March 8 – Day 148 – Home ice advantage

Thursdays in the NHL never disappoint, as there’s a whopping 12 games on the slate this evening!

Like most nights, the action finds its start at 7 p.m. this evening with three games (Philadelphia at Boston [NHLN/SN], Winnipeg at New Jersey and Colorado at Columbus), followed half an hour later by four more (Buffalo at Ottawa [RDS2], Vegas at Detroit, the New York Rangers at Tampa Bay [TVAS] and Montréal at Florida [RDS]). Next up is Anaheim at Nashville, which drops the puck at 8 p.m. and is trailed half an hour later by Carolina at Chicago and the New York Islanders at Edmonton at 9 p.m. Finally, tonight’s co-nightcaps – Washington at Los Angeles (SN) and St. Louis at San Jose – drop the puck at 10:30 p.m. to close the evening out. All times Eastern.

More than a few of tonight’s games were circled on my calendar at the start of the year, including…

  • Philadelphia at Boston: The Flyers are playing their second rivalry game in as many days, traveling into snow-covered Boston.
  • Buffalo at Ottawa: The Sabres and Senators enjoyed a healthy rivalry in the mid-2000s. Let’s see if it gets revived tonight.
  • Vegas at Detroit: After spending his first seven seasons in Hockeytown, F Tomas Tatar is making his return with the Golden Knights tonight.
  • New York at Tampa Bay: Another deadline deal sent F Vladislav Namestnikov from Tampa – where he’s spent the first five seasons of his NHL career – to the Rangers.
  • Anaheim at Nashville: If playoff rematches get you excited, this is the game for you. The Predators beat the Ducks in six games last May.
  • Carolina at Chicago: G Scott Darling and D Trevor van Riemsdyk were both Blackhawks last season, but tonight they’ll be wearing white at United Center.
  • New York at Edmonton: D Brandon Davidson and RW Jordan Eberle swapped in their blue-and-orange Oilers sweaters for blue-and-orange Islanders sweaters.

What a selection of games! However, only one can be our focus tonight. Since the postseason is just around the corner, let’s look back to the Ducks and Predators’ playoff matchup from a season ago just in case it gets repeated this year.

 

If you’ll remember, Bridgestone Arena was an impassable fortress in favor of the Predators last postseason. They won both home games in the first round to complete their sweep of the Blackhawks and followed it up with three more wins – including the series-clinching Game 6 – against St. Louis to advance to the Western Conference Finals.

Then Anaheim showed up and spoiled the fun.

Though they’d surely heard the whispers roars about The Stone, the Ducks didn’t seem too daunted by one of the most impressive home ice advantages in recent memory. Having split the opening two games at Honda Center, the Ducks and Predators played a tight Game 3 to a 2-1 Nashville victory that saw D Roman Josi score the game-winner with 2:43 remaining in regulation, setting up an extremely important Game 4.

In that tilt, Anaheim survive a two-goal third period comeback (capped by F Filip Forsberg‘s game-tying marker with 36 seconds remaining in regulation) by Nashville that eventually led to a W Corey Perry overtime goal that snapped Nashville’s home winning streak and leveled the series at two games apiece.

A home loss like that can take the legs out from under a team, or it can reignite the fire in their competitive drive. It did the latter for the Predators in the conference final, as they headed back west to win 3-1 in Anaheim and pull within a victory of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Home ice didn’t disappoint for the Predators in Game 6, as they cruised to a 6-3 victory on the back of a C Colton Sissons hat trick.

That dominance that got 43-14-9 Smashville to the championship round a season ago is in full swing right now, as the Predators are currently riding an impressive nine-game winning streak.

It’s hard to argue with the offense Nashville has been exhibiting during this winning streak. Since February 19, the Predators have averaged a whopping 4.33 goals per game, the best mark in the NHL.

Managing 6-6-12 marks over this run to improve his season totals to 24-25-49, W Viktor Arvidsson has been a major part of this Nashville attack. However, he’s also had the support of the injured Josi (1-11-12 totals in his last six games played) and D Ryan Ellis (3-8-11 since February 19), as all three are currently averaging at least a point per game.

It is here where we find the dominance of the Predators, as only three of Ellis’ last 12 points have coincided with Arvidsson getting on the scorecard, meaning these two players have played in a combined 21 goals in the past nine games.

Talk about the entire team getting involved on the offensive attack.

Of course, all those goals do no good if the opposition can keep up on the scoreboard. Fortunately for Nashville, it has 36-9-4 G Pekka Rinne at its disposal.

Even though he’s been faced with an average of 32 shots per game during this run (16th in the NHL since February 19), Rinne has performed phenomenally to keep opposing offenses under his thumb. The Finn has posted an incredible .942 save percentage and 1.86 GAA in his last seven starts, improving his season marks to a .928 save percentage and 2.29 GAA.

