December 11 – Day 68 – No sleep ’til!

Thank goodness for hockey, or else this would’ve been another one of those brutal Mondays.

There’s a half-dozen games on the schedule today, starting with three (Washington at the New York Islanders, Dallas at the New York Rangers and Colorado at Pittsburgh [SN/TVAS]) at the usual time of 7 p.m. and Florida at Detroit half an hour later. 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of Vancouver at Winnipeg, while tonight’s nightcap – Carolina at Anaheim – waits until 10 p.m. to get underway. All times Eastern.

It’s hard to find action better than the two games taking place in the Big Apple this evening, but lets head south from The City, cross the Manhattan Bridge and take in an important Metropolitan Division rivalry taking place in Brooklyn.

 

 

 

 

Before you start complaining, yes: we did already feature this matchup this once this season on November 2. In fact, it was a stellar 4-3 game at Capital One Arena won by C Lars Eller and the Capitals with only 3:21 to spare before three-on-three overtime.

I’m expecting more of the same when these rivals square off tonight at the Barclays Center, because second place in the division is on the line this evening.

The 18-11-1 Capitals are not only the current owners of that second-place spot, but they’ve also won seven of their last eight games – including a current four-game winning streak.

Both ends of the ice have been impressive during this run, especially considering Washington’s offense has averaged four goals-per-game since November 22 (led by none other than W Alex Ovechkin and his 8-5-13 totals). However, I’ve been most impressed by the Caps’ defensive effort of late, as they’ve allowed only 18 goals over this run to tie Boston for second-fewest in the NHL in that time.

Now, when you have a Vezina-winning goaltender on your team, the job of defenseman is usually not a tough one. G Braden Holtby has posted a .92 season save percentage and 2.57 GAA to rank among the top 11 netminders in the NHL with at least 11 starts.

He’s been just as good of late too, as he’s managed a .92 save percentage and 2.34 GAA since November 22, both of which rank among the top 10 of the 26 goaltenders with at least six starts since then.

But don’t read into Holtby’s performance as a reason for the defense to mail in their efforts, because it’s been in fact the opposite. Over the past eight games, Washington’s defensive corps has allowed only 241 shots against – the third-fewest in the NHL. That incredible defensive effort has been spearheaded by D John Carlson‘s 2.75 blocks-per-game, as well as D Brooks Orpik and RW Tom Wilson‘s 3.37 hits-per-game.

That defense will prove especially important tonight when Washington takes on the 16-10-3 Islanders, who currently occupy fourth place in the Metropolitan Division and the first wild card. When New York has found its success, it has employed one of the most potent offenses in the game.

So far this season, the Islanders have scored a whopping 103 goals, which averages into 3.55 per game. Pick your favorite offense that doesn’t wear a lightning bolt as its crest, and the Islanders are better (in laymen’s terms, New York is second-best).

I’ve said it multiple times this season, but the core of this attack is the Isles’ incredible Sandwich Line. F Josh Bailey (5-27-32 totals), F Anders Lee (17-12-29) and C John Tavares (17-12-29) are the three leading point earners on this club, though they are followed close behind by rookie sensation C Mathew Barzal (8-20-28).

One of the best ways to get past the Caps’ defense is to take one of their players off the ice, as their 79.43 penalty kill rate is the 12th-worst in the league. While New York’s power play isn’t exactly the league leader its base offense is, I have a sneaking suspicion it’ll improve on its 11th-ranked 20 percent success rate if it earns to points tonight.

Though it’s not exactly that important right now, the Caps and Isles won’t resume their four-game season series until they play a two-day home-and-home series in mid-March. Of course, head-to-head record is the second tiebreaker if these clubs are tied come

As for who wins this evening, I’m having tough time picking against the Caps. The fact that they have Ovechkin at their disposal should be enough to propel them to their fifth-straight win.


Though the San Jose Sharks were able to mount a tremendous two-goal comeback in the third period to force overtime, the Minnesota Wild was able to hold on for a 4-3 victory at the SAP Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Usually, the “tale of two halves” expression is used to describe a basketball, football or soccer match, but it applied to yesterday’s featured hockey game quite well as the Wild were able to score the first three goals of regulation.

Minnesota started its attack 4:19 into the game on a D Ryan Murphy (W Jason Zucker and Second Star of the Game C Eric Staal) power play wrist shot, his first goal of the season. That goal was followed 6:08 later by Staal (D Ryan Suter and F Mikael Granlund) burying a wrister of his own to set the score at 2-0.

Staal (Murphy and Granlund) further expanded the Wild’s lead at the 4:58 mark of the second period, but his wrap-around tally proved to be the final one Minnesota could manage in regulation.

After that, it was all San Jose.

Third Star D Brent Burns (C Joe Thornton and F Tomas Hertl) was the first Shark to register a goal, as he banged home a power play slap shot with 53 seconds remaining before the second intermission to pull San Jose back within a 3-1 deficit.

Someone must have told Burns how much catching up he needs to do to match his performance from last season, because 2:41 after he returned to the ice, he (F Joe Pavelski) scored another power play clapper to trim Minnesota’s lead to one. Hertl (D Dylan DeMelo and D Tim Heed) completed the comeback with 5:01 remaining in regulation with a wrister.

Speaking of people saying things to players, Head Coach Bruce Boudreau was probably furious with his squad for squandering a 3-0 advantage, and I’ll bet he let them know it during the break before three-on-three overtime. Apparently First Star W Nino Niederreiter took that message to heart, because he scored an unassisted wrister with 1:34 remaining before the shootout to earn Minnesota the bonus point.

G Alex Stalock earned the victory after saving 31-of-34 shots faced (.912 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to G Martin Jones, who saved 20-of-24 (.833).

If all it takes to constitute a good game is one that extends beyond regulation, we’ve gotten some real treasures the past five days in the DtFR Game of the Day series as all of them have required either overtime or a shootout to determine a winner. With the road team winning yesterday, visitors have pulled within 15 points of the 38-22-8 hosts.