Dates, awards finalists, opting out, new faces, exhibition schedule and the Ottawa Senators rebrand.
Though there’s only four games on today’s schedule, there’s at least two that should provide some captivating play.
The action starts a little later this evening as Chicago at Pittsburgh (NBCSN/TVAS) doesn’t drop the puck until 8 p.m., followed an hour later by Los Angeles at Calgary (SN). 10 p.m. marks the beginning of Washington at Colorado, preceding tonight’s nightcap – St. Louis at Arizona (SN360) – by half an hour. All times eastern.
Since the Kings‘ playoff chances took a significant hit last night with their loss in Edmonton, let’s catch the action in the Steel City.
Quick, tell me the best team in the NHL since the beginning of February. Calgary? Nope. Pittsburgh? Nada. Washington? Guess again.
You’ve probably figured it out, but the correct answer is the best team in the Western Conference, the 48-21-7 Blackhawks. In the past two months, Chicago has earned an impressive 18-4-2 record on the back of its elite offense.
On the season as a whole, the Hawks rank seventh-best in goals-per-game, but February and March have been an absolute clinic. Led by Patrick Kane‘s 33 points (the fourth-most in the league over that stretch), Chicago has buried 84 goals in that time, trailing only Nashville for most in the NHL.
Kane has been absolutely magnificent of late. 19 of his 34 goals on the season have been struck since the beginning of February, and both totals are tops in the Windy City. But the main reason Chicago is playing so well is they’ve stayed extremely healthy. Only 25 different skaters have donned a Blackhawks sweater in their past 24 games, an extremely impressive total that perfectly explains the club’s synergy.
That compatibility is most evidenced when the Hawks take to the power play. Though they actually rank 14th-worst on the season as a whole, Chicago has converted 22.4% of its man-advantages in the past month – the 10th-best effort in that time.
Captain Jonathan Toews gets to take a lot of credit for that success. Though he’s only registered one power play point in his past six games, Toews has nine on his resume since February to lead the club. Most of those have been assists to the other star of the first power play unit: Kane. He’s buried five power play goals in the past two months to headline the team and tie for fourth-most in the NHL.
If there’s one spot the Hawks are still trying to improve, it has to be their penalty kill. Stopping only 77.4% of opponents’ power plays all season, they rank fifth-worst in the league. The issue is not 30-16-3 Corey Crawford, but the defense playing in front of him. Crawford has faced the 12th-most power play shots against in the league (among netminders with 30 or more appearances) due to Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brent Seabrook being the only two players with more than 22 shorthanded shot blocks.
Though two games ended in a shootout, the last three games have been tough for the 46-18-11 Penguins, the third-best team in both the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference.
The reason for Pittsburgh‘s struggles is not on the ice, but off it. Nine players were listed on the Penguins‘ most recent injury report, though Jake Guentzel (concussion), Ron Hainsey (upper body) and Conor Sheary (lower body) skated yesterday. If any are cleared before tonight’s game, I’d bet on Sheary since Guentzel and Hainsey wore non-contact sweaters.
Usually one of the elite squads in the game, the holes in the lineup has most effected Pittsburgh‘s offense. Usually averaging a league-high 3.4 goals-per-game, the Pens have scored only six goals in their past three games, which ironically ties with Chicago for fifth-fewest since Thursday.
If able, Sheary will be a welcome addition to the lineup to rejuvenate the offense. He’s averaged .91 points-per-game this season, which is the third-best average in Pittsburgh. Of course, he’s no Evgeni Malkin, another member of the club spending more time in the training room than he’d like. His 33 goals are second-most on the team (and 10th-most in the league) behind Sidney Crosby‘s 42, as is his 1.16 points-per-game average (good for the ninth-most points in the NHL).
One thing that hasn’t suffered is the power play. Scoring on a third of its attempts, Pittsburgh is tied for sixth-best in the league since March 23 – well above its 22.4% success rate on the season. What’s most impressive about this effort is that the power play scoring has come from five different players, and none of them were drafted first overall.
Instead, the special team that has taken a step back is the one that was already poor to begin with. The Pens‘ penalty kill has blocked only one power play shot (courtesy of Tom Kuhnhackl) en route to only a 75% kill rate, which ties for eighth-worst in the league in the last week.
When the Penguins visited the United Center four weeks ago, they seemed to forget about one major detail: Kane.
Not Kahn, Captain Kirk; Kane. Notching his second hat trick in three games, the right wing teamed with Scott Darling and his 36-save effort to lead Chicago to a 4-1 victory.
Some players to keep an eye on in tonight’s game include Chicago‘s Crawford (30 wins [tied for eighth-most in the NHL]) and Kane (82 points [tied for second-most in the league] on 34 goals and 48 assists [both tied for sixth-most in the NHL]) & Pittsburgh‘s Crosby (42 goals [leads the league] for 82 points [tied for second-most in the NHL]), Matthew Murray (.923 save percentage [seventh-best in the league]), Justin Schultz (+27 [eighth-best in the NHL]) and Sheary (+26 [tied for ninth-best in the league]).
No matter how busy Chris Stewart – the Penguins‘ head athletic trainer – is, Vegas still favors Pittsburgh to win with a -125 line. Unfortunately, I don’t feel quite so optimistic for the home team. Chicago has been on an absolute tear over the past 56 days and doesn’t look like its stopping now.
- Brad McCrimmon (1959-2011) – Selected 15th-overall by the Bruins in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft, this defenseman spent most of his 18 seasons in Philadelphia. The late 80s were an incredible year for this Saskatchewanian, as he not only made his lone All-Star Game appearance in ’88, but also hoisted the Stanley Cup with the Flames a year later.
- Maxim Lapierre (1985-) – Though currently playing in Switzerland, this center has 10 seasons of NHL experience. Due to being selected 61st-overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft by the local Canadiens, most of his playing time came in Montréal. A consistent enforcer, he spent 130 minutes in the penalty box in 2011-’12 as a Canuck.
Three of Boston‘s four lines found the back of the net to lead the Bruins to a 4-1 victory over the Predators in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
Patrice Bergeron (Zdeno Chara and Brad Marchand) got the scoring started early with a wrist shot 2:28 into the game to give the Bruins an early lead. With 6:08 remaining in the first period, Second Star of the Game David Krejci (David Pastrnak and Drew Stafford) doubled that lead with a wrister of his own, the score that proved to be the game-winner.
The visiting Preds finally got on the scoreboard with 8:44 remaining in regulation when Craig Smith (Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis) tipped the puck into Tuukka Rask‘s net, but Third Star Noel Acciari (Riley Nash) neutralized that tally 4:31 later with the first goal of his NHL career. David Backes (Dominic Moore) took advantage of an empty net in the waning moments of the contest to set the final 4-1 score.
Rask earned the victory after saving 24-of-25 shots faced (96%), leaving Pekka Rinne with the loss, who saved 27-of-30 (90%).
Boston‘s home victory was a big one in the DtFR Game of the Day series, as road and home teams in the series have both earned an equal 187 points. Visitors do have the most wins though at 82-58-23, compared to the hosts’ 81-57-25.
Saturdays are known for being action-packed, and today does not disappoint with its 10 contests. The first two games (Colorado at Detroit and Columbus at the New York Islanders [NHLN]) are matinees and drop the puck at 1 p.m. They’re just a sampler of excitement to come, as five matchups (the New York Rangers at Minnesota [NHLN], Chicago at Toronto [CBC/CITY], Montréal at Ottawa [SN/TVAS], Washington at Tampa Bay and Nashville at Carolina) get underway at the usual 7 p.m. starting time. St. Louis at Arizona gets green-lit two hours later, followed by Vancouver at Edmonton (CBC/SN) at 10 p.m. and Anaheim at San Jose at 10:30 p.m. All times eastern.
- Colorado at Detroit: It’s an old-school, former Western Conference rivalry between teams that have seen better days.
