Tag Archives: 1997 NHL Entry Draft

Marner’s three assists, Leivo’s GWG beat Bruins, 4-2

Mitch Marner led the way with three assists for the Toronto Maple Leafs– sans Auston Matthews for the 14th time this season due to his shoulder injury– as Josh Leivo had the game-winning goal late in the second period to defeat the Boston Bruins, 4-2, at Scotiabank Arena Monday night.

Frederik Andersen (13-7-0, .932 save percentage, 2.22 goals against average in 20 games played) had 38 saves on 40 shots against for a .950 SV% in the win for Toronto, while Jaroslav Halak (8-3-2, .936 SV%, 2.05 GAA in 15 GP) made 27 saves on 30 shots faced for a .900 SV% in the loss.

Patrick Marleau participated in his 1,600th career NHL game Monday night– becoming the 11th player in league history to reach 1,600 games, joining Gordie Howe (1,767 games played), Mark Messier (1,756 GP), Jaromir Jagr (1,733 GP), Ron Francis (1,731 GP), Mark Recchi (1,652 GP), Chris Chelios (1,651 GP), Dave Andreychuk (1,639 GP), Scott Stevens (1,635 GP), Larry Murphy (1,615 GP) and Ray Bourque (1,612 GP).

Among active NHLers, Marleau leads San Jose’s Joe Thornton (1,508 games played), Pittsburgh’s Matt Cullen (1,463 GP), Boston’s Zdeno Chara (1,411 GP) and Carolina’s Justin Williams (1,185 GP).

Marleau was originally drafted 2nd overall in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft by the San Jose Sharks and signed a three-year contract with Toronto on July 2, 2017 after spending 1997-2017 with San Jose.

And if you’ve been under a rock since the Maple Leafs signed John Tavares this summer, William Nylander is still unsigned and has until *checks calendar* 5 p.m. ET Saturday to sign a deal and participate in the 2018-19 season.

Anyway, with the win on Monday, Toronto improved to 17-8-0 (34 points) on the season and remained 3rd in the Atlantic Division, while Boston fell to a 13-7-4 record (30 points) and stayed in 4th in the Atlantic.

Bruce Cassidy juggled his bottom-six forwards and defensive pairs Monday night with Anders Bjork back in the lineup on the third line to the left of Joakim Nordstrom and Noel Acciari after having been a healthy scratch since Nov. 23rd.

Colby Cave began the night centering the fourth line with Sean Kuraly joining Steven Kampfer as the healthy scratches against Toronto.

John Moore started the night on the first defensive pair as the left shot to Kevan Miller‘s right shot on the blue line with Torey Krug remaining partners with Connor Clifton and Jeremy Lauzon on the third pair with Matt Grzelcyk.

Brandon Carlo (upper body), Chara (lower body, left MCL), Patrice Bergeron (upper body), Urho Vaakanainen (concussion) and Charlie McAvoy (concussion) remained sidelined due to injury, though Carlo and McAvoy could be back as early as this week.

A tight goaltending battle began to unwind late in the first period as the Bruins couldn’t clear their own zone and the Maple Leafs capitalized on their chances.

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Travis Dermott (1) notched his first goal of the season to give Toronto the 1-0 lead at 17:44 of the first period. Marner (25) had the only assist on the goal.

Miller took an errant puck to the throat area prior to the goal and went down the tunnel to the dressing room. Boston later tweeted during the second intermission that he would not return to Monday night’s action.

After one period the Leafs held onto a, 1-0, lead, while trailing in shots on goal to the Bruins, 10-9. The B’s had an advantage in blocked shots (6-4), but Toronto dominated just about every other stat category entering the first intermission leading in takeaways (3-2), giveaways (5-4), hits (8-7) and face-off win percentage (72-28). Neither team had yet to see any action on the extra skater advantage on the power play.

Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson was removed from the first line to start the second period as Cave earned a promotion in-game between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak that would soon pay off.

Par Lindholm hooked Moore early in the middle frame and the Bruins had their first power play of the night at 1:55 of the second period.

On the ensuing power play, Marchand worked a pass through the crease to Pastrnak (18) on the right side of Andersen for the shot on goal from close range that hit the twine, yielding a power play goal and tying the game, 1-1.

Marchand (16) and Krug (9) had the assists on Pastrnak’s goal at 3:39 of the second period and Boston came to life for a few moments thanks to the swing in momentum.

Toronto followed up Lindholm’s penalty with a minor infraction for too many men on the ice at 10:48. The bench minor was served by Frederik Gauthier and the B’s did not convert on the resulting power play.

Instead, Gauthier played a key role fresh out of the box while the Bruins skaters still on the ice from the advantage in strength had tired legs and the Maple Leafs made them pay.

Igor Ozhiganov (1) notched his first career National Hockey League goal off the right post and past Halak at 13:06 of the second period. Marner (26) and Gauthier (3) had the assists and the Leafs once again had a one-goal lead, 2-1.

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Just over a minute later, Pastrnak (19) worked his magic again thanks to a slap pass from Krug to the young Bruins winger in front of the goal, whereby Pastrnak deked enough for Andersen to overcommit and give way to a mostly empty goal for Pastrnak to slip the puck past the Toronto netminder and into the twine.

Boston tied the game, 2-2, on Pastrnak’s second goal of the night– assisted by Krug (10) and Marchand (17)– at 14:22.

With the Bruins mounting a crescendo in the middle period, the Maple Leafs worked to play smarter, not harder as Toronto started to regain dominant control of zone time possession and drew a penalty after Bjork was sloppy with his stick and tripped up Tyler Ennis at 16:58 of the second period.

If Boston could’ve held off the Leafs onslaught on the power play for just 20 more seconds things might have been different, but an inexperienced penalty killing unit allowed Toronto to waltz into the attacking zone with ease and set up Leivo (4) for the power play goal and eventual game-winner at 18:38.

Ennis (3) and Marleau (9) had the assists and Toronto led, 3-2.

Heading into the second intermission, the Bruins trailed by a goal, but led in shots on goal, 28-18. Boston had 18 shots on goal in the second period, which was a season high for the club in one period.

Toronto led in takeaways (5-3), giveaways (10-5), hits (19-14) and face-off win% (55-45), while the Bruins led in blocked shots (13-12). The Maple Leafs were 1/1 on the power play and the B’s were 1/2.

Midway through the third period, Jake DeBrusk had a brush with near-injury after he was pushed down in front of the goal by Nikita Zaitsev while Danton Heinen unloaded a one-timed shot on goal, hitting DeBrusk square in the back of the head.

It appeared the puck caught nothing but helmet, but DeBrusk felt the vulcanized rubber biscuit nonetheless and took a second to get up before continuing to play after a quick stoppage.

With 2:37 remaining in regulation, Cassidy pulled his netminder for an extra attacker, but it was to no avail as Toronto took their time to wait it out and gather the puck before sending Zach Hyman (4) in all alone for the empty net goal at 18:25 of the third period.

Tavares (13) and Marner (27) had the assists on the insurance goal for the Leafs, as Toronto put away the Bruins, 4-2.

