February 11 – Day 123 – It’s easy as…

Do your Sunday right with a full day of hockey.

Like yesterday, we’ll start our daily hockey schedule with group play in the women’s Olympic tournament. Scheduled for 7:10 a.m. Eastern time, Canada’s women will be squaring off against the Olympic Athletes from Russia in PyeongChang.

Back in North America, the NHL is raring to get its nine-game schedule underway, as Pittsburgh at St. Louis (NBC/TVAS) will drop the day’s opening puck at high noon. The next wave of matinees is scheduled for 3 p.m. (the New York Rangers at Winnipeg [NHLN] and Detroit at Washington [SN1/TVAS]), followed an hour later by Vancouver at Dallas. Three tilts (Colorado at Buffalo, Boston at New Jersey and Calgary at the New York Islanders [SN]) get underway at the usual 7 p.m. starting time, trailed 60 minutes later by tonight’s co-nightcaps: Philadelphia at Vegas and San Jose at Anaheim. All times Eastern.

To close out this list of games, we return our attention to South Korea in time to catch the 2:40 a.m. Eastern time puck drop of Switzerland vs. Japan in the women’s Olympic tournament.

My list of important matchups? I thought you’d never ask!

  • Canada vs. OAR: The second and fourth-ranked women’s sides in the world are squaring off? No need to tell me twice.
  • Pittsburgh at St. Louis: Penguins fans have a hot-cold relationship with RW Ryan Reaves, but he’ll be welcomed with open arms today in the Gateway City.
  • New York at Winnipeg: Speaking of prodigal sons returning home, G Ondrej Pavelec – a 10-year resident of Manitoba’s capital – is back in town with the Rangers.
  • Calgary at New York: Another return to a former home arena, D Travis Hamonic makes his Brooklyn debut in a Flames sweater.
  • San Jose at Anaheim: No returns here; just a good, old-fashioned rivalry.
  • Switzerland vs. Japan: This is an important game in the battle for playoff qualification from Group B, as the loser will probably end up in the consolation tournament.

What. A. List.

Let’s shoot for what should be the most important game of the day. That means we’re headed out to The Pond!

 

With only two points separating second-place San Jose and fifth-place Anaheim, it goes without saying that every game within the Pacific Division is huge.

Beginning with the visiting 29-18-6 Sharks, life has been a bit of a roller coaster since returning from the All-Star Break. San Jose has posted only a 3-3-1 record since January 30, but it’s been decent play in the defensive zone that has kept the Sharks in their spot in the division table.

Behind the efforts of D Justin Braun (1.9 hits per game since January 30), D Marc-Edouard Vlasic (averaging 2.3 blocks over his past seven showings) and F Barclay Goodrow and F Tomas Hertl (both averaging a takeaway-per-game over this run), the Sharks have limited their opposition to an average of 31.14 shots against since the All-Star Break, the 14th-best effort in the NHL.

While that performance may be little better than average in the league in that time, San Jose is fortunate enough to have the luxury of employing 15-14-5 G Martin Jones on an almost nightly basis. In his five starts since the break, Jones has played well to post a .922 save percentage and 2.39 GAA, improving his season numbers to .911 and 2.64.

Between those two efforts, San Jose’s collective defense has allowed an average of only 2.86 goals per game since returning from break, the 14th-best performance in the NHL in that time.

Meanwhile, 27-19-10 Anaheim has done little better than San Jose since returning to action, as the Ducks have posted only a 3-2-1 record over their past six games.

When the Ducks have earned those seven points, it would seem that they earned them on the offensive end. Since January 30, Anaheim has scored an 18th-best (also known as 14th-worst…) 2.83 goals per game.

Leading that charge has been none other than F Rickard Rakell. the 24-year-old Swede has posted 4-5-9 totals in his past six showings to average well over a point per game and improve his season numbers to a team-leading 22-23-45. He’s joined by W Corey Perry (3-4-7 since the All-Star Break, 11-21-32 overall) and D Cam Fowler (0-6-6 since the break, 6-18-24 overall) in averaging a point per game over this run.

In particular, Fowler and Rakell have had some incredible chemistry of late. All six of Fowler’s assists have involved Rakell in some way, including the defenseman providing a helper on half of the forward’s most recent goals.

Tonight’s game is the important finale of the four-game regular season series between these two clubs. Posting a 2-0-1 record against the Ducks, San Jose has a commanding lead in the series, but Anaheim can still level with a regulation win this evening. The Sharks won the first meeting 2-1 on November 4 thanks to a clutch save by Jones in the sixth round of a shootout, but Anaheim matched that shootout victory with one of its own 16 days later. F Antoine Vermette scored the game-winning goal in the ninth round of the shootout to give the Ducks a 3-2 victory. More recently, San Jose dominated Anaheim to a 6-2 victory in Southern California on January 21. 14-4-3 G Aaron Dell earned First Star honors with a .943 save percentage.

Though the Sharks did have to play last night at home to a 6-4 victory against the Oilers, I like their chances at upsetting the Ducks at Honda Center. Though Anaheim has sported a slightly better offense of late by comparison, the Sharks’ defense should be able to keep it contained to earn two points.


After raising C Vincent Lecavalier‘s sweater to the Amalie Arena rafters, the Tampa Bay Lightning successfully defended home ice against the Los Angeles Kings to a 4-3 victory in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

On a night honoring a former captain, who else to register Tampa’s first goal than Second Star of the Game C Steven Stamkos (F Yanni Gourde and F Tyler Johnson)? His snap shot found the back of the net only 65 seconds into the game to give the Lightning an early lead. However, that advantage didn’t last long, as F Jonny Brodzinski (F Andy Andreoff and C Nick Shore) pulled the Kings even only 3:57 later. Thanks to F Alex Killorn‘s (Stamkos and D Braydon Coburn) wrist shot at the 9:45 mark, the Bolts were able to set the score at 2-1 to take a one-goal advantage into the first intermission.

The Lightning absolutely dominated the second period, as they scored both goals of the frame and out-shot Los Angeles 14-9. F Cedric Paquette (RW Ryan Callahan) provided the first tally with a wrister at the 3:12 mark, followed 11:31 later by a RW Nikita Kucherov (D Victor Hedman) power play wrister that eventually became the game-winner.

With LW Kyle Clifford in the penalty box serving W Dustin Brown‘s kneeing five-minute major penalty at the 14:30 mark against D Mikhail Sergachev (Brown also earned a misconduct on the play), the Lightning’s power play was quick to jump on the opportunity. After Kucherov reset the play to Hedman at the blue line, the puck was returned to the Russian above the right face-off circle. Kucherov advanced a few paces towards G Jonathan Quick‘s net before ripping a quick wrister over the netminder’s glove.

As good as Tampa Bay was in the second period to set the score at 4-1, Los Angeles was able to match that effort in the third. Clifford (Third Star C Anze Kopitar and D Derek Forbort) registered the frame’s first goal at the 3:17 mark, followed 10:48 later by D Christian Folin‘s (Andreoff and Shore) slap shot to pull the Kings back within a goal. However, the Kings were only able to match Tampa’s second period performance – not exceed it – as they failed to find a leveling goal in the remaining 6:55 of regulation.

First Star G Andrei Vasilevskiy earned the victory after saving 44-of-47 shots faced (.936 save percentage), leaving the loss to Quick, who saved 13-of-14 (.929). G Darcy Kuemper started the game for Los Angeles, put he was pulled after Paquette set the score at 3-1. Kuemper saved 11-of-14 (.786) for no decision.

The Bolts’ victory snapped a two-game losing skid by home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, returning a 26-point advantage to the series’ 68-40-15 hosts.

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