Tag Archives: 1991 NHL Entry Draft

April 4 – Day 167 – Who gets Game 7?

After a quiet Monday in the NHL last night, the final Tuesday of the regular season should be absolutely stellar.

Barring some freak weather system or facilities complication, 13 contests will take place this evening. All but four teams will be in action tonight, including the entire Western Conference.

The action gets started at 7 p.m. with three games (Tampa Bay at Boston [NBCSN/SN/TVAS], Philadelphia at New Jersey and Columbus at Pittsburgh), followed half an hour later by two more (Washington at Toronto and Detroit at Ottawa [RDS]). Another trio (Winnipeg at St. Louis, the New York Islanders at Nashville and Carolina at Minnesota) will be contested at 8 p.m., with Arizona at Dallas waiting 30 minutes before getting underway. Chicago at Colorado is the only matchup to start at 9 p.m., which is the same for Calgary at Anaheim (SN1) at 10 p.m. Finally, tonight’s co-nightcaps (Edmonton at Los Angeles [NBCSN] and Vancouver at San Jose) will drop the puck at 10:30 p.m. to finish the night.

Short list:

  • Philadelphia at New Jersey: Both teams may be eliminated from the postseason, but that won’t take away from the Battle of the Jersey Turnpike, which was already heated before Dalton Prout‘s hit on Radko Gudas.
  • Columbus at Pittsburgh: While the rivalry status of this matchup is still in the air, one thing is certain: it will have an immediate impact on the Metropolitan Division with only six days remaining in the season.
  • Edmonton at Los Angeles: With a little help from the Flames, this old-timey rivalry could provide the Oilers a shot at first place in the Pacific Division.

Riding a two-game winning streak, it seems like the Penguins are getting healthy and returning to form just in time for the playoffs. They’ll need all the help they can get tonight to try to retain home ice in the Eastern Quarterfinals.

 

There’s a lot at stake tonight in this game. 48-19-11 Pittsburgh currently has a one-point advantage on 49-21-8 Columbus for the second seed in the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference. Of course, that second seed is ultra-important in the not-so-new-anymore playoff format the NHL is using nowadways.

Instead of a conference tournament where the best team was paired with the worst team in a given conference until the conference championship (effectively the NBA’s playoffs, except the NHL used to reseed after every round), the league now crowns two division champions, determined by three seven-game playoffs, to play for one of the conference titles.

Whether you’re a fan of the format or not (Hint: I’m not. #TeamOldFormat), it’s the world we live in. And that’s what makes this matchup so integral. As all sports fans know, a home ice/court/field advantage can be wildly important in deciding who wins a Game 7 and advances to the next round, or loses and schedules tee times a week later.

All that aside, this also acts as a week-early preview for a highly-probable first round playoff matchup. Considering what is on the table, I doubt either of the coaching staffs are too concerned about putting too much film in their opponent’s hands. Then again, we are talking about John Tortorella, so who knows?

While I’m in no way implying that I think the Jackets have lost their edge, they have hit a slight rough patch in the past week; since March 30, they’ve amassed only a 0-2-1 record. Given, their two regulation losses are in Chicago and against the Capitals, but beating playoff teams is relatively important when the postseason starts next week.

The Blue Jackets have been one of the best defenses in the league all season long, allowing only 2.28 goals-against per game – the second-best mark in the NHL. In the last three games, they’ve allowed eight goals – well above that mark.

Much of that season success has been due to a solid blueline. Unfortunately for 41-15-5 Sergei Bobrovsky (more on him in a minute), a blueline collapse is not the reason for Columbus‘ recent struggles. They’ve allowed only 28.3 shots-against in the past week, which is actually down from the usual 30.4 they’ve averaged all year.

No, the blame rests on Bobrovsky’s shoulders. While he’s been almost as far from horrible as one can get, he’s not been his usual super-reliable self. On the season, he has a .934 save percentage and 1.99 GAA (both are best in the league among goalies with more than eight games played), but he’s let his numbers drop to .906 and 2.56 in the past six days.

As showcased by Chicago and Washington, that extra sliver of space is all elite offenses need to capitalize.

With the postseason on the horizon, the important thing is that the penalty kill has remained healthy. The fact that the Jackets have allowed only one power play goal against since March 30 is proof enough that nothing needs to be retooled in Columbus; Bobrovsky just needs to focus back in and the Jackets should be set for an effective postseason.

The thing that does need to be checked for life is the power play. Usually successful on 19.9% of attempts – an above-average effort – the Jackets haven’t scored on the man-advantage in their past seven attempts. It is moments like these where Captain Nick Foligno and power play-mastermind Alexander Wennberg need to step up and provide the offensive spark for their club, a squad that desperately needs one with the extra-man.

Meanwhile, it’s not as if the Penguins are doing much better of late. Since March 23, they’ve gone 2-2-2, though their last two contests were victories against solid offenses in Carolina and New York.

Though I love statistics, Pittsburgh‘s drop in production can be attributed to one thing and one thing along: injuries. There’s still seven Penguins on the injury report, including the likes of Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Chris Kunitz, who went down against the Rangers Saturday.

That explains why the best offense in the league has managed only 13 goals in six games, but why has Pittsburgh allowed so many goals of late?

I’m going to give  30-10-4 Matthew Murray a pass here and blame the blueline. Of course, the Penguins‘ defense is hurt too. Trevor Daley, Letang and Olli Maatta have not registered a game since at least February 21, all of whom average more than a shot block per game when healthy.

One of those pieces looks to be coming back soon though. The Penguins‘ official Twitter handle indicated that Daley returned to practice today, so it remains to be seen when he will see game action.

Until then, Pittsburgh needs to find a way to keep shots off Murray. In the past six games, the Pens blueline has allowed 213 shots (35.5) to reach their goaltender, which is worse than their already very bad 32.6 season average.

Both Justin Schultz and Ian Cole have been fantastic in their efforts, as they’ve combined for 26 shot blocks in the past six games. But it’s skaters like Brian Dumoulin and Chad Ruhwedel that need to improve their effort.

It is hard to have such high expectations for Ruhwedel, who has bounced between Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, but the fact that he has only one block in five games with the Penguins should be alarming to Jim Rutherford and Mike Sullivan, and could impact if he gets a contract of any kind this offseason.

Where Murray doesn’t get a pass is the penalty kill. He’s faced seven power play shots in the past six games, and has saved only four of them. Four. As you’d expect, a .571 power play save percentage has dropped the Penguins‘ penalty kill numbers to the bottom of the league in that stretch of time, as they’ve successfully stopped only 76.9% of opposing attempts in the last 13 days.

The current Penguins‘ brightest spot has to be a a power play that has managed to convert 30.8% of its opportunities since March 23, the seventh-best effort in that time. Though Phil Kessel, who has 29 power play points on the season, still leads the team’s man-advantage, it’s been a full-team attack of late as both lines have found the back of the net. In fact, even though the squad has managed four power play goals in this stretch, no player has more than two points to his credit.

Though the Blue Jackets have gone 2-0-1 against Pittsburgh this year, they still have yet to clinch the season series. The Pens could tie it all up tonight if they can best Columbus in regulation.

If February 17 is any indicator, the Penguins will have to work extremely hard to get that done. Columbus needed overtime to best Pittsburgh 2-1 the last time they met (Brandon Dubinsky scored the game-winner), though they had that pesky home ice we were talking about earlier in their favor.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include ColumbusCam Atkinson (34 goals [tied for seventh-most in the league]), Bobrovsky (1.99 GAA on a .934 save percentage [both best in the NHL] for 41 wins [tied for the most in the league], including seven shutouts [tied for second-most in the NHL]) and David Savard (+30 [sixth-best in the league]) & Pittsburgh‘s Sidney Crosby (43 goals [leads the NHL] for 84 points [tied for fourth-most in the league]) and Murray (.923 save percentage [tied for sixth-best in the NHL]).

Though wounded, Vegas has marked Pittsburgh a -130 favorite going into tonight’s game. I expect a tight game, but I’m actually leaning towards the Blue Jackets. I think their special teams are an even match for those of the Penguins and their offense should take advantage of a struggling Pittsburgh defensive corps.

Hockey Birthday

  • Pat Burns (1952-2010) – It may have been the shortest stop in his 14 years of head coaching, but Burns is most remembered for leading the 2003 Devils to the Stanley Cup.
  • Dale Hawerchuk (1963-) – Winnipeg selected this center with the top pick in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft, and it turned out to be a good pick. In addition to winning the 1982 Calder Memorial Trophy, this Hall-of-Famer played in five All-Star Games over his 16 seasons.
  • Yanic Perreault (1971-) – Selected 47th-overall in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft by Toronto, this center played 14 seasons – most of which with Los Angeles. Though he appeared in only one All-Star Game, he scored 247 goals over his career.
  • Kevin Weekes (1975-) – Before working for NHL Network and starting his clothing line No5Hole, this goaltender was selected 41st-overall in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft by Florida. He ended up playing 348 games over 11 seasons – most of which with Carolina – for a 105-163-39 record.
  • Roberto Luongo (1979-) – Another goalie, Luongo was picked fourth-overall by the Islanders in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft. Currently in his second stint with the Panthers, he’s played 494 of his 966 games with Florida. He has a career 453-365-117 record.
  • Evgeny Artyukhin (1983-) – Tampa Bay selected this right wing 94th-overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he played most of his three-year career. He managed only 49 points before returning to Russia.
  • Doug Lynch (1983-) – Another player whose career didn’t last long, this defenseman was selected 43rd-overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft by Edmonton. He only played two games with the Oilers, and has since played most of his career in the EBEL.
  • Cam Barker (1986-) – This defenseman was the third-overall pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft by Chicago, and that’s where he spent most of his eight-year NHL career. Most recently, he was playing in the KHL for HC Slovan Bratislava.

