All posts by Connor Keith

January 18 – Day 103 – The House that Lindros Built

As usual, Thursday is the best day of the work week for hockey, as we have 10 games on the schedule.

As it usually does, the action finds its start at 7 p.m. this evening with four tilts (Washington at New Jersey, Boston at the New York Islanders [SN360], Toronto at Philadelphia [TVAS] and Dallas at Columbus), trailed half an hour later by another trio (Buffalo at the New York Rangers [NBCSN], St. Louis at Ottawa [RDS] and Vegas at Tampa Bay). Arizona at Nashville is the next fixture up at 8 p.m., followed an hour later by San Jose at Colorado and tonight’s nightcap – Pittsburgh at Los Angeles (NBCSN/SN360) – at 10 p.m. All times Eastern.

Teams on the bye: Calgary, Carolina, Chicago, Edmonton, Florida, Minnesota, Vancouver and Winnipeg.

Even with eight teams on the bye, there’s still more than a few games on the schedule today that deserve attention. However, all pale to today’s action at… Wells Fargo Center?

 

G Bernie Parent‘s number 1. D Mark Howe‘s 2. D Barry Ashbee, LW Bill Barber and C Bobby Clarke‘s numbers – 4, 7 and 16, respectively – have all been honored too.

And tonight, the Flyers add C Eric Lindros‘ number 88 to the list of retired numbers now hanging in their arena’s rafters.

Only the best get away with controlling their fate before even signing their first contract, so Lindros was building his resume before even taking to the NHL ice. He was drafted by the Québec Nordiques in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft, but insisted that he would never play for the Northmen.

Once Nordiques’ owner Marcel Aubut finally got the message after Lindros continued to play for the Oshawa Generals in the OHL and joined Team Canada for the 1992 Winter Olympic Games in France, the centerman was sent to Philadelphia in exchange for four players, the rights to C Peter Forsberg, a first-round pick in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft and $15 million.

Adding a bit of levity to the situation, G Ron Hextall – the Flyers’ current general manager – was one of the players traded to Québec for Lindros… #awkward.

Anyways, Lindros was an incredible rookie, posting 41-34-75 totals in 61 games played to finish fourth in 1993 Calder Trophy voting behind RW Teemu Selanne, C Joe Juneau and G Felix Potvin. Lindros also placed ninth in Hart Trophy voting – an award he eventually won in 1995 alongside the Pearson Trophy following a 29-41-70 46-game season.

In terms of total production, Lindros reached his ultimate form during the 1995-’96. In 73 games played, The Big E scored 47 goals en route to 155 points – both career highs. It was Year 3 of four of Lindros averaging 1.5 points per game.

Unfortunately, the closest Lindros came to getting back to that production was in 1998-’99 when he posted 1.31 points per game over 71 contests. Beyond the first five seasons of his career, Lindros’ career was an almost constant downhill slide due to the multiple serious injuries he sustained. Among other injuries, four concussions, a collapsed lung and a torn ligament in his wrist led to Lindros retiring following the 2007 season.

Those setbacks – in addition to a bad relationship with General Manager Bobby Clarke – led to his rights being traded to the Rangers (Lindros wanted to be traded to Toronto, but Clarke wouldn’t complete the deal. Lindros protested and did not sign a two-way contract for the 2000-’01 season, leaving him on the couch.) before the 2001-’02 season. Lindros would play three seasons with the Rangers, the 2005-’06 campaign with Toronto and 49 games during the 2006-’07 season with Dallas before retiring.

However, that tumultuous end to his career doesn’t blemish what he achieved while playing in Philadelphia, posting one of the best opening five seasons of a career. According to his Wikipedia page, Lindros needed the fourth-fewest games to reach the 300 (210 games) and 400 (277) point plateaus, the fifth-fewest to reach 500 points (352) and the sixth-fewest to reach 600 points (429).

For fans of teams that were regularly downed by the Flyers during Lindros’ tenure, it’s scary to think about that team with an uninjured Big E for more than his eight-year tenure.

It may be hard to believe considering the Flyers are currently in seventh place in the Metropolitan Division, but 20-16-8 Philadelphia is actually rolling lately. Before Tuesday’s 5-1 loss in Madison Square Garden, Philly had won four-straight contests.

When the Flyers are winning (like they are right now), the offense is the biggest driver in their success. Even adding in Tuesday’s loss, Philadelphia has managed a second-best 4.4 goals per game since January 4.

Five players are averaging at least a point-per-game to propel this run, but no player has been better over Philly’s last five games than C Sean Couturier. He’s posted incredible 7-2-9 totals since January 4 (25-20-45 overall) to lead the NHL in goals in that time. Of course, someone has to set him up for those goals, and that’s usually been linemate F Claude Giroux (1-7-8 totals during this run, team-leading 14-40-54 overall), who’s provided the primary assist on three of Couturier’s seven most-recent tallies.

Of course, by focusing only on those two, Toronto runs the risk of ignoring RW Jakub Voracek. That would be extremely unwise, as Voracek’s 45 assists on the season (he has 8-45-53 totals overall) are the best in the NHL. In fact, Couturier, Giroux and Voracek all rank in the top 10 of the NHL in at least one statistic, including the Captain’s second-most assists, which explains why Vorcek has been assigned to the second line to promote more offense with F Valtteri Filppula and W Michael Raffl.

While the 25-17-4 Maple Leafs – who are in third place in the Atlantic Division – are also riding a streak of earning points in four of their last five games, it hasn’t been anywhere near as pleasant an experience. With the exception of last Wednesday’s 4-3 regulation loss against the Senators, all four of the remaining games have required extra time, and that pill is made even harder to swallow by Toronto winning only two of those – both in the shootout.

To put it lightly, Toronto is doing the bare minimum right now as far as the standings are concerned. The same could be said for its offense, which has averaged only two goals-per-game over its last five outings – the (t)third-worst mark since January 5.

But this offensive drought has nothing do with effort – in fact, quite the opposite. 16 of the 19 skaters the Maple Leafs have employed since January 5 have at least one point to their credit, and both C Tyler Bozak and F William Nylander have posted 1-3-4 totals.

I would argue the biggest problem is C Auston Matthews is having just a little slump. Though he has scored two goals in his last five games, he’s currently riding a three-game goalless skid. Perhaps it’s just coincidence, but the Leafs also haven’t won a game during that skid.

I think not.

Tonight’s game completes the three-game series between the Flyers and Leafs, and if history is any indicator, this tilt will end with a 4-2 score just like the previous two matchups. Led by Jakub Voracek, the Flyers invaded Toronto on October 28, and then matched that effort on December 12 in a home contest dominated by Giroux.

Considering the positive mojo the Flyers have in their back pockets, the excitement around the Lindros number retirement ceremony and Matthews’ struggles, it’s hard to pick against the hosts this evening.


Habs-turned-Bruins-turned-Habs Head Coach Claude Julien didn’t get the result he wanted in his first return to TD Garden, as the Boston Bruins beat his Montréal Canadiens 4-1 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Though it wasn’t the best of showings by Montréal, it did manage to take an early lead in the contest courtesy of D Jakub Jerabek‘s (W Charles Hudon and F Paul Byron) first career goal. He struck his tip-in 31 seconds into the game. However, that lead would only last 6:19 before RW David Pastrnak (First Star of the Game C Patrice Bergeron and Second Star LW Brad Marchand) leveled the game with a wrist shot.

That 1-1 tie held until the 2:37 mark of the second period. That’s when F Ryan Spooner (C David Krejci and LW Jake DeBrusk) got lucky and banked a centering pass to either DeBrusk or D Matt Grzelcyk through G Carey Price‘s crease off F Jonathan Drouin‘s right skate and into the back of the net. His pass-turned-backhanded shot proved to be the game-winning marker, his third such goal of the season.

Boston tacked on two insurance tallies in the third period, one a power play wrister by Marchand (Bergeron and D Torey Krug) 3:40 into the frame and another a wrister by Krejci (F David Backes) into an empty net with 3:14 remaining in the contest.

Third Star G Tuukka Rask saved 21-of-22 shots faced (.955 save percentage) in the victory, leaving Price – who saved 28-of-31 (.903) – with the loss.

Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day are starting to resume command of the series. The 57-34-12 hosts have won three of the past four contests and extended their lead over the visitors to 22 points.

January 17 – Day 102 – It’s time for that rivalry

Only two games are on the schedule today, but they both have serious potential to be stellar television.

The action begins at 7:30 when Montréal pays a visit to Boston (NBCSN/RDS/SN), and it will be followed by Pittsburgh at Anaheim (NBCSN/SN/SN360) at 10 p.m. All times Eastern.

Teams on the bye: Buffalo, Calgary, Carolina, Chicago, Columbus, Edmonton, Florida, Minnesota, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Vancouver, Washington and Winnipeg.

Though the Ducks and Penguins are separated by only two points in the table, there’s no way we can miss what’s going down in Beantown.

 

Of these two bitter rivals, the 24-10-8 Bruins are easily having the better season. They currently occupy second place in the Atlantic Division and third place in the Eastern Conference.

