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: January 14-20

It’s the final week before the All-Star Break that features all 31 teams in action!

Let’s take a look at the schedule:

NHL SCHEDULE: January 14-20
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, January 14
7 p.m. Colorado Toronto 6-3
7 p.m. Chicago New Jersey 5-8
7 p.m. Minnesota Philadelphia 4-7
7 p.m. St. Louis Washington 4-1
7:30 p.m. Montréal Canadiens Boston Bruins 3-2 (OT)
9 p.m. Buffalo Edmonton 2-7
Tuesday, January 15
7 p.m. St. Louis Blues New York Islanders 1-2 (OT)
7 p.m. Carolina Hurricanes New York Rangers 2-6
7 p.m. New Jersey Columbus 1-4
7:30 p.m. Florida Montréal 1-5
7:30 p.m. Anaheim Detroit 1-3
8 p.m. Washington Nashville 2-7
8 p.m. Los Angeles Minnesota 2-3 (SO)
8 p.m. Vegas Winnipeg 1-4
8:30 p.m. Tampa Bay Dallas 2-0
10 p.m. Pittsburgh San Jose 2-5
Wednesday, January 16
7 p.m. Colorado Ottawa 2-5
7:30 p.m. Boston Philadelphia 3-4
9:30 p.m. Buffalo Calgary 4-3 (OT)
10 p.m. Edmonton Vancouver 3-2 (SO)
10 p.m. San Jose Arizona 3-6
Thursday, January 17
7 p.m. St. Louis Boston 2-5
7 p.m. New Jersey Devils New York Islanders 1-4
7 p.m. Chicago Blackhawks New York Rangers 3-4
7:30 p.m. Toronto Tampa Bay 4-2
8 p.m. Winnipeg Nashville 5-1
8 p.m. Anaheim Minnesota 3-0
8:30 p.m. Los Angeles Dallas 2-1
Friday, January 18
7 p.m. Toronto Florida 1-3
7 p.m. Montréal Columbus 4-1
7:30 p.m. New York Islanders Washington Capitals 2-0
7:30 p.m. Ottawa Carolina 4-1
9 p.m. Detroit Calgary 4-6
9 p.m. Pittsburgh Arizona 3-2 (OT)
10 p.m. Buffalo Vancouver 3-4
Saturday, January 19
1 p.m. Anaheim New Jersey SN
3 p.m. Los Angeles Colorado  
7 p.m. Ottawa St. Louis CITY
7 p.m. Winnipeg Dallas SN360
7 p.m. New York Rangers Boston Bruins NHLN
7 p.m. Philadelphia Montréal CBC, ESPN+, TVAS
7 p.m. San Jose Tampa Bay  
8 p.m. Florida Nashville  
9 p.m. Columbus Minnesota  
10 p.m. Pittsburgh Vegas ESPN+
10 p.m. Calgary Flames Edmonton Oilers CBC, CITY, SN, SN1, SN360
Sunday, January 20
12:30 p.m. Washington Chicago NBC, TVAS
3 p.m. Anaheim Ducks New York Islanders SN1
4 p.m. Detroit Vancouver ESPN+
7 p.m. Arizona Toronto NHLN, SN
9:30 p.m. Carolina Edmonton SN1, SN360

If rivalries are your jam, you’ve loved this week’s schedule since there’s at least one rivalry being played every day except Sunday. Monday saw the Habs make a trip to the Hub, followed the next day by the Ducks in Detroit (once a rivalry, always a rivalry). The Bruins were back at it Wednesday in the City of Brotherly Love, while another Original Six tilt took place Thursday with the Blackhawks visiting the Broadway Blueshirts. Speaking of New York, the Islanders headed to D.C. yesterday to take on the Caps, while two sets of arch-rivals square off this evening: the frequently-featured Rangers and Bruins wage war at 7 p.m., followed by the Battle of Alberta at 10.

If playoff rematches are more your speed, you preferred Winnipeg’s schedule. The Jets hosted Vegas Tuesday, followed two days later by a trip to Nashville.

Finally, there’s more than a few major homecomings happening this week, the biggest of which is 10-year veteran D Adam McQuaid‘s first game in Boston wearing a crest other than the Spoked B when the Rangers come to town tonight.

Also making returns were W Magnus Paajarvi (now a Senator, he called St. Louis home for five seasons), David Quinn (the Rangers hired him from Boston University where he’d been the head coach for five seasons) and Barry Trotz (after winning the Stanley Cup in his fourth year at Washington’s helm, Trotz signed with the Islanders this offseason).

While many of these tilts are exciting, the game that really sticks out to me involves two of the top teams in their respective conferences that were Stanley Cup favorites entering the campaign.

If not for Wednesday’s 6-3 loss in Glendale to the Coyotes, the 28-14-7 Sharks would be considered the hottest team in the NHL. They entered that tilt riding a seven game winning streak and have posted a dominant 9-2-2 mark in their last 13 outings.

There’s no doubt that Tampa Bay (tonight’s opponent) and division-rival Calgary boast two of the NHL’s best offenses. However, San Jose’s 3.57 goals per game for the entire 2018-19 season ranks third best in the league, and that attack only looks stronger when we focus on this 13 game run. Since December 22, the Sharks have averaged a whopping 4.31 goals per game, which ties the Flames for tops in the league.

Spearheading that onslaught of offense is none other than D Erik Karlsson, the man supposedly suffering a down season. His personal goal count may not be as high as he’d like (he’s registered only three through 47 outings this season), but struggles are otherwise few and far between nowadays considering he’s posted 1-18-19 totals in his past 11 games.

Of course, Karlsson isn’t San Jose’s only blue liner that likes to get involved in the offensive zone. D Brent Burns – a favorite for the Norris Trophy at the midway point of the season – is only a point behind Karlsson since December 22, posting 5-13-18 marks.

The defensemen are joined by LW Evander Kane (6-10-16 totals since December 22) and F Tomas Hertl (9-5-14) in averaging over a point per game during the Sharks’ outstanding winning run.

I’m of the opinion that the primary responsibility of a team’s defensive efforts is to limit opposing shots on goal, so – in a way – this dominant offense that maintains extended possessions is also performing marvelously well for 22-8-4 G Martin Jones. The Sharks have allowed only 28.31 shots against per game since December 22, the fourth-best mark in the NHL in that stretch.

As for actual defensive efforts, it’s hard not to have been impressed by Burns (team-leading 19 takeaways) and Kane (2.9 hits per game) during this run.

Of course, no matter how well the Sharks have been playing lately, there’s few that would argue that tonight’s hosts, the 36-10-2 Tampa Bay Lightning, are the best team the National Hockey League has to offer. The Bolts have a seven-point advantage in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy, and they haven’t lost back-to-back games since November 10 and 13.

The reason that’s an important note is due to Tampa Bay’s 4-2 home loss at the hands of the Maple Leafs Thursday night, dropping their record since November 15 to 24-5-1.

During that dominant run, the Bolts have boasted the league’s top offense, averaging a whopping 4.23 goals per game – many of which have involved Art Ross-leader RW Nikita Kucherov. In Tampa’s last 30 games, Kucherov has notched dominant 15-43-58 totals – five points better than the NHL’s second-best player in that time.

Joining Kucherov in averaging over a point per game since November 15 are F Brayden Point (21-23-44 totals) and C Steven Stamkos (18-21-39).

Another player worth mentioning is surely 19-6-2 G Andrei Vasilevskiy, tonight’s likely starter considering this is Tampa’s last game until January 30’s tilt against Pittsburgh. In his past 14 starts, Vasilevskiy has managed an outstanding .922 save percentage and 2.65 GAA, a slight decline from his season marks of .925 and 2.48 due to the defense in front of him allowing 32.73 shots against per game since November 15, the seventh-worst mark in the NHL in that time.

There’s no doubt these offenses are capable of taking a game over, but both of them playing in the same game will certainly be either club’s greatest challenge they’ve faced in a while.

In my opinion, this game boils down to the opposing goaltenders. If that is the case, the Lightning have a clear advantage, as Jones’ .903 season save percentage and corresponding 2.72 GAA pale in comparison to Vasilevskiy’s.

As a result, I think the Bolts can come away from tonight’s tilt with a two or three-goal victory to further cement themselves as the league’s best club.

Game of the week: January 7-13

It’s the first full week of 2019! What better way to celebrate than with some hockey?

Here’s this week’s slate of games:

NHL SCHEDULE: January 7-13
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, January 7
7 p.m. Nashville Toronto 4-0
7 p.m. St. Louis Philadelphia 3-0
7:30 p.m. Minnesota Montréal 1-0
8:30 p.m. Calgary Chicago 4-3
10:30 p.m. Los Angeles San Jose 1-3
Tuesday, January 8
7 p.m. Minnesota Boston 0-4
7 p.m. New Jersey Buffalo 1-5
7 p.m. Carolina Hurricanes New York Islanders 4-3
7 p.m. Florida Pittsburgh 1-5
7:30 p.m. Philadelphia Washington 3-5
7:30 p.m. Montréal Detroit 3-2
7:30 p.m. Columbus Tampa Bay 0-4
8 p.m. Dallas St. Louis 3-1
8 p.m. Colorado Winnipeg 4-7
10 p.m. New York Rangers Vegas Golden Knights 2-4
10:30 p.m. Edmonton San Jose 2-7
Wednesday, January 9
8 p.m. Nashville Predators Chicago Blackhawks NBCSN, SN360, TVAS
9:30 p.m. Colorado Calgary ESPN+
10 p.m. Ottawa Anaheim RDS
Thursday, January 10
7 p.m. Washington Boston ESPN+, TVAS
7 p.m. Toronto New Jersey  
7 p.m. New York Islanders New York Rangers  
7 p.m. Dallas Philadelphia  
7 p.m. Nashville Columbus  
7:30 p.m. Carolina Tampa Bay  
8 p.m. Montréal St. Louis RDS, TSN2
8 p.m. Winnipeg Minnesota NBCSN
9 p.m. Florida Edmonton  
10 p.m. Arizona Vancouver  
10 p.m. San Jose Vegas ESPN+
10:30 p.m. Ottawa Los Angeles RDS
Friday, January 11
7:30 p.m. Buffalo Carolina NHLN
8 p.m. Detroit Winnipeg TVAS
9 p.m. Florida Calgary  
10 p.m. Pittsburgh Anaheim ESPN+, SN360
Saturday, January 12
1 p.m. Philadelphia New Jersey NHLN, SN
1 p.m. New York Rangers New York Islanders ESPN+
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Buffalo  
7 p.m. Boston Bruins Toronto Maple Leafs CBC, CITY, NHLN, SN1
7 p.m. Colorado Montréal SN, TVAS
7 p.m. Columbus Washington ESPN+
8 p.m. Detroit Minnesota  
8:30 p.m. Vegas Chicago ESPN+
9 p.m. St. Louis Dallas  
10 p.m. Ottawa San Jose CBC, SN1, TVAS
10 p.m. Arizona Edmonton SN
10:30 p.m. Pittsburgh Los Angeles  
Sunday, January 13
12:30 p.m. Nashville Carolina  
6 p.m. Anaheim Winnipeg  
6 p.m. New York Rangers Columbus Blue Jackets NHLN
7 p.m. Florida Vancouver SN
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Lightning New York Islanders ESPN+
9:30 p.m. Arizona Calgary SN1

Among the week’s biggest games are the usual suspects of rivalries, playoff rematches and player returns.