- Chicago at Toronto: For the first time in a long while, the Blackhawks‘ lone visit to the Air Canada Centre should provide a thrilling contest.
- Montréal at Ottawa: The Atlantic Division lead is on the line in this rivalry tonight, the first half of a home-and-home series this weekend.
- Anaheim at San Jose: Another rivalry, this one takes place in another competitive division: the Pacific.
I tried to come up with a better reason for any other game, but this weekend’s home-and-home between the top two teams in the Atlantic Division is just too big to ignore. Off to the Canadian capital!
Talk about a playoff preview. Not only does tonight’s game offer a look into a potential second round meeting between these two clubs, but the fact that they square off again tomorrow night at the Bell Centre gives a full sense of how that series could play out.
Oh yeah, and these teams aren’t necessarily fond of each other to start with. As if this weekend’s games couldn’t get more exciting, they just found a way too.
Of course, the 39-23-8 Canadiens cast a large, imposing shadow in light of both what they’ve done in their history as well as what they’ve simply done this year. They’ve topped the Atlantic Division for effectively the entire season, and it’s all been on the back of their incredible goaltending which has allowed only 174 goals against, which ties for seventh-fewest in the NHL.
A major reason for that is the fact that 31-17-5 Carey Price calls Montréal home (shh, we’re not talking about how he’s originally from Canucks-country). Joint-winner of the 2015 William M. Jennings Trophy, he has a .922 season save percentage and 2.27 GAA, the seventh and eighth-best rates, respectively, among the 40 goaltenders with at least 27 appearances.
Price is excellent on his own, but it doesn’t hurt to have one of the better defensive corps in the league playing in front of him. Led by Shea Weber and his team-leading 143 shot blocks, that’s exactly what Cluade Julien has at his disposal, as the Habs‘ blueline has allowed only 29.8 shots against per game, which ties for the 10th-best effort in the league.
If you like goaltender matchups, this weekend’s series is the one for you. The 39-23-7 Senators have been stuck in Montréal‘s shadow for most of the season, even though they trail the Habs for first place in the Atlantic by only one point. They are another team that prefer to grind out a victory, as they’ve allowed only 176 goals against – the ninth-fewest in the NHL.
Although 21-8-1 Craig Anderson had resumed his starting responsibilities since rejoining the Sens, he’s been forced to miss the last two games with a lower body injury. With that in mind, I’d guess that 18-12-6 Mike Condon – a former Montréal goaltender – will once again be called into the fray. The second-year player is definitely the second-best netminder Guy Boucher has had at his disposal this season, but he hasn’t been abysmal. In fact, Condon’s .914 season save percentage and 2.49 GAA (those numbers include his short time with Pittsburgh earlier in the year) ranks 25th and 18th-best in the league, respectively, among the 50 other goalies with at least 18 appearances.
Beyond experience, what makes Condon’s task a little more difficult than counterpart Price’s is the fact that Ottawa‘s defense is not on par with that of Montréal‘s. Even with Erik Karlsson‘s league-leading 187 shot blocks, the Senators still allow 30.3 shots to reach their netminder’s crease per game, which is the 15th-highest average in the league.
Another facet of the game where the Sens definitely do not have an advantage over the Canadiens is in the power play. Though led by Karlsson’s 23 power play points, Ottawa has converted only 17.7% of its man-advantages into goals – the 10th-worst rate in the NHL. That being said, Mike Hoffman has been a shining star on the power play, as he has buried a dozen goals with the extra-man, which ties for fourth-most in the league.
It’s been all Ottawa so far this season when these two clubs have met, as the Senators have a three-point advantage in the two-game series. The last time they squared off was on November 22 in Montréal where, thanks to Karlsson’s game-winning third period goal, the Sens won 4-3.
Some players to keep an eye on tonight include Montréal‘s Max Pacioretty (33 goals [tied for fourth-most in the NHL]) and Price (31 wins on a .922 save percentage [both seventh-best in the league] and a 2.27 GAA [eighth-best in the NHL]) & Ottawa‘s Condon (five shutouts [tied for fifth-most in the league]) and Karlsson (50 assists [tied for second-most in the NHL]).
Vegas is favoring a lot of road teams this evening, and Montréal is one of them – Ottawa‘s line reads +100. In light of the previous two meetings between these clubs, it would seem tough to favor the Habs, but the fact that Condon was not involved in those games is enough for me to go with the club wearing white.
- Stanley Cup (1892-) – You might have heard of this. It’s only the most desired trophy in the sport of hockey, if not all sports. You know, nothing major.
- Guy Lapointe (1948-) – Speaking of the Stanley Cup, this defenseman hoisted it six times, all with the club he played a majority of his career with: Montréal. The four-time All Star was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1993.
- Guy Carbonneau (1960-) – The Canadiens certainly have an affinity for Guys, as they drafted this center 44th-overall in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft. He played in Montréal for most of his 19-year career, and won two of his three Stanley Cups with the club. He also won three Frank J. Selke Trophies.
- Kimmo Timonen (1975-) – Although selected by Los Angeles in the 10th-round of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, this defenseman ended up being a four-time All Star. He spent most of his career in Nashville, but was a member of Chicago‘s 2015 Stanley Cup winning team.
- Zdeno Chara (1977-) – Although now known most for his 11 seasons with the Bruins, this defenseman was actually selected by the Islanders 56th-overall in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft. He’s a six-time All Star and hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2011 to go with his 2009 James Norris Memorial Trophy.
A 10-round shootout, decided by Zemgus Girgensons, earned the Sabres the bonus point in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they beat Anaheim 2-1.
The first goal of the game was struck by Rickard Rakell (Third Star of the Game Cam Fowler and Brandon Montour), a backhanded shot with 8:12 remaining in the first period. It is Rakell’s 31st goal of the year, an total made even more impressive since he missed 11 games this season.
Ryan O’Reilly (Jake McCabe and Second Star Jack Eichel) is the man responsible for leveling the game at one-all. He buried a slap shot with 4:25 remaining in the second period after Eichel’s 29th assist of the season.
Since I’ve already spoiled the surprise of the shootout, let’s jump right there, as none of the 30 combined shots in the third period or overtime found the back of the net.
- As the home team, the Ducks had the opportunity to go first in the shootout. They sent out Jakob Silfverberg, who’s shot was saved by Anders Nilsson.
- Speaking of saves, that’s exactly what First Star Jonathan Bernier did to Tyler Ennis. The shootout score stayed at 0-0.
- Next up was Ryan Getzlaf, who buried his shot for Anaheim.
- O’Reilly was quick to hold serve for the Sabres, once again tying the shootout at one-all.
- Rakell: saved by Nilsson.
- Eichel: saved by Bernier. Shootout still tied at 1-1.
- Corey Perry missed the net.
- Sam Reinhart: saved by Bernier. Still tied at 1-1.
- Patrick Eaves: saved by Nilsson.
- Evander Kane missed the net. 1-1 still.
- Fowler: saved by Nilsson.
- Matt Moulson missed the net. Yup, still 1-1.
- Antoine Vermette: saved by Nilsson.
- Brian Gionta: saved by Bernier. You know the shootout score by now.
- Ryan Kesler: saved by Nilsson.
- Evan Rodrigues: saved by Bernier. Still tied at 1-1.
- Brandon Montour broke the monotony by beating Nilsson, forcing a miss-and-lose situation for the Sabres.
- Under that pressure, Dan Bylsma sent out Rasmus Ristolainen, which proved to be the right choice. The defenseman continued the shootout by tying it at 2-2.
- Nick Ritchie: saved by Nilsson.
- Girgensons found the game-winner on his stick, pulling the Sabres within eight points of the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.
Nilsson earned the victory after saving 39-of-40 (97.5%) shots faced in regulation and overtime, leaving the shootout loss to Bernier, who saved 30-of-31 (96.8%).