While Boston has been in playoff position for a while now (approximately a month), it has surged past the Maple Leafs in the last three weeks by earning points in 13 consecutive games with a 9-0-4 record.

It could be argued that Boston has been the best team in the NHL since December 16, as the Bruins have posted an incredible wicked 3.92 goals per game over their last 13.

No Bruin has been hotter during this run than LW Brad Marchand, which is the same it’s been all season. He’s posted 6-9-15 totals over his last 15 games to pad his team-leading 18-23-41 stats. However, he’s not alone in averaging at least a point-per-game lately. F David Backes (6-7-13), C Patrice Bergeron (9-4-13) and F Danton Heinen (4-10-14) are all matching the feat, even though Backes and Heinen are on the third line. Of note, Bergeron is still getting work done in the defensive end with his (t)eighth-best +19 on the season, but his consistent offensive production never hurts.

But that offense isn’t just showing up on the TD Garden scoreboard  for the Bruins. With the offense possessing the puck so well, opposing defenses are having a hard time of earning their own strikers an opportunity to play with the puck. As a result, the Bruins have allowed an eighth-fewest 29.77 shots against per game since December 16, a mark that tops the Atlantic Division. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have D Zdeno Chara ([t]fourth-best +21 in the league) managing the defensive zone with his team-leading 74 blocks on the season.

Of course, that still means 15-8-4 G Tuukka Rask has had some work to do, but he’s been up to the task every night he takes to the crease. Though he had his struggles early in the season – to the point of temporarily losing his starting job to backup 9-2-4 G Anton Khudobin – Rask has joined his team in playing spectacularly over the past month. In his last nine starts, he’s posted a solid .93 save percentage and 1.95 GAA, pulling his season marks up to a .919 save percentage and (t)third-best in the league 2.26 GAA.

It’s a tall task the 18-30-6 Habs face – and that’d be true even if they were among the league’s elite this season. However, that is not the case for Montréal this campaign, as it currently sits third from the bottom in both the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference as a whole.

While the season as a whole may be a bit of doom and gloom for The City of Saints, 2018 has not been all bad. In fact, the Canadiens have earned points in all four of their previous games, and it’s all been on the back of their incredible goaltender.

It usually goes without saying that 13-14-4 G Carey Price is one of the best netminders – if not players overall – in this league. This little run the Habs are on has absolutely proved it, as the defense has allowed an eighth-worst 34.25 shots against per game since January 4. That sounds like a recipe for disaster, but Price has posted a .92 save percentage and 2.63 GAA under those trying circumstances, both of which are better than the .908 and 2.95 he’s posted on the season.

With Price playing in top form like he is right now, he offers his offense – which has managed a (t)12th-best 3.25 goals per game during this run – the opportunity to succeed even though they aren’t among the league’s best forwards. LW Max Pacioretty has been the Habs’ best striker of late, as he’s riding a four-game goal streak. With him, F Alex Galchenyuk (2-2-4) and D Jeff Petry (0-4-4) all averaging a point-per-game, Montréal’s offense could be a tougher out tonight than the Bruins might expect.

These squads have squared off only once this season so far, and that game took place this last Saturday. Though they needed a shootout goal from Marchand, the Bruins were able to win Round 1 with a 4-3 victory.

With the Bruins’ having already won in Bell Centre not even a week ago and owning home ice this evening, it’s hard to pick against them to beat the Habs tonight. Of course, this rivalry almost always produces tight, competitive affairs, so anything can truly happen tonight.


The Nashville Predators avoided getting swept by the Vegas Golden Knights in their season series, as they defended Bridgestone Arena to a 1-0 victory in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Without a doubt, the brightest star in this contest was First Star of the Game G Juuse Saros, who saved all 43 shots he faced for his third shutout victory of the season and fourth of his career.

G Marc-Andre Fleury also some deserves credit for allowing only one goal against (more on that in a moment) on 27 shots faced (.963 save percentage), but it’s his defense that really deserves the most praise. Led by D Brayden McNabb‘s four hits and three blocks, the Knights limited Nashville to a lowly 27 shots on goal (it averages 30.4 per game for the season), including two frames the Preds were held to single-digit successful shot attempts.

Fleury may have been the only goaltender to blink, but it took him a long time to do it. At exactly the 48 minute mark of the game (eight minutes into the third period), Third Star D P.K. Subban fired a slap shot that – thanks to McNabb – never reached Fleury.

However, it’s that shot block that came to be the Golden Knights’ downfall. Since Fleury wasn’t the one to block the puck, he didn’t know where it went. It was his second or two of confusion that allowed Second Star W Kevin Fiala (Subban and F Colton Sissons) to tuck a wrist shot under the bar into a gaping cage for the game-winner.

Nashville’s victory gives home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series a 56-34-12 record that is exactly 20 points superior to the road teams’ effort.

January 16 – Day 101 – Bring your brooms

It’s Tuesday in the NHL! Let’s go!

The action starts at 7 p.m. with three contests (St. Louis at Toronto, New Jersey at the New York Islanders and Philadelphia at the New York Rangers [NBCSN/TVAS]), followed half an hour later by Dallas at Detroit. Next up is Vegas at Nashville (SN) at 8 p.m., trailed by San Jose at Arizona – tonight’s nightcap – an hour after. All times Eastern.

Teams on the bye: Buffalo, Calgary, Carolina, Chicago, Columbus, Edmonton, Florida, Minnesota, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Vancouver, Washington and Winnipeg.

There’s no doubt that the Flyers-Rangers rivalry will be in full swing this evening with both of them currently outside playoff position, but the game I’m most attracted to is taking place in Tennessee.

 

 

 

 

Hey Vegas: let’s take this show on the road.

The Western Conference-leading 29-10-3 Vegas Golden Knights begin their four-game eastern road trip this evening with a stop Music City.

While I’m sure a player or two might have forgotten something as simple as a pair of boxers or toothpaste, one thing I’m sure wasn’t left in the Silver State was the Knights’ winning ways. Since the beginning of December, Vegas has posted an incredible 14-2-2 record that includes an eight-game winning streak.

Go figure, but the Golden Knights have been really, really good during this impressive streak. They’ve scored a fourth-best 3.33 goals per game since the beginning while allowing a fourth-fewest 2.33 goals per game.

And it’s a wonder St. Louis and Winnipeg were able to beat Vegas in regulation.

Offensively, eight players have scored at least 10 points in Vegas’ last 18 games played. Of those, F Jon Marchessault has been the Knights’ stoic leader, posting 7-12-19 points over this run for a +15 rating. Of course, it’s hard to struggle with C William Karlsson and W Reilly Smith as linemates. Karlsson hs scored 10 goals during this run to lead the team, giving him a sixth-best 23 goals and third-best +22 on the season. Smith has also been impressive, as his +21 rating is (t)fourth-best in the NHL.

One of the reasons Vegas’ offense works so well is its blueliners are getting involved in plays. Led by D Colin Miller‘s 10 points, four defensemen have provided at least five points on the offensive end during this run.

To continue building, the main reason the defensemen can play like they do is because of 9-2-2 G Marc-Andre Fleury, who has been absolutely stellar. In his nine starts since the beginning of December, he’s posted an incredible .95 save percentage for a 1.54 GAA – the best marks in the league since then among the 47 netminders with at least six starts to their credit.

In the home corner, no one is writing home about 25-11-6 Nashville’s offense. Over their past five games since December 30, the Preds – who currently occupy second place in the Central Division – have managed only a fifth-worst 2.2 goals per game. However, with a defense that allows a (t)third-best two goals per game, that’s more than enough to earn points in four of those five contests.

With no disrespect to 21-8-3 G Pekka Rinne, all the credit for this success belongs to Head Coach Peter Laviolette‘s defensive corps. Led by D Ryan Ellis (2.5 blocks-per-game since December 30), W Miikka Salomaki (3.3 hits-per-game over his past four games) and F Craig Smith (four takeaways since December 30), Smashville has allowed a league-best 28 shots against per game since December 30.

Of course, with such a light workload, it’s hard to Rinne to struggle. Though his .929 save percentage and 2.03 GAA over his past three starts isn’t anything gravity-defying, the fact that he’s allowed only six goals in that time is more than enough to get the job done.

Tonight’s contest is the finale of the three-game series between the Predators and Golden Knights. Vegas is certainly looking forward to this one, as it has the opportunity to complete its first season sweep in franchise history. Though they needed the shootout, the Knights beat the Preds 4-3 in their first trip to Bridgestone Arena on December 8, but they did much better defending T-Mobile Arena. Led by First Star Fleury’s shutout, Vegas claimed a 3-0 victory on January 2.

There’s no stopping Vegas lately. Given their success on the season already against the Predators, I have a no doubts the Golden Knights will earn yet another victory tonight.


In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the San Jose Sharks beat the Los Angeles Kings 4-1 at Staples Center.

First Star of the Game C Chris Tierney (RW Joonas Donskoi and Second Star D Dylan DeMelo) took credit for the lone goal of the first period, a wrist shot buried 4:38 into the frame.