Led by Nazem Kadri‘s two-point effort, the Maple Leafs bested Buffalo 4-2 in the Battle of the QEW, yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Toronto took command of this game quickly, as it had a 3-0 lead by the 5:09 mark of the first frame. Third Star of the Game Leo Komarov (Kadri) took credit for the Leafs‘ first tally, tipping-in a shot 4:26 after the initial puck drop. 35 seconds later, First Star Auston Matthews (William Nylander and Jake Gardiner) doubled that lead by potting a wrist shot. That surge culminated with Second Star James van Riemsdyk (Tyler Bozak), who notched the game-winner only eight seconds after Matthews’ 39th tally of the season, the most ever by an American rookie.

Buffalo finally got on the board 1:51 into the second period. Though Marcus Foligno still had nine seconds remaining on his cross-checking penalty against Kadri at the end of the first period, Ryan O’Reilly (Brian Gionta) notched a shorthanded snap shot to pull the Sabres within two goals of their Canadian rivals.

That 3-1 score held until the 5:50 mark of the third period. That’s when Kadri (Mitch Marner and Nikita Zaitsev) buried his power play marker to reclaim a three-goal advantage for Toronto. Jack Eichel (Sam Reinhart) buried a backhanded shot with 56 seconds remaining in the game, but it was too little too late to effect Buffalo‘s fate.

Frederik Andersen earned the win after saving 20-of-22 shots faced (90.9%), leaving the loss to Robin Lehner, who saved two-of-five (40%). He was pulled after van Riemsdyk’s game-winning slap shot in favor of Anders Nilsson, who saved 39-of-40 (97.5%) for no decision.

Toronto‘s victory snaps the four-game winning streak by the 85-59-25 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Though hosts have still had more success when featured, their advantage over the visitors is now only three points.

March 24 – Day 156 – Isle have what he’s having

Just like you look forward to Friday to begin your two-day break, this is a lot of the league’s rest day before a weekend of excitement.

There’s only four games on the schedule tonight, starting with the New York Islanders at Pittsburgh (NHLN/SN/TVAS) at 7 p.m. and Tampa Bay at Detroit half an hour later. San Jose at Dallas drops the puck at 8:30 p.m., with Winnipeg at Anaheim – tonight’s nightcap – getting underway at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • New York at Pittsburgh: Not only is it rivalry night in the Steel City, but the Isles have a chance to move into the playoff bracket.
  • Tampa Bay at Detroit: It’s been almost a year now, but these clubs did meet up in one of last season’s Eastern Quarterfinals.

With the Bruins on a four-game losing skid, they’ve opened the door for the Islanders to once again enter the playoff picture. Pair that with one of my favorite rivalries in the Metropolitan Division (at least), and we’ve got a surefire featured matchup!

 

The rivalry between these two clubs is well documented in multiple places around the web, though I would recommend the YouTube videos I included on November 18 when these teams met for the second time this season. In gist, previous meetings between these clubs have been… scrappy.

As mentioned before, 34-26-12 New York is licking its chops in anticipation for tonight’s game, because a win over a rival is made only sweeter by moving into the second wild card spot that is currently occupied by 38-30-6 Boston.

For the ninth-place Isles (fifth in the Metropolitan) to actually secure that win, they’ll need to shore up a defensive end that has been a little more than leaky this season. They’ve allowed 216 goals against already this year, the #fifth-most in the NHL.

Of course, that starts with the goaltender. Enter 25-16-5 Thomas Greiss, who was officially declared New York‘s starting goaltender after 6-8-5 Jaroslav Halak was sent to Bridgeport on New Year’s Eve. Greiss has tried to make solid use of his time, but his .914 season save percentage and 2.67 GAA rank only #(t)24th and #28th-best among the 46 goalies with at least 23 appearances.

While those are below-average numbers, it’s not as if he’s the only hole on that end of the Islanders‘ ice. The defense playing in front of him is not much better, as they allow 32.1 shots-per-game to reach Greiss’ net – the #fifth-highest average in the NHL. The main reason New York isn’t worse is the incredible play of Calvin de Haan, who has 170 shot blocks to his credit to not only lead the team, but also rank #fifth-best in the league.

I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but another issue in New York has been a power play that is successful on only 15.8% of attempts – the #fifth-worst effort in the league. Just like he does on the even-strength attack, Captain John Tavares has been the star of the man-advantage with his team-leading 17 power play points. He’s joined at the top of the Isles‘ extra-man scorers list by Anders Lee, as both have buried seven tallies.

Though their injury list is nearly as long as this preview, the 46-17-10 Penguins are the second-best team in the Metropolitan, Eastern Conference and the NHL. Having already locked up their spot in the playoffs, Pittsburgh will try to continue their impressive offensive performance that has returned 250 goals – the #most in the NHL.

As you’d probably guess, the man behind that charge is none other than Captain Sidney Crosby. He leads Pittsburgh‘s offensive juggernaut with 81 points, 41 of which are goals – another mark he paces the club in. His season goal total is already the second-highest of his career, but it doesn’t seem he’ll match or succeed his 2009-’10 personal best of 51 tallies in a campaign.

One of the Pens‘ favorite ways to score the puck is via the power play, as they are #tied for third-best in the league with their 22.3% success rate. Second-year Penguin Phil Kessel has been instrumental in that effort with his team-leading 28 power play points, but Crosby still manages to get his beak wet, as 13 of his goals have come with the extra-man – the most on the squad.

So far this year, the Penguins have had the upper-hand when squaring off against the Islanders, as they’ve won two of the previous three matchups. Of course, the most recent meeting on November 30 was the one the Isles won 5-3.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include New York‘s Josh Bailey (37 assists [leads the team]), Cal Clutterbuck (193 hits [leads the team]), Dennis Seidenberg (+23 [leads the team]) and Tavares (62 points [leads the team]) & Pittsburgh‘s Ian Cole (+28 [seventh-best in the league]), Crosby (41 goals [leads the NHL] for 81 points [tied for second-most in the league]), Matthew Murray (.925 save percentage [sixth-best in the NHL] for a 2.34 GAA [10th-best in the league]) and Justin Schultz (+32 [tied for best in the NHL]).

I haven’t seen Vegas’ line for tonight’s game yet, but I can only assume it favors the home Penguins. None are better than Pittsburgh at scoring the puck, and the Islanders can’t help but allow goals. All signs point toward the Isles fighting for a playoff spot on a different night.

Hockey Birthday

  • Doug Jarvis (1955-) – Toronto selected this center 24th-overall in the 1975 NHL Amateur Draft, but he never played a game for the Leafs. Instead, he played most of his 13 seasons in Montréal, where he hoisted four-straight Stanley Cups. His hardware collection also includes the 1984 Frank J. Selke and the 1987 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophies.
  • Pat Price (1955-) – 13 picks before Jarvis was selected, the Islanders picked up this defenseman. He played 13 seasons in the NHL, and spent most of his time in Quebec. From 1976-’78, he registered an impressive +51 rating on only 37 points.
  • Philippe Boucher (1973-) – The 13th-overall selection in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft by Buffalo, this defenseman spent 16 seasons in the league, mostly in Los Angeles. During his sixth campaign with Dallas, he was traded to Pittsburgh to win the 2009 Stanley Cup and close out his career.
  • Maxim Kuznetsov (1977-) – Detroit selected this defenseman 26th-overall in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he spent most of his NHL career. Unfortunately for him, his tenure in the league was only 136 games and four seasons long.
  • Ron Hainsey (1981-) – A longtime member of the Thrashers/Jets organization, this defenseman was selected 13th-overall by Montréal in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. Similar to Boucher, Hainsey was traded to Pittsburgh at this season’s trade deadline in hopes of claiming his first Stanley Cup.
  • P.A. Parenteau (1983-) – Though selected by Anaheim in the ninth round of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, this left wing has been a career journeyman over his nine seasons in the league. Currently, he plays for the Predators after joining them at this season’s trade deadline.

I predicted a defensive matchup, and that’s exactly what we got in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as Washington needed a shootout to knock off the Blue Jackets at the Verizon Center.

Although a combined total of 48 shots were fired over the course of the first 40 minutes, the first goal of the game wasn’t struck until the 41 second mark of the third period. That tally belonged to Seth Jones (Brandon Dubinsky and Boone Jenner) and the Jackets, but the Capitals were more than prepared to deal with that obstacle. 5:58 after Jones’ marker, Third Star of the Game Dmitry Orlov (Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams) buried his sixth goal of the season to tie the game at one-all, the score that held through the remainder of regulation and the five-minute three-on-three overtime period.

Who knew that even a shootout could be a defensive affair?

  1. The only person that didn’t apply to was T.J. Oshie, who scored the first shootout attempt to give the Caps an early lead.
  2. Cam Atkinson was charged with leveling the shootout for Columbus, but First Star Braden Holtby was having none of that. He saved Atkinson’s shot to keep Washington‘s 1-0 shootout lead.
  3. Evgeny Kuznetsov tried to improve on the Capitals‘ advantage, but Second Star Sergei Bobrovsky would not yield.
  4. Sam Gagner tried to reward Bobrovsky’s work, but he met a worse fate than Atkinson – he completely missed.
  5. Nicklas Backstrom had a chance to end the shootout with a goal, but Bobrovsky earned one more shot for his club after saving the center’s attempt.
  6. It’s not often a team gets three tries to tie a shootout, but Alexander Wennberg did not take advantage of that opportunity. Holtby made the save to earn the extra point in the standings.

