Category Archives: Daily Matchup

Connor Keith presents a Game of the Day Column every game day (what a surprise). For those with a lot of initiative, free time, and money- you could also use this to plan to attend every game of the day in person and watch it live. Props to anyone who actually does that. Maybe we’ll write something about you or give you a high five- OR BOTH.

Game of the Week: March 25-31

Everyone, this is your ghost writer speaking. Connor is preoccupied this week, so I’m taking over to tell you about this humdinger of a matchup for this week’s DTFR Game of the Week.

And also to apologize for not having a cool looking table recapping every night of this week’s action leading up to Sunday’s main attraction in the Western Conference as the Minnesota Wild (36-33-9 record, 81 points, 6th in the Central Division) pay a visit to the Arizona Coyotes (37-33-8, 82 points, 4th in the Pacific Division).


Gila River Arena will be in the spotlight as the Top-2 teams outside of the Western Conference wild card race go head-to-head with the chance to help one of the teams currently in control of a wild card position clinch a berth in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Confused yet?

If Arizona loses in any form on Sunday against the Wild, the Dallas Stars will punch their ticket to the 2019 postseason leaving one final spot remaining in the Western Conference.

Though the Winnipeg Jets (94 points in 78 games played) lead the Nashville Predators (94 points in 79 GP) and St. Louis Blues (92 points in 78 GP) in the Central Division and the Calgary Flames (103 points in 78 GP) lead the San Jose Sharks (97 points in 78 GP) and Vegas Golden Knights (91 points in 79 GP) in the Pacific Division, the First Round matchups across the board in the Western Conference are still to be determined.

The Central Division is a tight race with the current three divisional playoff position holders battling down the wire for the regular season divisional title.

The Pacific Division can be clinched by the Flames on Sunday if they defeat the Sharks in any fashion.

For Minnesota, a win on Sunday would leapfrog the Wild over the Coyotes in the wild card race and put them two points behind the Colorado Avalanche (85 points in 78 GP) for the last playoff berth in the West.

For Arizona, a win on Sunday would provide the Coyotes with a little cushion over the Wild and leave Arizona trailing the Avalanche by one point in the wild card race.

The Coyotes lost to Colorado in their most recent game, 3-2, in overtime on Friday. The Wild defeated the Golden Knights, 3-2, on Friday.

Both teams enter Sunday knowing they control their own destiny in the immediate future as the Avalanche are off until Monday night’s battle in St. Louis.

Colorado doesn’t have an easy road ahead, however, despite their 6-0-1 record in their last seven outings– the Avs have four games remaining in six nights, including one in St. Louis on Monday and a home game against the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday prior to hosting the Jets on Thursday and closing out the regular season in San Jose next Saturday.

Minnesota (3-6-1 in their last 10 games) enters Sunday on the heels of a, 3-2, win over Vegas on Friday after posting a 2-6-1 record in their previous nine games.

Arizona (3-4-3 in their last 10 games) has lost six out their last seven games and went 1-3-3 in that span, but has a 9-1-1 record in their last 11 home games.

The Wild and Coyotes are tied in the season series, 1-1-0, through two meetings at Xcel Energy Center prior to Sunday. Minnesota picked up a, 2-1, win on Oct. 16th against Arizona before losing, 4-3, on Nov. 27th to the Coyotes.

Minnesota is 13-3-3 in their last 19 games against the Coyotes and enters the Grand Canyon State to face a familiar foe.

Darcy Kuemper (25-19-8 record, 2.39 goals against average, .922 save percentage in 52 GP) was originally drafted by the Wild 161st overall in the 2009 NHL Draft and will make his 20th consecutive start for the Coyotes in the crease.

Kuemper stopped 26 out of 28 shots faced in Arizona’s, 2-1, loss to Minnesota on Oct. 16th and is 14-6-3 in his last 23 starts.

Since Jan. 6th, he has a 20-8-5 record with a 2.14 GAA and .929 SV% while the Coyotes have been battling injuries.

Nick Schmaltz signed a seven-year extension with the club on Saturday and remains out with a lower body injury, while Antti Raanta (lower body– out for the season) and Kyle Capobiano (lower body) will also be unavailable for Rick Tocchet‘s lineup on Sunday.

Arizona’s hard charging offense has scored nine goals in their last seven games and is led by Clayton Keller (14-32–46 totals) this season. Defenseman, Oliver Ekman-Larsson (14-29–43 totals) is the only other Coyote with more than 40 points and has seven goals and eight assists since Feb. 21st– tied for the 2nd most by a defender in the league during that span.

Tampa Bay Lightning blue liner, Victor Hedman, has 17 points to Ekman-Larsson’s 15 points in that span.

Coyotes third liner, Alex Galchenyuk, leads his club in goals with 17 this season.

Across the ice, Devan Dubnyk (30-27-6, 2.57 GAA, .912 SV% in 65 GP) is expected to get the start for the Wild as Ryan Donato has seven points (two goals, five assists) in his past seven games for Minnesota.

Zach Parise (26-33–59 totals) leads the team in scoring, while Eric Staal has 20 points (14 goals, six assists) in his last 22 games against Arizona.

Mikko Koivu (knee), Matt Dumba (upper body) and Parise (lower body) will all be unavailable to Wild head coach, Bruce Boudreau‘s lineup on Sunday.

Boudreau perhaps put it best following Friday night’s win in Las Vegas for Sunday’s preview against Arizona– “I think whoever loses is probably for sure out.”

It’s hard not to agree with that sentiment given both teams will have three games remaining on the schedule after Sunday wraps up and the loser will have an almost insurmountable deficit in the wild card standings.

That said, look for the red-hot on home ice Coyotes to keep Minnesota down in what’s sure to be a wild matchup as the two teams tempt fate.

Tune into the matchup on ESPN+ at 5 p.m. ET.

Game of the week: March 18-24

As we inch ever closer to Decision Day, every game takes on even more importance. Whether clubs are battling for seeding or their playoff lives, there’s been much excitement to be had this week.

Speaking of, here’s the NHL’s slate of games for this week:

NHL SCHEDULE: March 18-24
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, March 18
7:30 p.m. Arizona Tampa Bay 1-4
8:30 p.m. Vancouver Chicago 3-2 (OT)
10:30 p.m. Winnipeg Los Angeles 3-2
10:30 p.m. Vegas San Jose 7-3
Tuesday, March 19
7 p.m. Boston Bruins New York Islanders 5-0
7 p.m. Detroit Red Wings New York Rangers 3-2
7 p.m. Montréal Philadelphia 3-1
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Carolina 2-3 (SO)
7:30 p.m. Washington New Jersey 4-1
8 p.m. Edmonton St. Louis 2-7
8 p.m. Toronto Nashville 0-3
8 p.m. Colorado Minnesota 3-1
8:30 p.m. Florida Dallas 2-4
9 p.m. Columbus Calgary 2-4
Wednesday, March 20
7 p.m. Toronto Buffalo 4-2
7:30 p.m. Tampa Bay Washington 5-4 (OT)
10 p.m. Ottawa Vancouver 4-7
10 p.m. Winnipeg Anaheim 3-0
Thursday, March 21
7 p.m. Arizona Florida 2-4
7 p.m. Boston New Jersey 5-1
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Carolina 6-3
7:30 p.m. New York Islanders Montréal Canadiens 0-4
8 p.m. Detroit St. Louis 2-5
8 p.m. Pittsburgh Nashville 2-1 (SO)
8:30 p.m. Philadelphia Chicago 3-1
8:30 p.m. Colorado Dallas 3-1
9 p.m. Ottawa Calgary 1-5
9 p.m. Columbus Edmonton 1-4
10 p.m. Winnipeg Vegas 0-5
10:30 p.m. San Jose Los Angeles 2-4
Friday, March 22
7 p.m. Minnesota Washington 2-1
10 p.m. San Jose Anaheim 3-4 (OT)
Saturday, March 23
1 p.m. Arizona New Jersey  
1 p.m. New York Islanders Philadelphia Flyers NHLN
3 p.m. Chicago Colorado ESPN+, SN1
4 p.m. Ottawa Edmonton TVAS
7 p.m. Nashville Winnipeg ESPN+, SN360
7 p.m. New York Rangers Toronto Maple Leafs CBC, NHLN, SN1
7 p.m. Buffalo Montréal CITY, TVAS
7 p.m. Boston Florida  
7 p.m. Minnesota Carolina  
8 p.m. Tampa Bay St. Louis  
8 p.m. Pittsburgh Dallas ESPN+
10 p.m. Calgary Flames Vancouver Canucks CBC, CITY, ESPN+, SN, SN1, SN360
10 p.m. Detroit Vegas  
10:30 p.m. Anaheim Los Angeles  
Sunday, March 24
12:30 p.m. Philadelphia Washington NBC, TVAS
3 p.m. Arizona Coyotes New York Islanders SN
7 p.m. Montréal Carolina ESPN+, RDS, SN
8 p.m. Colorado Chicago NBCSN
10 p.m. Columbus Vancouver  

There’s no shortage of fun tilts taking place this week, even if we look beyond the standings.

For instance, Vancouver and Chicago squared off on Monday to rekindle their former hatred from the last decade, followed the next day by an Original Six tilt between the Red Wings and Rangers.

Wednesday saw another edition of the Battle of the QEW, while the Wings were back at it in St. Louis on Thursday. Speaking of Thursday, the Battle of California also took place that night to springboard the Sharks into their Friday tilt against the Ducks.

Today’s rivalry action once again features the Rangers in an Original Six bout, this time squaring off against Toronto. Once that game is through, the Freeway Face-Off will be played for the second-to-last time this season, while Philadelphia and Washington’s derby will wait until tomorrow afternoon.

As for playoff rematches of almost a year ago, we saw San Jose get whipped by Vegas once again on Monday, Tampa Bay barely escaped Washington with an overtime victory on Wednesday, Vegas beat the Jets on Thursday and the aforementioned Sharks-Ducks game last night. One more rematch is on the schedule this weekend, as the Predators and Jets will square off tonight in a game that could determine the fate of the Central Division.

As for player returns, there weren’t many that qualified in any way as significant. As a matter of fact, D John Moore‘s return to New Jersey, his former home of three seasons, is the week’s biggest homecoming.

Now, as fun as it would have been to do a big write-up on Moore’s time with the Devils, I thought this weekend’s home-and-home series featuring two Central Division clubs fighting to qualify for the playoffs was a bit more important.

Coming into the weekend with a 32-31-10 record, the Chicago Blackhawks currently occupy seventh place in the Central Division and 11th in the Western Conference, but they’re still very much in the playoff race since they trail the Minnesota Wild by only five points and have two games in hand.

Of course, this is not news to the Hawks, as they were on quite a tear before dropping their last two games. Chicago was on a five-game winning streak before losing 3-2 in overtime at home to the Canucks on Monday, and that six-game point streak was snapped Thursday with a 3-1 home loss to the Flyers.

Just like the good ol’ days, one of the Hawks’ most potent weapons during this surge has undoubtedly been their impressive offense. Chicago has averaged 3.29 goals per game since March 7, the fourth-best mark in the Western Conference and seventh-best in the league.

As would be expected, F Patrick Kane has been one of the most important players during this effort, as he’s posted solid 1-6-7 marks in his last seven outings to average a point-per-game. However, he’s been clearly outplayed by second-liner W Brendan Perlini (the Blackhawks’ return alongside C Dylan Strome for trading C Nick Schmaltz to Arizona in November) and his outstanding 6-2-8 effort in that time.

