December 18 – Day 72 – First trip to Canada since my return from hiatus!

It took two goals in the third period, but the Blues were able to hold home ice to beat the Predators and spoil Third Star of the Game Barret Jackman’s homecoming in last night’s Game of the Day.

Nashville struck first with a power play goal at the 7:14 mark of the first period.  Filip Forsberg and Shea Weber assisted Roman Josi to the Predators‘ lone goal of the night to set the score at 1-0, which held into the first and second intermissions.

Only 2:38 into the third period, St. Louis leveled the score thanks to Second Star David Backes’ 10th goal of the season, assisted by Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk.  The draw held until the 14:40 mark, when Alexander Steen and Paul Stastny assisted First Star Vladimir Tarasenko to his 20th tally of the season, setting the score at its 2-1 final.

15-7-2 Jake Allen earned the win after saving 27 of 28 (96.4%), while Pekka Rinne’s record falls to 12-9-6 after saving 31 of 33 (93.9%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 26-10-6, still favoring the home squad by 24 points.  Before anyone points it out, yes, I’m aware that this does not line up with yesterday’s record – This should be the correct record.

Today’s schedule includes six games, with the first three starting at 7 p.m. eastern (Boston at Pittsburgh [TVAS], Tampa Bay at Washington and Florida at Carolina), with two more following half an hour later (San Jose at Ottawa [RDS] and Vancouver at Detroit [SN]).  Finally, the nightcap gets its start at 8 p.m. eastern when the New York Rangers visit Winnipeg.

None of tonight’s matchups involve divisional rivalries, and San Jose at Ottawa represents the only game between two playoff qualifiers.  Sounds like reason enough to me to head up to the Canadian Tire Centre!

Unknown-2Unknown-3

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 16-14-1 San Jose Sharks currently sit in second place in the Pacific Division, but seventh in the Western Conference, utilizing a defensive-first game plan.  They played last night in Toronto, where they won 5-4.

So far this season, 13-10-1 Martin Jones and the Sharks have given up only 832 shots against (due in part to Brent Burns’ team-leading 64 blocks), a total well below the league average, and those efforts are reflected in their 79 goals against.  Even on the penalty kill, the Sharks have been tough to score on.  They’ve given up only 17 goals on 94 opportunities for a 81.91% kill-rate that slightly exceeds the league average.

It has been the offense that has been letting the Sharks down this season made evident by only 880 shots on goal so far this year (led by Burns’ 132).  As can be expected from that total, San Jose has only managed 77 goals this season, led by Joe Pavelski’s 14.

A portion of their offense that especially needs work is the power play.  On 96 opportunities, San Jose has only scored 17 times, for a 17.71% success rate that slightly trails the league average.  If the Sharks want to keep up with the Kings in their division, they need to improve their offensive proficiency.

The 16-11-5 Ottawa Senators were most recently featured in the Game of the Day series on Wednesday.  You can read a quick summary of their squad here.  Their last game played was that Wednesday game in Washington, where they fell 2-1.

Some players to watch in today’s game include Ottawa‘s Craig Anderson (14 wins [tied for sixth in the league] and two shutouts [tied for seventh in the league]), Mike Hoffman (17 goals [tied for fourth in the league]), Erik Karlsson (28 assists [tied for league lead] and 35 points [tied for fourth in the league]) and Mark Stone (21 assists [tied for sixth in the league]) & San Jose‘s Jones (three shutouts [tied for fifth in the league] and 14 wins [tied for sixth in the league]) and Pavelski (15 goals [tied for seventh in the league] and 31 points [tied for ninth in the league]).

Especially since they are playing at home, I expect the Sens to be able to win tonight’s matchup.

December 17 – Day 71 – Welcome back, Jack!

Ottawa tried to level the game, but it was too little too late, as the Caps held on to win 2-1 in last night’s Game of the Day.

Each period had its own goal, with the first and second belonging to Washington.  Second Star of the Game Michael Latta scored the first tally of the game at the 14:06 mark, assisted by Dmitry Orvlov and Taylor Chorney.  The second period witnessed the game-winner compliments of Third Star John Carlsson, assisted by Justin Williams and Latta at the 5:43 mark.

Ottawa got their lone tally of the evening with 4:14 remaining in the game when Kyle Turris and Erik Karlsson assisted Bobby Ryan to a power play goal, but was not able to put another past First Star Braden Holtby.

Holtby saved 26 of 27 (96.3%) to improve his record to 20-4-1, while last year’s phenom Andrew Hammond (2-1-2) took the loss after saving 23 of 25 (92%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 24-10-5, still favoring the home squad by 21 points.

Tonight’s schedule is in stark contrast to yesterday’s two-gamer, as we have a total of 11 matchups taking place this evening.  Per the usual, the action gets started at 7 p.m. eastern when three games drop the opening puck (Anaheim at Buffalo [Bell TV], Florida at New Jersey and Vancouver at Philadelphia [SN360]), followed half an hour by two more (San Jose at Toronto and Los Angeles at Montréal [RDS]).  8 p.m. eastern brings the beginning another couple games (Nashville at St. Louis and the New York Rangers at Minnesota), followed 30 minutes later by another pair (Edmonton at Chicago and Calgary at Dallas).  Finally, the last two games get started at 9 p.m. eastern (the New York Islanders at Colorado and Columbus at Arizona).

Nashville at St. Louis represents the only game between divisional rivals, while two other games (Los Angeles at Montréal and New York at Minnesota) join that one as games between two squads currently qualifying for the playoffs.  In addition to qualifying for both sets, the NashvilleSt. Louis game is also special because it is Barret Jackman’s first game at the Scottrade Center as a member of a squad not wearing the Note.

UnknownUnknown-1

 

 

 

Jackman was drafted by the St. Louis Blues in the 1999 Entry Draft, 17th overall.  He saw his first action during the 2001-’02 season, and was promoted to a full-time position the following season when he won the Calder Trophy.  During his time with the Blues, he played 16,364 minutes over 803 games (an average of over 20 minutes per game), scoring 28 goals and notching 153 assists for a total of 181 points.  Pair that effort with his strong defensive game (787 hits and 987 blocks during his St. Louis career), and you get a good understanding of why so many Blues fans wore Jackman sweaters.

