February 14 – Day 126 – Valentine’s rivalry

It’s another busy day in the world of hockey!

As we’ve done all week, we start today’s activities in Pyeongchang at the Olympics. However, today is a little bit different since it marks the beginning of the men’s tournaments. Both Slovakia vs. the OAR and the USA vs. Slovenia will drop the puck at 7:10 a.m. Eastern time this morning in Group B play.

The NHL will take to the ice at 7 p.m. this evening when Columbus visits Toronto (NHLN/SN/TVAS), followed by Montréal at Colorado (RDS/TSN2) at 9:30 p.m. and Florida at Vancouver (SN) – tonight’s NHL nightcap – half an hour later. All times Eastern.

We return our attention to South Korea at 10:10 p.m. when Team USA’s women take on Team Canada to determine the winner of Group A, as well as the Finnish men against the Germans in Group C. Lastly, the OAR women will take on Finland to complete the women’s group stage at 2:40 a.m., joined by the Norwegian men playing Sweden at the same time. All times Eastern.

I’d include a list of the games I definitely have my eye on, but it only includes Olympic play. Of course, the most important game taking place in South Korea tonight is a matchup of the top two teams in the women’s game.

The weird part about this game is that it matters, and doesn’t matter, all at the same time.

Team Canada and Team USA have both already clinched their spots in the Olympic Semifinals, meaning they’ve already assured themselves two more games in South Korea (the semifinal and a medal game).

However, there’s still seeding on the line, as the winner of tonight’s game will square off against the winner of Sweden vs. the third place team from Group A (which will be determined when the OAR and Finland play in the wee hours of the morning), while tonight’s loser will take on the winner of Switzerland vs. the remaining Group A team’s quarterfinal.

As things currently stand, 2-0-0-0 Team Canada leads Group A based on a superior goal-differential, as both Canada and the USA have allowed only one goal in two games played but the Canadians have scored one more goal.

No offense has been finer than Canada’s during these Olympic Games. Albeit in only two games played, the Canadians lead the tournament averaging 4.5 goals per game. Three players are averaging at least a point per game, and that group is headlined by forwards Melodie Daoust (3-1-4 totals), Rebecca Johnston (2-2-4) and Marie-Philip Poulin (1-3-4) – all of whom are managing two points per game.

As made evident of their reflective totals, Daoust and Poulin are continuing the incredible chemistry they’ve displayed throughout their careers playing together on Canada’s top line. However, the standout of the group just might be Johnston, who has been equal part play-maker and goalscorer on the second line.

Having allowed only 20.5 shots against per game these Olympics (the third-best effort in the group stage) there’s little doubting Canada’s defense. However, the backbone of this corps is still its deep goaltending.

Both G Ann-Renee Desbiens and G Shannon Szabados have drawn starts so far, with Desbiens technically being the more impressive of the two considering her perfect 18-save shutout against the OAR. However, it would seem likely that Szabados, even with her inferior 22-for-23 (.957 save percentage) performance against Finland, would be the netminder pegged to take on the world’s top-ranked squad.

Speaking of, 2-0-0-0 Team USA has been just as impressive as Canada even though it sits behind it in the Group B standings. So far, the Americans have played arguably the best defensive game of all eight teams in the tournament, as they’ve matched Canada’s .5 goals against-per-game and allowed a superior 18.5 shots against average.

Just like Canada, the Americans have employed two goaltenders so far this tournament with much success. G Nicole Hensley has technically been the superior of the two considering her perfect 13-save shutout against the OAR, but it would seem probable that G Maddie Rooney, who posted a 23-for-24 (.958 save percentage) performance against a vastly superior Finnish side.

And that doesn’t even get us started on the United States’ offense, which currently ranks third by averaging four goals per game with two fixtures remaining to be played in the entirety of the group stage.

A total of five players are averaging at least a point per game, but none have been better through their first two showings than F Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson. Not only do her three points lead the team, but she’s also scored a team-high two goals.

One last note on America’s attack involves D Megan Keller – Group A’s lone defensewoman to average a point per game. She may be just the wild card that can give Team USA the edge against their bitter rivals.

