Nick and Pete recap the Ottawa Senators coaching hire, two extensions, the latest rumors and the 2019 Western Conference Final while teasing their 2019 Stanley Cup Final preview.
With the trade deadline passing by on Monday, there’s only one important date remaining this regular season: April 6, the season’s finale.
However, we’re not quite focused on that date yet. Instead, let’s see what games this week had to offer:
|NHL SCHEDULE: February 25-March 3|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/|
|Monday, February 25|
|7 p.m.||Montréal||New Jersey||1-2|
|7:30 p.m.||Los Angeles||Tampa Bay||3-4 (SO)|
|8 p.m.||Edmonton||Nashville||2-3 (SO)|
|9 p.m.||Florida||Colorado||4-3 (OT)|
|Tuesday, February 26|
|7 p.m.||San Jose||Boston||1-4|
|7 p.m.||Calgary Flames||New York Islanders||3-1|
|7 p.m.||Los Angeles||Carolina||1-6|
|8 p.m.||Nashville||St. Louis||0-2|
|9 p.m.||Florida||Arizona||3-4 (SO)|
|Wednesday, February 27|
|7 p.m.||Calgary||New Jersey||2-1|
|7:30 p.m.||Tampa Bay Lightning||New York Rangers||4-3 (OT)|
|9:30 p.m.||Vancouver||Colorado||2-3 (SO)|
|Thursday, February 28|
|7 p.m.||Toronto Maple Leafs||New York Islanders||1-6|
|7 p.m.||Philadelphia||Columbus||3-4 (OT)|
|7:30 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Boston||1-4|
|10 p.m.||Florida||Vegas||5-6 (SO)|
|10:30 p.m.||Dallas||Los Angeles||4-3 (OT)|
|Friday, March 1|
|7 p.m.||Pittsburgh||Buffalo||3-4 (OT)|
|7 p.m.||Philadelphia||New Jersey||6-3|
|7 p.m.||Washington Capitals||New York Islanders||3-1|
|7 p.m.||Montréal Canadiens||New York Rangers||4-2|
|7:30 p.m.||St. Louis||Carolina||2-5|
|10:30 p.m.||Colorado||San Jose||3-4|
|Saturday, March 2|
|4 p.m.||Chicago||Los Angeles||NHLN|
|7 p.m.||New Jersey||Boston|
|7 p.m.||Buffalo||Toronto||CBC, NHLN, SN1|
|7 p.m.||Pittsburgh||Montréal||SN360, TVAS|
|7 p.m.||Ottawa||Tampa Bay||CITY, TVAS2|
|8 p.m.||Dallas||St. Louis|
|10 p.m.||Minnesota Wild||Calgary Flames||CBC, CITY, SN, SN1, SN360|
|Sunday, March 3|
|12:30 p.m.||Washington Capitals||New York Rangers||NBC, TVAS|
|3 p.m.||Philadelphia Flyers||New York Islanders||SN1, TVAS|
|10 p.m.||Chicago||San Jose|
There were rivalries galore to choose from this week – nine, if you want to be precise. Buffalo and Toronto waged two editions of the Battle of the QEW, with the Leafs hosting on Monday and the Sabres returning the favor tonight.
In between those meetings, the Penguins made their first visit of the season to Columbus and the Habs squared off against the Wings (both on Tuesday) and Friday featured Montréal visiting the Rangers, the Caps visiting the Islanders and the Battle of the Turnpikes. Joining Toronto and Buffalo in rivalry action today are the Blackhawks and Kings, while the Caps and Blueshirts are waiting until tomorrow to stage their derby.
In a similar strain as rivalries, we were also privy to three rematches from last season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. Minnesota and Winnipeg rekindled their First Round animosity on Tuesday, ending with the Wild exacting revenge for their early playoff exit. The Bolts and Bruins were at it Thursday (with Boston pulling off the 4-1 victory), while Nashville and Winnipeg scrapped for first place in the Central Division last night (the Jets recaptured the division lead with a 5-3 win).
Finally, I always try to point out the biggest homecomings, and there were three this week. Of course, none was more anticipated than C John Tavares making his first trip to Nassau Coliseum as a member of the Maple Leafs on Thursday. Tavares enjoyed nine seasons with the Islanders, including five as the club’s 14th captain. His 621 points scored while wearing blue and orange ranks fifth in franchise history, but don’t let that fool you – Islanders fans did not treat him to a warm welcome.
Also making notable homecomings were current Penguin D Jack Johnson returning to Columbus on Tuesday and current Predator F Mikael Granlund returning to St. Paul tomorrow (considering he just experienced the birth of his child, there’s actually a chance he never left Minnesota in the first place). Both spent seven seasons with their respective former clubs before joining their current organizations (Johnson via free agency this summer and Granlund via deadline trade).
However, all of those things having been listed, there’s still one more event that demands our attention. For the third week in a row, a former great of the game is seeing his number raised to the rafters. Tonight, the Calgary Flames honor RW Jarome Iginla.
It can be easily forgotten that Iginla was not drafted by the Flames, but instead by the Dallas Stars. Only two seasons removed from their departure from the State of Hockey, the Stars selected the Kamloops Blazer 11th-overall in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft.
Knowing what we know now, how Iginla fell all the way to 11th is hard to fathom. Only 10 total players from this 234-player draft class were ever named to even one NHL All-Star Game, of which only Iginla and nine-year teammate G Miikka Kiprusoff ever received end-of-season All-Star Team nods.
Regardless, Iginla likely never even thought about shopping for a Dallas apartment, as he was traded alongside C Corey Millen to Calgary (coincidentally in the same province as the city that hosted that edition of the draft: Edmonton, Iginla’s hometown) five months later for the rights to C Joe Nieuwendyk.
Nieuwendyk would go on to win the Stanley Cup with the Stars in 1999 – scoring two game-winning overtime goals on the way, including one in triple-overtime against former rival Edmonton – so perhaps this was a fair trade all-in-all.
Iginla made his NHL debut during the 1996 Stanley Cup Playoffs (he registered 1-1-2 totals in two games played) after the Blazers lost to Spokane in the WHL’s West Division Finals 4-2. As the reigning WHL Player of the Year, Iginla registered 1-1-2 totals in his first two postseason appearances before the Flames were swept by Chicago in the Western Quarterfinals.
Iginla played all 82 games of his rookie campaign in 1996-97, registering impressive 21-29-50 totals (including three game-winning goals) to finish second in Calder voting behind fellow traded 1995 pick D Bryan Berard of the New York Islanders (he was originally drafted first-overall by Ottawa).
Like many outstanding youths, Iginla faced a rather severe sophomore slump. The winger posted only 13-19-32 marks in 70 games played, but he hopped right back on his horse for Season 3 to reemerge as a 50-point player and start a run of scoring at least 50 points in 15 of 16 seasons (interrupted only by the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign) from 1998-2015, a run that extended beyond his time in Calgary.
Of course, implying that the Flames could only count on 50 points from Iginla is undoubtedly doing his reputation a major disservice. The 51 points he scored in the 1998-99 season was only the beginning of his meteoric rise. He notched 63 points at the turn of the millennium, followed by 71 in 2000-01.
Iggy’s sixth season (2001-02) saw him set his career-high in goals with 52-44-96 totals, and everyone in the league took notice. Not only did Iginla earn his first of three First All-Star Team honors, but he also brought home more than his fair share of hardware from the NHL Awards, winning the Rocket Richard Trophy, the Art Ross Trophy and the Lester B. Pearson Award (now known as the Ted Lindsay Award).