At the final horn, Boston suffered the loss while outshooting Toronto, 40-31, after 60 minutes of play. The Maple Leafs actually led in shots on goal in the third period alone, however, 13-12, and maintained the advantage in blocked shots (22-17), giveaways (16-11), hits (23-19) and face-off win% (57-43).

The Leafs finished the night 1/1 on the power play, while the B’s went 1/2.

The Maple Leafs improved to 11-0-0 when scoring first this season and 12-0-0 when leading after two periods. Boston is now 0-6-1 when trailing after 40 minutes this season.

After going 1-1-0 on their two-game road swing through Montreal and Toronto, the Bruins return home to TD Garden for a matchup against the New York Islanders on Thursday night.

Boston will retire Rick Middleton‘s No. 16 sweater before the game and fans are asked to be in their seats by 6:30 p.m. ET to witness the ceremony and jersey retirement.

DTFR Podcast #132- Hall of Guardians and Turtlenecks

The 2018 Hockey Hall of Fame Class was inducted on Monday, plus we remember the NHL Guardians and celebrate Joe Thornton’s milestones. Tomas Plekanec retired– leaving us a turtleneck to pass on ceremoniously– and Milan Lucic was fined $10,000.

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ plight comes with an extension for General Manager Jim Rutherford, while the Los Angeles Kings battle the injury bug in net (we finished recording before Wednesday’s trade between the two clubs).

Meanwhile, Tom Wilson is back, a concussion lawsuit was settled, the 2019 NWHL All-Star Game was announced, Jakob Chychrun got a six-year extension and Nick and Connor discuss when they’ll eventually let their kids (if they ever have any) play contact sports.

Support the show on Patreon.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

2018 Offseason Preview: San Jose Sharks

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the San Jose Sharks and their outlook for the summer.

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The San Jose Sharks quietly strolled along in the Pacific Division for much of the season, spending time in 2nd place behind the Vegas Golden Knights. If it wasn’t for slipping considerably down the stretch in a critical time where every point matters, the Sharks would’ve had home ice for their First Round matchup against the Anaheim Ducks.

Instead, head coach Peter DeBoer and his players finished the season 3rd in the Pacific, with 100 points on the season– one point behind Anaheim– and a 45-27-10 record.

For not having the spotlight on the team most of the year and the pressure that had built up in 2016 and 2017 thanks to the club’s Stanley Cup Final run in 2016, General Manager Doug Wilson made a splash acquiring Evander Kane from the Buffalo Sabres at the trade deadline.

The Sharks were all in.

They swept the Ducks in the First Round, proving home ice advantage didn’t matter to them and even beat the Golden Knights on the road in the Second Round in double-overtime.

But San Jose fell to the Vegas offense and stellar goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury and the 2018 postseason run was cut short in six games without an appearance by Joe Thornton— in the literal sense, because he was oft-injured this season.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

Wilson and the Sharks have the 21st overall pick in the 2018 Draft and could target a defender or fall in line with the “pick the best available” mantra of the first round past the top-10 picks in the draft.

In any case, San Jose realistically has a chance of landing either Jack McBain, Serron Noel, Jared McIsaac, Ryan Merkley, Olivier-Benoit Groulx, Rasmus Sandin, Albin Eriksson, Adam Ginning, Fillip Hallander or Ryan McLeod.

The club does not have any picks in the second or third round as things currently stand at the time of this writing.

Pending free agents

The Sharks have a little more than $7.500 million to work with this summer after delivering a significant pay raise to Evander Kane, keeping him around for the long-term in Northern California, alongside Joe Pavelski.

Speaking of Pavelski, he’ll need a new contract next summer.

Back to the present, for now, though.

Jannik Hansen, Thornton, Eric Fehr and Joel Ward are all pending-unrestricted free agents.

Hansen, 32, might have some staying power in that he’s one of the younger pending-UFAs currently on the NHL roster in San Jose, however, he only amassed 2-12–14 totals in 46 games this season. That’s not good and the Sharks can move on, given the emergence of Marcus Sorensen and, well, the overall outlook of the organization.

It could come down to re-signing one or two of these pending-UFAs if they’re willing to take a tremendous discount and limited role.

While a guy like Thornton wouldn’t have as limited of a role as Hansen, Fehr or Ward, he is coming off of a season plagued by injuries.

If he has anything left in the tank, he’ll be back, but at a discount for sure. Not an $8.000 million, one-year deal, but something like a $1.000 million one-year deal with performance bonuses and the like.

Despite being limited to 47 games this season, the Boston Bruins 1st overall pick in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft still had 13 goals and 23 assists (36 points).

At 38, Thornton could be the next ageless wonder, a la Jaromir Jagr— minus all the traveling around the league, because Thornton is that dedicated to the organization he’s been with since the 2005-06 season.

Without a doubt the plan in Silicon Valley is Cup or bust in 2019 and Joe Thornton still haven’t won his Cup.

But he’ll surely take his time to mull over a decision on whether to return or not, let alone return to the game.

Fehr, 32, was a low-cost, potentially high-reward on the fourth line acquisition the Sharks made in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but Fehr didn’t have all that far to go to meet up with his new team. He was already on loan to the San Jose Barracuda (AHL).

Unless he can rebound, he might be getting an AHL deal this summer.

Drafted by the Washington Capitals 18th overall in the deep 2003 NHL Entry Draft, Fehr had three goals and one assist (four points) in 18 games with the Sharks and Maple Leafs this season.

He won’t be back.

Like Thornton, Joel Ward is getting up there in age. He’s 37 and really slowing down in offense. Ward had 5-7–12 totals in 52 games this season and did not play in the postseason. He may still find an NHL team or two interested in his services this summer, but it’ll be outside of San Jose.

Doug Wilson’s biggest priorities this offseason is keeping things intact while envisioning a younger defense somewhere down the not-so-distant line.

But first, he’ll have to re-sign pending-RFAs Tomas Hertl and Chris Tierney.

Hertl, 24, had 22 goals and 24 assists (46 points) in 79 games this season. He’ll be looking for dollars or term and the Sharks will have to work around some things to give it to him, but they absolutely should.

Tierney, 23, has proven to be an effective second or third line center with 17-23–40 totals in 82 games this season. It’s the first time in his young NHL career (4th season) that he’s played in all 82 games in the regular season and he’ll continue to play in many more as long as he’s got a spot on San Jose’s special teams– most notably, at times, killing penalties.

Then there’s pending-RFA blueliner Dylan DeMelo.

The 25-year-old’s role on the Sharks defense increased this season as Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Paul Martin— though better than average combined– continued to age.

DeMelo had 20 assists in 63 games played this season. He can move the puck and shutdown the opponent on any given night. He’s also in the sweet-spot for a defenseman in their prime.

Finally, the Sharks are set in net with Martin Jones, 28, under contract through the 2023-24 season at a $5.750 million cap hit as their starter and Aaron Dell, 29, on a fresh two-year extension at $1.900 million per year as the backup.

Seriously though, Jones is perhaps the best goaltender– if not one of the best– in franchise history and he’s signed at an affordable cap hit for a starting goaltender of his caliber.