I try acknowledge my biases as often as possible, especially in instances like this, so I must admit that as a Blues fan I am still partial to Jackman.  One reason for this was actually not related to what he did for the Blues, but his commitment to play in St. Louis.  During the 2004-’05 lockout season, instead of playing in Europe like many displaced players in the league, he instead chose to play with the now-defunct Missouri River Otters in St. Charles, a suburb of St. Louis.

Jackman signed with the Nashville Predators this offseason after not being offered a contract from the Notes.  In his first year with the Preds, Jackman has played all but one game, scoring a goal and an assist in his enforcer role (leads the team with 48 penalty minutes).  He is also responsible for the third-most blocks (48) and the seventh-most hits (44).

It has been defense like this that has propelled the 15-10-6 Predators to fifth in the Central Division and sixth in the Western Conference, qualifying them for the second wild card spot.  Nashville is currently riding a two-game win-less skid, with their most recent game being a 2-1 OT loss to the Flames at Bridgestone Arena on Tuesday.

That defense, headed by 12-8-6 Pekka Rinne and Captain Shea Weber, has given up only 818 shots so far this season (Roman Josi has a team-leading 84 blocks).  Those fewer shots have not necessarily yielded fewer goals though, as opponents have scored 80 tallies against the Preds, a total that trails the league average by only two scores.

One of the main reasons for Nashville‘s higher than expected goal totals is their poor penalty kill.  The Preds have given up 23 goals on 98 opportunities, meaning that they’re only killing 76.53% of opposing power plays.  If Nashville wants to be a real threat for the Cup, they will need to improve this rate.

Offensively, the Predators have put a good 973 shots on goal so far this season (led by James Neal’s 100), scoring 79 of those attempts (led by Neal’s dozen).  To make up for their poor penalty kill, Nashville plays an excellent power play, scoring on 21 of their 104 opportunities (led by Weber’s eight) – that 20.19% success rate leads the league average by 1.28%.

Their opposition this evening is the 18-10-4 St. Louis Blues, who currently sit second in the Central Division and third in the Western Conference.  In their last game played, the Blues beat the Jets in Winnipeg 4-3 on Tuesday.  Similar to the Predators, the Blues also play an defensive game.

That defense, headed by 14-7-2 Jake Allen and alternate captain Alex Pietrangelo, have given up only 891 shots (Carl Gunnarsson has 55 blocks) and 77 goals.  Even when a man-down, the Blues have been a force to be reckoned with, as they’ve only given up 19 scores on 94 opportunities for a 87.96 kill rate that exceeds the league average by 6.87%.

Offensively, the Blues have been only average.  Although they’ve managed 973 shots this season (led by Vladimir Tarasenko’s 115), only 81 have found the back of the net (led by Tarasenko’s 19).  Luckily for the Blues, they have found success on the power play, scoring on 19 of 94 opportunities (led by Tarasenko’s six goals), giving them a 20.21% success rate that exceeds the league average by 1.3%.

Some players to watch in tonight’s game include Nashville‘s Josi (84 blocks, 22 points and 15 assists [all lead team]), Neal (100 shots and 12 goals [both lead team]) and Weber (74 hits and eight power play goals [both lead team]) & St. Louis‘ Allen (four shutouts [tied for league lead], 14 wins [tied for fifth in the league], 2.11 GAA [eighth in the league] and .925 save percentage [tied for ninth in the league]) and Tarasenko (19 goals [tied for second in the league] and 32 points [tied for seventh in the league]).

While Barret Jackman should expect a warm welcome from St. Louis fans, I think those same fans will go home happy, as the Notes should be able to win this game.

December 16 – Day 70 – National Capitals

Yesterday’s Game of the Day between the Edmonton Oilers and New York Rangers was a good one, as the 4-2 score was not indicative of the competitive play.

The Blueshirts opened the scoring by notching the only tally of the first period, a snap shot at the 5:04 mark from Second Star of the Game Mats Zuccarello, assisted by Keith Yandle and First Star Rick Nash.

Almost exactly 20 game minutes later, Taylor Hall fired a wrister after being assisted by Leon Draisaitl and Teddy Purcell to tie the game for Edmonton.  The draw lasted only 2:42 before Third Star Dylan McIlrath scored his first goal of the season, assisted by Yandle and Dominic Moore to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead.  Jordan Eberle scored a wrister to knot the game again, assisted by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, but the Oilers could not maintain the tie into the third period, as Nash scored on a power play with only 39 seconds remaining, assisted by Zuccarello and Derick Brassard, giving the Blueshirts a 3-2 lead that they would not yield.

Jesper Fast tacked on an empty netter late in third period, assisted by Dominic Moore and Viktor Stalberg to set the score at the 4-2 final.

Henrik Lundqvist (15-6-3) earned the win by saving 18 of 20 (90%), while Anders Nilsson’s record falls to 10-8-1 after saving only 17 of 20 (85%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 23-10-5, favoring the home side by 19 points.

After a busy Tuesday, Wednesday has only two games on the schedule.  The evening gets started at 7 p.m. eastern when Ottawa visits Washington (TVAS/SN), and is followed an hour later by Pittsburgh at Boston (NBCSN).

Neither of today’s matchups are divisional rivalries, but the OttawaWashington game is between two teams currently qualifying for the playoffs.  That game will be the one to focus on today.

Unknown-2Washington Capitals Logo

 

 

 

 

 

The 16-10-5 Ottawa Senators currently sit in third place in the Atlantic Division and sixth place in the Western Conference.  To establish this position, they’ve needed to employ a strong offense behind Mike Hoffman to cover their defensive deficiencies.

That offense has fired the puck 866 times so far this season (led by Hoffman’s 86) for a total of 94 goals (led by Hoffman’s 17), connecting on 10.9% of attempts.  An especially strong point of the offense has been their efforts on the power play, scoring 19 goals (led by Hoffman’s four tallies) on 95 attempts, giving them a 20% success rate.

The offensive power has been necessary to cover up for issues on the other end of the ice.  Four different goalies have taken their place between the pipes, but 14-9-3 Craig Anderson has taken the lion’s share of the minutes (1,543 of 1,881 available minutes, or 82%).  Anderson and co. have saved 91.8% of 1049 shots for 90 goals against, but within that stat the problem is found, as the save percentage is actually better than the league average.  Although Erik Karlsson has a team-leading 60 blocks, the defense is giving up far too many shots.  If Ottawa wants to be a real threat to the Cup this season, they will need to bolster the blue line.

