March 13 – Day 153 – The Central teams without Ss

Only seven games are on this Tuesday’s schedule, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that the lower volume means lower quality.

We find our start at 7 p.m. with Boston at Carolina (SN1), followed half an hour later by a pair of tilts (Dallas at Montréal [RDS/TNS2] and Ottawa at Tampa Bay [RDS2]). Next up is Winnipeg at Nashville (TVAS) at 8 p.m., while Colorado at Minnesota (NBCSN) waits 30 minutes before dropping the puck. Edmonton at Calgary (SN/SN1) gets underway at 9 p.m., while tonight’s nightcap – Los Angeles at Arizona – completes the evening’s festivities with their 10 p.m. tilt. All times Eastern.

When the schedule was released last summer, there was a few games that stuck out to me on today’s slate.

  • Dallas at Montréal: RW Alexander Radulov returned to the NHL last season for the third time of his career, but he spent only one campaign with the Habs before commuting to the Lone Star State.
  • Edmonton at Calgary: The Flames need points in the worst way to stay in playoff discussion, but two points are never easily earned in this rivalry.
  • Los Angeles at Arizona: F Tobias Rieder spent the first four seasons of his NHL career with the Coyotes, but that tenure ended at this trade deadline when he was shipped to the Kings.

However, those games pale in comparison to the bouts taking place in the Central Division tomorrow. Since Nashville and Winnipeg are all but locked into the postseason, let’s see what the Avs and Wild can do.

 

The 36-24-8 Avalanche are on a nice little run lately, as they’ve posted an impressive 5-1-4 record over their last 10 showings. A major reason for that success is an imposing offense that has averaged 3.6 goals since February 20, the sixth-best mark in the NHL in that time span.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but F Nathan MacKinnon has been an absolute animal this season.

Okay, I’ve decided that even though you have heard this fact, I’m still going to talk about him.

Let’s just start with his season as a whole. MacKinnon has posted 32-49-81 totals this season, far and away the best numbers of his five-year career having eclipsed his 24-39-63 rookie marks that earned him the 2014 Calder Trophy a while ago. What really sticks out to me here are the 81 points he’s already registered this campaign, even with 14 games separating the Avalanche from the end of the regular season. What that means is, unless he somehow gets held scoreless through his next 14 showings, he’s all but ensured averaging a point per game for the entire 82-game season.

But wait, there’s more! MacKinnon’s marks get even better when we remember that he missed eight games with injury, meaning he’s earned his 81 points in only 60 games played. For those not so mathematically inclined, that means MacKinnon has averaged 1.35 points per game this season, the best mark in that statistic in the league. He’s also managed a cool .53 goals per game this season (well better than his previous career-best .29 in 2013-’14 and 2015-’16), which should be worrisome to Minnesota this evening considering he hasn’t potted his own score in a week.

More recently, the 22-year-old from Halifax, Nova Scotia has still been the class of the NHL. Since February 20, no player has posted numbers like MacKinnon’s, as his 8-12-20 points (that’s right, he’s averaging two points per game in his last 10 showings!) in that time are even better than division-rival RW Patrik Laine‘s 14-4-18 in as many games played.

I haven’t made my Hart Trophy pick yet, but MacKinnon is certainly going earn his fair share of votes this April.

Of course, an even bigger problem when facing Colorado is that the team is a little bit more than MacKinnon. RW Mikko Rantanen (5-11-16 totals since February 20) and D Tyson Barrie (5-10-15 in his last 10 games) have also been headline worthy lately by averaging at least 1.5 points per game during this run.

Meanwhile, things have also seemed to be going 39-23-7 Minnesota’s way in recent days, as it has managed a 3-1-0 record in its last four tilts.

Just like tonight’s rival, offense has been a major part of the Wild’s winning ways lately, as they’ve averaged an imposing four goals per game over their last four showings, the (t)third-best mark in the league since March 4.

Though there are four players averaging a point per game over this four-game run, none stand out quite like C Eric Staal, who has 37-31-68 totals on the season. The Thunder Bay, Ontario native has rediscovered his scoring touch at a ripe 33-years-old, scoring the most goals in one season since his 38-tally effort with the Hurricanes in 2007-’08.

Just to make sure you caught that, that was 10 years ago. 10.

Staal is on track for 44 goals this season, which would be one short of his career mark set in 2005-’06, his sophomore campaign. His last four games have more than kept him in line for that mark, as he’s averaging a frightening goal per game since March 4.

Joining Staal in averaging a point per game during this four-game run are third-liner F Charlie Coyle (2-2-4 totals) and top defensive pair Jared Spurgeon and Ryan Suter (both with 0-4-4 marks). Suter in particular has played a major role in Staal’s recent success, as three of his assists – two of which were the primary apples – have resulted in goals for the Canadian.

An added perk of Minnesota’s success on the offensive end has been its puck possession. Since March 4, the Wild’s opposing offenses have managed only 30 shots per game, the (t)ninth-best mark in the NHL in that time. Spurgeon (2.3 blocks per game over his last four games) and W Jason Zucker (averaging a takeaway per game over this run) in particular have played major roles in that defensive success.

