After your busy Saturday of holiday shopping is complete, sit down; take a load off; watch hockey. You know, exactly what we were created to do.
There’s only one matinee on the schedule, and it takes place at 1 p.m. when St. Louis makes its annual trip to Detroit (SN1). The rest of the action gets started at 7 p.m. with the puck drop of seven games (the New York Islanders at Boston, Edmonton at Montréal [SN/TVAS], Winnipeg at Tampa Bay [CITY], Colorado at Florida, New Jersey at the New York Rangers, Toronto at Pittsburgh [CBC/NHLN] and Arizona at Columbus), followed by Vegas at Dallas an hour later. The West Coast gets involved at 10 p.m. with the start of two contests (Ottawa at San Jose [SN] and Vancouver at Calgary [CBC]), followed by Carolina at Los Angeles – tonight’s nightcap – half an hour later. All times Eastern.
As regular readers have come to expect, I have circled more than a few games on my calendar on days like today.
- St. Louis at Detroit: This rivalry might have lost some heat when the Wings jumped to the Eastern Conference, but a rivalry it is nonetheless.
- New Jersey at New York: The Battle of the Hudson River is truly special when both parties involved are playing well.
- Toronto at Pittsburgh: The day has finally arrived for D Ron Hainsey to collect his championship ring.
- Vancouver at Calgary: There’s no love lost in this rivalry.
Of course, I couldn’t predict the magnitude of the night’s events in Central Florida. Since we’ve already featured Canucks-Flames once this season, let’s take in this exciting Jets-Lightning matchup.
Even with the advice of our very own Colby Kephart, I’ve made the unforgivable sin of featuring the best team in the league only three times before today. While I cannot go back and change the past, I can only try my best to feature the 20-6-2 Lightning more often.
Where to start with what makes the Bolts great? We could discuss their incredible offense that averages a league-leading 3.75 goals-per-game, or we could turn our attention to a defense that allows only 2.5 goals against-per-game, the fourth-lowest average in the NHL.
It’s more fun to talk offense, so we’ll do that. Besides, I would argue that 18-4-1 G Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s .93 save percentage and 2.21 GAA ([t]best and third-best, respectively, among the 45 goaltenders with at least eight starts) are helped just as much by an offense that possesses the puck at will as they are by D Dan Girardi‘s team-leading 2.32 blocks-per-game.
Perhaps you’ve heard, but C Steven Stamkos is pretty darn good at his job. After all, his 12-29-41 totals, the most by any player in the NHL this year, is made even more impressive considering he played only 94 games over his past two season.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have coworkers like RW Nikita Kucherov, who has managed an equally mesmerizing 19-21-40 effort to rank second in the league in both points scored and goals (dang you, W Alex Ovechkin, and your 21 tallies), and breakout fourth-year player F Vladislav Namestnikov playing on the same line.
With 12-15-27 totals currently to his name this season, Namestnikov is on track to post 35-44-79 marks by the end of the regular season. If he can continue on that pace, he will effectively double the 33-46-79 career totals he had coming into this season.
Welcome to the big time, Vladdy.
There’s some stellar teams in the Central Division this season, but one of the two that has mirrored Tampa’s style is the 17-8-4 Jets. Just like the Lightning, Winnipeg utilizes a commanding offense that manages 3.37 goals-per-game (fifth-best in the league) to keep pucks out of their defensive zone. The strategy has worked almost as seamlessly as the Bolts’, as they’ve allowed only 2.82 goals-per-game, the 10th-fewest in the NHL.
Of the pucks that have made their way to 15-3-3 G Connor Hellebuyck, he’s been more than able to make the necessary stops. He’s managed a .92 save percentage and 2.43 GAA performance that ranks him in the top-10 goaltenders with at least 11 starts to their name.
That’s right, even the starred positions are the same.
Wheeler has absolutely stolen the show in Winnipeg this year. In the 11th year of his career, he’s managing a team-leading 8-29-37 points that is tied for third-most in the NHL.