8:52 into the second frame, F Barclay Goodrow (DeMelo and D Brenden Dillon) provided the game-winning marker. After receiving a pass from Dillon at the blue line, DeMelo began his attack on G Darcy Kuemper‘s net from along the right boards. He ripped a wrister from near the face-off dot that Kuemper easily deflected, but Goodrow – who was following the play by driving towards the crease – was able to collect the rebound and send his wrister towards the near post.

San Jose’s goal-per-period scoring rate continued in the third period when W Mikkel Boedker (Donskoi and Tierney) buried a backhanded shot 9:11 into play. The 3-0 hole was apparently enough to light a fire in F Trevor Lewis‘ (W Marian Gaborik and F Adrian Kempe) belly, as he scored with 7:18 remaining in regulation to pull the Kings back within a two-goal deficit, but C Joe Thornton (D Justin Braun and D Marc-Edouard Vlasic) eliminated any chance of a Los Angeles comeback with a wrister into an empty net with 20 ticks remaining on the clock.

Third Star G Martin Jones saved 35-of-36 shots faced (.972 save percentage) to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Kuemper, who saved 29-of-32 (.906).

In the DtFR Game of the Day series, road teams reign supreme of late. They’ve won five of the last six games to pull within 18 points of the 55-34-12 hosts.

January 15 – Day 100 – Battle of California

Though the number of games on the schedule is normal for this day of the week, this particular Monday is nothing close to normal.

In addition to it being the 100th day of the season, the NHL is joining in on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebrations by playing three matinees this afternoon. The first – Dallas at Boston (SN) – drops the puck at 1 p.m., and it is followed two hours later by Anaheim at Colorado and San Jose at Los Angeles (NHLN/SN) at 4 p.m. Finally, the lone contest of the night is the New York Islanders at Montréal (NBCSN/RDS/TSN2), which gets underway at 7:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

Teams on the bye: Buffalo, Calgary, Carolina, Chicago, Columbus, Edmonton, Florida, Minnesota, Nashville, Ottawa, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Vancouver, Washington and Winnipeg.

There’s only two contests that really stand out to me, but since the Kings and Sharks have a little bit of animosity between them, we have to take in that matchup.

 

Road trips can be tough, but 22-13-6 San Jose, which currently trails Dallas by a point for the second Western Conference wild card, managed to make the best of the situation to earn a 2-2-2 record over its past six games.

However, it’s surprising the Sharks were able to even post that record given their defense. Since December 31, the Sharks have allowed 24 goals against in six games played, and their four per-game average is (t)fourth-worst in the NHL in that time.

But the question is this: is it D Brent Burns‘ defense that is responsible for this letdown, or 13-10-4 G Martin Jones?

I’m leaning towards Jones. San Jose’s defense, led by D Justin Braun and D Marc-Edouard Vlasic (both with two blocks per game since New Year’s Eve), Burns (team-leading eight takeaways in the last six games) and D Brenden Dillon (2.8 hits-per-game since December 31) has allowed only 30.83 shots against per game since New Year’s Eve, the 10th-lowest mark in the league in that time.

Unfortunately for San Jose, the little that has gotten to Jones has given him major issues. He’s posted only an .859 save percentage and 4.04 GAA in his past four starts (both bottom-10 marks in the NHL since December 31) to earn only one point in the standings. He’ll be looking to rebound tonight against a Kings offense that fires an average of only 30.7 shots on goal per game.

Speaking of the 24-14-5 Kings, who currently occupy third place in the Pacific Division, they are one of the few teams in the league currently jealous of the Sharks’ current run.

Wait, what?

That’s right, 2-2-2 is way better than the three-game losing skid Los Angeles is currently suffering. The Kings are averaging four goals against since January 4, the (t)sixth-worst in the league in that time.

In a similar question to the one we had about the Sharks, does the blame fall on 19-14-2 G Jonathan Quick or his defense?

The comparisons between the Kings and Sharks continues, as Quick has to bear the load of this losing skid. Led by F Adrian Kempe (two takeaways since January 4), D Kurtis MacDermid (3.7 hits per game since January 4) and D Alec Martinez (3.3 blocks per game in his last three games played), Los Angeles has limited its opposition to only 27.67 shots per game, the second-fewest since January 4.

Even though he’s had the luxury of a lighter work load, Quick has been absolutely miserable over his last three game. He’s managed only an .866 save percentage and 3.75 GAA during this losing skid, and he squares off against an offense that averages 32.8 shots per game.

Barring a postseason matchup, today’s game is the finale of the four-game Battle of California series. Though the Kings won the first meeting 4-1 in The Tank on October 7, San Jose has emerged victorious from the previous two games. The Sharks beat the Kings 2-1 in Los Angeles on November 12, and then 2-0 on December 23.

With two teams in a bit of a rough patch, a good rivalry victory can do a lot to get them back on track. Personally, I’m leaning towards the Kings winning this afternoon’s game with their superior defense.


With four unanswered goals, the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the New York Rangers 5-2 at PPG Paints Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

At the start of the first period, it seemed like Pittsburgh was well off to a good start. Only 3:14 into play, Patric Hornqvist (Second Star of the Game Carl Hagelin and Kris Letang) buried a backhanded shot to give the Pens a 1-0 advantage. However, it was the Rangers that entered the first intermission with the advantage, as Michael Grabner scored an unassisted backhander with 4:43 remaining in the frame to level the score, and Brendan Smith (Vinni Lettieri and Paul Carey) registered his first goal of the season 3:49 later to give New York a one-goal advantage.

The Penguins’ offense apparently didn’t take too kindly to being outplayed by New York’s recently struggling corps, because they registered a whopping 34 shots to the Blueshirts’ 15 over the course of the remaining two periods.

But more shots doesn’t always lead to immediate success. Pittsburgh needed 13:15 of play in the second period before it leveled the game at two-all courtesy of a wrist shot from First Star Dominik Simon (Brian Dumoulin and Sidney Crosby), the first goal of his NHL career.

75 seconds after the goal horn stopped blaring for Simon’s marker, Third Star Phil Kessel (Conor Sheary) buried what proved to be the game-winner. The goal itself was nothing to write home about, as Kessel took advantage of Sheary’s quick pass from the corner to rip a wrister past G Henrik Lundqvist before he could even blink. However, the goal marked the 700th point of Kessel’s career.

Just think if he got a hot dog for every point to his name…

Pittsburgh’s offense continued to dominate possession in the third period and eventually added on two extra tallies. Crosby (Kessel and Jamie Oleksiak) tacked on an insurance tally with 7:27 remaining in regulation, and Hagelin (Oleksiak) scored an empty netter with 5:28 later to set the 5-2 final score.

G Tristan Jarry earned the victory after saving 26-of-28 shots faced (.929 save percentage), leaving the loss to Lundqivst, who saved 42-of-46 (.913).

The Penguins’ home victory snapped a four-game winning streak by road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The 55-33-12 hosts in the series now have a 20-point advantage on the visitors.

DtFR Overtime: Have your break and eat it too

In this week’s edition of DtFR Overtime, I’ll tackle one of the things we highlighted in the most recent podcast: the bye weeks.

As was outlined in a previous post, the NHL is in Year 2 of implementing bye weeks into its schedule. Starting January 7, all teams will have a five-day minimum break that will begin no later than today. Everyone will be back in action no later than January 20.

Within that post, I outlined some of the things I like about this year’s iteration of the byes (specifically, their being compacted into a span of 13 days instead of strewn over the course of more than two months), but also touched on some of my concerns.

One of my biggest complaints was that the entire month of January would feel very thin in terms of games played. That is no more obvious than in my “Game of the Day” column, as I’ve repeated three teams twice in the span of six days.

Of course, there’s bigger issues than my daily writings. Time off abounds at this stage of the schedule, as the NHL has added bye weeks between its already existing three-day holiday break (December 24-26) and the four-day All-Star Break (January 26-29).

This choppiness, among other reasons, is one of the reasons the NHL has been floating the idea of eliminating the All-Star Game entirely, apparently wanting to find a way to expand its reach in foreign markets.

Among the DtFR crew, we’d been discussing how we felt interest in the All-Star Game among fans was declining. However, with just a little bit of research, I discovered that, according to SB Nation, last year’s All-Star Game brought in a 1.6 TV rating for NBC, reaching over 2.5 million Americans (sorry Canada, your results didn’t pop up in the first return).

Now, that doesn’t sound like a lot when you compare it to such sports broadcasts as Super Bowl LI, which garnered 111.3 million views, but it is actually a solid number in relation to recent NHL All-Star spectacles. The 2017 All-Star Game was the highest-viewed edition of the event since the 2004 festivities in St. Paul, Minn., and marked a second-consecutive year of growth in viewership.

The NHL saw a steep decline when the All-Star Game moved from ABC to NBCSN (dropping from a 2.5 rating in 2004 to a .5 in 2007), but the move back to broadcast television last year seems to have been a good move. So good, in fact, that 2017’s 1.6 rating is superior to both the 2017 (1.5) and 2018 Winter Classics (1.4).

