October 26 – Day 23 – Growing pains

After yesterday’s two-game schedule, there’s a whopping 11 games on tap this evening!

Like it so often does, tonight’s action starts at 7 p.m. with four contests (San Jose at Boston [SN360], Carolina at Toronto, Arizona at the New York Rangers and Winnipeg at Pittsburgh), followed by another set of four (Los Angeles at Montréal [RDS/TSN2], Philadelphia at Ottawa [RDS2], Detroit at Toronto and Anaheim at Florida) half an hour later. After that, the remaining three fixtures start every hour, on the hour. First up is the New York Islanders at Minnesota at 8 p.m., followed by Dallas at Edmonton at 9 p.m. and tonight’s nightcap – Washington at Vancouver – at 10 p.m. All times Eastern.

If you like big offseason trades, your featured game is a no-brainer. C Derek Stepan – and maybe G Antti Raanta, if he gets cleared to play – returning to Madison Square Garden with the Coyotes is a must-see for you.

But, considering the Coyotes and Rangers are two of the four worst teams in the NHL, that matchup excites me as much as watching paint dry. Instead, we’re going to make a trip to the Canadian Tire Centre.

 

After making it to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, expectations are high for this 4-1-4 Senators club. Considering they play in the same division as the best team in the NHL (Tampa Bay) and they were without the incredible D Erik Karlsson until October 17, third place in the Atlantic is a good enough start to say they’re filling the bill so far.

But re-acclimating to the style of play that is necessitated by Karlsson being on the ice has been a difficult transition for Ottawa. In the defenseman’s first four games back from foot surgery, the Sens have managed a record of only 1-1-2.

Now, 1-1-2 is far from a bad stretch; even the best of clubs have stretches of the season where they average only one point-per-game (just ask the Coyotes if they’d like to average half a point-per-game right now). What’s probably frustrating Head Coach Guy Boucher right now is the poor defensive play that’s being highlighted by not getting much help from his goaltender.

Since Karlsson’s return on October 17, the Senators have allowed a fourth-worst 144 shots against in four games (36 per game), even with D Dion Phaneuf‘s team-leading nine shot blocks in that stretch. For a defensive-minded team like Ottawa that runs a 1-3-1, that is absolutely unacceptable, but I have confidence Karlsson and company, even without the help of D Marc Methot, will start trending towards last season’s (t)13th-best 30.1 shots against-per-game soon enough.

If G Craig Anderson, tonight’s starter, keeps playing the way he has, the defense cannot return to form soon enough. Anderson has started three of Ottawa’s four most recent games to a 1-1-1 record. As mentioned before, he has been under heavy pressure, but a .891 save percentage and 3.67 GAA (ninth and seventh-worst, respectively, among the 35 goaltenders with at least two starts since October 17) simply will not cut it.

Last year’s Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy winner had a career year last season, managing a .926 save percentage in 40 starts, but he has not posted consecutive campaigns of save percentages at or above .92 since the 2006-’07, 2007-’08 and 2008-’09 seasons when he was Ed Belfour and Tomas Vokoun‘s backup in Florida. If Anderson can’t become the reliable backstop he became last season, he could waste any positive momentum the Senators brought into this season.

Ottawa’s next chance to rediscover last postseason’s form comes against the 5-4-0 Flyers who – don’t tell anybody – may actually not be as bad as we all thought they’d be.

Dang it, and I was really excited to bust out everybody’s favorite Dennis Green quote. I’ll have to save it for another day.

Here’s another secret about Philly: they’re winning without the help of in spite of F Nolan Patrick, this year’s second-overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft. Highly touted for both his pedigree (he’s the son and nephew of RW Steve Patrick and D James Patrick, respectively) and his 102-point season with the Brandon Wheat Kings in 2015-’16, he’s managed only one goal and three points in nine games played on Philly’s third line.

It’s like he wants to see how well the Hobey Baker Award compliments the Calder Memorial Trophy.

Instead, RW Jakub Voracek has been most responsible for Philadelphia’s high-flying offense (See what I did there? I’m so clever. Nobody has ever made that joke before.) with his team-leading 12 points (all assists). Of course, it’s hard to struggle on a top line with the likes of F Claude Giroux (5-6-11 totals) and C Sean Couturier (6-3-9), but Voracek’s group has produced 36.7 percent of the Flyers’ goals for an offense that averages a (t)ninth-best 3.33 goals-per-game.

What should be most alarming for Anderson is that Philly’s favorite way to score is by launching a full-on assault on the goal. The Flyers – Voracek in particular – aren’t shy about shooting the puck (they average 32.6 shots-per-game, which is 11th-most in the NHL), so if Ottawa’s defense isn’t up to snuff, he could be in for a long night.

If these teams aren’t careful, this game could become a barn-burner as both clubs have a knack for finding the back of the net. If that proves to be the case, I like the Senators to win tonight with their (t)fourth-best offense.


In a dominant performance, the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Buffalo Sabres 5-1 at Nationwide Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Though the Sabres fired a game-high 14 shots-on-goal in the first period, it was Columbus that registered the lone tally of the frame. It came courtesy of an RW Oliver Bjorkstrand (W Sonny Milano and Second Star of the Game D Seth Jones) power play snap shot with eight minutes remaining before the first intermission.

It was the second period – specifically the last five minutes of the second period – when the Jackets absolutely exploded on their offensive end. First up was Jones (F Brandon Dubinsky and RW Cam Atkinson), who buried what proved to be the game-winning goal with 4:40 remaining in the frame.

Entering the zone with a three-on-two advantage, Atkinson advanced to the top of the right face-off circle before dumping a pass towards the near boards to Dubinsky. While the forward was feeding a pass to Jones, who was near where Atkinson was when he released the puck, F Boone Jenner was busy preparing a perfect screen in front of G Chad Johnson. With Jones falling to a knee to elevate his snapper over Johnson’s glove, the netminder had no chance.

Additionally, NBCSN sideline reporter Pierre McGuire says Head Coach John Tortorella also earned an assist on the goal. I didn’t see that in the box score, but congrats to him for his first apple since the 1986 ACHL playoffs.

2:18 after Jones’ second marker of the season, Third Star F Nick Foligno (D Jack Johnson) added an insurance tally to set the score at 3-0, followed by a wrist shot from LW Matt Calvert (D Markus Nutivaara and D Ryan Murray) with 101 seconds remaining before the second intermission to complete the Blue Jackets’ blitz.

Buffalo finally got on the scoreboard with 2:34 remaining in the game courtesy of a wrister from F Seth Griffith (F Jordan Nolan and F Johan Larsson), but it was too little too late to have an impact on the game – especially since RW Josh Anderson (LW Artemi Panarin and C Alexander Wennberg) tacked on a final tally 39 seconds before the final horn to set the 5-1 final score.

First Star G Sergei Bobrovsky earned the win after saving 34-of-35 shots faced (.971 save percentage), leaving the loss to C. Johnson, who saved 33-of-38 (.868).

Columbus’ victory was the third-straight by the 13-6-4 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The hosts now have an eight-point advantage over the visitors.

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