After all that, the 77-52-22 road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series now have a four-point advantage on home teams, due in part to their three-game winning streak.
It’s Thursday once again, my favorite day of the week. There’s a dozen games taking place tonight, starting with five (Philadelphia at New Jersey [TVAS], Winnipeg at the New York Islanders, Nashville at Washington [NHLN], Minnesota at Carolina and Florida at Columbus [TVAS]) at 7 p.m. Another pair of contests (Chicago at Ottawa [RDS] and Toronto at Tampa Bay) drop the puck half an hour later, followed by Boston at Edmonton at 9 p.m. The West Coast gets involved at 10 p.m. with two matches (Dallas at Vancouver and Detroit at Arizona), followed half an hour later by tonight’s co-nightcaps: Buffalo at Los Angeles and St. Louis at San Jose. All times eastern.
- Philadelphia at New Jersey: It’s the second rivalry game in as many nights for the Flyers.
- Toronto at Tampa Bay: Not only is it the return of Brian Boyle to Amalie Arena, but it’s also an important game in the race for the Eastern Conference’s second wildcard.
- St. Louis at San Jose: These teams combined to create a thrilling six-game series for the Campbell Bowl last postseason.
To put things simply, there’s a lot on the line in the Toronto–Tampa game that we just can’t miss.
Although Philadelphia‘s victory over the Penguins last night gave the Flyers a bit of playoff hope, it’s really a three-team race for the Eastern Conference’s second wild card going into the final 14-ish games of the season.
After last night’s action, the Isles have a one-point lead on 10th-place Toronto, and win the regulation+overtime victories tiebreaker against ninth-place Tampa Bay.
To keep math simple in regards to how tonight’s featured matchup effects the standings, know this: As long as the Islanders don’t beat Winnipeg tonight, the winner of this game will move into the second wild card in the Eastern Conference – at least for a day.
Even if all three clubs finish the night with 78 points (that happens if the Isles and Lightning both fall in overtime), Toronto takes over eighth-place with a game in-hand. In that situation, New York and Tampa Bay would remain in the order they’re in right now, but fall a step in the standings.
Clear as mud? Good.
With the most to gain this evening, the Maple Leafs enter tonight’s game with a 31-23-14 record, which is already the most wins they’ve had since their 38-36-8 season in 2013-’14 (man, the East was stacked that year too). The main reason Toronto is having to work so hard for a playoff spot is due to its lackluster defense, which has allowed 198 goals against in 68 games – the seventh-worst rate in the NHL.
More often than not, 27-15-13 Frederik Andersen has been the man between the pipes for the Leafs, and he’s done a better job than his .916 season save percentage and 2.73 GAA indicate. Although those statistics rank only (t)13th and (t)29th in the league, respectively, among the 37 goalies with at least 28 appearances, he’s performed well under the circumstances.
Those circumstances being, of course, a defense that allows 32.7 shots against per game, the third-highest rate in the entire NHL and worst among playoff hopefuls.
If there’s anything to get excited about regarding Toronto‘s defensive corps, its that Nikita Zaitsev, one of the seven rookies on the roster that gets regular playing time, is the leading shot blocker on the team, having registered 117 already this season. Not only will the 25-year-old continue to develop, but more high-class free agents will be attracted to Toronto this offseason to better bolster the blueline.
That being said, the Leafs‘ defense repeatedly shows they’re potential when they’re forced into a shorthanded situation. By rejecting 82.9% of opposing power plays, Toronto ranks eighth-best in the league on the penalty kill. Much of that credit belongs to Roman Polak, who leads the team with 31 shorthanded blocks.
Given the fact that the Maple Leafs drafted potentially the next greatest player in hockey (or at least the next greatest forward), it’s no surprise that they’re really, really good on the power play. What is surprising, though, is that it’s not Auston Matthews heading that attack. Instead, it’s fellow rookie William Nylander, whose team-leading 22 power play points have sparked a 23.5% penalty-conversion rate, the second-best mark in the NHL. Nazem Kadri has been responsible for a bunch of those goals – 11, to be accurate, which is the most in Toronto.
With arguably the most to lose tonight, Tampa Bay plays host this evening with a 34-26-9 record. Just like with Toronto, there is one main reason Tampa finds itself on the outside of playoff picture looking in – but it’s on the opposite end of the ice (or the same end, depending on how you look at it). Winners of their last four, the Lightning‘s biggest worry is offense, as they have managed only 187 goals this season – the 13th-fewest in the league.
No matter how hard Nikita Kucherov tries, he just can’t seem to pull the Bolts along. He’s having a solid season with his team-leading 69 points and 31 goals (both totals already career highs with 13 games to go), but his team simply will not follow him.
The fact that Tyler Johnson is the second-best forward on the team is all the proof I need: behind Kucherov, his 44 points and 19 goals are most in Tampa Bay. Those totals do not even break into the top-50 in the NHL. Simply put, more than one player needs to provide offense for a club to find true success, and I don’t trust Johnson to truly step up to fill that secondary role.
Of course, I can rail against the Bolts‘ offense all I want, but it’s hard to argue with a power play that is successful on 22.4% of attempts (fourth-best in the league). Kucherov is at the head of that attack too with his 14 goals, but it’s actually Victor Hedman who leads the team in power play points with 27 to his credit.
For division rivals (we’re using that term loosely right now), it’s surprising this is only the third meeting of the season between these two clubs. With both teams beating the other once this season, the Bolts have a slight edge in the series due to forcing overtime in their 3-2 loss on December 29 – the last time they met the Leafs.
Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Tampa Bay‘s Peter Budaj (seven shutouts [second-most in the league] and a 2.15 GAA [fifth-best in the NHL] for 28 wins [tied for ninth-most in the league]), Hedman (45 assists [tied for fourth-most in the NHL]) and Kucherov (31 goals for 69 points [both tied for eighth-most in the league]) & Toronto‘s Jake Gardiner (+25 [leads the team]), Mitch Marner (37 assists [leads the team]) and Matt Martin (254 hits [leads the team]).
With a -128 line, Vegas seems reasonably confident that the Lightning will pull out a victory this evening with home ice. I don’t feel as confident in that pick, since I believe Toronto‘s offense is superior to Tampa‘s defense. It’ll be a good contest, but I like to Leafs to earn the victory.
- Roger Crozier (1942-1996) – The first two years of this goaltender’s 14-year career were phenomenal. Making his debut in Detroit in the 1963-’64 season, he won the 1965 Calder Trophy on a 2.42 GAA, followed a year later by hoisting the Conn Smythe with seven shutouts.
- Duane Sutter (1960-) – Players selected 17th-overall are expected to produce. By winning four Stanley Cups in a row for the Islanders, this right wing did just that. He marked 45 points in those four Cup runs, including 20 goals.
- Riley Cote (1982-) – This right wing appeared in four NHL seasons – all with the Flyers. An enforcer by trade, he now earns his paycheck as an assistant coach with Philadelaphia‘s AHL farm team.
- Brandon Prust (1984-) – Calgary selected this left wing 70th-overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, but his longest tenured team is the Rangers. He is still playing hockey professionally, but with Nürnberg in the DEL.
Scoring a goal every 10 minutes is usually a good way to earn a victory. That’s what the Bruins did for the final two periods to beat Calgary 5-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day. That loss snaps Calgary‘s 10-game winning streak.
It was actually the Flames that opened the scoring, courtesy of an Alex Chiasson (Lance Bouma and Matt Stajan) wrist shot 9:23 into the game. Third Star of the Game David Pastrnak (Zdeno Chara) pulled Boston even 2:24 later with a wrister that proved to be the final tally of the opening frame.