Look, we love Evgeni Nabokov as much as the next guy, but Jones carries the promise of potentially bringing the franchise its first Cup on his current contract and he’s not even being paid $6.000 million or more like other elite goaltenders in this league.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Brandon Mashinter (UFA)

October 30 – Day 27 – I Left My Heart in San Francisco

How do we do this Monday thing during the summer without hockey to watch after work? Maybe that’s why so many people take summer vacations.

I suppose that’s a question we’ll solve another day. In the meantime, there’s a total of eight contests on the schedule today, starting with three (Vegas at the New York Islanders, Arizona at Philadelphia and Boston at Columbus [SN]) at the usual 7 p.m. starting time and two more (Montréal at Ottawa [RDS/TSN2] and Tampa Bay at Florida) half an hour later. In a matchup of the top two teams in the Western Conference, Los Angeles visits St. Louis at 8 p.m., followed by Dallas at Vancouver two hours later and tonight’s nightcap – Toronto at San Jose – at 10:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

What a slate of games! Beyond the note associated with the Kings-Blues game, there’s also two rivalry games to be played tonight that should produce some thrilling action.

All that being said, there’s one occurrence that simply cannot be missed this evening: the return of F Patrick Marleau to San Jose.

 

 

 

 

 

Time to take the WABAC Machine to Civic Arena in Pittsburgh, Penn. on June 21, 1997, the location and date of that year’s NHL Entry Draft.

It was here that Marleau’s 19-season tenure with the Sharks began, as the Seattle Thunderbird was selected second-overall by former General Manager Dean Lombardi. It proved to be an excellent match, as Marleau owns many of the Sharks’ franchise records, including games played (1493), goals (508), even-strength goals (331), power play goals (160), short-handed goals (17), game-winning goals (98) and points (1082), among others.

Talk about a career.

Though Marleau’s 2005-’06 season was his best as measured by his career-high 86 points, it’d be hard to argue that his 2009-’10 effort, at 30-years-old, wasn’t his most impressive. It was that season that he scored 44 goals – better than a goal every-other game – in the regular season followed by eight more in the playoffs to lead the Sharks to their second-ever appearance in the Western Conference Finals, where they were swept by Chicago.

Along with other playoff shortcomings, that is the main blemish on Marleau’s impressive career: he’s never hoisted any NHL hardware besides the Campbell Bowl in 2016. His best accolades from the league are his three All-Star Game appearances.

When General Manager Doug Wilson elected not to resign the forward, who turned 38-years-old this September, Marleau made sure to choose a team that could resolve that issue for him, leading him to Toronto.

Though currently third in a stacked Atlantic Division, they sky is the limit for the 7-4-0 Maple Leafs this season, due in large part to their unbelievable offense.

Yes, Atlantic-rival Tampa Bay may prove to be a more complete team in the long run, but it’s hard to beat a team that boasts a league-best 4.09 goals per game.

Of course, what should we expect from an attack headed by C Auston Matthews? The reigning Calder Trophy winner, who posted 40-29-69 totals in his rookie season, is suffering no sophomore slump this year as he’s already scored eight goals for 15 points (both [t]fourth-most in the league).

For those wondering who was selected with the first-overall pick in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft, they need to look no further than the 5-5-0 Sharks’ top-line center. That’s right: Joe Thornton. After being traded from Boston in late November, 2005, the top-two picks of the 1997 draft played on the same team for the next 12 years.

Though it hasn’t exactly been the best of starts for the Sharks this season, they certainly have postseason aspirations of their own, hoping to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs for the third-consecutive campaign.

Even though San Jose still touts offensive weapons of the likes of F Logan Couture and Thornton, the Sharks are at their best when playing a defensive game. Having allowed an average of only 29.8 shots-per-game to reach G Martin Jones (fifth-fewest in the NHL), the Sharks allow only 2.6 goals against-per-game, the seventh-best mark in the league.

That defense is co-led by two of the best defensemen in the NHL: Justin Braun and Brent Burns. Burns’ reputation is certainly cemented in his offensive contributions, but he’s also been very busy along his own blue line by blocking 2.1 shots-per-game and registering nine takeaways already this season (the most of any defenseman). Braun has also been very effective on San Jose’s second D-pair, but with his own style. He prefers to play a very physical game and has registered 3.2 blocks-per-game to go with his 21 blocks in 10 games played.

Marleau should receive an extremely favorable response from devoted Sharks fans before they lend their support to their teal-clad club. Since this game features strength-on-strength, I like the Sharks to win this game due to their offense being better than Toronto’s defense.


The Winnipeg Jets showed no mercy in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 7-1 at Bell MTS Place.

We featured this game on the chance Penguins G Casey DeSmith would earn the first start of his NHL career. Though it was instead G Matthew Murray that started his second game in as many days, DeSmith did eventually earn his first NHL appearance after Murray allowed four goals on nine shots against (.556 save percentage).

Murray didn’t even last an entire period of play, as all four of his goals against were struck in 18:07 of action. First up was C Andrew Copp (F Shawn Matthias and D Toby Enstrom), who buried his first goal of the season only 1:20 into the game.

Assisted by Second Star of the Game C Mark Scheifele and LW Kyle Connor, RW Blake Wheeler buried what proved to be the game-winning goal with 6:02 remaining in the period.

Though the play started in Winnipeg’s defensive zone, it didn’t stay there long thanks to an untimely turnover by D Zach Trotman. Connor was quick to take possession of the loose puck and passed to Scheifele through the neutral zone to set up a two-on-one attack for the Jets. Once D Ian Cole committed to preventing a shot from Scheifele, the center passed to Wheeler in slot, who buried a low wrist shot through Murray’s five-hole.

Wheeler (Matthias and Scheifele) continued applying the pressure 3:46 later, setting the score at 3-0, followed by RW Joel Armia (F Matt Hendricks) burying a wrister with 113 seconds remaining in the first period to chase Murray.

Not to leave DeSmith out from being scored on in the first period, Wheeler (Connor) scored a backhanded shot only 11 seconds after the netminder’s NHL debut to complete his first-frame hat trick. As you might expect, he took home First Star honors for his effort.

Though F Evgeni Malkin (RW Phil Kessel and D Kris Letang) was able to score a power play deflection with 2:58 remaining in the second period, it did little to brighten the Penguins’ spirits – especially since Scheifele (Wheeler and D Dustin Byfuglien) and LW Brendan Lemieux (D Tyler Myers and Armia) were able to score a goal apiece in the third frame to set the 7-1 final score.

Third Star G Connor Hellebuyck earned the victory after saving 31-of-32 shots faced (.969 save percentage), leaving Murray the loss.

Winnipeg’s win was its first in the DtFR Game of the Day series this season and helped the 15-8-4 home teams reclaim an eight-point advantage over the roadies.

April 6 – Day 169 – Pacific pandemonium

Buckle up for a wild Thursday.

