January 3 – Day 88 – Black and blue and red all over

It’s Wednesday in the NHL, and as usual it’s a light schedule.

The action begins at 7:30 p.m. when the Senators pay a visit to Detroit to take on the Red Wings (SN/TVAS), and Chicago at the New York Rangers (NBCSN) drops the puck half an hour later to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

While I run the risk of repeating things I said Monday, the contest that should draw everyone’s attention is taking place at Madison Square Garden.

 

For those that love Original Six matchups, you’re welcome. It’s been a while since we’ve featured such a game, as the last was Boston at Detroit three weeks ago.

Of course, it hasn’t been anywhere near that long since we last featured the 21-13-5 Rangers, as their 3-2 overtime victory in the Winter Classic at Citi Field – a road game a whopping 10 miles from home – was the NHL’s lone game on New Year’s Day.

The Rangers, who are currently the Eastern Conference’s top wildcard, are rolling right now, as they’ve earned a 5-1-2 record over their past eight showings, and that success has been largely because of the dominance on the defensive end. Of course, what should we expect from a team that has the luxury of having 18-9-4 G Henrik Lundqvist on its roster. Lundqvist has won the (t)eighth-most games this season, and his two shutouts are (t)10th-most in the NHL.

Lundqvist has been in net for all but one of the tilts over this eight-game run, and he’s found a lot of success. He’s posted a .943 save percentage and 2.07 GAA (both top-10 efforts among the 31 goalies with at least four starts since December 15).

If this game comes down to which goaltender is better, I’d put my money on New York because 16-9-2 G Corey Crawford is going to be unavailable to the 18-14-6 Blackhawks for the foreseeable future. He was placed on injured reserve last week with an upper body injury with no timetable of when he could return to the ice.

That wouldn’t be good news if Chicago was atop the Western Conference like it has been for most of the last decade, but it’s even worse since the Hawks are currently four points behind Anaheim for the second wild card.

The Hawks’ struggles aren’t Crawford’s fault – in fact, I’d argue that he’s the main reason they still have a shot at qualifying for the playoff for the 10th-consecutive season. Before going down with an injury, he’d posted a .929 save percentage and 2.27 GAA, the fourth- and seventh-best efforts, respectively, in the NHL.

Filling in for Crawford is already a tall task for 1-0-1 G Jeff Glass, but it doesn’t help that the Hawks are finishing an uncomfortable six-game road trip this evening. This has not been a fun jaunt from the United Center, as they’ve posted a miserable 1-3-1 record on the trip.

Glass will be making his third career start in the NHL tonight behind a defense that has allowed an average of 33.2 shots against over its last five games. He’s been decent so far, as he’s posted a .917 season save percentage and 3.46 GAA, but going up against a Rangers team that is having the success it is right now can’t be a good omen.

These teams have already squared off once before this season, and it was the Blackhawks that came away with the 6-3 victory at home on November 15. Artem Anisimov was incredible in that game, scoring what is still the only hat trick of his 10-year career. I suppose he is still a bit salty about being traded by the Rangers to Columbus for Rick Nash in the 2011 offseason. Go figure, Anisimov is also on injured reserve with an upper body injury, so the Hawks will need to find a different hero if they want to earn two points tonight.

It’s tough to pick the Blackhawks in this one. In addition to the previously mentioned injuries, their offense hasn’t been in sync all season. All signs point towards an easy Rangers win this evening.


Behind the excellent work of First Star of the Game G Marc-Andre Fleury, the Vegas Golden Knights shutout the Nashville Predators to win yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at T-Mobile Arena 3-0.

Fleury performed incredibly to earn his second clean sheet of the season. Especially tested in the second and third period, he saved all 29 shots he faced to keep the Knights atop the Western Conference and within four points of the league-leading Lightning.

Of course, he couldn’t do everything – a la play offense – and that’s where Second Star W Reilly Smith (D Nate Schmidt and RW Alex Tuch) comes into play. With 7:50 remaining before the second intermission, Smith took advantage of the extra room caused by W Kevin Fiala serving a too many men on the ice penalty to attack G Pekka Rinne‘s crease and bank a wrist shot off his left pad to score what proved to be the game-winning goal.

Third Star D Shea Theodore (D Deryk Engelland and Tuch) tacked on Vegas’ first insurance goal 91 seconds after the goal horn stopped blaring, and F Jon Marchessault (W David Perron and F Erik Haula) cleaned up the evening’s scoring by burying a wrister on an empty net with 2:23 remaining in the game.

Rinne took the loss after saving 28-of-30 shots faced (.933 save percentage), his second consecutive loss and fourth in his last five appearances.

Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day are rolling since the holiday break, as they’ve won four of the last five featured games and earned points in five of the last six. As such, their 50-27-11 record in the series is 25 points superior to that of the roadies.

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