6:04 after returning from the break, the score read 2-1 in favor of the visitors. First Star Brad Marchand continued his impressive season by scoring his 36th goal of the year, an unassisted backhanded shot. 70 seconds later, Dougie Hamilton scored an unassisted marker of his own, a wrister, to once again tie the score. Yet it proved to be Calgary‘s final goal of the night, meaning David Backes‘ (David Krejci) wrister with 8:57 remaining in the second period proved to be the winning-tally.
The back-and-forth between home and away teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series continues. After tonight’s victory by the club in white, the 75-53-22 road teams now have a one-point lead over the hosts in the series.
I thought about posting Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” but decided instead to write about hockey.
There’s only three games on the schedule this evening, which makes choosing the featured game a breeze. Pittsburgh at Columbus (NHLN/SN/TVAS) starts things off at 7 p.m., followed half an hour later by Colorado at Carolina. Finally, Florida at Anaheim (SN1) drops the puck at 10 p.m. as tonight’s nightcap. All times eastern.
It is with great deliberation that we will feature Pittsburgh at Columbus for the third time this season in as many meetings.
Winners of its past two games, Pittsburgh makes its second trip of the season to Nationwide Arena with a 36-13-7 record, which is good enough for second place in both the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference. The Penguins have been magnificent with the puck on their stick this season, as they’ve buried 199 goals so far – the most in the NHL.
Leading that charge has been none other than Captain Sidney Crosby, who’s 64 points not only top the team, but are also the second-most in the league. Of course, just last night he joined the 1000-point club with a three-point effort against the Jets, including taking credit for the game-winning overtime goal. Speaking of goals, that’s another department Crosby heads for Pittsburgh, as his 31 markers are tops in the Steel City.
As you’d expect from the club with the best offense in the league, Pittsburgh‘s power play is a thing of beauty. The Penguins convert 22.2% of opponents’ penalties into goals – the fourth-best rate in the league. Since Crosby commands the even-strength play, Phil Kessel has taken up residence as the power play manager in his second season with the team. His 25 power play points lead the team, even if Crosby has the man-advantage goal-scoring lead with 10 tallies.
If the reigning Stanley Cup champions have one thing to fix, it is definitely their penalty kill. They are ninth-worst in the league when down a man, stopping only 79.6% of opposing power plays. Ian Cole certainly doesn’t deserve the blame though, as his team-leading 32 shorthanded blocks are tied for third-most in the league.
Playing host this evening are the 36-15-5 Blue Jackets, the third-best team in both the Metropolitan and the East. Columbus is a very strong team that plays well on both ends of the ice, but I’m most impressed by their offense. The Jackets have managed 180 tallies so far this season, the fifth-most in the league.
No one deserves more credit for that effort than Cam Atkinson, who leads the team with 49 points. Just like the star forward for the opposition, Atkinson is not afraid to call his own number, as his 27 goals are also a team-high.
Few (three, to be exact) power plays are better than Pittsburgh‘s. The Jackets are the proud owners of one of said power plays, as they convert 22.8% of their man-advantages into goals – the third-best rate in the NHL. Alexander Wennberg has been the mastermind behind that fantastic effort, as his 21 power play points are tops in Ohio, but it’s been Nick Foligno that has been the most impressive. He’s buried 10 goals with the man-advantage, which ties for sixth-most in the league in addition to leading the Jackets.
Both teams have already hosted one game in this best-of-four season series, and both teams can claim a home victory. That being said, the most recent game, which took place at PPG Paints Arena, was nowhere near as dominant a performance as the Jackets had when they hosted. Columbus won 7-1 when these clubs met December 22, but the Penguins needed overtime to win 4-3 on February 3.
Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Columbus‘ Atkinson (27 goals [tied for fourth-most in the NHL]), Sergei Bobrovsky (30 wins [second-most in the league] on a 2.19 GAA [fourth-best in the NHL] and a .925 save percentage [seventh-best in the league], including three shutouts [10th-most in the NHL]) and Wennberg (36 assists [tied for fifth-most in the league]) & Pittsburgh‘s Crosby (31 goals [most in the NHL] among 64 points [second-most in the league]), Evgeni Malkin (58 points [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]), Matthew Murray (.926 save percentage [tied for third-best in the league] for a 2.27 GAA [tied for sixth-best in the NHL]) and Justin Schultz (+31 [tied for third-best in the league]).
Vegas has marked the Jackets to win with a -110 line, and it’s hard to pick against that. There are few clubs that can go toe-to-toe with the Penguins, but Columbus is one of them. Pair home ice with a penalty kill that is superior to that of the Penguins‘, and we should see a Blue Jackets victory – even if it’s not by six goals.
- Lindy Ruff (1960-) – Selected 32nd-overall in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft, this skater spent most of his 12 seasons with the club that drafted him: Buffalo. With one assist during the 1990-’91 campaign, he claimed exactly 300 points over his career. Nowadays, he’s the head coach in Dallas.
- Luc Robitaille (1966-) – This left wing was a special player. Although drafted by Los Angeles in the ninth-round of the 1984 NHL Entry Draft, he won the 1987 Calder and proved to be an eight-time All Star. The Hall-of-Famer spent most of his career with the Kings, but he hoisted his lone Stanley Cup in 2002 with Detroit.
- Vinny Prospal (1975-) – This center might have been drafted by Philadelphia in the third-round of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, but he spent most of his 16-year career in Tampa Bay. He registered 765 points before hanging up his skates for good.
- Drew Miller (1984-) – Anaheim selected this left wing in the sixth-round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, but he’s spent the last eight seasons with the Red Wings organization. He’s one of the lucky players to make his NHL debut during the playoffs, and he was even luckier to win the Stanley Cup with the Ducks in 2007.
With a 4-2 home victory against the crosstown rival Rangers in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Islanders have pulled within a point of the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.
The game didn’t start the Isles‘ way though, as Nick Holden (Mats Zuccarello and Brady Skjei) took credit for the lone goal of the first period. He buried his wrist shot only 6:23 into the contest to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead that held into the first intermission.
Only 2:43 after returning to the ice, Anders Lee (Josh Bailey and First Star of the Game John Tavares) pulled the Islanders even with a wrister, followed only 3:41 later by Second Star Andrew Ladd‘s (Stephen Gionta) wrister. The Isles took their 2-1 lead into the second intermission.
The Isles‘ third straight goal proved to be the winner, and it was a special one. Only 3:03 after returning to the ice, Third Star Nikolay Kulemin (Tavares) buried a shorthanded wrister to set the score at 3-1. Jimmy Vesey (Rick Nash and Skjei) eventually converted the Rangers‘ power play into a goal, but Ladd’s (Jason Chimera) second goal of the night on an empty net squelched any chance of a late Blueshirts comeback.
The Isles‘ victory snaps a three-game losing skid by home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series and sets the hosts’ record at 63-42-18, four points better than visitors.
Wednesday schedules are always light, but that doesn’t mean the NHL doesn’t organize some decent matchups. The action starts, as it usually does, at 7 p.m. with Toronto at Columbus (SN/TVAS), followed an hour later by St. Louis at Detroit (NBCSN). Philadelphia at Calgary (SN360) drops the puck at 9:30 p.m., followed 60 minutes later by this evening’s nightcap: Florida at San Jose (NBCSN). All times eastern.
Break out your favorite throwback sweater for tonight’s old-school rivalry!
Winners of their past four contests, the Blues make their final trip to Joe Louis Arena (barring an improbable meeting in the Stanley Cup Finals) with a 29-22-5 record, which is good enough for third in the Central Division. When St. Louis has found success this season, it’s done it with the puck on it’s stick, as the Notes have struck 160 tallies in 56 games, which ties for the ninth-best scoring rate in the NHL.
You get two guesses as who the superstar forward is for the Notes, and you probably don’t need the second one. Vladimir Tarasenko has been nigh unstoppable with 53 points to his credit, including 26 tallies. Both numbers are the best in Mound City by a decent margin.
