March 28 – Day 160 – The golden touch

Tuesday is one of those moving days in the NHL when the standings can look vastly different after all the games have been played.

Eleven contests in total will be held this evening, starting with five (Winnipeg at New Jersey, Nashville at Boston [SN1/TVAS], Ottawa at Philadelphia [RDS2], Detroit at Carolina and Buffalo at Columbus) at 7 p.m., followed by two more (Florida at Toronto and Dallas at Montréal [RDS]) half an hour later. Washington at Minnesota (NHLN) drops the puck at 8 p.m., and Los Angeles at Edmonton follows at 9 p.m. The West Coast gets involved at 10 p.m. when Anaheim visits Vancouver, and tonight’s nightcap – the New York Rangers at San Jose – drops the puck 30 minutes after. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Winnipeg at New Jersey: Thanks to the Nor’easter that blew through earlier this month, this game is being played two weeks late.
  • Nashville at Boston: You have to fall to get back up. Matt Irwin fell while playing for the Bruins organization, but has gotten up in Nashville.
  • Los Angeles at Edmonton: The Kings‘ postseason hopes are hanging by a thread, but an old-timey rivalry might be just the trick to get a playoff push started.

Given the vast playoff implications a win or loss could have for the Bruins or Predators, let’s catch tonight’s activity at the TD Garden.

 

For starters, let’s tackle Irwin’s story real quick.

Undrafted out of the University of Massachusetts, the defenseman began his professional hockey career in 2010 in nearby Worcester with the Sharks‘ AHL affiliate.

He scored 73 points over his first two seasons of AHL play, which prompted an NHL contract from the parent club after injuries to Brent Burns and Jason Demers.

Irwin finally got his opportunity to play in the big league in 2013, and he made the most of his opportunity. Though he did return to Worcester for most of February 2013, he quickly rejoined the Sharks by the end of the month. He never returned to the DCU Center.

Instead, he spent the remainder of the 2012-’13 season in San Jose, as well as the following two campaigns. In all, he played 153 games for the Sharks, earning 50 points on 16 goals. Additionally, he also appeared in 13 playoff games, registering two points.

Though originally from British Columbia, Bay Staters seemed to have fallen in love with the blueliner – or so Don Sweeney thought. The Bruins general manager signed Irwin to a one-year, two-way deal last season, yet it only felt like a one-way since he played only two games for Boston before being sent down to Providence for the remainder of the year. The biggest reason? He registered a -5 goal-differential over those two games, an absolutely horrid mark for a defender.

Some would not have taken the demotion well. Instead, Irwin seemed to retool his game while in Rhode Island. Fortunately for him, someone took notice.

That someone would be David Poile (okay, it was probably a Predators scout; but that’s not quite as fun a story, now is it?). Irwin has been an effective addition this season, as he’s claimed 14 points on three goals and a +14 goal differential in 66 games played.

What remains to be seen is if his 39-25-11 Predators can continue this impressive run they’re on. Currently occupying third place in the Central Division, the Preds have won their last four games and are 7-1-2 since March 7.

Just like it has been all season, offense has been the name of the game over this stretch. Tied for seventh-most goals on the season, Smashville has scored 33 goals in their last 10 games to tie for fourth-most in that time-span. The culprit? None other than Viktor Arvidsson, who has nine points since early March, including six goals – a top-10 effort over that stretch.

That success shouldn’t come as a surprise. He and Filip Forsberg have been the dominant strikers for the Preds all season, as both have 29 tallies to their credit to co-lead the club.

After beating the Islanders on Saturday to end their four-game losing skid, the 39-30-6 Bruins will get back to work defending their playoff position tonight. When Boston has found success this season, it’s usually been on the offensive end of the ice, as its 212 goals is the 12th-highest total in the NHL.

If you haven’t heard, Brad Marchand is pretty good. Actually, he’s an offensive machine with his team-leading (and fourth-best in the league) 80 points. 37 of those points have been goals, which – you guessed it – also leads the team.

To put things in perspective, since you flipped your calendar to March, Marchand has struck nine goals. Nine! That’s tied for third-most in the league this month, better than scorers of the likes of Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, T.J. Oshie, Joe Pavelski and Vladimir Tarasenko – just to name a few.