Perhaps it is simply coincidence, but Perlini has not registered a point in his last two games – the same two games Chicago has most recently lost. Whether he buys into the correlation or not, Head Coach Jeremy Colliton certainly won’t complain if Perlini can get back to work this weekend.

Another facet of Chicago’s play that has been absolutely incredible lately has been its goaltending. Despite playing behind a defense that has yielded 35.43 shots per game since March 7 (the fourth-worst in the league in that time), the Blackhawks have allowed only 2.29 goals in that same time frame – the seventh-best in the NHL.

12-16-3 G Corey Crawford has been absolutely fantastic in his last seven starts. He’s posted a .945 save percentage and 1.79 GAA during this run by the Hawks despite playing behind their shoddy defense, and he will be the one that deserves the most praise should Chicago extend its season beyond 82 games.

Just like the Blackhawks, the 33-29-12 Colorado Avalanche are still on the outside of the playoff bubble and looking in, but they can see their path to the postseason even easier than their brethren from the Windy City.

Colorado enters the weekend trailing eighth-place Minnesota by only one point – an incredibly manageable deficit considering the Avs hold a game-in-hand on the Wild.

However, it is that game-in-hand that makes this weekend’s series against Chicago so important for the Avalanche. Since Minnesota is only playing one tilt this weekend, Sunday’s game will spend that game-in-hand.

Coming into Saturday’s tilt, the Avalanche boast a three-game winning streak, including road victories against current playoff teams in Minnesota and Dallas.

The backbone of this three-game run has undoubtedly been 14-9-3 G Philipp Grubauer as, despite playing behind a defense that has allowed an average of 34.67 shots against per game since March 17, he and the Avs have yielded only two goals in their past three games.

Despite boasting only a .911 save percentage and 2.77 GAA for the season, Grubauer has managed an unbelievable .981 save percentage and 0.67 GAA in his last three outings. Of course, New Jersey, Minnesota and Dallas do not boast the offenses that Chicago do, so he will need to be totally on his game either today or tomorrow when he gets his nod.

The German has faced Chicago only twice in his entire career, earning a 0-1-0 record in those outings. Against the Blackhawks, he owns a career .923 save percentage and 2.27 GAA. His last outing against the franchise was on December 21 of this season, and the Avs played to a 2-1 home loss.

So, who wins this weekend’s series?

Though they’re riding a two-game losing skid, I like the Blackhawks in this home-and-home. Though Grubauer has been incredible lately, the fact that Crawford has such a strong offense playing in front of him is certainly in his favor. Additionally, offense will be even more important when the backups earn the nod, which should make the ice tilt Chicago’s way even more.

Game of the week: March 11-17

We’re definitely starting to get close to the Stanley Cup Playoffs now! As of the completion of last night’s games, three teams (Detroit, New Jersey and Ottawa) have already been eliminated from postseason contention, and even more will surely join that list by next week’s featured matchup.

Of course, the only way to figure out which teams those are is by playing out the schedule. Here’s this week’s NHL offerings:

NHL SCHEDULE: March 11-17
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, March 11
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Toronto 6-2
7 p.m. Columbus Blue Jackets New York Islanders 0-2
7 p.m. Ottawa Philadelphia 2-3
8 p.m. San Jose Minnesota 3-0
8:30 p.m. Arizona Chicago 1-7
9 p.m. Carolina Colorado 3-0
9 p.m. New York Rangers Edmonton Oilers 2-3 (OT)
Tuesday, March 12
7 p.m. Dallas Buffalo 2-0
7 p.m. Washington Pittsburgh 3-5
7 p.m. Boston Columbus 4-7
7:30 p.m. Detroit Montréal 1-3
8 p.m. Arizona St. Louis 3-1
8 p.m. San Jose Winnipeg 5-4
9 p.m. New Jersey Calgary 4-9
10 p.m. Nashville Anaheim 2-3
Wednesday, March 13
7 p.m. Chicago Toronto 5-4
9:30 p.m. New Jersey Edmonton 6-3
10 p.m. New York Rangers Vancouver Canucks 1-4
Thursday, March 14
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Buffalo 5-0
7 p.m. Montréal Canadiens New York Islanders 1-2
7 p.m. Washington Philadelphia 5-2
7:30 p.m. St. Louis Ottawa 0-2
7:30 p.m. Tampa Bay Detroit 5-4
8 p.m. Dallas Minnesota 4-1
8 p.m. Boston Winnipeg 3-4
10 p.m. Anaheim Arizona 1-6
10:30 p.m. Nashville Los Angeles 3-1
10:30 p.m. Florida San Jose 4-2
Friday, March 15
7 p.m. Philadelphia Toronto 6-7
7 p.m. Carolina Columbus 0-3
8 p.m. Vegas Dallas 2-1
9 p.m. Anaheim Colorado 5-3
9 p.m. New York Rangers Calgary Flames 1-5
10 p.m. New Jersey Vancouver 3-2 (SO)
Saturday, March 16
1 p.m. St. Louis Pittsburgh NHLN, TVAS
1 p.m. New York Islanders Detroit Red Wings  
4 p.m. Florida Los Angeles  
7 p.m. Calgary Winnipeg ESPN+
7 p.m. Columbus Boston ESPN+
7 p.m. Chicago Montréal CITY, TVAS
7 p.m. Toronto Ottawa CBC, SN1, TVAS2
7 p.m. Washington Tampa Bay NHLN
7 p.m. Buffalo Carolina  
8 p.m. New York Rangers Minnesota Wild  
10 p.m. Edmonton Oilers Arizona Coyotes CBC, CITY, SN, SN1
10:30 p.m. Nashville San Jose ESPN+
Sunday, March 17
3 p.m. New Jersey Colorado SN1
5 p.m. St. Louis Buffalo NHLN
6 p.m. New York Islanders Minnesota Wild ESPN+
7 p.m. Vancouver Dallas SN
7:30 p.m. Philadelphia Pittsburgh NBCSN, TVAS
9 p.m. Florida Anaheim  
10 p.m. Edmonton Vegas NBCSN

Another fun week of NHL action, no?

After all, we’ve been treated to a little bit of rivalry action already when the Capitals visited Pittsburgh and the Red Wings headed to Montréal on Tuesday, not to mention Wednesday’s Original Six contest featuring Chicago at Toronto.

The hatred continued Thursday when the Caps headed to the City of Brotherly Love and will resume today with the Hawks in Montréal and the Battle of Ontario. Finally, the Battle of the Keystone State will clean up this week’s derby action tomorrow night.

We were also treated to more than a few playoff rematches from last season, though it must be asked if they’re all that exciting anymore since we’re so close to this year’s postseason.

It’s all about the Capitals and Penguins in that department this week, starting with their Tuesday night tilt in a rematch of the Eastern Semifinals. Washington then heads to Tampa tonight in a rematch of the Eastern Finals, while the Pens host Philly tomorrow in a rematch of the First Round.

Finally, this week’s homecoming king is none other than LW Antoine Roussel, who spent the first six seasons of his NHL career in Dallas before signing with the Canucks this offseason. He’ll play his first-ever road game at American Airlines Center tomorrow.

Players also making important returns this week include F Jacob de La Rose (he was a second-round pick by the Habs in 2013) and C Ryan O’Reilly (he spent three seasons with the Sabres before being traded to St. Louis this offseason).

However, we can throw all of this information out of the window, as I’m instead choosing to feature the tilt fellow DtFR writer Colby Kephart and I are taking this evening featuring his beloved Sabres taking on the red-hot Carolina Hurricanes.

The growing pains for the 30-31-9 Buffalo Sabres have been all too real this season, but the fact that they’re having them should mean the club is growing, right?

Of course, we all remember the Sabres’ unbelievable 10-game winning streak they experienced throughout almost the entire month of November.

However, that winning run is certainly in the rear-view mirror nowadays, as Buffalo is currently riding a six-game losing skid (0-5-1) and boasts a lowly 2-10-2 record in its last 14 outings. Making matters even worse, the Sabres’ attack has been shutout for three-straight games, clocking in at 192:40 since their last non-shootout goal.

As might be indicated by a shutout streak of that magnitude, offense has been the Sabres’ biggest struggle of late. That’s not to say the 3.79 goals or 35.07 shots they’re allowing on average since February 15 is OK (those stats respectively rank third and fourth-worst in the NHL in that time), but the Sabres’ 2.07 goals per game in the past month ranks second-worst in the league and simply must improve to something closer to their 2.71 season average if they want to end their campaign on a positive note.

In the Sabres’ defense, they have been without their captain, C Jack Eichel, while he’s been suspended for the last two games for an illegal hit to F Carl Soderberg‘s head. That being said, even his 7-4-11 production in his past 12 outings is still slightly off his expected pace. On the season, he’s managed 25-47-72 points in 65 games and looks to be on pace for his first season averaging more than a point per game.

With his return to the ice, Head Coach Phil Housley will have high expectations that his club’s top line and first power play unit should rediscover its groove. If that proves to be the case, F Jeff Skinner (36-22-58 on the season, 2-5-7 since February 15) and RW Jason Pominville (15-13-28 on the season, 2-3-5 in his last 14 appearances) should see their numbers get back on pace as well.

You’re hard pressed to find a hotter team in the NHL right now than the 38-26-7 Carolina Hurricanes, the Eastern Conference’s current first wild card.

Despite losing last night in Columbus 3-0, Carolina has rattled off an impressive 16-5-2 record in its past 23 outings and is drawing ever nearer to ending its nine-year playoff drought by qualifying for the postseason for the sixth time in Hurricanes history (14th if the Hartford Whalers’ eight Stanley Cup Playoff appearances are included).

While the Canes are certainly finding success in almost every facet of the game during this run, their most impressive strength, at least in my opinion, has been that of their defense. A point of emphasis even before Rod Brind’Amour took over head coaching responsibilities, Carolina has allowed an average of only 28.61 shots against per game since January 20, the second-best mark in the Eastern Conference and third-best in the league in that time.

Leading the defensive charge for the Hurricanes during this run has been none other than D Calvin de Haan (2.5 hits per game in his last 20 appearances) and D Jaccob Slavin (1.7 blocks per game and 21 takeaways since January 20).

Unfortunately, de Haan suffered an eye injury in Colorado on Monday and will likely remain out of the lineup this evening. Taking up de Haan’s role as the rough-‘n’-tough blueliner has been Slavin’s linemate, D Dougie Hamilton, who’s averaged two hits per game since January 20.

Of course, the person in PNC Arena most appreciative of that incredible defensive effort is always 17-8-2 G Curtis McElhinney, who’s all but ensured of this evening’s start since 18-13-3 G Petr Mrazek was in net last night in Ohio. McElhinney boasts a .914 save percentage and 2.52 GAA for the season, and that’s almost the exact form he’s shown for his past nine starts to add his last six wins (his GAA is a 2.54 for his last nine outings, two-hundredths of a goal worse than his season mark).

Especially after last night’s poor outing, it’s hard to pick against the Hurricanes this evening. Having already won their first two meetings with the Sabres this season, Carolina will have its sights set on completing the season sweep and staying ahead of Columbus and Montréal in the playoff race.

That being said, just because the Canes have won the last two meetings doesn’t mean they were easy victories. Both tilts ended with only one goal separating the winner and loser, including their last meeting on February 7 in Buffalo that required overtime.