And don’t think TV numbers are the only thing important here. All-Star Games are still must-see events for fans in the host markets. In fact, by compiling All-Star Game attendances and comparing it to stadium capacities over the past 28 editions of the event, the NHL has reached max capacity – if not exceeded it – 21 of the 28 times.

That’s why I’m of the opinion that the NHL shouldn’t be thinking of scrapping the All-Star Game. The fans, which is a growing number in and of itself (I mean, who would’ve expected a hockey team to actually work out in Vegas?), still want to see the best of the best compete with and against each other.

However, the spectators are just one part of the puzzle. More than a handful of players (C Sidney Crosby, C Pavel Datsyuk, D Nicklas Lidstrom, W Alex Ovechkin and C Jonathan Toews come to mind, just to name a handful) have skipped the All-Star Game in recent years – some with more believable excuses for their absences than others – and I think that is where the real problem lies. Many players do not want to risk expending energy, getting hurt or further straining an existing injury in an exhibition game that ultimately does not matter, to the point that they are willing to serve a one-game suspension that only extends their time off.

Therefore, we have two parties: one that wants to see the best hockey players in the world compete with no “less-thans” holding them back, and another that wants time off to heal and prepare for the final push of the season.

This dichotomy does not seem to be prevalent in the other two “Big Four” North American sports that play their All-Star Games mid-season. Perhaps they can provide a hint as to how to solve this problem.

It might have been just how I was raised, but I am under the impression that no athlete feels more honored to be a part of an All-Star Game than a baseball player. You can feel free to disagree with me, but the difficulty of achieving consecutive appearances, plus the storied tradition – not to mention the lower risk of injury – make it a very desirable experience and honor. There’s obviously players who have skipped the Midsummer Classic (SS Derek Jeter, P Stephen Strasburg, etc.), but it is not something that happens often for sportsmen that play at least 150 games per regular season.

This summer, MLB will give almost every team (the Cardinals and Cubs are the exception, as the league is experimenting with highlighting one game in a sort of “Opening Day to the Second Half of the Season” this year) a four-day break before resuming play following the festivities in Washington, D.C., an eternity in a 162-game season. Even the All-Stars themselves will take at least two days off, and most will get three since only eight participate in the Home Run Derby.

Of course, baseball is the least strenuous sport of the “Big Four,” but there’s still enough time for even those selected to the All-Star Game to take a moment to rest before the second half of the season, especially since most play only an inning or two in the exhibition.

Next up is the NHL’s redheaded stepchild-turned-attention hog of the winter months, the NBA (Don’t believe me, NBA fans? Time for you to read up on why professional basketball exists).

The Association’s All-Star Break is scheduled a little bit later than the NHL’s and won’t take place until February 16-21 this season, with the action taking place in Staples Center – the site of last year’s NHL All-Star Game.

Just like in hockey and baseball, the NBA stages a skills competition the day before its actual All-Star Game, but that still leaves four days for the players involved in the festivities to rest and recoup, and six for the scrubs (not really, there’s tons of deserving players that get left off the two 12-men rosters). You know, because most of them there don’t request nights off at least once a month.

Shots fired NBA.

All jokes aside, I’m sure you noticed something both these leagues have that the NHL doesn’t: an actual break. The NHL All-Star Break lasts only four days, as all but the Kings will be in action on January 16 (only because there isn’t a 32nd team for them to play – yet) and most will jump right back to the fray on January 30.

Perhaps this is why the NHLPA requested bye weeks when the league wanted to switch to the three-on-three backyard pickup-style tournament?

And so, at long last, I present an option that could potentially save the All-Star Game from extinction while also preserving the time off the players desire: we simply need to expand the All-Star Break to an actual week.

In a perfect world, my solution can resolve both concerns facing the league and its players. By extending the break, the players – even those elected into the weekend’s festivities – get to take more time off the ice to rest and recuperate, and coaches could probably convince the NHLPA to allow them to recommence light installation practices the last day before resuming play.

Another problem this might fix is the NHL’s ratings during the All-Star Game. While a 1.6 rating is good, you have to believe the league would like to see higher numbers. Maybe – just maybe – the league can create enough of a “hockey famine” that fans would tune in to get a sampling of the sport before their favorite clubs returned to the ice.

My plan?

Have play commence until the Wednesday before the All-Star Game (within this season’s calendar, that would be January 24). The league can decide whether it wants this to be a normal Wednesday with only two or three games, or if wants to cash in like the day before the break begins this year and schedule as many games as possible. I’m not picky.

Continuing the presumption we’re editing this year’s schedule, the All-Star Festivities would still take place in Tampa on January 27 (Skills Competition) and 28 (63rd All-Star Game), but players would not be back in action with their actual clubs on January 30 like they’re currently slated to be. Instead, the NHL would not schedule play again until the next Tuesday or Wednesday (January 30 or 31).

This would allow at least four days of rest for all players whether they’re All-Stars or not, and six days for those not involved in the weekend’s festivities. I feel, with that amount of time off, the league might be able to go back to a time without bye weeks, circa 2016.

January 14 – Day 99 -Steel City Second Act

The league has scheduled a light, but very exciting slate of four games for us today. Thanks NHL!

The action starts at 12:30 p.m. with Detroit at Chicago (NBC/TVAS), followed by Calgary at Carolina at 3 p.m. The New York Rangers at Pittsburgh (NBCSN) is the next game on the schedule at 7:30 p.m., and it is trailed half an hour later by tonight’s nightcap: Vancouver at Minnesota (SN). All times Eastern.

Teams on the bye: Buffalo, Columbus, Edmonton, Florida, Nashville, Ottawa, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Washington and Winnipeg.

Is there any doubt of which game we’re featuring today? Let’s get to the City of Bridges!

 

This game was supposed to be NBC’s “Game of the Week” (a.k.a. the Sunday matinee time slot the Detroit-Chicago contest now occupies), but the Steelers’ 1 p.m. playoff game at Heinz Field changed those plans.

Don’t think the rescheduling plays into the decision to feature this game. That pick was made by 23-19-3 Pittsburgh – a club that many were wondering if it was reaching the end of its dynasty – having the opportunity to climb into the first wild card after being outside the playoff picture for the last month.

Since turning the calendar to 2018, there’s only been a handful of teams better than the Penguins, who have won four of their last five games – including three straight. The offense is humming near 2016-’17 efficiency by scoring a (t)fifth-best 3.8 goals per game, and the defense has allowed sixth-best 2.2 goals against per game.

It’s about time the Penguins’ top stars started performing. From opening day on October 4 through December 31, F Evgeni Malkin managed only 13-22-35 marks (one point per game) and C Sidney Crosby tacked on only 14-21-35 (.9 points per game). In fact, with RW Phil Kessel currently posting team-leading 19-31-50 totals, the Pens are in line for a new season points-leader not named Crosby or Malkin for the first time since D Dick Tarnstrom‘s 16-36-52 effort in 2003-’04.

However, since Head Equipment Manager Dana Heinze – who’s a solid follow on Twitter whether you’re a Pens fan, Flyers fan or anything in between – hung a new calendar in the Pens’ dressing room, Crosby and Malkin have regained their roles as leaders of Pittsburgh’s offense. Both have averaged two points per game in 2018, with Malkin leading the way with 5-5-10 marks.

One constant Pittsburgh is happy to carry over from its lackluster start to the season is its dominant power play. The Pens have converted a league-leading 46.7 percent of their man-advantages since the beginning of the new year, which pulls their season success rate up to an also league-leading 27 percent. The leader of that attack – whether for the season or of late – is none other than Kessel, who has registered a whopping 29 power play points this season, the best mark in the NHL. While Malkin might have more power play points in 2018, Kessel has him beat in extra-man goals with three to his credit in five games.

Of note, 8-3-2 G Tristan Jarry was in net for yesterday’s 4-1 victory over the Red Wings. With 15-12-1 G Matthew Murray taking a leave of absence for a personal matter, 0-1-0 G Casey DeSmith was probably hoping for a chance to earn his first NHL start. However, Head Coach Mike Sullivan has been reluctant to hand DeSmith the reins in the past when the Pens are in this situation, and he’ll stay true to form by giving Jarry – who saved 29-of-30 shots faced yesterday (.967 save percentage) – both starts of the weekend.

For the Penguins to move into the first wildcard spot, the club currently holding that position will have to get out of the way. Considering that team is the 22-16-5 Rangers, I doubt they’ll do that voluntarily.

Unfortunately, the Blueshirts don’t enter tonight’s game in top form. They’ve posted a measly 3-4-2 record over their past nine games, which includes their two most recent games: regulation losses by a combined score of 9-3.

It might seem like the goals against might be the issue based off the last two games, but New York’s biggest concern is an offense that has absolutely dried up. The Rangers have managed a (t)13th-best 2.95 goals per game for the entire season, but that effort has dropped to a (t)league-worst 1.78 goals per game since December 21.

