November 8 – Day 36 – It’s a whole new month

It’s Wednesday, so you know what that means: it’s supposedly rivalry night in the NHL.

At least that’s what I’ve been told by Doc Emrick…

The action finds its start at 7:30 p.m. this evening with Minnesota at Toronto (SN/TVAS), followed half an hour later by Boston at the New York Rangers (NBCSN). After that game finishes, fans should keep their televisions tuned to NBCSN to catch this evening’s nightcap -Tampa Bay at San Jose – at 10:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

Last Wednesday’s rivalry was New Jersey at Vancouver… I know, what a heated matchup. This week, we get a real rivalry of the Original Six variety that features one team riding a four-game winning streak.

 

What a difference turning a page in the calendar can be! After opening the season a miserable 1-5-2, the Blueshirts have now rattled off four straight victories to crawl into a tie for sixth in the Metropolitan Division and 10th in the Eastern Conference.

Whether the 7-7-2 Rangers were spending too much time planning their Halloween costumes or being respectful of the Yankees playoff run, we’ll never know. Either way, New Yorkers are happy to have winning ways at Madison Square Garden once again (yes, we’ll include the 6-4 Knicks, who are riding a three-game winning streak of their own, until proved otherwise).

Since Halloween, only Winnipeg’s 3-0-1 run comes close to rivaling the Rangers’ four-game winning streak, and there’s some interesting similarities between both clubs’ surges: a spike in offensive productivity has been integral to the teams’ performances. That’s especially true in New York’s case, as 6-4-2 G Henrik Lundqvist and co. have allowed an average of three goals-per-game over this stretch.

Usually that’s not the best strategy to win hockey games, but it’s working out right now for the Rangers because of the spectacular play of C Mika Zibanejad and D Kevin Shattenkirk.

Even though Zibanejad’s seven points are the most on the team during this run, Shattenkirk has arguably been the most impressive with his 3-3-6 totals since the last day of October. Playing a style that makes him seem to be a fourth forward instead of one half of the Rangers’ second defensive pairing can prove difficult to adjust to (just ask the Capitals), but it seems New York is starting to find its groove with the offseason’s most-desired piece.

One of the best ways to find momentum is to have success on special teams. The Rangers have been doing just that during this stretch, as their 40 percent conversion rate since Halloween is (t)fourth-best in the league. It’s on the man-advantage that Zibanejad has put in most his work, as his five power play points over this stretch are most on the squad. His favorite person to connect on the with on the man-advantage of late has been F Chris Kreider, who has scored two of the Blueshirts’ six extra-man tallies.

That effort doesn’t stop at the power play. New York has also been perfect on the penalty kill in its last four games, stopping all eight of the man-advantages that has come its way. Considering Lundqvist has faced only nine shots during that stretch, all credit for this success must belong to D Ryan McDonagh and the rest of the defensive corps.

If the Rangers are truly going to make a living out of dominating special teams, they’ll face a serious test tonight against a 6-4-3 Bruins club that absolutely dominates in uneven situations.

The superior of Boston’s special teams is its penalty kill, which ranks third-best in the NHL for the month-old season with an 87.2 percent kill rate. This success has been a combined effort of exemplary play by 3-4-2 G Tuukka Rask, who’s managed a .935 save percentage against the power play that ranks second-best among goaltenders with at least six starts, and a defense that has limited his work to only 46 shots in that situation.

If Rask doesn’t hug D Zdeno Chara every day, or at least shake his hand and offer a Finnish thanks, he’s doing something wrong. Chara averages 1.4 blocks-per-game and has only stepped up his game to an even higher level in that department with D Adam McQuaid‘s broken leg. Every little thing Chara does helps keep pucks away from Rask and reduce his workload, and that’s a very important thing for a netminder that has started over 60 games for the past three seasons.