Being the better rested team that is regaining its captain, the Sabres will surely show their teeth this evening, but Carolina should still escape with two points.

Game of the week: March 4-10

It’s hard to believe, but there’s less than one month remaining in the regular season. 16 clubs are none too concerned about that, but with the exception of Tampa Bay, we don’t officially know yet which teams those are.

Take a look at this week’s schedule that got us a little closer to figuring out the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

NHL SCHEDULE: March 4-10
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, March 4
7 p.m. Edmonton Buffalo 4-3
9 p.m. Toronto Calgary 6-2
Tuesday, March 5
7 p.m. Carolina Boston 3-4 (OT)
7 p.m. Columbus New Jersey 2-1 (SO)
7 p.m. Ottawa Senators New York Islanders 4-5 (SO)
7 p.m. Florida Pittsburgh 2-3 (OT)
7:30 p.m. Winnipeg Tampa Bay 2-5
8 p.m. Minnesota Nashville 4-5 (SO)
8:30 p.m. New York Rangers Dallas Stars 0-1
9 p.m. Detroit Colorado 3-4 (OT)
9 p.m. Anaheim Arizona 3-1
10:30 p.m. Montréal Los Angeles 3-1
Wednesday, March 6
7:30 p.m. Washington Philadelphia 5-3
9 p.m. Toronto Vancouver 2-3 (OT)
10 p.m. St. Louis Anaheim 5-4
10:30 p.m. Calgary Vegas 1-2
Thursday, March 7
7 p.m. Florida Boston 3-4
7 p.m. Columbus Pittsburgh 0-3
7:30 p.m. New York Islanders Ottawa Senators 4-2
7:30 p.m. New York Rangers Detroit Red Wings 2-3 (SO)
7:30 p.m. Minnesota Tampa Bay 3-0
8:30 p.m. Buffalo Chicago 4-5 (SO)
8:30 p.m. Colorado Dallas 0-4
9 p.m. Vancouver Edmonton 2-3
9 p.m. Calgary Arizona 0-2
10:30 p.m. St. Louis Los Angeles 4-0
10:30 p.m. Montréal San Jose 2-5
Friday, March 8
7 p.m. Minnesota Florida 2-6
7 p.m. New Jersey Washington 0-3
7:30 p.m. Winnipeg Carolina 8-1
10 p.m. Montréal Anaheim 2-8
Saturday, March 9
3 p.m. Buffalo Colorado  
4 p.m. St. Louis San Jose NHLN
7 p.m. Toronto Edmonton CBC, NHLN, SN
7 p.m. Ottawa Boston CITY, SN1, TVAS
7 p.m. Detroit Tampa Bay  
7 p.m. Philadelphia Flyers New York Islanders  
7 p.m. New Jersey Devils New York Rangers  
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Columbus  
8 p.m. Los Angeles Arizona  
8 p.m. Carolina Nashville  
8 p.m. Chicago Dallas  
10 p.m. Vegas Vancouver CBC, CITY, SN, SN1
Sunday, March 10
5 p.m. Detroit Florida  
7 p.m. Winnipeg Washington SN
7:30 p.m. Boston Pittsburgh NBCSN, TVAS
9:30 p.m. Vegas Calgary SN1
10 p.m. Los Angeles Anaheim NBCSN

As always, this week’s NHL schedule did not disappoint. We were given our regular serving of rivalries, starting with a throwback in Denver when Detroit visited Colorado on Tuesday. Wednesday also featured a derby, this one involving the Capitals heading to the City of Brotherly Love.

Columbus and Pittsburgh will square off twice this week, with the Pens taking Game 1 on Thursday before heading to Ohio for Game 2 this evening. Speaking of Thursday, the Rangers and Red Wings also matched up and honored Ted Lindsay with an extremely competitive game.

Finally, this weekend also features the previously-mentioned Penguins-Blue Jackets tilt and the Battle of the Hudson River today followed by the Freeway Face-Off tomorrow night.

In regards to momentous homecomings this week, there weren’t any. By my estimation, the most important was Kevin Fiala‘s return to Nashville. Fiala played 204 games with the Predators since being drafted by the organization in 2014 before being traded to Minnesota at this year’s deadline.

As to which game takes our attention this week, I’ve been drawn to the Columbus-Pittsburgh series. With six teams (Blue Jackets, Canadiens, Capitals, Hurricanes, Islanders and Penguins) fighting for five spots in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, one good side is going to see its season end at 82 games.

While not a season-ender, this series is a major step for both Columbus and Pittsburgh in determining their postseason fates. With two points already in the Pens’ pockets, how will tonight’s tilt go down?

Coming into tonight’s game with a 36-22-9 record, the Pittsburgh Penguins are currently holding down third place in the Metropolitan Division.

While that is certainly an improvement from where this team was just a few weeks ago, the Pens’ job is still not finished as they only have a four-point cushion separating them from ending their season at 82 games.

Pittsburgh isn’t looking back these days, though. It’s riding a solid six-game point streak (4-0-2) that includes two wins against tonight’s opponent (more on that later) and a 5-1 victory in Québec.

Pittsburgh fans will know that this string of games started with the Stadium Series overtime loss in Philadelphia. That was a game that cost the Penguins two defensemen (D Brian Dumoulin has since returned to action on Tuesday) and has forced them to reexamine their defensive game, involving each and every skater on the ice.

While this new strategy has certainly paid major dividends for Head Coach Mike Sullivan‘s side, there is one player who has still shined brighter than the rest: 22-10-3 G Matt Murray.

Despite the new defensive strategies, Pittsburgh is still yielding an average of 31 shots per game during this run – the NHL’s middle-of-the-road since February 23. Despite that, the Penguins are also yielding an average of only 2.17 goals against per game, the fifth-best mark in that time.

Murray has been in net for all of the Penguins’ last six games and claims a commanding .93 save percentage and associated 2.12 GAA for those outings (both eighth-best in the league among the 28 netminders with at least four starts since February 23). Those outstanding numbers boost his season statistics to a .916 save percentage and 2.79 GAA, the 10th and 19th-best marks in the league, respectively, among the 43 goaltenders with at least 24 starts to their credit.

With a home game against the Bruins tomorrow night, it remains to be seen which goaltender Sullivan starts this evening. If I had my druthers, Murray would be in action this evening considering the importance of beating a division rival in a tightly contested playoff race. With 12 points (and two games-in-hand against the Habs) separating Boston from the a wildcard spot, Pittsburgh cannot worry about the Bruins until it runs into them in a potential playoff matchup (whether that would be the Conference Semifinals or Final remains to be seen).

Of course, it would be highly irresponsible to talk about the Penguins and not mention their potent offense. Averaging 3.45 goals per game for the season, Pittsburgh has been operating at a slightly higher level lately, as it has averaged 3.67 goals per game during this six-game run (again, I emphasize slightly) – the (t)sixth-best mark in the league since February 23.

Pittsburgh’s top line has carried most of that charge, which of course means C Sidney Crosby has been the star of the show. In his past six games, the captain has managed an outstanding 6-8-14 effort to lead the league in scoring in that time (well, he’s technically tied with Florida’s F Jonathan Huberdeau on points, but Crosby has played fewer games and scored more goals to take the title in my book).

Joining Crosby in averaging a point per game for the Pens during this run are linemates F Jake Guentzel (5-3-8 totals) and F Jared McCann (3-3-6).

Since all of 37-27-3 Columbus’ moves at the trade deadline, everything it has done from then until the end of the season has taken on a new life.

Unfortunately for the Blue Jackets, that new light isn’t all that positive, as they’ve gone on a 2-4-0 run since then to find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, trailing Montréal by two points for the East’s second wild card.

Though Columbus has struggled to keep opponents off the board during this six-game run (the Jackets have allowed 3.5 goals against per game since February 26, the eighth-worst mark in the NHL in that time), an even bigger problem has been its offense.

With the exception of fellow Metropolitan member New Jersey, no team has struggled more on the attack since the trade deadline than Columbus. The Blue Jackets are averaging only 1.5 goals per game in their last six outings, compared to the 11th-best 3.04 they’ve averaged for the season.

Surely, much of this can be attributed to all of the Jackets’ deadline additions. In fact, the second line has been entirely revamped and now features Oliver Bjorkstrand and former-Senators Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel (who’s celebrating his 27th birthday today). Fortunately for Columbus, Duchene and Dzingel regularly played together in Ottawa, so it is just a matter of Head Coach John Tortorella finding the right person to complete their line.

However, a lack of familiarity cannot be the excuse for Columbus’ top line, as Cam Atkinson, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Artemi Panarin have spent the entire season together. Instead, all three combine for only 3-6-9 totals in the past six games.

Dubois in particular is struggling the most. He’s only registered one assist since the trade deadline, well off the .81 points per game average he’s managed for the entire season. As his club’s top center, Dubois’ performance can often dictate his team’s success. The sooner he breaks out of his funk, the sooner, Columbus will begin finding success once again.

In addition to cleaning up Columbus and Pittsburgh’s home-and-home, tonight’s game also concludes the four-game regular season series between the two clubs. The Penguins have won the first three meetings 4-2 on November 24, 5-2 on February 26 and 3-0 on Thursday.

Unfortunately for Columbus, I don’t see that script changing tonight. The Penguins have been playing incredibly well lately now that they’ve bought into their new strategy, and that doesn’t pair well with the Blue Jackets’ offensive struggles.

I don’t think the Jackets will be shutout for the second game in a row, but I do think the Pens will win 3-1.

Game of the week: February 25-March 3

With the trade deadline passing by on Monday, there’s only one important date remaining this regular season: April 6, the season’s finale.

However, we’re not quite focused on that date yet. Instead, let’s see what games this week had to offer:

NHL SCHEDULE: February 25-March 3
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)VISITORHOSTNATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, February 25
7 p.m.BuffaloToronto3-5
7 p.m.MontréalNew Jersey1-2
7:30 p.m.Los AngelesTampa Bay3-4 (SO)
8 p.m.EdmontonNashville2-3 (SO)
9 p.m.FloridaColorado4-3 (OT)
10 p.m.AnaheimVancouver0-4
Tuesday, February 26
7 p.m.San JoseBoston1-4
7 p.m.Calgary FlamesNew York Islanders3-1
7 p.m.BuffaloPhiladelphia2-5
7 p.m.OttawaWashington2-7
7 p.m.Los AngelesCarolina1-6
7 p.m.PittsburghColumbus5-2
7:30 p.m.MontréalDetroit8-1
8 p.m.NashvilleSt. Louis0-2
8 p.m.MinnesotaWinnipeg3-2
9 p.m.FloridaArizona3-4 (SO)
10 p.m.DallasVegas1-4
Wednesday, February 27
7 p.m.EdmontonToronto2-6
7 p.m.CalgaryNew Jersey2-1
7:30 p.m.Tampa Bay LightningNew York Rangers4-3 (OT)
9:30 p.m.VancouverColorado2-3 (SO)
10 p.m.ChicagoAnaheim4-3
Thursday, February 28
7 p.m.Toronto Maple LeafsNew York Islanders1-6
7 p.m.PhiladelphiaColumbus3-4 (OT)
7:30 p.m.Tampa BayBoston1-4
7:30 p.m.EdmontonOttawa4-2
9 p.m.VancouverArizona2-5
10 p.m.FloridaVegas5-6 (SO)
10:30 p.m.DallasLos Angeles4-3 (OT)
Friday, March 1
7 p.m.PittsburghBuffalo3-4 (OT)
7 p.m.PhiladelphiaNew Jersey6-3
7 p.m.Washington CapitalsNew York Islanders3-1
7 p.m.Montréal CanadiensNew York Rangers4-2
7:30 p.m.St. LouisCarolina2-5
8 p.m.NashvilleWinnipeg3-5
10 p.m.VegasAnaheim3-0
10:30 p.m.ColoradoSan Jose3-4
Saturday, March 2
1 p.m.EdmontonColumbus 
4 p.m.ChicagoLos AngelesNHLN
7 p.m.New JerseyBoston 
7 p.m.BuffaloTorontoCBC, NHLN, SN1
7 p.m.PittsburghMontréalSN360, TVAS
7 p.m.OttawaTampa BayCITY, TVAS2
7 p.m.CarolinaFlorida 
8 p.m.DetroitArizona 
8 p.m.DallasSt. Louis 
10 p.m.Minnesota WildCalgary FlamesCBC, CITY, SN, SN1, SN360
Sunday, March 3
12:30 p.m.Washington CapitalsNew York RangersNBC, TVAS
3 p.m.Philadelphia FlyersNew York IslandersSN1, TVAS
4 p.m.VancouverVegas 
4 p.m.ColoradoAnaheim 
5 p.m.OttawaFloridaRDS2
7 p.m.WinnipegColumbusSN
7:30 p.m.NashvilleMinnesotaNBCSN
10 p.m.ChicagoSan Jose 

There were rivalries galore to choose from this week – nine, if you want to be precise. Buffalo and Toronto waged two editions of the Battle of the QEW, with the Leafs hosting on Monday and the Sabres returning the favor tonight.