Of course, all that hardware didn’t make up for one major hole in Iginla’s resume. Not only had he not yet won a playoff game, he hadn’t even made a playoff appearance since his NHL debut.
That changed in a massive way in 2004, Iginla’s first season as the Flames’ 18th captain in franchise history. With a 41-32-73 season that earned Iginla his first King Clancy Award and second Richard Trophy, he led the Flames to a sixth-place finish in the Western Conference and their first playoff appearance in eight seasons.
The success didn’t end there though: the Flames defeated all three of the West’s division champions, including the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Red Wings in the conference semifinals, to advance all the way to the Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the East’s top seed.
As for Iginla, he hadn’t yet scored all the goals for his campaign, as he added 13 goals and 22 points in his 26 playoff games – including outstanding 5-3-8 totals in the quarterfinals against Vancouver. His 13 markers were the most by any player in the 2004 playoffs, but his side fell to the Bolts in seven games.
Iginla’s Flames would qualify for the next four playoffs after their Stanley Cup Final appearance (skipping, of course, the 2004-05 lockout-cancelled season), but each time they failed to advance beyond the First Round. During that run, the captain earned his last two nominations to the NHL’s First All-Star team, doing it consecutively in 2008 and 2009 with respective 50-48-98 and 35-54-89 seasons.
Iginla’s Flames career would end on March 28, 2013 when he was traded as a rental to Pittsburgh for LW Kenny Agostino, RW Ben Hanowski and a 2013 first-round pick that would eventually become LW Morgan Klimchuk. He would go on to play for the Bruins, Avs and Kings before being forced to hang up his skates after the 2016-17 season.
With 525-570-1095 totals in 1219 career games played for Calgary, Iginla holds franchise records for appearances, goals, points, power play goals (161) and game-winning goals (83). In terms of league records, Iginla is one of only seven players to score 30 or more goals in 11-straight seasons (all of which were with Calgary, and a streak that could have been longer if not for the 2012-13 lockout), one of 20 to reach the 600-goal plateau and one of 34 to manage at least 1300 points.
For these reasons, as well as every other detail and fact listed above, Iginla is bypassing Calgary’s “Forever a Flame” program (in which a player is honored, but his number not retired) and seeing his No. 12 rightfully join RW Lanny McDonald‘s No. 9 and G Mike Vernon‘s No. 30 as the team’s third (fourth if that Oiler’s No. 99 is included) sweater retired from circulation.
What a time to be a member of the C of Red, no? Not only is the organization honoring one of, if not the greatest to ever don the Flaming C (no disrespect intended to D Al MacInnis, McDonald and his mustache or Vernon), but this year’s team is also pretty darn exciting. They boast a 41-16-7 record that that leads San Jose for the Western Conference lead, and they’re showing no signs of slowing down with their seven-game win streak and eight-game point streak – both the best currently active in the NHL.
Dating back to Valentine’s Day, the Flames have played to a 7-0-1 record (they dropped a point to the Panthers in a shootout), largely as a result of their incredible defensive play. Entering play Friday (all stats will not take into account March 1’s eight games due to my work schedule), no team has allowed fewer shots than Calgary in the past 14 days. The Flames have allowed only 214 shots against in their past eight outings, which averages out to 26.75 shots against per game.
Leading that defensive charge has been none other than Calgary’s resident 3-H Club: D Noah Hanifin, who’s 10 takeaways since February 14 lead the team; D Travis Hamonic, who tops the squad by averaging two blocks per game during this run; and W Garnet Hathaway, the Flames’ leading body checker in the past 14 days by averaging three hits per game.
As would be expected, the most prominent place this solid defensive work is showing up is on the scoreboard, as the Flames have allowed a (t)fourth-best 1.75 goals against per game since February 14. As a result, 19-11-2 G Mike Smith has been having an easy go of it lately, made evident by his combined .93 save percentage and 1.98 GAA for his past six starts.
On the season, Smith boasts an .897 save percentage and 2.89 GAA, but his recent run of success means he’ll likely be in the crease this evening. Smith has a not-so-great 6-11-2 all-time record against the Wild, but he stopped all 31 shots faced the last time he saw them on December 6 to improve his career statistics against Minnesota to a .921 save percentage and 2.18 GAA.
Speaking of the Wild, they’re currently on a bit of a run themselves.
On the back of a four-game win streak (including wins against the Blues and Jets), Minnesota has amassed a 31-27-6 record that is currently (well, as of Friday morning) good enough for the Western Conference’s second wild card.
The main player in this recent success has undoubtedly been 25-21-5 G Devan Dubnyk, Smith’s former battery-mate with the Coyotes. Though he’s certainly received help from his defense (the Wild have allowed an average of 30.5 shots against per game in their last four outings, the 12th-best mark in the NHL in that time), he’s played lights out to allow only 1.5 goals against per tilt in his last four starts – the fourth-best mark in the league since February 21.
What makes this streak so impressive is that Dubnyk has been only a little better than average this season with his .912 save percentage and 2.59 GAA on the campaign. However, he’s elevated his game to his 2014-15 level in his last four outings to post a combined .951 save percentage and 1.49 GAA.
Over his 10-year career, Dubnyk has squared off against Calgary 26 times and can boast a solid 11-8-4 record against the Flames. Combined, he’s managed a .923 save percentage and 2.7 GAA against Alberta’s southern franchise.
So if we’re in line for a goaltending duel, which will emerge with two points?
Personally, I like the Flames this evening. They have the advantage of playing at home with an excited C of Red behind them, as well as a better defense and more talented offense. Dubnyk might continue to stand on his head, but I think the Flames can find a way to sneak one more goal past him.
I’ll take Calgary 2-1.
Red alert: the NHL trade deadline is two days away! Take a look at this week’s games that likely shaped every GM’s “buyer or seller” debate.
|NHL SCHEDULE: February 18-24|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
|Monday, February 18|
|7:30 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Columbus||5-1|
|10 p.m.||Boston||San Jose||6-5 (OT)|
|10:30 p.m.||Washington||Los Angeles||3-2|
|Tuesday, February 19|
|7 p.m.||Pittsburgh||New Jersey||4-3|
|7 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Philadelphia||5-2|
|7 p.m.||New York Rangers||Carolina Hurricanes||2-1|
|8 p.m.||Toronto||St. Louis||2-3 (OT)|
|9 p.m.||Arizona||Edmonton||3-2 (SO)|
|Wednesday, February 20|
|7:30 p.m.||Chicago||Detroit||5-4 (OT)|
|9:30 p.m.||New York Islanders||Calgary Flames||2-4|
|10 p.m.||Boston||Vegas||3-2 (SO)|
|Thursday, February 21|
|7 p.m.||Ottawa||New Jersey||0-4|
|7 p.m.||Minnesota Wild||New York Rangers||4-1|
|7 p.m.||San Jose||Pittsburgh||4-0|
|7:30 p.m.||Buffalo||Tampa Bay||1-2 (SO)|
|8 p.m.||Los Angeles||Nashville||1-2|
|8:30 p.m.||St. Louis||Dallas||2-5|
|9 p.m.||New York Islanders||Edmonton Oilers||3-4 (OT)|
|10 p.m.||Arizona||Vancouver||3-2 (OT)|
|Friday, February 22|
|Saturday, February 23|
|1 p.m.||New Jersey Devils||New York Rangers||2-5|
|4 p.m.||Boston||St. Louis||1-2 (SO)|
|5 p.m.||Los Angeles||Florida||1-6|
|5 p.m.||San Jose||Columbus||0-4|
|8 p.m.||Pittsburgh||Philadelphia||3-4 (OT)|
|10 p.m.||New York Islanders||Vancouver Canucks||4-0|
|Sunday, February 24|
|12:30 p.m.||New York Rangers||Washington Capitals||NHLN, SN|
|3 p.m.||San Jose||Detroit|
|7 p.m.||St. Louis||Minnesota||NBCSN|
|7 p.m.||Calgary||Ottawa||SN, TVAS|
As usual, there was more than a few exciting games this week that were certainly worthy of our attention.