Holtby saved 29-of-20 shots faced (96.7%) to earn the victory, leaving the shootout loss to Bobrovsky, who saved 44-of-45 (97.8%).

That victory is the second-straight by a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series, which is now tied at 79-56-23.

March 11 – Day 143 – Governor’s Cup

As we get closer to the conclusion of the regular season, every Saturday gets more intense.

Of course, Saturdays are some of the busiest days in the league schedule, and today is no different. 11 games will be played today, starting with Philadelphia at Boston (NHLN/SN360) at 1 p.m. The other afternoon matinee drops the puck three hours later with Nashville at San Jose (SN). With both of those contests out of the way, five matchups (Ottawa at Colorado [CITY/TVAS], Calgary at Winnipeg [SN], Columbus at Buffalo, Florida at Tampa Bay and Toronto at Carolina [CBC]) get started at the usual 7 p.m., followed an hour later by two more (New Jersey at Arizona and the New York Islanders at St. Louis [NHLN]). Today’s festivities start wrapping up at 10 p.m. with Pittsburgh at Vancouver (CBC/SN), and that sets up tonight’s 10:30 p.m. nightcap – Washington at Los AngelesAll times eastern.

Short list:

  • Nashville at San Jose: It’s a rematch of one of last season’s Western Semifinals, and it seems like the streaky Predators are on one of their down-swings.
  • Calgary at Winnipeg: Rivalry night in Manitoba should be jumping since the Jets are still in the playoff fight.
  • Florida at Tampa Bay: Speaking of playoff implications, the Governor’s Cup should be an exciting game too, hearkening back to the last season’s Sunshine State series.
  • Pittsburgh at Vancouver: Tom Sestito could have made his first return to Rogers Arena tonight after three seasons of service to the Canucks, but a boarding suspension will delay that until at least next season.

Neither may currently be qualifying for the postseason right now, but I expect the Governor’s Cup to provide one of the best games of the night. To Amalie Arena we go!

 

Things looked dire at one point this season, yet both the Sunshine State-based clubs have fought back within range of playoff contention. Even if Florida, the worse of these two clubs in the standings, trails the Islanders by six points for eighth in the Eastern Conference, things were far worse at one point this season.

At the midway point of their season, the Panthers had a 17-16-8 record. Since then, they’ve improved to 29-26-11  – good enough for sixth in the Atlantic Division and 12th in the Eastern Conference. It sounds bad, but Florida did break into a playoff spot for a day or two, yet was unable to maintain that spot due to its anemic offense – which is also the reason for its three-game losing skid.

The Panthers have scored only 162 goals in 66 games, which ties for the sixth-worst scoring rate in the NHL. Vincent Trocheck has tried to pull his club along with his team-leading 47 points, but to no avail. That’s part of the reason his 22 goals leads the squad: nobody else on the team has had much success burying the puck. Only three skaters have more than 14 goals, an alarming number for a team that considered itself a buyer at the trade deadline.

The Panthers‘ offensive inefficiencies are no more apparent than when they’re on the power play. Successful on only 17% of attempts, Florida is the sixth-worst in the league with the man-advantage. When Florida does manage to convert an opponent’s penalty into a goal, Jon Marchessault is usually involved in the play. Normally a third-liner, he gets promoted to the first power play unit where he’s been involved in 16 scores to lead the team. Similar to Trocheck, Marchessault does a lot of his own work, as he also leads the squad in power play goals with seven.

Where the Panthers fail on the power play, they more than make up for it on the penalty kill. Led by Mark Pysyk‘s 17 shorthanded shot blocks, Florida properly defends 86.6% of their penalties – the best mark in the league.

Florida‘s comeback has been good, but Tampa‘s has been better. After their 41st game, the Lightning had a 19-18-4 record. Nowadays, they’re 31-26-9, which is good enough for fifth in the Atlantic and 10th in the East.

The similarities continue when we analyze the weakness of Tampa Bay‘s team: it’s their offense. The Bolts have managed only 179 goals so far this season, the 13th-fewest in the NHL. That’s what happens when both Ryan Callahan and Steven Stamkos – who combined for 46 goals and 92 points a season ago – have been sidelined for almost the entire year.

Nikita Kucherov has tried to take responsibility of the team during Stamkos’ absence, and he’s done a good job of it. He leads the side with 30 goals and 66 points, but has struggled to find a consistent dance partner. The injured Tyler Johnson has the second-most goals on the squad, but his total of 19 tallies is indicative of what the rest of the offense behind him provides.

No matter how good the Panthers are at defending against the extra attacker, they’d be wise not to push their luck with Tampa‘s power play. Headlined by Victor Hedman‘s 26 power play points, the Bolts have scored on 22.3% of their man-advantages – the fourth-best rate in the NHL. Per the usual, Kucherov has been the one scoring most the goals: he’s buried 13 power play markers.

Although they trail in the standings, the Panthers actually have the lead in the race for the 2016-’17 Governor’s Cup, as they have a 2-0-1 record against Tampa Bay. These clubs last met on January 26 and played to a 2-1 overtime game decided by Florida‘s Marchessault.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Florida‘s Michael Matheson (91 blocks [leads the team]), Trocheck (22 goals for 47 points [both lead the team]) and Keith Yandle (30 assists [leads the team]) & Tampa Bay‘s Peter Budaj (seven shutouts [second-most in the NHL] and a 2.16 GAA [fifth-best in the league] for 27 wins [ninth-most in the NHL]), Hedman (44 assists [tied for fourth-most in the league]) and Kucherov (30 goals [tied for seventh-most in the NHL] for 66 points [10th-most in the league]).

I don’t know about you, but everything’s coming up Tampa Bay for me. While not exactly a model offense, it is better than Florida‘s, and the addition of Budaj has been fantastic in bolstering their defensive team. I think  the Bolts win by at least two goals.

Hockey Birthday

  • Martin Rucinsky (1971-) – Although selected 20th-overall by Edmonton in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft, this left wing played most of his career in Montréal. A journeyman that wore eight crests with seven organizations (he moved with the Nordiques to Colorado), he earned one All-Star appearance over his 16 seasons.
  • Paul Bissonnette (1985-) – A fourth-round pick by Pittsburgh in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, this left wing played all but 15 of his 202 career games with the Coyotes. Currently playing for Los Angeles‘ AHL team, he hasn’t made an NHL appearance since the 2013-’14 season.
  • Marc-Andre Gragnani (1987-) – This defenseman was selected 87th-overall by Buffalo in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he’s spent most of his career. Currently playing in the KHL, his best NHL season was in 2011-’12 when he notched 15 points between the Sabres and Canucks.

They may have needed a shootout to get it done, but the Penguins earned a 3-2 victory in Edmonton in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Both of Pittsburgh‘s goals were struck in the first period. Nick Bonino (Scott Wilson and Justin Schultz) takes credit for the first, a wrist shot 5:42 into the game. Evgeni Malkin doubled the Pens‘ differential to two by burying his shot 2:35 before the end of the period.

The Oilers‘ comeback began 4:55 into the second period when David Desharnais (Zack Kassian and Kris Russell) scored his fifth goal of the season, a wrister. That was the only tally of the frame, leaving the score at 2-1 going into the second intermission.

Edmonton finally pulled even with 7:15 remaining in regulation, and it’s partially Chad Ruhwedel‘s fault. He committed a hooking penalty to end up in the sin bin, setting up First Star of the Game Connor McDavid (Milan Lucic and Leon Draisaitl) for a power play snap shot to force a scoreless three-on-three overtime period.

That left us with only one way to determine a winner: the shootout.

  1. As the home team, Edmonton‘s Draisaitl took the first shot. Unfortunately for him, he couldn’t find the back of Second Star Marc-Andre Fleury‘s net.
  2. Of course, his effort was a little better than Malkin’s. The Penguins didn’t even test Third Star Cam Talbot as his shot bounced off the post.
  3. Mark Letestu was next up for the Oil, but his attempt found the same fate as his teammates.
  4. Sidney Crosby was the first to score in the shootout, beating Talbot. That forced a miss-and-lose situation for Edmonton.
  5. He may only be an NHL sophomore, but McDavid doesn’t shy away from pressure. He found the back of Fleury’s net to prolong the shootout.
  6. The shootout turned out to last only one more shot, as Phil Kessel provided the game-winner.

Fleury earned the victory after saving 40-of-42 shots faced (95.2%), leaving the shootout loss to Talbot, who saved 28-of-30 (93.3%).

Pittsburgh‘s victory is yet another for the 73-50-22 road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Due to that, visitors in the series now have a three-point lead on the hosts.

February 28 – Day 132 – Shattenkirk welcome tour

Tuesdays are absolutely fantastic, aren’t they? Anything is better than Monday, and the NHL makes that even better by usually scheduling a wide slate of games that night. That action gets a strong start at 7 p.m. with four games (Washington at the New York Rangers [SN1/TVAS], Nashville at Buffalo, Colorado at Philadelphia [NBCSN] and Arizona at Boston), followed half an hour later by another pair of contests (Carolina at Florida and Columbus at Montréal [RDS]). 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of two matchups (Edmonton at St. Louis and Minnesota at Winnipeg), with Pittsburgh at Dallas trailing 30 minutes after. Los Angeles at Calgary (SN1) gets green-lit at 9 p.m., followed an hour later by Detroit at Vancouver. Finally, Toronto at San Jose – tonight’s nightcap – gets underway at 10:30 p.m. All times eastern.