However, Nashville is not the only team in tonight’s game currently riding a win streak. The 34-21-12 Ducks are rolling too, as they’ve won their last three games and have earned points in four-straight.

Just like with the Preds’ winning streak, Anaheim’s has also been sparked by some stellar offense. In all, seven players have averaged at least a point per game since February 25 – none of which have been better than C Ryan Getzlaf, who’s posted unbelievable 1-8-9 totals in his last three games played (he missed Friday’s win over the Blue Jackets due to illness) to average three points per game during this run. Linemate F Rickard Rakell has also been exemplary lately, as his 6-2-8 totals average out to two points per game in his last four showings.

In all, the 4.75 goals per game Anaheim has averaged since February 25 is tops in the NHL in that time.

The similarities between tonight’s opponents continues when we look towards the goal crease, as 25-15-6 G John Gibson has been in peak form in his last three starts. Since last Sunday, Gibson has posted an incredible .955 save percentage for a 1.67 GAA in spite of a defense that has allowed a dismal 38.5 shots against per game (third-worst in the NHL since February 25), improving his season marks to a .927 save percentage and 2.46 GAA.

Even though the Ducks will be in action again tomorrow night in Dallas, it has to be all but assured that Head Coach Randy Carlyle will deploy his best netminder against the best team in the Western Conference and save 8-5-6 G Ryan Miller for the Stars.

Much to the pleasure of the Ducks, who have yet to beat Nashville this season, tonight’s matchup is the finale of the three-game series between these clubs. Their first meeting was on November 3 at Honda Center, where the Preds won 5-3 in large part due to Josi’s one-goal, two-point night. Smashville followed up that victory with a much more competitive 3-2 shootout win at Bridgestone Arena, the site of tonight’s game, on December 2 (W Kevin Fiala took First Star honors).

With the top seed in the Western Conference (and therefore the Central Division) currently in their grasp, there is only one thing left for the Predators to compete for: the Presidents’ Trophy. Nashville’s 95 points are only one point fewer than Tampa’s, and the Preds have a game in hand. In other words, hold off on inscribing this year’s regular-season champion into the record books.

The Ducks could care less about a trophy they’ve never seen, as their sole focus is on holding on to second place in the Pacific Division. Four teams (Anaheim, San Jose, Los Angeles and Calgary) are competing for two division spots and are separated by only four points entering tonight’s action, and the Ducks have no wiggle room given the Sharks and Kings both have a game in hand on the team from Orange County.

This preview started with a recap about home dominance, and I think that’s where the preview must also end. Though the Ducks have been playing well lately – well enough, in fact, to upset many good teams in their own barns – Smashville is an entirely different animal. With their fans behind them, the Predators will simply be too strong tonight for the Ducks to beat them.


With a three-assist night from First Star of the Game C Sidney Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Philadelphia Flyers 5-2 at Wells Fargo Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Even though a total of seven goals were struck in this game, only one was registered in the first period. It belonged to RW Phil Kessel (F Evgeni Malkin and Crosby) and was a power play wrist shot with 1:25 remaining in the frame.

Facing a 1-0 deficit, the Flyers pulled back even 2:07 into the second period when Third Star RW Jakub Voracek (F Nolan Patrick) scored a tip-in, followed only 3:52 later by F Travis Konecny (F Claude Giroux and D Andrew MacDonald) setting the score at 2-1 with a wrister.

Unfortunately for Philadelphia, that was all the offense it could muster, meaning D Jamie Oleksiak‘s (D Justin Schultz and F Jake Guentzel) slap shot at the 9:24 mark leveled the game at 2-2. 5:01 later, Pittsburgh found its game-winner courtesy of Second Star W Conor Sheary (Crosby and Oleksiak).

After Oleksiak slung a pass his way from the left face-off circle in his own zone, Crosby did most of the work setting up a two-on-one advantage while advancing into the Flyers’ zone. The captain fired an initial wrister that G Petr Mrazek blocked, but Sheary was there to collect the rebound and complete the play with a backhanded shot.

The third period ended with a 4-2 score when Sheary (Guentzel and Crosby) scored a wrister 40 seconds before the second intermission. Malkin (LW Carl Hagelin and C Riley Sheahan) completed the game’s scoring with 1:41 remaining in regulation by burying a wrister into an empty net.

G Tristan Jarry earned the victory after saving 26-of-28 shots faced (.929 save percentage), leaving the loss to Mrazek, who saved 23-of-27 (.852).

Pittsburgh’s road victory snapped a seven-game winning streak by the 81-48-19 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The hosts now have only a 29-point advantage in the series.

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