The Blackhawks and Red Wings squared off in the Motor City Wednesday night, while three rivalries were contested yesterday (the Battle of the Hudson River, Montréal at Toronto and the Battle of Pennsylvania, played outdoors at Lincoln Financial Field in Philly). Of course, there’s one more derby going down this afternoon when the Rangers and Capitals square off at Capital One Arena.
As for playoff rematches, there were three on this week’s schedule. Winnipeg visited Vegas Friday night and replicated their 2018 Western Finals success against the Golden Knights, while both Colorado and Philadelphia exacted revenge against the teams that eliminated them in the First Round almost a year ago.
Finally, in the “homecoming” section, there was none bigger than F Matt Duchene‘s return to Ottawa in which he never departed Ottawa. Just like last season when he was shipped to Ontario from the Avs, Duchene’s first game with his new club, the Columbus Blue Jackets, was against his former employer and teammates.
For what it’s worth, Columbus easily dispatched the Sens with a three-goal shutout.
But instead of focusing on any of those tilts, we’re instead going to shift our attention to the desert where yet another legendary player is seeing his name receive one of, if not the highest honor any sporting organization can bestow when a particular No. 19 gets raised to the Gila River Arena rafters.
WShane Doan‘s career is one of devotion and loyalty that is hard to fathom in the current North American sporting environment.
Doan was selected seventh-overall in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft by the Winnipeg Jets, but despite the organization quitting on the Manitoban market and departing for the sandier pastures of Phoenix, he never quit on the franchise and played each and every one of his 1595 regular and playoff games for the same team
before hanging up his skates after the 2016-17 season.
There was no reason to question Doan’s loyalty in the beginning of his career, as he earned his first playoff experience in his rookie season – his only year in Winnipeg. The Jets won only two games before being eliminated by Detroit.
That was just about the only highlight of Doan’s rookie campaign. With 7-10-17 totals in 74 regular season games played, he didn’t even earn a single vote for the Calder Trophy. However, it did start a run of five-straight playoff appearances and six postseason berths in his first seven campaigns.
Despite the Coyotes maintaining that success and consistently finishing fourth or better in their division, Doan’s breakout season did not occur until his 1999-00 campaign that saw him register then career-highs in goals, assists and points when he posted 26-25-51 totals.
That success sparked a run of nine-consecutive seasons over 10-years’ time (that darned 2004-05 lockout strikes again) in which Doan scored at least 20 goals each campaign, as well as a streak of 12-straight seasons scoring at least 50 points.
Doan assumed captaincy of the Coyotes in 2003 (he ended up being the NHL’s longest-serving captain until his retirement), which surely played a large role in his loyalty to to the organization. That love put itself on full display on Valentine’s Day, 2007 when the pending UFA signed a five-year, $22.75 million extension to remain in Phoenix instead of risk being traded away at the impending deadline.
Doan signed the extension despite the Desert Dogs missing the last three Stanley Cup Playoffs, and he would not return to the postseason until 2010.
However, Doan did not let that lack of team success hold him back, as his greatest individual campaign occurred the season after signing his new contract. During the 2007-08 campaign, the captain posted 31-42-73 marks (career-highs in assists and points) despite playing for a club that finished fourth-to-last in the Western Conference.
Doan posted another 70-point season in 2008-09 (including a career-high 31 goals), but he didn’t get any national recognition until the 2009-10 campaign when he won his only league award: the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, awarded for the player that best exemplifies leadership.
Doan certainly deserved the award, as it was around this time that the now annual rumors about the Coyotes’ relocation started to begin due to the team declaring bankruptcy and being taken over by the league. Despite all of that, Doan captained his team to a franchise-best 107 points in the standings, finishing second in the Pacific Division to San Jose’s 113.
The Coyotes fought valiantly, but fell in Game 7 of the Western Quarterfinals to the Red Wings.
Phoenix qualified for the postseason for the next two seasons, but it is their run through the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs that is most memorable. Behind Doan’s 5-4-9 marks, the Yotes soared all the way to the Western Conference Finals, knocking off perennial favorites Chicago and the surging Predators.
What made this postseason even more significant is that Doan was once again entering free agency that summer. The captain would have been well within his rights to seek a team that was on more solid financial footing than the Coyotes, but he once again elected to remain with the organization that drafted him and signed a four-year, $21.2 million contract.
It was a decision that signaled the end of Doan’s playoff career. The Coyotes have not qualified for the postseason since 2012 (despite falling only two points short in 2013-14), but have a chance to change that fate this season in the lackluster Western Conference.
Doan signed his final contract – a one-year, $4.8 million deal with a no-movement clause – with the Coyotes on July 12, 2016. He finished his career with 402-570-972 totals in 1540 regular season games played, plus his 15-13-28 marks in 55 playoff appearances. Doan leads the Jets/Coyotes franchise in career points, goals, assists, games played, game-winners (69), power play goals (125) and shots on goal (3801), making him one of the best to ever wear the Coyotes or original Jets sweater.
Once the No. 19 has found its rightful place above the ice, there will still be a Coyotes game to be played against the current Jets franchise. Arizona enters tonight’s tilt with a 28-28-5 record that is good enough for 10th place in the Western Conference, trailing Colorado by four points for the second wild card.
Arizona has been playing well of late, posting a 5-2-0 record in its past seven games (including wins against the Stars, Golden Knights and Maple Leafs) due in large part to the outstanding play by 16-14-5 G Darcy Kuemper.
When 5-6-0 G Antti Raanta went down with a season-ending lower body injury in late November, it was expected that the Coyotes would immediately begin their drop to the bottom of the Western Conference. However, Kuemper has done fairly well after being thrust into the starting role, as his .915 season save percentage and 2.63 GAA are both top-eight in the league among goalies with at least 30 starts.
However, Kuemper has been even better of late, as he’s managed a dominant .938 save percentage and 1.96 GAA in his past six starts to take credit for all of the Coyotes’ past five wins.
Speaking of wins, Kuemper has a perfect 3-0-0 record against the Jets for his career, though this will be his first game going against Winnipeg as a member of the Coyotes. During his terms with the Kings and Wild, he’s taken on Winnipeg five times and owns a career .876 save percentage and 4.15 GAA against the franchise. He’ll obviously need to show improvement on those statistics if he wants to maintain his unblemished record against the Jets, but he’s been playing so well lately that I don’t think that’ll be a problem.
Paying a visit to the desert this evening are the 37-20-4 Winnipeg Jets, the West’s third-best team and the Central Division’s top dog.
Winnipeg got off the schneid in its last outing by beating the Golden Knights 6-3 on Friday, ending a three-game losing streak that saw the Jets earn only one point in the standings (an overtime loss against the lowly Senators).
The biggest reason for this momentary slide is easily the Jets’ lousy effort on the defensive end. On the season, Winnipeg allows 33.6 shots against per game. Admittedly, that’s the fifth-worst mark in the NHL on the year, but that number has climbed to 38.5 shots against in the Jets’ last four outings – the worst in the NHL since Valentine’s Day.