There’s a dozen games on tap this evening, starting with four (Ottawa at Boston [NBCSN/RDS], Pittsburgh at New Jersey [SN360], the New York Islanders at Carolina and Winnipeg at Columbus) at 7 p.m. and another two (Tampa Bay at Toronto [TVAS] and St. Louis at Florida) half an hour later. 8:30 p.m. marks the puck drop of Nashville at Dallas, with Minnesota at Colorado waiting 30 minutes before getting underway. A pair of contests (Vancouver at Arizona and Chicago at Anaheim [NBCSN]) see their start at 10 p.m., with our co-nightcaps – Calgary at Los Angeles (SN360) and Edmonton at San Jose – dropping the puck half an hour later. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Ottawa at Boston: These clubs are tied at 94 points apiece for second and third place in the Atlantic Division.
  • Tampa Bay at Toronto: Tampa‘s postseason dreams are still alive, but they’ll be dashed with a loss this evening.
  • Chicago at Anaheim: Chicago has already clinched home ice throughout the Western Conference playoffs, but the Ducks still have some work to do within the Pacific Division.
  • Edmonton at San Jose: Speaking of the Pacific, these squads are tied at 97 points apiece for second and third place.

Of that list, the two tie-breaking games certainly stand out among the rest. It’s a tough choice between them, and I don’t think there’s really a wrong answer.

But…

Since Montréal has already clinched the Atlantic and both the Oilers and Sharks can still win their division, we have to turn our attention to The Tank for this episode Pacific Pandemonium!

 

No, not pandamonium. Pandemonium.

Though, come to think of it, that is a good representation of what is going on out West.

The top three teams in the Pacific are all over each other, and each still has a chance to advance into first place in the group. In fact, this panda .gif is so accurate, it even shows the fourth-place Flames leaving the tussle, as they’re already locked into one of the wild cards.

To continue with our panda metaphor, the bear at the bottom of the pile is certainly the 45-28-7 Sharks. Though tied with Edmonton on points, they’ve played one more game to put them in third place. Should they fall tonight, whether it be in regulation or extra-time, they will be unable to claim the top seed in the division.

The reason they’ve fallen from grace is their 1-8-0 record over the second half of March. As pointed out the last time we featured San Jose, it led the Pacific by five points at the beginning of the month. Now, the Sharks are simply fighting for home ice in the first round.

That article went on bemoaning the Sharks and their play of late. Somebody in San Jose‘s front office must have read it, because things have certainly changed since the beginning of April.

San Jose enters tonight’s game on a two-game winning streak (their first since March 12-14), and it’s all because 35-22-6 Martin Jones rediscovered his game. Over the second half of March, Jones posted an atrocious .862 save percentage and 3.85 GAA. Simply put, you’re not going to win many games that way.

Jones’ goaltending coach is Johan Hedberg, himself a former NHL goaltender.  Undoubtedly, Hedberg probably also went through tough patches like Jones did. Whatever he said or did with Jones has obviously worked, as the Sharks have their number one goalie back.

Jones hasn’t been just good in these last two games, he’s been great. He’s posted an incredible .969 save percentage and averaged only one goal-allowed, both numbers that are near the top of the league to start the month.

One of the best tests of a goalie is his performance against the power play, especially when the penalty kill in front of him manages only an average 80.9% kill rate on the campaign. Of all the goaltenders to have faced at least eight power play shots in the past four days, Jones is one of only six to have saved all of them.

There is still one remnant from the losing skid, though it’s no surprise given the Sharks‘ season success rate of only 16.7% on the power play that ties for sixth-worst in the NHL. San Jose has converted neither of its extra-man opportunities this month even though both Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski – the Sharks‘ best players on the man-advantage – have not missed any time.

With a game-in-hand on the Pacific-leading Ducks, 44-26-9 Edmonton still has its sights set on hoisting its first Division Champion banner since 1992. They can make a strong step in that direction with a win tonight.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Oilers did just that (win, that is), as they’ve earned a 9-2-0 record in their past 11 games – the third-best record in the league in that time.

The only thing better than Edmonton‘s record is its propensity for scoring the puck. 44 Oilers goals have been struck since March 14, the most in the league since then. I probably don’t need to tell you who’s behind most of those tallies, but would I be doing my job if I didn’t?

Simply put, Connor McDavid is really, really good at hockey. He’s registered 20 points in his past 11 games to pace the league since mid-March. What is truly impressive about McDavid’s late-season surge is that he’s calling his number more often. He’s only notched 29 goals on the season, a surprisingly low total since he’s effectively locked up his first Art Ross Trophy. But lately? He’s buried six of those tallies in the last 11 contests, a run that is matched by line-mate Patrick Maroon to co-lead the squad.

The Oil‘s offensive dominance continues on the power play, where it has converted an impressive 28.9% to rank sixth-best in the league since mid-March. McDavid is joined on this attack by Leon Draisaitl and Milan Lucic, as they’ve all notched five man-advantage points in the past 24 days. Lucic has been especially impressive during this run, as four of his points have been goals, which ties for the second-highest total in the NHL in that time.

Edmonton‘s penalty kill has also been excellent of late, as it’s properly defended and neutralized 85.7% of its infractions to tie for the sixth-best mark in the league since mid-March. Andrej Sekera deserves a lot of the credit for that success, as he’s blocked eight shots on the penalty kill in the past 11 games, which ties for second-most in the league.

The Oilers own a one-point lead in the series between these clubs this season, thanks to forcing overtime they first ran into the Sharks on December 23. These clubs last met March 30 in Edmonton, where the Oil bested San Jose 3-2 thanks to Maroon’s two-goal night.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Edmonton‘s Draisaitl (75 points [eighth-most in the league] on 47 assists [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]), McDavid (66 assists for 95 points [both lead the league] and a +25 [10th-best in the NHL]) and Cam Talbot (40 wins [third-most in the league], including seven shutouts [tied for third-most in the NHL]) & San Jose‘s Burns (74 points [ninth-most in the league]) and Jones (35 wins [seventh-most in the NHL]).

I’m surprised: Vegas favors the Sharks to win tonight on a -125 line. While Jones’ resurgence have helped to cool my doubts about San Jose going into the playoffs, I still don’t think it’s enough to fend off the Oilers‘ dominant offense.

Hockey Birthday

  • Connie Broden (1932-2013) – This center did the unthinkable by the standards of today’s game: he played only six regular season games in the NHL – all with the Canadiens – and scored only three points, but he hoisted two Stanley Cups. Talk about an effective career!
  • Michel Larocque (1952-1992) – This goaltender was selected sixth-overall by Montréal in the 1972 NHL Amateur Draft, and that’s where he played most of his 11 seasons. Amassing a career 160-89-45 record, he won four Vezina Trophies and the 1979 Stanley Cup.
  • Olaf Kolzig (1970-) – The only South African to play in the NHL to date, this goaltender was the 19th-overall pick by Washington in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft. All but one of his 17 seasons were spent with the Capitals, and he won the 2000 Vezina and 2006 King Clancy Memorial Trophies and played in two All-Star Games before retiring.
  • Hal Gill (1975-) – Another player to spend most of his career with the club that drafted him, this defenseman was selected by Boston in the eighth round of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft. He hoisted his lone Stanley Cup as a member of the Penguins‘ 2009 squad.
  • Ville Nieminen (1977-) – This NHL journeyman was picked by Colorado 78th-overall in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft. In only seven seasons, he played with seven different clubs, but before being shipped off from the Avalanche, he helped them to the 2001 Stanley Cup.
  • Travis Moen (1982-) – Calgary selected this left wing in the fifth round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, but he never played a game with the Flames. Instead, he spent half of his 12-year career in Montréal. Another Stanley Cup winner, he was a member of the 2007 Ducks.
  • Clarke MacArthur (1985-) – Buffalo selected this left wing 74th-overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, but he’s in his fourth season with the Senators. Due to suffering a concussion during training camp, he finally made his season debut Tuesday.