The 21-6-2 Washington Capitals were featured in Monday’s Game of the Day.  You can read more about them here. If you don’t want to read the summary, just know that Washington is pretty good.

Some players to watch in tonight’s game include Ottawa‘s Anderson (14 wins [tied for fifth in the league] and two shutouts [tied for seventh in the league]), Hoffman (17 goals [fourth in the league] and 30 points [tied for ninth in the league]), Karlsson (27 assists [tied for league lead] and 34 points [fifth in the league]) and Mark Stone (21 assists [tied for fifth in the league]) & Washington‘s Braden Holtby (19 wins [leads the league], 1.87 GAA [leads the league] and .933 save percentage [tied for fourth in the league]), Evgeny Kuznetsov (+15 [tied for second in the league]) and Alex Ovechkin (+13 [tied for seventh in the league]).

The major hole in this game is represented by Ottawa‘s defense.  Although the offense may be able to cover this hole most nights, Washington‘s defense will not let that happen.  Expect the Caps to hold home ice for the win.

1st Annual Colby’s Corner Awards

2015 is coming to an end and it’s time for all the awards for this early 2015-2016 season. This Colby’s Corner will be different, as Nick and I will tag team these awards, sharing who we think should win and why.

The Wayne Gretzky Award– Given to the best offensive player

Colby Kephart– Jamie Benn. I choose Jamie Benn because the answer is in the numbers. Mr. Benn is 1st in goals scored with 19 goals, and 2nd in points with 39. Benn is also 5th in assists, but this doesn’t explain what he truly means to this Dallas team. Jamie Benn is the best offensive player of the year.

Nick Lanciani– You’ve got to go with Jamie Benn here, quite simply because he was last year’s Art Ross Trophy winner and is still maintaining a consistent scoring pace. While his counterpart, Tyler Seguin, might have showed signs of slowing down over the last week or so, Benn’s game elevates the level of everyone around him and Seguin will quickly get back into the same rhythm.

Goaltender of the year (sorry Bryz, it’s not you)

CK– Henrik Lundqvist. King Henrik is the best goalie in this early season. He is 1st in save percentage and 3rd in both goals-against-average and wins. Lundqvist’s numbers are similar to Carey Price’s MVP season from last year.

NL– Washington’s Braden Holtby has continued to stake his claim in the short list of elite goaltenders in the world. This season he’s got a 1.95 GAA, .928 SV%, and a 17-4-1 record to boot in 22 games played. We said in our season previews that Washington would be a dominant team and Holtby is a dominant force in front of the net. Speaking of the Force, I’m excited for Star Wars…

If Carey Price wasn’t injured, I’m sure he’d be making a strong case for himself this season as he did last season when he took home the Vezina Trophy and Hart Trophy.

The Bobby Orr Award– Given to the best defensemen of the year

CK– John Klingberg. This young defenseman has proven himself in this season with 30 points thus far, which is crazy. I understand he is on one of the best teams in the league, and plays alongside stars like Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. But he has 5 goals and 25 assists in just 28 games played, which is more than a point a game.

NL– There’s a reason why I picked up Klingberg on my fantasy team, if we’re talking specific aspects of the game. Otherwise, Erik Karlsson is leading defensemen in points with 6-26-32 totals through 29 games played, so really if you want to split this one into “best two-way/offensive defenseman” and “best defenseman” I’d be able to give both of them an award.

Coach of the Year (so far) Award

CK– Lindy Ruff. At this point, you are seeing a trend that I believe Dallas is a top team this year, and this man is a big reason why. He has made many lucrative moves, like deciding who to play with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. It was once Patrick Sharp on the wing, but in recent games it has been Valeri Nichushkin. This kid only had one assist last season but this season has 12 points, proving himself to Mr. Ruff.

NL– Umm, can we talk about what they’re doing in Vancouver, Los Angeles, San Jose, and Ottawa, or should I just go with a cop out and pick Lindy Ruff as well? I’ll tell you who’s not my coach of the year, but I wouldn’t want a stanchion sent my way between the benches… John Tortorella gets a pass for now with regards to “worst” coach of the year.

But if you want me to say who I’d pick as coach of the year right now (again) it’s got to be Ruff. Actually, just make Dallas earn all the front office of the year awards. Well, maybe almost all of them. Washington would definitely be their main competition. Hmm, actually, would Ruff mind sharing our award with Barry Trotz? Asking for a friend.

Best Team of 2015

CJhyiLmKCK– Dallas Stars. No surprise here as I am saying that the Dallas Stars are the best team in the league thus far. They lead the NHL with 44 points and their offense is the best with 98 goals for this season. They also have the most wins the league, with 21 wins in 28 games (that’s only 7 losses!).

 

NL– Well, if the Ottawa Senators get any hotter, I might be picking them soon, but yeah, Dallas or Washington again. No surprise here. Maybe even Montreal, if they can avoid losing nine straight to match their winning streak to start the season. I don’t just want to go with this season’s eventual President’s Trophy winner, so really I’m just trying to add a few more teams to the conversation.

 

Rookie of the year (until Nick jinx’s him)

CK– Artemi Panarin. 9 goals, 19 assists—this kid has to be considered one of the biggest surprises of the season. I may not know how to pronounce his name, but I know he has been great for the Blackhawks this season and will be competing for the NHL rookie of the year award.

NL– I hate picking a “rookie of the year” halfway through, because usually I end up jinxing them, so I guess I’ll have to be careful with this one. Artemi Panarin, bud, I don’t want to ruin your chances, but if I had to pick who I think will take home the Calder Trophy in June, well, I’ve got to go with Max Domi. I just think that in the long run Domi will be able to overcome the 5 points in scoring separation between himself and Panarin as it stands right now.

With that said, if I’m picking one for right now it’s definitely Panarin. No questions asked. Actually, did anybody think of a defenseman? Oh well.

