The Minnesota Wild still remember getting swept in the Western Conference Semifinals by Chicago last season, but the defeat stings a little less tonight as they beat the Hawks 5-4 in front of their home fans at the Xcel Energy Center.
The Wild were firing on all cylinders from the opening puck drop, made evident by Ryan Suter and First Star of the Game Mikko Koivu assisting Third Star Jason Zucker to the opening goal only 18 seconds into the game. They only held the one-goal lead until the 4:06 mark though, as Second Star Jonathan Toews scored a shorty to level the game. The Blackhawks continued to press, taking a one-goal lead of their own 6:27 later via a Brent Seabrook power play tally, assisted by Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane. Similar to Minnesota though, their lead was short lived, as Ryan Carter and the Wild tied the game again at the 14:52 mark, assisted by Erik Haula and Chris Porter. Minnesota capped the wild first period with another goal with less than a minute remaining, credited to Charlie Coyle and assisted by Marco Scandella and Koivu, to set the score at 3-2 going into intermission.
It was another two-goal period for the Blackhawks in the second, but not after Jared Spurgeon scored a power play goal, assisted by Thomas Vanek and Scandella, at the 3:01 mark. The 4-2 lead held until the 10:47 mark, when Toews scored his second of the evening, assisted by Ryan Garbutt. The Hawks struck again 2:55 later, when Erik Gustafsson and Trevor Daley assisted Artem Anisimov to his fourth goal of the season to level the score at four, which held into the second intermission.
The only goal scored in the third, and thus the game-winner, belongs to Nino Niederreiter, assisted by Zucker and Koivu. He notched the winner at the 32 second mark, and goalie Devan Dubnyk was able to preserve the lead in the remaining 19:30 to earn the victory.
Dubnyk improved his record to 7-2-0 by saving 25 of 29 (86.2%), while backup goalie 1-2-0 Scott Darling earns his second loss of the season after saving only 25 of 30 (83.3%).
The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 15-6-3, still favoring the home squad by 13 points.
The NHL has 10 games on the Halloween schedule, and all the wise kids are heading to their local stadium instead of hitting the streets for the best treat of all: hockey, obviously. That being said, there’s a few teams getting their games over before the evening festivities begin. The first action of the day gets started at 1 p.m. eastern when the New York Islanders take the Northeast Corridor Line to face New Jersey at The Rock (SN). At 3 p.m. eastern, San Jose visits Dallas, followed an hour later by the final afternoon game: Nashville at Los Angeles. Starting at the usual 7 p.m. eastern starting time are five games (Pittsburgh at Toronto [CBC/NHL Network], Detroit at Ottawa [TVAS], Boston at Tampa Bay, Washington at Florida and Winnipeg at Columbus [SN360/SN1]), followed an hour later by Minnesota at St. Louis. The final game of the evening gets going at 10 p.m. eastern when Calgary visits Edmonton (CBC/TVAS).
Based on it being Halloween, I can already tell you how all of these matchups are going to go:
- New Jersey will beat the Isles because a Devil is way scarier than the Gorton’s Fisherman. Probably a billion goals to -5.
- Same for the Sharks over the Stars, as the only stars that are scary are the crazies in Hollywood.
- Speaking of Hollywood, let me know when you see a horror movie featuring a king as the monster; on the flip side, Predator has five total movies, and he even scares Arnold Schwarzenegger. Predators over Kings, easy.
- A winged wheel might be scary (like, bad dream scary), but not as scary as a Roman general. Those guys didn’t mess around. Ottawa wins this one.
- I’m leaning towards a bruin being scarier than lightning, simply because I’ve spent less time near bears than I have been outside during a lightning storm. Definitely means Boston will pull out the win.
- Who’s scarier: the American government or panthers? I’ll leave this one up to you.
- I think Jets win on principle… and having advanced technology. If the South had jets against the Union, America may not be the same, and that’s the scariest thought so far.