With a two-goal shutout victory over the Rangers in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, I present you your 2016-’17 regular season champion, the back-to-back Presidents’ Trophy-winning Washington Capitals!

With four prominent skaters healing up in the press box, the Rangers entered this contest over-matched. That being said, they managed to keep the Capitals off the board until only 5:11 remained in the second period. Alex Ovechkin (Second Star of the Game Evgeny Kuznetsov and Third Star Marcus Johansson) took advantage of a Brendan Smith holding penalty to score a deflected power play goal.

That was the only tally Washington managed before the second intermission, meaning the game’s lone insurance goal was struck in the third period. It came off Kuznetsov’s (Johansson and Justin Williams) stick, a wrist shot 5:42 into the frame.

First Star Braden Holtby earned the victory after saving all 24 shots he faced, leaving the loss to Henrik Lundqvist, who saved 23-of-25 (92%).

With the final playoff pushes seeing their last breaths, hosts in the DtFR Game of the Day series are truly taking advantage of their home-ice advantage. They’ve improved their records in the series to 87-59-25 (seven points better than the road teams) by winning six of the last seven games.

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 17 – Day 149 – Killing two birds with one stone, even though there’s only one bird team here

In preparation for Saturday’s action there’s not too many games happening tonight – four, to be exact. Half of those contests drop the puck at 7 p.m. (Florida at the New York Rangers [NHLN/TVAS] and New Jersey at Pittsburgh [SN360]), followed two hours later by Dallas at Calgary. Finally, Buffalo visits Anaheim at 10 p.m. to complete the night’s festivities. All times eastern.

Unfortunately, the action this evening, in addition to not being high-volume, is not expected to be exceptionally noteworthy. Since it’s been a while since we’ve featured either Anaheim or Buffalo, let’s kill two birds with one stone and catch their matchup at the Honda Center.

 

This season has not treated the 28-31-12 Sabres how they would’ve liked. Many fans came into the campaign dreaming of making the playoffs, but with the club currently sitting in 14th-place in the Eastern Conference, it seems those dreams will be dashed for the sixth year in a row.

Much of the reason for that is an offense that has managed only 177 goals in 71 games, which ties for the seventh-worst rate in the league. Of course, much of that is due to Jack Eichel‘s lower body injury suffered in a practice only a day before Buffalo‘s season got underway. Even though he’s missed 22 games this year, he still leads the team in points with 48, but Buffalonians can only dream of what he could have done playing a full 82-game season.

Another players who’s missed considerable time but has still produced is Evander Kane. He’s had to sit out a dozen contests, but his 25 goals still top the squad.

Believe it or not, the season’s injury list actually continues. In total, the top four forwards (Eichel, Kane, Ryan O’Reilly and the currently injured Kyle Okposo) have all missed a combined 41 games. With Kane and O’Reilly both playing on the top line, it’s proven difficult for the Sabres to maintain consistency and build chemistry.

But when Buffalo fights through the injuries and manages to put a quality roster on the ice, it’s more than proven what it’s capable of. That’s no more apparent than when the Sabres take to the power play, as their 23.4% success rate is second-best in the league. Rasmus Ristolainen, coincidentally one of the big-names on the Sabres‘ roster that hasn’t missed a game yet this year, has been at the head of that attack with his 24 man-advantage points.

Ristolainen has made a hobby of setting up linemates, as most of those are assists. Instead, it’s Matt Moulson who has scored the most power play goals on the team, with 10 to his credit.

Unfortunately, special teams giveth, and special teams taketh away. As great as the Sabres have been on the power play, they’ve been equally terrible on the penalty kill. Buffalo defends only 76.4% of its penalties, the second-worst rate in the league even though Josh Gorges has done all he can with his 34 shorthanded shot blocks (11th-most in the NHL).

Even with that effort, 19-22-8 Robin Lehner has still faced 255 shots against when his club is shorthanded, the third-most in the league. He saves a more-than-respectable .886 of those, but has not been rewarded with improved defensive play in front of him. Until Buffalo can improve on that defensive effort, it will not be a true Cup-contender. We will have to wait and see what Tim Murray has planned for the offseason.

Hosting the Sabres this evening are the 37-23-10 Ducks, winners of their past two games that currently occupy second place in the Pacific Division. Defense is the name of the game in Anaheim, as the Ducks have allowed only 173 goals against this season, which ties for the sixth-lowest total in the league.

At the core of that defense is 23-16-8 John Gibson, Anaheim‘s first-year starter. He’s done admirably in his new position, but recently suffered a lower body injury. In his stead, the Ducks are expected to start 14-7-2 Jonathan Bernier, whose .913 season save percentage and 2.62 GAA rank 29th-best in the league among the 60 netminders with at least a dozen appearances.

Randy Carlyle and Bob Murray prescribe to a decent philosophy: an under-worked good goalie becomes a great goaltender. That’s where Cam Fowler‘s group comes into play. Thanks in part to Fowler’s team-leading 118 shot blocks, the Ducks allow only 29.6 shots to reach Gibson’s (now Bernier’s) crease per game, the ninth-lowest average in the league.

The solid defensive effort continues when Anaheim is forced to defend a penalty. 85.1% of the time the Ducks are forced into a shorthanded situation, they do not yield a goal, which ties for the third-best rate in the NHL. Just like he is at even-strength, Fowler is very responsible for the Ducks‘ penalty kill success as he has a team-leading 24 shorthanded blocks.

With only 24 days remaining on the NHL calendar for the regular season, it’s not a surprise that this is the last time the Ducks and Sabres will meet this year. The Ducks visited Buffalo on February 9 and exploded for a 5-2 victory.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Anaheim‘s Ryan Getzlaf (44 assists [tied for sixth-most in the league]) and Buffalo‘s Ristolainen (38 assists and 154 blocks [both lead the team]).

A -210 line is never a good sign for the road team, and it’s definitely discouraging me from picking against the Ducks. Not only are they on The Pond, where they’ve won all but 11 of their contests, but they also have a defense that can cover for an injured goaltender (Exhibits A and B: the last two games). Anaheim should have another two points after tonight’s game is complete.

Hockey Birthday

  • Craig Ramsay (1951-) – This longtime Sabres left wing saved his best for the last season of his career. Selected by Buffalo 19th-overall in the 1971 NHL Amateur Draft, he retired immediately after winning the 1985 Frank J. Selke Trophy.
  • Andrew Ference (1979-) – Pittsburgh may have selected this defenseman in the eighth round of the 1997 NHL Entry Draft, but he’s spent most of his career with Boston. He was a member of the Bruins‘ 2011 Stanley Cup-winning team, and also earned the 2014 King Clancy Memorial Trophy.
  • Ryan Parent (1987-) – It simply never panned out for this defenseman, the 18th-overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by Nashville. He played 106 career games in the league – 102 with Philadelphia – and only had three points to show for it.
  • Bobby Ryan (1987-) – Anaheim selected this left wing second-overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he spent the first six years of his career. Since 2013, he’s called Ottawa home, where he’s registered 182 points.
  • Ryan White (1988-) – This center was selected 66th-overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft by Montréal, and that’s where he’s spent a majority of his eight-year career. That being said, he currently plays for the Wild after being traded from the Coyotes at this season’s deadline.