In between those meetings, the Penguins made their first visit of the season to Columbus and the Habs squared off against the Wings (both on Tuesday) and Friday featured Montréal visiting the Rangers, the Caps visiting the Islanders and the Battle of the Turnpikes. Joining Toronto and Buffalo in rivalry action today are the Blackhawks and Kings, while the Caps and Blueshirts are waiting until tomorrow to stage their derby.

In a similar strain as rivalries, we were also privy to three rematches from last season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. Minnesota and Winnipeg rekindled their First Round animosity on Tuesday, ending with the Wild exacting revenge for their early playoff exit. The Bolts and Bruins were at it Thursday (with Boston pulling off the 4-1 victory), while Nashville and Winnipeg scrapped for first place in the Central Division last night (the Jets recaptured the division lead with a 5-3 win).

Finally, I always try to point out the biggest homecomings, and there were three this week. Of course, none was more anticipated than C John Tavares making his first trip to Nassau Coliseum as a member of the Maple Leafs on Thursday. Tavares enjoyed nine seasons with the Islanders, including five as the club’s 14th captain. His 621 points scored while wearing blue and orange ranks fifth in franchise history, but don’t let that fool you – Islanders fans did not treat him to a warm welcome.

Also making notable homecomings were current Penguin D Jack Johnson returning to Columbus on Tuesday and current Predator F Mikael Granlund returning to St. Paul tomorrow (considering he just experienced the birth of his child, there’s actually a chance he never left Minnesota in the first place). Both spent seven seasons with their respective former clubs before joining their current organizations (Johnson via free agency this summer and Granlund via deadline trade).

However, all of those things having been listed, there’s still one more event that demands our attention. For the third week in a row, a former great of the game is seeing his number raised to the rafters. Tonight, the Calgary Flames honor RW Jarome Iginla.

It can be easily forgotten that Iginla was not drafted by the Flames, but instead by the Dallas Stars. Only two seasons removed from their departure from the State of Hockey, the Stars selected the Kamloops Blazer 11th-overall in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft.

Knowing what we know now, how Iginla fell all the way to 11th is hard to fathom. Only 10 total players from this 234-player draft class were ever named to even one NHL All-Star Game, of which only Iginla and nine-year teammate G Miikka Kiprusoff ever received end-of-season All-Star Team nods.

Regardless, Iginla likely never even thought about shopping for a Dallas apartment, as he was traded alongside C Corey Millen to Calgary (coincidentally in the same province as the city that hosted that edition of the draft: Edmonton, Iginla’s hometown) five months later for the rights to C Joe Nieuwendyk.

Nieuwendyk would go on to win the Stanley Cup with the Stars in 1999 – scoring two game-winning overtime goals on the way, including one in triple-overtime against former rival Edmonton – so perhaps this was a fair trade all-in-all.

Iginla made his NHL debut during the 1996 Stanley Cup Playoffs (he registered 1-1-2 totals in two games played) after the Blazers lost to Spokane in the WHL’s West Division Finals 4-2. As the reigning WHL Player of the Year, Iginla registered 1-1-2 totals in his first two postseason appearances before the Flames were swept by Chicago in the Western Quarterfinals.

Iginla played all 82 games of his rookie campaign in 1996-97, registering impressive 21-29-50 totals (including three game-winning goals) to finish second in Calder voting behind fellow traded 1995 pick D Bryan Berard of the New York Islanders (he was originally drafted first-overall by Ottawa).

Like many outstanding youths, Iginla faced a rather severe sophomore slump. The winger posted only 13-19-32 marks in 70 games played, but he hopped right back on his horse for Season 3 to reemerge as a 50-point player and start a run of scoring at least 50 points in 15 of 16 seasons (interrupted only by the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign) from 1998-2015, a run that extended beyond his time in Calgary.

Of course, implying that the Flames could only count on 50 points from Iginla is undoubtedly doing his reputation a major disservice. The 51 points he scored in the 1998-99 season was only the beginning of his meteoric rise. He notched 63 points at the turn of the millennium, followed by 71 in 2000-01.

Iggy’s sixth season (2001-02) saw him set his career-high in goals with 52-44-96 totals, and everyone in the league took notice. Not only did Iginla earn his first of three First All-Star Team honors, but he also brought home more than his fair share of hardware from the NHL Awards, winning the Rocket Richard Trophy, the Art Ross Trophy and the Lester B. Pearson Award (now known as the Ted Lindsay Award).

Of course, all that hardware didn’t make up for one major hole in Iginla’s resume. Not only had he not yet won a playoff game, he hadn’t even made a playoff appearance since his NHL debut.

That changed in a massive way in 2004, Iginla’s first season as the Flames’ 18th captain in franchise history. With a 41-32-73 season that earned Iginla his first King Clancy Award and second Richard Trophy, he led the Flames to a sixth-place finish in the Western Conference and their first playoff appearance in eight seasons.

The success didn’t end there though: the Flames defeated all three of the West’s division champions, including the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Red Wings in the conference semifinals, to advance all the way to the Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the East’s top seed.

As for Iginla, he hadn’t yet scored all the goals for his campaign, as he added 13 goals and 22 points in his 26 playoff games – including outstanding 5-3-8 totals in the quarterfinals against Vancouver. His 13 markers were the most by any player in the 2004 playoffs, but his side fell to the Bolts in seven games.

Iginla’s Flames would qualify for the next four playoffs after their Stanley Cup Final appearance (skipping, of course, the 2004-05 lockout-cancelled season), but each time they failed to advance beyond the First Round. During that run, the captain earned his last two nominations to the NHL’s First All-Star team, doing it consecutively in 2008 and 2009 with respective 50-48-98 and 35-54-89 seasons.

Iginla’s Flames career would end on March 28, 2013 when he was traded as a rental to Pittsburgh for LW Kenny Agostino, RW Ben Hanowski and a 2013 first-round pick that would eventually become LW Morgan Klimchuk. He would go on to play for the Bruins, Avs and Kings before being forced to hang up his skates after the 2016-17 season.

With 525-570-1095 totals in 1219 career games played for Calgary, Iginla holds franchise records for appearances, goals, points, power play goals (161) and game-winning goals (83). In terms of league records, Iginla is one of only seven players to score 30 or more goals in 11-straight seasons (all of which were with Calgary, and a streak that could have been longer if not for the 2012-13 lockout), one of 20 to reach the 600-goal plateau and one of 34 to manage at least 1300 points.

For these reasons, as well as every other detail and fact listed above, Iginla is bypassing Calgary’s “Forever a Flame” program (in which a player is honored, but his number not retired) and seeing his No. 12 rightfully join RW Lanny McDonald‘s No. 9 and G Mike Vernon‘s No. 30 as the team’s third (fourth if that Oiler’s No. 99 is included) sweater retired from circulation.

What a time to be a member of the C of Red, no? Not only is the organization honoring one of, if not the greatest to ever don the Flaming C (no disrespect intended to D Al MacInnis, McDonald and his mustache or Vernon), but this year’s team is also pretty darn exciting. They boast a 41-16-7 record that that leads San Jose for the Western Conference lead, and they’re showing no signs of slowing down with their seven-game win streak and eight-game point streak – both the best currently active in the NHL.

Dating back to Valentine’s Day, the Flames have played to a 7-0-1 record (they dropped a point to the Panthers in a shootout), largely as a result of their incredible defensive play. Entering play Friday (all stats will not take into account March 1’s eight games due to my work schedule), no team has allowed fewer shots than Calgary in the past 14 days. The Flames have allowed only 214 shots against in their past eight outings, which averages out to 26.75 shots against per game.

Leading that defensive charge has been none other than Calgary’s resident 3-H Club: D Noah Hanifin, who’s 10 takeaways since February 14 lead the team; D Travis Hamonic, who tops the squad by averaging two blocks per game during this run; and W Garnet Hathaway, the Flames’ leading body checker in the past 14 days by averaging three hits per game.

As would be expected, the most prominent place this solid defensive work is showing up is on the scoreboard, as the Flames have allowed a (t)fourth-best 1.75 goals against per game since February 14. As a result, 19-11-2 G Mike Smith has been having an easy go of it lately, made evident by his combined .93 save percentage and 1.98 GAA for his past six starts.

On the season, Smith boasts an .897 save percentage and 2.89 GAA, but his recent run of success means he’ll likely be in the crease this evening. Smith has a not-so-great 6-11-2 all-time record against the Wild, but he stopped all 31 shots faced the last time he saw them on December 6 to improve his career statistics against Minnesota to a .921 save percentage and 2.18 GAA.

Speaking of the Wild, they’re currently on a bit of a run themselves.

On the back of a four-game win streak (including wins against the Blues and Jets), Minnesota has amassed a 31-27-6 record that is currently (well, as of Friday morning) good enough for the Western Conference’s second wild card.

The main player in this recent success has undoubtedly been 25-21-5 G Devan Dubnyk, Smith’s former battery-mate with the Coyotes. Though he’s certainly received help from his defense (the Wild have allowed an average of 30.5 shots against per game in their last four outings, the 12th-best mark in the NHL in that time), he’s played lights out to allow only 1.5 goals against per tilt in his last four starts – the fourth-best mark in the league since February 21.

What makes this streak so impressive is that Dubnyk has been only a little better than average this season with his .912 save percentage and 2.59 GAA on the campaign. However, he’s elevated his game to his 2014-15 level in his last four outings to post a combined .951 save percentage and 1.49 GAA.

Impressive stuff.

Over his 10-year career, Dubnyk has squared off against Calgary 26 times and can boast a solid 11-8-4 record against the Flames. Combined, he’s managed a .923 save percentage and 2.7 GAA against Alberta’s southern franchise.

So if we’re in line for a goaltending duel, which will emerge with two points?

