March 25 – Day 165 – Battle of the Keystone State

Only five games are on the schedule today, but there’s some good ones!

The first puck drop of the day is at 12:30 p.m., featuring Philadelphia at Pittsburgh (NBC/TVAS) as the afternoon’s lone matinee. Two games get underway at 7 p.m. (Vancouver at Dallas and Nashville at Winnipeg [SN360]), followed by Boston at Minnesota (NBCSN) half an hour later. Finally, Anaheim is in Edmonton (SN1) at 9:30 p.m. to close out the weekend’s activity. All times Eastern.

Two games in particular stuck out to me when the schedule was released before the season…

  • Philadelphia at Pittsburgh: Few rivalries get the publicity of this one, so let’s see if this particular contest lives up to the hype.
  • Anaheim at Edmonton: Though rivalry is certainly too strong a word, there’s nothing the Oilers would like to do more than to harm the Ducks’ postseason chances since it was Anaheim that eliminated them in last year’s Western Semifinals.

I know we just featured the Penguins Friday night, but the Battle of the Keystone State is just too big to ignore!

 

After putting together an unsightly 1-6-1 record over the first half of March, the 38-25-12 Flyers have gotten their skates back under them over their last four games to post a much better 3-0-1 mark.

A major reason for Philadelphia’s previous bad luck was its game plan and strategy. With today’s starter 4-2-1 G Alex Lyon and 5-5-1 G Petr Mrazek filling in for 21-11-7 G Brian Elliott and 8-7-3 G Michal Neuvirth, all the skaters were playing back and reacting to opposing offenses.

However, that’s all changed since March 17, and the Flyers are reaping the rewards.

Instead of reacting to the opposition, Philly is now being proactive and keeping pucks in its offensive zone. Results have extended beyond simply a better record, as the Flyers impressive 4.5 goals per game since March 17 has been the best mark in the Eastern Conference in that time, as well as (t)best in the entire NHL. Additionally, this stellar play in the offensive zone has also limited opposing shots on goal, as Philadelphia’s 30 shots allowed per game since March 17 is (t)ninth-best in the league.

An impressive five Flyers are averaging a point per game over their last five showings, with none more impressive than F Claude Giroux‘ 0-7-7 marks to improve his season totals to 26-64-90. Of course, without any goals, he has linemates C Sean Couturier (1-4-5 since March 17) and F Travis Konecny (4-0-4 since March 17) for getting him on the scorecard.

However, Philadelphia’s offensive success does not stop at the first line, as RW Jakub Voracek has found the goal quite often lately on the second line with 3-2-5 totals since March 17. The third line line has also been extremely productive, thanks in large part to W Wayne Simmonds and his 2-2-4 effort in his last four games.

Meanwhile, 42-27-6 Pittsburgh is also rounding into form in preparation for the playoffs, as it has posted a decent 3-1-2 record in its last six showings.

The main reason the Pens are rediscovering their winning ways lately is because of their solid effort on the defensive end. Pittsburgh has allowed only 29.17 shots per game since March 11, the fifth-best mark in the league in that time.

D Brian Dumoulin (two blocks per game since March 11), F Evgeni Malkin (seven takeaways in his last six games) and D Jamie Oleksiak (three hits per game over this run) have played major roles in this defensive success, and they’ll certainly be under pressure this afternoon given the Flyers’ offensive resurgence.

Of course, anything the Penguins’ defense don’t stop will become the responsibility of 23-14-3 G Matt Murray, who will be making his third start since returning from injury. Though he has a .908 save percentage and 2.86 GAA to show for the entire season, he has yet to resume that form, as he’s managed only a .904 save percentage and 3.5 GAA in his last two showings.

With the Capitals owning a five-point advantage on the Penguins, odds are growing increasingly slim that Pittsburgh can win its first division title since 2013-14. However, the Pens would be unwise to take their foot off the gas just yet, as Columbus is sitting only one point behind them in third place. Since this game is Pittsburgh’s current game in hand on the Jackets, it needs to get at least one point to maintain its advantage for home ice in the first round of the playoffs (Pittsburgh has all but clinched the tiebreaker over Columbus should it be necessary at season’s end).

