘s defensive corps. Led by Kris Russell‘s team-leading 177 shot blocks (he also leads the league in blocks-per-game), Edmonton‘s blueline has allowed only 29.9 shots-per-game to reach Talbot’s crease, which ties for 10th-fewest in the league.

And you thought all the Oilers could do is score.

Well, you would be right to say the Oil‘s defense could still use work. That’s no more apparent than when they take to the penalty kill, as their 79.6% success rate is the ninth-worst in the league. The main culprit? A defense that allows 289 power play shots to reach Talbot’s crease (the highest total in the league). Russell has tried his hardest with his 30 shorthanded blocks, but the rest of the team needs to increase its effort. Andrej Sekera is the only other skater with more than 22 penalty kill blocks to his credit.

Fortunately for Edmonton, it’s more than capable of getting goals allowed on its opponent’s power play back when it earns a man-advantage of its own. With his 25 power play points, Leon Draisaitl has led his club to a 22.5% success rate with the extra man, the third-best effort in the league. Draisaitl has been extremely impressive on the power play, as he leads the team in not only points, but also goals. He has 10 to his credit, but hasn’t notched one since Valentine’s Day.

That hasn’t stopped him from making an impact though. He’s currently riding a four-game streak of notching at least two points. In addition to an even-strength assist in all those games, he’s also earned a power play helper in each of those contests too.

Playing host this evening are the 38-23-11 Ducks, another club that doesn’t like to yield many scores. Four three-straight games, Anaheim has allowed only one goal – win or lose – to set the season total at 175 tallies against, the fourth-fewest in the league.

Usually, 23-16-8 John Gibson is charged with that responsibility, but he’s still suffering from a lower body injury. Instead, it looks like 15-7-3 Jonathan Bernier will earn his fifth-straight start. A former first-rounder by rival Los Angeles, his .918 season save percentage and 2.49 GAA is (t)19th and (t)20th-best in the league, respectively, among the 60 netminders with at least 13 appearances.

Ducks fans: if it makes you feel any better, Bernier – in his limited time – has actually been better than 29-15-14 Frederik Andersen this season. You may not like it, but it seems like Bob Murray made the right move, because you’d rather get something out of him than wasting him in the AHL.

Of course, it’s not hard to be good when a goaltender has one of the better defenses in the NHL playing in front of him. Led by Cam Fowler‘s 122 shot blocks, Anaheim allows only 29.7 shots-per-game to reach their netminders’ crease, the ninth-best average in the NHL.

Experience matters in this league, and Anaheim shows it with their penalty kill that ties for third-best in the game. Fowler continues his impressive ways with 24 shorthanded shot blocks to lead the team to an 85% success rate when short a man.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Anaheim‘s Ryan Getzlaf (45 assists [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]) & Edmonton‘s McDavid (82 points [leads the league] on 57 assists [tied for most in the NHL]) and Talbot (37 wins, including seven shutouts [both tied for second-most in the league], on a .922 save percentage [eighth-best in the NHL] and a 2.32 GAA [10th-best in the league]).

The odds-makers in Vegas has marked Anaheim a -115 favorite to win tonight, but I’m not so convinced. Not only do the Oilers have the season series on their side, but they also have their starting goaltender and one of the better offenses in the league. It may not be another four-goal shutout, but I’m taking Edmonton in the upset.

Hockey Birthday

  • Dave Keon (1940-) – Wanna talk hardware? This seven-time All-Star center spent almost his entire 18-year NHL career with Toronto, where he won four Stanley Cups, two Lady Byng Memorial Trophies, the 1961 Calder and the 1967 Smythe. He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1986.
  • Todd Ewen (1966-2015) – Edmonton selected this right wing in the eighth round of the 1984 NHL Entry Draft, but he spent most of his 11-year career in Montréal (he actually never played a game for the Oilers). His biggest claim to fame is being a member of the Canadiens‘ 1993 Stanley Cup-winning club.
  • Tom Poti (1977-) – Another pick by the Oil, this defenseman was selected 59th-overall in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft. He actually played most of his 824 career games in Edmonton, but he spent more of his years with the Capitals organization. He made his lone All-Star Game appearance in 2003 in the midst of a 48-point season – a career best.

The Bruins‘ game in Toronto Monday night has now cost them twice, as they didn’t have enough in the tank to fend off the Senators at the TD Garden in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Tom Pyatt (Cody Ceci and Mike Hoffman) got the scoring started relatively quickly, as his tip-in gave the Sens a one-goal lead only 4:09 after the initial puck drop. That advantage lasted only 4:48 though, as David Krejci (Ryan Spooner and Third Star of the Game Torey Krug) leveled the score with a power play slap shot that proved to be the final tally of the period.

Only one goal was struck in the second frame, and it belonged to Second Star Kyle Turris (Erik Karlsson and Hoffman). It was another power play slap shot, this time only 1:34 after the teams returned from the dressing rooms.

Once again, the Bruins had an answer to to tie the game. Krug scored an unassisted power play wrist shot only 17 seconds into the third period to tie the game at two-all. Turris (Dion Phaneuf and Chris Wideman) was not going to be denied his sixth game-winning goal of the season though, so he scored on a tip-in 3:47 later to give Ottawa a 3-2 lead the Bruins could not surmount.

First Star Craig Anderson earned the victory after saving 34-of-36 shots faced (94.4%), leaving the loss to Tuukka Rask, who saved 19-of-22 (86.4%).

Not only does Ottawa‘s road win snap the two-game winning streak by home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, it improves the 79-55-22 visitors’ advantage over series hosts to three points.

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