In the rivalry department, the Battle of California reignited Monday when the Kings visited San Jose, followed a day later by Philadelphia at Washington and an Original Six showdown between the Canadiens and Red Wings. The Battle of New York will be waged twice this week, starting in Manhattan tomorrow night and heading to Brooklyn Saturday afternoon. Also taking place Saturday is the Battle of the Turnpikes between Philadelphia and New Jersey, as well as another Original Six fixture featuring Boston and Toronto.

As for rematches from last season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, Thursday will see Winnipeg make a return to Minnesota in a rematch of the Western Quarterfinals, and a Western Semifinals rematch between San Jose and Vegas. The previously mentioned Bruins-Maple Leafs tilt on Saturday is a rematch of the Eastern Quarterfinals, as is Columbus at Washington on the same day.

Making his first trip back to Raleigh since being traded to Buffalo this summer, no player’s homecoming is bigger than Jeff Skinner‘s this week. Drafted seventh overall in 2010, Skinner was a member of the Hurricanes for eight seasons before joining Jack Eichel‘s Sabres. While a Cane, Skinner won the organization’s first Calder Trophy and was named the youngest All-Star in North American professional sports history – both in 2011.

Also making a major homecoming trip is Tanner Pearson, now a member of the Penguins after a mid-season trade ended his six-season tenure in Los Angeles.

However, the game that excites me the most is going down tonight when the Colorado Avalanche make the trip north into Alberta to take on the Calgary Flames.

For much of the season so far, 20-15-8 Colorado – the West’s top wild card – was one of the scariest opponents in the league for any team. They boast a dominant top line and a top-five power play (the Avs’ 26.5 percent conversion rate is second-best in the conference).

However, that has not been the case for the past three weeks, as Colorado has racked up only a lowly 1-5-2 record in its last eight appearances (including regulation losses to Arizona, Chicago and Los Angeles – all also-rans in the Western Conference), causing them to give up third place in the Central Division to Dallas.

Averaging three goals per game during this run, the offense is still clicking at a good enough pace that the Avalanche should not be struggling – at least not to this extent. Instead, it has been Colorado’s goaltending that has really dropped the ball.

With 9-5-3 G Philipp Grubauer earning the start last night in Winnipeg (Colorado lost 7-4, for those keeping track at home), it seems likely that 11-8-5 G Semyon Varlamov will get the nod this evening. If that’s the case, he’ll surely have full intention of playing closer to the .912 save percentage and 2.8 GAA he’s managed for the season and not the .891 and 2.97 marks he’s posted in his last two starts.

Of course, even those numbers are improvements over Grubauer’s. In the former Capital’s last six starts, he’s managed only an .87 save percentage and 3.94 GAA – only slightly worse than the .895 and 3.29 he’s shown for the entire season. With numbers like those and the fact that 0-2-0 G Pavel Francouz looked fairly solid in his NHL debut this season (he managed a .943 save percentage and 1.96 GAA in 61 minutes), it’s a wonder the Czech hasn’t had the opportunity to join the Avs full-time if it would mean Varlamov could take more games off.

What makes these recent goaltending numbers so frustrating is the fact that Colorado has been playing some solid defense during this stretch of games. In the Avs’ last eight games, they’ve allowed only 29.75 shots against per game – the ninth-lowest mark in the NHL since December 21. W Gabriel Bourque and C Sheldon Dries (both with 2.3 hits per game since December 21), W Matt Calvert (seven takeaways during this stretch) and D Erik Johnson (2.4 blocks per game in his past eight outings) have all played major roles in that success, but they’ll be pushed to the limit tonight when facing the Flames’ imposing attack.

Speaking of those high-flying Flames, they currently boast the Western Conference’s top record with a 27-13-4 mark – a performance that’s even more intimidating when we keep in mind they have at least one game in hand on the Pacific Division’s two other best teams.

Tonight’s tilt will be the Flames’ first back in Calgary after a four-game Eastern road trip that saw them earn six of eight possible points. In fact, Calgary enters tonight’s game on an impressive 5-1-1 run in its past seven showings, including wins over solid Western foes in San Jose and Winnipeg.

Leading that charge is the Flames’ previously mentioned offense, which has few rivals in the NHL lately. Averaging 4.29 goals per game since December 27, Calgary’s attack is ranked fourth in the league and second in the conference in that time.

An outstanding five skaters are averaging at least a point per game during this run, but none are as intimidating as LW Johnny Gaudreau. With 10-6-16 totals in his past seven games (that’s 1.43 goals and 2.29 points per game), he’s elevated his season marks to 26-38-64, good enough for fourth, (t)fifth and (t)eighth in the NHL in points, goals and assists respectively.

Joining Gaudreau in averaging at least a point per game during this seven game stretch are C Sean Monahan (2-12-14 totals), F Elias Lindholm (3-8-11), LW Matthew Tkachuk (3-5-8) and D Noah Hanifin (0-7-7).

Perhaps the most impressive facet of Calgary’s attack is that the Flames are scoring almost all of their goals at even strength, having converted only four of their last 28 power play opportunities (14.3 percent, 12th-worst in the NHL since December 27. While Head Coach Bill Peters would surely like to see his special teams perform better, the fact that the Flames have scored 21 of their last 30 goals (70 percent) at even strength surely makes that an easier pill to swallow.


A potent attack taking on a slumping goaltending corps is usually a recipe for disaster, but the fact that Colorado boasts a solid offense of its own is what makes this tilt interesting. If the Avalanche want any chance of pulling off the upset, F Nathan MacKinnon, RW Mikko Rantanen and co. will need to do their best to beat 15-4-3 G David Rittich to keep up with the Flames. If they can’t, this could get ugly early.

Game of the week: December 31-January 6

Welcome to 2019! Nothing quite rings in the new year like hockey (shh, nobody asked you what you think, college football!), and in case you haven’t heard, the Blackhawks and Bruins are headed to South Bend, Ind. for this year’s iteration of the Winter Classic.

However, there’s far more than that tilt going down this week, so here’s all the fixtures for 2018’s finale and the first six days of 2019.

NHL SCHEDULE: December 31-january 6
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, December 31
12:30 p.m. Nashville Washington 6-3
1 p.m. Vancouver New Jersey 0-4
6 p.m. Pittsburgh Minnesota 3-2
6 p.m. New York Islanders Buffalo Sabres 3-1
6 p.m. Philadelphia Carolina 1-3
7 p.m. New York Rangers St. Louis Blues 2-1
7 p.m. Ottawa Columbus 3-6
7:30 p.m. Florida Detroit 4-3 (SO)
8 p.m. Tampa Bay Anaheim 2-1 (OT)
8 p.m. Los Angeles Colorado 3-2 (OT)
8:30 p.m. Montréal Dallas 3-2 (OT)
9 p.m. San Jose Calgary 5-8
9 p.m. Winnipeg Edmonton 4-3
Tuesday, January 1
1 p.m. Boston Chicago 4-2
8:30 p.m. Philadelphia Nashville 0-4
9 p.m. Los Angeles Vegas 0-2
Wednesday, January 2
7 p.m. Vancouver Ottawa 4-3 (OT)
7 p.m. Calgary Detroit 5-3
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Penguins New York Rangers 7-2
8:30 p.m. New Jersey Dallas 4-5
9:30 p.m. San Jose Colorado 5-4
9:30 p.m. Edmonton Arizona 3-1
Thursday, January 3
2 p.m. Minnesota Toronto 4-3
7 p.m. Calgary Boston 4-6
7 p.m. Florida Buffalo 3-4
7 p.m. Carolina Philadelphia 5-3
7:30 p.m. Chicago Blackhawks New York Islanders 2-3 (OT)
7:30 p.m. Vancouver Montréal 0-2
8 p.m. Washington St. Louis 2-5
10:30 p.m. Tampa Bay Los Angeles 6-2
Friday, January 4
7 p.m. Winnipeg Pittsburgh 0-4
7:30 p.m. Nashville Detroit 3-4 (OT)
7:30 p.m. Columbus Carolina 2-4
8 p.m. Washington Dallas 1-2 (OT)
9 p.m. New York Rangers Colorado Avalanche 1-6
9 p.m. New Jersey Arizona 3-2 (SO)
10 p.m. Vegas Anaheim 3-2
Saturday, January 5
1 p.m. Calgary Philadelphia 3-2 (OT)
1 p.m. Minnesota Ottawa 4-3
7 p.m. Buffalo Boston 1-2
7 p.m. Vancouver Toronto 0-5
7 p.m. Nashville Montréal 4-1
7 p.m. Columbus Florida 4-3 (OT)
8 p.m. New York Islanders St. Louis Blues 4-3
10 p.m. Edmonton Los Angeles 0-4
11 p.m. Tampa Bay San Jose 2-5
Sunday, January 6
1 p.m. Carolina Ottawa RDS2
4 p.m. New Jersey Vegas SN
4 p.m. New York Rangers Arizona Coyotes  
5 p.m. Dallas Winnipeg ESPN+
5 p.m. Washington Detroit NHLN
8 p.m. Edmonton Anaheim SN, SN360
8 p.m. Chicago Pittsburgh NBCSN

If you enjoyed the 1988 and 1990 Stanley Cup Finals and rivalries are your jam, this week’s slate of games was made just for you. Both Boston and Edmonton squared off against two rivals this week, with the Oilers taking on Winnipeg on Monday and the Kings on Saturday and the Bruins playing Chicago and Buffalo on Tuesday and Saturday, respectively.

