First and foremost, allow me to speak for all of us at Down the Frozen River and wish each and every one of our faithful readers a Happy New Year! May you and your favorite club find great success in 2018!
Of course, it’s become tradition for the NHL to play its biggest outdoor game of the season, the Winter Classic, on this date, and today is no exception. In addition, the importance of today’s 1 p.m. Eastern festivities at Citi Field – home of the New York Mets – between the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres (NBC/SN/TVAS) is only increased by it being the lone NHL game on the schedule, making it our de facto DtFR Game of the Day.
You’ll notice the Rangers are listed as the road team in today’s Winter Classic even though it is the Sabres that traveled almost 400 miles to get to Queens. It’s a load of crock, but apparently a clause in the Blueshirts’ contract with Madison Square Garden stipulates that they aren’t allowed to host any games outside The World’s Most Famous Arena. Hence our situation today.
For those wondering, this is the only time the Rangers will “travel” to take on Buffalo this campaign, as the Sabres still have yet to make two visits to Manhattan in the three-game season series. If any of this strikes you as unfair or league favoritism for a particular team or general market, welcome to the National Hockey League.
Anyways, now that I’m mostly off my soapbox, the 20-13-5 Rangers certainly enter this afternoon’s contest the hotter of the two teams. They’ve earned points in six of their last seven games, including victories over current playoff-bound clubs like Anaheim, Boston, Los Angeles and Washington.
Just as it’s been all season, it’s been 17-9-4 G Henrik Lundqvist that has been the backbone of this team of late. Over its past seven games, New York’s defense has allowed a whopping 260 shots on goal (fourth-most since December 15), but Lundqvist has yielded only 13 goals for an incredible .943 save percentage that is fourth-best among goaltenders with at least four starts since the middle of the month.
Of course, it’s no surprise the netminder that has the (t)ninth-most victories and shutouts (two) on the season is performing well. This recent burst of success has only improved his season numbers to a .922 save percentage and 2.58 GAA that are the (t)seventh and (t)12th-best efforts, respectively, among the 31 netminders with at least 16 starts.
Meanwhile, life was supposed to be a lot better for the 10-20-8 Sabres this season, but they are the worst team in the Eastern Conference and only five points better than the miserable Coyotes, the worst team in the NHL. What’s worse is that what was easily the club’s best strength only a year ago – Buffalo’s offense – has been absolutely dreadful this season, averaging a league-worst 2.21 goals per game.
Considering the entire team’s inability to score, it’s hard to hold too much against C Jack Eichel (15-20-35 totals) and LW Evander Kane (15-19-34). They’re the only Sabres to be managing more than 24 points, as well as the only goalscorers with more than nine tallies to their credits.
Unfortunately, two players can’t save an entire team. D Rasmus Ristolainen (1-10-11 totals) in particular has not transitioned well into new head coach Phil Housley‘s – himself a Hall of Fame defenseman – system that requires active participation in the offensive zone by all five skaters. A year after posting solid 6-39-45 totals (a career-high in assists), he’s on pace for only a 2-25-27 effort that would be his worst since his 8-12-20 sophomore campaign in 2014-’15.
Of course, it is the Sabres that enter today’s game having won their most recent game in overtime 4-3 against a very strong Devils team. Perhaps that confidence could carry into this afternoon’s contest, but I personally doubt it. I’ll take the Rangers as a three-goal favorite in the 10th Winter Classic.
The Dallas Stars showed no mercy in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they beat the San Jose Sharks 6-0 at the American Airlines Center.
Dallas scored two goals in each period to absolutely dominate this game. First Star of the Game D John Klingberg (F Mattias Janmark and RW Alexander Radulov) scored the first at the 6:19 mark with a snap shot, followed 8:48 later by Third Star F Tyler Pitlick‘s (Second Star C Radek Faksa) wrist shot to set the score at 2-0.
The final pair of goalscorers included F Devin Shore (Benn and D Dan Hamhuis) with 8:55 remaining in the third period and Pitlick (Faksa and LW Antoine Roussel) 50 seconds later to close the book on the evening.
G Ben Bishop earned his fourth shutout of the season by saving all 26 shots he faced, leaving G Martin Jones with the loss after he saved only 18-of-22 (.818 save percentage). Jones was lifted in favor of G Aaron Dell for the third period, and the backup saved eight-of-10 (.8) for no decision.
Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day are firing on all cylinders of late, as the Stars’ victory was the hosts’ third straight and a fourth-straight game earning points. The home clubs now have a 49-27-10 record in the series that is 24 points superior to the roadies’.