Personally, I like the Flames this evening. They have the advantage of playing at home with an excited C of Red behind them, as well as a better defense and more talented offense. Dubnyk might continue to stand on his head, but I think the Flames can find a way to sneak one more goal past him.

I’ll take Calgary 2-1.

Game of the week: February 18-24

Red alert: the NHL trade deadline is two days away! Take a look at this week’s games that likely shaped every GM’s “buyer or seller” debate.

NHL SCHEDULE: February 18-24
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, February 18
4 p.m. Arizona Calgary 2-5
7:30 p.m. Tampa Bay Columbus 5-1
8:30 p.m. Ottawa Chicago 7-8
9 p.m. Vegas Colorado 0-3
10 p.m. Boston San Jose 6-5 (OT)
10:30 p.m. Washington Los Angeles 3-2
Tuesday, February 19
7 p.m. Buffalo Florida 2-4
7 p.m. Pittsburgh New Jersey 4-3
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Philadelphia 5-2
7 p.m. New York Rangers Carolina Hurricanes 2-1
7:30 p.m. Columbus Montréal 2-3
8 p.m. Toronto St. Louis 2-3 (OT)
8 p.m. Anaheim Minnesota 4-0
8:30 p.m. Nashville Dallas 5-3
9 p.m. Arizona Edmonton 3-2 (SO)
Wednesday, February 20
7:30 p.m. Chicago Detroit 5-4 (OT)
8:30 p.m. Winnipeg Colorado 1-7
9:30 p.m. New York Islanders Calgary Flames 2-4
10 p.m. Boston Vegas 3-2 (SO)
Thursday, February 21
7 p.m. Washington Toronto 3-2
7 p.m. Carolina Florida 4-3
7 p.m. Ottawa New Jersey 0-4
7 p.m. Minnesota Wild New York Rangers 4-1
7 p.m. San Jose Pittsburgh 4-0
7:30 p.m. Philadelphia Montréal 1-5
7:30 p.m. Buffalo Tampa Bay 1-2 (SO)
8 p.m. Los Angeles Nashville 1-2
8:30 p.m. St. Louis Dallas 2-5
9 p.m. New York Islanders Edmonton Oilers 3-4 (OT)
10 p.m. Arizona Vancouver 3-2 (OT)
Friday, February 22
7 p.m. Columbus Ottawa 3-0
7:30 p.m. Colorado Chicago 5-3
7:30 p.m. Minnesota Detroit 3-2
9 p.m. Anaheim Calgary 1-2
10 p.m. Winnipeg Vegas 6-3
Saturday, February 23
1 p.m. Washington Buffalo 2-5
1 p.m. New Jersey Devils New York Rangers 2-5
4 p.m. Boston St. Louis 1-2 (SO)
5 p.m. Carolina Dallas 3-0
5 p.m. Los Angeles Florida 1-6
5 p.m. San Jose Columbus 0-4
5:30 p.m. Colorado Nashville 5-0
7 p.m. Montréal Toronto 3-6
8 p.m. Pittsburgh Philadelphia 3-4 (OT)
10 p.m. New York Islanders Vancouver Canucks 4-0
10 p.m. Anaheim Edmonton 1-2
Sunday, February 24
12:30 p.m. New York Rangers Washington Capitals NHLN, SN
3 p.m. Dallas Chicago ESPN+
3 p.m. San Jose Detroit  
7 p.m. St. Louis Minnesota NBCSN
7 p.m. Calgary Ottawa SN, TVAS
9 p.m. Winnipeg Arizona  

As usual, there was more than a few exciting games this week that were certainly worthy of our attention.

The Blackhawks and Red Wings squared off in the Motor City Wednesday night, while three rivalries were contested yesterday (the Battle of the Hudson River, Montréal at Toronto and the Battle of Pennsylvania, played outdoors at Lincoln Financial Field in Philly). Of course, there’s one more derby going down this afternoon when the Rangers and Capitals square off at Capital One Arena.

As for playoff rematches, there were three on this week’s schedule. Winnipeg visited Vegas Friday night and replicated their 2018 Western Finals success against the Golden Knights, while both Colorado and Philadelphia exacted revenge against the teams that eliminated them in the First Round almost a year ago.

Finally, in the “homecoming” section, there was none bigger than F Matt Duchene‘s return to Ottawa in which he never departed Ottawa. Just like last season when he was shipped to Ontario from the Avs, Duchene’s first game with his new club, the Columbus Blue Jackets, was against his former employer and teammates.

For what it’s worth, Columbus easily dispatched the Sens with a three-goal shutout.

But instead of focusing on any of those tilts, we’re instead going to shift our attention to the desert where yet another legendary player is seeing his name receive one of, if not the highest honor any sporting organization can bestow when a particular No. 19 gets raised to the Gila River Arena rafters.

WShane Doan‘s career is one of devotion and loyalty that is hard to fathom in the current North American sporting environment.

Doan was selected seventh-overall in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft by the Winnipeg Jets, but despite the organization quitting on the Manitoban market and departing for the sandier pastures of Phoenix, he never quit on the franchise and played each and every one of his 1595 regular and playoff games for the same team
before hanging up his skates after the 2016-17 season.

There was no reason to question Doan’s loyalty in the beginning of his career, as he earned his first playoff experience in his rookie season – his only year in Winnipeg. The Jets won only two games before being eliminated by Detroit.

That was just about the only highlight of Doan’s rookie campaign. With 7-10-17 totals in 74 regular season games played, he didn’t even earn a single vote for the Calder Trophy. However, it did start a run of five-straight playoff appearances and six postseason berths in his first seven campaigns.

Despite the Coyotes maintaining that success and consistently finishing fourth or better in their division, Doan’s breakout season did not occur until his 1999-00 campaign that saw him register then career-highs in goals, assists and points when he posted 26-25-51 totals.

That success sparked a run of nine-consecutive seasons over 10-years’ time (that darned 2004-05 lockout strikes again) in which Doan scored at least 20 goals each campaign, as well as a streak of 12-straight seasons scoring at least 50 points.

Doan assumed captaincy of the Coyotes in 2003 (he ended up being the NHL’s longest-serving captain until his retirement), which surely played a large role in his loyalty to to the organization. That love put itself on full display on Valentine’s Day, 2007 when the pending UFA signed a five-year, $22.75 million extension to remain in Phoenix instead of risk being traded away at the impending deadline.

Doan signed the extension despite the Desert Dogs missing the last three Stanley Cup Playoffs, and he would not return to the postseason until 2010.

However, Doan did not let that lack of team success hold him back, as his greatest individual campaign occurred the season after signing his new contract. During the 2007-08 campaign, the captain posted 31-42-73 marks (career-highs in assists and points) despite playing for a club that finished fourth-to-last in the Western Conference.

Doan posted another 70-point season in 2008-09 (including a career-high 31 goals), but he didn’t get any national recognition until the 2009-10 campaign when he won his only league award: the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, awarded for the player that best exemplifies leadership.

Doan certainly deserved the award, as it was around this time that the now annual rumors about the Coyotes’ relocation started to begin due to the team declaring bankruptcy and being taken over by the league. Despite all of that, Doan captained his team to a franchise-best 107 points in the standings, finishing second in the Pacific Division to San Jose’s 113.

The Coyotes fought valiantly, but fell in Game 7 of the Western Quarterfinals to the Red Wings.

Phoenix qualified for the postseason for the next two seasons, but it is their run through the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs that is most memorable. Behind Doan’s 5-4-9 marks, the Yotes soared all the way to the Western Conference Finals, knocking off perennial favorites Chicago and the surging Predators.

What made this postseason even more significant is that Doan was once again entering free agency that summer. The captain would have been well within his rights to seek a team that was on more solid financial footing than the Coyotes, but he once again elected to remain with the organization that drafted him and signed a four-year, $21.2 million contract.

It was a decision that signaled the end of Doan’s playoff career. The Coyotes have not qualified for the postseason since 2012 (despite falling only two points short in 2013-14), but have a chance to change that fate this season in the lackluster Western Conference.

Doan signed his final contract – a one-year, $4.8 million deal with a no-movement clause – with the Coyotes on July 12, 2016. He finished his career with 402-570-972 totals in 1540 regular season games played, plus his 15-13-28 marks in 55 playoff appearances. Doan leads the Jets/Coyotes franchise in career points, goals, assists, games played, game-winners (69), power play goals (125) and shots on goal (3801), making him one of the best to ever wear the Coyotes or original Jets sweater.

Once the No. 19 has found its rightful place above the ice, there will still be a Coyotes game to be played against the current Jets franchise. Arizona enters tonight’s tilt with a 28-28-5 record that is good enough for 10th place in the Western Conference, trailing Colorado by four points for the second wild card.

Arizona has been playing well of late, posting a 5-2-0 record in its past seven games (including wins against the Stars, Golden Knights and Maple Leafs) due in large part to the outstanding play by 16-14-5 G Darcy Kuemper.

When 5-6-0 G Antti Raanta went down with a season-ending lower body injury in late November, it was expected that the Coyotes would immediately begin their drop to the bottom of the Western Conference. However, Kuemper has done fairly well after being thrust into the starting role, as his .915 season save percentage and 2.63 GAA are both top-eight in the league among goalies with at least 30 starts.

However, Kuemper has been even better of late, as he’s managed a dominant .938 save percentage and 1.96 GAA in his past six starts to take credit for all of the Coyotes’ past five wins.

Speaking of wins, Kuemper has a perfect 3-0-0 record against the Jets for his career, though this will be his first game going against Winnipeg as a member of the Coyotes. During his terms with the Kings and Wild, he’s taken on Winnipeg five times and owns a career .876 save percentage and 4.15 GAA against the franchise. He’ll obviously need to show improvement on those statistics if he wants to maintain his unblemished record against the Jets, but he’s been playing so well lately that I don’t think that’ll be a problem.

Paying a visit to the desert this evening are the 37-20-4 Winnipeg Jets, the West’s third-best team and the Central Division’s top dog.

Winnipeg got off the schneid in its last outing by beating the Golden Knights 6-3 on Friday, ending a three-game losing streak that saw the Jets earn only one point in the standings (an overtime loss against the lowly Senators).

The biggest reason for this momentary slide is easily the Jets’ lousy effort on the defensive end. On the season, Winnipeg allows 33.6 shots against per game. Admittedly, that’s the fifth-worst mark in the NHL on the year, but that number has climbed to 38.5 shots against in the Jets’ last four outings – the worst in the NHL since Valentine’s Day.

There are rumblings that both D Dustin Byfuglien (lower-body injury) and D Joseph Morrow (lower-body injury) could be ready to resume action in early March, but until then players like D Ben Chiarot (4.3 hits per game since February 14), F Adam Lowry (four blocks per game in his last four outings) and D Jacob Trouba (team-leading three takeaways in his last four games) will need to continue to lead by example to try and save this defense.

Other than Head Coach Paul Maurice, no one would be more appreciative of some improved defense than 27-17-2 G Connor Hellebuyck, who’s seen his season stats fall to a .909 save percentage and 2.98 GAA during this four-game run. Considering the quantity of shots faced, it’s hard to blame him for the .876 save percentage and 4.7 GAA he’s managed over his last three starts, but the fact that he was runner-up for the Vezina last season implies that he should be at least a little better than this.

The winner of this game is tough to pick, because neither side has shown consistent offense during their respective runs. That being said, the Jets’ outstanding six goals scored against Vegas shows some pent up frustration that might carry over into tonight’s tilt. Kuemper will surely perform valiantly, but he’s going to need help from his attack if he’s to earn his fourth win against the Jets tonight.