Patrik Stefan’s Team of the Year– Worst team of the year

CK– Toronto Maple Leafs. Toronto fans were excited to win the Mike Babcock sweepstakes and had high hopes for this season. They knew the offense would be affected with the Phil Kessel trade, but no one knew it would be this bad. Toronto is struggling, and I feel they will finish near the bottom of the league this season.giphy

 

NL– Any team that’s near the bottom of the standings that starts with a “C” is splitting this award. So Columbus, Carolina and Colorado, congrats! You’re losers! But winners in our hearts.

*Disclaimer: I’m fully aware that things are still dismal in Toronto and possibly Calgary, so we’ll see which one of those Canadian teams is in contention for this award at the end of the regular season. They’ll probably have to do worse than one of the “C” teams mentioned above though.

Biggest surprise of year

CK– Arizona Coyotes. The Arizona Coyotes are the biggest surprise of this season as they are making an interesting push to playoffs. They have been bouncing between being the 3rd division spot or out of the playoffs. Max Domi and Anthony Duclair are having strong rookie seasons, and have surprised both the league and me personally.

NL– Remember how I mentioned Max Domi before, yeah, well that was intentional. I was leading you to the obvious. The Vancouver Canucks and the Tampa Bay Lightning are big surprises this year, with the Canucks currently 2nd in the Pacific Division and well, not in last like I thought they would be after their inactivity in the offseason. I mean, Matt Bartkowski? Really? Then again, it looks like he’s found a home on the blue line defending Johnny Canuck from the opposition.

And Tampa’s currently 6th in the Atlantic Division, albeit a close spread in points, only ten points out of first and two points from a wild card spot, but one would think they would be flexing their muscle this season as they did in their Stanley Cup Final run last spring. If they fall further, they’re definitely the biggest surprise, in my eyes, for all the wrong reasons. Likewise, Jon Cooper would probably deserve some heavy scrutiny, with the whole hysteria surrounding Steven Stamkos’s pending unrestricted free agency possibility.

But if I have to be nice and pick a pleasant surprise, I’m going with either Vancouver- as I already discussed- or Arizona- as Colby already pointed out (and I’m totally hopping on that Domi-Duclair bandwagon by the way).

December 15 – Day 69 – Wait, what did you say about the Oilers?

The Washington Capitals paid back the Pittsburgh Penguins for beating them in the Verizon Center in October by taking a 4-1 victory in Consol Energy Center in last night’s Game of the Day, spoiling Mike Sullivan’s debut.

Third Star of the Game Nicklas Backstrom scored his 10th goal of the season at the 3:53 mark of the first period after being assisted by Second Star T.J. Oshie and Karl Alzner.  The eventual game-winner was fired only 3:11 later when Jason Chimera and Jay Beagle assisted John Carlson to the Caps‘ final goal of the period.  Evgeni Malkin fired the lone goal of the game for the Pens at the 13:59 mark, assisted by Ben Lovejoy and Phil Kessel.  The 2-1 Washington lead held through both intermissions before expanding.

Oshie again found his way onto the stat sheet with his first of two goals in the final period.  He was assisted by Backstrom at the 8:50 mark to give the Caps a two-goal lead.  His second was a five-on-three power play goal, scored at the 19:11 mark after being assisted by Backstrom and Carlson.

First Star Braden Holtby saved 45 of 46 (97.8%) shots to improve his record to 19-4-1, while Marc-Andre Fleury (13-10-2) takes the loss after saving only 30 of 34 (88.2%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands 22-10-5 in favor of the home team, who lead the roadies by 17 points.

Tonight’s schedule is a busy one, with a total of 11 games being played.  Four get their start at 7 p.m. eastern (New Jersey at Buffalo [Bell TV], Florida at the New York Islanders, Edmonton at the New York Rangers and Carolina at Philadelphia), followed half an hour later by two more (Tampa Bay at Toronto [TVAS] and San Jose at Montréal [RDS]).  Starting at 8 p.m. eastern are three games involving the Central Division (Calgary at Nashville, Vancouver at Minnesota and St. Louis at Winnipeg), followed half an hour later by the two nightcaps of the evening (Colorado at Chicago [NBCSN] and Columbus at Dallas).

Four of tonight’s games involve division rivals (Carolina at Philadelphia, Tampa Bay at Toronto, St. Louis at Winnipeg and Colorado at Chicago), while another represents the lone matchup between two teams currently qualifying for the playoffs: Edmonton at New York.  To commemorate the potential for Edmonton‘s first playoff push since falling in the Stanley Cup Finals to Carolina in 2006, let’s tune into the Oilers visiting the Rangers.

200px-Logo_Edmonton_Oilers.svgNew York Rangers Logo

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, you read that correctly.  The 14-15-2 Edmonton Oilers are currently qualifying for the playoffs.  Nevermind that three Pacific Division teams are technically tied for second place in the division and Edmonton narrowly leads Vancouver by Regulation+Overtime wins, focus more on the fact that Edmonton only needs Arizona to lose two games for the Oilers to officially move past them in the standings.  The future is bright for the Oil!

But how have they made it to this position?  Did Connor McDavid get healthy and the media not let us know? No, he still has near a month before he sees the ice again, but that has not stopped the squad from winning six games in a row coming into tonight’s matchup, including a 3-2 victory over Boston in the TD Garden last night.

So far this season, Edmonton‘s offense has been little more than average.  They’ve scored 80 goals so far, led by Taylor Hall’s 14 tallies, on 865 shots (led by Hall’s 124).  While the shot total trails the league average, the Oilers have made up for it by scoring on 9.2% of their attempts.

Even the power play has been average, as they’ve scored 18 goals on 95 attempts (six players have two goals, including Hall and McDavid), the same 18.95% the average team has earned.

The defense has been where Edmonton has really struggled this season.  Most teams have given up 79 goals so far this season: Anders Nilsson (10-7-1) and co. have given up a whopping 90.  This hasn’t been all the goaltenders’ fault though, as they’ve faced 913 shots already this season.  Oscar Klefbom has a team-leading 62 blocks, but the rest of the defense needs to do more to prevent opponents from putting so much pressure on their keeper.

Luckily, one of the saving graces of this defense has been their penalty kill.  They’ve given up 18 goals on 91 attempts for a 80.22% kill rate that is, once again, simply on par with the rest of the league.