The hard part with this scoring slump is no one person is responsible. 18 of New York’s 21 skaters since December 21 have registered at least one point, and eight have three or more points. LW Jimmy Vesey in particular has been giving it his all to try to resolve the Rangers’ scoring woes, as he’s scored three goals and tacked on another assist over these nine games. W Mats Zuccarello has also been strong, as he’s posted four assists in his last eight games.

Just like the Penguins, New York played its usual backup in yesterday’s game. 3-6-1 G Ondrej Pavelec saved 14-of-19 shots faced (.737 save percentage) in the 7-2 home loss against the Islanders. Even though 19-10-4 G Henrik Lundqvist was forced to play over half the game (saving 16-of-18 for a .889 save percentage) for no decision, he’ll get the start today.

Tonight’s meeting marks Game 3 of four between the Blueshirts and Pens this regular season. Both teams have won on road ice, but New York is winning the season series due to forcing extra time when it hosted October 17’s contest (the Penguins won 5-4 thanks to Malkin’s overtime goal, by the way). The Rangers then returned the favor on December 5, beating Pittsburgh 4-3 at PPG Paints Arena. W Pavel Buchnevich scored the game-winning goal near the midway point of the third period, but it was Zuccarello that took First Star honors with his two-point night.

The Penguins seem like they’re getting rolling at the right time this season, and it just so happens that the Rangers are slumping at the exact same moment. Jarry starting two consecutive games is certainly a plus for New York, but I think Pittsburgh’s offense will be enough to get it two points.


The Anaheim Ducks’ comeback tour is in full force, as they beat the Los Angeles Kings 4-2 at Staples Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Before we even jump into a recap of the goals scored, let’s discuss this rivalry. I predicted a fierce, nasty, scrappy game between these two, and the Freeway Face-Off did not disappoint.  A combined 38 PIM were handed out (led by the six players that took five for fighting in the first period) and 75 hits thrown (led by LW Kyle Clifford and C Ryan Getzlaf, both with five apiece) in what was undoubtedly the meanest game of the night in the Western Conference, if not the entire league.

Of course, those stats don’t earn wins – goals do. Two were struck in the first period, and both belonged to the Ducks. First Star W Ondrej Kase (F Rickard Rakell and Getzlaf) took credit for the first at the 6:14 mark, followed 12:36 later by F Ryan Kesler‘s (D Brandon Montour and Kase) second tally of the season, a power play snap shot that set the 2-0 score that held through the remainder of the first period and the entirety of the second.

Whoever said third-liners can’t provide offense hasn’t seen Anaheim’s stellar sophomore. Only 2:10 into the final frame, Kase (LW Nick Ritchie) buried a wrist shot that proved to be the game-winner.

As good as G Jonathan Quick has been this season, this is at least the second time he’s made a mistake in the DtFR Game of the Day series playing a puck behind his goal that has led to an opposing goal. This time, he was caught trying to settle the puck in the trapezoid with no teammates around him. That allowed Ritchie to drive behind the net and take possession, which he quickly dished to Kase in the left face-off circle. Try as he might, Quick just wasn’t quick enough to get back in his crease, as Kase’s wrister easily found the back of the net.

Facing a 3-0 deficit, the Kings finally decided to find some offense. C Nick Shore (D Christian Folin and F Trevor Lewis) scored their first 6:22 after the goal horn stopped blaring for Kase’s tally, and C Anze Kopitar (D Derek Forbort and Second Star F Alex Iafallo) pulled Los Angeles back within a goal with 6:14 remaining in regulation.

However, the offense dried up following Kopitar’s 18th tally of the season, to the point that Head Coach John Stevens was forced to pull Quick for an extra attacker. W Corey Perry (D Hampus Lindholm) never needs much of an invitation to score goals, so he took advantage of the empty cage with 1:28 remaining in regulation to set the 4-2 final score.

G John Gibson earned the victory after saving 23-of-25 shots faced (.92 save percentage), leaving the loss to Quick, who saved 18-of-21 (.857).

Though the 54-33-12 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series still have an 18-point advantage, they should beware the road teams right now. With Anaheim’s victory away from The Pond, that is the fourth-straight victory for visitors.

January 13 – Day 98 – Freeway Face-Off

It’s Saturday, and a lot of the teams in action today are well rested and ready to roll. This should be a good one!

The action sees an early start today, as there’s two (the New York Islanders at the New York Rangers and Detroit at Pittsburgh [NHLN/SN]) 1 p.m. matinee games. Next up are the three contests (Winnipeg at Minnesota [CITY/SN1], Boston at Montréal [CBC/NHLN/SN/TVAS] and Philadelphia at New Jersey) dropping the puck at the usual 7 p.m. starting time, followed by Colorado at Dallas two hours later. Edmonton at Vegas (CBC/SN) will get underway at 10 p.m., followed half an hour later by tonight’s co-nightcaps: Anaheim at Los Angeles and Arizona at San Jose. All times Eastern.

Teams on the bye: Buffalo, Columbus, Florida, Nashville, Ottawa, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Toronto and Washington.

More than a few of these games caught my eye…

  • New York at New York: It’s the Battle of New York! Which borough is supreme: Queens Brooklyn or Manhattan?
  • Detroit at Pittsburgh: Not only is this the rivalry of two consecutive Stanley Cup matchups, but it’s also the first returns of D Trevor Daley and F Scott Wilson to PPG Paints Arena since joining the Red Wings.
  • Boston at Montréal: One of the NHL’s most storied rivalries finally gets started for the 2017-’18 season.
  • Philadelphia at New Jersey: The Battle of the Turnpikes is always solid, and both these teams are coming off five days rest.
  • Anaheim at Los Angeles: It’s a Freeway Face-Off night in Tinseltown!

Now that the Ducks are rested and healthy, there’s no way we can miss this rough-‘n’-tough rivalry game!

 

Both of these teams enter today well-rested, as they were both enjoying their six-day bye weeks from January 7-12. Hopefully we get a high-energy contest and not one that features two rusty clubs.

The similarities between these clubs extend beyond that. Besides the simple fact that they both call Southern California home, they both entered the bye week losing week, even though they both play some of the best defense in the league.

Let’s start with the 24-13-5 Kings, who are currently in second place in the Pacific Division. With the exception of the active losing streak, most things have gone Los Angeles’ way this season, and a lot of it has to do with the dominant play of 19-13-2 G Jonathan Quick.

Quick has been solid in his first full season back from his 2016 groin injury. His .926 season save percentage is (t)fifth-best in the league among qualified goaltenders, and his 2.31 GAA is sixth-best. Only six netminders have more wins than Quick on the season, and this three shutouts are (t)fourth-best in the NHL.

Oh yeah, it also doesn’t hurt that D Drew Doughty wears the black and silver. He’s been solid this season to post a (t)third-best in the league +21 rating on 7-23-30 totals. Doughty’s point totals are (t)third-most on the Kings’ roster.

It’s highly doubtful that much will change for the Kings coming out of the bye, but the same can’t be said for 19-15-9 Anaheim. Though the Ducks sit three points outside the playoff picture coming into today’s action, they’re poised for a surge since almost their entire roster is now healthy.

C Ryan Getzlaf has played only 19 games this season. F Ryan Kesler only six. Tonight will be D Hampus Lindholm‘s 31st contest, and only D Cam Fowler‘s 32nd. Even W Corey Perry has played fewer than 35 games.

But tonight, they’ll all be back and ready to roll, bringing with them a combined 3.4 points-per-game. Add in the fact that Anaheim allows a seventh-fewest 2.67 goals per game, and this Ducks team should be in business to inflict some damage in the Pacific Division.

These teams have already squared off twice this season, and both games took place back in November. Even though the Kings won both meetings, don’t think they had an easy time of it. Los Angeles needed an overtime game-winning goal from C Nick Shore to beat the Ducks on The Pond 4-3 on November 7, and November 25’s meeting in Hollywood required a four-round shootout to declare the Kings the 2-1 winners.

Considering the Kings are playing at home this evening, you’d be led to believe they should have what it takes to beat the rival Ducks. However, it’s still unknown just how good this Anaheim team can be. Regardless of who wins, I think it’s a safe assumption that this will be a physical, closely contested match.


With four goals in the second period, the Vancouver Canucks beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-2 at Nationwide Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Though the game would ultimately belong to Vancouver, the Jackets took credit for the game-opening tally at the 4:33 mark courtesy of a power play slap shot from Third Star of the Game D Seth Jones (F Nick Foligno and LW Artemi Panarin). With First Star C Henrik Sedin in the box for holding F Boone Jenner, Jones’ eighth goal of the season proved to be the lone marker of the first frame.

After the first intermission, it didn’t take the Canucks long to level the game. LW Sven Baertschi (Second Star W Thomas Vanek and F Sam Gagner) took advantage of D Zach Werenski earning a seat in the sin bin for tripping W Loui Eriksson late in the first period to tie the game-at one-all with a power play snap shot at the 1:19 mark. 4:19 later, D Erik Gudbranson (Eriksson and Sedin) scored his first goal of the season to give Vancouver the lead.