There are rumblings that both D Dustin Byfuglien (lower-body injury) and D Joseph Morrow (lower-body injury) could be ready to resume action in early March, but until then players like D Ben Chiarot (4.3 hits per game since February 14), F Adam Lowry (four blocks per game in his last four outings) and D Jacob Trouba (team-leading three takeaways in his last four games) will need to continue to lead by example to try and save this defense.
Other than Head Coach Paul Maurice, no one would be more appreciative of some improved defense than 27-17-2 G Connor Hellebuyck, who’s seen his season stats fall to a .909 save percentage and 2.98 GAA during this four-game run. Considering the quantity of shots faced, it’s hard to blame him for the .876 save percentage and 4.7 GAA he’s managed over his last three starts, but the fact that he was runner-up for the Vezina last season implies that he should be at least a little better than this.
The winner of this game is tough to pick, because neither side has shown consistent offense during their respective runs. That being said, the Jets’ outstanding six goals scored against Vegas shows some pent up frustration that might carry over into tonight’s tilt. Kuemper will surely perform valiantly, but he’s going to need help from his attack if he’s to earn his fourth win against the Jets tonight.
I’ll take the Jets to win 3-1.
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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- Evgeny Kuznetsov tried to improve on the Capitals‘ advantage, but Second Star Sergei Bobrovsky would not yield.
- Sam Gagner tried to reward Bobrovsky’s work, but he met a worse fate than Atkinson – he completely missed.
- 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.
- 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.
What happens when you mix one of the best days of the week with one of the greatest sports and leagues in the world? I don’t know the answer, but it probably looks something like hockey on a Thursday night.
The New York Rangers at Carolina gets things started at 7 p.m., followed half an hour later by two more games (Philadelphia at Toronto [NHLN/TVAS] and Minnesota at Tampa Bay). Anaheim at Chicago drops the puck at 8:30 p.m., trailed by a trio of contests (New Jersey at Colorado, Montréal at Calgary [RDS] and Ottawa at Arizona [RDS2]) 30 minutes later. The final wave of games drop the puck at 10 p.m. with the New York Islanders at Vancouver, followed half an hour later by tonight’s co-nightcaps: Nashville at Los Angeles (SN360) and Washington at San Jose. All times eastern.
While tonight’s action features three matchups between teams currently qualifying for a playoff position, the contest my attention is drawn to most is between two teams currently on the outside looking in.
Only eight of the 16 Eastern Conference clubs earn the opportunity to compete beyond the regular season for the Stanley Cup. While that means half the teams move on, the other half are sentenced to their couches to watch the postseason move on without them.
Currently, both of tonight’s squads find themselves in that second set of teams – on the outside of the playoff picture peering in. Even more frustrating for them, they aren’t missing the mark by much. Both have their sights set on the Islanders‘ 73-point mark, which eludes either team by less than four points.
29-22-14 Toronto certainly has the best shot of surpassing New York for that playoff spot, as they are only a point out of eighth-place in the Eastern Conference. While they probably won’t admit it externally, the Maple Leafs are well ahead of schedule in terms of returning to the top of the hockey landscape, and they have their imposing offense to thank for that.
Yet it’s been its defense that has prevented Toronto from maintaining a playoff position. The Leafs have allowed 187 goals against in 65 games – the eighth-worst rate in the NHL. 25-14-13 Frederik Andersen has been in net for most of those goals, even though his season .916 save percentage is tied for 13th-best in the league among the 37 netminders with at least 27 appearances.
That’s because his 2.72 GAA is only 28th in the league in that same group. That’s where the defense comes into play – or apparently not, as the Leafs‘ blueliners allow 32.6 shots to reach Andersen’s crease per night – the third-highest rate in the league.
As is the case with the entire Toronto roster, it’s a young defensive corps that should hopefully improve with time, but in the meantime Nikita Zaitsev, himself a rookie at 25-years-old, will be expected to continue his impressive play. He leads the group with 116 shot blocks, the most on the team.
Even though defense may not be the club’s strong-suit, don’t just assume that the Maple Leafs are always pushovers. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, as Toronto is home to the ninth-best penalty kill in the league, successful on 83.5% of disadvantages. Roman Polak has been front-and-center when the Leafs have a man in the sin bin, as his 30 shorthanded shot blocks are most on the team – as are his 24 shorthanded hits.
The penalty kill is bordering on great and trying to catch up to an exemplary power play. Led by rookie William Nylander‘s 20 power play points, Toronto has scored on 22.9% of their man-advantages – the third-best rate in the NHL. Nylander has been good, but it’s Nazem Kadri that opposing goalies have to keep an eye on – he has a team-leading 11 power play goals, which ties for sixth-most in the league.
Although they have two more wins than the Leafs, the 31-26-8 Flyers are actually in worse shape than tonight’s opposition in terms of catching up to the Isles (those extra-time losses sure add up), as New York has a three-point lead on 10th-place Philadelphia.
Philly‘s reason for falling out of postseason contention is the exact opposite of Toronto‘s. Instead, the Flyers struggle to consistently get on the scoreboard, as they’ve managed only 164 goals this season – the ninth-lowest total in the league.
At the start of the season, there were few offenses more potent than that of high-flying Philadelphia. While they certainly had their slump, it seems Jakub Voracek and his team-leading 53 points is trying to get things back to what they were. Over their past five games, the Flyers have averaged three goals-per-game, which rivals Chicago‘s seventh-best rate on the season.
While it may be a much smaller sample size, any time a team can be mentioned in the same breath as the Blackhawks, they’re usually doing something right.
Two of those goals belonged to Wayne Simmonds, who will be extremely important in the Flyers‘ playoff push. He’s managed 27 markers already this year, eight more than second-place Brayden Schenn. Should Simmonds continue on his current pace, he should manage 34 games by the time the season ends – the highest total of his nine-year career.
In the previous two games between these clubs, it’s been all about the home-ice advantage as both teams have won a game in their colored sweaters and, arguably more importantly, lost in regulation in their road whites. They last met in Philly on January 26, where the Flyers won 2-1, but the Leafs handily won 6-3 when they last hosted Philadelphia on November 11.
Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Philadelphia‘s Voracek (36 assists for 53 points [both lead the team]) and Toronto‘s Auston Matthews (31 goals [tied for fourth-most in the league]).
With the recent meetings in mind, it’s hard to pick against Toronto tonight, especially when Vegas has already marked the Leafs a -138 favorite. The Leafs have full control of the special teams play in almost every game they play, and I have full faith in their offense to dominate Philadelphia‘s blueline.
- Harry Neale (1937-) – After seven years of WHA coaching experience, Neale transitioned to the NHL in 1978, a year before the merger. Predominantly spending his time with the Canucks, he led Vancouver to a 142-189-76 record and three-straight playoff appearances.
- Paul MacLean (1958-) – St. Louis may have selected this French right wing in the seventh round of the 1978 NHL Amateur Draft, but he spent most of his career with the Jets. He earned his lone All-Star appearance in 1985 during a 101 point season, by far the best effort of his career. After more than three seasons as the Senators‘ head coach, he’s in his second year as an assistant coach in Anaheim. Also, he and Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid are probably really good friends, if not twins.
- Phil Housley (1964-) – This Hall of Fame defenseman was selected by Buffalo with the sixth-overall pick in the 1982 NHL Entry Draft. He certainly did not disappoint, as he ended up being a seven-time All-Star with 1232 points over his 21 seasons.