- The outdoors against blues music? Especially in Minnesota, the great outdoors wins every time (Hey, I’ve lived in the south too long. I’ve acclimated and can’t handle much under 30° anymore), especially since all the music can do is make you sad.
- An oiler‘s worst fear near his product is fire. Calgary is super scary to Edmonton.
Anyways, tonight’s matchups feature five divisional rivalries (the Isles at New Jersey, Detroit at Ottawa, Boston at Tampa Bay, Minnesota at St. Louis and Calgary at Edmonton) and three games between two squads currently qualifying for the playoffs (Nashville at Los Angeles, Boston at Tampa Bay and Minnesota at St. Louis). However, even with those in mind, tonight marks the return of Phil Kessel to his old stomping grounds of six seasons.
Kessel’s Penguins are currently riding a three-game win streak, with their most recent victory being a result of weathering 24 third period Buffalo shots to secure a 4-3 win. While offense is usually the first thing to come to mind when thinking of a squad with both Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins have strongly relied on their defense (especially Ian Cole, who has 27 blocks so far) and 5-4-0 Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to achieve their 6-4-0 record. The Pens have given up 20 goals so far this season, six under the league average. Even when a man or more down, the Penguins have still found a way to keep the opposition off the board, as they’ve only given up four power play goals (two less than the league average) to maintain an 87.1% penalty kill rate, exceeding the league average of 81.46%. Fleury’s .937 save percentage also exceeds the league average by 2.2%.
In comparison to both their defense and Penguins teams in the past, the offense has been fairly lackluster. The club has only tickled the twine 20 times, six goals below the league average. Part of the problem has been the poor results on the power play. In 32 attempts, the Penguins have only scored three goals (three below average), for a 9.38% power play. What’s most frustrating for the team is their lack of offensive success hasn’t entirely been their fault. Pittsburgh has shot the puck 315 times in 10 games, 31 more times than the league average, but has only scored on 6.3% of their shots.
Although the Pens‘ offense may not be quite on par, Kessel himself is having a decent start to the season. He has six points (second on team) with four goals (tied for the team lead), all of them on even-strength (he leads the squad in that category) and two of them game-winners (second best on team), on 35 shots, another stat he leads the team in.
His ex-team, the 1-5-2 Toronto Maple Leafs, are still struggling to get their skates under them on both ends of the ice. Offensively, they’ve only managed 19 goals so far this season, seven below league average. Especially offensive offense has been played on the power play, as the team has only managed two goals with the man advantage, compared to the league average of six. Their 8.7% success rate trails the league average by 9.84%. All of this is a direct result of the low number of shots the Leafs have put on goal. Only 264 pucks have been fired toward the net, 20 below average, and their shot percentage trails the league by 1.8%.
After seeing those numbers, people in Toronto might hope that the defense has tried to pick up some of the slack, but that has not been the case. Toronto has allowed 28 goals this season, two over average. Nine of those scores have been on the penalty kill, three higher than the league average, and their 71.88% penalty kill shows it, as it trails the league average by 9.58%.
Probably the best thing Toronto has going for them is their shots against. They’ve only allowed 229 shots to reach Jonathan Bernier, but he and James Reimer have only been able to save 89.1% of those attempts, which trails the league average by 2.4%.
The only time the Maple Leafs qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs during Kessel’s tenure was during the 2012-’13 season, which ended with the epic overtime collapse at the hands of the Bruins after having a 4-1 lead before the 9:18 mark of the final period during Game Seven. During that year’s regular season, he led his team in goals (20), assists (32), points (52), even-strength goals (14), power play goals (six), game-winners (four), power play assists (15) and shots (161). He followed up his impressive season to lead the Leafs in goals (four), even-strength goals (three) and game-winners (two), but it was not enough to stop the eventual Eastern Conference Champions.
Both of these teams are going in opposite directions, so I fully expect Kessel’s new squad to take care of business and earn their fourth-straight victory.
Oh, and penguins are scarier than leafs, mostly because at least a bird has more chance of causing harm than a leaf.