Facing only 30 shots per outing has certainly made 30-13-5 G Devan Dubnyk look pretty good as well. Having started all of Minnesota’s last four games, Dubnyk has posted a .933 save percentage and 2.01 GAA to improve his season marks to a .917 save percentage and 2.6 GAA.

However, all this success comes with a slight asterisk. The Wild’s last four games have been played against the Red Wings (4-1 victory), Hurricanes (6-2 victory), Canucks (5-2 victory) and Edmonton (4-1 loss) – all teams on the outside of the playoff picture, of which only Carolina still has a real shot at qualifying (though the Canes’ odds are dropping like rocks in a pond). In fact, the last time Minnesota played a good team, it was against the Avalanche.

As we’ll tackle in a moment, that was not a pleasurable experience for the Wild.

With seven points currently separating the Wild from the second-place Jets, there’s little climbing Minnesota can do in the Central Division. Instead, its focus is staving off the Stars and Avalanche from its third place spot. A home win in regulation tonight would obviously be an important step towards that goal, as Dallas – which trails the Wild by only three points – is also in action tonight.

For those that like chaos in the standings (consider me a member of that party), Colorado is the team for you this evening. Not even a full year removed from one of the worst seasons in recent history, the Avs are currently holding onto a second wild card spot over the Ducks, also with 80 points, with two games in hand. With Anaheim inactive tonight, one of those games in hand is being played tonight, meaning Colorado cannot afford to leave St. Paul without at least a point for its effort.

Of course, the Avalanche would prefer to not play Nashville in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and they could jump into the first wildcard spot with a win tonight should Dallas fall in Montréal, as both clubs would be tied at 82 points with Colorado having a game in hand.

Through the first three meetings between these teams in their four-game season series, it’s been all Colorado, as the Avs have earned a 2-0-1 record against the Wild to clinch the series victory. Minnesota won the first meeting on November 24 3-2 with the help of the shootout (9-10-2 G Alex Stalock earned First Star honors for allowing no goals after the first period), but Colorado responded by posting 7-2 (MacKinnon and Rantanen both posted 1-2-3 totals) and 7-1 (MacKinnon led the way with a dominating 2-3-5 performance) victories on January 6 and March 2, respectively.

It goes without saying that the Avalanche have Minnesota’s number this season, but the comforts of home should play in the Wild’s favor to keep the Avs from hanging seven goals for a third-consecutive matchup. That being said, it’s hard to imagine a game that doesn’t end with Colorado earning two points, as MacKinnon and co. have been finding success regardless of opponent lately.


With two goals in the third period, the Vegas Golden Knights beat the Philadelphia Flyers 3-2 at Wells Fargo Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

When the Flyers were caught with too many men on the ice at the 4:27 mark, it opened the door for Vegas to find the game’s opening goal. F Erik Haula (W David Perron and D Nate Schmidt) provided the tally, burying a power play wrist shot with only 10 seconds remaining before F Travis Konecny would rejoin play.

Speaking of Konecny, he would be involved in the goal that tied the game at 1-1. Only 1:27 into the second period, Second Star of the Game F Claude Giroux (C Sean Couturier and Konecny) leveled the game with a wrister, the lone marker of the frame.

Another penalty proved to be Philadelphia’s downfall in the third period. When D Travis Sanheim was caught hi-sticking Haula at the 4:30 mark, Third Star C William Karlsson (F Tomas Hyka and D Shea Theodore) needed only 90 seconds with the man-advantage to return a one-goal advantage to the Knights.

However, the referees didn’t only have gold-tinted glasses, as Vegas ended up giving up a power play goal of its own. With D Brayden McNabb in the box for hooking RW Jakub Voracek only 31 seconds after Karlsson’s goal, W Wayne Simmonds (Voracek and D Shayne Gostisbehere) set the score at 2-2 at the 7:06 mark, creating a tie that would last more than 10 minutes.

But instead of that tie holding to the end of regulation, First Star F Ryan Carpenter (C Cody Eakin and F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare) provided the game-winning goal with 2:40 remaining on the clock. Playing against his former club, Bellemare performed a lot of the dirty work on this goal, as he scrapped along the boards for four seconds with two Flyers before shoving a pass to Eakin in the trapezoid. Eakin one-timed a centering pass past G Petr Mrazek‘s right post to Carpenter, who fired his wrister from the face-off circle over the netminder’s glove shoulder to win the match.

G Marc-Andre Fleury earned the victory after saving 38-of-40 shots faced (.95 save percentage), leaving the loss to Mrazek, who saved 26-of-29 (.897). With the victory, Fleury notched the 400th victory of his career, and it was made all the more sweet by coming against his former rivals.

Vegas’ victory while wearing white marks the third-consecutive win by a road team in the DtFR Game of the Day. As such, the 83-50-19 hosts’ advantage in the series has been trimmed to 29 points.