- Radek Dvorak (1977-) – The 10th-overall pick in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft by Florida, this right wing spent most of his 18-year career, albeit over two stints, with the club that selected him. His best season was by far his 2000-’01 campaign with the Rangers when he accounted for 67 points, including 31 goals (both career highs).
- Brent Burns (1985-) – There were a few good players selected before the 20th-overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, but I’d venture to say that at least 15 scouts whiffed on Burns. Somehow only a two-time All-Star, the six-year Shark has accounted for 490 points over his 13-year career, and he doesn’t look like he’s stopping anytime soon.
- Colin Greening (1986-) – Ottawa selected this forward in the seventh round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he’s spent most of his career. He has yet to make his NHL debut this season, but he was last seen during the 2015-’16 campaign for Toronto.
- Morgan Rielly (1994-) – Speaking of the Maple Leafs, they selected this defenseman fifth-overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. He’s accounted for 114 points and a -70 over his four year career. Also, I’m five weeks older than him. Pick the more successful of us, I dare you.
There’s no other word than disrespectful to describe how Boston took advantage of the Red Wings in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day. With four unanswered goals in the first period, the Bruins won 6-1.
The scoring onslaught began with 8:53 remaining in the first period. First Star of the Game David Krejci (Drew Stafford and Third Star Zdeno Chara) took credit for the opening tally with a wrist shot, followed 61 seconds later by a Second Star Brad Marchand (David Pastrnak and Chara) wrister – the eventual game-winner. Stafford buried his fifth tally of the season with 6:28 remaining in the frame, and Krejci notched his second of the contest 15 seconds before the period came to a close.
Marchand (Colin Miller) set the score at 5-0 with 3:05 remaining in the second period before Tuukka Rask finally ceded a goal. Niklas Kronwall (Mike Green and Dylan Larkin) is the lucky Red Wing, as his club could not find the back of the net again the rest of the night.
Pastrnak (Krejci) notched the finally tally of the game 34 seconds into the third period to set the 6-1 final score.
Rask earned the victory after saving 26-of-27 shots faced (96.3%), leaving the loss to Jared Coreau. He saved five-of-eight (62.5%) before getting pulled after Stafford’s tally. He was replaced by Petr Mrazek, who saved 18-of-21 (85.7%) for no decision.
Boston‘s win is the third in four days for the home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. That victory pulls them within four points of the 72-49-22 visitors.
Fridays usually aren’t too eventful in the NHL, but that’s not true tonight with half a dozen contests being played. The action starts at 7 p.m. with Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh (NHLN/SN/TVAS), followed half an hour later by Arizona at Carolina. The staggered starts continue at 8 p.m. with St. Louis at Winnipeg, trailed 30 minutes later by the New York Islanders at Chicago. Detroit at Calgary drops the puck at 9 p.m., with tonight’s nightcap – Toronto at Anaheim – waiting an hour before getting underway. All times eastern.
- Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh: The Penguins needed seven games to get past the Lightning in the Eastern Conference Finals en route to their fourth Stanley Cup victory.
- New York at Chicago: For four years of Andrew Ladd‘s career, he wore the Blackhawks‘ red-and-black. But now, he dresses for the Islanders.
- Toronto at Anaheim: Frederik Andersen also returns to his former stomping grounds, as he called the Honda Center home for the first three years of his career.
Since Ladd only played 19 regular seasons with the Hawks last year, lets focus in on Andersen’s trip west.
*Author’s note: All statistics were accurate at the time of composition. Three games (NYI@DAL, TOR@LAK and VAN@SJS) had yet to finish. My apologies for the inconvenience.*
Although originally drafted by Carolina in 2010, Andersen elected for re-entry after being unable to reach a contract with the Hurricanes and was selected by Anaheim 87th-overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
Only a season later, he was the Ducks‘ primary backup. He made 24 starts during that 2013-’14 rookie season, and earned a 20-5-0 on career-bests .923 save percentage and 2.29 GAA.
That good impression earned him the starting job in his sophomore season, and he retained it through last year. Over his entire career in Anaheim (aka, the first three years of his career), he earned an impressive 114-77-26 record on a .918 save percentage and 2.33 GAA, and helped lead the Ducks to a 2015 Western Conference Finals appearance.
He looked to be the goaltender of the Ducks‘ future, but Bob Murray had other ideas. With the quick coming of age by John Gibson (Andersen’s backup from 2014-’16), he was presented with the perfect situation: two fantastic goaltenders both under the age of 30. Looks like it’s time to make a trade, but who to ship off?
Murray decided to stick with the younger Gibson, leaving Andersen as the odd man out. That’s how he ended up in Toronto. He was traded to the Maple Leafs this offseason in exchange for two draft picks (one of which became Sam Steel of the Regina Pats).
It’s easy to say it’s been a seamless transition. Andersen’s play has, for the most part, remained consistent to what he exhibited in Anaheim and the Leafs are in playoff contention for the first time since 2012-’13.
While Andersen has been good, the 28-21-13 Maple Leafs‘ offense has been better. They’ve buried 189 goals in 62 games this season – the sixth-best effort in the NHL – and that success has led them to fourth place in the Atlantic Division and eighth in the Eastern Conference.
Of course, when you have the incredible Auston Matthews, that shouldn’t be that difficult to do. The rookie has been absolutely unstoppable this season, as he already has an impressive 55 points to his credit to lead the team. 31 of those points have been goals, another total that paces Toronto.
The Leafs are especially potent on the power play. Led by rookie William Nylanders‘ 20 power play points, Toronto leads the NHL with a 23% success rate with the man-advantage. If Gibson picks one Maple Leaf to pay extra attention to when his club is short a man, it should be Nazem Kadri. The center has 10 extra-man goals to his credit – the most on the team.
Toronto has also been solid on the penalty kill. Properly defending 83.5% of their infractions, the Leafs are ninth-best in the league in that situation. Much of that success is the fruit of Roman Polak‘s labor, as his 29 shorthanded blocks are best on the team.
Though playing without him, Andersen’s former club is still finding wins this season. They currently occupy third place in the Pacific Division with their 32-21-10 record, and most of that success is directly due to their impressive defense and goaltending, as the Ducks have allowed only 159 goals against this year – that ties for the sixth-fewest in the NHL.
It turns out keeping Gibson was, at minimum, a good choice. He’s earned an impressive 23-15-8 mark so far this year on his season .922 save percentage and 2.24 GAA, the (t)seventh and sixth-best effort in the league among the 43 goalies with at least 23 appearances.
Of course, it never hurts to help a 23-year-old netminder with one of the league’s better defenses. Led by Cam Fowler‘s 105 shot blocks (he’s on pace to best his former career-high 122 blocks by 15), Anaheim has allowed only 29.3 shots-per-game to reach Gibson’s crease – the ninth-best effort in the league.
As you’d expect from a team that does almost everything regarding the defense well, the penalty kill is fairly solid. The Ducks properly neutralize 84.9% of opposing power plays, the fourth-best rate in the league. Fowler deserves a lot of the credit, as his 23 shorthanded shot blocks are tops on the club.
The Ducks have already made their yearly trip to Toronto, and it was certainly a successful trip. Thanks to Fowler’s game-winning power play tally, Anaheim won December 19’s contest at the Air Canada Centre 3-2.
Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Anaheim‘s Gibson (five shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the leauge] and a 2.24 GAA [sixth-best in the NHL] on a .922 save percentage [tied for seventh-best in the league]) and Toronto‘s Matthews (31 goals [tied for second-most in the NHL]).
I like the Ducks to win tonight not only because they have home ice, but also because I trust their offense more than I trust the Leafs‘ defense. It should be a tight game, but Anaheim should prevail.