The last time Team Canada and Team USA squared off was at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla. November 12, 2017, in the Championship Game of the Four Nations Cup. It was a surprisingly dominant victory by the hosts, as the United States beat Canada 5-1. Hannah Brandt provided the opening and game-winning goals both in the second period.

In fact, Team USA is riding a five-game winning streak against Team Canada dating back to the 2016 Four Nations Championship Game. Since successfully defending their 2015 title at the same tournament, the Americans have beaten Canada twice at the 2017 IIHF Women’s World Championship and two more times at the ’17 Four Nations Cup.

Of course, the Americans would willingly give away that winning streak if it meant they could trade in their two silver medals at the last two Olympics for a gold this year, snapping Canada’s run of four-consecutive titles at the quadrennial tournament.

But, that million dollar question will have to wait until February 22. How will today’s game pan out?

If this were any other tournament, I’d feel very comfortable picking the Americans to beat Team Canada. However, the Canadians always seem to have Team USA’s numbers when playing under the Olympic Rings. I think America can win this game, but this tilt will have no baring on a potential probable Gold Medal matchup.


Though they needed a shootout, the New Jersey Devils beat the Philadelphia Flyers 5-4 at Wells Fargo Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Almost all the action in this game took place in the second period, but that didn’t happen until after F Travis Konecny‘s (F Claude Giroux and D Shayne Gostisbehere) snap shot at the 1:54 mark of the first frame to give the Flyers an early lead.

In total, a whopping six goals were struck in the middle 20 minutes – three by each side. The first marker was struck at the 4:06 mark, and it belonged to F Taylor Hall (D Sami Vatanen) to level the game at 1-1. However, Philadelphia reclaimed the lead only 43 seconds later when C Scott Laughton (W Michael Raffl and D Andrew MacDonald) buried a wrist shot. A D Radko Gudas (F Valtteri Filppula and RW Dale Weise) slap shot with 9:24 remaining in the period gave the Flyers a 3-1 advantage, but it lasted only 2:41 before D John Moore (C Travis Zajac and W Jesper Bratt) pulled Jersey back within a goal.

Only one power play goal was struck in the contest, and it belonged to Giroux (W Jakub Voracek and Gostisbehere) with 4:01 remaining in the period. With Zajac in the box for cross-checking F Jordan Weal, Giroux buried a snapper to return a two-goal advantage to Philly. It didn’t last long though, as C Nico Hischier (Bratt) scored only 10 seconds later to set the score at 4-3.

The third period was a fairly defensive affair, as only a combined 19 shots were fired by both club. Only one tickled the twine, and it belonged to Hall (Hischier and Zajac) with only 1:21 remaining in regulation. A former fan of orange, Hall took advantage of the six-on-five advantage to level the game with a wrister.

After all those goals in regulation, it’s beyond a surprise that neither club could find an overtime game-winner during the five minutes of three-on-three play. However, the tie remained, meaning the game advanced into the shootout. As host, Head Coach Dave Hakstol had the option of shooting first or second…

  1. Like most do, Hakstol elected to shoot first, sending Weal to center ice. Unfortunately, the forward didn’t make good on the decision, as his wrister was saved by G Keith Kinkaid.
  2. However, a saved shot is better than a miss. That’s exactly what W Kyle Palmieri did, leaving the shootout tied at 0-0 through the first round.
  3. Konecny was tapped to turn the tide for Philly in the second round, but his attempt met the same fate as Weal’s: saved by Kinkaid.
  4. The opportunity to score the first goal of the shootout fell next to W Drew Stafford, and he didn’t disappoint. He beat G Michal Neuvirth to force a miss-and-lose situation for the Flyers in the third round.
  5. In such situations, there’s few Flyers better to call upon than Voracek. However, he couldn’t answer the bell yesterday, as Kinkaid saved all three shootout shots he faced.

Kinkaid earned the victory after saving 31-of-35 shots faced (.886 save percentage), leaving the shootout loss to Neuvirth, who saved 32-of-36 (.889).

That’s three straight wins for visitors in the DtFR Game of the Day series, pulling them within 22 points of the 68-41-17 hosts.

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