Playing into that, the Bruins‘ power play has also been playing very well. Though only the third-best effort in the Atlantic Division, David Pastrnak has led Boston to a 26.5% conversion rate in March with his three power play goals this month.

The penalty kill has been extremely solid for the entire season. Boston is third-best in the league with its 84.9% kill rate, led by 33-20-4 Tuukka Rask. Though he’s faced the 10th-most power play shots among the 39 goaltenders with at least 30 appearances, he’s saved .884 percent of them –  the 14th-best effort of the group.

The Bruins‘ visit to Bridgestone Arena on January 12 did not go the way they wanted to. Though they fired 36 shots on Juuse Saros‘ net, he saved all but Torey Krug‘s second period power play goal to lead Nashville to a 2-1 victory.

Should a Boston win be paired with regulation loss by the Maple Leafs, the Bruins will jump into third place in the Atlantic if only for a day.

As for the Predators, they are also in a fight for third place in their division with St. Louis. Since the Blues are inactive tonight, Nashville is giving them a game-in-hand by playing tonight. A win puts the pressure on the Notes to hold serve, while a loss would put the Preds in limbo until St. Louis plays the extra contest.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Boston‘s Marchand (37 goals [third-most in the NHL] for 80 points [fourth-most in the league]) and Rask (six shutouts [fifth-most in the NHL] among 33 wins [sixth-most in the league]) & Nashville‘s Pekka Rinne (30 wins [tied for eighth-most in the NHL]).

As much as I want to pick the Bruins since they’re playing at home, I like the Predators‘ offense too much to pick against them. Boston has not been playing well on the defensive end of late, and I think Smashville will be able to take advantage.

Hockey Birthday

  • Keith Tkachuk (1972-) – A longtime member of the Jets/Coyotes franchise (though his longest-tenured city was St. Louis), this 18-year NHL veteran was selected 19th-overall by Winnipeg in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft. The five-time All Star scored 1065 points before calling it quits, including 538 goals. His son, Matthew Tkachuk, is a rookie with the Flames this season.

The storm rages on in Carolina, as a 4-3 overtime loss to the Red Wings in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day extends its point streak to 11 games.

The Hurricanes found the ice-breaking goal relatively quickly with Jeff Skinner (Jaccob Slavin and Lee Stempniak) scoring a slap shot only 5:15 into the game to give them an early lead. The 1-0 score held to the intermission.

At Carolina‘s 10:30 a.m. practice today, I expect Bill Peters to be harping on his guys about limiting the opposition’s breakaway opportunities, because the Red Wings – specifically First Star of the Game Anthony Mantha – absolutely torched them in that situation. Mantha scored twice in 70 seconds (Third Star Andreas Athanasiou and Danny DeKeyser assisted on the second tally) to give Detroit the lead. But it didn’t end the period with that lead. Instead, Second Star Justin Faulk (Slavin and Derek Ryan) tied the game with a snap shot 58 seconds before heading to the dressing room for the second intermission.

Tomas Tatar (Gustav Nyquist and Henrik Zetterberg) buried a power play snapper 8:30 into the third period to reclaim the lead for the Red Wings, and they nearly held it to the end of regulation. Once again: “instead, Faulk.” With six skaters on the ice and only 52 seconds remaining in regulation, he scored a snapper (Noah Hanifin and Victor Rask) to force three-on-three overtime.

After 1:59 of overtime play, Athanasiou (Nyquist) scored a backhanded shot to win the game, but that quickly became of lesser importance. As the center dove towards Eddie Lack‘s crease, he made contact with the netminder in the head and neck area.

Lack remained nearly motionless on the ice, moving only his legs. He had to be stretchered off the ice and transported to the hospital for further evaluation. Fortunately, he tweeted around midnight that he was discharged with a clean bill of health.

Petr Mrazek earned the victory after saving 39-of-42 shots faced (92.9%), forcing Lack to take the overtime loss after saving 23-of-27 (85.2%).

Within the DtFR Game of the Day series, the Wings‘ victory has expanded the 82-57-23 road teams’ lead over the hosts to two points.

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