Rivalry nights mean only more with the ultra-competitive nature of the Metropolitan Division this season. Looks like we’re headed to Madison Square Garden.

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It seems impossible to believe, but this is the first time this season Down the Frozen River has featured a CapitalsRangers matchup. In our defense, we’ve only had two previous opportunities, but that’s no excuse given the incredible hockey being played by both clubs this season.

While this rivalry has technically existed since the 1980s, it’s really heated up since 2009 with the clubs meeting in the playoffs five times from ’09-’15. Mix in the fact that they’ve played in the same division since 2014, and you get one of the better matchups of the season.

So far, it’s been all New York when these teams compete, as they’ve won both games by a combined 6-3 score. They last met only Sundays ago on February 19 at the World’s Most Famous Arena, where the Blueshirts won 2-1 in front of their usual 18,006 fans.

Before hopping into Washington‘s preview, I’d be remiss to ignore the fact that the Capitals came away with the big shiny prize of the 2017 trade deadline: defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, formerly of the Blues. Shatty, as he was affectionately known in St. Louis, had the second most points (42) on the club this season, including seven power play goals. His move reunites him with the injured T.J. Oshie, another former fan-favorite in the Gateway to the West.

In comparison, the Capitals‘ best offensive blueliner before Shattenkirk’s arrival was the injured Matt Niskanen, who had 32 points and only one tally on the man-advantage. As if Washington needed help scoring the puck, this move certainly puts them in an even better position in those regards. Shattenkirk also has the added luxury of leaving one solid defensive corps and joining another. This is important, as his offensive contributions can often cause a negligence on the defensive end, made evident by his -11 mark – the second-worst in St. Louis among all players.

As for the Caps as a whole, they’re just the best team in hockey getting better. To put it simply, their 41-13-7 record gives them a three-point lead over Minnesota for the Presidents’ Trophy, and with that comes a lead in the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference. As imposing a reputation as Washington‘s offense has, it’s actually been the defense and goaltending leading the charge this year, as the Capitals have allowed only 128 goals against – the fewest in the NHL.

It is truly an understatement to say that 31-8-5 Braden Holtby is good at his job. Not only are his .928 save percentage and 1.97 GAA the best marks in Washington, they’re also fourth and tops, respectively, in the league. Vezinas don’t win themselves, you know.

As stated before, Holtby also has the added luxury of one of the top defensive units playing in front of him. Led by Karl Alzner‘s 122 shot blocks, Washington‘s blueline-corps has allowed only 28 shots-per-game to reach Holtby’s crease, which ties for the fifth-best rate – with St. Louis, ironically – in the league.

That success carries right over into the penalty kill, where the Capitals rank seventh-best after stopping 83.8% of opposing power plays. Just as he is at even-strength, Alzner is a brick wall of a shot blocker, as his 32 rejections are most in Washington.

What should be alarming to the Rangers is that the Caps‘ power play is even better than their penalty kill. Successful on 21.8% of attempts, Washington is sixth-best with an extra-man at their disposal. Nicklas Backstrom headlines the power play with his 23 man-advantage points, but we all know who’s scoring all the goals in these situations. It’s none other than Alex Ovechkin, who has a dozen goals on the power play – almost all of them probably from his spot in the left face-off circle.

Their the scary monsters of the league, but it seems the 40-20-2 Rangers are unfazed by the daunting task of taking down the Caps as they’ve already bested them twice this season. Currently occupying fourth place in both the Metropolitan and the East, the Blueshirts are most known for their offense, which has managed a whopping 203 tallies this year – the second-most in the NHL.

How many third lines can you think of that are as intimidating as this one? The Rangers have found scoring magic this season, specifically with J.T. Miller, whose 47 points are tops on the club. Most of Miller’s points are assists, as he prefers to set up fellow wing Michael Grabner, who does a great job of finishing plays. He has 26 goals to his credit – all but one at even-strength – to lay claim to the squad’s scoring title.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include New York‘s Grabner (+28 [eighth-best in the league]) and Henrik Lundqvist (28 wins [seventh-most in the NHL]) or Antti Raanta (.92 save percentage [10th-best in the league]) & Washington‘s Backstrom (45 assists [tied for second-most in the NHL] for 63 points [sixth-most in the league]), Holtby (1.97 GAA [best in the NHL], including seven shutouts [tied for most in the league], on a .928 save percentage [fourth-best in the NHL] for 31 wins [tied for third-most in the league]), Dmitry Orlov (+28 [tied for eighth-best in the NHL]) and Ovechkin (27 goals [tied for eighth-most in the league]).

You know what a -110 line in Vegas says to me tonight? “We’re going to favor the Rangers on home ice, but we don’t feel very confident that they can hold their own against Washington.” It’s rarely wise to bet against the Caps, and I wouldn’t advise it this evening.

Hockey Birthday

  • Eric Lindros (1973-) – One of the most recent Hall of Fame inductees, this center was selected first-overall in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft by Quebec. Playing most of his 13-season career in Philadelphia, the six-time All-Star was the recipient of the Hart and Pearson Trophies in 1995.

In a back-and-forth match like we witnessed in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, it almost always boils down who scores last. That proved to be First Star of the Game Mikael Granlund, who’s tally a dozen seconds into overtime secured Minnesota a 5-4 victory over the visiting Kings.

The Wild actually never led yesterday’s contest until the 60:12 mark, as it was Nick Shore (Marian Gaborik and Jake Muzzin) who struck the first goal, a snap shot 8:15 into play. Nino Niederreiter (Third Star Jared Spurgeon and Second Star Ryan White) pulled Minnesota even 4:45 later, but an unassisted Tanner Pearson deflection with 4:59 remaining in the first frame set the score at 2-1, the count that held to the first intermission.

Once again the Wild tied the game, this time on a Jordan Schroeder (Chris Stewart) deflection 4:23 into the second period. That 2-2 draw held until 8:30 remained in the frame. That’s when Muzzin (Nic Dowd and Dwight King) scored a deflection to once again give Los Angeles a one-goal lead. 1:35 later, Minnesota‘s White (Eric Staal) pulled the Wild into a tie – again. The three-all score held into the second intermission.

Minnesota scored last, so… Cue Gaborik (Shore and Trevor Lewis), who buried a wrist shot 1:57 after returning from the break. The pattern struck one more time only 5:07 later, as Jason Zucker (Tyler Graovac and Schroeder) buried a wicked turn-around wrister to tie the game. It was so good, in fact, that you need to see it for yourself.

Overtime lasted only 12 seconds before Granlund (Spurgeon and Mikko Koivu) powered his way through two Kings before burying a wrister past Jonathan Quick to secure the bonus point for the Wild.

Devan Dubnyk earned the victory after saving 26-of-30 shots faced (86.7%), leaving the overtime loss to Quick, who saved 30-of-35 (85.7%).

For the first time in 10 days, a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series has finally held serve and earned two points on its own ice. Minnesota‘s victory pulls hosts within 10 points of the 69-43-22 roadies.

February 24 – Day 128 – Scrapping for their playoff lives

Friday is finally here! Time to sit down and watch some hockey.

While there may be only four contests tonight, there’s certainly some quality matchups. The action starts at 7 p.m. with Edmonton at Washington (NHLN/SN/TVAS), followed half an hour later by two more games (Ottawa at Carolina [RDS] and Calgary at Florida). Finally tonight’s nightcap – Arizona at Dallas – drops the puck at 8:30 p.m. All times eastern.

I know Alex Goligoski is making his return to Dallas, but the playoff push is already in full swing – especially in the Eastern Conference. Instead, we’ll turn our attention to Sunrise, Fla. for a game between teams scrapping for their postseason lives.

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Thanks in part to their two-game winning streak, the Flames make their annual visit to Florida in fourth place in the Pacific Division and  eighth in the Western Conference with a 31-26-4 record. Although good enough for the second wildcard, the Flames are an interesting team as they aren’t exactly among the league’s elite on either end of the ice. If you had to pick Calgary‘s forte, I’d choose it’s offense, which has managed 159 goals so far this season, which ties for 18th-most in the NHL.

So far this season, it’s been the Mikael Backlund show on offense in Calgary, as his 43 points currently lead the way for the Flames. Nearing the peak of his career, he’s getting very close to succeeding his current personal-high of 47 points (I’d expect him to do that in Winnipeg next month). That being said, Sean Monahan is probably the biggest reason Calgarians make their way to the Saddledome on a nightly basis, as he’s scored a team-leading 20 goals this campaign.

Playing host tonight is 28-21-10 Florida, the fourth-best team in the Atlantic Division and ninth-best in the Eastern Conference. As I said Monday, the Panthers can blame the fact that they are on the outside of the playoff picture looking in squarely on their offense, which has managed only 149 goals so far this season, the ninth-fewest in the NHL.

As he made evident Monday night in St. Louis, there’s no doubt that Vincent Trocheck is the leader of Florida‘s offense (sorry Jaromir Jagr). His 42 points top the team, and just like Backlund, he looks like he’s going to achieve his previous career-mark in the statistic this season. He’ll need 54 points to do just that, and I expect him to achieve that goal late next month in Toronto.

Part of the reason Trocheck has been so successful is because he’s not afraid to shoot the puck on his own. His 21 goals lead the team, and he’s only four tallies shy of tying that personal best. March should be a special time for the center, as he’s on pace to bury his 26th goal against Arizona on March 23.