Also, speaking of keepers and the like, it would be wrong to ignore 3-8-1 Cam Talbot who was such an important part of New York‘s season last year when King Henrik went down.  Unfortunately for him, he has not found the same success in Edmonton and has been again relegated to a backup position.

While it is exciting for the Oil to be in the position they’re in after years of futility, they face a stiff opponent this evening that will surely test their grit, as they head to Madison Square Garden to face the 18-9-4 New York Rangers, who currently own the third-best record in the Metropolitan Division and fourth in the Eastern Conference.  With their eyes on a deep playoff run, even though they’re currently riding a three-game losing skid (including a 5-4 OT loss in Calgary on Saturday), the Blueshirts employ a strong game on both ends of the ice.

Beginning with the offense, we find a team that has scored 89 goals this season (led by Mats Zuccarello’s 13), well exceeding the league average of 79.  I usually say that goals are a symptom of a high quantity of shots, which still holds true with the Rangers‘ 878 total shots (led by Rick Nash’s 88), but I think this is actually an instance of impeccable and opportunistic shooting accuracy, made evident by a whopping 10.1% of shots tickling the twine.

The Blueshirts are an imposing offense when evenly matched, but their power play has been especially strong, as they’ve scored the league average of 18 goals on 12 fewer attempts (21.69%).  While Edmonton‘s penalty kill may be good, it would be in the Oil‘s best interest to avoid going down a man as much as possible.

Of course, we cannot talk about Nash, Zuccarello and the offense without discussing 14-6-3 Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers‘ defense. They’ve given up only 70 goals this season, and saved 959 shots (well exceeding the league average) for a 93.1% save percentage.  But it’s not been just King Henrik, but also the defense, specifically Dan Girardi and his 70 blocks.  Unfortunately for him, one of those blocks cost him a knee, as he is currently dealing with swelling in that spot and listed as day-to-day.

Just like Edmonton, New York is also good on the penalty kill.  They’ve faced 100 penalties already this season, and only allowed 16 goals.  That 84% kill rate exceeds the league average by over 3%.

The Blueshirts and Oil have already met once this season, a 7-5 Edmonton victory last Friday in Rexall Place.

Some players to watch in tonight’s game include Edmonton‘s Hall (34 points [tied for fourth in the league], +14 [tied for fifth in the league], 20 assists [tied for sixth in the league] and 14 goals [tied for eighth in the league]) and New York‘s Lundqvist (14 wins [tied for fourth in the league], .933 save percentage [tied for fourth in the league], two shutouts [tied for seventh in the league] and 2.14 GAA [ninth in the league]).

The Oilers may be hot and caught the Rangers on a long Canadian road trip last week, but I do not think they will be so fortunate in Madison Square Garden.  I expect the Rangers to easily take care of the Oil, potentially even shut them out, to break this losing skid.

December 14 – Day 68 – Trial by Fire

Yesterday’s Game of the Day was a Metropolitan beat-down, as the New York Islanders absolutely took it to the New Jersey Devils, winning on a four-goal shutout.

The game-winning goal belongs to First Star of the Game Marek Zidlicky, scored at the 7:43 mark of the opening period after being assisted by Mikhail Grabovski and Josh Bailey.  Third Star John Tavares notched the lone insurance goal of the first period at the 11:53 mark after being assisted by Kyle Okposo and Brock Nelson.

It was another two-goal period for the Isles in the second, with Matt Martin notching the first one at the 7:28 mark, with assists going to Casey Cizikas and Calvin de Haan.  Zidlicky snuck his second goal of the game, and the final tally of the night, at the 19:17 mark, with assists belonging to Thomas Hickey and Steve Bernier.  The 4-0 lead held not only  into the second intermission, but to the final horn.

Second Star Thomas Greiss (9-3-2) earned the shutout victory on 27 shots faced, while Cory Schneider (13-8-4) earns the loss after saving only 15 of 18 (83.3%).  He was pulled from the game after 27:28 (the third goal of the game), with Keith Kinkaid finishing up the remaining 32:32, saving 11 of 12 (91.7%).

Tomorrow’s schedule consists of five games, and the action gets started at 7 p.m. eastern when three of them drop the opening puck (Edmonton at Boston [TVAS], Washington at Pittsburgh [NHLN] and Tampa Bay at Columbus), with the other two following only half an hour later (Los Angeles at Ottawa [RDS] and Buffalo at Detroit [Bell TV]).

Two of tonight’s games are between divisional rivals (Washington at Pittsburgh and Buffalo at Detroit), and only one is between two teams currently qualifying for the playoffs (Los Angeles at Ottawa).  Then again, this information really doesn’t matter that much, as you probably knew which matchup is our Game of the Day today.

Washington Capitals LogoPittsburgh Penguins Logo

 

 

 

 

 

When Pittsburgh fired Head Coach Mike Johnston Saturday morning, you saw this one coming.  Johnston led the club to a 15-10-3 record so far this season (58-37-15 during his 110-game tenure), which has the Pens in fifth place in the division and ninth in the conference.

Even though Jim Rutherford went out and traded for Phil Kessel (nine goals [second-most on team]) as well as ascertained a few other offensive skaters, Johnston’s Penguins simply did not produce, which should take most of the blame for him being relieved of his duties.  So far this season, they’ve only scored 66 goals (led by Evgeni Malkin’s 13), but even more distressing is the 858 shots (led by Kessel’s 90) they’ve put on goal (trails the league average by 13).  While the number isn’t terribly under the league average, their 7.7% shot percentage speaks volumes, as it trails the league average by 1.2%.

Probably the biggest issue of Pittsburgh‘s game has been the power play.  They’ve scored only 15 goals (led by Malkin’s six) on 96 opportunities, for a 15.63% success rate that trails the league average by 3.49%.  One saving grace about the Pens‘ man-advantage has been that they have yet to give up a shorty all season.

What has kept Pittsburgh in the midst of the playoff hunt this season has been Marc-Andre Fleury (13-9-2) and the defense.  They’ve only given up 65 goals so far this season, a number that makes most teams jealous.  Not only have Fleury and co. saved 92.9% of the 887 shots they’ve faced this season, but they’ve also had Ian Cole’s team-leading 60 blocks to keep even more from reaching the net.

