December 16 – Day 73 – Central showdown

With 11 games on today’s schedule, odds are good that your favorite club is in action today. Make sure to head to the rink!

The day’s action finds an early 2 p.m. start when Edmonton visits Minnesota, and the New York Rangers at Boston cleans up the matinee slate at 5 p.m. Five contests (Winnipeg at St. Louis [CITY], Montréal at Ottawa [CBC/NBCSN/SN/TVAS], Los Angeles at the New York Islanders, Dallas at Philadelphia and Columbus at Carolina) drop the puck at the usual 7 p.m. starting time, followed by two more (Pittsburgh at Arizona and Anaheim at Washington) an hour later. 9 p.m. marks the beginning of Tampa Bay at Colorado, while tonight’s nightcap – Nashville at Calgary (CBC/SN) – waits until 10 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

Two games stuck out to me at the beginning of the season…

  • New York at Boston: There’s nothing more fun than an Original Six matchup between two playoff hopefuls, right?
  • Montréal at Ottawa: Not only will this have the usual energy of a Habs-Sens rivalry game, but it’s also the NHL 100 Classic, which is being played at TD Place Stadium Lansdowne Park, home of the CFL’s Ottawa Redblacks.

However, it’s just too hard to ignore today’s action in Missouri, where the second and third-place teams in the Central Division are beginning a home-and-home series.

 

Considering the Jets’ seventh-ranked offense last season, I don’t know if Winnipeg earning a 18-9-5 record qualifies as a surprise or not, but they’re certainly not complaining about third place in the Central Division.

That offense has only improved this campaign, as the Jets have managed an intimidating 3.34 goals to rank fourth-best in the NHL behind the Bolts, Isles and Knights.

That solid effort has been headlined by Winnipeg’s first line, specifically C Mark Scheifele (14-21-35 totals) and RW Blake Wheeler (8-30-38). They’ve formed a fantastic partnership this season, as they’ve both earned a point on 24 of the Jets’ 107 goals on the year (22.4 percent).

If the Jets’ offense is scary, their dominant power play is straight up deadly. Led by Wheeler’s team-leading 16 points on the man-advantage, the Manitobans have converted 26.31 percent of their opponent’s penalties into goals, a rate that trails only Tampa and Nashville.

Wheeler might be the primary play maker on special teams, but its his partner RW Patrik Laine that has been the most frightening in that situation to opposing goaltenders (4-2-0 G Carter Hutton, in today’s case). He’s buried nine power play goals already this season, which is tied with F Filip Forsberg for most in the NHL.

Given the unenviable task of trying to slow the Jets down is 21-10-2 St. Louis, a team currently in second place in the division even though it is riding a two-game losing skid.

After being the class of the Western Conference for the first two months of the season, the Blues have caught the dreaded injury bug this week. Though the previously mentioned Hutton is back after his short stint on injured reserve, D Jay Bouwmeester, D Alex Pietrangelo and F Jaden Schwartz have replaced him.

Bouwmeester missing is certainly an issue in the defensive end, but Head Coach Mike Yeo seems to be struggling to find a solution for Pietrangelo and Schwartz missing on the offensive end. They’ve combined for 58 points – including 21 goals – to help the Blues manage 3.12 goals-per-game (the [t]eighth-best effort in the NHL) on the season.

However, during this two-game skid while these players are on the mend, the Notes have scored only one goal from third liner F Patrik Berglund. With neither likely to return until January, this offense will need to adjust to RW Vladimir Tarasenko on the top line and W Dmitrij Jaskin in a top-six position. If they cannot, I wouldn’t be surprised to see F Brayden Schenn elevated to the top-line center position to reunite with the Russian sniper.

With these teams tangling once again tomorrow, let’s treat this preview as one for this weekend’s series. As such, I expect these teams to both earn victories at their home arenas.


Behind a three-point night from First Star of the Game F Brian Boyle, the New Jersey Devils beat the Dallas Stars 5-2 at the Prudential Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Jersey didn’t waste much time in finding its first goal, as D Steven Santini (F Brian Gibbons) tucked a slap shot into the net only 4:28 into the game. That early lead didn’t last long though, because C Martin Hanzal (F Tyler Seguin and D Esa Lindell) leveled the game only 2:14 later with a power play wrist shot. The Devils would regain the lead with 54 seconds remaining before intermission on a tip-in from F Blake Coleman (D Andy Greene and Gibbons), setting the score at 2-1.

The exchange of goals carried into the second period, as RW Alexander Radulov (F Mattias Janmark and Lindell) leveled the game for the Stars at the 8:09 mark, but Boyle (D Will Butcher and C Pavel Zacha) was able to bury what proved to be a game-winning power play wrister with 3:21 remaining in the frame to return a 3-2 lead to the Devils.

The penalty that set up Boyle’s opportunity was a D Stephen Johns hi stick against LW Miles Wood that was so egregious, it earned him a double minor and four minutes in the penalty box. With only nine seconds remaining on the infraction, Butcher ripped a clapper from the blue line at G Kari Lehtonen. The netminder was able to deflect the puck, but Boyle – who was camping out in front of the crease – collected the rebound and elevate a wrister into the back of the net, the 100th goal of his career.

Third Star RW Nick Lappin (W Jimmy Hayes and Boyle) and Boyle tacked on insurance goals in the second half of the third period to ensure a Devils victory.

Second Star G Cory Schneider earned the victory after saving 28-of-30 shots faced (.933 save percentage), leaving the loss to Lehtonen, who saved 21-of-25 (.84).

New Jersey’s home victory snapped a three-game winning streak by road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. As such, hosts in the series have now earned a 40-24-9 record that is 14 points superior to that of the roadies.