While Trocheck is preoccupied with the even-strength efforts, Jon Marchessault has taken up a power play specialty. Yet, even though he leads the team with 13 power play points, and Reilly Smith has a team-high six extra-man goals, the Panthers still only convert 15.8% of their man-advantages, the fifth-worst rate in the league.

Fortunately, Florida is much better on the penalty kill. In fact they’re one of the elite clubs in the league, as their 85.2% success rate is third-best in the NHL. Mark Pysyk can take a lot of credit for that, as his 12 shorthanded blocks are most on the team.

The Panthers have already made their yearly trip to the Saddledome, but it wasn’t a pleasant visit for them. Led by Backlund’s three-point, two-goal night, the Flames beat Florida 5-2 on January 17.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Calgary‘s Mark Giordano (+16 with 133 shot blocks [both lead the team]) and Florida‘s Trocheck (21 goals for 42 points [both lead the team]).

The Panthers come into tonight’s game with Vegas’ blessing and a -150 line, but I actually like Calgary to win. Both have won at least seven of their past 10 games, but the Flames have been quietly solid on the road this year and I think they can continue that success in Sunrise.

Hockey Birthday

  • Mike Vernon (1963-) – Selected in the third-round of the 1981 NHL Entry Draft by Calgary, this goaltender was one of the best in his day. Retiring with a career 385-273-92 record, he hoisted the Stanley Cup twice to go with his five All-Star appearances, the 1996 Jennings and the 1997 Smythe.
  • Brian Savage (1971-) – This left wing was picked by Montréal in the eighth-round of the 1991 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he spent most of his 12-season career. By the time he retired, he had accounted for 192 goals and 359 total points.
  • Alex Kovalev (1973-) – Picked 15th-overall by the Rangers in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing was a member of New York‘s 1994 Stanley Cup winning team. He was also selected to three All-Star games.

They needed a shootout to get it done, but the Rangers were able to best Toronto 2-1 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Connor Brown (Tyler Bozak and Jake Gardiner) gave the Leafs a lead on his wrist shot with 9:04 remaining in the first half. That 1-0 score held not only to the first intermission, but also all the way through the second period.

Being unable to find an insurance goal finally cost Toronto when J.T. Miller (Kevin Hayes and Brandon Pirri) found the back of the net with 9:10 remaining in regulation. Although the game went to the always unpredictable three-on-three overtime period, neither club could find a winner, which led to the shootout.

  1. Rookie William Nylander was the first to try his hand, but his snap shot was saved by First Star of the Game Henrik Lundqvist.
  2. That proved to cost the Leafs, as Mats Zuccarello gave New York a 1-0 shootout lead on his attempt.
  3. Next up for Toronto was rookie Auston Matthews, who leveled the shootout 1-1.
  4. It didn’t last long though, as Third Star Mika Zibanejad scored the Blueshirts‘ second-straight shootout attempt.
  5. All the pressure was on Nazem Kadri to keep the shootout alive, but Lundqvist was up to the task to earn New York the bonus point.

Lundqvist earned the victory after saving 32-of-33 shots faced (97%), leaving the shootout loss to Second Star Frederik Andersen, who saved 37-of-38 (97.4%).

They got close, but the Leafs couldn’t snap the road teams’ six-game winning steak in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The 66-43-21 roadies now have a six-point lead over the hosts in the series.

February 21 – Day 125 – Central showdown

If you’re the type to like weekdays busy with hockey action, today is your day. Nine contests will have been played by the end of the day, and as usual they get started at 7 p.m. (Pittsburgh at Carolina [TVAS], Montréal at the New York Rangers [RDS] and Ottawa at New Jersey [RDS2]). Three more matchups (the New York Islanders at Detroit, Edmonton at Tampa Bay and Winnipeg at Toronto) drop the puck at 7:30 p.m., followed by a pair (Chicago at Minnesota [NBCSN] and Calgary at Nashville [SN1]) at the top of the hour. Finally, Los Angeles at Colorado, tonight’s nightcap, drop the puck at 9 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Montréal at New York: There’s nothing better than an Original Six matchup that also serves as a potential playoff preview.
  • Chicago at Minnesota: Although this rivalry doesn’t have the age of an Original Six, that doesn’t take away from the general dislike of one another.

Trailing the Wild by seven points, the Blackhawks seem to be only improving as we get closer to the playoffs. Let’s see how they square up against the best in the West so far this season.

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Chicago makes their second trip of the month to the Xcel Energy Center with a 36-18-5 record, the second-best mark in both the Central Division and the Western Conference. While the Blackhawks have certainly been strong on both ends of the ice, they’ve been most impressive on the defensive end, as they’ve allowed only 150 goals against – the eighth-lowest total in the NHL.

As he has since 2010, 22-13-3 Corey Crawford has been charged with manning Chicago‘s crease, and one again he’s done a good job of it. Crawford has posted a season .917 save percentage and 2.56 GAA, the (t)15th and 21st-best efforts, respectively, among the 47 netminders with at least 19 appearances.

His play has been necessary, as the Hawks‘ defense hasn’t exactly been spectacular this year. Allowing 30.9 shots against per game, Chicago ties for 10th-worst in those regards, even with Niklas Hjalmarsson‘s impressive 151 shot blocks. Hjalmarsson has been quite the standout this season, as those blocks are not only the highest total in the Windy City, but it also ties for most in the NHL with Ottawa‘s Erik Karlsson.

The Blackhawks‘ otherwise shoddy defense catches up with them on the penalty kill, where their 77.1% success rate ties for fourth-worst in the league. Hjalmarsson continues to be a stud when his club is down a man, as his 34 shorthanded blocks nearly double the total of second-place Brent Seabrook‘s, but they are the only two players with more than a dozen penalty kill blocks to their credit. I wouldn’t be surprised if Stan Bowman makes a move for another blueliner before the fast-approaching trade deadline.

Playing host this evening are the 39-13-6 Wild, the second-best team in the NHL and best in the West. Winners of their past two games, Minnesota seems dead-set on eclipsing the 48-26-8 mark set by the 2006-07 team, and all signs are pointing towards them doing just that. Of course, they’ll also have intentions of getting past the Western Quarterfinals where that team fell, but that’s a bridge they’ll cross when they get to it.

In the meantime, Minnesota will continue to play the stellar defensive hockey that has gotten it to this point. Spearheading that effort is 32-10-3 Devan Dubnyk. That impressive record is no mistake, as his .934 save percentage and 1.97 GAA are both tops in the league.

Dubnyk’s play is made only more impressive by the fact that he has a below average defense playing in front of him. Even with Jared Spurgeon‘s team-leading 106 shot blocks, the Wild still allow 30.9 shots-against-per-game, which ties for 10th-worst in the NHL.

Say what you want about Minnesota‘s defense, but it certainly knows when to clamp down. Thanks in part to Spurgeon’s team-leading 15 shorthanded blocks, the Wild play the 10th-best penalty kill in the game, successful on 82.9% of opportunities.

To make matters worse for the opposition, the power play is absolutely exceptional. The best in the West, Minnesota ranks fourth in the league with a 21.9% success rate with the extra man. That effort is headed by Mikael Granlund and his 15 power play points, but the real skater Crawford needs to keep an eye on is Nino Niederreiter, as he’s scored eight times with the man-advantage.

Thanks to forcing overtime the last time these two teams met on February 8, the Wild have a one-point edge over Chicago in the season series between these clubs. When Minnesota visited the United Center on January 15, they won 3-2.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Chicago‘s Scott Darling (.928 save percentage [second-best in the NHL] for a 2.19 GAA [fourth-best in the league]), Patrick Kane (40 assists [fourth-most in the NHL] on 60 points [tied for fifth-most in the league]) and Duncan Keith (36 assists [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]) & Minnesota‘s Dubnyk (1.97 GAA on a .934 save percentage for 32 wins [all best in the league], including five shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the NHL]), Granlund (+31 [tied for sixth-best in the league] with 36 assists [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]), Mikko Koivu (+32 [tied for fourth-best in the league]), Spurgeon (+33 [third-best in the NHL]), Ryan Suter (+35 [best in the league]) and Jason Zucker (+34 [second-best in the NHL]).

Vegas has marked the Wild a -130 favorite to win tonight, and that’s a hard number to argue with. Minnesota has some fantastic special teams and the best goalie in the game to go with home ice, so I expect them to take care of business this evening.

Hockey Birthday

  • Brian Rolston (1973-) – Selected 11th-overall by New Jersey in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft, this center played most of his 17 seasons with the Devils. After hoisting the 1995 Stanley Cup in his rookie campaign, his only other major honor was being selected for the 1999 All-Star team.
  • Ryan Smyth (1976-) – This left wing was picked sixth-overall in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft by Edmonton, and he played 15 of his 19 seasons with the Oilers. His greatest campaign was his 2006-’07 effort when he notched 36 goals and 68 points between the Oil and Islanders.
  • James Wisniewski (1984-) – This defenseman has made at least one appearance in the last 11 seasons after being selected by Chicago in the fifth round of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, and has spent most of career with the Blue Jackets.
  • Mattias Tedenby (1990-) – The 24th-overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, this left wing played his entire NHL career for the same Devils organization that drafted him. He appeared in 120 games for Jersey, and scored 10 goals.

Vincent Trocheck, ladies and gentleman! With five seconds remaining in regulation, the First Star of the Game fired a slap shot past Third Star Jake Allen to clinch a 2-1 victory for the Panthers in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day!

In addition to scoring the last goal of the night, Florida also took credit for the first. With 9:20 remaining in the first frame, Jon Marchessault (Nick Bjugstad) scored a wrist shot to give the Panthers a lead they held through both intermissions.

