Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Nashville Predators and their outlook for the summer.
The 2017-18 Nashville Predators finished atop the league. At the end of the regular season, that is.
For the first time in franchise history, the Preds clinched the President’s Trophy as the NHL club with the best regular season record (53-18-11) at season’s end. Nashville’s 117 points led the Central Division and Western Conference, but ultimately were no match for the Winnipeg Jets in seven games in the Second Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
2018 NHL Entry Draft
Poile and the Predators do not have a first round pick in Friday’s draft as a result of the Ryan Hartman trade deadline acquisition made with the Chicago Blackhawks.
It’s a deep draft, so Poile will have to use his magic anyway and select the next elite player in the later rounds or pull off a classic one-for-one hockey trade that rivals the Shea Weber for P.K. Subban trade or Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen trade. Did I mention the Filip Forsberg deal yet? The point is, Poile’s a magician, but he still hasn’t won a Cup.
Speaking of drafting in the late rounds, though, Nashville doesn’t have a second round pick this year or a sixth round pick (which the latter is more concerning given the aforementioned take above).
Pending free agents
The Predators have about $7.500 million in spending allowance this summer.
Scott Hartnell is their only pending-UFA forward and at 36-years-old, he amassed 13-11–24 totals in 62 games with the club that drafted him 6th overall in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. The year-long reunion with his first NHL club produced totals that, sure, mean something from a bottom-6 forward, but he could be replaced as he only played four postseason games (scoring precisely, zero points).
As long as Hartnell isn’t getting a raise, Poile could keep him as a depth forward or a fourth liner, but if either party doesn’t see something mutual, then for sure Hartnell will be moving on.
Poile has two pending-RFA forwards to ponder this summer in Miikka Salomaki and Hartman.
Salomaki, 25, had two goals and six assists (eight points) in 58 games this season and went on to play in eight postseason games with Nashville. Since breaking into the NHL in 2014-15, Salomaki has had 8-11–19 totals in 125 career games. Not great for a mid-twenty-something year-old winger, but he’s more in his prime than, say, Hartnell is and for cheaper too.
Hartman, 23, in his second NHL season was traded by the Blackhawks to the Predators in a bit of a surprise move at the deadline, but went on to amass 11-20–31 totals in 78 games with Nashville and Chicago.
Despite taking some foolish retaliation penalties in the postseason, Hartman’s worth having somewhere in the Preds lineup for a bridge-deal to short-term contract as long as the dollars work out.
The biggest wrench in Poile’s plans might come in the form of Alexei Emelin‘s next contract if the pending-UFA defender is to re-sign with Nashville this offseason.
The 32-year-old blueliner had one goal and eight assists (nine points) in 76 games in his first season wearing a uniform other than the Montreal Canadiens sweater. Emelin was claimed by the Vegas Golden Knights at the 2017 Expansion Draft, then flipped to Nashville as part of a deal that solidified the Predators with the best top-6 defensive corps on paper in the NHL.
Shutdown, offensive, two-way, defensive– you name it, Nashville had it this season.
Emelin’s most recent contract carried a $4.100 million cap hit and if it’s going to be the same or even higher moving forward, Poile might be forced to let him walk with some key RFAs to re-sign for the longevity of the franchise.
One of those keys, of course, happens to be the Predators backup goaltender, Juuse Saros.
The 23-year-old is prime for taking over Pekka Rinne’s net one of these years– if the Preds can keep him around.
While others are after the Washington Capitals trying to work a deal on acquiring the rights to pending-RFA, Philipp Grubauer, Saros is comfortably sitting around with his 2.44 goals against average and .925 save percentage in 26 games played and 1.05 GAA and .952 SV% in 4 postseason appearances in this year’s playoffs.
Rinne is 35-years-old.
Shocking, I know, but even more shocking? He only has one-year left on his current deal with a $7.000 million cap hit.
Rinne posted a 2.31 GAA and .927 SV% in 59 games this season as Nashville’s starter, but faltered to a 3.07 GAA and .904 SV% in 13 games in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
If the torch is almost to be passed from one elite goaltender to perhaps the next best goalie in the NHL, signing Saros to a sensible bridge-deal before both parties cash in is imperative this summer.
Perhaps, even, before making any major adjustments to the team.
Buyouts on the books: Viktor Stalberg through 2018-19 at $1.167 million
Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:
Most Thursdays are busy, and this one is no different. A perfect dozen games are on the schedule, so we should be in for an exciting night of hockey action.
