Game of the week: October 22-28

Week 3 of the DtFR Game of the Week series is due today, so let’s take a look at our options!

NHL SCHEDULE: OCTOBER 22-28
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, October 22
7 p.m. Colorado Philadelphia 4-1
7:30 p.m. Carolina Detroit 3-1
8 p.m. St. Louis Winnipeg 4-5 (OT)
10 p.m. Washington Vancouver 5-2
Tuesday, October 23
7 p.m. Florida Panthers New York Rangers 2-5
7 p.m. Arizona Columbus 4-1
7:30 p.m. Calgary Montréal 2-3
7:30 p.m. Boston Ottawa 4-1
8 p.m. San Jose Nashville 5-4
8:30 p.m. Anaheim Chicago 1-3
8:30 p.m. Los Angeles Dallas 2-4
9 p.m. Pittsburgh Edmonton 6-5 (OT)
Wednesday, October 24
7 p.m. Toronto Maple Leafs Winnipeg Jets NBCSN, SN1, SN360, TVAS
7 p.m. Florida Panthers New York Islanders
9:30 p.m. Tampa Bay Colorado NBCSN
10 p.m. Vancouver Vegas SN360
Thursday, October 25
7 p.m. Philadelphia Boston SN360, TVAS
7 p.m. Montréal Buffalo RDS, TSN2
7 p.m. Nashville New Jersey
8 p.m. Columbus St. Louis
8 p.m. Los Angeles Minnesota
8:30 p.m. New York Rangers Chicago Blackhawks
8:30 p.m. Anaheim Dallas
9 p.m. Pittsburgh Calgary
9 p.m. Washington Edmonton SN1
10 p.m. Vancouver Arizona
Friday, October 26
6 p.m. Tampa Bay Vegas TVAS
7:30 p.m. Winnipeg Detroit NHLN
7:30 p.m. San Jose Carolina
9 p.m. Ottawa Colorado RDS2
saturday, October 27
noon Florida New Jersey
1 p.m. New York Islanders Philadelphia Flyers SN
3 p.m. Edmonton Nashville
4 p.m. Washington Calgary SN1
7 p.m. Montréal Canadiens Boston Bruins CITY, NHLN, SN1, TVAS
7 p.m. Winnipeg Toronto CBC, SN360
7 p.m. Buffalo Columbus
8 p.m. Chicago St. Louis
8 p.m. Colorado Minnesota
9 p.m. Tampa Bay Arizona
10 p.m. Pittsburgh Penguins Vancouver Canucks CBC, CITY, SN1, SN360
SunDay, October 28
3:30 p.m. New York Rangers Los Angeles Kings
5 p.m. Dallas Detroit
5 p.m. New York Islanders Carolina Hurricanes
6 p.m. Edmonton Chicago NHLN, SN360
8 p.m. Ottawa Vegas SN1, TVAS
8 p.m. San Jose Anaheim

As usual, there’s more than a few compelling matchups this week. Just like every week, there’s the rivalries (Philadelphia at Boston, New York at Chicago, Montréal at Boston, Chicago at St. Louis and San Jose at Anaheim) and the player returns (F Matt Duchene‘s first trip back to Denver steals most of the headlines in this department, even though F Valtteri Filppula and G Louis Domingue are headed back to Philly and Arizona, respectively, on Saturday), but this week is different in a way that we could have only dreamed of during the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.

 

Patrik Laine hosting C Auston Matthews was already must-see T.V. based on their individual talents alone, but now that both of their clubs are looking to the top of the league standings, this just might qualify as a Stanley Cup preview.

Toronto has exploded out to a 6-3-0 record in its first nine games and was pacing the Eastern Conference until Montréal’s victory over the Flames last night (the top three teams in the Atlantic are tied with 12 points, but the Habs own the games-played tiebreaker over Toronto while the Leafs best Boston in regulation+overtime wins).

The main reason for this early season dominance? You guessed it: Toronto’s dominant offense. The Maple Leafs are averaging 3.78 goals per game so far this season, which trails only Washington and Tampa Bay for tops in the league, in addition to boasting the second-best power play with a 37.5 percent conversion rate.

Even though the big story during free agency in July was Toronto signing C John Tavares (who himself has posted imposing 6-5-11 totals so far this season), this team still belongs to the No. 1 overall pick in 2016: Matthews. Playing on the second line, Matthews has potted a whopping 10 goals already this season, not to mention his six assists.