Speaking of the Kings, their Tuesday tilt in Vegas was a rematch of the First Round from the most recent Stanley Cup playoffs – the only such tilt of the week.

Finally, in the “Player Returns” department, W Dmitrij Jaskin takes the cake for the longest tenure with his former club, as he was claimed off waivers by the Capitals earlier this season after six campaigns with the Blues – Washington’s opponent on Thursday.

In an attempt to avoid repeating teams too frequently, I turned my attention away from the Winter Classic (we all knew how it was going to go anyways) and the Flames and Sharks’ major showdown. Instead, let’s take in a pivotal game in the race for the Western Conference’s second wild card.

To put things simply, life has been much better for the Oilers and their faithful fans.

As recently as three weeks ago, Edmonton was in third place in the Pacific Division and looking like a real threat for the remainder of the season. However, that impressive 9-2-2 run that got them to that point is long forgotten now, as the 19-19-3 Oil enter tonight’s tilt on a disastrous 1-7-0 skid, accented by last night’s embarrassing 4-0 loss to lowly Los Angeles.

Without a doubt, the worst aspect of Edmonton’s play over this eight-game run has been the play of its two goaltenders. 12-8-1 G Mikko Koskinen has received six of those starts, but his .869 save percentage and 4.45 GAA in those appearances (compared to a .915 season save percentage and corresponding 2.64 GAA) hardly reflect starters’ numbers.

However, handing the reins over to 7-11-2 G Cam Talbot has rarely been the fix Head Coach Ken Hitchcock’s club has hoped for, as almost every time they’ve turned to him they’ve gotten the same old Talbot they’ve gotten all year. Boasting an .893 save percentage and 3.23 GAA for the season, Talbot has stayed true to his form for this campaign in his last four appearances since December 16, posting almost identical .888 and 3.25 marks in those outings.

With both Koskinen and Talbot seeing action in yesterday’s tilt in Tinseltown, it remains unclear which will earn the nod this evening. Koskinen did start against the Kings, but he only logged 13:57 of action before getting pulled due to allowing three goals on eight shots (.625 save percentage). Conversely, though Talbot saw more TOI, his 14-for-15 performance (.933 save percentage) in relief could earn him the opportunity to reclaim his starting job tonight.

Though not the sole reason for the netminders’ struggles, part of their problems might be related to the Oil’s defensive play of late. Edmonton has allowed an average of 30.7 shots on goal per game this season, a mark that is good enough for 11th-best in the NHL. However, that mark has climbed ever so slightly to 31.75 shots per game in Edmonton’s games since December 16, the 14th-highest in the league in that stretch.

If any are to blame for that defensive decline, it is surely not F Jujhar Khaira (3.8 hits per game since December 16), C Connor McDavid (10 takeaways in the last eight games) or D Darnell Nurse (1.5 blocks per game during this run), as all three lead the team in their respective statistics.

There’s certainly still time for Edmonton to rediscover its winning groove, but the Oilers must make sure to stop the bleeding against Anaheim tonight, considering it is those very Ducks they’re trailing by four points for the Western Conference’s second wild card.

Speaking of teams looking to get off the schneid, the 19-16-7 Anaheim Ducks also fit the bill considering their seven-game losing skid that has seen them earn only two of a possible 14 points.

Since December 18 (the date of Anaheim’s 3-1 loss at Madison Square Garden, the first of these consecutive losses), no offense in the NHL has been as anemic as the Ducks’. The entire league has averaged 2.84 goals per game since that date, but Anaheim has ranked dead last with an uninspiring 1.57 goals per game.

Unsurprisingly, no players have averaged a point per game or better during this losing skid – not even the usually reliable C Ryan Getzlaf (9-20-29 totals in 36 games played) or W Ondrej Kase (11-8-19 in 24 appearances). In fact, only eight of Anaheim’s 20 skaters have registered more than a lone point in the Ducks’ last seven games – an alarmingly low number, especially for a team without a dominant top line of the likes of Boston, Colorado or Dallas.

Of course, it’s not as if Anaheim’s offense has exactly lit up the scoreboard this season. At this point in the campaign, the Ducks have averaged 2.4 goals per game for 2018-19, a mark that ranks second-worst ahead of only their crosstown rivals’ 2.26. However, dropping almost three-quarters of a goal per game is far more noticeable for a team lacking in offensive firepower than it is for a club like Tampa Bay that has averaged over four goals per game for the entire season. The Bolts can spare a goal here or there – the Ducks most certainly cannot.

And so, that brings us to our usual question: how does all this factor into tonight’s game?

This evening’s tilt features weak goaltending squaring off against a lackluster offense, and – by virtue of an NHL game being unable to end in a tie – one of them must win.

Usually I would favor the offense in that matchup, but Anaheim’s attack has been so awful I simply can’t bare to do it. Similarly, I think the Oilers will be fired up to score some goals this evening considering they got blanked by the *former* worst team in the league less than 24 hours ago. Edmonton should come away with two points tonight and pull within two points (not to mention its game in hand on Anaheim) of a playoff spot.

Game of the week: December 24-30

Now that the holiday break has come and gone, it’s time to get back into some hockey. Let’s take a gander at all the tilts the NHL has crammed into four days this week.

NHL SCHEDULE: December 24-30
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, December 24
No Games Scheduled – Christmas Eve
Tuesday, December 25
No Games Scheduled – Christmas
Wednesday, December 26
No Games Scheduled – Boxing Day
Thursday, December 27
7 p.m. New Jersey Boston 5-2
7 p.m. Columbus Blue Jackets New York Rangers 4-3 (OT)
7 p.m. Detroit Pittsburgh 2-5
7 p.m. Carolina Washington 1-3
7:30 p.m. Philadelphia Tampa Bay 5-6 (OT)
8 p.m. Buffalo St. Louis 1-4
8 p.m. Dallas Nashville 2-0
8 p.m. Calgary Winnipeg 4-1
8:30 p.m. Minnesota Chicago 2-5
9 p.m. Vancouver Edmonton 4-2
10 p.m. Colorado Vegas 1-2
10:30 p.m. Arizona Los Angeles  1-2
10:30 p.m. Anaheim San Jose  2-4
Friday, December 28
7 p.m. Montréal Florida RDS, TSN2
7 p.m. Ottawa Senators New York Islanders RDS2
7 p.m. Toronto Columbus ESPN+
Saturday, December 29
1 p.m. Carolina New Jersey SN
4 p.m. Vegas Los Angeles SN1
4 p.m. San Jose Edmonton  
4 p.m. Minnesota Winnipeg  
7 p.m. Boston Buffalo  
7 p.m. New York Islanders Toronto Maple Leafs CBC, ESPN+, SN1
7 p.m. Washington Ottawa CITY, SN360
7 p.m. Montréal Tampa Bay SN, TVAS
7 p.m. Philadelphia Florida  
8 p.m. Pittsburgh St. Louis  
8 p.m. New York Rangers Nashville Predators ESPN+
8 p.m. Detroit Dallas  
9 p.m. Chicago Colorado  
10 p.m. Arizona Anaheim  
10 p.m. Vancouver Canucks Calgary Flames CBC, CITY, SN, SN1, SN360
Sunday, December 30
8 p.m. Vegas Arizona ESPN+, SN, TVAS

Rivalries on tap this week included Detroit at Pittsburgh, Calgary at Winnipeg, Minnesota at Chicago and Anaheim at San Jose on Thursday; Boston at Buffalo and Vancouver at Calgary today and Vegas at Arizona tomorrow.

We also got the pleasure of taking in a few playoff rematches from this spring, including the previously mentioned Anaheim at San Jose tilt Thursday night,  as well as Minnesota at Winnipeg and Vegas at Los Angeles on this evening.

Finally, a few tilts involved players making homecoming trips to former longtime homes. Now a member of the Sabres after an offseason trade, F Vladimir Sobotka made his first trip back to St. Louis on Thursday, while F Leo Komarov returned to Toronto – his former home of five seasons – today.

Of all of those, the showdown I’m most interested in is taking place in the Queen City. The Bruins are the healthiest they’ve been all season, while the Sabres are looking to once again regain the form that earned them a 10-game winning streak through much of November.

Though the 20-14-4 Boston Bruins can currently lay claim to the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot, they are far from comfortable or safe in that position considering the New York Islanders are only two points behind them in the standings with two games in hand.

However, playing in the Bruins’ favor is their previously mentioned return to good health. With the exception of D Urho Vaakanainen, Boston’s 2017 first-round pick who has a whopping two NHL appearances to his credit, D Charlie McAvoy and LW Brad Marchand, the Bruins have almost achieved full health once again – albeit with F David Backes taking in tonight’s tilt and the next two as well from the press box after he was suspended for a high hit against New Jersey’s F Blake Coleman on Thursday.

Yes, Boston fans, you did the math correctly: Backes will be unavailable for New Year’s Day’s Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium, nor the tough matchup with the Flames on Thursday.

Of course, there’s always the question of just how much he’ll be missed. He’s been involved in all of the Bruins’ last seven games in which they’ve posted a 3-4-0 record, contributing only four assists and a -5 rating in those outings.

Now, it might sound like I’m piling on Backes and implying that he does more harm than good when he’s on the ice. While it would certainly be a stretch to say he’d be the best player in white this evening if he were dressing, there’s no doubting the former captain’s defensive contributions. He’s top eight among Bruins forwards since December 14 in hits per game, blocks per game and takeaways (for those wondering, the forwards leading those stats in that time frame are F Noel Acciari [3.8 hits per game], F Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson [1.3 blocks per game] and Marchand [eight takeaways]).

Instead, what has been letting Boston down during its last seven games is clearly some sub-par goaltending. Despite a defense that has yielded only 28.86 shots against in its last seven showings (a mark that’s sixth-best in the NHL in that time), neither 12-6-2 G Jaroslav Halak nor 8-8-2 G Tuukka Rask – tonight’s starter – has looked all that impressive.

It goes without saying that Rask is having the worst season of his career this year. His .911 season save percentage and 2.72 GAA are both on pace to be the worst marks of his professional career (barring, of course, his four-game 2007-08 campaign). Making matters even more dreadful for the Bruins’ faithful, Rask’s last two starts have been even more alarming, as he boasts only an .873 save percentage and 4.15 GAA in those outings.