I’ll take the Jets to win 3-1.

Game of the week: February 11-17

Did you think I’d forgotten? We still need a Game of the Week! Let’s take a look at this edition’s options:

NHL SCHEDULE: February 11-17
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, February 11
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Philadelphia 4-1
7 p.m. Los Angeles Washington 4-6
10 p.m. San Jose Vancouver 7-2
Tuesday, February 12
7 p.m. Chicago Boston 3-6
7 p.m. New York Islanders Buffalo Sabres 1-3
7 p.m. Dallas Florida 3-0
7 p.m. Washington Columbus 0-3
7:30 p.m. Carolina Ottawa 4-1
7:30 p.m. Calgary Tampa Bay 3-6
8 p.m. New Jersey St. Louis 3-8
8 p.m. Detroit Nashville 3-2
8 p.m. Philadelphia Minnesota 5-4
8 p.m. New York Rangers Winnipeg Jets 3-4
9 p.m. Toronto Colorado 5-2
10 p.m. Arizona Vegas 5-2
Wednesday, February 13
8 p.m. Edmonton Pittsburgh 1-3
10:30 p.m. Vancouver Anaheim 0-1
Thursday, February 14
7 p.m. Calgary Florida 2-3 (SO)
7 p.m. New York Islanders Columbus Blue Jackets 3-0
7:30 p.m. Ottawa Detroit 2-3
7:30 p.m. Dallas Tampa Bay 0-6
8 p.m. Montréal Nashville 1-3
8 p.m. Colorado Winnipeg 4-1
8:30 p.m. New Jersey Chicago 2-5
9 p.m. St. Louis Arizona 4-0
10 p.m. Toronto Vegas 6-3
10:30 p.m. Vancouver Los Angeles 4-3 (SO)
10:30 p.m. Washington San Jose 5-1
Friday, February 15
7 p.m. New York Rangers Buffalo Sabres 6-2
7:30 p.m. Edmonton Carolina 1-3
8:30 p.m. New Jersey Minnesota 5-4 (OT)
10 p.m. Boston Anaheim 3-0
Saturday, February 16
1 p.m. Detroit Philadelphia 5-6 (OT)
1 p.m. Calgary Pittsburgh 5-4
3 p.m. St. Louis Colorado 3-0
7 p.m. Toronto Arizona 0-2
7 p.m. Ottawa Winnipeg 4-3 (OT)
7 p.m. Montréal Tampa Bay 0-3
7 p.m. Edmonton Oilers New York Islanders 2-5
8 p.m. Dallas Carolina 0-3
8:30 p.m. Columbus Chicago 5-2
10 p.m. Nashville Vegas 1-5
10 p.m. Vancouver San Jose 2-3
10:30 p.m. Boston Los Angeles 4-2
Sunday, February 17
12:30 p.m. New York Rangers Pittsburgh Penguins NBC, SN, TVAS
3 p.m. St. Louis Minnesota NBC, SN
6 p.m. Buffalo New Jersey  
6 p.m. Philadelphia Detroit NBCSN
7 p.m. Montréal Florida RDS, SN
9 p.m. Washington Anaheim ESPN+

With the trade deadline looming just around the corner, it’s been another exciting week in the NHL. After all, another edition of the Battle of the Keystone State was waged on Monday, followed the next day by two more rivalries featuring Arizona, Boston, Chicago and Vegas.

Tuesday also saw the Blue Jackets and Capitals reignite last season’s First Round playoff bout, with Columbus winning 3-0 in what just might be a preview of another playoff series to come this April.

As for the biggest player homecoming on this week’s calendar, that title belongs to F Chris Wagner of the Boston Bruins. Wagner spent four seasons with the Ducks (2014-18), appearing in 133 games and registering 12-12-24 totals. He was shipped to the Islanders at last season’s trade deadline before signing with the Atlantic Division’s current second-best team – not to mention his hometown club – this offseason. His Bruins beat Anaheim 3-0 on Friday.

Today is Hockey Day in America, but DtFR is holding off on the celebration until this evening before the Capitals-Ducks game to take in D Scott Niedermayer‘s jersey retirement ceremony.

Niedermayer may have only spent five seasons in Anaheim, but there’s no doubt he plays an integral role in the Ducks’ history. He joined the then Mighty Ducks in 2005-06 after 13 seasons and three Stanley Cups in New Jersey, signing as an unrestricted free agent to a four-year, $27 million contract to join forces with RW Teemu Selanne, F Andy McDonald and brother F Rob Niedermayer and serve as their captain.

Named a First Team All-Star for the second consecutive season and finishing second in Norris Trophy voting behind D Nicklas Lidstrom, Niedermayer and his 13-50-63 totals was just the addition the Mighty Ducks needed on their blue line to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2003’s trip to the Stanley Cup Final – you know, the one where Niedermayer’s Devils beat Anaheim in Game 7. Despite qualifying as the six seed, the Mighty Ducks took advantage of a wildly unpredictable Western Conference playoff to advance all the way to the Conference Finals before falling in five games to Edmonton.

For a champion like Niedermayer, falling short in the Conference Finals was unacceptable, as he elevated his game to even better 15-54-69 totals during the 2006-07 season to notch career-highs in all three statistics as well as propel the Ducks (the new and less-mighty edition) all the way to the West’s second seed.

Though that impressive effort was good enough to earn Niedermayer his third-consecutive First Team All-Star selection, he still had his eye on a fourth Stanley Cup. Despite registering only 3-8-11 marks in the Ducks’ 21 postseason games (second-best among Ducks defensemen despite playing two more games than D Chris Pronger), Niedermayer’s two game-winners (one was the series-clincher against Vancouver in double-overtime, the other the overtime winner in Game 1 of the Western Finals) and his power play goal to force overtime against the Red Wings in Game 5 of the Conference Finals was enough to win him the Conn Smythe Trophy and Anaheim’s first title in any sport since the Angels’ 2002 World Series win. The Ducks’ lone Stanley Cup is still the city’s most recent title.

The remaining three years of Niedermayer’s tenure in Anaheim paled in comparison to his first two. The Ducks didn’t make it past the Conference Semifinals in 2008 or 2009 (in fact, they lost in the first round the season after winning the Stanley Cup) and failed to qualify for the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs; Niedermayer didn’t win anymore hardware, nor did he reach the 60-point plateau again.

However, Niedermayer’s mission when he signed with Anaheim had been accomplished. He’d won his fourth title without the help of his dominant Devils teammates, and he’d helped his brother earn his first ring. He’d helped the Ducks to a then franchise-record 48 wins

And it is for that championship and his career-defining seasons that the Hall of Famer is being honored tonight. Having already seen his No. 27 hoisted to the Prudential Center rafters, he’ll receive that same recognition tonight at Honda Center.

Unfortunately for the Ducks faithful, The Pond’s good vibes might find a quick end after Niedermayer’s ceremony. After all, the 22-27-9 Anaheim Ducks are riding an infamous 3-16-4 skid that dates all the way back to December 18. This torrid run has seen the Ducks drop all the way from a playoff position to fourth-to-last in the NHL, earning Randy Carlyle an early offseason.

It comes as no surprise that a squad that has struggled as much as the Ducks is finding almost no success in any phase of the game. Anaheim’s offense has ranked dead last in the NHL since December 18, accounting for only 1.52 goals per game in that time – a full six-tenths of a goal worse than Dallas.

Of course, even when the Ducks were having success earlier in the season, offense was in no way their game. They were averaging only 2.57 goals per game through their first 35 outings – a mark that would rank 29th among teams’ current season averages.

Instead, the biggest reason for this decline is the breakdown on the defensive end. In their past 23 games, the Ducks have allowed an average of 3.7 goals per game, the second-worst mark in the NHL in that time (fellow Pacific Division member Edmonton’s 3.92 goals against per game takes credit for worst in the league since December 18). However, only one facet of the defense is truly at fault.

Whether it is 1-1-0 G Kevin Boyle or 4-2-1 G Ryan Miller that receives the nod tonight (17-19-8 G John Gibson and 0-5-0 G Chad Johnson are both on injured reserve with respective back and head injuries) is still unknown.

Despite his rookie status behind a porous defense (more on that in a moment), Boyle has been far from the problem for the Ducks lately, as he boasts a .955 save percentage and 1.51 GAA for his short, three-game NHL career. Meanwhile, Miller has only recently been cleared to resume action. If he were to take to the crease tonight, it would be his first appearance since December 9 – a 6-5 shootout home victory over the New Jersey Devils that he did not finish.

For what it’s worth, Miller is riding a personal two-game win streak and three-game point streak.

As mentioned before, what makes the youngster’s solid stats even more impressive is he’s getting absolutely no help from his skaters. Since December 18, Anaheim has allowed a whopping 32.91 shots against per game – the seventh-worst mark in the league in that time.

Making the trip to Orange County are the 32-19-7 Washington Capitals, the Metropolitan Division’s second-best team.

In their last six games, the Caps have managed a solid record of 4-1-1 – more than good enough to hold on to their current position in the standings against the middling Metro teams. In particular, this surge has been spearheaded by Washington’s dominant offense, which has been rattling off 3.67 goals per game since February 5 – the (t)seventh-best mark in the league in that time.

Leading this attack has been none other than Evgeny Kuznetsov, the Capitals’ top-line center. In his past six outings, Kuznetsov has registered dominant 5-6-11 totals, including an amazing 2-2-4 performance against the Ducks’ arch-rivals in D.C. on Monday. On the season, Kuznetsov now has 15-39-54 marks in 52 appearances.

Joining Kuznetsov in averaging a point per game over this run are fellow first-liner W Alex Ovechkin (2-7-9 totals) and second-liners F T.J. Oshie (3-4-7) and LW Jakub Vrana (3-3-6).

Washington has also boasted a decent effort on the defensive end, allowing only three goals per game during this six-game run – the (t)12th-best mark in the NHL in that time. Despite managing only a .908 save percentage and 2.99 GAA for the season, 20-14-4 G Braden Holtby has been on a tear lately, boasting a .917 save percentage and 2.51 GAA for his last four starts.

It’s hard to see a way the Ducks escape with a win tonight. Washington has been rolling lately, and the Ducks offense in particular simply do not have an answer for the Caps’ attack. Unless C Ryan Getzlaf can add at least four points to his total tonight, Washington should pull back within three points of New York for the Metro lead.