Scoring subsided for almost 10 minutes, but the next goal to be struck proved to be the game-winner. With 5:29 remaining in the second period, F Brendan Gaunce (Vanek and D Michael Del Zotto) scored Vancouver’s second power play goal of the night to set the score at 3-1. With C Lukas Sedlak in the box for hooking Sedin, Vanek entered his offensive zone along the right boards before D Jack Johnson got in his way and forced him back towards the blue line. To avoid the Canucks getting caught offsides, he shoved a pass across the zone to Gaunce, who was undefended. Every stick wants to die a warrior, and this one did – Gaunce’s wrist shot found the back of G Sergei Bobrovsky‘s net three seconds before Sedlak was to be released from the box.

D Alexander Edler (LW Daniel Sedin and H. Sedin) set the score at 4-1 on a wrister with 2:45 remaining in the period.

After that scoring explosion by Vancouver, the Jackets were in desperate need of a goal. However, they would not find the back of the net until only 7:25 remained in regulation courtesy of a LW Matt Calvert (D Scott Harrington and Foligno) clapper. Facing  a two-goal deficit, Head Coach John Tortorella pulled Bobrovsky in hopes of turning the tides for his offense. However, he allowed RW Jake Virtanen (F Markus Granlund) to score an empty-netter to set the 5-2 final score.

G Jacob Markstrom earned the victory after saving 27-of-29 shots faced (.931 save percentage), leaving the loss to Bobrovksy, who saved 24-of-28 (.857).

The road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are starting to feel it, as they’re now riding a three-game winning streak. This streak has pulled them within 20 points of the 54-32-12 hosts.

January 12 – Day 97 – Gagner is “to win” in French, so…

There’s one more day until the first wave of byes end! Get ready for an explosion of games tomorrow!

However, that still means today’s list of matchups is rather short. Only five pucks are going to be dropped this evening, starting with two at 7 p.m. (Vancouver at Columbus and Calgary at Florida) and Washington at Carolina half an hour later. Next up is Winnipeg at Chicago at 8:30 p.m., followed by Edmonton at Arizona acting as tonight’s nightcap. All times Eastern.

Teams on the bye: Anaheim, Boston, Buffalo, Colorado, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Montréal, Nashville, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Ottawa, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Jose, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Toronto and Vegas.

You’ll notice none of these games are being broadcast nationally in either Canada or the USA, which is a real bummer. Hopefully you live in one of these 10 markets.

As for which tilt we’ll feature here, my list of two candidates was trimmed to one by the still ongoing saga between RW Jaromir Jagr and the Calgary Flames, who was scheduled to make his return to Sunrise today. Since we featured the Canes and Caps yesterday (you can just use that preview for today’s contest), let’s take in F Sam Gagner‘s return to Ohio.

 

Life is not always easy for a first-round pick.

Just ask Gagner, who was the sixth-overall selection in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft – you know, the same draft with LW Jamie Benn, F Patrick Kane, LW Max Pacioretty, D Kevin Shattenkirk, W Wayne Simmonds, D P.K. Subban, RW Jakub Voracek… the list goes on to include a total of 93 skaters and four goaltenders that have seen time in the NHL.

It was a good draft class with some exceptional talent, but not a great one – look to 2003 for a better example of a draft with more depth.

By simply arranging the draft class by points they’ve scored so far in their careers, Edmonton picking him sixth is right on the money. He’s posted 149-272-421 totals over the course of his 11 seasons in the league, which puts him behind Kane (797 points), Benn (556), Voracek (539), Pacioretty (434) and Simmonds (424).

However, how is it Gagner, who provides .57 points-per-game, is one of the three players listed above that is no longer with the club that drafted him?

The obvious answer is just to say “Oilers” and move on, but Gagner’s story did not immediately end up in Columbus.

Gagner signed a three-year extension with the Oil before the 2013-’14 season, but he played only one year of that deal before being shipped to Tampa Bay for RW Teddy Purcell. The Bolts apparently never wanted him, because he was shipped off only an hour later to Arizona for a sixth-round pick.

Year two of that three-year deal was spent with the Coyotes as a right wing – not his usual center position. The results of that experiment in 2014-’15 were fairly poor given his 15-26-41 totals playing off the puck, but General Manager Don Maloney insisted Gagner could not play his natural position in the NHL and decided to trade him to Philadelphia that offseason for D Nicklas Grossmann and D Chris Pronger – who, by the way, hadn’t seen the ice since the 2011-’12 season even though his contract expired this most recent offseason.

For those counting at home, Arizona received 58 games played in the 2015-’16 season out of that trade.

Oh yeah, and Maloney was fired after that year. There’s also that.

And so, Gagner completed a hat trick of teams in as many seasons all on the same contract. It was a miserable campaign in Philly that saw him register only 16 points in 53 games (he spent time in the AHL that season as well), and he was allowed to test free agency.

No one wanted Gagner. Nobody. Free agents can begin signing contracts on July 1, but he didn’t earn a spot on a team until August 1. The former first-rounder signed a one-year, $650 thousand contract with Columbus, making $225 thousand fewer than he did during his first three seasons in the league.

The Jackets had nothing to lose in this situation and everything to gain. They had missed the 2016 playoffs entirely, falling all the way to last in the Metropolitan Division and 15th in the Eastern Conference a year after missing the postseason by only nine points. If Gagner failed to produce, the Jackets could easily waive him and he’d almost assuredly end up in Cleveland with their AHL affiliate.

To put things plainly, Columbus General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen looked like a genius after this deal. The Blue Jackets enjoyed their greatest season of all-time by reaching the 100-point plateau for the first time in franchise history, and Gagner was one of the biggest players. He posted fifth-best 18-32-50 totals, setting a career-high in points and tying his career-best in goals.

However, the money just wasn’t there for the Jackets to keep Gagner around for this season. For the second offseason in a row, he was a free agent. But this time, Gagner was one of the first players signed. He was brought into the Vancouver fold on a three-year, $3.15 million deal, and is currently centering the Canucks’ top line.

Unfortunately, Gagner hasn’t been able to bring along the Jackets’ spark to the 16-21-6 Canucks, who currently occupy second-to-last in both the Pacific Division and the Western Conference. Short of his stint with the Flyers, he’s having the worst season of his career, posting only 7-12-19 totals through 43 games played (.44 points per game).

Of course, it’s hard to say that Gagner is having a bad year on his own accord. His 19 points are enough to place him sixth on the team, and rookie sensation RW Brock Boeser is the only player on the squad with more than 30 points to his credit.

Vancouver is experiencing an especially rough patch in its season right now, as it is in the midst of a seven-game road trip (tonight is Game 4) while also suffering a five-game losing skid that has seen it earn only one point.

As you might expect from a team where 19 points is good enough for sixth-most on the squad, offense is a major issue for the Canucks. During this five-game losing skid, they’ve managed only eight goals, meaning they’re averaging a third-worst 1.6 goals per game since December 30.

What makes things even more frustrating is that the little offense the Canucks are getting is coming from only two players: the legends themselves, LW Daniel Sedin and C Henrik Sedin. D. Sedin has been extremely impressive over his last three games, as he’s managed 2-2-4 totals for a three-game point streak, and H. Sedin has thrown in three assists in that span as well.

Meanwhile, this hasn’t been the best of runs for 25-17-3 Columbus either. The Jackets have earned only a 3-4-1 record over their past eight games, and they now trail Washington, which has a game in hand, by four points for the Metropolitan Division lead.

It’s not very often that I’m disappointed with Columbus’ overall defensive effort, but for the second time in a row of me featuring the Jackets, that’s where I’m having concerns.

Over their past eight games, the Blue Jackets have allowed 24 goals. Those astute at math notice that is an average of three goals per game (well over the 2.69 Columbus has averaged all season), which ties Chicago for 12th-worst since December 27.

One of, if not the biggest issue over this run has been the penalty kill. Over its past eight games, Columbus has successfully defended only two-thirds of its 18 shorthanded situations, making the Jackets the fifth-worst kill over the past 16 days.

G Sergei Bobrovsky has posted only an .844 save percentage against the power play since December 27 (the 22nd-worst among the 61 netminders to face a power play situation in that time), but he’s also had to face a fifth-most 32 power play shots.

With D David Savard being the only Blue Jacket with more than three shorthanded blocked shots and a total of only four total takeaways in that situation, Columbus needs to find a way to get its penalty kill under control in a hurry.

Bobrovsky played yesterday to a 3-1 loss in Buffalo, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see 4-4-0 G Joonas Korpisalo draw tonight’s start. That being said, I’ve made that prediction once already this week and it didn’t pan out, so we’ll see what Head Coach John Tortorella decides to do.

With the Canucks sporting a 20.7 power play conversion rate that is 12th-best on the season, this may not be the easiest of home games for Columbus. Throw in the fact that Korpisalo, who hasn’t faced an NHL shot since December 31, could be in net tonight, and Vancouver has a very real shot at earning two points this evening.


With a 3-1 victory over the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Carolina Hurricanes have moved into the Eastern Conference’s second wild card.

