February 27 – Day 139 – Atop the Central

The GMs had their fun yesterday. Now it’s time to see how their decisions pan out, as most teams have only 20 games separating them from the end of the regular season.

It’s a Tuesday in the NHL, so you know it’s going to be busy. Today’s slate of games includes nine fixtures, including three at 7 p.m. (Carolina at Boston, New Jersey at Pittsburgh [SN/TVAS] and Ottawa at Washington [RDS]) and Toronto at Florida half an hour later. A pair of tilts (St. Louis at Minnesota [NBCSN] and Nashville at Winnipeg) drop the puck at 8 p.m., while Calgary at Dallas waits 30 minutes before getting underway. Finally, tonight’s co-nightcaps – Los Angeles at Vegas (NBCSN) and Edmonton at San Jose – close out the night at 10:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

There’s two playoff rematches on tonight’s schedule, both involving the Western Quarterfinals from a year ago. The Blues eliminated the Wild in five games last year, while the Oilers needed six to knock off the Sharks.

However, last playoffs are in the rear-view  mirror at this point. Instead, the only game that can qualify as today’s featured is matchup is going down in Manitoba! To Canada we go!

 

Things have certainly been going 38-14-9 Nashville’s way lately, as it is currently riding a four-game winning streak.

The reason? The most imposing offense in the Western Conference since February 19 paired with the indomitable G Pekka Rinne.

Let’s start on the offensive end, where D Roman Josi (1-6-7 totals in his past four games) and D Ryan Ellis (1-5-6) are headlining an offense that has averaged an unbelievable 4.75 goals per game for the past week.

Of course, those first pair blueliners are just providing assists. Important as they may be, someone has to complete those plays.

Enter W Viktor Arvidsson, who’s posted 4-1-5 totals since February 19 to elevate his season marks to 22-20-42 – the best numbers of any forward in Nashville (of course, he has 12 more games played with the same number of points as F Filip Forsberg, but who’s keeping track of those kinds of things?).

What’s most inspiring about Arvidsson is knowing he has so much more to give. In only his third full season in the NHL, he’s coming off a 31-30-61 campaign last season that is statistically superior to the marks he’s earned so far this year in terms of points per game. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Arvidsson that scored 13 points in last season’s run to the Stanley Cup Final still has yet to show up, and the rest of the league should be very concerned when the Swede puts his foot firmly on the gas.

In total, six players are averaging at least a point-per-game during this winning streak: Josi, Ellis, Arvidsson, W Kevin Fiala (2-2-4 totals), F Ryan Johansen (1-3-4) and F Craig Smith (1-3-4).

Speaking of excellent players, 32-9-4 Rinne undoubtedly qualifies. He’s started three of Nashville’s last four games and posted an incredible .97 save percentage for a 1 GAA in spite of his defense allowing a (t)13th-worst 33.75 shots against per game since February 19. Not only has he improved his season numbers to a .928 save percentage and 2.27 GAA, but he’s also led the Preds to allowing only 1.25 goals against per game over this run, the best in the NHL in that time.

The 37-16-9 Jets have been pretty good themselves lately, as attested by their 5-1-0 record over their past six tilts.

Just like in Nashville, the primary reason for Winnipeg’s recent success has been an incredible offense. Since February 13, no attack in the Western Conference has been better than the Jets’, as they’ve averaged an impressive 4.82 goals per game in that time.

In that time span, no Jet has been better than American RW Blake Wheeler, who’s earned 4-8-12 totals in his last six showings and is riding an eight-game point streak.

Though Wheeler has been good, it hasn’t been just him providing the offensive sparks. D Dustin Byfuglien (1-10-11), C Mark Scheifele (4-6-10), RW Patrik Laine (6-3-9), D Tyler Myers (1-6-7) and W Nikolaj Ehlers (3-3-6) join the captain in averaging a point per game since February 13, forming three powerful lines of forwards and two stellar blueline pairs.

Where Winnipeg sets itself apart from its Central Division rival is on the defensive end, as the Jets have allowed only 31.17 shots against per game since February 13, the ninth-fewest in the league in that time. F Matt Hendricks (2.5 hits per game in the Jets’ last six games) and D Josh Morrissey (2.2 blocks per game during this run) have played major roles in that effort, and their success has made life very easy on 32-9-8 G Connor Hellebuyck, who’s been able to post a .934 save percentage and 2 GAA with his lighter work load to improve his season numbers to a .924 save percentage and 2.32 GAA.