Like most nights do, this evening’s festivities find their beginning at 7 p.m. when two games (Vegas at Boston [SN/SN360/TVAS] and the New York Islanders at Washington) drop the puck, followed by three more (Detroit at Ottawa [RDS2], the New York Rangers at Tampa Bay and Columbus at Florida) half an hour later. 8 p.m. marks the beginning of a second trio of contests (Philadelphia at St. Louis, Montréal at Minnesota [RDS/TSN2] and Dallas at Winnipeg), with a pair of matchups (Carolina at Colorado and Pittsburgh at Calgary) holding an hour before getting underway. Buffalo at Arizona finds its start at 10 p.m., half an hour before tonight’s nightcap: Toronto at Los Angeles. All times Eastern.
There’s reasons aplenty to choose any one game this evening. Here’s just a few I can think of:
- Vegas at Boston: After being selected in the expansion draft, D Colin Miller makes his first trip back to the TD Garden.
- New York at Washington: It’s rivalry night in the US Capital!
- Philadelphia at St. Louis: C Jori Lehtera played for the Blues for three seasons, but he was traded to the Flyers this offseason.
Of those three games, the one that gets me the most excited is taking place at Capital One Arena. Off to the DMV!
For those wondering, no: you can’t register for your new license plates at Capital One Arena. This is a different DMV.
I’ve made it a habit of late to feature stellar offenses, and the 7-4-1 Islanders have been nothing short of that so far. Through a month of action, New York has done nothing but average 3.67 goals-per-game, the fourth-highest scoring rate in the entire NHL.
Even among all the talk about his future, all C John Tavares does is score. He’s been an absolute monster to start this season, as his 11-4-15 totals through 12 games played are undoubtedly the best on the team. In fact, his 11 goals are the second-most by any player in the NHL and only two short of RW Nikita Kucherov‘s baker’s dozen.
Tavares’ primary partner in crime is none other than F Josh Bailey, who has managed a 3-11-14 effort so far this year. Tack on F Anders Lee‘s 6-6-12 totals, and you have a first line that has accounted for 20 of the Isles’ 44 goals (45 percent). If the Capitals can’t find a way to squelch what I affectionately refer to as New York’s Sandwich Line (named such because of Bailey, Lee and Tavares’ initials), G Braden Holtby could be in for a long day.
Speaking of 5-3-0 Holtby, it’s been the activity in his end of the rink that has been the biggest struggle for the 5-6-1 Capitals. Of course, even though his .919 season save percentage and 2.75 GAA may not be necessarily indicative of the fact, it hasn’t really been his fault Washington has seen a spike in goals against this season. Holtby has faced 258 shots already this campaign (32.3 per start), which is the second-highest work load among goaltenders with eight or fewer starts this season.
Instead, it’s largely his defense’s fault that the Caps have allowed a seventh-worst 3.42 goals-per-game. That being said, there is one defenseman that has been laying it all on the line for his club: Brooks Orpik.
The former first-rounder has been all over the ice doing the nitty-gritty things to help his team win: he’s throwing hits (three per game); he’s blocking shots (2.6 per game); heck, he’s even providing sparks by earning seats in the penalty box (his eight penalty minutes are [t]second-most among Washington defensemen). If Head Coach Barry Trotz knows nothing else about his team, he knows Orpik will do everything short of scoring to help the team in red (he hasn’t registered a marker since his three-goal explosion in 2015-’16).
Fortunately for Holtby, the Islanders’ 30.4 shots-per-game is the 10th-lowest in the NHL, so his defense should be able to manage this evening’s onslaught for the most part. If they can’t, I think this could be the Isles’ third-straight victory.
Bolstered by First Star of the Game G Cory Schneider‘s first shutout of the season, the New Jersey Devils beat the Vancouver Canucks 2-0 at Rogers Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
I predicted a competitive contest, and that’s exactly what we got. Only one goal was registered in the opening 59:44 of play (read: basically the entire game), and the only reason W Drew Stafford (Third Star F Taylor Hall) was able to score the Devils’ insurance marker was due to Second Star G Jacob Markstrom abandoning his post for the Canucks’ extra attacker.
Otherwise, this was a game dominated by the goaltenders. Schneider certainly earned his shutout, as Vancouver threw everything it had at him. He saved all 37 shots he faced to earn his first clean sheet since on the road since January 16, 2016.
Markstrom was also exemplary, as he saved all but one of his 25 shots faced (.96 save percentage) in his third loss of the season.