If I had to guess, the best way to break the resolve of a team is by by scoring four unanswered goals in a period. The Maple Leafs did just that to best Tampa Bay with a five-goal shutout in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Since Third Star of the Game Roman Polak (Tyler Bozak) was the first Leaf to score a goal – a slap shot 9:19 into the game – he gets to take credit for the game-winning tally. It’s a special statistic for a defenseman, as this is only the sixth of his 11-year career, and his first of the season.

Where Toronto truly won the game was in the second period. In the span of 13:17, Second Star Morgan Rielly (Nazem Kadri and Alexey Marchenko), Matt Martin (Matt Hunwick and Nikita Soshnikov), Connor Brown (Leo Komarov and William Nylander) and James van Riemsdyk (Rielly and Mitch Marner) all scored to set the score at the 5-0 final.

Frederik Andersen earned his First Star award in the final 40 minutes of the game. The Lightning fired a total of 26 shots in the second and third frames, but Andersen did not let a single one by to earn his fourth shutout of the season.

In all, Andersen saved all 33 shots he faced for the victory, while Andrei Vasilevskiy takes the loss after saving 11-of-15 (73.3%) shots faced. He was replaced following Brown’s power play goal (the score read 4-0 then) by Peter Budaj, who saved five-of-six (83.3%) for no decision.

For two days in a row now, the 76-53-22 road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have scored five goals en route to a victory. Those offensive explosions has given the visitors in the series a three-point advantage on the hosts.

February 7 – Day 111 – Pigeons not the only birds in Gotham

A whopping 11 games are on the schedule this evening, so let’s hop right in. Like it usually does, the action starts at 7 p.m. with four contests (San Jose at Buffalo, Anaheim at the New York Rangers, Calgary at Pittsburgh [TVAS] and Carolina at Washington), followed half an hour later by another set of four (Dallas at Toronto, St. Louis at Ottawa [RDS2], Columbus at Detroit and Los Angeles at Tampa Bay [NBCSN]). We keep moving west with two contests (Vancouver at Nashville and Minnesota at Winnipeg) dropping the puck at 8 p.m., followed an hour later by tonight’s nightcap: Montréal at Colorado (RDS). All times eastern.

There’s a handful of good games this evening, but I expect the best one to occur at Madison Square Garden. To the Big Apple we go!

Unknown-1New York Rangers Logo

 

The Ducks make their yearly trip to the World’s Most Famous Arena with a 28-16-10 record, good enough for second place in the Pacific Division. They’ve found much of that success on the back of their defense and goaltending, as Anaheim has allowed only 133 goals in 54 games this season, the sixth-best rate in the NHL.

That all starts with 20-12-8 John Gibson, who’s having a solid campaign. He’s accumulated a .921 season save percentage and a 2.27 GAA, the (t)eighth and sixth-best efforts, respectively, among the 43 goaltenders with at least 20 appearances.

Much of the reason he’s found such success has been due to the blueline playing in front of him, which has allowed only 29.4 shots-per-game to reach his crease – the 10th-best rate in the league. That being said, the defense is working its hardest to fill some big skates. Sami Vatanen, who leads the club with 94 shot blocks, is currently fighting a lower-body injury to the point that Brandon Montour was recalled from San Diego. Cam Fowler, who has blocked 82 shots so far this year for the active-lead in the clubhouse, is being called on to fill the void.

The defensive success continues on the penalty kill, where the Ducks rank fifth-best by refusing to yield a goal on 84.3% of opposing power plays. Vatanen is usually a big player when down a man with 19 shorthanded blocks to his credit, so Anaheim will once again turn their eyes to Fowler, who’s 18 blocks when down a man are second-best.

Playing host this evening are the 33-18-1 Rangers, the fourth-best team in the Metropolitan Division and fifth-best in the Eastern Conference. Winners of their last two games, the Blueshirts have found a lot of their success with the puck on their stick, scoring 175 goals already this season – the second-most in the league.

New York‘s forwards may not turn heads when compared to the rest of the league, but they play incredibly well together. Leading the group has been J.T. Miller with 40 points, but four other skaters have at least 35 points to their credit. And he’s not even the one scoring all the goals. That job belongs to Michael Grabner, who tops the club with 23 tallies.

As might be expected, the Blueshirts‘ power play is pretty darn good. Led by Captain Ryan McDonagh and his 12 power play points, New York converts 21.3% of it’s opponents’ penalties into tallies, the ninth-best rate in the NHL. What makes the Rangers so dangerous is that opposing goaltenders don’t know who is going to take the final shot. The power play goal scoring title is shared between Chris Kreider, Rick Nash and Brandon Pirri, all of whom have five tallies with the man-advantage.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Anaheim‘s Gibson (2.27 GAA [seventh-best in the league] and three shutouts [tied for seventh-most in the NHL) and New York‘s Henrik Lundqvist (23 wins [tied for eighth-most in the league]).

It’s strength-on-strength tonight at MSG, which means the other end of the ice may prove to be more important in determining the outcome. Given the Rangers‘ strong play on the defensive end, I think the home squad holds on for the victory.

Hockey Birthday

  • Peter Bondra (1968-) – An eighth-rounder selected by Washington in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing earned five All-Star selections over his 16 seasons.
  • Alexandre Daigle (1975-) – Selected by Ottawa, this center was the first pick in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft. He spent half of his 10 seasons in the league with the Senators, his longest tenure with a club.
  • David Aebischer (1978-) – This goaltender was selected in the sixth-round of the 1997 NHL Entry Draft by Colorado. He made his debut with the club during the 2000-’01 season and was a member of the Stanley Cup-winning team.
  • Steven Stamkos (1990-) – Another top pick, Tampa Bay selected this center in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Since then, he’s managed three All-Star selections and two Richard trophies.
  • Ryan O’Reilly (1991-) – Picked 33rd-overall by Colorado in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, this center’s crowing achievement is the 2014 Byng trophy. This season is his second in Buffalo.

In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, First Star of the Game Carter Hutton led the Blues to a two-goal shutout victory over Philadelphia.

Paul Stastny (Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Steen) takes credit for the winning goal with 4:38 remaining in the second period on a tip-in.

Second Star Kenny Agostino (David Perron and Jori Lehtera) tacked on the lone insurance tally 2:10 into the final frame on a breakaway snap shot in his first game as a Blue.

Hutton saved all 26 shots he faced for the victory, leaving the loss to Michal Neuvirth, who saved 14-of-16 (87.5%).

Road teams have earned three-straight victories in the DtFR Game of the Day series, and that surge has pulled them within seven points of the 59-37-17 homers.

January 16 – Day 93 – Defense vs. Offense

Happy Martin Luther King Day! What better way to celebrate than with hockey?

In all seriousness, he did a lot of powerful things for not only the United States, but the world as a whole. All people, regardless of color, ethnicity, race, religion or any other variable have a lot to thank King’s effort for.