- Andy Murray (1951-) – A head coach with 10 years of experience, Murray’s longest tenured position was with the Los Angeles Kings from 1999 to 2005. He has a career 333-278-127 record.
- Brian Leetch (1968-) – Probably the best hockey player from Texas all-time, this Hall of Fame defenseman was selected ninth-overall by the Rangers in the 1986 NHL Entry Draft and played 18 sesaons. A nine-time All-Star, he won the 1994 Stanley Cup as well as two Norris Trophies, the 1989 Calder and the 1994 Conn Smythe.
- Stephane Robidas (1977-) – Selected in the seventh round by Montréal in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft, this defenseman played 15 seasons in the league, spending 11 of those years in Dallas. He finished his career with a +16 rating and earned one All-Star Game appearance.
- Colton Orr (1982-) – He may not have been drafted, but that didn’t stop him from playing 11 years in the NHL. Spending most of that time in Toronto, he was known as an enforcer and has 641 career hits to show for his work.
- Alexander Semin (1984-) – Washington selected this left wing 13th-overall in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he’s spent the most of his 11-year NHL career. Currently, he plays for the Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the KHL.
First Star of the Game Paul Byron didn’t really feel like playing overtime last night, so he buried an unassisted wrist shot with nine seconds remaining in regulation to give Montréal a 2-1 victory over the Predators in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
Not only would that tally last to the first intermission, but it would also hold through the entire second period.
With 9:05 remaining in regulation, things started to get interesting. Brendan Gallagher (Alex Galchenyuk) potted a wrap-around goal to pull the Habs even with the Preds. Then madness happened, as Byron won the game with fewer than 10 seconds on the clock.
Montréal‘s victory is the second-straight by a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series, no small task given how successful the 70-45-22 visitors have been of late. Hosts now trail the visitors in the series by only eight points.
The Colorado Avalanche have traded 39-year-old forward Jarome Iginla to the Los Angeles Kings for a conditional 2018 4th round draft pick.
Pending the Kings’s playoffs situation or if Iginla does not re-sign with Los Angeles the conditional pick disappears altogether.
Iginla is in the final year of a three-year contract worth $5.333 million AAV and is a pending unrestricted free agent. The veteran right winger had 8-10-18 totals in 61 games this season with Colorado and is third among active NHL players in points behind Jaromir Jagr (1,903) and Joe Thornton (1,381).
In 1,535 regular season games over 20 NHL seasons with the Calgary Flames, Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins and Avs, Iginla has amassed 619 goals and 672 assists (1,291 points).
In 81 Stanley Cup Playoff games, Iginla has recorded 37-31-68 totals with Calgary, Pittsburgh and Boston. He played a vital role in helping the Flames reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2004, ultimately losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games.
The Avalanche retained 50% of Iginla’s salary in the transaction.
Fun fact, the Dallas Stars drafted Iginla 11th overall in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft.
For the second day in a row, there’s only three games on the schedule. Well, maybe. The NHL will decide today at 8 a.m. if the Chicago at St. Louis (NBC/SN/TVAS) Winter Classic, currently scheduled at 1 p.m., will take place at that time, later, or even potentially postponed until tomorrow. Two games will take place for sure: Boston at New Jersey (SN) at 7 p.m. and Colorado at Vancouver three hours later. All times eastern.
If only this was the situation yesterday. All three matchups looked good on paper to open the year. Instead, the Winter Classic is by far the best game on the schedule today, so we must hope that this game happens!
The best team in the not only the Central Division but also the Western Conference, is the same club that has already played in four outdoor games – the most in the league. This year’s edition of the Blackhawks, at 23-11-5, have a specialty in not allowing their opposition to find the back of their net, allowing only 93 goals, tying for the seventh-fewest.
Back from injury, 13-7-3 Corey Crawford has resumed his starting role in Chicago‘s net. So far this season, he’s set a .928 save percentage and 2.28 GAA, the (t)sixth and (t)10th-best efforts, respectively, among his 46 peers that have 12 or more appearances.
Crawford is especially deserving of the praise, because the defense playing in front of him has not been that good at their primary responsibility. The Hawks have allowed 31.2 shots-per-game to reach his net, making him the eighth-most taxed netminder in the business.
That all being said, Niklas Hjalmarsson has done all he can to impact that statistic, as his 87 shot blocks are far-and-away the most on the club. He leads Brent Seabrook‘s total by 31 blocks, who firmly has second place by 14 blocks in his own right. I’d say that more defensemen need to keep pucks off Crawford’s net, but with the record they have… I guess they’re doing all right.
This defensive effort rears its ugly head on the penalty kill. Have you heard that expression, “When *censored* hits the fan?” That might be an understatement. Chicago ranks third-worst in the league when down a man, neutralizing only 75% of opposing power plays. Seabrook has been very important here, but it is probably telling that his measly six shorthanded blocks are top on the team.
Playing three blocks down Clark Avenue from Scottrade Center, the 19-13-5 Blues have taken up residence at Busch Stadium, the home field of the St. Louis Cardinals. Currently in third place in the Central Division, the Notes have found their success with the puck on their stick, scoring 103 goals, tying them for the 11th-best offense.
Easily the best forward on the team, right wing Vladimir Tarasenko has a club-leading 39 points to his credit in 37 games. 16 of those have been goals which, you guessed it, is also the best mark in St. Louis.
The power play has been a point of pride for St. Louis, as their 21.6% success rate is tied for seventh-best in the NHL. Who else to lead that effort than Tarasenko, who has 15 man-advantage points already on his resume. That being said, it’s actually been Kevin Shattenkirk who’s buried more power play goals. His six extra-man goals are top on the team.
If the power play has been good, the penalty kill has been great. St. Louis rejects 86% of opposing power plays, the fourth-best effort in the NHL and tops in the Western Conference. Captain Alex Pietrangelo has been at the head of that effort, as you’d expect a leader to be. His 17 shorthanded blocks are tops on the team.
Just like yesterday’s featured game – both by DtFR and the NHL – this matchup is not by accident. Although probably more known for the baseball rivalry between the Cardinals and Cubs, these towns do not like each other. Like, at all. While the Cubbies have had more recent success on the diamond, it was these very Blue Notes that expelled the Blackhawks in last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs. Something tells me that was only fuel on an already brightly burning fire.
Some players to keep an eye on this afternoon include Chicago‘s Crawford (.928 save percentage [tied for seventh-best in the league]), Patrick Kane (26 assists [tied for third-most in the NHL] among 37 points [tied for eighth-most in the league]) and Artemi Panarin (38 points [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]) & St. Louis‘ Tarasenko (39 points [fourth-most in the league], including 16 goals [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]).
As usual, the way to beat the Blues is by eliminating Tarasenko. Chicago has been able to do that in two of their three meetings with St. Louis, including their most recent meeting – a 6-4 victory down the road at Scottrade Center on December 17. Vegas has marked St. Louis a -124 favorite, but road teams have won four of the last six outdoor games. I’m biased, but I believe the Notes can hold off the Hawks for a victory today.
Hopefully today’s game is able to be played, because there’s a couple good games that deserve to be watched tomorrow.
- Glen Harmon (1921-2007) – This defenseman may have only played nine seasons in the NHL, but he was named to two more All Star teams and hoisted two more Stanley Cups than a lot of players who play double the time. He played all nine seasons in Montréal.
- Robbie Ftorek (1952-) – Although undrafted, this forward played eight seasons in the NHL (he also spent five seasons in the WHA), most of which with the Rangers. By the time his NHL career was complete, he’d notched 227 points. He also won a silver medal with Team USA at the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics.