This was a game full of solid defense and counterattacking by the Canes. Even though they out-shot the Capitals 33-28 for the night, it felt like Washington was earning much stronger possessions and longer time in the offensive zone.

That was no more apparent than in Carolina’s first goal of the night. With F Josh Jooris in the penalty box for holding D Madison Bowey, the Caps were on the power play. However, when D John Carlson attempted to reset the play to W Alex Ovechkin at the blue line, C Jordan Staal intercepted the pass to set himself up for a one-on-one duel with G Braden Holtby. Staal won that battle, squeezing a backhanded shot between the netminder’s legs for his second shorthanded tally of the season, the most he’s scored in one campaign as a Hurricane.

Carolina took the lead with 8:27 remaining in the second period, but that advantage wouldn’t last for long. Third Star of the Game C Lars Eller (F T.J. Oshie and D Christian Djoos) was able to level the game 4:32 later with a slap shot from above the face-off circles. The one-all score held into the second intermission.

What other line to score the game-winning goal than RW Justin Williams‘? The former Capital didn’t earn a point on the play, but his protégé Second Star C Victor Rask did with his unassisted wrist shot with 9:06 remaining in regulation.

Because the Caps were facing a delayed penalty, it was a six-on-five situation for the Canes. D Justin Faulk fired an initial wrist shot from above the face-off circles that Holtby was able to deflect, but neither he nor any other skater clad in red could take possession of the loose puck. That’s what allowed Rask to one-time a wrister from the left face-off circle, beating Holtby short side.

Washington tried valiantly to find another leveling goal up its sleeve, but Head Coach Barry Trotz was eventually forced to pull Holtby as regulation was beginning to come to an end. That’s what allowed W Sebastian Aho (F Elias Lindholm) to bury a wrister with 89 seconds remaining in regulation to set the score at the 3-1 final.

While the Canes executed their game plan to a T, the player most deserving of praise was First Star G Scott Darling. Having lost his last two starts, he won this one by stopping 27-of-28 shots faced (.964 save percentage). Holtby took the loss, saving 30-of-32 (.938).

That’s the second-consecutive win by a road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The 54-31-12 home teams still hold the advantage in the series, but the visitors have now pulled within 22 points.

January 11 – Day 96 – Seeing red

Usually Thursdays are among the busiest days of the week, but this particular edition doesn’t quite fit the bill with only three East Coast games to offer.

Like it usually does, the action begins at 7 p.m. with a pair of contests (Columbus at Buffalo [SN] and Carolina at Washington [NHLN]), but the nightcap – Calgary at Tampa Bay (TVAS) – gets an early start at 7:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

Teams on the bye: Anaheim, Arizona, Boston, Colorado, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Montréal, Nashville, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Ottawa, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Jose, St. Louis, Toronto and Vegas.

Fortunately, all three tilts are being broadcast nationally so no one gets left out on tonight’s fun. However, it is citizens of the United States that are truly the lucky ones, because they get tonight’s best matchup.

 

Hidden within this tilt between Southeast-turned-Metropolitan Division rivals is the homecoming of Mr. Game 7 to Washington for the first time since returning to Raleigh this offseason.

RW Justin Williams played the last two seasons before this one with W Alex Ovechkin and company. Following a successful seven seasons in Los Angeles that earned him his second and third Stanley Cup rings (not to mention the 2014 Conn Smythe Trophy), the Kings left him unsigned and he joined the Caps on a two-year, $6.5 million contract.

Beyond the simple offensive prowess he had shown throughout his NHL tenure (he’d averaged .63 points per game for his career leading up to the 2015-’16 season), Williams was brought into the Washington fold to bring the very thing it had missed in seasons past: the clutch factor. The ability to take the ice in a Game 7 knowing they had the experience and scoring touch to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1998.

Williams brought exactly what the Capitals expected as far as his scoring was concerned. Having scored .63 points per game for the first 14 seasons of his career, Williams managed a .62 in two seasons with the Caps to post 46-54-100 totals during his tenure.

However, Mr. Game 7 apparently didn’t travel from the West to East Coast, because he managed only 2-1-3 totals in five elimination games with Washington. In fact, even though the Capitals clawed their way back into last year’s Eastern Semifinal against Pittsburgh from a 3-1 deficit to force Game 7, all Williams can claim for his last three postseason games are six shots on goal. No goals, no assists. Heck, he even has a goal-differential of zero.

While I’m sure the Caps’ dire cap situation is the primary reason he swapped out red sweaters this offseason, Williams not delivering in the postseason like he was expected to must have factored into the decision to not resign him at least a little bit.

Regardless of the reason, Williams was presented with the opportunity to resign with the Hurricanes, the club with which he won his first Stanley Cup in 2006, on a two-year, $9 million contract. He pounced on the opportunity immediately.

So far, Williams has continued his stellar offensive production. With 7-19-26 totals alongside LW Brock McGinn and C Victor Rask on the Canes’ third line, he’s posting his .62 points-per-game while while also providing a guiding hand for a team with an average age of 26.4-years-old – 1.3 years younger than the league average according to hockeyreference.com.

That guiding hand is apparently working, because Carolina has a 19-15-8 record that is only one point behind Pittsburgh for the second wildcard spot.

We already talked on Tuesday about the impressive surge the Canes have been on lately, earning 17 points over their past 13 games with an 8-4-1 record. However, the next step for this Carolina team is to start beating some of the best teams in the league with a little bit more consistency.

The last six games the Hurricanes have played have been against teams currently in playoff position. In those contests, they’ve managed only a 2-3-1 record, and it’s due in large part to the defense meeting their match against some of the best offenses the game has to offer.

Usually, Carolina is one of the soundest defenses in the NHL. On the season, F Jeff Skinner (42 takeaways), D Jaccob Slavin (2.1 blocks-per-game) and F Jordan Staal (2.4 hits-per-game) have led the Canes to allowing only 29.1 shots against per game, the fewest in the league by half a shot.

Statistically, that defense is still unmatched. Over its past six games, Carolina has allowed only 28 shots per game, the fewest in the league since December 29. However, 11-4-2 G Cam Ward‘s numbers are plummeting from his season marks of a .907 save percentage and 2.78 GAA. How can it be that he’s managed only an .883 save percentage and 3.18 GAA in his past five starts?

Answer: solid offenses.

It is worth mentioning who these current playoff teams are Carolina has played lately: Pittsburgh (2-1 win), at St. Louis (3-2 loss), Washington (5-4 overtime loss), at Pittsburgh (4-0 win), at Boston (7-1 loss) and at Tampa Bay (5-4 loss).

Of these offenses, three are in the top-10 in goals-per-game, and for good reason: they have some of the best scorers in the league. In short, players on these teams (think RW Nikita Kucherov and Ovechkin, just to name a couple) don’t need much room to find the back of the net.

That would put the onus on Ward to perform better against these top teams to keep games close, as well as the offense to find a way to break through these clubs’ defenses with a little bit more success. However, with Carolina and Washington playing a home-and-home series tonight and tomorrow, that responsibility falls on the shoulders of 8-11-6 G Scott Darling for this evening’s matchup.

Darling hasn’t exactly been all the Canes had hoped he’d be when they acquired him this offseason, but he’ll get another opportunity tonight against the Metropolitan Division-leading 27-13-3 Capitals. Washington is rolling right now, as they’ve won five-straight and earned points in 11 of their past 12 games with a 9-1-2 record.

Just like Carolina, Washington is finding much of its success on the defensive end with solid play from RW Alex Chiasson, 24-8-0 G Braden Holtby, D Dmitry Orlov, D Brooks Orpik and RW Tom Wilson, but we tackled that conversation Sunday.

Instead, let’s talk offense.

We’ve already mentioned Ovechkin and the stellar season he’s having. Posting 27-19-46 points (a goal total that ties Kucherov for most in the NHL), he’s well on his way to having his best season since the lockout-shortened 2012-’13 campaign where he registered 56 points in 48 games.

He’s certainly been the hero during this impressive run the Caps have been on since December 12, but he’s also received tremendous support from D John Carlson and C Nicklas Backstrom, who’ve earned respective 3-9-12 and 4-7-11 marks over their past dozen games.

This offensive explosion has been happening all season for Carlson, who must have gleaned a thing or two from D Kevin Shattenkirk‘s short stay in the capital. He’s already posted 5-29-34 totals for the season in his first 43 games played, and if he continues on his pace, he may very well have a season even better than his 12-43-55 career year in 2014-’15.

Tonight marks Game 2 of four between these clubs for the 2017-’18 regular season. The Capitals made the trip down I-95 on January 2. Even though Rask managed to post a two-goal night, Ovechkin was able to match him and score the most important tally of the game: the overtime game winner. Washington won the contest 5-4.

With Darling in net on the road in a usually hostile environment, I have a hard time of seeing the Canes pulling out the victory tonight. However, they will have more than their fair shot at evening the weekend series tomorrow when theses teams square off once again in Raleigh.


In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Minnesota Wild snapped their four-game road losing skid by beating the Chicago Blackhawks 2-1 at United Center.