Putting our attention back on hockey, seven games will be waged today, starting with two at 1 p.m. (the New York Islanders at Boston [SN] and Dallas at Buffalo). The matinees continue at 3 p.m. with Montréal at Detroit [RDS], followed an hour later by another pair of contests (Tampa Bay at Los Angeles [SN] and Winnipeg at San Jose). Washington at Pittsburgh (NBCSN/SN/TVAS) drops the puck at 7 p.m., with tonight’s nightcap – Arizona at Edmonton – waiting until 9 p.m. before getting underway.

Short list:

  • Montréal at Detroit: For those who love their Original Six hockey, here’s your game of the day.
  • Washington at Pittsburgh: Eastern Semifinals rematch? Check. Rivals? Check. Just met last Wednesday? Check.

I would apologize for featuring yet another CapsPens matchup, but the reason we watch these is because they’re always exciting. To PPG Paints Arena we go.

Washington Capitals Logopittsburgh_penguins_logo

 

Thanks to beating the Flyers 5-0 yesterday for their ninth-straight victory, the 29-9-5 Capitals are not only the hottest team in hockey, but also the best in the Metropolitan Division, Eastern Conference and league.

Though it’s taken a little longer than many expected for them to reach that position in the table, they’ve done it on the back of their incredible goaltending that has allowed only 82 goals, the fewest in the NHL.

That goaltender is 21-8-4 Braden Holtby, winner of last season’s Vezina Trophy. He’s found his success on a .933 save percentage and 1.85 GAA – the third and second-best efforts, respectively, in the NHL with at least 17 appearances.

He’s certainly been good, but with blueliners like Washington‘s, all he has to do is act as a last-line-of-defense. Led by Karl Alzner‘s team-high 81 blocks, only 27.8 shots-per-game reach Holtby’s crease, sixth-fewest in the league.

That success has carried into the penalty kill, where the Caps are second-best in the league. Much of the reason they don’t yield a power play goal on 86.5% of opposing opportunities is due to Alzner’s 21 shorthanded blocks, the most on the club.

Playing host this evening are the 26-11-5 Penguins, the third-best team in the Metropolitan. Losers of their past three games, when the Pens find success they play some phenomenal offense. They’ve scored 143 goals already this season, the second-most in the league.

As we’ve come to expect since they started playing together in the 2006-07 season, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have been the two-headed monster known as the Pittsburgh Penguins. Even though they don’t share a line in even-strength play, both skaters have notched a team-high 46 points. Of course, Crosby has been the more dangerous of the two with a team-leading 26 goals to his credit.

As for the power play, Pittsburgh is also a very formidable foe. They’re successful on 22.8% of attempts, the fourth-highest conversion rate in the NHL. This is where Phil Kessel and his team-leading 18 power play points shine, but Crosby is once again the main goalscorer, with nine extra-man goals in his pocket.

The main spot the Penguins still need to improve on is their unattractive penalty kill. Even with Ian Cole‘s team-leading 19 shorthanded blocks, Pittsburgh prevents only 78.2% of opposing power plays, the sixth-worst rate in the league.

These clubs have already met three times this season, and Washington has a 2-0-1 lead in the series. Although the Capitals have beaten Pittsburgh by at least three goals the last two times they’ve met, both of those games were at the Verizon Center. Pittsburgh won on Opening Night on their home ice, albeit in a shootout.

Some players to keep an eye on include Pittsburgh‘s Crosby (26 goals [most in the league] among 46 points [tied for third-most in the NHL]), Kessel (28 assists [tied for sixth-most in the league]), Malkin (46 points [tied for third-most in the NHL], including 28 assists [tied for sixth-most in the league]), Matthew Murray (.925 save percentage [tied for fifth-best in the NHL] for a 2.28 GAA [10th-best in the league]) and Justin Schultz (+20 [tied for ninth-best in the NHL]) & Washington‘s Nicklas Backstrom (30 assists [fourth-most in the league] among 42 points [10th-most in the NHL]), Holtby (six shutouts [most in the league] on a 1.85 GAA [second-best in the NHL] and a .933 save percentage [third-best in the league] for 21 wins [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]), T.J. Oshie (+21 [tied for seventh-best in the league]) and Alex Ovechkin (21 goals [tied for third-most in the NHL]).

Thanks in part to having a home ice advantage this evening, Vegas favors the Penguins at -120. That being said, the Capitals are playing out of their minds right now and I expect them to complete the upset this evening.

Hockey Birthday

  • Brenden Morrow (1979-) – The 25th-overall pick in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft by Dallas, this left wing played most of his 15-season career with the club that drafted him. By the time he hung up his skates, he’d notched an impressive 575 points.
  • Jason Ward (1979-) – Although drafted higher than Morrow at 11th-overall by Montréal in the same draft, this right wing did not find as much success. He only played eight seasons in the NHL to accumulate 81 points.
  • Jamie Lundmark (1981-) – This center was the ninth-overall pick by the Rangers in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, and although he played most of his games in New York, he actually spent one more season in Calgary. He finished his six-year NHL career a point shy of 100.
  • Matt Duchene (1991-) – Colorado selected this center third-overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, and with the Avalanche he’s played all his 532 games. Although he has 402 points over his career, this has not been a great season for assists. His .32 assists-per-game this campaign is the second-worst of his career.

Thanks to three-straight unanswered goals, the Wild can truly claim to be the best in the west, beating Chicago 3-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

It was the home Blackhawks who got on the board first, thanks to a wrister from First Star of the Game Patrick Kane (Artem Anisimov and Artemi Panarin) at the 4:33 mark. It was the lone goal of the first frame.

4:16 after returning to the ice, Chicago doubled their lead when Kane (Anisimov) buried another wrister, but it wasn’t long (2:07, to be exact) before Third Star Nino Niederreiter (Mikael Granlund and Jonas Brodin) scored a power play wrister to pull Minnesota back within a goal. With exactly nine minutes remaining in the second period, Chris Stewart (Jordan Schroeder and Ryan Suter) pulled the Wild even with a wrist shot. The two-all score held into the second intermission.

Only one goal was struck in the third period, belonging to Jason Pominville (Marco Scandella) 5:08 after play resumed for the winning goal.

Second Star Devan Dubnyk earned the victory after saving 33-of-35 shots faced (94.3%), leaving the loss to Corey Crawford, who saved 29-of-32 (90.6%).

Minnesota‘s victory is the the third-straight by the road team in the DtFR Game of the Day, setting the series record at 49-32-14 in favor of the hosts by four points.

January 12 – Day 89 – Y’Hall come back now

You’re getting close to the weekend. Only one more day of school or work. The best way to prepare for Friday is with some hockey tonight, obviously.

As usual, the action begins at 7 p.m. with Vancouver at Philadelphia, followed half an hour later by two more games (Pittsburgh at Ottawa [RDS2] and Buffalo at Tampa Bay). 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of another pair of contests (Boston at Nashville [TVAS] and Montréal at Minnesota [NBCSN/RDS]), with Detroit at Dallas trailing 30 minutes later. The final pair of games gets the green light at 9 p.m. (New Jersey at Edmonton and Anaheim at Colorado), with tonight’s nightcap – St. Louis at Los Angeles (SN/SN360) – getting underway at 10:30 p.m. All times eastern.