Unfortunately, it was that lone blemish, scored courtesy of RW Jimmy Hayes (Hall) with 9:51 remaining in the second period, that proved to be the deciding goal – and Markstrom had actually already performed brilliantly on the play.
Hall entered the offensive zone screaming up the far boards to set himself up for a quick wrist shot against Markstrom. The netminder did exactly what he needed to, using his left pad to direct the shot towards to his right. Unfortunately for him, Hayes was the first to reach the loose puck, and he banged a slap shot from above the right face-off circle off the far post.
Jersey’s victory is the second-straight by a road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series. That being said, the 16-10-4 home teams still own a six-point advantage in the series.
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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
Now that the trade deadline is behind us, it’s time to clamp down and see how the 39 remaining days of the regular season are going to play out.
That watch starts with a bang tonight, as there’s 10 games on tonight’s schedule. The action gets underway at 7 p.m. with five games (New Jersey at Washington, the New York Rangers at Boston [NBCSN/TVAS], Florida at Philadelphia, Minnesota at Columbus and Arizona at Buffalo), followed half an hour later by two more (Nashville at Montréal [RDS/SN] and Colorado at Ottawa [RDS2]). The New York Islanders at Dallas drops the puck at 8:30 p.m., trailed two hours later by tonight’s co-nightcaps: Toronto at Los Angeles and Vancouver at San Jose.
- New York at Boston: You know, it’s just an Original Six rivalry between two playoff contenders.
- Nashville at Montréal: The game many in Quebec have been waiting for: the return of P.K. Subban.
- Colorado at Ottawa: Patrick Wiercioch also returns to his former home arena of five seasons tonight.
No discussion. There’s no way we’re not watching Subban’s return to the Bell Centre.
It was one of the biggest probably most unexpected trades of the 2016 offseason. Marc Bergevin decided to swap defensemen with the Predators, shipping Subban to the Music City in exchange for Shea Weber. Nothing else was involved in the trade – no money or salary retention, no picks or prospects. Just man for man.
Subban was drafted 43rd-overall by the Habs in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, and he has playing regularly in the league since the 2010-’11 season. Known for his offensive abilities just as much as his defensive play, he scored 278 points over his seven seasons in Montréal, and helped them to five playoff appearances, including two Eastern Conference Finals appearances.
One of those Conference Finals appearances was in 2010. Subban’s first taste of the playoffs was only his third NHL game played, but that didn’t seem to phase him. In the 14 games he appeared for the Habs before they were eliminated by Philadelphia, he notched eight points – the second-most on the team by a blueliner, and with five fewer games than Roman Hamrlik.
But unlike other blueliners who are often caught sacrificing their defensive responsibilities to get their names on the scoreboard, Subban rarely makes his goaltender a victim of his play. He’s blocked a total of 685 shots in his career and has a +29 rating since ’10-’11, the 21st-best mark among defensemen with at least 154 points to their name in that time. That came to a point in his 2012-’13 campaign, when he won the Norris Trophy with 38 points and 49 shot blocks.
Given the fact that both clubs seem to be headed to the playoffs this season, neither team has lost the trade in the short-term. But it is surprising that the Canadiens would give up Subban, who is going to turn 28-years-old in May, for Weber, who turned 31 in August. Four years isn’t much in the “real world,” but in sports that’s a huge number. It could be argued that Weber has more experience, but what more does Subban really have to learn? Plus, Subban has so much more hockey to provide his club. Thanks to this trade, the Predators should be a threat in the Central Division for years to come.
Speaking of the Preds, they enter tonight’s game riding a four-game winning streak with a 32-22-9 record, the third-best mark in the Central Division. Offense has been the name of the game this season in Nashville, as the Predators have managed 186 goals in 63 games – the eighth-best scoring rate in the league.
Smashville‘s first line truly lives up to it’s club’s nickname, as they are the true backbone on this team. Both Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen have notched 49 points so far this season to co-head the squad in the statistic, but it’s been Forsberg who has been the most dominant player in a gold sweater. He’s buried 26 goals to lead the side, and is on pace for eight more. If he can reach that total (which he’s trying hard to do, scoring 10 goals in his last five games), it would set a new career-high by beating last year’s 33-goal mark.
Themselves riding a three-game winning streak, the Canadiens boast a 35-21-8 record for their season’s mark, good enough for first place in the Atlantic Division. Nashville‘s vaunted offense will face a stiff test this evening, as the Habs like to play defense – and they do a pretty good job of it. They’ve allowed only 161 tallies against in 64 contests, which ties for the sixth-best rate in the NHL.
