As if 13 games on Saturday wasn’t enough, the NHL is keeping the party going today with five more contests to close out the weekend.
The action starts at 5 p.m. when the New York Islanders visit Carolina, followed an hour later by Colorado at Detroit. Ottawa at the New York Rangers (SN/TVAS) drops the puck at the usual 7 p.m. starting time, with tonight’s co-nightcaps – Los Angeles at Vegas and Florida at Anaheim – waiting 60 minutes before finishing the weekend’s activities. All times Eastern.
Two of today’s games have been scheduled on my calendar since the schedule was released this summer…
- Colorado at Detroit: Hockey fans from the 90s probably vividly remember the games between these teams, with the most infamous of course being “Fight Night at the Joe” in 1997.
- Ottawa at New York: Remember last year’s Eastern Conference Semifinals? The Rangers sure do.
…but neither of them strike my fancy like tonight’s activity out in the desert. Brush up on your poker, because we’re headed to Sin City!
In what may be the unlikeliest of scenarios, today’s matchup features the top-two teams in the Pacific Division. You know, the same teams that either have missed the playoffs two out of the past three seasons or didn’t exist this time last year.
Probably the most unexpected is the success of the 11-6-1 Golden Knights in only their first two months of play. No matter what bizarre situations they’ve been thrust into – including not one, not two but three goaltenders landing on IR in the month of October – the Knights have responded with the fighting spirit of a team with decades of history and prestige.
Most notably, Vegas plays some good offense. Like, really good. So good, in fact, that it tops the Western Conference and ranks fourth-best in the NHL overall in scoring, managing 3.56 goals-per-game. For those wondering, that makes the Knights’ offense better than those of Winnipeg, Chicago, St. Louis and a heap of other clubs not named the Lightning, Maple Leafs or Islanders.
The man behind it all? Probably Head Coach Gerard Gallant, but since he wears a suit instead of skates, we’ll bestow the honor upon second-liner W David Perron. The former Blue has scored a team-high 17 points to average .94 per game, due in large part to finding is way onto the scorecard in each of his last six games.
However, with 6-11-17 totals, Perron is largely a facilitator for the rest of his line. Instead, it’s been linemate W James Neal that has taken credit for a team-high 10 goals. Though not as hot as Perron, Neal is certainly feeling his offensive game of late, as he’s scored a goal in two of his last three games and is riding a three-game point streak.
Attempting to slow down this stellar offense tonight (well, this afternoon if you’re in Vegas considering it’s a 5 p.m. puck drop local time) are the division-leading 12-6-2 Kings. Fortunately for Los Angeles, it’s a team that hangs its hat on squelching opposing attacks, as it allows only a second-best 2.3 goals against-per game.
I’m pretty sure I say it every time we focus on the Kings, but the biggest reason for their success this season is the incredible play of 9-6-1 G Jonathan Quick. I’d change the story to keep things fresh, but it’s hard to take away from a netminder that has managed a .93 season save percentage and 2.31 GAA to rank in the top-six of his position.
Unfortunately for Quick, looking at his season stats hides the fact that he’s currently riding a four-game losing skid that goes back to November 9. Over the course of these games, Quick has allowed a dozen goals – all at home, mind you – on a .91 save percentage.
Head Coach John Stevens definitely had this game on his mind this week, because he purposefully rested Quick in yesterday’s game against Florida – another strong offense, though nowhere near as good as Vegas’ – in favor of 3-0-1 G Darcy Kuemper. The first half of that decision paid off when the Kings beat the Panthers 4-0 at the Staples Center yesterday, so it will be interesting to see how Los Angeles travels.
The reason for Kuemper’s strong record is that the Kings’ defense plays differently with him in net compared to their usual starter. Kuemper has faced only 111 shots this season, which is 27.75 per start. Compare that to Quick’s 33.25 shots against-per-start and we see part of the problem. To help Quick get out of his rut, I think Stevens’ defense will play back this evening to alleviate some of the pressure off Quick and allow him to rebuild the confidence he may have lost over the past 10 days.
If that is the case, expect to hear W Dustin Brown and D Alec Martinez‘ names said a lot tonight. Though he’s no blueliner, Brown has managed three hits-per-game all season to lead the team and knows how to slow down opposing scorers. In addition, even if those goalscorers get a shot off, Martinez averages a league-high 3.4 blocks-per-game, so very little gets past him. If their efforts can motivate their club to take their defensive zone a little more seriously than they usually do with Quick in net, this Kings team should be fine tonight.
G Malcolm Subban was just activated Thursday from injured reserve, so it is possible he’s in net tonight. If he is, there’s a possibility he’ll show a little bit of rust – and I’d expect the Kings’ offense to pounce. If G Maxime Lagace holds his starting job for one more day, Los Angeles will need all of its (t)11th-ranked offense to get the job done.
Thanks to an offensive explosion in the second period, the Winnipeg Jets beat the New Jersey Devils 5-2 at Bell MTS Place in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
Usually it’s a bad thing to score all your goals in one period, but the Jets seemed to do just fine by burying five tallies in the span of 12:27, four of which in only 3:50. Making the onslaught even more fun, all five Winnipeg markers were struck by a different goalscorer.
LW Kyle Connor (RW Blake Wheeler and C Mark Scheifele) got the party started at the 5:51 mark of the second period with the first goal of the game. Though F Brian Gibbons (F Blake Coleman and D Will Butcher) was able to level the score for the Devils 61 seconds later, it did little to dampen the Jets’ energy.
RW Patrik Laine (W Nikolaj Ehlers and F Bryan Little) reclaimed a one-goal lead for Winnipeg at the 8:06 mark, followed only 35 seconds later by D Jacob Trouba (Connor and Scheifele) burying his first goal of the season for what proved to be the game-winner.
Exactly a minute after the celebration for Trouba’s goal had ended, the Phone Booth erupted again for F Matt Hendricks‘ (F Mathieu Perreault and RW Joel Armia) wrist shot to set the score at 4-1. Perreault (Hendricks and Armia) completed the Jets’ score fest with a deflection 1:42 before the second intermission.
Butcher (C Nico Hischier and F Taylor Hall) registered the first goal of his career in the third period, but even the 12:46 remaining in regulation was not enough for Jersey to pose any more of a threat.
G Connor Hellebuyck earned the victory after saving 34-of-36 shots faced (.944 save percentage), leaving the loss to G Cory Schneider, who saved 17-of-22 (.773). He was lifted in favor of G Keith Kinkaid for the third period, who saved all 12 shots he faced.
Winnipeg’s victory is the second-straight by a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series. That improves the hosts’ record to 25-17-5, which his eight points better than the roadies.