The Blues finally leveled the game at the 2:54 mark of the third period on a Kyle Brodziak (Scottie Upshall and Ryan Reaves) wrister, and it looked like it was going to be enough to earn a point and get to three-on-three overtime, but Trocheck (Mark Pysyk and Reilly Smith) was not interested. His slap shot found the back of the net to send the Predators back to Sunrise in style.

Second Star James Reimer earned the victory after saving 26-of-27 shots faced (96.3%), leaving the loss to Allen, who saved 31-of-33 (93.9%).

As far as the DtFR Game of the Day series is concerned, what is probably the most impressive thing about the Panthers‘ victory is that the 63-43-21 road teams in the series now have a one-point lead on hosts.

February 5 – Day 109 – You want to talk super?

Something, something non-hockey sports reference. Who cares? There’s hockey on!

Well, we have to take that with a grain of salt. While it is true there’s hockey being played today, we only have three games on the schedule. The shotgun gets underway at noon with Los Angeles at Washington (NBC), followed an hour later by Edmonton at Montréal (RDS/SN). Finally, Calgary at the New York Rangers (SN360) clean things up at 2 p.m. All times eastern.

Three really good games today. The entire trio is being contested between teams currently qualifying for the playoffs. That being said, one still stands out above the rest.

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Nothing says Super Bowl Sunday like the only game of the day between two Canadian teams.

The Oilers makes their lone trip of the season to Montréal with a 28-18-8 record, good enough for third place in the Pacific Division even though they’re currently on a three-game losing skid. The reason they’ve usually been able to find that success? It’s been their knockout offense, which has already buried 152 goals – the ninth-most in the NHL.

For those that haven’t heard: Captain Connor McDavid is a good hockey player. To prove that, we need only to look at his team- league-leading 60 points, 13 more than Leon Draisaitl‘s. Opposing gaoltenders (in today’s case, Carey Price) shouldn’t look past Draisaitl though, as he has the team-lead with 20 tallies.

Playing host this evening are the 30-16-7 Canadiens, the best team in the Atlantic Division by a decent margin even though they’re riding a two-game losing skid. What’s really been impressive about the Habs so far this season has been their strong offense. It’s accounted for 157 tallies so far this season, the seventh-most in the NHL.

He’s not quite the scoring monster McDavid is, but Max Pacioretty is still pretty darn good. His 44 points are most on the team, as are his 25 goals.

Where the Habs have been truly deadly has been their power play. They find success on 22.8% of attempts, the third-best rate in the league. Pacioretty handles the even-strength work, but Shea Weber takes control command of the man-advantage. His 18 power play points are tops on the team and tied for ninth-most in the league. Even more impressive, especially for a blueliner, is the fact that 10 of those points have been goals, and that is once again the benchmark in Montréal – and tied for third in the league.

The glaring deficiency for the Canadiens continues to be their Swiss cheese-impersonating penalty kill. They’ve stopped only 79.1% of opposing power plays, the ninth-worst rate in the league. Montréalais looking to cast blame should not include Alexei Emelin or Weber in their scolding, as both share the clubhouse lead in shorthanded shot blocks with 27 apiece – tying for fourth in the league in the statistic.

Some players to keep an eye on this afternoon include Edmonton‘s McDavid (60 points on 42 assists [both lead the league]) and Cam Talbot (26 wins [tied for fourth-most in the NHL], including four shutouts [tied for fifth-most in the league) & Montréal‘s Pacioretty (25 goals [tied for third-most in the NHL]) and Price (23 wins [eighth-most in the league]).

If you like offense, you’ll enjoy this game. That being said, I pick Montréal to win today not just because they have home ice, but also because I trust Price more than Talbot to keep pucks out of the twine.

Hockey Birthday

  • Don Cherry (1934-) – More known for his coaching and announcing careers, Cherry did play defenseman for exactly one game in the NHL: a playoff game for Boston, the team he would also coach with much success for five seasons.
  • Larry Hillman (1937-) – This blueliner was a longtime Maple Leaf, playing eight of his 19 NHL seasons in Toronto. By the time his career in the greatest hockey league in the world was through, he’d been named to five All-Star games and won four Stanley Cups.
  • Richard Matvichuk (1973-) – 14 seasons the eighth-overall pick in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft  by the North Stars played, spending most of his time in Dallas. Sticking with the club certainly payed off, as he was a member of the 1999 Stanley Cup-winning team.
  • Tomas Kopecky (1982-) – This center was the 38th-overall pick in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft by Detroit, but he spent most of his NHL career in Florida. He’s only played for one other club in the league, and that’s where he hoisted his lone Stanley Cup: Chicago.
  • Linus Omark (1987-) – Edmonton picked this left wing in the fourth round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he’s earned his most playing time in the senior league. Nowadays, he’s skating for Salavat Yulaev Ufa of the KHL.
  • Ty Rattie (1993-) – The 32nd-overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft by St. Louis, this right wing could never bust into the Blues lineup. He was claimed off waivers during this season by Carolina, his current club.

For those that love high-scoring affairs, yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day was for you. 11 goals were scored between the Maple Leafs and Bruins, with Toronto coming out on top 6-5 courtesy of Third Star of the Game James van Riemsdyk‘s late tally.

Everything got started with Second Star David Pastrnak‘s (Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara) wrister only 2:17 into the game to give the Bruins an early lead. It lasted until 8:45 remained in the frame when First Star William Nylander (Nazem Kadri and Auston Matthews) leveled the game at one-all, the score that held at the end of the period.

The second frame was absolutely nuts. Van Riemsdyk (Mitch Marner) buried his first goal of the night at the 8:31 mark, followed 38 seconds later by Goal #2 for Nylander. The rookie completed his hat trick (Connor Brown and Matthews) on the power play with 9:43 remaining in the second, setting the score at 4-1. The comeback was on for Boston, starting with Pastrnak’s (Bergeron and Chara) second tally of the night only 38 seconds after Nylander’s third, and Torey Krug (Pastrnak and Ryan Spooner) burying a power play goal with 4:07 remaining before intermission. Once the dust had settled and both teams were in their dressing rooms, the score read 4-3 in favor of the Leafs.

The comeback was completed with 9:54 remaining in regulation by Spooner’s (Chara and Dominic Moore) eighth tally of the season, but Brown (Zach Hyman and Matthews) gave the Maple Leafs a 5-4 lead only 5:09 later. The Bruins were able to find another equalizer with 2:54 remaining in regulation from Bergeron (Krug and Brad Marchand),  but van Riemsdyk (Tyler Bozak and Marner) was undeterred. He buried his winning wrister with 96 seconds remaining on the clock to secure the Leafs‘ victory.

Frederik Andersen earns the victory even though he saved only 36-of-41 (87.8%), leaving the loss to Zane McIntyre, who saved 10-of-12 (83.3%). He replaced starter Tuukka Rask in the second period following Toronto‘s fourth goal (aka Nylander’s third) after Rask had saved only 10-of-14 (71.4%).

Coincidentally, the last two road teams to win when featured in the DtFR Game of the Day are Toronto and… Toronto. The Leafs snapped a five-game winning streak by the home teams in the series, pulling them within 10 points of the 59-36-16 hosts.

January 17 – Day 94 – Making up like a country song

Welcome to Tuesday hockey, one of the seven best days for the sport in the week. There’s nine games on the schedule this evening, starting with two at 7 p.m. (Dallas at the New York Rangers [SN/SN1/TVAS] and Carolina at Columbus) and Buffalo at Toronto half an hour later. 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of another pair of contests (Ottawa at St. Louis [RDS] and New Jersey at Minnesota), and another pair get underway an hour later (Chicago at Colorado [NBCSN] and Florida at Calgary). The final pair of games – Nashville at Vancouver and Tampa Bay at Anaheim (SN/SN1) – drop the puck at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Buffalo at Toronto: It’s the Battle of the QEW this evening, one of the Sabres‘ fiercest rivalries.
  • Nashville at Vancouver: For the last three seasons, Yannick Weber played for the Canucks, but he returns tonight wearing a white sweater.

Since I highly underestimated Cody McLeod‘s debut for Nashville, I feel I owe the Predators a feature. Looks like Weber 2.0 is our lucky guy.

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After playing the first five seasons of his professional career with the Canadiens, Weber made like a pioneer of old and headed west for brighter futures. He landed in Vancouver before the 2013-14 season.

His first season with the Canucks was not one that turned league heads, but it was important for him personally. He had a goal of proving to Montréal that he was worthy of being kept, and he made that known by notching a then career-high of six goals.

He followed that up in 2014-15 with his most impressive campaign to date, lighting the lamp 11 times and notching a career-best 21 points.

With last season being a significant step back for the defenseman, Weber once again found himself looking for a new club. He found his way to Nashville, where he’s playing on the third blueline pairing and notching a season +8, easily the best mark of his career.

Yannick and his Predators come into tonight’s game with a 20-16-7 record, the fourth-best mark in the Central Division and ninth in the Western Conference thanks to winning their last three games. On the outside looking in, the main concern for the Preds has been their offense that has scored only 118 goals, the 13th-fewest in the league.

Ryan Johansen has been the biggest weapon in Nashville, as he has a team-leading 30 points. That being said, it’s been James Neal that has been the most dangerous to goaltenders with his club-leading 14 goals.

Nashville‘s offensive struggles aren’t for a lack of effort. They’ve averaged 31 shots-per-game, the seventh-most in the NHL. Unfortunately Roman Josi, the man who accounts for nearly three shots per night, has a miserable 4% shot percentage – easily the worst mark of his successful career. If and when he finds his rhythm again, the Preds will surely be able to make some noise as they try to qualify for the postseason.