- Mattias Norstrom (1972) – Drafted 48th-overall by the Rangers in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft, this defenseman played 14 seasons in the league, most of which in Los Angeles. He was the Kings‘ captain from 2001 until he was traded during the 2007 season.
- Brian Boucher (1977-) – This goaltender was drafted 22nd-overall by Philadelphia in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft, and he played most of his 13-year career with the Flyers. Although he never hoisted a Stanley Cup or was named to an All Star game, he holds the modern NHL record for longest shutout streak at 332:01 (that’s over 5.5 hours!).
If you like offensive surges, the Centennial Classic was the game for you, as Toronto won 5-4 in overtime against the arch-rival Red Wings.
Although it ended up being high scoring, this contest stayed scoreless until the 5:33 mark of the second period. Third Star of the Game Anthony Mantha (Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Tatar) takes credit for the lone goal of the frame, giving Detroit a 1-0 lead.
Toronto returned to the ice with a bad taste in their mouth, scoring four straight goals. Leo Komarov (Jake Gardiner and William Nylander) takes credit for the first, only 1:23 after resuming play. Next up was Mitchell Marner (Morgan Rielly and James van Riemsdyk), who buried his snap shot exactly seven minutes later. Second Star Connor Brown (Zach Hyman and Connor Carrick) set the score at 3-1 with his wrister at the 9:34 mark, First Star Auston Matthews (Brown and Hyman) completed the surge only 2:31 later.
Down 4-1, the Wings needed a mighty surge, and they got one. Jonathan Ericsson (Mantha and Xavier Ouellet) got it started with 6:06 remaining in regulation with his first goal of the season. Dylan Larkin (Zetterberg and Tatar) pulled Detroit within a goal with 1:46 remaining, and Mantha (Zetterberg and Thomas Vanek) completed the comeback with only two ticks left on the clock, forcing three-on-three overtime.
A game like this doesn’t deserve to end in a shootout. Whether you believe that or not, Matthews (Gardiner and Brown) did, as he buried his winner with 80 seconds remaining in overtime to earn Toronto the bonus point.
Although not on their usual surface, Toronto‘s home victory sets the DtFR Game of the Day series at 45-24-12, favoring the hosts by 15 points.
The last Thursday of 2016 is a busy one in the NHL. A dozen games will take place this evening, starting with two at 7 p.m. (Boston at Buffalo and New Jersey at Washington [NBCSN]) and another pair half an hour later (Toronto at Tampa Bay [TVAS] and Montréal at Florida [RDS]). 8 p.m. brings with it four contests (Chicago at Nashville, the New York Islanders at Minnesota, Columbus at Winnipeg and Detroit at Ottawa [RDSI]), and Colorado at Dallas gets underway 30 minutes later. Lastly, it’s a trifecta of nightcaps (Anaheim at Calgary [SN360], Los Angeles at Edmonton and the New York Rangers at Arizona) when 9 p.m. rolls around to close out the night.
- Boston at Buffalo: Nothing like a little rivalry to get the blood pumping.
- Montréal at Florida: Al Montoya will get the start in net against the club he played 45 games over two seasons with.
- Los Angeles at Edmonton: Another rivalry, although it’s nowhere near as Great as it once was (See what I did there? Sneaky.).
Sorry Montoya, but the potential for a good game in Alberta is too great for us to pass up. Off to the brand-new Rogers Place!
Of course, this rivalry exists/used to exist entirely because of the trade that shipped Wayne Gretzky from the Oilers to the Kings, but it takes new life this year as both teams are currently in playoff position. Of course, that could change if things don’t go the Kings‘ way and either Dallas, Nashville or Winnipeg win this evening.
The Kings make the trip to Edmonton with a 17-14-4 record, good enough for fifth place in the Pacific Division and, more importantly, eighth in the Western Conference – aka the second wildcard! They’ve found that success by playing one of, if not the best defense in the league, allowing only 83 goals – the sixth-fewest in the NHL.
Thanks to Jonathan Quick‘s groin injury in the first game of the season, it has been 15-9-3 Peter Budaj taking most of the starts in Los Angeles. Over that time, he’s accrued a .919 save percentage and 2.04 GAA – the 19th and sixth-best efforts, respectively, among the 44 netminders with 14 or more appearances.
An okay save percentage paired with an excellent GAA is always indicative of a stellar defense, and Tinseltown is no different. Led by Derek Forbort‘s 77 shot blocks and second-in-command Alec Martinez‘ 72, the Kings allow only an average of 25.8 shots to reach Budaj’s net per night, the best in the league by nearly a full shot.
As expected, they continue that effort on the penalty kill, where their 84.2% kill rate is tied for seventh-best in the league. Although the same two culprits are responsible for this charge, Martinez’ 19 shorthanded blocks are five more than Forbort’s.
Unfortunately, the power play hasn’t been able to hold up its end of the bargain. Successful on only 15.7% of opportunities, the Kings tie for ninth-worst in the league. Jeff Carter leads the team with only eight power play points, but that overshadows an impressive six power play goals (ties for 11th-most in the NHL).
Playing host this evening are the 18-12-6 Oilers, the second-best team in the Pacific. Offense is the name of the game in The Big E, as the Oil‘s 103 tallies ties for seventh-most in the NHL.
You get two guesses as to who has the most points in Edmonton. Something tells me you only needed one of those guesses. Captain Connor McDavid‘s 42 points are not only tops in Edmonton, but also the tie with Sidney Crosby for most in the entire league. That being said, it has been Leon Draisaitl who has buries the most pucks for the Oil, with 14 to his credit. He narrowly beats out McDavid’s 13.
Just like Los Angeles, what goes well during even-strength action shines especially bright during special teams. Edmonton‘s 21.2% conversion rate on the power play is eighth-best in the NHL. Draisaitl truly shines here, partially because he and McDavid are both on the first power play unit. The elder center has 14 man-advantage points on his resume already this year (two more than McDavid and Milan Lucic), and also has an impressive eight power play goals (tied for second-most in the league).
These clubs have already met once this season, and the Kings came out on top. They squared off in the Staples Center on November 17 to a 4-2 LA victory. Budaj took credit for the win, and Carter’s shorthanded second period wrister was the deciding score.
Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Edmonton‘s McDavid (29 assists [most in the league] among 42 points [tied for the NHL lead]) and Cam Talbot (three shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the league] among 17 wins [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]) & Los Angeles‘ Budaj (four shutouts [tied for second-most in the league] and a 2.04 GAA [sixth-best in the NHL] for 15 wins [tied for eighth-most in the league]) and Carter (19 goals [tied for second-most in the NHL]).
Vegas likes Edmonton to win tonight at -130, and I do too. Not only are the Oil playing at home sweet home, their penalty kill is more than up to the task of squelching the Kings‘ poor power play. I’d even go so far to say that Mark Letestu, who opened the season with two shorthanded goals, could notch his fourth penalty kill point tonight. Who knows?
- Nels Stewart (1902-1957) – When the Montreal Maroons won the 1926 Stanley Cup, it was this Hall of Fame center who was in the middle of most of the scoring. A two-time Hart Trophy winner, he scored a team-high 34 goals in 36 games played that season.
- Filip Kuba (1975-) – A Florida-pick in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft, this defenseman played most of his 14 seasons in Minnesota. In 2004, his fourth season with the Wild, he earned a roster spot at the All-Star game.