Even when a man-down, the Pens have still done well in keeping the opposition off the board.  They’ve only given up 15 power play goals on 95 attempts, saving a strong 84.21% of attempts.

Johnston’s replacement was found within the organization, albeit four hours up the road in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.  Mike Sullivan had only been the head coach of the Baby Pens for this season, but he had led his AHL squad to a 19-5-0 record (best winning percentage in the league) and the top of the Atlantic Division.  In addition to playing 12 years of professional hockey (including part or all of 11 seasons in the NHL) he was head coach of the Boston Bruins for two seasons from 2003-’06 (04-’05 was the lockout) where he amassed a total record of 70-56-15-23.  He also coached the Vancouver Canucks for six games during the ’13-’14 season when John Tortorella was suspended, earning a 2-4-0 record.

Another indicator that management is expecting more goals scored is Wilkes-Barre/Scranton‘s offensive strength.  The Baby Penguins have scored 89 goals so far this season, a total that is second in the conference and third in the league, while being backed by the second-best defense and goaltending in the league.  Sullivan will be expected to enact that same game plan with the senior squad, especially since the defense is already present.

It will be trial by fire for Sullivan’s first game though, as he is going up against the division-leading and second-best in conference 20-6-2 Washington Capitals.  Washington plays a tough game on both ends of the ice, but their defense and goaltending has been their strongest asset this season and will be a good test for Sullivan’s new system.

So far this season, Washington has given up only 62 goals, thanks in part to Karl Alzner’s 62 blocks and Braden Holtby (18-4-1) and co.’s incredible play.  Of the 766 shots that have made their way to the net (102 fewer than the league average, but on two-less games), Holtby and Philipp Grubauer have saved 92.4%.  Even when down a man, the Caps have still kept the opposition off the board 83.54% of the time, giving up only 13 tallies.

The offense has been no joke either, as they’ve put 854 shots (led by Alex Ovechkin’s 138) on goal so far this season for 83 tallies (9.7%), led by Ovechkin’s 14.  Probably the scariest facet of Washington‘s game is the power play, as they’ve scored on 21 of 90 opportunities (23.33%), led by Ovechkin’s four.

Some players to watch in tonight’s game include Pittsburgh‘s Fleury (13 wins [tied for fifth in the league], two shutouts [tied for seventh in the league] and .927 save percentage [eighth in the league]) and Washington‘s Holtby (18 wins [leads the league], 1.9 GAA [leads the league] and .93 save percentage [tied for sixth in the league]), Evgeny Kuznetsov (+15 [tied for second in the league]) and Ovechkin (14 goals [tied for seventh in the league]).

Based on the stats alone, Pittsburgh‘s weak offense should not be able to keep up with Washington‘s, but it is always hard to tell how a team will react to a new coach.  Unlike the first coaching change of the year in Columbus (which, interestingly, involved the coach he replaced in Vancouver), I think this one was a good move by management that will hopefully yield positive results for an organization that intends to be a part of the playoff discussion.

December 13 – Day 67 – No Sleep Till Brooklyn!

In yesterday’s Game of the Day, the Boston Bruins defended home ice by beating the Florida Panthers 3-1.

First Star of the Game Ryan Spooner accounted for the first tally of the game at the 11:35 mark of the opening period.  He was assisted by Torey Krug, his 14th helper of the season.

Spooner was also responsible for the eventual game-winning goal, which came on a power play at the 8:00 mark of the second.  Third Star Patrice Bergeron notched his first of two assists on the afternoon, as well as David Krejci.

Florida began to mount a comeback with a goal at the 13:56 mark of the final period, compliments of ex-Bruin Reilly Smith, assisted by Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Pirri.  As they could not earn another opportunity, the Panthers pulled their goalie in the final minutes, which led to the final Bruin tally via Brad Marchand, assisted by Bergeron.

Second Star Tuukka Rask (11-7-3) saved 27 of 28 (96.4%) to earn his 11th victory of the season, while Roberto Luongo (10-11-3) saved 22 of 24 (91.7%) in the loss.

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 22-9-5, favoring the home side by 19 points.

Per usual, this Sunday’s load is one of the lightest of the week.  A total of three games are being played today, with the action getting started at 5 p.m. eastern when New Jersey visits the New York Islanders.  An hour later, the puck drops in the Scottrade Center when Colorado visits St. Louis.  The evening’s nightcap gets an early start, as Vancouver and Chicago (NHLN/TVAS/SN) get started at 7 p.m. eastern in the United Center.

Two of today’s games are divisional rivalries (New Jersey at New York and Colorado at St. Louis) and two are between current playoff qualifiers (New Jersey at New York and Vancouver at Chicago).  The one that qualifies for both is today’s Game of the Day:

New Jersey Devils LogoNew York Islanders Logo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is New Jersey‘s second appearance in the DtFR Game of the Day series.  Their only other appearance was a 2-1 overtime victory over the Blueshirts on Oct. 18.  Due to the hiatus I was forced into, this is New York‘s first appearance in the Game of the Day series.

15-10-4 Jersey enters today’s game after beating Detroit 3-2 in overtime Friday night.  They are a defensive-minded team, a strategy that is currently earning them the second wild card position in the eastern conference.

So far this season, 13-7-4 Cory Schneider and the Devils have only allowed 68 goals, a total that is well below the league average of 77.  Although Schneider and co. have played well this season, their strength has been found by only allowing 824 shots to reach him, thanks to Adam Larsson’s team-leading 56 blocks.  Even when a man-down, the Devils have still done well in preventing the opposition from scoring.  Jersey has only allowed 18 goals on 100 attempts this season, giving them a 82% kill rate that exceeds the league average by 1.15%.

Offensively, things have gone a little slower for the Devils so far this season, as they’ve only notched 72 tallies before today, led by 13-a-piece from Adam Henrique and Kyle Palmieri.  This is only a symptom of their real problem, though, which is shots.  They have only 748 attempts to their credit (led by Mike Cammalleri’s 84), well below the league average of 853.

The component of their offense that has kept Jersey relevant this season has been their power play.  22 of their 72 goals have come with a man-advantage (led by Palmieri’s five), even if it did take 103 attempts (10 more than the league average).