Speaking of Columbus, that’s exactly the team the Flyers are trailing in the playoffs right now, but that can all change with a victory today.  Additionally, a regulation win by Philly can also pull it into a tie with Pittsburgh for second place, but – similar to Columbus – the Pens have all but clinched the necessary regulation+overtime wins tiebreaker, meaning the only way the Flyers can earn home ice in the first round is by beating Pittsburgh outright in the standings.

For those that are of the opinion that this is the best rivalry in the NHL, I regret to inform you that this is the final meeting of the season between these clubs. Flyers fans are not complaining about that fact, as Pittsburgh has dominated this series to score five goals apiece in its three victories.

Game 1 was way back on November 27, and was undoubtedly the most competitive of the series so far as the Pens needed overtime to knock off the Flyers 5-4 (C Sidney Crosby provided the game-winning goal) at PPG Paints Arena.

Since then, the Penguins have hardly broken a sweat in their two trips to the City of Brotherly Love, as they beat the Flyers 5-1 on January 2 (RW Ryan Reaves earned First Star honors with his two-point second period that included potting the game-winning goal) and 5-2 on March 7 (Crosby’s three assists earned him First Star recognition).

Rivalry games are always tough to predict, and both clubs’ winning ways of late make this prediction no easier. However, Murray’s still recent return has me leaning towards the Flyers winning this tilt.


It was an impressive goaltending spectacle in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, but the Colorado Avalanche escaped with a 2-1 shootout victory over the Vegas Golden Knights at Pepsi Center.

First Star of the Game G Semyon Varlamov and Second Star G Marc-Andre Fleury were both incredible in this game, as – including the shootout – they allowed only a combined three shots past them. Varlamov earned the victory after saving 39-of-40 shots faced (.975 save percentage) – plus another three in the shootout – leaving the shootout loss to Fleury, who saved 29-of-30 (.967).

The Avalanche scored their regulation goal first, due in large part to a F Erik Haula tripping penalty against D Nikita Zadorov with 7:39 remaining in the first period. 1:31 later, Third Star F Carl Soderberg (F J.T. Compher and F Alexander Kerfoot) converted the man-advantage into a power play wrist shot.

That 1-0 advantage lasted through not only the remainder of the first period, but all the way through the second as well. However, F Jon Marchessault (D Shea Theodore) needed only 1:15 of play in the third frame to level the game with a wrister.

With no goals struck in the remaining 18:45 of regulation nor the five-minute three-on-three overtime period, this game advanced into the shootout. As home team, Colorado elected to shoot second.

  1. That sent W David Perron to center ice, but his wrister was saved by Varlamov.
  2. F Nathan MacKinnon failed to get on the scoresheet in 65 minutes of play, and that trend continued in the shootout as his offering sailed over the crossbar. Through one round, the shootout was still tied 0-0.
  3. Being partially responsible for the Avs’ regulation goal, Haula was provided an opportunity to redeem himself. Unfortunately for Vegas, he couldn’t do that as his wrister was saved by Varlamov.
  4. RW Mikko Rantanen has been Colorado’s second-most dynamic scorer this season, but it’s hard to beat a goalpost. Another round complete, the shootout score still read 0-0.
  5. Having already beaten Varlamov once, Head Coach Gerard Gallant turned his team’s fate over to Marchessault to see if he could work his magic again. Apparently, he shouldn’t go to the well twice, as the netminder was able to make his third-straight shootout save.
  6. Only one member of Colorado’s first line remained, so it only makes sense that LW Gabriel Landeskog took the Avalanche’s third shot. He apparently should have been deployed earlier, because he was the lone shooter to beat a netminder, earning the Avs the bonus point.

The Avs’ home victory makes it three-straight games with points for hosts in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Home teams now have a 91-53-21 record in the series, 35 points better than that of the roadies.

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