It probably goes without saying, but he lost both of those games (4-2 against Buffalo and 5-3 at Carolina).

With a 21-12-5 record, the Buffalo Sabres have settled into third place in the Atlantic Division, though just like Boston, there’s not many points separating them from teams trying to chase them down. Montréal trails the Sabres by only two points, while the Bruins could pull within a point of Buffalo with a win tonight.

Much of the reason the Sabres are starting to fall back to Earth is their playing .500 hockey of late. Over Buffalo’s last eight games, it has managed only a 4-3-1 record, losing ground on the Maple Leafs in the division standings during Toronto’s five-game winning streak.

If anyone is to blame for Buffalo’s inconsistencies of late, it’s certainly not 8-1-3 G Linus Ullmark. He’s managed a solid .922 save percentage and 2.71 GAA for the entire season, but he’s been even better in his last three starts, winning all three and posting an impressive .953 save percentage and 1.65 GAA.

Making those numbers even more impressive, he hasn’t had the luxury of playing behind one of the league’s best defenses. In fact, it’s been quite the opposite. In the Sabres’ last eight games, they’ve allowed 32.75 shots against per game, the 10th-worst mark in the NHL since December 11.

It is unclear if Ullmark or 13-11-2 G Carter Hutton will be in net tonight, but I would argue that it is this decision that will ultimately determine the outcome of this tilt. Just like Rask, Hutton has not looked particularly good lately, as he has earned only three points in his last five starts due to an average .91 save percentage and 2.78 GAA in those showings (compared to his .916 save percentage and 2.64 GAA for the season).

Should Hutton get the start, I am confident the Bruins’ offense, which has averaged 3.29 goals per game in their past eight showings, should be strong enough to earn the road victory. However, if Head Coach Phil Housley gives the nod to Ullmark, he has proven to me that he is more than able to lead the Sabres to two points.

Game of the week: December 17-23

The holiday break is so close we can almost taste it, but there’s still a little more work to be done before the NHL begins its three-day break on Monday. Without further ado, this week’s offerings include:

NHL SCHEDULE: December 17-23
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, December 17
7 p.m. Anaheim Pittsburgh 4-2
7 p.m. Vegas Columbus 0-1
7:30 p.m. Boston Montréal 4-0
7:30 p.m. Nashville Ottawa 3-4 (OT)
9 p.m. New York Islanders Colorado Avalanche 4-1
Tuesday, December 18
7 p.m. Florida Buffalo 5-2
7 p.m. Toronto New Jersey 7-2
7 p.m. Anaheim Ducks New York Rangers 1-3
7 p.m. Detroit Philadelphia 2-3
8 p.m. San Jose Minnesota 4-0
8:30 p.m. Nashville Chicago 1-2
8:30 p.m. Calgary Dallas 0-2
9 p.m. St. Louis Edmonton 4-1
9 p.m. New York Islanders Arizona Coyotes 3-1
10 p.m. Tampa Bay Vancouver 5-2
10:30 p.m. Winnipeg Los Angeles 1-4
Wednesday, December 19
8 p.m. Pittsburgh Washington 2-1
8:30 p.m. Montréal Colorado 1-2
Thursday, December 20
7 p.m. Anaheim Boston SN360
7 p.m. Florida Toronto TVAS
7 p.m. Nashville Philadelphia ESPN+
7 p.m. Minnesota Pittsburgh
7 p.m. Detroit Carolina
7 p.m. New Jersey Columbus
8:30 p.m. Chicago Dallas
9 p.m. Tampa Bay Calgary
9 p.m. Montréal Arizona RDS, TSN2
10 p.m. St. Louis Vancouver ESPN+
10 p.m. New York Islanders Vegas Golden Knights SN360
10:30 p.m. Winnipeg San Jose
Friday, December 21
7 p.m. Ottawa New Jersey RDS
7 p.m. Buffalo Washington NBCSN, SN, TVAS
9 p.m. Chicago Colorado ESPN+, SN360
Saturday, December 22
1 p.m. Nashville Boston NHLN, SN, SN1
1 p.m. Columbus Philadelphia ESPN+
2 p.m. Florida Detroit
4 p.m. Montréal Vegas RDS, TSN2
4 p.m. Los Angeles San Jose NBCSN, SN1
4 p.m. St. Louis Calgary
7 p.m. Colorado Arizona
7 p.m. Anaheim Buffalo
7 p.m. New York Rangers Toronto Maple Leafs CBC, NHLN, SN, SN1
7 p.m. Washington Ottawa CITY, SN360, TVAS
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Carolina
8 p.m. Dallas Minnesota
10 p.m. Winnipeg Vancouver CBC, SN360
10 p.m. Tampa Bay Edmonton CITY, ESPN+, SN1
Sunday, December 23
12:30 p.m. Columbus New Jersey SN
5 p.m. Boston Carolina SN1
7 p.m. Florida Chicago ESPN+
7 p.m. Philadelphia Flyers New York Rangers NHLN
7:30 p.m. Detroit Toronto SN, SN360, TVAS
8 p.m. Los Angeles Vegas
8 p.m. Arizona San Jose
8 p.m. New York Islanders Dallas Stars

For those that didn’t keep count, that’s a healthy 55 tilts to keep us entertained while family members you simply adore ask a multitude of questions you’d rather they not.

In the rivalries department, the NHL loaded us up with six showdowns this week, including Boston at Montréal, Pittsburgh at Washington, Los Angeles at San Jose, the Rangers at Toronto, Philadelphia at the Rangers and Detroit at Toronto.

Two rematches from this spring’s edition of the Stanley Cup Playoffs will also take place: the previously mentioned Pens-Caps game and Los Angeles’ trip to Sin City Sunday night.

Finally, the biggest player return of the week will take place tonight when F Max Domi makes his first trip back to Glendale to take on the Coyotes, the club that drafted him 12th overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.

However, of all those games highlighted, there’s still another tonight that will have my full attention. Both the Jets and Sharks entered this season with high expectations, but only one has truly flexed its muscles thus far this season. Perhaps that will be just the motivation San Jose needs to find its next gear.

Currently in a three-way tie for first place in the Western Conference, the 22-10-2 Winnipeg Jets are technically the top team by playing one fewer game than both the Calgary Flames and Nashville Predators.

Winnipeg’s last outing wasn’t exactly one to be proud of (the Jets fell 4-1 in Los Angeles to the lowly Kings on Tuesday), but it had been riding a five-game winning streak coming into that game. In fact, in their past 11 games, the Jets boast a 9-2-0 record that includes five overtime or shootout victories.

To the surprise of none, Winnipeg’s greatest strength is undoubtedly its offense. Having averaged 3.56 goals per game for the entire season (the fourth-best mark in the NHL), Head Coach Peter DeBoer will certainly have a plan for how he wants his team to slow down the impressive talents of C Mark Scheifele (21-25-46 points) and RW Blake Wheeler (5-39-44) on Winnipeg’s top line.

However, that will be a difficult task to pull off because the Jets’ attack has been even more potent than usual during this 11-game run. Since November 29, the Jets have averaged an outstanding four goals per game, which is tied with, coincidentally, San Jose for third best in the league in that time.

The previously mentioned Scheifele and Wheeler have certainly had their fingerprints all over that dynamic attack, as they’ve posted respective 8-12-20 and 1-14-15 totals in their last 11 outings. However, they’ve also been joined by LW Nikolaj Ehlers (7-5-12), D Josh Morrissey (3-8-11 in nine games) and D Dustin Byfuglien (1-8-9 in seven games) in averaging at least a point per game during this run, creating a defensive nightmare for most teams not as talented as the Sharks on the blue line.

The San Jose Sharks were supposed to already be atop the Western Conference – if not the entire NHL – according to many preseason reports, yet they find themselves stuck with a 19-11-5 record good enough for only second place in the Pacific Division.

But don’t read that as the Sharks being a bad team. They’re riding a five-game winning streak and have posted a 7-1-0 record in their past eight outings, so it seems like the team is finally starting to realize its potential. The next question, of course, is just how good can this team be, but that’s an answer the Jets would rather not answer tonight.

During this eight-game run, San Jose has been clicking on all cylinders; literally everything is gelling, and the numbers are showing just that.

Perhaps my favorite part of the Sharks’ game right now is their attack. Currently in a tie with Ottawa for eighth-best offense on the season by averaging 3.31 goals per game, the Sharks’ effort since December 2 has made all but Tampa Bay jealous. Led by F Logan Couture‘s impressive 5-6-11 totals in the last eight games, San Jose has managed a dominant 4.25 goals per game during this run.

Joining Couture in averaging at least a point per game since the beginning of the month are RW Timo Meier (5-5-10 in seven games played), F Tomas Hertl (4-5-9) and D Erik Karlsson (0-8-8).

That’s right, the same Karlsson that looked like he wasn’t panning out in Silicon Valley is on a bit of a hot streak of late. His goal scoring may be down from his Ottawa days (last season’s nine goals in 71 appearances was a poor season for him, and this year’s pace has him set to register only five markers), but the 10-year NHL veteran is still making his presence known on the scorecard.

In addition to scoring, this dynamic offense has also had some incredible influence on the defensive zone by maintaining elongated possessions. During this eight-game run, San Jose has allowed only 27.88 shots against per game, the fifth-best mark in the NHL since December 2 and only two shots worse than the Islanders’ league-leading pace set in that same time span.

Of course, D Justin Braun (2.3 blocks per game since December 2), D Brenden Dillon (2.8 hits per game during this run) and Karlsson (11 takeaways in his past eight outings) have certainly done their fair share on the defensive end as well.

If anyone is appreciative of that effort, it’s surely 14-7-3 G Martin Jones, tonight’s starter. Though he’s struggled for much of the season (made evident by his unusually low .901 save percentage and 2.81 GAA for the campaign), he’s shown signs of improvement lately. He’s earned five of the Sharks’ last seven wins, posting a much more familiar .936 save percentage and 1.94 GAA in his last seven starts.

If Jones has finally rounded into form for the year, this Sharks blue line will truly begin to influence play in the offensive zone, which should be a very scary proposition for the entire Western Conference.

When two high powered offenses are going at it, I usually side with the better of the two goaltenders to determine the game’s winner. In his past eight starts, 15-9-1 G Connor Hellebuyck has earned six wins on the back of a .91 save percentage and 2.72 GAA (both nominal improvements on his .908 season save percentage and associated 2.9 GAA).

