April 1 – Day 172 – Can the Caps clinch?

Make no April Fools jokes about it, all of us here at Down the Frozen River want to wish you a happy Easter or Passover.

Hopefully that covered all the holidays happening today.

Regardless of which of those apply to you, the NHL is staging a full-fledged celebration with five games on today’s schedule. The action begins at 12:30 p.m. with Boston at Philadelphia (NBC/TVAS), followed by Nashville at Tampa Bay at 6 p.m. The usual starting time of 7 p.m. features New Jersey at Montréal (RDS/SN), while Washington at Pittsburgh (NBCSN) waits 30 minutes before dropping the puck. Finally, the evening’s nightcap gets underway at 9 p.m. when Colorado visits Anaheim (SN/SN360). All times Eastern.

The three games that stuck out to me way at the beginning of the season include:

  • Boston at Philadelphia: With only one point separating the Flyers from the second wild card, this rivalry has the chance of getting pretty rowdy this afternoon.
  • Washington at Pittsburgh: Speaking of rowdy rivalries, both these teams are still duking it out for first place in the Metropolitan Division.
  • Colorado at Anaheim: This isn’t so much a rivalry, though both teams are still clawing for playoff positioning. This is more exciting because G Jonathan Bernier, who was a Duck last season, will be the Avs’ starting goaltender tonight with G Semyon Varlamov shutdown for the remainder of the season.

Of course, that list also neglects the Predators-Lightning showdown that should be absolutely entertaining and very well could be a Stanley Cup Final preview.

I very well may be biased, but the tilt I’m most excited for is taking place in Eastern Pennsylvania tonight.

 

The main reason I’m so excited for this game is because of all the 46-25-7 Capitals can accomplish today, as a regulation win would clinch them their third-consecutive Metropolitan Division title.

But more on that in a moment.

Almost all of Washington’s last six games have ended in its favor, as the Caps have posted a solid 5-1-0 record since March 20. A major reason for that success has been the solid efforts of both 14-9-3 G Philipp Grubauer and 32-16-4 G Braden Holtby, who have split the last three outings. Together, they’ve combined to backstop the Caps to allow only 2.5 goals per game since March 20, the (t)eighth-best mark in the NHL in that time span.

According to Tarik El-Bashir of NBC Sports Washington, Grubauer is slated to get the start this evening – and with good reason. Though Holtby’s .914 save percentage and 2.67 GAA in his last three starts has been decent, Grubauer’s .933 save percentage and 2.02 GAA since March 20 has been even better. Those numbers reflect Grubauer’s superior play for the entire season as well, as he currently has a .923 save percentage and 2.33 GAA on the season, both of which eclipse Holtby’s campaign of a .907 save percentage and 3.01 GAA.

The last six games have also treated the 45-28-6 Penguins fairly well too, as they’ve managed a 4-1-1 record to close out the month of March.

To the surprise of no one, Pittsburgh is finding its success lately on the back of its indomitable offense. Since March 21, the Pens have averaged a whopping four goals per game to claim the second-best mark in the NHL in that time.

Leading the way in that effort is none other than C Sidney Crosby who’s increased his season totals to 28-58-86 with a 5-4-9 effort his in last six showings.

However, he’s not the only Penguin to be averaging at least a point per game lately, as RW Phil Kessel (2-5-7 totals since March 21, 31-56-87 overall), RW Patric Hornqvist (4-2-6 since March 21, 26-19-45 overall), F Evgeni Malkin (2-4-6 since March 21, 42-53-95 overall) and F Jake Guentzel (1-5-6 since March 21, 21-26-47 overall) have all been making some excellent contributions on the offensive end lately.

One of the signs of a good rivalry is consistent competitiveness. That has been a staple of this matchup for years now, and that’s been no less true this year as Pittsburgh only has a 2-1-0 advantage in the season series.

Unlike some of the rivalries we’ve been featuring lately, this season series has been spaced out throughout the entire campaign. Game 1 took place way back on October 11 at Capital One Arena, and it ended as a Penguins 3-2 victory (W Conor Sheary provided the game-winning goal). Pittsburgh returned to DC on November 10, but was treated to a 4-1 Capitals victory (Holtby led the way with his 27-save performance).

Games 3 and 4 transitioned back to the Steel City, starting with the most recent meeting on February 2. Enjoying the amenities of home, the Penguins earned an imposing 7-4 victory (Malkin earned First Star honors with a two-goal, four-point night).

For those not so astute at noticing patterns, Pittsburgh and Washington have exchanged victories so far this season. With the Pens claiming the even-numbered tilts, does that mean the Caps are due for two points today?

If that’s the case, the Metropolitan Division could be locked up in the nation’s capital for the third-consecutive season. A Washington win in regulation this evening would increase its advantage on the Penguins to five points, an insurmountable lead considering Pittsburgh will have only two more games after tonight is complete and the fact that, even if Columbus and Philadelphia win out, they’re only capable of reaching 100 points in the standings.

Should the Pens find the victory, they’ll be no more than two points back of the Capitals, meaning this division race will come down to the bitter end. Even if Pittsburgh does earn a regulation win tonight to pull within one point, the fact that Washington still has a game in hand has most leaning towards the Caps raising a third division banner.

Similar to yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, this game features a streaking offense going up against a goaltender enjoying an impressive run of his own. Considering they’re playing at home today, I like the Pens to earn the victory today even though they were in action last night.


With a goal per frame, the Vegas Golden Knights beat the San Jose Sharks 3-2 at T-Mobile Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Even though the Golden Knights never trailed in this game, they never really took control of this game until the waning moments of regulation. That was due in large part to playing most of the game under tied conditions.

Take, for example, the first period. Even though the Knights were the first to find the scoreboard, courtesy of a D Shea Theodore (C William Karlsson and D Deryk Engelland) wrist shot 2:21 into play, they played only 4:53 before F Joe Pavelski (W Timo Meier and RW Joonas Donskoi) leveled the game at 1-1 with a wrister.

The second frame followed a similar script. F Oscar Lindberg (Theodore) gave Vegas another one-goal lead 3:03 into the period, but it lasted only 6:47 before D Marc-Edouard Vlasic (Pavelski and D Justin Braun) had the game knotted at two.

However, the Sharks didn’t have a third answer in the third period, as Karlsson scored an unassisted shorthanded wrister at the 8:35 mark to score what proved to be the game-winning goal.

Somebody needs to remind Karlsson that it’s supposed to be harder to score with a teammate in the penalty box, because – just like a Staples button would say – that was easy. With Jon Merrill in the sin bin for tripping Meier exactly a minute before, Karlsson intercepted a drop pass to D Brent Burns at the right point with only open ice, G Martin Jones and a net begging to be scored upon in front of him. Karlsson raced all the way into the slot in his offensive zone before readying a wrister to flip the puck over Jones’ right skate.

However, it would seem breakaway goals are just too easy for Karlsson. To up the ante, Wild Bill pulled his stick and the puck through his own legs while sliding across the slot, creating his own sort of reverse shot on a netminder that had already committed to defending the far post.

Not wanting to yield another lead, Vegas’ defense significantly clamped down in the third period. In total, the Sharks managed only seven shots on goal in that frame, the lowest attempts in any period by either team.

G Marc-Andre Fleury earned the victory after saving 29-of-31 shots faced (.935 save percentage), leaving the loss to Jones, who saved 35-of-38 (.921).

It’s a great time to be a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series, as all they’re doing lately is winning. In fact, the 98-53-21 featured hosts have now posted an eight-game winning streak that also includes a 10-day point streak – both impressive feats that have increased their lead in the series to 46 points.