Making it all the sweeter, the victory was of the come-from-behind variety, as Third Star of the Game D Brent Seabrook (D Michal Kempny and C Nick Schmaltz) – coming off his first-ever healthy scratch when Chicago played in Ottawa the day before – scored a wrist shot with 7:36 remaining in the first frame to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead.

It took until the 9:58 mark of the second period for Minnesota to level the game. D Jonas Brodin (W Jason Zucker and D Mathew Dumba) was the guilty party, scoring a slap shot from the blue line for only his fourth tally of the season.

As for the game-winner, it was fired off First Star D Ryan Suter‘s (C Mikko Koivu and F Mikael Granlund) stick 3:03 into the third period during four-on-four play. Not usually known for his scoring touch (this was only his sixth goal of the year), Suter received a cross-ice pass from Koivu above the right face-off circle that he turned into a powerful top-shelf wrister that squeezed between G Anton Forsberg‘s left ear and shoulder – an area that is almost impossible to defend.

Another major player in the Wild’s victory was Second Star G Devan Dubnyk, who saved 34-of-35 shots faced (.971 save percentage) to earn the victory. That left Forsberg with the loss after he saved 25-of-27 (.926).

Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are showing life lately, as they’ve earned points in three of the last four contests. However, the series is still dominated by the 54-30-12 home teams, as they still have a 24-point advantage.

January 10 – Day 95 – There’s no place like home

There’s only two games on the schedule today, but for once I’m not complaining about either failing to live up to NBC’s promotion of “Wednesday Night Rivalry.”

The action starts in Toronto when Ottawa pays the Maple Leafs a visit at 7:30 p.m. (SN/TVAS) and Minnesota at Chicago (NBCSN) cleans up the evening’s festivities half an hour later. All times Eastern.

Teams on the bye: Anaheim, Arizona, Boston, Colorado, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Montréal, Nashville, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Jose, St. Louis and Vegas.

Is there any question of which game we’re featuring tonight? The winner of the Wild-Blackhawks game will be the eighth seed in the Western Conference! It’s off to the Windy City with us!

 

Tonight’s tilt is Game 4 in a five-game series between these clubs. Chicago owns a 2-1-0 record against the Wild so far this season, and another win tonight would clinch the season series – an important note considering it is the second tiebreaker at the end of the season and both of these clubs are currently competing for the last wild card.

Obviously, the 23-17-4 Wild, who currently sit in 10th place in the Western Conference due to losing a games-played tiebreaker with both Chicago and Calgary, will have high hopes of leveling the series this evening. But do they have much of a chance of pulling it off?

I’m worried for them the answer is no. Minnesota has lost five of its last six road games (including one at United Center less than a month ago), including an active skid of four-straight. That run since December 17 makes the Wild the fourth-worst road team in the league, and it’s all because their defense simply doesn’t travel well.

Given, it’s not like Minnesota’s defense is all that spectacular in and of itself. The Wild allow 2.91 goals against per game for the season as a whole, the 14th-worst mark in the league.

However, in their six road games since December 17, the Wild have allowed a league-worst 25 goals against, or a second-worst 4.17 per game (the Wild would like to take this opportunity to thank the Islanders for allowing 16 goals in only three road games).

A major problem is Minnesota, even with LW Marcus Foligno throwing three hits per game, D Jared Spurgeon blocking 2.67 shots per game and W Jason Zucker averaging a takeaway-per-game, has allowed an average of 35 shots in each contest away from Xcel Energy Center since mid-December, a mark that is sixth-worst in the NHL in that time.

While Foligno’s, Spurgeon’s and Zucker’s efforts are impressive on their own, it seems to me to be a lack of commitment by the rest of the team on the defensive end – especially in terms of physicality. Foligno has not been afraid to rough up the opposition along the boards, but Matt Dumba has averaged the second-most hits-per-game during this section of games with only 1.67 to his credit. While physicality is only one aspect of playing defense, it seems to be lacking from Head Coach Bruce Boudreau‘s squad.

The icing… err, frosting, since icing is a penalty… on the cake though is the fact that the Wild’s defense has allowed all these shots of late against 7-8-2 G Alex Stalock. Most of this run came while 15-9-2 G Devan Dubnyk was recovering from his lower-body injury. Given how much he was getting peppered while filling in, I’d say Stalock did pretty well in his five most recent road starts. He posted a .914 save percentage and 2.93 GAA.

Dubnyk will be in goal tonight in only his second road game since returning to action. His first was that drubbing at the hands of the Avalanche where, due in large part to posing a .813 save percentage and 7.61 GAA, he lost his cool and tried to smash F Alexander Kerfoot‘s face into the ice. Perhaps the former Masterton Trophy-winner can keep his cool tonight, because his team desperately needs him to cover up for its defensive inefficiencies.

If last night’s 8-2 performance in Ottawa is any indication, it seems the 21-15-6 Blackhawks are starting to figure things out. Having won four of their past six games and earned a point in one of those losses, Chicago has surged into the second wild card and has pulled within three points of first wild card Dallas.

Since December 29, no offense has scored more goals than Chicago. The Hawks have managed an impressive 28 goals in six games, which averages into a second-best 4.67 per game behind Boston’s unbelievable 5.5 (for those that care, three of the top-five teams in goals-per-game since December 29 are in the Central Division).

While the usual suspects of C Jonathan Toews and F Patrick Kane have been impressive over this run, posting respective 5-4-9 and 3-6-9 totals, the Blackhawk that truly takes the cake is sophomore C Nick Schmaltz, who’s currently riding a four-game goal streak. He’s done it all for the Hawks lately, posting 5-5-10 totals to elevate his season marks to 12-19-31. Having already surpassed last year’s numbers, Schmaltz is poised to join the ranks of recent dominant Chicago forwards. How does one club get W Alex DeBrincat, Kane, LW Artemi Panarin (well, last season), Schmaltz and Toews all on the same team?

Just like Minnesota saved its top goaltender for the Hawks, 2-1-1 G Jeff Glass will probably be in net tonight for Chicago after 3-5-3 G Anton Forsberg played yesterday against the Sens. Playing his rookie season at 32-years-old, Glass has posted a .908 save percentage and 3.51 GAA in his first four NHL starts.

The United Center hasn’t been the imposing threat to road teams as it was only a year or two ago, but with an 11-6-2 record at home this season, I think the Blackhawks can find a way to pull this one out.


Though the Carolina Hurricanes gave them all they had, First Star of the Game F Tyler Johnson and the Tampa Bay Lightning was able to win yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day 5-4 at Amalie Arena.

Johnson was an unstoppable force throughout the entire game, as he registered a goal in each frame. However, before he struck his tally for the first period, three others found the net. First was LW Brock McGinn (RW Justin Williams and D Jaccob Slavin), who gave Carolina the advantage 3:23 into play with a power play wrist shot. Tampa pulled the game back even 6:39 later courtesy of a wrister from D Victor Hedman (RW Nikita Kucherov and C Steven Stamkos). The exchange of goals continued with 7:50 remaining in the period when W Sebastian Aho bagged an unassisted wrister, but Johnson (D Anton Stralman and Second Star F Brayden Point) set the score at 2-2 on a tip-in 4:16 later.

In terms of playing time, Johnson didn’t have to wait too long to find his second goal of the night. Only 1:58 into the second period, he (Third Star D Jake Dotchin and Point) gave Tampa its first lead of the night with a backhanded shot. However, Carolina continued to show its resilience when D Justin Faulk (F Teuvo Teravainen and F Jordan Staal) scored a power play wrister 8:38 later, leveling the game at three-all.

The 3-3 tie held for a considerable time, even though both clubs combined to fire 26 shots in the second period. However, the draw was finally broken when Dotchin (Point and W Ondrej Palat) tickled the twine with a snap shot. 5:27 later, the Bolts went up what proved to be an insurmountable two goals when Johnson (Hedman) completed the hat trick with a wrister.

Johnson’s final goal was simply a pure spectacle of his superior speed to that of D Noah Hanifin. Hedman dumped the puck towards center ice from his defensive zone to enact a line change, but Johnson decided to race Hanifin to ensure there was no chance for icing. Once he realized he could take possession, Johnson squeezed past the defenseman, upending him in the process, to set up a one-on-one battle with G Cam Ward. The netminder fended off the first backhander from within his crease, but he couldn’t stop an immediate second try by Johnson: a wrister over his left blocker.

That’s not to say the Canes gave up on the remaining five minutes of regulation. In fact, the exact opposite is true, as F Elias Lindholm (Faulk and Teravainen) pulled Carolina back within a one-goal deficit with 1:18 remaining in the frame, but even with six attackers the Hurricanes couldn’t find a leveling marker.

G Andrei Vasilevskiy saved 28-of-32 shots faced (.875 save percentage) to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Ward, who saved 29-of-34 (.853).

It’s no surprise, but the 52-29-12 home teams are absolutely dominating the DtFR Game of the Day series. The hosts’ record in the series is 26 points better the roadies’, the same advantage Tampa Bay has on the Oilers for the Presidents’ Trophy.