Game of the week: February 4-10

Now that all the bye weeks are behind us, the next big event on the NHL calendar is the trade deadline at the end of the month. The activity leading up to that date will be majorly influenced by the next couple weeks’ games, including these tilts:

NHL SCHEDULE: February 4-10
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, February 4
7 p.m. Anaheim Toronto 1-6
7 p.m. Los Angeles Kings New York Rangers 4-3 (OT)
7 p.m. Vancouver Philadelphia 1-2
8:30 p.m. Arizona Dallas 4-5
Tuesday, February 5
7 p.m. New York Islanders Boston Bruins 1-3
7 p.m. Minnesota Buffalo 4-5 (SO)
7 p.m. St. Louis Florida 3-2
7 p.m. Los Angeles New Jersey 5-1
7 p.m. Carolina Pittsburgh 4-0
7 p.m. Vancouver Washington 2-3
7:30 p.m. Anaheim Montréal 1-4
7:30 p.m. Vegas Tampa Bay 3-2 (SO)
8 p.m. Arizona Nashville 2-5
8 p.m. San Jose Winnipeg 3-2 (OT)
9 p.m. Columbus Colorado 6-3
9 p.m. Chicago Edmonton 6-2
Wednesday, February 6
7:30 p.m. Ottawa Toronto 4-5
8 p.m. Boston Bruins New York Rangers 3-4 (SO)
Thursday, February 7
7 p.m. Carolina Buffalo  
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Florida  
7 p.m. New York Islanders New Jersey Devils  
7 p.m. Los Angeles Philadelphia  
7 p.m. Colorado Washington ESPN+
7:30 p.m. Winnipeg Montréal RDS, TSN2
7:30 p.m. Anaheim Ottawa RDS2
7:30 p.m. Vegas Detroit  
7:30 p.m. St. Louis Tampa Bay  
8 p.m. Dallas Nashville  
8 p.m. Edmonton Minnesota  
8:30 p.m. Vancouver Chicago  
9 p.m. San Jose Calgary ESPN+, SN1
9 p.m. Columbus Arizona  
Friday, February 8
8 p.m. Carolina Hurricanes New York Rangers NHLN, SN
Saturday, February 9
1 p.m. Los Angeles Boston  
1 p.m. Detroit Buffalo  
1 p.m. Minnesota New Jersey  
1 p.m. Colorado Avalanche New York Islanders  
1 p.m. Anaheim Philadelphia  
2 p.m. Nashville St. Louis  
2 p.m. Winnipeg Jets Ottawa Senators CBC, SN, SN1, TVAS
4 p.m. Dallas Arizona  
7 p.m. San Jose Edmonton SN, SN360
7 p.m. Toronto Maple Leafs Montréal Canadiens CBC, CITY, SN1, TVAS
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Tampa Bay NHLN
7 p.m. Florida Washington ESPN+
10 p.m. Calgary Flames Vancouver Canucks CBC, CITY, SN, SN1, SN360
10 p.m. Columbus Vegas ESPN+
Sunday, February 10
12:30 p.m. St. Louis Nashville NBC, TVAS
3 p.m. Detroit Chicago  
3 p.m. Colorado Boston SN1, TVAS
3 p.m. Winnipeg Buffalo ESPN+
3 p.m. Carolina New Jersey  
3 p.m. Minnesota Wild New York Islanders  
6 p.m. Tampa Bay Florida  
7 p.m. Toronto Maple Leafs New York Rangers NBCSN, SN, TVAS

This week has more than its fair share of derbies with seven on the schedule spread across four days. First up are both of Wednesday’s tilts (the Battle of Ontario and an Original Six tilt between the Bruins and Rangers), followed this evening by Vancouver visiting Chicago (once a rivalry, always a rivalry). Toronto keeps the Original Six fever going into the weekend when it visits Montréal, then continues the trend into Sunday by visiting the Rangers. Joining the Leafs and Blueshirts in rivalry action to close the week will be Tampa Bay and Florida contesting another round of the Governor’s Cup.

In the player homecoming category, there was none bigger than F Jay Beagle‘s trip back to the District of Columbia on Tuesday. Beagle spent 10 seasons with the Caps, departing for the Pacific Northwest after winning the Stanley Cup last summer.

Also making major returns are G Philipp Grubauer and F Nick Bjugstad, both of whom spent six seasons with the Capitals and Panthers, respectively. These homecomings are especially significant for both, as Grubauer will be collecting his Stanley Cup ring and Bjugstad will probably be snagging some more clothes and household items for his new apartment in the Steel City after being traded there Friday.

However, to keep with tradition, let’s totally disregard those tilts and focus on a totally different fixture – specifically, the one featuring F Jeff Skinner taking on his former team.

Boasting a 4-1-1 record in their past six games (including a dominant 4-0 shutout win in Pittsburgh on Tuesday), the 26-21-6 Carolina Hurricanes have pulled within three points of the East’s second wild card with 29 games to play.

After more than half the season has gone by, there’s no surprises any more in the Canes’ style: they play an upbeat style of offense that stresses shots on goal, hoping to wear down opposing goaltenders simply by the mass volume of stops they have to make.

While that strategy has had varied levels of success throughout the campaign, Head Coach Rod Brind’Amour‘s crew has certainly been making magic lately, as they’ve been led by their offense averaging 4.33 goals per game during this run – the second-best in the entire NHL since January 20.

Leading that charge is none other than the 35th-overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, F Sebastian Aho. With 3-6-9 totals in his last six appearances, he’s continued his insane scoring pace to elevate his season marks to 24-36-60 in 53 appearances, putting him only five points away from matching last season’s career-highs in goals and points.

Joining Aho in averaging at least a point per game during this six-game run are F Teuvo Teravainen (2-5-7), D Jaccob Slavin (0-7-7) and new addition W Nino Niederreiter (5-1-6). With Niederreiter’s goal-scoring showing up in Raleigh on January 18, perhaps it’s no mere coincidence the offense has taken off and the Hurricanes are enjoying more of their patented “Carolina Surge” celebrations. Of course, the Canes might be just as surprised with Niederreiter’s success as he is – after all, he only scored nine goals in 46 games with the Wild this season. Since donning Carolina red, he’s already lit the lamp five times in only seven appearances.

But the Hurricanes haven’t been just another pretty offense during this winning run. They’ve also played incredibly well on the defensive end too.

Thanks to the excellent play of late by D Justin Faulk (two blocks per game since January 20) and W Micheal Ferland (3.5 hits per game in his last four outings), the Canes have also boasted the league’s third-best defense as measured by shots against per game, as they’ve allowed only 25.33 per game during this six-game span.

And not surprisingly, that solid defensive work has translated incredibly to the scoreboard. Carolina has allowed only 2.5 goals against per game during this run, the (t)10th-best in the league since January 20. While 11-11-3 G Petr Mrazek‘s (.894 save percentage and 2.83 GAA on the season) stats have been far from incredible during this stretch – he’s actually performed below his already below-average season marks, managing an .874 save percentage and 3.28 GAA behind this defense – the fact that he’s earned five of a possible eight points in his last four appearances indicates he’s doing enough to help the Canes win.

With Carolina heading to Manhattan tomorrow to take on a less offensively-talented Rangers team, it seems likely Mrazek will be in net tonight. Should Brind’Amour instead give 12-6-1 G Curtis McElhinney the nod, he’ll hope to improve on his .918 season save percentage and corresponding 2.37 GAA.

Speaking of New York-based teams, the 26-20-6 Buffalo Sabres also find themselves trailing eighth-place Columbus by three points, but they currently lead the Hurricanes in the standings by virtue of playing one fewer game so far this campaign.

Unfortunately for the Sabres, that is where the positive marks end for a moment, as they’ve had the misfortune of stumbling into a 3-6-0 rut over their past nine games.

The biggest reason for this slump? Struggling goaltending.

Due in large part to an offense that is providing only three goals per game (tied for 13th-fewest in the NHL since January 11) and a defense yielding 31.11 shots against per game (15th-worst in the league in their past nine outings) during this stretch, 11-5-3 G Linus Ullmark has been forced to shoulder the brunt of the Sabres’ mistakes for the past few weeks and has struggled mightily under the pressure.

Despite owning a solid .914 save percentage and 2.93 GAA for the season, Ullmark’s stats in his last seven appearances (of which only five were starts, meaning 15-15-3 G Carter Hutton is struggling even more than Ullmark) have showcased just how much Buffalo has been struggling in the middle of the season. Ullmark has only an .882 save percentage and 3.53 GAA in these games, a far cry from the performance Head Coach Phil Housley has come to expect.

Hutton has an even worse .832 save percentage and 5.59 GAA in his last four starts (of which he’s only won one), so I’d be surprised if the 33-year-old is in net tonight against the Canes’ rolling offense.

Regardless of who’s in net, I have a hard time seeing the Sabres breaking out of their funk against the red-hot Hurricanes. With everything coming up Carolina’s way in it’s last few outings, the Canes should escape the Queen City with two more points in their possession.

Game of the week: January 28-February 3

With 21 clubs enjoying their byes as a continuation of the All-Star Break, this week’s schedule was fairly light until tonight when the entire league got back into action. However, that’s not to say there wasn’t any big matchups – take a look for yourself:

NHL SCHEDULE: January 28-February 3
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, January 28
7 p.m. Winnipeg Philadelphia 1-3
7 p.m. New Jersey Pittsburgh 6-3
Tuesday, January 29
7 p.m. Winnipeg Boston 4-3 (SO)
7 p.m. Buffalo Columbus 5-4
7:30 p.m. Philadelphia Flyers New York Rangers 1-0
Wednesday, January 30
8 p.m. Tampa Bay Pittsburgh 2-4
8:30 p.m. Buffalo Dallas 0-1
Thursday, January 31
7 p.m. Philadelphia Boston 3-2 (OT)
7 p.m. New York Rangers New Jersey Devils 4-3
8 p.m. Columbus Winnipeg 3-4
Friday, February 1
7 p.m. Chicago Buffalo TVAS
7 p.m. Nashville Florida
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Lightning New York Islanders
7 p.m. Ottawa Pittsburgh RDS
7 p.m. Calgary Washington
7:30 p.m. Toronto Detroit
7:30 p.m. Vegas Carolina
8 p.m. Minnesota Dallas
Saturday, February 2
1 p.m. Edmonton Philadelphia NHLN, SN
2 p.m. New Jersey Montréal RDS, TSN2
7 p.m. Anaheim Winnipeg SN360
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Toronto CBC, SN1
7 p.m. Detroit Ottawa CITY, TVAS
7 p.m. Vegas Florida
7 p.m. Los Angeles Kings New York Islanders
7 p.m. St. Louis Columbus
8 p.m. Dallas Nashville
8 p.m. Chicago Minnesota NBC
8 p.m. Tampa Bay New York Rangers NBC
10 p.m. Vancouver Canucks Colorado Avalanche CBC, CITY, SN, SN1, SN360
10:30 p.m. Arizona San Jose
Sunday, February 3
12:30 p.m. Boston Washington NBC
2 p.m. Edmonton Montréal RDS, SN
2 p.m. Calgary Carolina SN360

With many of the week’s early games involving a majority of Eastern Conference teams, rivalries abound in this week’s schedule – starting with the Flyers’ tilt against the Rangers on Tuesday. After squaring off at Madison Square Garden, both clubs departed for another derby matchup, with New York taking on New Jersey and Philadelphia heading to Boston on Thursday. Tonight’s rivalry features Toronto in Detroit (more on that game in a moment), with Chicago taking on Minnesota tomorrow.

If player returns are your jam, there’s no bigger tilt this weekend than the Flames’ trip to Raleigh. Taking advantage of the systemic overhaul of the Hurricanes’ system, Calgary traded for F Elias Lindholm and D Noah Hanifin, who spent five and three seasons, respectively, with Carolina. The Flames also signed former three-year Cane C Derek Ryan out of free agency on July 1.

Of course, all of these moves were likely suggested by the Flames’ new Head Coach, Bill Peters. He spent four seasons in Carolina before getting the ax following the 2017-18 campaign.

Finally, we return to tonight’s previously mentioned Original Six showdown between the Maple Leafs and Red Wings. This is usually an exciting game to see on its own, but this game is even more special than usual since Red Kelly is getting his No. 4 retired beforehand.

Heck, you know what? Kelly was pretty cool (after all, he did win four Stanley Cups while also serving as a Canadian Member of Parliament), so let’s head to Motown.