If the Blues are dangerous at even-strength, their power play is nearly lethal. St. Louis converts 21.8% of opponent’s penalties into goals, the sixth-best rate in the NHL. The Notes employ a two-headed attack when presented with the man-advantage, as both Kevin Shattenkirk and Tarasenko have 18 power play points apiece, but it’s been the blueliner that’s been most impressive – his seven extra-man goals top the squad.
The penalty kill is no slouch either. When the Blues commit a penalty, they don’t allow a goal 84.2% of the time, which ties for the fifth-best effort in the league. Captain Alex Pietrangelo is deserving of most of the credit, as his 26 shorthanded shot blocks are most on the team.
Blues fans thought they had it bad this season when their club wasn’t performing up to expectations. There’s probably still Red Wings ultras planning on buying playoff tickets for the 26th-straight year.
Unfortunately for them, 22-24-10 Detroit‘s chances aren’t looking bright as they currently sit in last place in the Eastern Conference. Of course, things can change in a hurry in that conference, as they trail second wildcard Toronto by only nine points. The reasons for the Wings‘ struggles are many (injuries being one of the more glaring issues), but the offense has certainly been the weaker facet of their game. Losers of their past three games, Detroit has managed only 135 goals in 56 games – the fifth-worst scoring rate in the NHL.
If Jeff Blashill and Red Wings management have learned nothing this season, it’s that Henrik Zetterberg is definitely the right man to wear the “C” for Detroit. He’s shown his leadership in countless ways since taking the job at the start of the delayed 2013 season, and this campaign is no different as his 41 points are tops on the team. Goal scoring responsibilities have been well distributed throughout the club, but Andreas Athanasiou and Thomas Vanek, who says he’s going to play tonight, have led the team with 14 tallies apiece.
Where the Wings have been especially horrendous is on the power play, as their 12% success rate is easily the worst in hockey. It’s not a good sign Vanek’s 10 points on the man-advantage are the most impressive on the team, although he has been solid at scoring the puck with five power play goals to his credit.
It’s not exactly saying much, but Detroit is definitely better on the penalty kill… but their 79.8% success rate is still 10th-worst in the league. That is no fault of Danny DeKeyser‘s though, as his 26 shorthanded shot blocks are not only the best on the team, but also tie for 16th-most in the NHL.
The Red Wings have already made their yearly trip to St. Louis, and it was certainly a pleasant visit for them. Although it required a shootout, they were able to beat the Blues 2-1 on October 27.
Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Detroit‘s Zetterberg (28 assists among 41 points [both most on the team]) and St. Louis‘ Tarasenko (26 goals [tied for sixth-most in the league]).
It’s never a good sign for the home team when Vegas has a positive number next to your team, but that’s where Detroit finds itself. A +100 in’t a huge line, but it’s enough to make me feel even more certain that the Blues will earn two points tonight.
- Tony McKegney (1958-) – Drafted 32nd-overall by Buffalo in the 1978 NHL Amateur Draft, this left wing played 13 seasons in the league – most of which with the Sabres. His 639 points were split as evenly as they could be between goals and assists, and he lit the lamp 320 times.
- Brian Propp (1959-) – Another left wing, this five-time All Star was selected 14th-overall by Philadelphia in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft. He played 15 seasons – most of which with the Flyers – and is one of the 85 men to register 1000 points in his career.
- Craig Simpson (1967-) – Although Pittsburgh drafted this left wing second-overall in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft, he spent most of his 10-year career in Edmonton – and how fortunate he was to do so. In the span of his first three seasons with the Oilers, he hoisted the Stanley Cup twice.
- Jaromir Jagr (1972-) – The man, the myth and the legend turns 45 today, and gets to celebrate in style in The Tank. The nine-time All Star was drafted fifth-overall in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft by Pittsburgh, where he hoisted two Stanley Cups and won the Hart Trophy, but he’s in his third season in Florida.
- Serge Aubin (1975-) – Pittsburgh selected this left wing in the seventh-round of the 1994 NHL Entry Draft, but he never suited up for the Penguins. Instead, he’s best remembered for his time in Columbus.
All those that had Justin Bailey being the Sabres‘ savior in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, please raise your hand. I now consider everyone who raised their hands liars, as that was only the rookie’s second goal of the season.
The game started with a bang for Buffalo, as First Star of the Game Ryan O’Reilly (Kyle Okposo and Justin Falk) buried a snap shot only 24 seconds into the game to give the Sabres an early lead, but Second Star Bobby Ryan (Erik Karlsson and Fredrik Claesson) tied the game with 5:15 remaining in the first period.
Only one goal was struck in the second period, and it belonged to the Senators. Dion Phaneuf (Ryan) takes credit on a wrist shot with 5:27 remaining in the second period to set the score at 2-1 going into the second intermission.
Just like in the first frame, the Sabres attacked quickly in the third. Only 51 seconds after resuming play, Matt Moulson (Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel) lit the lamp with a wrister to tie the game at two-all. 6:47 later, that’s when Bailey (Jake McCabe and Rasmus Ristolainen) struck with his game-winning deflection.
Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, and specifically the Sabres, are on quite a tear. Buffalo takes credit for two of the visitors’ four victories in the past five days, pulling the roadies within four points of the 62-41-18 hosts.
There may only be two games happening today, but one of them is going to be absolutely fantastic. The action starts at 7 p.m. eastern when the New York Rangers visit Columbus (NBCSN/SN/TVAS), followed 90 minutes later by Arizona at Calgary.
You get one guess at which one we’re going to feature.
The 20-somethings will remember this blue song…
…while the 30-something crowd might enjoy a little LeAnn Rimes.
Regardless of your preference, I think the message is clear: blue is the color of the day.
The 36-18-1 Rangers may be wearing white tonight, but they’re the Blueshirts all the same, complete with a five-game winning streak. Currently occupying fourth place in both the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference, offense is the name of the game in Manhattan, as the Rangers have managed 187 goals this season – the third-most in the league.
Calling J.T. Miller the standout forward is almost an insult to the rest of the Rangers‘ attackers, as four players have 40 or more points to their credit. That being said, Miller does lead the team by contributing to 45 tallies this season. Of course, most of those are assists, meaning someone has to be scoring those passes… That’s where linemate Michael Grabner comes into play: he leads the team with 26 tallies.
Playing host this evening is 35-14-5 Columbus, the second-best team in the Metropolitan. Although they’ve been exemplary on both ends of the ice, the Blue Jackets have been most impressive at keeping the opposition off the scoreboard, as they’ve yielded only 132 goals this season – the third-fewest in the NHL.
Every good defense starts with a good goalie, and Columbus is no different. 30-11-3 Sergei Bobrovsky has been the man to beat this year with his .926 season save percentage and 2.17 GAA. Respectively, those stats rank (t)third and fourth-best in the league against the 38 other netminders with at least 22 appearances.
For those wondering, last year’s Vezina Trophy winner – Braden Holtby – currently has a .926 season save percentage and 2.02 GAA. Yes, he’s better than Bobrovsky, but only by the skin of his teeth.
Yet I’d argue Bobrovsky has had a better season than Holtby so far, mostly due to the defenses playing in front of them. Washington has a fantastic defense, which takes pressure off Holtby. Meanwhile, Columbus‘ blueline is only average, as they allow 30.1 shots-per-game to reach Bobrovsky’s crease – only the (t)13th-best in the league. Jack Johnson has been at the head of that effort with his team-leading 89 shot blocks.
The Blue Jackets are no slouch on the other end, though – especially when they have the man-advantage. Led by Alexander Wennberg‘s 20 power play points, Columbus has buried 23.3% of their power play opportunities, which ties for the second-best rate in the NHL. Power play linemates Cam Atkinson and Nick Foligno have shared scoring responsibilities, as both have nine goals with the extra man.
