We’re only 13 days into the season, but today is already the second that features only one game on the schedule. Fortunately for us, it features two 4-1-0 clubs. Let’s get to Motown by 7:30 p.m. Eastern time for Tampa Bay at Detroit (SN1/TVAS)!
Tonight’s showdown between Atlantic Division rivals is a far bigger affair than many projected at the beginning of the season. It was simply assumed the Red Wings would already be in the Eastern Conference cellar and en route to an early pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, but so far they’re holding their ground with the best of them. That being said, there are few offenses of the caliber of Tampa Bay’s, so this should be a good test for the Wings.
Since we haven’t featured the Lightning yet this season in the DtFR Game of the Day series, let’s tackle them first.
There are few teams in this league that score as well as the Bolts do, as they average four goals-per game to rank (t)fifth-best. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Head Coach Jon Cooper has F Alex Killorn (1-6-7 totals), RW Nikita Kucherov (5-3-8), F Brayden Point (3-5-8) and C Steven Stamkos (1-6-7) all at his disposal. With the help of two others, these four help to build one of the best top-two line combinations available in the league, meaning 3-0-0 G Jimmy Howard cannot lose his focus for a second without risking a Tampa goal.
In particular, Tampa has absolutely excelled on the power play, converting six-of-21 opportunities (28.6 percent) for the (t)fourth-best effort in the league. While Stamkos has yet to find his second goal of the season, he’s been a vital re-introduction to the special teams with his club-leading four power play points – including one man-advantage goal.
The major hole on this Lightning team is its defensive performance so far, though it’s hard to accurately measure given that opposing forwards are known to step up their game when facing an offense of the caliber of Tampa’s. So far this season, even though D Jake Dotchin has managed two blocks-per-game, the Bolts have allowed 35.8 shots against-per-game to reach 4-1-0 G Andrei Vasilevskiy, the fourth-worst mark in the NHL.
Fortunately, Vasilevskiy – a former first-rounder – is good at his job. Yet to cede the crease to G Peter Budaj, he’s managed a .911 save percentage and 3.2 GAA. Though he’s not exactly at the top of the list of goaltenders in the league right now, he’s doing just enough to ensure his offense can keep the game under control.
Tonight will be a good test for him, because the Wings have had no trouble finding the back of the net most nights. Led by D Mike Green and his eight assists, Detroit has managed 3.4 goals-per-game to rank 10th-best in the NHL.
But since Green doesn’t register an assist without somebody else scoring a goal, Vasilevskiy is going to have to keep an eye on W Martin Frk, W Anthony Mantha and F Henrik Zetterberg, as all three have three goals in their 2017-’18 accounts already.
I brought up Howard earlier, but we didn’t discuss how integral he’s been to this hot start by the Red Wings. Of all the goaltenders that have appeared in more than one game, his .955 save percentage is second-best in the league. If Howard can maintain that level of play, it’ll be interesting to see where his season can take him, especially given he’ll be an unrestricted free agent following the end of next campaign.
Until then, he’s the backbone of a very good penalty kill that could cause fits for Tampa’s special teams. So far this season, the Wings have only allowed two power play goals against in 23 opportunities for a 91.3 percent kill rate that ranks fourth-best in the NHL.
Though Detroit is not being favored by Vegas in this game (the Wings have a +100 associated with their name), I’m leaning towards Howard and co. taking this game. The Wings’ offense has been able to hold its own so far this season, and the Bolts are not the type of team to try to overwhelm a goaltender. Add in the fact that this game is taking place at Little Caesars Arena, and I think the red-and-white can pull this one out.
Though the New York Islanders tried their best, they could not find the upper hand against the Los Angeles Kings in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they fell 3-2 at the Staples Center.
Los Angeles never trailed in this contest, thanks in large part to Second Star of the Game C Anze Kopitar‘s (First Star D Drew Doughty and W Dustin Brown) snap shot with 7:16 remaining in the first period. With the help of the Kings’ defense, Los Angeles was able to take that lead into the first intermission.
F Josh Bailey (Third Star C Mathew Barzal and LW Andrew Ladd) pulled New York even 8:56 into the second frame with a backhanded shot to beat G Darcy Kuemper, but D Jake Muzzin‘s (D Oscar Fantenberg and F Tyler Toffoli) power play wrist shot 2:36 later returned the lead to the Kings’ hands. For the second straight period, Los Angeles’ defensive corps held the Islanders to only seven shots on goal to ensure they took the 2-1 lead into the second intermission.
Shorthanded goals have a way of sucking any momentum out of the opposing team. That’s exactly what happened 5:44 into the third period, as Doughty (Kopitar) scored what proved to be the game-winning goal on a shorthanded tip-in. Like many shorties do, the play started with the Kings in their defensive zone, but that all changed when Kopitar intercepted a pass from F Joshua Ho-Sang intended for D Johnny Boychuk at the far point. Kopitar tore down the far boards into his offensive zone before steering towards G Jaroslav Halak. But, instead of firing a shot at the goaltender, he centered a pass to the crashing Doughty, who beat the falling Halak five-hole to the far post.
C Casey Cizikas (RW Cal Clutterbuck and D Thomas Hickey) did manage to pull the Isles back within a goal with 5:40 remaining in regulation, but Kuemper did not let them get any further into their comeback plan after that.
Speaking of Kuemper, he earned his 1-0-0 record by saving 23-of-25 shots faced (.92 save percentage), leaving the loss to Halak, who saved 24-of-27 (.889).
A second-straight victory by the 8-4-1 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series has the visitors falling behind five points early in the season.
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