Compare that to Jones’ numbers, and the answer is obvious: the Sharks should come away winners tonight and send the home fans happy.

Game of the week: December 10-16

With the holiday season and the league’s December 19 roster freeze on the horizon, the NHL schedule rages on with 51 fixtures scheduled for this week.

NHL SCHEDULE: December 10-16
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, December 10
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Penguins New York Islanders 2-1 (SO)
7:30 p.m. Los Angeles Detroit 1-3
7:30 p.m. New York Rangers Tampa Bay Lightning 3-6
10:30 p.m. New Jersey San Jose 2-5
Tuesday, December 11
7 p.m. Arizona Boston 3-4
7 p.m. Los Angeles Buffalo 3-4 (OT)
7 p.m. Toronto Carolina 4-1
7 p.m. Vancouver Columbus 3-2
7:30 p.m. Detroit Washington 2-6
8 p.m. Florida St. Louis 3-4
8 p.m. Ottawa Nashville 1-3
8 p.m. Montréal Minnesota 1-7
8 p.m. Chicago Winnipeg 3-6
9 p.m. Edmonton Colorado 6-4
Wednesday, December 12
7 p.m. Vegas Golden Knights New York Islanders 3-2
8 p.m. Pittsburgh Chicago 3-6
8:30 p.m. Philadelphia Calgary 5-6 (OT)
10 p.m. Dallas Anaheim 3-6
Thursday, December 13
7 p.m. Arizona Buffalo  
7 p.m. Los Angeles Columbus  
7:30 p.m. Carolina Montréal RDS, TSN2
7:30 p.m. Toronto Tampa Bay TVAS
8 p.m. Vancouver Nashville  
8 p.m. Florida Minnesota  
8 p.m. Edmonton Winnipeg  
10:30 p.m. Dallas San Jose SN1
Friday, December 14
7 p.m. Vegas New Jersey  
7 p.m. Arizona Coyotes New York Rangers  
7 p.m. Boston Pittsburgh TVAS
7:30 p.m. Ottawa Detroit RDS
7:30 p.m. Washington Carolina  
8 p.m. Colorado St. Louis  
8:30 p.m. Winnipeg Chicago  
9 p.m. Philadelphia Edmonton  
Saturday, December 15
1:30 p.m. Calgary Minnesota  
7 p.m. Ottawa Montréal SN, TVAS
7 p.m. Toronto Florida CBC, CITY, SN1
7 p.m. Detroit Red Wings New York Islanders  
7 p.m. Los Angeles Pittsburgh NHLN
7 p.m. Buffalo Washington  
7 p.m. Anaheim Columbus  
8 p.m. New Jersey Nashville  
9 p.m. Dallas Colorado  
10 p.m. Philadelphia Flyers Vancouver Canucks CBC, CITY, SN, SN1, SN360
Sunday, December 16
12:30 p.m. Vegas Golden Knights New York Rangers NHLN, SN
1 p.m. Arizona Carolina  
3 p.m. Calgary St. Louis  
5 p.m. Buffalo Boston NHLN
7 p.m. San Jose Chicago  
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Winnipeg SN, TVAS
10 p.m. Edmonton Vancouver  

In terms of rivalries, playoff rematches and player returns, this is a quiet week in the NHL. Only four rivalries will be contested – highlighted by the Penguins visiting the Islanders on Monday and Edmonton at Winnipeg tonight.

Speaking of the Islanders, they’re heading back to Nassau Coliseum for two of their three games this week. The previously mentioned tilt against fellow Metropolitan Division side Pittsburgh will take place in the old barn, as will Saturday’s matchup against Detroit.

Finally, the weekly homecoming list is headlined by D Mike Reilly making his first trip back to St. Paul on Tuesday since being traded to Montréal on February 26.

Considering Reilly is a third-pair defenseman, that might be a liberal use of the word “headlined.”

Instead, I’m immensely more interested in tonight’s game from Florida that features the top two teams from the Atlantic Division.

Ontario’s (wait, you’re telling me there’s another team in the same province?) beloved Maple Leafs enter tonight’s game with a 21-9-1 record good enough for second place in the Atlantic Division, Eastern Conference and the entire NHL.

News flash for those that have been living under a rock for the last six months: yeah, the Leafs are legit.

The Maple Leafs boast a solid 6-1-1 record in their past eight showings, including impressive victories over the Bruins and Sharks – not to mention a thrilling overtime win in Buffalo on December 4.

With the defense blatantly struggling during this run (Toronto has allowed 36.38 shots against per game since November 24, the second-worst mark in the NHL behind Ottawa’s 37.22 in that time), the offense has taken full command of Head Coach Mike Babcock and the Maple Leafs’ game plan.

On the season, Toronto averages 3.65 goals per game – the third-highest mark in the league. Most teams would be happy maintaining that success, but the Leafs have found an even higher gear of late, averaging 4.38 goals per game in their last eight showings.

Leading that charge has been exactly who you’d expect: C Auston Matthews. While his 6-5-11 totals since November 24 technically trail F Mitch Marner’s 13 assists (Marner, of course, ranks second in the league with 35 assists and is tied with Tampa’s F Brayden Point for sixth in points with 41 apiece), it must be remembered that Matthews has only played six games in that time as compared to his teammate’s eight.

Joining Marner and Matthews in averaging a point per game or better during this eight-game run are W Andreas Johnsson (5-5-10 totals) and D Jake Gardiner (1-7-8). And, don’t forget about C John Tavares, whose 19 goals are tied for ninth-most in the NHL with Colorado’s LW Gabriel Landeskog.

A final note in regards to Toronto’s attack is in regards to its deadly power play. For the season, the Leafs rank seventh best in the league with a 25.9 percent success rate. However, goals have been coming far more often since November 24, as they have lit the lamp on six of their last 18 man-advantage situations for a 33.3 percent power play that ties Tampa Bay for second-best in the NHL in that time.

Tonight’s game against Toronto is the finale of a four-game home stand for the 24-7-1 Tampa Bay Lightning, the NHL’s top team. Not only are the Bolts attempting to win all four of those games at their barn, but they’re also trying to continue their current seven-game winning streak that started on November 29 against the Sabres.

Notable victories during this winning streak came against the aforementioned Sabres, Bruins and Avalanche.

Just like the Leafs, the key to Tampa Bay’s domination is its overpowering offense. During this winning streak, the Bolts have scored an average of 5.14(!) goals per game, far and away the best in the league in that time and a massive improvement on the league-leading four goals per game they’ve averaged for the entire season.

Every skater that has taken to the ice during this winning streak has at least two points to his credit, but only four have averaged at least a point per game. C Steven Stamkos (8-4-12 totals since November 29) leads that group, joined by RW Nikita Kucherov (3-9-12), Point (3-6-9) and D Victor Hedman (0-7-7).

Of course, it’s not as if its any surprise which players are leading the charge for the Lightning. Point’s 21 goals on the season are tied for second-most in the league, while Kucherov’s 33 assists and 45 points are both third-most in the NHL.

An added benefit of the Bolts’ commanding offense is its impact on the defensive end of the ice. While D Dan Girardi (1.7 blocks per game since November 29), Kucherov (six takeaways in his last seven showings) and F Cedric Paquette (3.9 hits per game during this winning streak) should certainly be commended for their defensive efforts – especially in light of 9-3-1 G Andrei Vasilevskiy’s foot injury that had kept him out of the crease since November 10 – the fact that they are leading the team in their statistics with average numbers shows just how much the Lightning are dominating possession. During this winning run, Tampa Bay has allowed only 27.29 shots against per game, the sixth-lowest mark in the league in that time.

With Vasilevskiy returning to the ice tonight, it goes without saying that he’d likely appreciate that trend continuing while he gets back into the swing of play.

So who wins this clash of offensive titans?

For me, this game boils down to the goaltenders. How well Vasilevskiy performs in his first action in a month will be a major factor. Before going down with injury, he was managing a solid .927 save percentage and 2.29 GAA. While he does have the benefit of playing behind a solid team, the Leafs are good enough on the attack that they will still be able to test him significantly throughout this game.

Meanwhile, 17-8-0 G Frederik Andersen will not have the benefit of any solid defense playing in front of him this evening, but that has not been a problem yet this year. Despite facing an average of 33.12 shots against per appearance (compared to Vasilevskiy’s 31.69), Andersen has still posted a .928 save percentage and 2.44 GAA to earn the second-most wins in the NHL.

With that in mind, I’m leaning towards the Leafs taking this one in a wildly back-and-forth barn-burner of a game. I think Vasilevskiy will show just enough rust that Toronto can escape Tampa Bay with a 4-3 victory.

Game of the week: December 3-9

It’s time once again for DtFR’s weekly featured matchup! Let’s take a gander at the NHL’s offerings for this edition, shall we?