Taylor Hall finally plays his first game in Rogers Place, although it’s much later than many Oilers fans expected before this offseason. He should receive a warm welcome this evening.

New Jersey Devils LogoUnknown-5

It seems like it was only last weekend that these two played each other. Oh wait, it was last Saturday that the Oilers beat New Jersey 2-1 on an overtime slap shot from Mark Letestu.

This game has certainly been the more anticipated of the two contests waged between these teams this season. Thanks to a trade that shipped the former number one pick to Newark, Hall has been champing at the bit to get back in front of his original home crowd.

Hall was drafted in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and made an almost immediate impact. He played 65 games in his rookie season, scoring a team-leading 22 goals.

Although he only achieved that status one more time (ironically, it was last season when joined by Connor McDavid, the kid that replaced him as the star of the future), Hall was always an integral part of the Oilers‘ offense. He led the club in points three times in his six Edmonton seasons, and never fell lower than third place. In all, Hall contributed to or directly scored 328 goals in a blue sweater, only three fewer than Jordan Eberle in that time span.

Since making his way to New Jersey after being traded for Adam Larsson, he’s learned all about how difficult scoring can be. Currently only taking credit for 25 points on nine goals, Hall is on pace for only 56 points on 20 goals, which would be the fifth and third-worst efforts, respectively, of his seven-year career.

In his defense, it doesn’t help that he regularly has to play against the likes of Sergei Bobrovsky, Braden Holtby and Henrik Lundqvist. Those guys don’t give up many goals to start with, no matter how good you are.

Hall and his 16-18-8 Devils make their way to Edmonton with the second-worst record in both the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference. That sounds much worse than it actually is though, as it’s only eight points out of a playoff spot – and with a game in-hand! – but I’m far from predicting a New Jersey surge. As one might expect from Hall’s numbers, the Devils have mightily struggled to score, accounting for only 92 tallies in 42 games, the third-lowest scoring rate in the league.

Remember Hall’s scoring stats? 25 points on nine goals? I regret to inform you that he’s actually a team-leader with those numbers. He and Travis Zajac both have the same point total due to sharing the second line. The other skater on that line – P.A. Parenteau – has certainly benefited from their efforts, as his dozen tallies are the most in Jersey.

It’s not happenstance that the third-worst offense has the second-worst power play in the league, as the Devils capitalize on only 13.3% or their opponent’s penalties. Both Kyle Palmieri and Damon Severson have thrived with one fewer foe to keep an eye on, as both have nine power play points to lead the club, but it’s been Hall and Parenteau who have truly done the minimal damage, each with four man-advantage tallies.

Hosting Jersey this evening are the 21-15-7 Oilers, the third-best team in the Pacific Division even though they’ve lost their last two games. As a club is prone to do when four of their last five first-round picks are forwards, Edmonton has made their living on the offensive end of the ice, scoring 121 goals – the seventh-most in the NHL.

When I said McDavid replaced Hall as the star of Edmonton in his rookie season, I meant it. McDavid has the world – or at least the NHL – by a string with his league-leading 48 points. Just like Parenteau, Patrick Maroon has taken advantage of having such a player on his line, as his 16 goals are tops in Edmonton.

Some players to watch in tonight’s game include Edmonton‘s McDavid (48 points on 34 assists [both lead the league]) and Cam Talbot (three shutouts among 20 wins [both tied for fifth-most in the NHL]) and New Jersey‘s Parenteau (12 goals [leads the team]) and Steven Santini (+5 [leads the team]).

Vegas has marked the Oilers a heavy favorite to win tonight’s game at -190, and it’s hard to pick against that. The Oilers have been one of the better stories this season barring Columbus and Minnesota, and New Jersey hasn’t been able to match their mid-November form when they went 5-0 in nine days. Oilers fans shouldn’t need to break a sweat.

Hockey Birthday

  • Jimmy Skinner (1917-2007) – Although offered a contract from the Rangers, Skinner never played a game in the NHL. Instead, he coached four seasons in Detroit to win the 1955 Stanley Cup.
  • Tim Horton (1930-1974) – Just in case some of you kids don’t know, he’s more than a donut and coffee shop. This seven-time All Star played 24 seasons, almost all of which were in Toronto, where he won four Stanley Cups – including three-straight from 1962-’64.  He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1977, three years after passing away in a car accident.
  • Curt Fraser (1958-) – Drafted 22nd-overall by his hometown Canucks in the 1978 NHL Amateur Draft, this left wing played a dozen seasons in the league, most of which in Chicago. He ended his career with 433 points to go with his 1306 penalty minutes.
  • Espen Knutsen (1972-) – Although this center was drafted in the 10th-round of the 1990 NHL Entry Draft by Hartford, he never played a game with the club. Instead, he spent most of his five seasons in Columbus. In 2002, he became the first and only Norwegian participant in an All Star Game.
  • Jocelyn Thibault (1975-) – This goaltender was drafted 10th-overall in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft by Quebec, but he ended up spending most of his time in Chicago. He completed his career with a 238-238-75 record and earned one All Star nomination.
  • Marian Hossa (1979-) – The 12th-overall pick in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft by Ottawa, this right wing is currently in his eighth season in Chicago. He’s thrice hoisted the Stanley Cup, not to mention his five All Star Game appearances.
  • Claude Giroux (1988-) – The captain of Philadelphia was drafted 22nd-overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. He’s spent his entire career with the Flyers and has been thrice named an All Star.

Led by First Star of the Game Alex Ovechkin‘s two-goal night to notch the 1000th and 1001st points of his career, Washington was more than prepared to beat the Penguins 5-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Ovechkin (Second Star Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie) got off to a quick start, giving the Capitals the lead only 35 seconds into the contest with an impressive wrister. Although it proved to be the only goal of the first period, Pittsburgh was never able to pull ahead of the Caps.

Thanks to Carl Hagelin earning a seat in the penalty box for hooking Tom Wilson, Ovechkin (John Carlson and Backstrom) doubled the Capitals‘ lead with a power play slap shot  from the spot he always shoots from in the left penalty circle. The 2-0 Washington lead held into the second intermission.

Justin Williams (Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov) takes credit for the eventual winning goal, as his wrister only 4:31 into the final frame was pure. The Pens tried to claw (wing?) their way back into the game with an Evgeni Malkin (Justin Schultz and Phil Kessel) power play wrister only 3:15 later, but Backstrom (Oshie and Carlson) put that threat to bed with a power play wrsiter of his own with 6:49 remaining in the third period. Patric Hornqvist (Sidney Crosby and Kessel) tried once again to find some late momentum by scoring a power play wrister with 2:36 remaining in regulation, but Lars Eller (Backstrom and Oshie) scored on the empty net with 18 seconds left on the clock to fully ice the game.

Third Star Holtby earns the victory after saving 30-of-32 shots faced (93.75%), while Marc-Andre Fleury takes the loss, saving 25-of-29 (86.2%).

Washington‘s home victory snaps the four-game winning streak by the road squads in the DtFR Game of the Day series and improves their record to 48-29-14, nine points better than the visitors.