- Pierre Dagenais (1978-) – You know you’re wanted when the same team drafts you twice. That’s what happened to this left wing, as New Jersey selected him in both the 1996 and 1998 NHL Entry Drafts. He only played 25 games for the Devils; most of his short NHL career was spent in Montréal.
Notching the first hat trick of his NHL career, First Star of the Game Robby Fabbri led St. Louis past the Flyers in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day series, winning 6-3.
It was actually Wayne Simmonds (Travis Konecny and Brayden Schenn) and Philadelphia getting on the board first, as the right wing tipped-in the puck only 3:25 into the contest. The Notes leveled with 4:59 remaining in the first with a Kevin Shattenkirk (Alexander Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko) power play slap shot. With a dozen seconds remaining before the first intermission, Fabbri (Second Star Colton Parayko) notched his first goal of the night with a power play wrister, giving the Notes a 2-1 lead.
It was an evening of quick starts for the Flyers, as they took a 3-2 lead only 4:13 into the third period with a Schenn (Shayne Gostisbehere and Simmonds) power play slap shot. That lead lasted only 100 seconds before David Perron (Parayko) pulled St. Louis even. 1:20 after that, Third Star Scottie Upshall (Joel Edmundson and Alex Pietrangelo) provided the tally that proved to be the game-winning shot. Those that are good at math know that set the score at 4-3, leaving the final two goals to Fabbri to complete his hatty. He scored at even-strength with 4:59 remaining (Patrik Berglund and Dmitrij Jaskin), and on an empty net (Jaskin and Paul Stastny) with 2:56 remaining to earn the accolade.
The Notes‘ victory means the home sides in the DtFR Game of the Day series have earned at least a point in the last six matchups, setting the series record at 42-23-12 and improving their lead over the roadies to a dozen points.
There’s only four games occurring tonight, but they all look to be good ones. The action starts at 7:30 p.m. with Minnesota at Toronto (SN), followed half an hour later by Boston at Washington (NBCSN/TVAS). Later, the co-nightcaps drop the puck at 10:30 p.m. (Carolina at Anaheim and Ottawa at San Jose [RDS]). All times eastern.
I know we’ve been in the Eastern Conference for the last four days, but the game I’m most interested in is going down in the Verizon Center. Off to the capital we go!
Jumping right in, 15-10-1 Boston – currently riding a three-game winning streak – is the third-best team in the Atlantic Division, thanks in most part to a defense and goaltending that has allowed only 57 goals so far this season, the fifth-fewest in the league. That stat is made only more impressive by the fact that the Bruins allowed 228 goals a season ago, the tying for 11th-most.
Much of that improvement can be attributed to the 14-4-1 Tuukka Rask, whose .939 save percentage and 1.68 GAA – which rank fourth and second-best in the league, respectively, among goalies with 10 or more appearances – are vastly better than his efforts a season ago (.915 and 2.56) that rank among the worst campaigns of his 10-season career.
Rask doesn’t get to take all the credit though. Last season, his defense allowed 30.4 shots-per-game to reach his crease, the 13th-most in the league. Nowadays, that number is down to 27.7, the fifth-best. Taking responsibility for that change is rookie Brandon Carlo, who’s 45 blocks is a greater total than even the likes of Captain Zdeno Chara (43), Adam McQuaid (37) and John-Michael Liles (28).
That success has followed the Bruins to the penalty kill, where their 86.4% kill rate is the third-best in the league. Carlo has led that charge as well, with 15 shorthanded blocks on his young NHL resume.
Boston‘s Achilles heel continues to be their power play, which ranks fourth-worst at 13.8%. Two of the Davids (David Krejci and David Pastrnak, to be exact) have five power play points to co-lead the team, but I’d argue Pastrnak has been the most vital with four extra-man goals.
*Seriously, count up how many Davids are on the Bruins‘ roster. Last I checked, there’s three active right now.*
Hosting Boston this evening are the 14-7-3 Capitals, who currently occupy fifth place in the Metropolitan Division. Just like the Bruins, Washington has found most of their success by being a strong defensive team, allowing only 53 goals – the fourth-fewest in the NHL.
Last year’s Vezina Trophy-winning Braden Holtby currently has an 11-6-2 record on a .923 save percentage and 2.14 GAA – the 16th and 10th-best efforts among netminders with 10 or more appearances.
Much of the reason Holtby has been able to maintain his stellar play from a season ago has been due to the impressive defense playing in front of him that has allowed only 28.2 shots-per-game to reach his crease – effectively identical to last season’s Presidents’ Trophy-clinching effort. Brooks Orpik has led the blueline with 39 blocks, but four total defensemen (Karl Alzner, John Carlson, Matt Niskanen and Orpik) already have more than 30 shot blocks on the year.
Surprisingly, the power play has let Washington down thus far into the season. Even with Nicklas Backstrom‘s nine power play points and Alex Ovechkin‘s four power play goals, the Caps‘ 15.2% success rate is ninth-worst in the NHL. Part of the reason for that decline might be due to T.J. Oshie being sidelined since November 19 with an upper body-injury, one would expect a potent Capitals offense to overcome that setback.
Some players to keep an eye on tonight include Boston‘s Pastrnak (+15 on 15 goals [both tied for third-most in the league]) and Rask (14 wins [tied for most in the NHL], including three shutouts [tied for second-most in the league], on a 1.68 GAA [second-best in the NHL] and a .939 save percentage [fourth-best in the league]) & Washington‘s Holtby (2.14 GAA [10th-best in the NHL]) and Ovechkin (12 goals [10th-most in the league]).
Vegas thinks Washington is the favorite tonight, marking them with a -145. Since the Capitals are on home ice, I also like Washington to pull out the victory in what should be a good game.
- Gerry Cheevers (1940-) – How funny we’d feature the Bruins on 12-year Bostonian goaltender Cheevers’ birthday! Up until the 2011 championship, this netminder had been responsible for the Bruins‘ previous two Stanley Cup titles.
- Garry Unger (1947-) – A long-time Blue, this center was an seven-time All-Star and notched 804 points over his 16-season career.
- Peter Laviolette (1964-) – Currently the head coach in Nashville, this skipper’s crowning achievement of his 15-season coaching career is still the Stanley Cup he won in 2006 with Carolina.
- Georges Laraque (1976-) – The 31st-overall selection in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing spent most of his time with Edmonton, the club that drafted him. Twice he made it to the Stanley Cup Finals, but both times his club failed to hoist the Cup.
- Milan Michalek (1984) – This left wing was the sixth-overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft by San Jose, but he played most of his days in Ottawa.
It’s the games I’m most confident in that are getting the best of me. I assumed the Rangers would have no problem beating the Islanders, but once again a good rivalry game turned the tables as the home Isles bested the Blueshirts 4-2.
The first goal of the night was a special one for the Islanders. Struck 7:03 into the game, Third Star of the Game Scott Mayfield‘s (Cal Clutterbuck and Anders Lee) slap shot was his first goal of the season, and only the second of his 14-game NHL career. Jason Chimera (Brock Nelson) backed that tally up with one of his own with 2:36 remaining in the frame to give the Islanders a two-goal lead going into the first intermission.
The Rangers‘ incredible offense finally got on the board 56 seconds into the second period with a Jimmy Vesey (Rick Nash) wrister, but Andrew Ladd (Shane Prince) notched the eventual game-winner only 1:22 later with a snap shot. The Rangers fought back within a goal at the 8:54 mark via a Marc Staal (J.T. Miller and Chris Kreider) wrister, but it was the last tally they could manage, both in the second period and regulation.
The second straight win by the home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series has improved their record to 31-19-8 and expended their lead over the roadies to six points.