NHL SCHEDULE: December 3-9
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, December 3
7 p.m. Tampa Bay New Jersey 5-1
8 p.m. Buffalo Nashville 1-2
8:30 p.m. Edmonton Dallas 1-4
Tuesday, December 4
7 p.m. Boston Florida 0-5
7 p.m. Winnipeg Jets New York Islanders 3-1
7 p.m. Colorado Pittsburgh 3-6
7 p.m. Calgary Columbus 9-6
7:30 p.m. Toronto Buffalo 4-3 (OT)
7:30 p.m. Ottawa Montréal 2-5
7:30 p.m. Tampa Bay Detroit 6-5 (SO)
10 p.m. Minnesota Vancouver 3-2
10 p.m. Washington Vegas 3-5
10:30 p.m. Arizona Los Angeles 2-1
Wednesday, December 5
8 p.m. Edmonton St. Louis 3-2 (SO)
10:30 p.m. Chicago Anaheim 2-4
10:30 p.m. Carolina San Jose 1-5
Thursday, December 6
7 p.m. Detroit Toronto 5-4 (OT)
7 p.m. Colorado Florida 5-2
7 p.m. Columbus Philadelphia 4-3 (OT)
7 p.m. New York Islanders Pittsburgh Penguins 2-6
7:30 p.m. Montréal Ottawa 5-2
7:30 p.m. Boston Tampa Bay 2-3
9 p.m. Minnesota Calgary 0-2
9 p.m. Washington Arizona 4-2
10 p.m. Nashville Vancouver 3-5
10 p.m. Chicago Vegas 3-4
10:30 p.m. New Jersey Los Angeles 6-3
Friday, December 7
8 p.m. San Jose Dallas 2-3
8 p.m. St. Louis Winnipeg 1-0
9 p.m. Minnesota Edmonton 2-7
10 p.m. Carolina Anaheim 4-1
Saturday, December 8
1 p.m. Philadelphia Buffalo 6-2
4 p.m. Vegas Los Angeles 1-5
7 p.m. Toronto Boston 3-6
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Ottawa 1-2 (OT)
7 p.m. New York Islanders Detroit Red Wings 3-2
7 p.m. Colorado Tampa Bay 1-7
7 p.m. New York Rangers Florida Panthers 5-4 (SO)
7 p.m. Washington Columbus 4-0
8 p.m. San Jose Arizona 5-3
10 p.m. Nashville Calgary 2-5
Sunday, December 9
3 p.m. Vancouver St. Louis
3 p.m. Philadelphia Winnipeg TVAS
5 p.m. Boston Ottawa RDS2
6 p.m. Montréal Canadiens Chicago Blackhawks NHLN, RDS, SN, SN1
8 p.m. New Jersey Anaheim
9 p.m. Dallas Vegas
9 p.m. Calgary Edmonton SN, SN1

This week’s rivalries included the Battle of the QEW (Toronto at Buffalo), Ottawa at Montréal, Detroit at Toronto, the Islanders at Pittsburgh, Montréal at Ottawa, Toronto at Boston, Montréal at Chicago and the Battle of Alberta (Calgary at Edmonton).

In a similar strain, there were also more than a few rematches of playoff fixtures from last spring. Tampa Bay continued its beat down of New Jersey on Monday, while Vegas exacted some revenge against Washington on Tuesday. The Bolts then headed home to host Boston on Wednesday, winning 3-2. Vegas is heading to Los Angeles this afternoon looking for its fifth-straight victory against the Kings, followed by tonight’s tilt between the Capitals and Blue Jackets.

Finally, in the “player returns” department, only two really stuck out among this week’s tilts. Now a member of the Avalanche, D Ian Cole made his first trip back to Pittsburgh Tuesday to take on the club he was a member of for the past four seasons. Then, Wednesday night, C Kyle Brodziak made his first return to St. Louis as a member of a visiting team, having spent three seasons with the Blues.

Of all those, the one I’m most interested in is the Battle of Alberta, so pack your coat and start heading to the City of Champions!

Don’t everyone look all at once (it’ll make the team self-conscious), but with last night’s 5-2 win over Nashville, the 19-9-2 Calgary Flames have claimed a one-point lead for first place in the Western Conference.

Not the Pacific Division, mind you. The Flames have been running that show for about a month now. We’re talking about the entire conference.

I guess Head Coach Bill Peters knows a bit more than we give him credit for around here.

A major reason Calgary is in the position it’s in right now is due to the impressive 9-1-1 record it’s riding right now – a stretch that started with a 4-2 victory over the Oilers on November 17.

A solid argument could be made that no team in the NHL has been better than the Flames in the past three weeks, as they are among the top-three in the league in goals per game, goals against per game and shots against per game.

Starting with the offense (a stat in which Calgary ranks sixth on the entire season, averaging 3.47 goals per game), the Flames have been the class of the conference since November 17, as their 4.45 goals per game in their past 11 outings tops the West and ranks second in the NHL, trailing only Tampa Bay’s 4.58 goals per game.

Leading the charge with 6-14-20 totals in those 11 games is exactly who you expected: LW Johnny Gaudreau. Only RW Nikita Kucherov (5-18-23) has registered more points in the past 22 days than Johnny HockeyTM , but he’s also had the benefit of one extra game played.

But don’t think Gaudreau has been doing it all on his own. C Sean Monahan (9-7-16), F Elias Lindholm (7-8-15), LW Matthew Tkachuk (4-8-12), suspended D Mark Giordano (1-10-11 in 10 games played) and even fourth-liner C Alan Quine (he scored a goal in his season debut last night) are all averaging a point per game or better over this run.

Defense has been a major strength of Calgary’s all season long (the Flames’ 28 shots against per game for the entire campaign ranks third-best in the NHL), and the same can be said for the Flames’ last 11 games. Led by D Rasmus Andersson and D Travis Hamonic (both averaging 1.5 blocks per game since November 17), RW Garnet Hathaway (2.6 hits per game in the past 22 days) and Monahan (his 16 takeaways in the past 11 games lead the club), the Flames have allowed only 27.18 shots against per game since November 17- the third-lowest mark in both the Western Conference and NHL in that time.

While Peters might say he appreciates that solid defensive play, no one is happier for the Flames’ success than 11-7-1 G Mike Smith. And even though the blue line is making his job easy, Smith is putting together one of the best runs of his season so far – especially in light of his season stats.

On the campaign as a whole, Smith boasts a lowly .894 save percentage and 2.88 GAA – both stats considerably worse than backup 8-2-1 G David Rittich’s .919 and 2.39, to the point that there were more than a few calling for the Czech to assume starting duties.

However, Smith’s past six appearances have been reminiscent of his incredible 2011-12 season with the Coyotes (he posted a .93 save percentage and 2.21 GAA and led the team to the Western Final), as he’s won six-straight games with a dominant .936 save percentage and 1.59 GAA in those showings.

Having been in net for last night’s home win over Nashville, Smith will likely ride the pine this evening with Rittich getting the start.

Though the 15-12-2 Edmonton Oilers currently sit in 10th place in the Western Conference, they only trail the second wild card Vegas Golden Knights by a point (with two games in hand, no less), so it is possible for tonight’s hosts to force themselves into the playoff picture with as little as an overtime or shootout loss.

Wait, I thought the Oilers were back to being bad again. I’m so confused.

Sometimes a change of voice from behind the bench is exactly what a team needs to get in shape, because the Oilers have been playing some solid hockey since hiring Head Coach Ken Hitchcock on November 20. Before Hitchcock arrived in Northern Alberta, the Oil boasted a record of 9-10-1, but they’ve gone on a solid 6-2-1 record since then to position themselves right on the playoffs’ doorstep.

Considering Hitchcock’s history, it wasn’t unexpected that his first goal upon taking over Edmonton was teaching his club how to play defense. Instead, the bigger surprise is that the team – one rarely known for its defensive play for its entire history – actually responded and is finding success.

Under Hitchcock, the Oilers have allowed only 29.11 shots against per game, the seventh-best mark in the NHL since November 20. Injured F Drake Caggiula (averaging 4.3 hits per game during this run), D Oscar Klefbom (averaging 2.6 blocks per game in the last 20 days) and C Connor McDavid (his 12 takeaways in his last eight appearances pace the team) have all been integral in leading this strategic shift, and the results are clearly showing in the standings.

Both G Mikko Koskinen and G Cam Talbot have shown considerable improvement playing behind this revamped defense, but Koskinen seems to have gained Hitchcock’s favor as the Oilers’ starting goaltender – at least for the time being. Though he has managed a decent .925 save percentage and 2.23 GAA for the entire season, Koskinen has posted a solid .934 save percentage and 1.82 GAA in his last six starts and will get the nod tonight.

For those wondering, Talbot’s .895 save percentage and 3.12 GAA for the season have been steadily improving under Hitch as well, as he’s managed a .925 save percentage and 2.29 GAA in his last three starts.

So, it’s time for that priceless question: who wins tonight?

With both defenses playing as well as they are right now, my immediate reaction is to pick the team with the superior offense. As that is not the style Hitchcock is having the Oilers play, that leads me to lean towards Calgary earning two points despite playing yesterday and having to travel last night/this morning.

However, with so much for Edmonton to play for and the fact that this is one of the better rivalries in the league, the only thing we can truly predict is unpredictability!

Game of the week: November 26-December 2

If you’re the proud owner of an NHL-themed Advent calendar, hopefully you’ve got it ready to go for the official first day of the Christmas season this Sunday. As for the rest of us that don’t have such a beautiful possession, we’ll just have to use the NHL’s schedule.

Speaking of, here’s this week’s offerings:

NHL SCHEDULE: November 26-December 2
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, November 26
7 p.m. Boston Toronto 2-4
7 p.m. New Jersey Florida 3-4 (OT)
7 p.m. Washington Capitals New York Islanders 4-1
7 p.m. Ottawa Senators New York Rangers 2-4
7:30 p.m. Columbus Detroit 7-5
Tuesday, November 27
7 p.m. San Jose Buffalo 2-3 (OT)
7 p.m. Ottawa Philadelphia 4-3
7:30 p.m. Carolina Montréal 2-1
7:30 p.m. Anaheim Tampa Bay 3-1
8 p.m. Colorado Nashville 3-2
8 p.m. Arizona Minnesota 4-3
8 p.m. Pittsburgh Winnipeg 4-3
8 p.m. Vegas Chicago 8-3
9 p.m. Dallas Edmonton 0-1 (OT)
10 p.m. Los Angeles Vancouver 2-1 (OT)
Wednesday, November 28
7 p.m. St. Louis Detroit 3-4
7 p.m. Anaheim Florida 3-2
7:30 p.m. San Jose Toronto 3-5
9 p.m. Dallas Calgary 4-3 (OT)
9:30 p.m. Pittsburgh Colorado 3-6
Thursday, November 29
7 p.m. New York Islanders Boston Bruins 1-2 (SO)
7 p.m. Minnesota Columbus 2-4
7:30 p.m. New York Rangers Ottawa Senators 0-3
7:30 p.m. Buffalo Tampa Bay 4-5
8 p.m. Arizona Nashville 3-0
8 p.m. Chicago Winnipeg 5-6
9 p.m. Los Angeles Edmonton 2-3
10 p.m. Vegas Vancouver 4-3
Friday, November 30
7 p.m. Buffalo Florida 2-3 (OT)
7 p.m. New Jersey Washington 3-6
7:30 p.m. Anaheim Carolina 2-1 (OT)
9 p.m. St. Louis Colorado 3-2 (OT)
9 p.m. Los Angeles Calgary 1-4
Saturday, December 1
1 p.m. San Jose Ottawa TVAS
4 p.m. Dallas Vancouver
7 p.m. Toronto Minnesota CBC, SN1
7 p.m. Detroit Boston
7 p.m. New York Rangers Montréal Canadiens SN, TVAS
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Florida
7 p.m. Winnipeg New Jersey CITY, SN360
7 p.m. Columbus Blue Jackets New York Islanders
7 p.m. Philadelphia Pittsburgh NHLN
8 p.m. St. Louis Arizona
8 p.m. Chicago Nashville
10 p.m. Vegas Golden Knights Edmonton Oilers CBC, CITY, SN, SN1, SN360
Sunday, December 2
3 p.m. Anaheim Washington SN
6 p.m. Winnipeg Jets New York Rangers
7 p.m. Calgary Chicago NHLN
7 p.m. San Jose Montréal RDS, SN, SN1
7 p.m. Colorado Detroit
10:30 p.m. Carolina Los Angeles

Nothing rings in the holiday season quite like a good rivalry, and there was more than a few of those to choose from this week. A total of three Original Six matchups were contested (Boston at Toronto, Detroit at Boston and the Rangers at Montréal), not to mention six more feuds with slightly little less history (Washington at the Islanders, St. Louis at Detroit, Los Angeles at Edmonton, Philadelphia at Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay at Florida and Colorado at Detroit).