If any team entered the All-Star Break and its bye week on a high note, it certainly wasn’t the 30-17-2 Toronto Maple Leafs.

Though they’ve managed to hold on to their second-place position in the Atlantic Division while sitting dormant for eight total days, the Leafs were surely disappointed to end the first half of their season on a 2-4-0 skid – even if those two wins did come against the division-leading Lightning and the reigning Stanley Cup champions.

To the surprise of none, Toronto’s biggest struggle during that skid was surely its defense. While the 32.6 shots against per game the Maple Leafs have allowed all season is far from impressive (in fact, it’s tied with Buffalo for eighth-worst in the league), they slacked-off even more in their last six games leading up to the All-Star Break to yield 34.83 shots against per game.

That’s the sixth-worst mark in the NHL since January 12, but General Manager Kyle Dubas is working to fix that issue.

Enter D Jake Muzzin: a player with a +10 rating through 50 games with the Los Angeles Kings, the second-worst team in the NHL with a league-worst -36 goal differential on the season.

While plus/minus is far from the best statistic in sports, the fact that we can pair it with his pedestrian offensive production (he’s managed only 4-17-21 totals so far this season) shows he’s doing at least something right on the defensive end (in other words, the stat is an effect, not a cause). In fact, if defensive point shares are your cup of tea, his defense provided four of the Kings’ 44 points in the standings.

Muzzin gets his work done by making his presence known. He’s just eight blocks short of averaging two per game on the season, and he’s made up for that along the boards by throwing 111 hits so far this campaign.

To put that in relation to his new teammates, Muzzin’s 1.84 blocks per game and 2.22 hits per game rank second and first, respectively, among the 18 Leafs that have at least 28 games played.

Talk about bulking up the defense.

One person hoping Muzzin’s defensive success makes the 4.5 hour trip from Tinseltown to T-dot is 6-3-1 G Garret Sparks, tonight’s presumed starter with the Penguins rolling into Toronto tomorrow. Sparks boasts a .907 save percentage and 2.91 GAA on the season, but has lost his last two appearances.

Should Sparks get the start tonight, it will be his fourth career outing against the Red Wings. He’s managed a 1-1-1 record against Detroit in his first three tries, winning his most recent matchup on December 23 despite allowing four goals. He brings a career .864 save percentage and corresponding 4.01 GAA against the Wings into tonight’s tilt.

Of course, the Maple Leafs’ defensive concerns are nothing when compared to the 19-25-7 Detroit Red Wings, as they’ve struggled in effectively every facet of the game this season – made evident by their position in second-to-last place in the Eastern Conference.

Looking specifically at the Wings’ last eight games that saw them post a 3-5-0 record, the biggest struggle of late has been their offense – just like Toronto, no surprises here. Similar to its 2.8 goals per game for the entire season, Detroit’s 2.88 goals per game since January 6 ranks seventh-worst in the NHL.

Beyond the top-line pairing of F Dylan Larkin (3-5-8 totals in his last eight outings) and W Gustav Nyquist (1-7-8 since January 6), the Red Wings struggle to find much offensive. Those players’ respective season points totals of 48 and 43 headline the team, but third-best F Andreas Athanasiou has registered only 30. Despite the goal-scoring potential Athanasiou still shows at 24-years-old, the fact that 30 points in 45 games played is third-best on a team perfectly showcases just how little Detroit has at its disposal.

How much longer until W Filip Zadina is ready, again? Oh, he only has 22 points in 37 AHL games played… great. The odds of any sort of call up for the young Czech is sliding in LW Matt Puempel’s favor more and more – an experiment I’m surprised the Wings haven’t tried yet this season considering they have nothing to lose. After all Puempel’s 36 points in 44 AHL games played is second-best in Grand Rapids.

As for who’s going to win this game, I think the answer is obvious: after a well-deserved rest, the Maple Leafs’ offense should be ready to get back into form. And even if Toronto doesn’t hit the 3.55 goals per game it’s grown grown accustomed to this season, Detroit’s anemic offense shouldn’t pose much of a threat, even against the likes of Sparks. Toronto should take care of business easily tonight.

Game of the week: January 21-27

Whether you measure by games played or the All-Star Break, the middle of the season is upon us. Are you an optimist and see all the hockey remaining on the schedule? Or is the glass half empty, formerly full with games now gone by? While you’re figuring that out, here’s the NHL’s offering of games this week.
NHL SCHEDULE: January 21-27
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/ Result
Monday, January 21
3 p.m. Nashville Colorado 4-1
4 p.m. St. Louis Los Angeles 3-4
6 p.m. Minnesota Vegas 4-2
7 p.m. San Jose Florida 2-6
Tuesday, January 22
7 p.m. San Jose Washington 7-6 (OT)
7:30 p.m. Arizona Ottawa 3-2
8:30 p.m. New York Islanders Chicago Blackhawks 2-3 (SO)
9 p.m. Carolina Calgary 2-3 (OT)
9 p.m. Detroit Edmonton 3-2
Wednesday, January 23
7:30 p.m. Washington Capitals Toronto Maple Leafs NBCSN, SN, SN360, TVAS
7:30 p.m. Arizona Montréal RDS, SN1
9:30 p.m. Minnesota Colorado
10 p.m. Nashville Vegas NBCSN
10 p.m. St. Louis Anaheim
10:30 p.m. Carolina Vancouver ESPN+
Thursday, January 24
No games scheduled – All-Star Break
Friday, January 25
No games scheduled – All-Star Break
Saturday, January 26
NHL All-Star Game from San Jose, Calif.
Sunday, January 27
No games scheduled – All-Star Break
As you can see, the fun we gain in having the All-Star festivities in San Jose scheduled for this weekend is largely negated by this week’s half-serving of fixtures. Them’s the breaks, I suppose. As for some of this week’s biggest games, we needed to look no further than Monday’s matchup between Nashville and Colorado, a rematch of the First Round from last April’s playoffs. Also, F Alex Galchenyuk is making his first trip back to Montréal tonight, his former home of six seasons. W Micheal Ferland and D Dougie Hamilton were in the same boat last night in Calgary, their home for four and three seasons, respectively. While Galchenyuk will surely receive a warm welcome this evening, I’m much more interested in a tilt taking place in the Mojave Desert between two Western Conference foes.
Boasting the second-best record in the Central Division, the 29-18-4 Nashville Predators enter tonight’s game with a bit of a limp. Though they won their last tilt against Colorado 4-1, they’ve only managed a 2-3-1 record in their past six outings – a mark that makes Nashville fortunate it has built up a nine-point lead on third-place Minnesota. What is most alarming about this rough patch for the Preds is that their latest struggles are usually among the team’s greatest strengths. Since January 10, Nashville has allowed an average of 3.67 goals per game and 32.5 shots per game. Those both rank seventh-worst in the NHL in that time – a far cry from the Preds’ season marks of 2.61 goals against per game ([t]second-best) and 29 shots against per game (fifth-best). Is this just a case of the Predators being worn out after 51 games so far this season? Considering the Predators’ entire defensive corps is healthy right now, I’d say this very well could be the answer. They’ll take a four-day bye period in addition to the four-day All-Star Break to recuperate for the final 30 games if that is the case. However, eight days off doesn’t do Head Coach Peter Laviolette any good tonight. He needs to find a way to get his troops to perform better tonight, especially since they’re heading into one of the toughest arenas in the league and taking on a hot team in the Golden Knights. On the season, Nashville’s defense has been headed by D Ryan Ellis (two blocks per game and a team-high 42 takeaways) and W Austin Watson (three hits per game). Watson has maintained his role as the team’s leading hit-thrower during this stretch, but his production has dropped to 2.2 hits per game since January 10. Similarly, Ellis’ blocks-per-game production has dropped to 1.5 in his last six outings, falling behind D Mattias Ekholm and D Roman Josi‘s matching 1.8 blocks per game. With only four takeaways in his last six games, Ellis is still a dominant threat in that department considering his position. However, the Predator that really been creating steals lately is F Filip Forsberg, who has averaged a takeaway per game since January 10. Mix in the fact that he’s averaging almost a point per game during this run, and you find a player who’s not at fault for his club’s recent defensive inefficiencies and lack of results. Regardless of who is taking the blame, one player who definitely isn’t happy about the situation is 18-12-3 G Pekka Rinne. Even though Rinne has been having a solid campaign (made evident by his .915 save percentage and 2.47 GAA on the season, the latter of which is tied for sixth-best in the NHL), he’s been a terrible victim of his team’s defensive effort of late. Rinne has only won one of his last four starts, posting a horrendous .878 save percentage and 4.27 GAA in those outings. Rinne has faced the Golden Knights twice in his career, but is still looking for his first victory against the second-year franchise. In the previous two matchups, he has managed a .928 save percentage and 2.44 GAA, highlighted by a 36-save performance on December 8, 2017 that ended in a 4-3 six-round shootout victory for Vegas. Rinne earned
After rattling off a seven-game winning streak, the 29-18-4 Vegas Golden Knights have propelled themselves into third-place in the Pacific Division with 10 points separating them from Vancouver. However, those winning ways have gone by the wayside in the last two weeks, as Vegas has alternated results in its last five outings for a 2-3-0 record. Vegas lost to the Sharks 3-2 on January 10, followed two days later by a 4-3 overtime win in Chicago. January 15 saw the Golden Knights lose 4-1 in Winnipeg, but a trip home was just the medicine they needed to beat the Penguins 7-3. Most recently (Monday, to be precise), the Wild came to T-Mobile Arena and emerged with a 4-2 win. Does this pattern mean the Knights are ensured two points tonight? If Vegas wants to take its fate into its own hands, it should surely continue what it is doing on the defensive end. Despite the consistently inconsistent results, one thing that has remained constant is the Golden Knights’ blue line, which has allowed only 27.2 shots against per game since January 10 – the fourth-best mark in the league in that time. Leading that defensive charge is none other than F Tomas Nosek (seven takeaways in Vegas’ last five games), RW Ryan Reaves (4.4 hits per game since January 10) and D Nate Schmidt (two blocks per game during this run), despite the fact that injured LW William Carrier (five hits per game), D Brayden McNabb (1.9 blocks per game) and D Shea Theodore (49 takeaways) lead the team in their respective statistics for the season. A major reason for these inconsistent results is the Golden Knights’ scoreboard does not reflect their positive defensive performance. A major reason for that has been the lackluster play by G Marc-Andre Fleury in his last five starts. Even though he boasts a .911 save percentage and 2.5 GAA (tied for ninth-best in the NHL) for the entire season, he’s managed only a .895 save percentage and 2.85 GAA in his last five starts. In fact, Fleury has allowed at least two goals per game in his last seven outings – a surprising statistic for the netminder whose six shutouts double the eight players’ marks that are tied for second place. If history will decide this tilt, Fleury will certainly bring his A-game against Nashville. He boasts a 9-5-1 record against the Predators, bolstered largely by five-straight wins between 2010-14 during his tenure with Pittsburgh. In those 15 appearances, he owns a career .927 save percentage and 1.95 GAA – dominant marks for any netminder against any one club. Of course, those marks are in the past. Which team enters the All-Star Break with two more points to their credit? Since both teams have managed approximately equal offense since January 10 (the Preds’ 3.33 goals per game is slightly higher than Vegas’ 3.2), I’ll consider that a wash. Instead, I’ll lean towards the Golden Knights earning tonight’s victory on the backs of their solid defensive play.