This is it guys: the last day of the year that football can get in the way of hockey. It’s almost over.
Unfortunately, today’s football game just so happens to be the biggest of the year, so the NHL isn’t trying to compete too much with only three matinees on the schedule. The action begins at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time with Vegas at Washington, followed half an hour later by today’s extremely early co-nightcaps: Ottawa at Montréal (RDS/SN) and San Jose at Carolina.
Before the season even began, I had two of today’s three tilts circled on my calendar:
- Vegas at Washington: D Nate Schmidt is back in the capital city, and he’s bringing his new friends from the desert with him.
- Ottawa at Montréal: A rivalry game between two of the bottom-three teams in the Atlantic Division? Oh boy!
However, in an odd twist of fate, I’m actually leaning towards the activities taking place in Raleigh, N.C. today since we’ve highlighted the Capitals or Golden Knights in three of the past five featured games. To the Research Triangle!
No matter how often I keep doubting the Sharks, they just keep on finding ways to win. As such, they’ve earned 27-16-8 record that is good enough for second place in the Pacific Division.
At the start of the season, San Jose was priding itself on stellar play in the defensive zone while its offense struggled to find much traction. However, those roles have been swapped of late, as it’s been the attack that has led the Sharks to posting 3-2-2 record in their last seven games played.
Since January 20, San Jose has averaged a (t)seventh-best 3.29 goals per game, and it’s all due to the excellence of the first line. F Logan Couture and RW Kevin Labanc have posted respective 5-2-7 and 3-4-7 totals (improving their respective season marks to 22-17-39 and 7-22-29) to average a point-per-game over this run. F Tomas Hertl completes the line with his 2-4-6 effort.
They’ve also received some extra help from the blue line from the likes of D Brent Burns, who joins Couture and Labanc in averaging a point-per-game with his 1-6-7 totals in the past seven tilts, and D Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s 3-3-6 surge.
Of course, this offensive explosion has been born mostly out of necessity, as San Jose’s defense has struggled to be much better than average lately, allowing 31.86 shots against per game over their past seven tilts ([t]13th-worst in the league).
That puts the onus on 12-4-3 G Aaron Dell – who will be starting this afternoon – to keep things under control in the defensive end, but if recent history is any indicator, the offense will need to keep up its stellar production. In Dell’s last four starts, he’s posted only a 2-1-1 record with an .882 save percentage and 3.52 GAA.
Speaking of average, there’s not a better word that describes the 24-20-8 Hurricanes of late. However, sometimes average is exactly what you need to win, and that seems to be the case for Carolina, a team that has won three of its past four games.
Of the three facets of the game that have struck me as average, the one that has definitely been the best is the Canes’ offense. Carolina has averaged 2.75 goals per game since January 25 (the [t]11th-best mark in the NHL in that time).
But don’t read too much into the word average. Even though the net result of the team’s effort may fit into that description, it doesn’t mean individual players haven’t shined brightly. In fact, a whopping four players are averaging at least a point-per-game since January 25, and that group is spearheaded by F Teuvo Teravainen‘s 2-3-5 effort over the past four games to elevate his season marks to 13-28-41 – the best in Raleigh. Behind him, C Victor Rask (1-3-4), RW Justin Williams (1-3-4) and D Noah Hanifin (0-4-4) have also helped keep the Canes ahead of the opposition.
For most of the season, Carolina has prided itself on stellar defense, but it seems the Hurricanes are still a little sluggish after the All-Star Break considering they’ve allowed 31.5 shots against per game since January 25 – the exact middle of the road for the NHL in that time.
Fortunately, it seems 15-6-2 G Cam Ward is more than up to the challenge, as he’s won all three of his most recent starts. In those showings, he’s posted a .932 save percentage and 2 GAA, and he might be just the edge the Canes need to pull off a victory today.
The Hurricanes have already made their annual visit to The Tank this season during a six-game road trip. They required an overtime goal from Burns, but the Sharks were able to comeback from a 4-1 second period deficit to knock off Carolina 5-4.
Though I think it’s safe to say San Jose’s offense has definitely been ticking at a better pace of late, the Sharks’ lackadaisical effort in the defensive zone is just too much of a liability for me in this game. I think Ward leads Carolina to a victory this afternoon.
The Dallas Stars showed no mercy in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they beat the Minnesota Wild 6-1 at American Airlines Center.
Making Dallas’ offensive explosion even more impressive is the fact that not a single goal was struck in the first period. Don’t think that it was for a lack of effort though, as a combined 19 shots were saved by Second Star of the Game G Kari Lehtonen and G Alex Stalock.
However, that narrative did not carry into the second period – at least not for Stalock. The Stars scored four goals in the frame in the span of only 5:08, meaning Dallas averaged a goal every 77 seconds.
F Mattias Janmark (D John Klingberg and C Jason Spezza) claimed the honor of breaking the scoreless draw with a power play tip-in 8:58 into the period, followed 39 seconds later by an unassisted slap shot from Third Star D Stephen Johns that proved to be the game-winner.
Johns ended up with the puck due to a sloppy attempt by RW Nino Niederreiter to dump the puck into the Wild’s offensive zone. With everyone headed that way, Johns advanced unimpeded into his own attacking zone before ripping a clapper from the right face-off dot past Stalock’s glove.
The third goal belonged to LW Jamie Benn (F Devin Shore and First Star F Tyler Seguin) with 8:11 remaining in the period, a power play snap shot struck 2:12 after Johns’ game-winner. Seguin (Benn and RW Alexander Radulov) completed the outburst 2:17 after the horn stopped blaring for Benn with a wrist shot.
5:40 into the third period, W Jason Zucker (F Mikael Granlund and D Jared Spurgeon) pulled the Wild back within a 4-1 deficit, but insurance goals from Radulov (Seguin) and D Dan Hamhuis (D Greg Pateryn and RW Brett Ritchie) eliminated any chance of a Minnesota comeback.
Lehtonen earned the victory after saving 30-of-31 shots faced (.968 save percentage), leaving the loss to Stalock, who saved 25-of-29 (.862). The Stars’ final two goals were charged to G Devan Dubnyk, who replaced Lehtonen for the third period. He saved seven-of-nine (.778) for no decision.
Four straight wins by the 64-37-15 hosts in the DtFR Game of the Day series has given them a 25-point advantage over the roadies.