There’s a lot on the line in this game. Not only are the Predators interested in putting some distance between themselves and the second-place Jets, but they’re also eyeing the Western Conference’s top seed. Should Smashville win and Vegas lose to Los Angeles in regulation, the Predators will pull into a tie for first place in the West. After taking tiebreakers into account, the Preds would take the lead in the conference based on their game in hand on the Knights.

As for Winnipeg, it can’t take the Central lead with a win tonight, but two points would certainly put even more pressure on the Predators than is already present. The Jets currently trail Nashville by only two points in the standings, but the Preds have a game in hand.

The Predators and Jets have squared off twice already this season, and they’ll meet up two more times after tonight before the end of the regular season. This is Nashville’s first trip to Manitoba this season, as it hosted the first two tilts. Home ice was indeed an advantage on November 20, as the Preds won 5-3 (Johansen took First Star honors with his two-point effort), but the Jets managed to win December 19’s tilt 6-4 (injured F Brandon Tanev scored the game-winner with 1:26 remaining in regulation) to level the season series at 1-1-0.

Big games like these come down to the small details and which team limits the opposition’s opportunities. With that in mind, I think Winnipeg’s defense will play a major role in leading the Jets to a home victory.


Though they needed a shootout to get the job done, the Tampa Bay Lightning defended Amalie Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day by beating the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3.

Whatever the second round of the playoffs looks like for the Atlantic Division, it’s sure to be a thriller. That much was apparent through only one period of action as a combined 18 shots were fired on goal. Three of those ended up on the scoreboard, starting with LW Chris Kunitz‘ (D Andrej Sustr and C Steven Stamkos) tip-in only 101 seconds into the game. Toronto pulled the score back even 7:08 later when LW James van Riemsdyk (D Ron Hainsey and D Morgan Rielly) buried a backhanded shot, followed by Second Star of the Game F Mitch Marner (D Jake Gardiner and D Nikita Zaitsev) setting the score at 2-1 at the 9:52 mark.

No more goals were struck until the 3:52 mark of the second period when C Tyler Johnson (First Star F Yanni Gourde) leveled the game with a wrap-around shot, and Third Star LW Adam Erne completed the frame’s scoring with an unassisted wrist shot with 4:42 remaining on the clock.

C Tyler Bozak‘s (Marner and Rielly) game-tying wrister was set up by D Braydon Coburn holding F Zach Hyman at the 4:40 mark of the third period. Only 47 seconds later, Bozak was taking advantage of the man-advantage to force three-on-three overtime.

Even the overtime frame lived up to the hype, as a total of seven shots on goal were fired between the two clubs. However, neither G Frederik Andersen nor G Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed one by, leading the game into the dreaded shootout.

  1. As home team, Tampa elected to take the first shot of the shootout, sending RW Ryan Callahan to center ice. Tried as he might, he wasn’t able to beat Andersen.
  2. F William Nylander met a similar fate when challenging Vasilevskiy, leaving the shootout score at 0-0 through the first round.
  3. F Brayden Point went five-for-seven in the shootout during his rookie season. Though he hasn’t quite found that success this year, he did beat Andersen this time to give Tampa the lead.
  4. Though he only has six points to show for his NHL career, RW Kasperi Kapanen was Head Coach Mike Babcock’s choice to level the shootout. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the youngster’s attempt was saved by Vasilevskiy.
  5. That set up a score-to-win situation for the Bolts, and it’s no surprise they turned to Gourde. However, his offering missed the net, setting up a miss-and-lose for Toronto.
  6. Van Riemsdyk was tasked with forcing extra frames, but he met the same fate as his teammates: saved by Vasilevskiy.

Vasilevskiy earned the victory after saving 27-of-30 shots faced (.9 save percentage), leaving the shootout loss to Andersen, who saved 39-of-42 (.929).

Last night’s Game of the Day was the third-consecutive featured matchup to require more than 60 minutes to determine a winner. With the 74-46-19 hosts winning, they’ve now earned a 20-point advantage over the roadies in the series.