Playing host this evening are the 20-19-6 Canucks, the sixth-best team in the Pacific Division and 10th in the Western Conference, and it’s almost funny that the Canucks‘ last three games have ended as overtime losses.

Just like the Predators, Vancouver has struggled to score the puck this season, accounting for only 107 goals in 45 games – the sixth-worst scoring rate in the league.

Bo Horvat has tried his hardest to keep the Canucks alive in the playoff race, as both his 30 points and 13 goals lead the club. Unfortunately, that goal total only ties for 50th against the rest of the NHL, which is probably most telling of Vancouver‘s situation.

Much of the reason for the Canucks‘ struggles is due to their miserable power play. Successful on only 13.4% of attempts, they rank fourth-worst in the league. Both Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin lead the team with a whopping nine power play points. D. Sedin has been the most dangerous with the man-advantage, as he also tops the club with five man-advantage goals.

The struggles continue on the penalty kill, where the Canucks‘ 79.8% success rate is ninth-worst in the NHL. Even though he’s only played 31 games, Alexander Edler has been the leading shot blocker when down a man, with 18 shorthanded blocks to his credit.

For those like me who are already keeping tabs on the playoff races, this is certainly an important game – if only for a night. The biggest impact occurs if Nashville earns a victory. In that case, they for sure move into eighth place in the Western Conference and surpass Los Angeles for the second wildcard. But, if the Panthers win in regulation in Calgary, the Predators take control of seventh in the conference and the top wildcard.

Although the Canucks can’t move into playoff position tonight, they can certainly continue their climb up the standings. A regulation win moves them past Nashville into ninth place and into a tie with Los Angeles, but the Canucks lose the games played tiebreaker to remain on the outside looking in.

These clubs have only met once so far this season, and it was only a week ago in Nashville. Although the Predators did pull away with a 2-1 victory, they needed to overtime to do it.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Nashville‘s Matt Irwin (+15 and 83 hits [both lead the team]) and Johansen (23 assists among 30 points [both lead the team]) & Vancouver‘s Horvat (13 goals among 30 points [both lead the team]) and Nikita Tryamkin (84 hits [leads the team]).

Home ice does not always result in favoritism by Vegas, as Vancouver is the projected underdog a +110. Given the nice run the Predators are on right now, I have to side with the oddsmakers.

Hockey Birthday

  • Busher Jackson (1911-1966) – Although he may not have been a role model off the ice, he was certainly one of the better players of his day. The Hall of Famer played 15 seasons in the NHL, most of which in Toronto where he hoisted the Stanley Cup in 1932. By the time his career was through, he had scored 241 goals.
  • Jacques Plante (1929-1986) – The man of hockey legend, this goaltender had difficulty keeping control of all the hardware he earned over his career. Elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1978, he was an eight-time All Star, seven-time Vezina winner (record for the trophy), six-time Stanley Cup winner (all with Montréal) and the 1962 Hart Trophy winner.
  • Sylvain Turgeon (1965-) – Hartford selected this left wing second-overall in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft, and he quickly produced. He scored 72 points his rookie season, the second-best campaign of his career. He played most of his dozen seasons with the Whalers and played in one All Star game.
  • Jeremy Roenick (1970-) – Everyone’s favorite center-turned-analyst was drafted eighth-overall in the 1988 NHL Entry Draft by Chicago, where he played most of his career. By the time his 20-season career was through, the nine-time All Star had scored 1216 points.
  • Aaron Ward (1973-) – Although drafted fifth-overall by Winnipeg in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft, he never suited up for the Jets. Instead, this defenseman played most of his 15 seasons in Detroit where he won one of his two Stanley Cups.

If offense is your thing, you missed the game of the season in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day. A combined 15 goals were scored in 60:34 of play, with Conor Sheary earning Pittsburgh an 8-7 victory over the Capitals.

With so many goals, it’s going to be much easier just giving the game summary in list form.

*Warning: Be prepared for an obnoxious second period.*

First Period:

  1. 7:06 – Andre Burakovsky (Daniel Winnik) – Caps lead 1-0
  2. 17:09 – Nicklas Backstrom (T.J. Oshie and Alex Ovechkin) – Caps lead 2-0

Second Period:

  1. 1:17 – Justin Williams (Evgeny Kuznetsov and Marcus Johansson) – Caps lead 3-0
  2. 6:28 – First Star of the Game Evgeni Malkin (Trevor Daley and Justin Schultz) – Caps lead 3-1
  3. 7:12 – Sheary (Second Star Sidney Crosby and Daley) – Caps lead 3-2
  4. 8:55 – Nick Bonino (Schultz and Phil Kessel) – Tied 3-3
  5. 13:47 – Bryan Rust (Daley and Olli Maatta) – Pens lead 4-3
  6. 14:37 – Malkin (Jake Guentzel and Schultz) – Pens lead 5-3
  7. 15:07 – Brett Connolly (Taylor Chorney and Andre Burakovsky) – Pens lead 5-4
  8. 16:54 – SH – Third Star Lars Eller (Nate Schmidt and Oshie) – Tied 5-5
  9. 17:19 – PP – Malkin (Patric Hornqvist and Crosby) – Pens lead 6-5

Third Period:

  1. 5:55 – Crosby (Sheary and Rust) – Pens lead 7-5
  2. 9:29 – PP – Oshie (Ovechkin and Matt Niskanen) – Pens lead 7-6
  3. 14:38 – Eller (Dmitry Orlov and Niskanen) – Tied 7-7

Overtime

  1. :34 – Sheary (Crosby and Schultz) – Pens win 8-7

Matthew Murray holds on for the victory after saving 21-of-28 shots faced (75%), leaving the overtime loss to Philipp Grubauer, who saved eight-of-11 (72.7%). He came into the game in relief of starter Braden Holtby, who saved 21-of-26 (80.8%) before being pulled following Malkin’s second goal. Holtby obviously earned no-decision.

In addition to ending their own losing skid and Washington‘s winning streak, Pittsburgh also broke the three-game trend of road victories in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The series record now favors the home squads by five points with their 50-32-14 record.

December 4 – Day 53 – Frans will be Frans

For a Sunday, we have a good sampling of games to watch. Montréal visits Los Angeles (RDS) at 3 p.m., followed two hour later by Tampa Bay at Carolina. The final round of matinee games drops the puck at 6 p.m. with two contests (Philadelphia at Nashville [TVAS] and Detroit at the New York Islanders), with Winnipeg at Chicago (SN) waiting until the usual 7 p.m. starting time. Two games share the role of nightcap tonight (Anaheim at Calgary [SN360] and Minnesota at Edmonton [SN1]), dropping the puck at 9:30 p.m. All times eastern.

Up until this season, every single game of Frans Nielsen‘s career was spent wearing blue and orange. This afternoon, he’ll dress in the Barclays Center’s visitor’s locker room for the first time.

UnknownNew York Islanders Logo

 

Way back in 2002, New York drafted an 18-year-old that would become the first Dane to play in the NHL. Of course, Nielsen’s career is not marked simply by that.

His tenure with the Islanders was a successful one.  From the time he made his NHL debut in the 2006-07 to last season, he was the third-leading scorer for the Isles, including 230 assists to tie for second-most for the club in that time span.

Nielsen has continued that success in Motown, as his 14 points ties for for second-most for the Red Wings.  Interestingly, he’s taken more of a goal scoring role with his new team, as his six goals are second-most on the team.

Detroit comes to the Barclays Center with an 11-11-3 record, sitting in seventh place in the Atlantic Division. While their new center seems to be a good pickup, the Wings still struggle to score the puck, as their 58 goals ties for eighth-fewest.

Henrik Zetterberg has headlined Detroit‘s offense so far this season with 17 points to his credit, but it’s been sophomore Dylan Larkin completing many of the plays – his eight goals is tops in the Motor City. To put those efforts in perspective, Zetterberg’s 17 points tie for 56th in the league, and Larkin ties for 37th.

As would be expected from the low production, the power play has also suffered. Successful on only 14.9% of opportunities, the Wings are 10th-worst with the man-advantage in the NHL. This has been where Nielsen has truly shone, as his six power play points are a club-best. However, they’ve all be assists, and four skaters (Justin Abdelkader, Darren Helm, Larkin and Thomas Vanek) have two extra-man tallies for the clubhouse lead. Unfortunately, Abdelkader and Helm find themselves on the Wings‘ injured reserve, which has done nothing to help a sputtering offense.

Hosting Nielsen and the Wings this evening are the 9-10-4 Islanders, the worst team in the Eastern Conference. They’ve earned that position by scoring only 58 goals, tying them for eighth-fewest in the NHL.

Don’t tell Captain John Tavares that he’s not supposed to be racking up the points, as he already has 18 to lead his club. In addition, his six goals ties him with Brock Nelson for the scoring-lead in Brooklyn, but once again those numbers need to be put in perspective. 18 points is good enough to only tie for 45th-best in the league, and six goals ties for 84th.

If Detroit‘s power play is bad, New York‘s is definitely worse. Scoring on only 11.8% of man-advantages earns the Islanders second-worst in the NHL, and worst in the conference. Tavares has been the biggest threat with five power play points, two of which are goals.

Before we go any further, we need to clear something up. Not everybody is going to be a Sidney Crosby or Patrik Laine goal scorer (their 16 goals are the league benchmark), nor are many going to match Connor McDavid‘s impressive 34 points. I get that. But it’s the fact that these skaters for both clubs – Larkin, Nelson, Tavares and Zetterberg – are the ones leading their respective clubs. If they’re the best the club has to offer, what does that mean for the guys behind them?