17-8-5 New York is currently riding a two-game win streak, with their most recent being a 3-2 victory in Columbus yesterday.  Although the Isles have been strong on both ends of the ice, their strong suit has been their defensive efforts, which is currently earning them the third division spot in the Metropolitan Division.

So far this season, 15-8-4 Jaroslav Halak and New York has given up only 68 goals.  Especially significant about this effort compared to New Jersey‘s comparable 68 is that Halak and co. have faced 852 shots – 28 more than Schneider and the Devils.  Pair strong goalkeeping with a team-leading 78 blocks from Calvin de Haan, and you find a strong defensive side.  New York‘s penalty kill has also been very strong, as they’ve killed 85.39% of all man-advantages, allowing only 13 goals.

Offensively, the Isles have scored 79 goals so far this season (led by John Tavares’ 12 tallies).  Just as Jersey‘s low goal total is an indicator of not many shots, the Isles‘ higher goal total is a symptom of more shots on goal – 854, to be exact (led by Frans Nielsen’s 80).

An intriguing facet of New York‘s game is their power play.  They have found great success so far this season, scoring 16 times (led by three-a-piece from Josh Bailey and Tavares), but on only 76 opportunities.  I must admit, I have not watched much of New York this season, so I do not know if teams are purposefully avoiding the box as much as possible when playing the Isles, or if the Islanders aren’t doing enough to draw penalties.  Regardless, New York needs to find a way to get on the man-advantage more often since it is such a strength of theirs.

Some players to watch in this afternoon’s game include New Jersey‘s Cammalleri (30 points [tied for eighth in the league] and +12 [tenth in the league]) and Schneider (13 wins [tied for fifth in the league], 2.09 GAA [eighth in the league] and .926 save percentage [10th in the league]), and New York‘s Thomas Greiss (.928 save percentage [seventh in the league]).

I believe the Isles will defend home ice for the victory this afternoon, mostly because I think New York‘s defense can handle New Jersey‘s offense, but the Devils will not have an answer for the Isles‘ offensive efforts.

December 12 – Day 66 – The Return of Smith and Savard

The insurance goal in a 2-0 shutout may not always be the most important goal, but it was last night when Chicago beat Winnipeg in the United Center.

The winning goal was scored quickly, when First Star of the Game Jonathan Toews, assisted by Marian Hossa and Andrew Shaw, scored at the 4:34 mark on their first power play opportunity of the contest.

The aforementioned insurance goal did not come until the 10:36 mark of the second period on another Winnipeg penalty.  Teuvo Teravainen and David Rundblad assisted, you guessed it, Second Star Patrick Kane to his 25th-straight point.  This point tied him with Sidney Crosby’s own 25-point streak during the 2010-’11 season.

Second Star Corey Crawford (14-7-2) earned his third shutout and 14th win of the season by saving all 25 shots faced, while Connor Hellebuyck (4-1-0) earned the first loss of his career by saving 29 of 31 (93.5%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 21-9-5, favoring the home squad by 17 points.

Per usual, today’s Saturday schedule is a busy one, with 20 teams in action.  The action gets started early in the TD Garden when Boston hosts Florida at 1 p.m. eastern (SN1).  Four games are getting started at the typical 7 p.m. eastern (Los Angeles at Buffalo [Bell TV], Ottawa at Montréal [CBC/TVAS], Washington at Tampa Bay [NHLN] and the New York Islanders at Columbus).  The next games don’t get started until an hour later at 8 p.m. eastern (Dallas at St. Louis and Colorado at Nashville), followed an hour later by Carolina at Arizona.  The New York Rangers and Calgary drop the puck at 10 p.m. eastern (CBC), with the final game of the evening, Minnesota at San Jose, getting started at 10:30 p.m. eastern.

Five of today’s games are divisional rivalries (Florida at Boston, Ottawa at Montréal, New York at Columbus, Dallas at St. Louis and Colorado at Nashville), and three are between two teams currently qualifying for the playoffs (Ottawa at Montréal, Dallas at St. Louis and Minnesota at San Jose).

Today marks the first game back in the TD Garden for Reilly Smith, so let’s head to Boston for their afternoon matinee with the B’s.

Unknown-2Unknown

 

 

 

 

 

The Boston Bruins traded Reilly Smith to the Florida Panthers this off-season in exchange for Jimmy Hayes.  During his two seasons in Boston, he was a consistent offensive threat as he ranked top-five in goals and top-six in assists in both campaigns.  He was especially important in Boston‘s special teams unit as well, as he notched a total of 18 power play assists, including 10 last season.

So far this season, Smith ranks first in power play goals (three); third in goals (seven); fourth in shots (55); fifth in points (14); and sixth in assists (seven), +/- (+1) and hits (40), and has been an integral addition to a Panther squad that has intentions of playing hockey instead of golf this April.

Maybe more significant than Smith returning to the Garden this afternoon is not so much his presence, but the presence of a man he also represents.  Smith was not the only contract that Florida has taken on – they are also currently paying Marc Savard’s salary.  Savard hasn’t stepped foot on the ice since the 2010-’11 Stanley Cup Championship season, and it is almost 100% certain that he never will again due to post-concussion syndrome.

During his playing days in Boston, he played a total of 304 games, scoring 74 goals (25 in 2008-’09) and 231 assists (74 in 2006-’07) for 305 total points (96 in ’06-’07).  Just like Smith, he represented a strong force on Boston‘s power play team as he notched a total of 29 goals (10 in ’06-’07) and 102 assists (39 in ’06-’07).

Currently, Florida sits outside the playoff picture, trailing Boston by only a lone point for the second wild card spot.  They play a strong defensive game with a resurgent Roberto Luongo in net.

Luongo (10-10-3) and co. have only given up 70 goals so far this season, a total that trails the league average by seven tallies.  Especially impressive about this is that 866 shots have found their way to goal, which exceeds the league average of 849, and the goalies have combined for a 92.4% save percentage.

Offensively, the Panthers have notched a total of 72 tallies on 824 shots (8.7%), led by Jaromir Jagr’s nine goals.

The opposition will test that defense, as they like to play a very strong offensive game.  So far this season, the Boston Bruins have scored 87 goals, led by Brad Marchand’s 13 tallies.  What’s most impressive about this high number is they are doing it on much fewer shots, made evident by the strong 10.7% shooting percentage.