Fans of the podcast know I predicted Matthews to win the Rocket Richard Trophy this season, due in large part to the opposition Matthews is going to be playing against as a member of the Leafs’ second line instead of on its top unit. Especially at the center position, it is usually a given team’s best offering getting the start on the first line, and that No. 1 center is usually one of the better players on the team and can exhibit a solid two-way game (after all, the Leafs are in the Atlantic Division with Boston’s C Patrice Bergeron… are any more examples necessary?).

Matthews has already proven through the first two seasons of his career that he’s capable of making any other player in the league look silly (yes, even Bergeron!) with his scoring touch, but now that he’s going up against opposing second lines and second defensive pairs, it’s bound to be open season on opposing goaltenders all year.

D Morgan Rielly (4-10-14 totals) and F Mitch Marner (4-8-12) also join Matthews and Tavares in scoring better than a point-per-game, so consider that your warning G Connor Hellebuyck.

As for 6-2-1 Winnipeg – the third-best team in the Central Division and Western Conference as things stand right now –  the 2016 NHL Entry Draft has treated it just as well as Toronto in regards to Laine. Though the Finn has managed only 3-2-5 totals so far this season, his 83-56-139 totals through 164 career games is nothing to scoff at.

Laine’s offensive struggles thus far are not limited to just him, as the entire Jets roster (save C Mark Scheifele‘s 4-5-9 totals making him the only player averaging a point-per-game) has had trouble finding the back of the net. Averaging only 3.22 goals per game, Winnipeg’s offense is tied with Carolina for only 15th best in the NHL.

So, if offense isn’t winning games for the Jets, it must be their goaltending or defense, right?

Well, it’s definitely not the defense. Allowing an an uninspiring 34.22 shots against per game (eighth-worst in the NHL) is certainly not getting it done and is putting a lot of work on Hellebuyck’s shoulders.

But hey, Hellebuyck finished second in Vezina voting last year, so he must be more than up to the challenge of keeping these Jets in the air, right?

Once again, not so much. Even with a 4-2-1 record in his first seven starts, he only boasts a .909 save percentage and 2.83 GAA (t17th and 21st, respectively, among the 35 goaltenders with at least four starts). Instead, the most inspiring goaltender in Manitoba has been backup 2-0-0 G Laurent Brossoit and his .955 save percentage and 2.01 GAA.

So, how exactly are the Jets in third place in the ultra-competitive Central Division?

The answer can be found in both of Winnipeg’s special teams, with the power play doing some serious heavy lifting with a 32 percent conversion rate that is fourth-best in the NHL.

While Laine has struggled to find the back of the net at even-strength, he has absolutely dominated the power play. Of his 3-2-5 totals so far this season, he’s earned 3-1-4 of those marks while playing with the extra man. In fact, much of the top power play unit has been solid, as Scheifele and RW Blake Wheeler have both registered four power play points in nine games played.

But the Jets’ special teams dominance doesn’t end with the power play. Winnipeg’s penalty kill has also been excellent, as its 82.3 percent kill rate is tied with Minnesota for ninth-best in the league. W Brandon Tanev in particular has been very solid while one of his teammates has been in the penalty box (his four shorthanded hits and three shorthanded blocks both pace the club), and his dominant play has made life much easier on Hellebuyck.

Though an .895 save percentage against the man-advantage doesn’t exactly sound impressive, Hellebuyck ranks (t)eighth-best in the statistic among the 35 goalies with at least four starts.

Talk about flipping a switch.

The next step, of course, is finding success on both ends of the ice at even strength. It is often these big games that brings that best play out of a team with as much potential as the Jets, so I’ll be very interested to see if Winnipeg can rise to the occasion against the Leafs.

So, it’s time for the big question: who’s winning this game?

First and foremost, it should probably be mentioned that Winnipeg boasted the best home-ice advantage in the entire NHL last season with a 32-7-2 record. Knowing that such a highly touted opponent is coming to town, there’s no way Bell MTS Place won’t be rocking tonight.

However, I have my concerns about Hellebuyck being able to stop Matthews and Toronto’s attack, especially since the Leafs join Winnipeg in dominating special team-play (Toronto’s power play and penalty kill rank second and seventh in the league, respectively). As such, I see the Maple Leafs cruising to a 5-3 victory in Manitoba.