In a similar strain, there were also three rematches from last season’s playoffs. Beyond the already mentioned rivalries that were contested last postseason, Colorado made the trip to Nashville in a rematch of the Western Quarterfinals on Tuesday, avenging their series loss with a 3-2 victory.

For those that get excited about player returns, no game is bigger than the Sharks’ trip to Ottawa this afternoon, as D Erik Karlsson will be making his premier visit back the arena he called home for the first nine seasons of his career.

Finally, two numbers are being retired this week, both by teams in the Eastern Conference. On Thursday, the Boston Bruins hoisted RW Rick Middleton‘s No. 16 to the TD Garden rafters before their game against the Islanders, while the New York Rangers are extending the same honor to LW Vic Hadfield‘s No. 11 before tomorrow’s tilt against Winnipeg.

As usual, there’s more than a few excellent options for this week’s featured contest. As to not slight either Hadfield or Middleton, we’ll intentionally show no preference to one or the other. Instead, I think we’ll make a trip to the Big Apple for a homecoming of a different variety to Karlsson’s.

 

 

 

 

Before you start scouring the Blue Jackets’ roster for players that have donned blue and orange in the past (spoiler alert: no active Jackets have played for the Isles), I should probably let you know that this matchup is not being featured for any sort of player return.

Instead, we’re more worried about the Islanders returning to Nassau Coliseum (officially NYCB Live: Home of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, but that’s an obnoxious mouthful that I’m not willing to type again), their original home arena from 1972-2015.

The list of Islanders events the Coliseum has witnessed is surely a long list, but nothing shines quite as bright as New York’s four consecutive Stanley Cup championships from 1980-83. In fact, the Isles boast an unbelievable 11-1 record at the Coliseum in Stanley Cup Finals games, surely among the league’s best of any team at any particular arena.

The Coliseum has seen some real greats of the game take to its ice. RW Mike Bossy, LW Clark Gillies, RW Bob Nystrom, D Denis Potvin, G Billy Smith and C Bryan Trottier were all members of the Isles’ Stanley Cup-winning rosters, not to mention fellow Hall of Famer C Pat LaFontaine, who donned the blue-and-orange from 1983-91.

The club has run into more than its fair share of troubles – including attendance, a stat in which the Islanders rank dead-last in the NHL by almost 2000 patrons  – during its tenure at Barclays Center, but I’m optimistic that the team’s most devoted fans will have no trouble filling the almost 14,000-seat barn they used to call home.

However, one aspect where New York was expected to struggle this season was in its play on the ice. Without C John Tavares, the Islanders were expected to set up camp at the bottom of the NHL standings in a season focused on “Losing for Hughes.” Instead, new Head Coach Barry Trotz has led his team to a surprising 12-9-3 record that trails the rival Rangers by only one point (the Isles have two games in hand) for the East’s second wild card.

Looking more closely at their play over the last week (New York has posted a 2-1-1 record in its last four outings), the Islanders’ best player has been none other than 8-4-1 G Thomas Greiss. While his record may pale in comparison to 14-7-0 G Frederik Andersen‘s, Greiss boasts a .925 save percentage and 2.45 GAA for the entire season as a whole, not to mention managing a .924 save percentage and 2.31 GAA in his last three starts despite playing behind a defense that has yielded a (t)15th-worst 32.25 shots against per game since November 23.

Greiss owns a career 5-6-3 record against the Blue Jackets, due in large part to the current 0-3-1 skid he’s riding against tonight’s opposition dating back to February 25, 2017.

Speaking of the Blue Jackets, they enter tonight’s game with a solid 15-8-2 record that’s good enough for second place in the Metropolitan Division. Columbus has been riding high for the past month, as it has managed an impressive 8-2-2 record since November 4.

The main reason for that outstanding play has been the Jackets’ great defensive work. Led by RW Josh Anderson (2.9 blocks per game since November 4) and D Seth Jones (2.1 blocks per game during this run) – both of whom are tied at 10 takeaways apiece since November 4 – Columbus’ blue line has allowed only 30.42 shots against per game in its last 12 games, the 10th-best mark in the NHL in the past 27 days.

As might be expected, none are happier about that defensive play than 10-7-0 G Sergei Bobrovsky (yes, the goaltender is more appreciative than Head Coach John Tortorella – believe me). Behind this solid defense, Bobrovsky has posted a 7-1-0 record with an impressive .932 save percentage and 2.01 GAA – both numbers far better than his season marks of a .912 save percentage and 2.7 GAA.

This is the part where I usually pick my winner, but it should probably be stated that the real winners tonight are the Islanders fans getting to see a game in a historic venue designed to host an ice hockey game.

As for who will walk away with two points tonight, I’m strongly leaning towards Columbus. Both have netminders playing in peak form right now, but the Jackets boasting a defense keeping all but the best offerings away from Bobrovsky will likely be a major benefit to them this evening. Pair in the Jackets averaging 3.52 goals per game this season (compared to New York’s three goals per game), and any traveling fans from Ohio should leave happy.

Game of the week: November 19-25

The NHL’s unofficial deadline for playoff qualification has come and gone, but that doesn’t make this weekend’s games any less significant. Speaking of, let’s take a gander at all the tilts the NHL threw at us this week.

NHL SCHEDULE: November 19-25
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, November 19
7 p.m. Columbus Toronto 2-4
7 p.m. Dallas Stars New York Rangers 1-2
7 p.m. Buffalo Pittsburgh 5-4 (OT)
7:30 p.m. Washington Montréal 5-4 (OT)
7:30 p.m. Florida Ottawa 7-5
8 p.m. Los Angeles St. Louis 2-0
8 p.m. Tampa Bay Nashville 2-3
9 p.m. Vegas Calgary 2-7
10 p.m. Winnipeg Vancouver 6-3
Tuesday, November 20
10:30 p.m. Edmonton San Jose 4-3 (OT)
Wednesday, November 21
7 p.m. Montréal New Jersey 2-5
7 p.m. New York Islanders New York Rangers 0-5
7 p.m. Dallas Pittsburgh 1-5
7 p.m. Chicago Washington 2-4
7 p.m. Toronto Carolina 2-5
7:30 p.m. Philadelphia Buffalo 2-5
7:30 p.m. Boston Detroit 2-3 (OT)
7:30 p.m. Florida Tampa Bay 3-7
8 p.m. St. Louis Nashville 1-4
8 p.m. Ottawa Minnesota 4-6
9 p.m. Vegas Arizona 3-2 (OT)
10 p.m. Vancouver Anaheim 3-4
10 p.m. Winnipeg Calgary 3-6
10:30 p.m. Colorado Los Angeles 7-3
Thursday, November 22
No Games Scheduled – American Thanksgiving
Friday, November 23
1 p.m. New York Rangers Philadelphia Flyers 0-4
4 p.m. Edmonton Anaheim 1-2 (OT)
4 p.m. Winnipeg Minnesota 2-4
4 p.m. Montréal Buffalo 2-3 (OT)
4 p.m. New York Islanders New Jersey Devils 4-3 (OT)
4 p.m. Detroit Washington 1-3
6 p.m. Calgary Vegas 0-2
7 p.m. Toronto Columbus 2-4
7:30 p.m. Pittsburgh Boston 1-2 (OT)
7:30 p.m. Chicago Tampa Bay 2-4
7:30 p.m. Florida Carolina 1-4
8 p.m. Colorado Arizona 5-1
8 p.m. Nashville St. Louis 2-6
8 p.m. Ottawa Dallas 4-6
9 p.m. Vancouver San Jose 0-4
saturday, November 24
2 p.m. Washington Capitals New York Rangers NHLN
7 p.m. Winnipeg St. Louis CITY, SN360
7 p.m. Philadelphia Toronto CBC, NHLN, SN1
7 p.m. Boston Montréal SN, TVAS
7 p.m. Buffalo Detroit
7 p.m. Chicago Florida
7 p.m. Carolina Hurricanes New York Islanders
7 p.m. Columbus Pittsburgh
9 p.m. Dallas Colorado
10 p.m. San Jose Vegas
10 p.m. Vancouver Canucks Los Angeles Kings CBC, SN, SN1, SN360
Sunday, November 25
3 p.m. Calgary Arizona SN
7 p.m. New Jersey Tampa Bay
8 p.m. Anaheim Nashville NHLN
10:30 p.m. Edmonton Los Angeles

I’m a sucker for rivalries, and there was certainly more than a few of those on this week’s slate. The Battle of New York and Governor’s Cup were waged on Wednesday, not to mention an Original Six tilt and two untitled rivalries (Vegas at Arizona and Winnipeg at Calgary). The action continued yesterday when the Rangers visited Philadelphia, followed by today’s schedule of Washington at the Rangers, Boston at Montréal and Columbus at Pittsburgh. One last rivalry is on tomorrow’s schedule when Edmonton heads to Los Angeles (once a rivalry, always a rivalry).

In a similar strain to rivalries, there were also a few playoff rematches from the 2018 postseason scheduled. Winnipeg visited Minnesota yesterday, San Jose is in Vegas today and New Jersey will square off with Tampa Bay tomorrow.

Finally, in the “Homecoming” category, there was perhaps no bigger story than F Mike Hoffman – now a member of the Florida Panthers – making his first trip back to Ottawa since being traded this offseason in the middle of a kinda super weird controversy involving his fiancée. Hoffman was a Senator for seven seasons.