It’s rare the Penguins pull for New York, but that’s the case this evening. Should the Rangers win in regulation, Pittsburgh advances past Columbus for second place in the Metropolitan Division due to winning the three-way games-played tie with the Jackets and Blueshirts (Columbus would still lead the Rangers with a game in hand). Meanwhile, a Jackets victory of any variety leaves the Eastern standings as they are – for a night, anyways.
This is the fourth game in a five-game series between these teams. Currently, Columbus has a 2-1-0 series lead over the Rangers, thanks to a 6-4 victory at Madison Square Garden the last time these clubs met on the last day of January.
Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Columbus‘ Atkinson (27 goals [fourth-most in the league]) and Bobrovsky (30 wins [second-most in the NHL] on a 2.17 GAA [fifth-best in the league] and a .926 save percentage [tied for fifth-best in the NHL], including three shutouts [tied for eighth-most in the league]) & New York‘s Grabner (26 goals [tied for fifth-most in the NHL] for a +28 [tied for sixth-best in the league]) and Henrik Lundqvist (26 wins [tied for seventh-most in the NHL]) or Antti Raanta (2.34 GAA [tied for ninth-best in the league]).
With a great goaltender, a killer power play and home ice to boot, it’s hard to argue with a -135 line in favor of the Blue Jackets. While the Blueshirts will certainly not lose easy, I think Columbus wins tonight.
- Gaston Gingras (1959-) – Picked by Montréal 27th-overall in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft, this defenseman played 10 seasons in the NHL. Not only did he spend most of his days with the club that selected him, he also won his lone Stanley Cup with the Canadiens in 1986.
- Marc Crawford (1961-) – This left wing was selected by Vancouver in the fourth-round of the 1980 NHL Entry Draft. Every single one of his 176 games in the league were in a Canucks sweater.
- Mats Sundin (1971-) – The first overall pick in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft by Quebec, this Hall-of-Fame center played 18 seasons – most of which with Toronto. He was selected to eight All Star games and notched 1349 career points.
- Niklas Backstrom (1978-) – Although he currently plays for HIFK, this netminder spent 10 seasons in the NHL, almost all of which with Minnesota. He most recently played for Calgary, making three starts last season.
Rivalries are supposed to be tight games. That wasn’t the case last night in the DtFR Game of the Day, as Boston won a four-goal shutout against the hated Canadiens.
Those that bet on Adam McQuaid (Third Star of the Game Peter Cehlarik and Torey Krug) scoring not only the first goal of the game, but also the game-winner, are currently a whole lot richer. He buried his snap shot 8:57 into the game for the lone tally of the first period.
The Bruins truly took control of this contest in the second period with two goals courtesy of Second Star Zdeno Chara (Ryan Spooner and Brad Marchand) at the 5:08 mark in a shorthanded situation, followed almost exactly 10 minutes later by David Krejci (David Backes and Cehlarik) on the power play.
Boston‘s victory is the first shutout in the DtFR Game of the Day series since February 6, and expands the 62-39-18 home teams’ lead over visitors in the series to eight points.
It’s time for some Tuesday hockey. We’ve got a nice schedule, starting with four games at 7 p.m. (Detroit at Boston [SN], Los Angeles at New Jersey, Columbus at the New York Islanders and St. Louis at Pittsburgh [NBCSN]), followed half an hour later by another pair (Calgary at Montréal [RDS] and Washington at Ottawa [RDS2]). Two more games drop the puck at the top of the hour (Buffalo at Nashville [TVAS] and San Jose at Winnipeg), with tonight’s co-nightcaps (Tampa Bay at Chicago and Minnesota at Dallas) waiting until 8:30 p.m. to get underway. All times eastern.
- Detroit at Boston: Not only is this an Original Six rivalry, but the Wings edged the Bruins for a playoff spot by a tiebreaker last season.
- Minnesota at Dallas: Speaking of the playoffs, the Stars bested the Wild in six games last season.
Based on their position in the standings, the contest occurring at the TD Garden this evening could be one of the best of the night. To New England we go!
Detroit‘s impressive 25-season streak of qualifying to for the playoffs is not only well known in hockey circles, but across most sports fans.
Outside of Motown, that fact is not more known than in Boston. You see, both the Bruins and the Red Wings finished last season with 93 points, tied for third place in the Atlantic Division. In fact, 42-31-9 Boston actually won one more game than the 41-30-11 Wings.
Even though the Bruins won the season series 3-1-0, the first tiebreaker in the NHL pertains to the total regulation and overtime victories by a club, and it was there that the Wings found their playoff qualification. They won one more game before going to the shootout than Boston to earn their playoff bid.
If Detroit had not won that tiebreaker, only then would the series record between the two clubs have come into play and the Bruins would have faced Tampa Bay.
Nowadays, Detroit is currently riding a two-game streak of overtime losses and has a 20-19-8 record, good enough for sixth place in the Atlantic Division. Part of the reason they find themselves at that spot in the standings is due to their lackluster offense, which has managed only 114 goals, the seventh-fewest in the NHL.
Although Thomas Vanek is tied for the team lead in points, he’s questionable to play tonight’s game with a lower-body injury. That leaves Henrik Zetterberg, who also has 31 points in his pocket, to lead the Red Wings into battle. It’s a similar situation in the goal scoring department, where Vanek’s effort is tied with Dylan Larkin at a dozen tallies apiece.
The number one reason for Detroit‘s offensive struggles is their anemic power play. Even though they’ve earned the seventh-most man-advantages, they’ve converted only 11.3% into goals – the worst in the league. Frans Nielsen has tried all he can to help the cause with his eight power play points, but the Wings haven’t been able to find a consistent scoring threat as Larkin and the injured Vanek lead the club with a measly three power play goals apiece.
Another overtime loss won’t do Detroit any good. If they want any chance of continuing their impressive playoff streak, they’re going to need wins. A victory tonight is certainly a step in the right direction, as they would improve from 13th to 10th, trailing second wild card Philadelphia by two points.
In their way stands their hosts, the 23-21-6 Bruins. Boston currently finds themselves in fourth place in the Atlantic and on the outside looking in as far as the playoffs are concerned, due in part to losing their last two games. Similar to Detroit, their issue has been offense.
Last season, the Bruins managed to score 236 goals, lightning the lamp nearly three times per game. Things haven’t gone so smoothly this year, as Boston only has 121 tallies to their credit in 50 games – the seventh-worst scoring rate in the NHL. A struggling offense hasn’t held Brad Marchand back, though, as his 45 points are tops on the team by a long shot. When he’s not burying the puck, he’s busy setting up youngster David Pastrnak, whose 19 tallies are the best in Beantown.
The similarities between these two offenses continue with in the special teams. Successful on only 16.9% of attempts, Boston ranks 10th-worst in the league on the power play. Torey Krug has tried his hardest with his 13 power play points, as have Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, who both have five power play goals.
Where the Bruins separate themselves is with their powerful penalty kill, where they rank second-best in the league. Led by Zdeno Chara‘s 25 shorthanded blocks, Boston refuses to yield a power play goal 86.6% of the time.
The Bruins don’t need much to get back into playoff position, but nobody plays for simply an overtime loss. One point would propel Boston into eighth place for the second wildcard, but a victory would qualify them for third-place in the division.
Boston won their series against Detroit last season, and they’re already on their way to repeating that this year. They’ve met twice this season, and the Bruins have a 1-0-1. They last met Wednesday in Detroit, where the Wings won 6-5 on a shootout.
Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Boston‘s Marchand (45 points [tied for eighth-most in the NHL]) and Tuukka Rask (five shutouts [tied for second-most in the league] and a 2.11 GAA [fifth-best in the NHL] for 22 wins [sixth-most in the league]) & Detroit‘s Danny DeKeyser (94 blocks [leads the team]) and Anthony Mantha (+8 [leads the team]).
It’s tough to pick against a goaltender like Rask, especially since the penalty kill in front of him will face no pressure from Detroit‘s power play. The Bruins should earn a victory this evening.
