February 1 – Day 113 – Golden opportunities

Thursday nights are the best of the week in my opinion, and it doesn’t look like this one is going to disappoint with its dozen tilts.

The action starts at 7 p.m. with six games (St. Louis at Boston [TVAS], Florida at Buffalo, Philadelphia at New Jersey, Toronto at the New York Rangers, Montréal at Carolina [RDS/TSN2] and Anaheim at Ottawa [RDS2]), followed an hour later by Vegas at Winnipeg. Next up is Los Angeles at Nashville (NBCSN) at 8:30 p.m., while a trio of matchups (Tampa Bay at Calgary [SN360], Colorado at Edmonton and Dallas at Arizona) wait half an hour before dropping the puck. Finally, Chicago at Vancouver gets underway at 10 p.m. to close out the evening’s festivities. All times Eastern.

Without even looking at the standings, there’s a few games that should be extremely exciting…

  • Philadelphia at New Jersey: It’s a pivotal Battle of the Turnpikes in the ultra-competitive Metropolitan Division!
  • Toronto at New York: If an Original Six matchup doesn’t get you going, you’re like me and are from an expansion market.
  • Chicago at Vancouver: Remember back in yesteryear (basically 2008-’11) when these teams regularly squared off in the postseason? Pepperidge Farm remembers.

Since I featured the Flyers yesterday, we’re going to avoid Newark this evening even though it’s certainly the most exciting matchup of those three. Since we also featured the Golden Knights Tuesday, I think we need to make a trip to The Bay State.

 

Every hockey team will claim that their season is a roller coaster, but the 31-18-3 Blues can definitely make that claim with a clear conscience. They started the season looking like a favorite to qualify for the Stanley Cup Finals, but have since dropped to third place in the Central Division with only six points separating them from an early start to the offseason.

While it seems F Jaden Schwartz‘ return is the reason the Notes are back on track (after all, his +23 on the season still ranks [t]fifth-best in the NHL), I’d argue it’s actually been the stellar play of 13-4-1 G Carter Hutton that is most responsible for St. Louis’ return to form.

Since mid-December, 18-14-2 G Jake Allen has been the definition of inconsistent – if not worse considering he won only one game in his last nine starts. As a result, he has ceded his starting position to Hutton for the time being, and the Blues have found far more success.

That is no less true for this winning streak, as the Thunder Bay, Ontario native has been nothing short of incredible in his last three starts. Allowing a total of only two goals, he’s posted a .979 save percentage and .67 GAA to improve his season marks to a .945 save percentage and 1.7 GAA, both of which are the best in the NHL among qualified goaltenders.

With netminding like that, it doesn’t take much for an offense to find success. However, Head Coach Mike Yeo isn’t complaining one bit about an offense that has scored a (t)12th-best three goals per game since January 23.

The attack has been largely spearheaded by F Alex Steen, who’s managed 2-2-4 totals in his last three games, improving his season numbers to 11-20-31. Tack on the fact that F Brayden Schenn (2-1-3) and D Alex Pietrangelo (0-3-3) both join Steen in averaging at least a point-per-game, and St. Louis is beginning to look like the unbeatable squad it showed at the start of the campaign.

However, all this success comes with an asterisk attached: the Blues’ last three games were all at home against Ottawa, Colorado and Montréal – none of which are currently qualifying for the playoffs.

That’s where 29-11-8 Boston comes into play, the second-best team in both the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference. The host Bruins will certainly be a good litmus test of whether the Blues have rediscovered the art of hockey or not.

Of course, there are few clubs in the NHL that have pulled off a victory against the Bruins lately. In fact, Tuesday’s regulation loss against the Ducks was Boston’s first since December 14, meaning the Bruins posted a 14-1-4 record in their past 19 games.

Talk about dominant.

But really, how good are these Bruins?

How’s this for you: When I compose these “Game of the Day” pieces, I use three primary statistics to determine how a team is trending – goals per game, goals against per game and shots against per game – comparing the current winning streak or losing skid’s numbers to a club’s season marks.

Since December 16, Boston has topped the league in goals for and against per game, while falling only behind Philadelphia – another team definitely on an upward trend of late – in shots against per game.

In other words, what haven’t the Bruins done right?

While its not miserable, there’s still room for improvement in Boston’s penalty kill, which has managed only a middle-of-the-road 81.1 percent success rate since mid-December.

One player who’s not responsible for Boston’s average penalty kill is D Zdeno Chara. Even at 40-years-old, he’s still one of the best players on the ice every night. In terms of the penalty kill, he leads the team in shorthanded blocks (10) and shorthanded takeaways (three) since December 16, putting youngsters like D Charlie McAvoy – who is literally half his age – to shame.

It’s a tough ask to beat the Bruins, but Anaheim showed St. Louis the blueprint Tuesday night in its 3-1 victory at TD Garden. However, even though the Notes come into this game riding their three-game winning streak, I don’t see Boston dropping two consecutive home fixtures.


They they trailed 2-0 after the first period, the Washington Capitals beat the Philadelphia Flyers 5-3 at Capital One Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Everything went the Flyers’ way at the start of the game, as they registered both their goals before a full eight minutes ticked off the clock. F Nolan Patrick (W Wayne Simmonds) took credit for the first goal with a backhanded shot 78 seconds into the tilt, followed 6:32 later by F Travis Konecny‘s (C Sean Couturier) wrist shot to give Philly its two-goal advantage.

Washington finally got on the scoreboard 2:14 into the second period courtesy of a wrister from First Star of the Game F Chandler Stephenson (Second Star C Lars Eller and D John Carlson). Only 47 seconds later, the game was tied when Stephenson (D Madison Bowey) repeated his performance to beat G Michal Neuvirth, though this time it was with a backhander. W Andre Burakovsky (Eller) completed the period’s scoring with 5:28 remaining in the frame, burying a power play tip-in to give the Caps an advantage they would not yield for the remainder of the game.

Another Capitals power play goal was scored in the third period, and this one proved to be the game-winner. With Patrick in the penalty box for hooking RW Tom Wilson and D Robert Hagg without his stick (effectively meaning only 3.5 Flyers were on the ice), Third Star F T.J. Oshie (F Evgeny Kuznetsov and Carlson) took advantage of Kuznetsov’s pass from the right face-off dot to beat Neuvirth upstairs, setting the score at 4-2. Oshie’s goal snapped a 13-game goalless skid for the forward.

3:38 after the Capital One Arena siren stopped blaring for Oshie, W Devante Smith-Pelly (D Christian Djoos and F Jay Beagle) brought it back to life with what was then a second insurance goal. W Jakub Voracek (D Ivan Provorov and Patrick) made Smith-Pelly’s deflection a little bit more important with a tip-in of his own with 9:20 remaining in regulation, but the Flyers simply could not find another way past G Braden Holtby, letting the 5-3 score remain until the end of the game.

Holtby earned the victory after saving 27-of-30 shots faced (.9 save percentage), leaving the loss to Neuvirth, who saved 15-of-20 (.75). Following Smith-Pelly’s goal 9:06 into the third period, Neuvirth was lifted in favor of rookie G Alex Lyon, who saved all five shots he faced for no decision in his first NHL action.

The Capitals’ victory earns another two points for the 61-37-15 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, meaning they now have a 19-point advantage over the roadies.