As you can see, most of those points are assists, and most of those apples have turned into Scheifele goals. Scheifele has scored 14 of them this season en route to 14-20-34 totals. Sticking with the theme of career years, Scheifele could manage 39-57-96 totals if he keeps up this pace, well better than last year’s 32-50-82 effort.
If there’s one thing the Jets have that the Bolts don’t, it’s a commanding presence at the second line’s right wing position. RW Patrik Laine isn’t getting quite the amount of headlines he did last year due to the improved play of those around him, but that hasn’t stopped him from posting similar numbers. After a 36-28-64 rookie campaign, he’s already managed 15-10-25 totals this season and is on his way to a 43-28-71 performance if he continues on his pace.
So much for a sophomore slump.
This game has the potential to be the matchup of the season so far. It features two dominant offenses led by impressive centers and right wings intent on keeping possession. Tonight’s game should be a Lightning victory, but they might face one of their toughest tests yet in the Jets.
The Vegas Golden Knights weathered an impressive third period resurgence by the Nashville Predators to win yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Bridgestone Arena 4-3 in a shootout.
Only one goal was struck in the first period, and F Craig Smith was largely responsible. Due to him getting caught hi-sticking W David Perron, C William Karlsson (RW Alex Tuch and D Nate Schmidt) was able to score a power play snap shot 6:55 into the game to give Vegas an early lead.
The Knights doubled that lead with 5:23 remaining in the second period courtesy of W James Neal (D Luca Sbisa and Schmidt), playing his first game in Nashville since being selected in the expansion draft. However, the score was trimmed to 2-1 only 63 seconds later on C Calle Jarnkrok’s (W Pontus Aberg and F Filip Forsberg) wrist shot.
Nashville completed its comeback at the 8:04 mark of the third period on a wrister by First Star of the Game W Viktor Arvidsson (W Kevin Fiala and C Kyle Turris), followed 6:52 later by Second Star C Nick Bonino‘s (Arvidsson) sixth goal of the season to give the Predators their first lead of the night. That 3-2 lead almost held to the end of regulation, but F Erik Haula (D Colin Miller and Perron) was able to bury a wrister with 40 seconds remaining in regulation to level the game and force three-on-three overtime.
Since no goal was stuck in overtime, this game entered the shootout. As host, the Predators had the choice of shooting first or second…
- Head Coach Peter Laviolette chose first and sent Turris to center ice. Usually a decent penalty shooter (he now has a .365 career shooting percentage in this situation), he missed wide of the net.
- The Homecoming King had an opportunity to give the Golden Knights a mini-break, but Neal’s offering was saved by G Pekka Rinne, who had probably seen every trick Neal had up his sleeve over the last three years of practice.
- Fiala was next up for Nashville, but he performed just like Turris: he missed wide of the net.
- If only saves forced was a deciding factor in shootouts, because Vegas would have won after Rinne saved Tuch’s wrister.
- Of the Preds’ first three shooters, Forsberg was easily the best. Though he didn’t score, he did manage to force G Malcolm Subban to make a save.
- With the opportunity to win the game, Perron’s backhanded shot… was saved by Rinne. To sudden death!
- Up next for Nashville was Smith, but he continued the Predators’ tradition of blatantly missing the net, though he did at least catch iron.
- Here comes Haula! He fired a wrister on net, but Rinne was there to make the save.
- Tell me if you read this already: another Predator missed the net – this time it was Arvidsson. I guess one goal in this game was enough.
- Vegas’ fifth shooter was none other than Karlsson, who had scored the opening goal of the game way back in the first period. That experience didn’t help him here, because his backhander was saved by Rinne.
- Round six started with Bonino firing a wrister at Subban’s net, but the netminder was there to make the save.
- Finally, everyone’s prayers were answered by Third Star W Reilly Smith, who was the lone goalscorer of the shootout to earn the bonus point for Vegas.
Subban earned the victory after saving 41-of-44 shots faced (.932 save percentage), leaving the shootout loss to Rinne, who saved 36-of-39 (.923).
This was the third-straight game in the DtFR Game of the Day to require more than 60 minutes to determine a victor. With the visitors coming out on top of this one, they pulled within 15 points of the 37-22-7 hosts.