- Gus Mortson (1925-2015) – This defenseman was so physical, he started a fight in one of his eight All Star appearances. Although he spent most his time in Chicago, he won all four of his Stanley Cups in Toronto, where he started his career.
- Mark Reeds (1960-2015) – St. Louis drafted this right wing in the fifth round of the 1979 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he played most of his eight-season career. By the time he retired, he’d notched 159 points.
- Tom Kostopoulos (1979-) – A seventh-rounder picked by Pittsburgh in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, he played 630 games (most of which in Los Angeles) over 11 seasons (most with the Penguins). He made good friends with penalty box attendants, serving 723 penalty minutes – 1.15 minutes per game.
First Star of the Game Frederik Andersen didn’t have to empty his net a single time in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, leading his Maple Leafs to a 4-0 shutout victory over the visiting Flames.
If the first period allowed only one goal, it seems only natural that the second would yield two. Unfortunately for Calgary, neither would be in their favor. Second Star Nazem Kadri (William Nylander) takes credit for the first tally seven minutes after returning to the ice with his wrister, and the Leafs improved their lead to 3-0 with 3:05 remaining in the frame on a Zach Hyman (Martin Marincin) shorthanded backhander.
The theme of matching goals to the period did not continue, but Toronto didn’t mind. Kadri (Marner and Zaitsev) buried his second tally of the game at the 2:21 mark on the power play to set the 4-0 final score.
Andersen earned the shutout victory after saving all 26 shots he faced, leaving the loss to Brian Elliott, who saved 24-of-28 (85.7%).
In addition to breaking the two-game streak of games requiring extra time, Toronto‘s victory also snapped a three-game winning streak for visitors in the DtFR Game of the Day series. With a 53-34-16 record, featured home teams now have a five-point lead over the visitors.
It’s time for some Wednesday hockey! The action begins at 7:30 p.m. with two contests (Arizona at Winnipeg and Pittsburgh at Montréal [RDS/SN1]), with Boston at Detroit (NBCSN/TVAS) waiting until 8 p.m. 9:30 p.m. marks the puck drop of Florida at Edmonton (SN1) and precedes this evening’s nightcap – San Jose at Los Angeles (NBCSN) – by an hour.
- Boston at Detroit: Not only is it an Original Six rivalry, but the Bruins were held out of last season’s playoffs due to losing a tiebreaker to the Wings.
- San Jose at Los Angeles: This rivalry was made only more intense by the Sharks eliminating the Kings in last season’s Stanley Cup playoffs.
We’ve only made one trip to the Staples Center this season, and that’s just inexcusable. Let’s fix that by featuring the Battle of California tonight.
We all know the Sharks‘ story last season. They won their first Western Conference title. They were within two games of hoisting one of, if not the most coveted piece of hardware in sports.
But fans – okay, most fans (sorry Angelenos!) – need to remember that according to seeding, San Jose had no business finding that success. The Sharks were the three seed in the Pacific Division, arguably the weakest division in the NHL. But they didn’t care. They blew up the Kings‘ trend of winning even-yeared Cups and cruised to a five-game Western Quarterfinals victory.
Tonight, the Sharks return to the very surface they clinched that series victory on for the third time this season. They’re 1-1-0 in Los Angeles this season, and lead the overall season series against the Kings 2-1-1.
San Jose makes the trip to the City of Angels with a 26-16-2 record, good enough for third-place in the Pacific Division. They’ve found that success by playing a phenomenal combination of defense and goaltending to allow only 102 goals against, the fourth-fewest in the NHL.
Every defensive feature has to start with the goaltender, and 22-14-2 Martin Jones is no slouch. He’s notched a .916 save percentage for a 2.25 GAA, the (t)20th and (t)sixth-best efforts, respectively, in the league among the 41 goalies with 19 or more appearances.
A good GAA paired with a less-than-impressive save percentage is almost always due to a fantastic defense, and San Jose is not exception. Thanks to Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s team-leading 81 blocks, the Sharks have allowed only 27 shots-per-game to reach Jones’ crease, the third-best average in the league.
If the Sharks could improve on one aspect of their game, it would have to be the power play where they rank ninth-worst after converting only 16.5% of their opportunities. Joe Pavelski has been most-responsible for the little success his squad has found with a team-leading 14 power play points, yet it’s been Logan Couture who’s stricken the most fear into opposing goaltenders with his seven man-advantage goals. Unfortunately, he injured his upper body on Monday against the Jets and could miss tonight’s contest. If he does, the “power play striker” role shifts to Brent Burns, who has five extra-man goals to his credit.
Hosting this evening are the 22-18-4 Kings, the fifth-best team in the Pacific Division. Just like their rivals, Los Angeles plays a some phenomenal defense and goaltending to allow only 107 goals, the fifth-fewest in the league.
20-12-3 Peter Budaj continues to do a good job standing in for the injured Jonathan Quick this season, notching a .917 save percentage and 2.09 GAA – the 19th and fifth-best efforts, respectively, among the 44 netminders with 18 or more appearances.
Although Budaj has been good, his bluelines have been better. Led by Alec Martinez‘ 93 shot blocks, the Kings have allowed only 25.8 shots-per-game to reach Budaj’s net, easily the best rate in the NHL.
Unlike San Jose, the Kings‘ defensive success has carried into the penalty kill. Los Angeles refuses to yield a tally after 83.2% of their penalties, the ninth-best effort in the league. Once again, Martinez has been at the core of the blueline’s play with a team-leading 24 shorthanded shot blocks.
Unfortunately, the Kings‘ power play has not been able to maintain the special teams reputation of success. They’ve converted only 16.9% of their opportunities for goals, which ties for 10th-worst in the NHL. Jeff Carter has tried as hard as he can with his team-leading 11 power play points, but only Drew Doughty has joined him in his push. Carter also leads the club in power play goals with seven.
Some players to watch this evening include Los Angeles‘ Budaj (four shutouts [fourth-most in the league] and a 2.09 GAA [sixth-best in the NHL] for 20 wins [eighth-most in the league]) and Carter (23 goals [second-most in the NHL]) & San Jose‘s Burns (45 points [tied for fifth-most in the league]) and Jones (22 wins [tied for fourth-most in the NHL] on a 2.25 GAA [tied for eighth-best in the league]).
I like San Jose to come to Hollywood to earn the victory. It will certainly be a tight, defensive matchup that will only be solved by the superior offense. Compared to the Kings‘ 2.5 goals-scored average, the Sharks average 2.61 goals per game should be enough to earn them the victory.
- Syl Apps (1915-1998) – This Hall of Fame center played all of his 10 seasons in Toronto. He had a habit of collecting hardware, including three Stanley Cups, the 1937 Calder Trophy and the 1942 Byng Trophy.
- Mark Messier (1961-) – Drafted 48th-overall in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft by Edmonton, this Hall of Fame forward played in 15 All Star games over his 25 NHL seasons. The longtime Oiler hoisted the Stanley Cup six times, as well as two Hart Trophies, two Pearsons and the 1984 Smythe.
- Ruslan Fedotenko (1979-) – Even though he went undrafted, this left wing played 863 games over his dozen seasons, most of which in Tampa Bay. The two-time Stanley Cup champion scored 366 points before hanging up his skates the last time.
- Brian Gionta (1979-) – A third-round pick by New Jersey in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing is in his third season in Buffalo. He was on the 2003 Devils squad that won the Stanley Cup.
- Alex Pietrangelo (1990-) – The lone non-champion on today’s list, this defenseman was drafted fourth-overall by St. Louis in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. He’s never played a game without the Blue Note on his chest, and was awarded the Blues‘ captaincy in August.
I sure do love a one-goal game, and that’s what we got in Vancouver yesterday for the DtFR Game of the Day as the Canucks beat the visiting Predators 1-0.