And that, my dear children, is how you get anemic offenses.

Some players to keep an eye on include Detroit‘s Zetterberg (12 assists among 17 points [both lead the team]) and New York‘s Tavares (12 assists among 18 points [both lead the team]).

In a game that I would have assumed to be a pick-’em, Vegas has marked the home Isles as the -145 favorite. The main reason I’ll stick with the odds-makers’ prediction is that Detroit not only played yesterday, but had to travel from Pittsburgh, while New York hasn’t played in three days and is riding a three-game winning streak.

Hockey Birthday

  • Montréal Canadiens (1909-) – The oldest active hockey club in the world predates their own league.
  • Alex Delvecchio (1931-) – This center played an incredible 1549 games over 24 seasons with Detroit, hoisting the Stanley Cup three times. Fats was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1977.
  • Rick Middleton (1953-) – Nifty played right wing for 1005 games over his 14-season career, most of which with Boston. Although he never won a title, he was thrice named an All-Star.
  • Dave Taylor (1955-) – Another right wing, he was drafted by Los Angeles in the 1975 NHL Entry Draft. He played 1111 games over his 17-season career, and his number 18 hangs in the Staples Center’s rafters.
  • Jassen Cullimore (1972-) – Although the 29th-overall selection in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft by Vancouver, this defenseman spent most of his days in Tampa Bay – including that team that won the 2004 Stanley Cup.

I expected a tight contest in yesterday’s Game of the Day, and that’s what we got when Boston beat Buffalo 2-1.

The lone goal of the first period was struck with 5:50 remaining in the frame, belonging to David Krejci (Brandon Carlo and David Backes) and the Bruins.

Patrice Bergeron (Second Star of the Game David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand) doubled Boston‘s score 7:44 into the third frame with a backhander. Third Star Evander Kane (Sam Reinhart) buried his first goal of the season 1:28 later, but the Sabres could not manage another tally to complete the comeback.

First Star Tuukka Rask saved 35-of-36 (97.2%) shots faced to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Robin Lehner, who saved 31-of-33 (93.9%).

Even though Boston won, the home teams still have a three-point lead over the visitors in the DtFR Game of the Day series with their 29-19-7 record.

November 26 – Day 45 – Penguins gone bad?

The only disappointing thing about all the games after Thanksgiving is that we don’t have as busy a Saturday as usual. That being said, most of today’s games have a bit of intrigue. Like usual, we get started at 7 p.m. with five games (Washington at Toronto [CBC/NHLN], Carolina at Ottawa [CITY], Montréal at Detroit [SN/TVAS], Columbus at Florida and New Jersey at Pittsburgh), followed an hour later by Minnesota at St. Louis. The West Coast games get underway at 10 p.m. with Vancouver at Colorado (CBC/SN), trailed half an hour later by tonight’s co-nightcaps, Chicago at Los Angeles and Anaheim at San Jose, at 10:30 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Montréal at Detroit: Nothing rings in the holiday season like the first Original Six matchup since Thanksgiving. Yup, you read it here.
  • New Jersey at Pittsburgh: Beau Bennett and Ben Lovejoy spent a combined 11 seasons in Pittsburgh before joining Jersey this off-season.
  • Washington at Toronto: Another return to a former home stadium, but this one features Daniel Winnik.
  • Anaheim at San Jose: We always love a good rivalry, especially involved with two teams from the Golden State.
  • Chicago at Los Angeles: Another rivalry that always produces good TV.

You only make one first return of the year, and since they hoisted the Cup last season, we’ll catch Bennett and Lovejoy’s homecoming.

New Jersey Devils Logopittsburgh_penguins_logo

 

Bennett was the Penguins‘ top pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and played a total of 129 contests over four seasons with the black-and-gold, providing them 45 points over that span. This time last year, Bennett was playing regularly for Pittsburgh, although that would last only a few more weeks until injuries started piling up, limiting him to only 33 regular season and one postseason games.

Lovejoy’s tenure with the Pens is a little but longer, but it took two stints for him to reach his 184 games over seven campaigns. The defenseman made it to the NHL the hard way. Undrafted, he signed a contract with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2007 to, in effect, audition for a job with Pittsburgh. His 20 point, +16 season was enough to do the trick, as the Penguins signed him to a contract the next summer. By the 2010-’11 season, his AHL days were behind him, even though he was regularly a healthy scratch. That season was arguably his best in the Steel City, as he notched 17 points and a +11 in 47 appearances.

After being traded to Anaheim three games into the 2012-’13 season, Lovejoy returned to Pittsburgh at the 2014-’15 trade deadline. He played in every Stanley Cup playoff game last spring, notching six points for a +5.

Both skaters joined the Devils this offseason. Bennett was traded at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft for a third-round pick, while The Reverend left on his own will, joining New Jersey for a three-year deal for $8 million, a far cry from his first $875,000 deal with Pittsburgh in 2008.

Their Devils come to the City of Champions with a 10-6-4 record after hosting the Red Wings last night for a 5-4 overtime loss. While the offense hasn’t been enviable with Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri missing time, they’ve kept afloat with a decent defense.

So far this season, New Jersey has allowed only 51 goals, tying for 11th-fewest in the NHL. With 16 starts, Cory Schneider has been has been net for most of those scores, but that’s not to say he’s had a poor season. He has a .915 save percentage for a 2.53 GAA to his credit, which ranks (t)19th and 21st fewest among the 40 goaltenders with eight or more appearances.

With only average netminding numbers, it’d be assumed that the Devils‘ defense is playing out of their mind.

All those who raised their hands are in for some learning.

Schneider faces an average of 30.6 shots against per game, tying for 12th-most in the league. Although Captain Andy Greene‘s 46-block effort has been admirable, he’s the only Devil with more than 40 blocks to his credit. The rest of the blueline needs to get involved, or the Devils may be scheduling tee times right after the regular season.

The power play has not had a lot go their way either. Jersey has been successful on only 13.4% of their attempts, sixth-worst in the NHL. Damon Severson has been the man in charge of the power play with five points to his credit, but those are all assists. The aforementioned Hall was the one with the most power play goals (three), but active Travis Zajac takes that role with two extra-man tallies on his resume.

Hosting them this evening are the 12-6-3 Penguins, who were taken to school in Minnesota yesterday, losing 6-2. While the defense has still led much to be desired, Pittsburgh‘s offense is still one of the best in the league, with 62 goals to their credit – tied for the eighth-highest total in the league.

For those worried that Phil Kessel wouldn’t work out in Pittsburgh, surely you’re doubts ended during last season’s playoffs. If not, you have to believe in the Mr. “The Thrill” now, as he’s leading his club with 21 points. That being said, it’s been Sidney Crosby finishing a lot of plays, with 14 goals in his 15 games played.

Pittsburgh is also home to the seventh-best power play, successful on 21.4% of attempts. That’s where Kessel has been at his best, earning nine power extra-man points. The same goes for Crosby, who leads the squad with five power play tallies.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include New Jersey‘s Greene (46 blocks [leads the team]) and Zajac (15 points, 10 of which are assists [both lead the team]) & Pittsburgh‘s Crosby (14 goals [leads the NHL]), Kessel (15 assists [tied for second-most in the league] for 21 points [tied for seventh-most in the NHL]) and Matthew Murray (1.58 GAA [tied for second-best in the league] and .945 save percentage [tied for third-best in the NHL]).

From what I’ve found, Vegas doesn’t seem to have a line published for tonight’s contest, which is usually a good sign. That being said, I’m not so confident. The Penguins are an incredible offense that should be able to handle anything Jersey throws at them defensively. Paired with a solid defense, Pittsburgh should earn two points.

Hockey Birthday

  • National Hockey League (1917-) – The Montréal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers, Ottawa Senators, Quebec Bulldogs and Toronto Arenas band together in what would become the greatest hockey league in the world.
  • Chris Osgood (1972-) – This goaltender played 744 games over 17 seasons, most of which with Detroit, the team that drafted him 54th-overall in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft. At 401 victories, he still has the 10th most in NHL history, and hoisted the Stanley Cup twice.
  • Keith Ballard (1982-) – He may have been drafted 11th-overall in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft by Buffalo, but he never played a game in a Sabres sweater. Instead, most of his 10-year career was spent in Phoenix.

New York took care of business in yesterday’s Game of the Day, beating the Flyers 3-2 in the House that Eric Lindros Built.

Two goals were struck in the opening 20 minutes, and they both belonged to the visiting Blueshirts. 13:16 after the opening puck drop, Second Star of the Game Derek Stepan (J.T. Miller) buried a snap shot to give the Rangers a lead. That lead doubled 1:34 later with Matt Puempel‘s (Jimmy Vesey and Josh Jooris) first goal as a Ranger, only four days after signing with the club.

The eventual game-winning goal found the back of the net with 7:27 remaining in the second period. Kevin Hayes tipped-in Nick Holden‘s initial shot for a 3-0 lead.

Philly tried valiantly to level the game. Only 1:34 after returning to the ice for the third period, Chris VandeVelde deflected Andrew MacDonald‘s shot into the net to pull the Flyers within two goals. The only other score the Flyers could manage was Shayne Gostisbehere‘s (Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds) slap shot with 2:04 remaining in regulation.

First Star Henrik Lundqvist earned the victory after saving 40-of-42 shots faced (95.2%), leaving Steve Mason the loss, saving 20-of-23 (87%).

New York‘s victory pulls the road squads within seven points of the home teams, who have a 25-15-7 record.