Boston is also home to one of the top-five power plays in the league. Led by RW David Pastrnak and his 3-3-6 power play effort, the Bruins have converted a wildly impressive 25.5 percent of their extra-man opportunities. If the Rangers can keep the Bruins’ power play from finding the back of their net, they deserve to win. Otherwise, it may be wise to keep Shattenkirk and his team-leading 22 penalty minutes under control.

Neither team played yesterday, so this should be an entertaining matchup between two fresh clubs. Since I don’t feel the Bruins’ even-strength offense offers anything Lundqvist hasn’t seen before, I’m leaning towards the Rangers earning two points tonight.


The Vancouver Canucks repaid the Calgary Flames for winning at Rogers Arena last month, as they won yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at the Scotiabank Saddledome 5-3.

Like every good rivalry game, this contest had its share of penalties – seven, to be exact, totaling 14 penalty minutes. As a result, five of the eight goals struck last night came as a result of special teams play.

The Flames were able to kill off D Dougie Hamilton‘s cross-check against W Thomas Vanek at the midway point of the first period, but they weren’t so fortunate after F Michael Frolik tripped LW Daniel Sedin with 6:21 remaining in the frame. With only a second remaining before Frolik could return to action, F Sam Gagner (Sedin and Vanek) scored a power play wrist shot to give Vancouver the lead.

However, that lead wouldn’t last into the first intermission, and it was all because F Brandon Sutter was caught holding D T.J. Brodie. With 11 seconds remaining before the break, Hamilton (C Mikael Backlund and LW Matthew Tkachuk) made amends for his prior infraction to level the game for Calgary.

Power play goal #3 was a result of Sedin hi-sticking Hamilton with 8:32 remaining on the second period clock. He sat in the box for only 23 seconds, as Second Star of the Game LW Johnny Gaudreau (Brodie and C Sean Monahan) posted his bail with a wrister to give the Flames their first lead of the night.

Apparently all this power play mumbo jumbo is not what Vanek (D Michael Del Zotto and D Alex Biega) had in mind for the evening, as he registered the first five-on-five goal of the game with 4:51 remaining in the second period to level the score at 2-2, and W Micheal Ferland followed suit 2:18 later to reclaim the lead for Calgary.

The next penalty that proved important was Biega’s trip against D Mark Giordano with 1:56 remaining before the second intermission, but it was not the Flames that capitalized. Instead, RW Derek Dorsett (Sutter and D Ben Hutton) scored a shorthanded deflection to level the game 100 seconds before reporting to the dressing room for intermission.

After two back-and-forth frames, the Canucks decided to take command of the game with a swift two-goal blitz before five minutes ticked off the third period clock. They were helped in that effort by D Michael Stone, who was caught holding Vanek at the 3:49 mark. 23 seconds later, Vancouver registered its game-winning goal.

The fourth power play tally of the night belongs to First Star C Bo Horvat (RW Brock Boeser and Hutton), though he was more beneficiary than anything. Hutton and Boeser did most of the work, as it was them that brought the puck into the offensive zone following a Flames clear. Boeser slung a wrist shot from the right face-off circle towards the far post that G Mike Smith blocked rather easily. The operative word here is obviously blocked, as Horvat was waiting in the crease to collect Smith’s rebound and slide a backhanded shot behind him.

Though Horvat gets credit for the game-winner, it was probably C Henrik Sedin‘s (D. Sedin and RW Jake Virtanen) five-on-five goal only 38 seconds later that really took the wind out of the Flames’ sails. Try as they might, they could neither force the Canucks to commit a penalty nor break through Third Star G Jacob Markstrom at even strength.

Speaking of Markstrom, he saved 29-of-32 shots faced (.906 save percentage) to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Smith, who saved 16-of-21 (.762).

Being the road team in the DtFR Game of the Day seems to be the desirable thing of late, as visitors are riding a two-game winning streak and have won six of the past eight tilts. This solid run has pulled the roadies within two points of the 18-14-4 hosts.

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