That winning tally wasn’t struck until only 7:32 remained in regulation. Second Star of the Game Henrik Sedin (Luca Sbisa and Loui Eriksson) takes credit with a solid wrister to beat Third Star Pekka Rinne.
First Star Ryan Miller earns the shutout victory after turning away all 30 shots he faced, leaving the disappointing loss to Rinne after saving 25-of-26 (96.2%).
The Canucks‘ shutout victory is the first in the DtFR Game of the Day series since the Philadelphia-San Jose game on December 30. Just like in that game, the home team won, improving the hosts’ record to 51-32-14, seven points better than the visitors.
You heard the camel, it’s Hump Day!
Like most, there’s not many teams in action today, and ones that are playing are scheduled for a shotgun start. Florida at the New York Islanders starts the festivities at 7 p.m., followed half an hour later by Montréal at Winnipeg (RDS/SN). 8 p.m. brings with it the Pittsburgh at Washington (NBCSN/TVAS) contest, with tonight’s nightcap – San Jose at Calgary (SN/SN1) – dropping the puck at 9:30 p.m. All times eastern.
- Florida at New York: The Isles ended the Panthers‘ season last year in six games in their Eastern Quarterfinals matchup.
- Pittsburgh at Washington: The same goes for these clubs in the Eastern Semifinals, but a game between these two is about more than a single playoff series.
One of these matchups is a rivalry; one isn’t. One is between teams qualifying for the playoffs; one isn’t. Guess which game we’re watching.
It’s the third time these squads have played this season, and the third time we’ve featured the matchup. The stories of their rivalry have been told before, with yet another chapter added last May when the Penguins eliminated the Capitals in six games. There’s no point in delving into them further other than to say that these clubs simply do not like each other.
In a sense, it is a special rivalry. The Nationals and Pirates have no animosity towards one another. Neither do the Redskins or the Steelers. It has nothing to do with the cities, only the clubs. Maybe it’s the fact that this rivalry doesn’t face a weird sort of peer pressure from the city brethren that makes it so intense. These teams just don’t like each other.
Making the visit to the nation’s capital this evening are the 26-8-5 Penguins, winners of their last five games and the second-best team in both the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference. As one might expect , they’ve found that success by being very good at scoring the puck, already notching 137 goals in 39 games this season – the highest scoring-rate in the NHL.
Leading that charge has been the one and only Sidney Crosby with 44 points – one more than Evgeni Malkin. He’s been most impressive when he’s the last one to touch the puck, lighting the lamp a club-leading 26 times. Good for .79 goals per game, Crosby could be in line for a record year. His career-high came in the 2009-10 season when he buried the puck 51 times. At the pace he’s at right now, he could exceed that tally by nine goals if my math is correct.
One of the reasons Pittsburgh has been so good offensively has been due to their explosive power play, converting 22.6% of their opportunities – tied for the fourth-best mark in the league. Phil Kessel, who could miss tonight’s game due to illness, has led the charge in this department with his 16 man-advantage points, but once again Crosby takes the clubhouse scoring title, notching nine power play goals.
What could hold the Penguins back from reclaiming the Stanley Cup this season might be their penalty kill, which ties for ninth-worst after stopping opposing power plays only 79.8% of the time. Although Ian Cole has been effective with his team-leading 16 shorthanded blocks (tied for 33rd most in the league), he’s been let down by Marc-Andre Fleury, whose .852 save percentage on the penalty kill ranks 15th-worst among the 50 goalies with 11 or more appearances.
Hosting the Pens this evening are the 26-9-5 Capitals, winners of their last six games and the third-best team in both the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference. They’ve found that success by playing a brick wall of a defense, allowing only 80 goals against – the fewest in the league.
As mentioned Monday, 19-8-4 Braden Holtby is having himself a whale of a season, saving .931 percent of shots faced for a 1.9 GAA – the third and second-best marks in the league, respectively. For those wondering, he earned the Vezina Trophy last season with a .922 save percentage and 2.2 GAA. In other words, there’s no telling yet how good this guy can be.
He hasn’t done it alone, though. Thanks to Karl Alzner‘s 76 blocks and the rest of the blueline, he’s faced only 27.9 shots-per-game, which ties for the fiffh-lowest average in the league.
Where that defense has been especially helpful has been on the penalty kill. Washington ranks third-best in this situation, nullifying 86.8% of their penalties. Just like he does in even-strength situations, Alzner has headed the charge for the special teams too, notching a team-leading 20 shorthanded blocks.
Currently, the season series favors the Capitals thanks to Andre Burakovsky forcing overtime during these clubs’ first game of the season on October 13. Although the Pens won that game in a shootout, they fell 7-1 a month later on this surface.
Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Pittsburgh‘s Crosby (26 goals [most in the league] among 44 points [third-most in the NHL]), Kessel (26 assists [tied for seventh-most in the league]), Malkin (43 points [tied for fourth-most in the NHL] on 27 assists [tied for fifth-most in the league]) and Justin Schultz (+24 [tied for best in the NHL]) & Washington‘s Holtby (five shutouts [tied for most in the league] on a 1.9 GAA [second-best in the NHL] and a .931 save percentage [tied for third-best in the league] for 19 wins [seventh-most in the NHL]) and Alex Ovechkin (19 goals [tied for seventh-most in the league]).
I’m somewhat surprised that Washington is favored -121 by Vegas, but they claim to be the experts.
Then again, what do I know? I miss my picks more often than not.
In my opinion, the Caps are more than capable of neutralizing Pittsburgh‘s offense, so the game could come down to if the action on the other end of the surface. Given the Penguins‘ inability to keep pucks off their own crease, I’m giving the edge to Ovechkin and the Capitals.
- Rob Ramage (1959-) – The first pick in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft by the Colorado Rockies, this defenseman played 1044 games in the NHL, most of which in St. Louis. He won two Stanley Cups and was a four-time All Star.
- Rory Fitzpatrick (1975-) – The 47th-overall pick by Montréal in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, this blueliner played 287 games over 10 seasons in the NHL, spending most of that time in Buffalo. He was not a very good defenseman, ending his career with a -48 and only 35 points scored. But, he owns the distinction of being the only Rory to play a game in the NHL, so he’s got that going for him – which is nice.
Led by Brad Marchand‘s two-goal night, the Bruins leveled the season series against the Blues to 1-1-0 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
Boston didn’t waste much time getting to work, as First Star of the Game Frank Vatrano (Second Star Torey Krug and David Pastrnak) scored his power play wrister only 8:19 after the initial puck drop. With 4:40 remaining in the opening period, Brandon Carlo (Vatrano and David Krejci) doubled the Bruins‘ score, followed 2:32 later by Marchand’s (Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron) first goal of the night. Boston took the 3-0 lead into the first intermission.
Only 1:31 after returning to the ice for the second period, it was more of the same. Krug (Ryan Spooner and Marchand) takes credit for the power play wrister that proved to be the game-winner, but Colton Parayko (David Perron and Jaden Schwartz) pulled the Blues back to 4-1 only 2:26 later with his first goal of the season. That differential that held to the second intermission.
St. Louis tried to make a game out of the evening with a power play wrister from Patrik Berglund (Perron and Alex Pietrangelo) with 9:46 remaining in regulation, but was unable to truly get anything else going. Marchand (Pastrnak and Bergeron) took advantage of an empty net with 77 seconds remaining to ensure that Kyle Brodziak‘s (Scottie Upshall) goal with 25 seconds to go wouldn’t affect the outcome of the contest.
Tuukka Rask earns the victory after saving 14-of-17 shots faced (82.4%), leaving the loss to Third Star Carter Hutton, saving 26-of-27 (96.3%). The reason he was named a star is because he came into the game as relief for Jake Allen, who saved only eight-of-11 (72.7%) before being lifted after the three-goal first period.
Boston‘s victory was the fourth-straight by the road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series, pulling the visitors within seven points of the hosts and their 47-29-14 record.