D Calvin de Haan and LW James van Riemsdyk are both celebrating homecomings tonight after spending six seasons with the Islanders and Maple Leafs, respectively, while Jim Montgomery – head coach of the Dallas Stars – is making his first return to the Rockies since being hired from the University of Denver Pioneers this summer.

But of all these great games, which one is worthy of being this week’s featured tilt?

 

Is it any surprise?

I mean, really: this is one of the best rivalries the NHL has to offer regardless of where these teams are in the standings, but the intensity is only ratcheted up with both teams separated by one point and fighting to keep up with Toronto for third in the Atlantic Division or one of the two wild cards.

Mix all that together, and the sparks that were all but certain are now guaranteed.

Currently occupying the Eastern Conference’s first wild card, the 12-6-4 Bruins enter this game riding a four-game point streak – a solid effort considering how many injuries they’ve suffered in the first two months of play. C Patrice Bergeron, D Brandon Carlo, D Zdeno Chara, D Charlie McAvoy and D Urho Vaakanainen (that’s right: four five defensemen [I think we have to count four-time Selke winner Bergeron as a defenseman, given these circumstances]) all find themselves on the injury report, meaning the youngsters from Providence are having to do their best filling in.

Fortunately for Boston, 8-2-2 G Jaroslav Halak has been playing like a machine despite all these injuries to his teammates. In his past two starts, Halak has managed a dominating .917 save percentage and .98 GAA to account for both of the Bruins’ last two wins. Making that all the more impressive, Boston has been allowing 33.5 shots against per game since November 16, the (t)10th-worst in the NHL in that time.

That being said, with Halak getting the start in last night’s overtime victory against the Penguins, all signs are pointing towards 4-4-2 G Tuukka Rask manning the crease this evening at Bell Centre. Rask’s last two outings have shown signs of improvement (he’s managed a .938 save percentage and 1.96 GAA in his last two appearances, both overtime losses), however his .909 save percentage and horrid 2.8 GAA for the season still cast doubts in the minds of more than a few Boston supporters.

Rask owns a 13-19-4 combined regular and postseason record against the Habs. He last beat the Canadiens on January 20 – a sixth-straight victory against his bitter rival – in a game that just so happened to take place in the same barn as tonight’s contest.

Meanwhile, the 11-7-5 Canadiens are also riding a decent run lately, as they’ve pulled off a 2-1-2 record over their last five outings.

Perhaps the brightest facet of Montréal’s game during this five-game run has been its power play. Converting on three of its past 13 opportunities, the Habs’ 23.1 percent success rate is good enough for 13th-best in the NHL since November 15.

Yup, that’s the best I’ve got.

In all honesty, there’s not much about the Canadiens’ recent play that indicates they should still be holding on to the East’s second wild card. Since November 15, Montréal’s offense has averaged only 2.8 goals per game while allowing 3.4 against ([t]11th-worst and ninth-worst in the league, respectively, in that time) – not to mention a defense that’s allowed a whopping 37 shots against per game in that stretch ([t]third-worst in the NHL).

Boston and Montréal have already squared off once this season, and it was far from a pleasurable experience for the Bruins as they were shutout 3-0 on home ice on October 27. RW Brendan Gallagher provided the game-winning goal at the 9:18 mark of the first frame, while F Max Domi and D Jordie Benn provided the two insurance goals. 7-5-4 G Carey Price, Montréal’s starter for tonight’s game, earned the shutout by saving all 33 shots he faced.

So, if neither team is playing particularly well lately, which team is going to snag two points?

Considering Price’s season stats (.895 save percentage and 3.17 GAA) are considerably worse than Rask’s and the fact that the Hab has allowed five goals in each of his last two appearances, I like the Bruins’ chances this evening. This may not be a pretty game, but Rask should be able to lead Boston to victory in Québec.

Game of the week: November 12-18

It’s once again time for the DtFR Game of the Week. Let’s take a look at our options for these seven days:

NHL SCHEDULE: November 12-18
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, November 12
7 p.m. Vancouver Canucks New York Rangers 1-2
7 p.m. Chicago Carolina 2-3 (OT)
8:30 p.m. Columbus Dallas 2-1
10 p.m. Nashville Anaheim 1-2 (SO)
Tuesday, November 13
7 p.m. Pittsburgh New Jersey 2-4
7 p.m. Vancouver Canucks New York Islanders 2-5
7 p.m. Florida Philadelphia 2-1
7:30 p.m. Tampa Bay Buffalo 1-2
7:30 p.m. Arizona Detroit 1-6
8 p.m. Washington Minnesota 5-2
9 p.m. Montréal Edmonton 2-6
10:30 p.m. Toronto Los Angeles 5-1
10:30 p.m. Nashville San Jose 4-5
Wednesday, November 14
8 p.m. St. Louis Chicago 0-1
8 p.m. Washington Winnipeg 1-3
10 p.m. Boston Colorado 3-6
10:30 p.m. Anaheim Vegas 0-5
Thursday, November 15
7 p.m. New York Rangers New York Islanders
7 p.m. New Jersey Philadelphia
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Pittsburgh TVAS
7 p.m. Florida Columbus
7:30 p.m. Detroit Ottawa RDS2
8 p.m. Vancouver Minnesota
9 p.m. Montréal Calgary RDS, TSN2
9 p.m. Nashville Arizona
10:30 p.m. Toronto San Jose
Friday, November 16
8 p.m. Boston Dallas TVAS
8 p.m. Buffalo Winnipeg
8:30 p.m. Los Angeles Chicago NHLN
9 p.m. Washington Colorado
10 p.m. St. Louis Vegas
10 p.m. Toronto Anaheim SN
saturday, November 17
1 p.m. Detroit New Jersey
1 p.m. Tampa Bay Philadelphia NHLN, SN
6 p.m. Buffalo Minnesota
7 p.m. Montréal Vancouver CBC, SN1, TVAS
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Ottawa CITY, SN
7 p.m. Florida Panthers New York Rangers NHLN
7 p.m. Columbus Carolina
8 p.m. Boston Arizona
8 p.m. Los Angeles Nashville
10 p.m. Edmonton Calgary CBC, SN, SN1
10:30 p.m. St. Louis San Jose
Sunday, November 18
1 p.m. Dallas Stars New York Islanders SN
5 p.m. New Jersey Carolina
6 p.m. Minnesota Chicago NHLN
8 p.m. Colorado Anaheim
8 p.m. Vegas Edmonton SN, TVAS

As I point out every in every column, there were more than a few superb offerings in this week’s NHL schedule. There were a solid half-dozen rivalries (St. Louis at Chicago, New York at New York, New Jersey at Philadelphia, Los Angeles at Chicago, Edmonton at Calgary and Minnesota at Chicago) to choose from, not to mention a long list of players returning to their former stomping grounds (G Cam Ward heading back to Raleigh – his former team of 13 seasons – headlined that list, though the “homecoming” of D Brooks Orpik to Denver will surely generate at least a few conversations).

However, this week’s selection has nothing to do with any sort of rivalry or player return. Instead, this week’s brightest matchup features two teams having unexpected success to start the season squaring off in what could end up being an important tie-breaking game should they be competing for wild card spots this spring.

 

We first turn our attention to tonight’s visitors, the 10-8-2 Vancouver Canucks. To the surprise of many, British Columbia’s beloved hockey side finds itself in second place in the Pacific Division, a far cry from last year’s position in the table (second to last in the Western Conference).

In particular, the biggest story coming out of the Canucks so far this season has been the exciting play of their forward corps, specifically that of youngster F Elias Pettersson. In only 14 games played, he’s already hung up 10-7-17 totals to lead all rookies in goals and points (he’s tied with Chicago’s F Dominik Kahun for second in assists behind leader D Henri Jokiharju – also of Chicago).

Led by Pettersson (not to mention C Bo Horvat, who has a matching 17 points to his credit), the Canucks’ offense currently ranks 13th-worst in the NHL, averaging 3.1 goals per game.

13th-worst and 3.1 goals per game may not sound like much, but the smart Canucks fans are excited by the growth they’ve seen from this year’s edition of the team It should be remembered, of course, that last year’s roster only scored 218 goals, or 2.66 goals per game (the Canucks are currently on pace for 254 this season).

Unfortunately for Vancouver, its hot start looks like it could be coming to an end as a result of the disastrous six-game eastern road trip (I suppose all road trips for the Canucks are eastern, aren’t they…) it’s finishing tonight. In their last five games, the Canucks have posted only a 1-2-2 record – posting both regulation losses in their last two outings – and have ceded control of the division to San Jose. That being said, Vancouver could jump back into first place in the Pacific with a win tonight and a regulation loss by the Sharks to Toronto.

While the Canucks might be cooling down, nothing has been able to stop the 11-5-2 Minnesota Wild just yet this season, as they’ve soared all the way into second place in the Central Division after many pegged them to miss the playoffs this season altogether.

Offense is the name of the game for the team in white, but Minnesota has found much of its success in its own zone.

While the defense does deserve some credit (the Wild have allowed 31.6 shots against per game this season, the 14th-highest average in the league), it’s specifically been the play of 8-4-2 G Devan Dubnyk that has made them so dominant. Dubnyk has posted a .927 save percentage and 2.34 GAA in 14 starts this season, both of which are top-six in the NHL among the 25 goalies with at least 10 starts.

The Wild just finished up an extended West Coast road trip of their own, going 5-2-0 (including a 5-2 loss at Vancouver on October 29) before returning home and losing to the Capitals on Tuesday, snapping a three-game win streak.

If tonight’s game becomes a battle of special teams, look for the Wild to take control easily. While both teams have comparable power plays (both convert under 19 percent of their extra-man opportunities), Minnesota boasts a penalty kill far superior to that of Vancouver. The Wild’s penalty kill escapes unscathed a division-leading 85.7 percent of the time, while Vancouver can only make that claim after 80.3 percent of its penalties (14th-worst in the NHL).

Even if this game doesn’t boil down to special team situations, I’m still leaning towards the Wild claiming two points tonight. The Canucks are tired from their long road trip, not to mention the fact that G Richard Bachman making his season debut this evening. Look for the Wild’s offense (led by F Mikael Granlund‘s 10-8-18 totals) to pounce early and put the pressure on Vancouver’s young, tired offense.