Especially potent has been the Bruins‘ power play.  A total of 23 goals have been scored with the man-advantage (led by Loui Eriksson’s six tallies).  While that 23 is good, it’s made even better when it’s presented next to the lowly 77 penalties committed against the Bruins.  For those of you not doing that math, the Bruins are scoring on 29.87% of their power play opportunities.  The Panthers would be very wise to avoid the box at all costs.

Defensively, the Bruins are still a force to be reckoned with.  Although the defense and Tuukka Rask (10-7-3) started slowly this year, they’ve given up only 75 goals so far this season.  The 783 shots that Torey Krug doesn’t block (47 so far this season) have been saved 90.9% of the time.

The biggest shortcoming of this defense has been their penalty killing abilities.  Boston has given teams 103 opportunities, and has been scored on 22 times.  That 78.64% kill rate needs to improve if Boston wants to get out of a wild card position and as far away as possible from their division-leading rivals.

Some players to keep an eye on in today’s game include Boston‘s Rask (three shutouts [tied for second in the league]) and Florida‘s Aaron Ekblad (80 shots, +7, and two game-winners [all lead team])

I think Boston‘s offense will be too much to handle for Florida‘s defense, so I predict that the Bruins will have the potential to move into the third division spot should Montréal beat Ottawa this evening.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #19- 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship Preview (and more!)

The Down the Frozen River crew wraps up the 2015 edition of the Down the Frozen River Podcast by previewing the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship in Finland, as well as discussing this week’s headlines and doughnuts? Hear what they have to say about the latest news and notes from around the NHL in this week’s #DTFRPodcast.

Join the conversation, make a suggestion, or ask a question for our next podcast using #AskDownTheFrozenRiver or #DTFRPodcast on Twitter and/or drop us a line on Facebook– your thoughts might make it on our show!

December 11 – Day 65 – Which fly higher, Jets or Hawks?

In yesterday’s Game of the Day, the Nashville Predators exacted revenge on the team that beat them a couple days ago by beating the Chicago Blackhawks 5-1.  They may have scored two goals in the third period, but for most of the game they road the success of the three goals in the first 20 minutes.

Second Star of the Game James Neal opened the scoring late in the seventh minute of the first period after being assisted by Shea Weber and Mike Ribeiro.  Nashville doubled their lead almost nine minutes later exactly, which came to be the game-winner, when Third Star Craig Smith, assisted by Viktor Arvidsson (his first assist of the season), slid a backhand past Scott Darling.  Nashville‘s final goal of the period was scored  at the 16:33 mark during a power play when Filip Forsberg flipped a wrister into the net after being assisted by Roman Josi and Calle Jarnkrok.  The 3-0 lead held not into the first intermission, but also the second.

Patrick Kane scored the lone goal of the evening for the Hawks and extended his point streak to 24 straight games in the sixth minute of the third period after being assisted by Duncan Keith, the 350th helper of his regular-season career.  Neal scored his second of the night almost 10 minutes later, unassisted.  The final goal of the game was a short-handed empty netter, fired by Eric Nystrom, to set the score at the 5-1 final.

First Star Pekka Rinne (12-7-5) earned the victory after saving 36 of 37 shots faced (97.3%), while Chicago keeper Darling (2-3-2) takes the loss after stopping only 29 of 33 (87.9%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 20-9-5, still favoring the home squad by 15 points.

The hockey weekend gets started this Friday evening with seven matchups on the schedule.  The first two games get started at 7 p.m. eastern (Detroit at New Jersey and Los Angeles at Pittsburgh [SN1 and TVAS2]), followed 90 minutes later by two more games (Winnipeg at Chicago and Philadelphia at Dallas).  Beginning at 9 p.m. are Minnesota and Arizona, followed half an hour later by the New York Rangers visiting Edmonton.  Finally, Carolina visits Anaheim for this evening’s nightcap, which gets started at 10 p.m. eastern.

Winnipeg at Chicago is the only divisional matchup of the evening, while Los Angeles at Pittsburgh represents the only game between two teams currently qualifying for the playoffs tonight.  A divisional matchup is always fun, so we’ll head back to the United Center with the Hawks and catch them playing the Jets.

Unknown-3Unknown-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winnipeg enters the game after beating Columbus 6-4 at the MTS Centre last night.  Mathieu Perreault was responsible for the eventual game winner at the 7:36 mark of the third, although Cam Atkinson did all he could by scoring two goals to get within a tally of the high-flying Jets before Blake Wheeler notched an empty netter.

So far this season, the Jets have had to rely on a strong offense to compensate for poor play on the other end of the ice, which may explain why they are currently sitting outside the playoff picture.

That offense has notched 82 goals so far this season (led by Bryan Little, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler’s 10 goals each), eight tallies over the league average.  What’s surprising about this success has been that the Jets have only shot the puck 814 times (led by Dustin Byfuglien’s 93), a number that trails the league average.  Due to that though, Winnipeg‘s 9.3% shooting percentage exceeds that of the league average.

Another oddity about Winnipeg‘s offensive success is it hasn’t relied on the power play.  The Jets have only notched 14 goals on 89 opportunities, giving them a 15.73% that trails the league average by almost 3.5%.

The strong offense has been necessary for the 89 goals given up this season by Ondrej Pavelec (5-6-1) and co.  Even though Jacob Trouba has 57 blocks to his credit, 844 shots have still made it to net, of which a reasonable 91.1% have been saved.  Should the Jets want to make a playoff push this season, they will need to find another defender to strengthen the blue line.

As the Hawks were just featured yesterday, you can read an analysis of their game here.

The Jets and Hawks have played twice so far this season, with both earning a victory on their home ice.

Some players to watch in tonight’s game include Chicago‘s Crawford (13 wins [tied for fourth in league] and two shutouts [tied for sixth in the league]) & Kane (44 points [leads league], 26 assists [tied for league lead] and 18 goals [second in league]) and Winnipeg‘s Wheeler (28 points [tenth in league]).

Although Chicago lost and Winnipeg won last night, I do not think that Winnipeg will be able to stop Kane in the United Center.  Expect Chicago to win and Kane’s streak to continue another game.

Down the Frozen River(.com!)