Of course, that effort starts in net, where the Canadiens are pleased to employ 27-16-5 Carey Price. A team knows they’ve found a good goaltender when he’s having an average year by his standards, but is still one of the best in the league. He has a season .92 save percentage and 2.37 GAA, the (t)ninth and 11th-best effort among the 43 netminders with at least 24 appearances.
It doesn’t hurt that he has a defense in front of him that ties for 12th-best in the league at limiting shots on his net. Led by Weber’s 130 shot blocks, the Predators allow only 30 shots-per-game to reach Price’s net.
Although the offense as a whole hasn’t been anything to write home about, the Habs‘ power play is still one of the best in the league. Led by Weber’s 21 points with the man-advantage, Montréal ties for 10th-best on the power play with a 21.5% success rate. 11 of Weber’s points have been goals, which leads not only the team, but is also tied for fourth-most in the entire NHL (most among blueliners).
The Candiens have already made their yearly visit to Bridgestone Arena, but it wasn’t an easy trip. They needed an overtime winner from Captain Max Pacioretty to claim a 2-1 victory over Nashville on January 3.
Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Montréal‘s Pacioretty (31 goals [tied for second-most in the league]) and Price (.92 save percentage [10th-best in the NHL] for 27 wins [tied for eighth-most in the league) & Nashville‘s Johansen (39 assists [tied for seventh-most in the NHL]) and Pekka Rinne (25 wins [10th-most in the league]).
Vegas is siding with home ice and defense tonight, as they’ve marked Montréal a -130 favorite. That’s a line I have to agree with. Both teams seem to be on the upswing at the right time, but an always strong Bell Centre crowd will propel Le Grand Club to victory.
- Bill Quackenbush (1922-1999) – This Hall of Fame defenseman played 14 seasons in the NHL, almost evenly splitting time between Detroit and Boston (he played more games for the Bruins). An eight-time All-Star, he won the 1949 Lady Byng Memorial Trophy.
- Claude Larose (1942-) – A long-time Canadien, this right wing was a member of five Stanley Cup-winning clubs. He played in four All-Star games in his 16-year career and registered 483 points.
- Eddie Johnstone (1954-) – Selected by the Rangers in the sixth-round of the 1974 NHL Amateur Draft, this right wing played 10 seasons in the NHL. His best campaign was in the 1980-’81 season when he scored a career-best 68 points, and he was rewarded with his lone All-Star appearance.
- Raimo Summanen (1962-) – Another sixth-rounder, this left wing was selected by Edmonton in the 1982 NHL Entry Draft. He may have only played in five NHL seasons, but he was a member of the Oilers‘ 1984 Stanley Cup-winning squad.
- Tomas Kaberle (1978-) – Players drafted in the eighth-round are not expected to be this good, but Toronto found a stud in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft. This defenseman, who spent most of his career with the Maple Leafs, was named to four All-Star Games, and also hoisted the 2011 Stanley Cup.
- Henrik Lundqvist (1982-) – Speaking of late picks, this goaltender turned out to be okay. King Henrik was selected by the Rangers in the seventh-round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, and the rest is history. A three-time All Star and the winner of the 2012 Vezina Trophy, the only accolade missing from his resume is a title.
- Jay McClement (1983-) – St. Louis picked this center 57th-overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, but he’s currently playing his third season in Carolina. He’s registered 243 points in his 12-year career.
- Ryan Shannon (1983-) – This center played only six seasons in the NHL, but he managed to hoist the Stanley Cup in his rookie season with Anaheim‘s 2006-’07 club.
If you didn’t heed our advice and watch yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, you missed an absolutely phenomenal contest. The most surprising part of Chicago‘s 4-1 victory over the Penguins? It was Blackhawks goaltender Scott Darling that was the First Star of the Game, not hat trick-scoring Patrick Kane, who was left with Second Star honors.
Kane’s (Third Star Nick Schmaltz) first of three tallies were struck 28:49 into the game, giving the Hawks a one-goal lead. Pittsburgh fought back with three minutes remaining in the second period when Scott Wilson (Ron Hainsey) buried a slap shot so fast that the referee didn’t see the puck enter the net (Toronto had to stop the game for an official review), but Richard Panik (Duncan Keith) reclaimed the lead for Chicago with one of the best goals of the year. That 2-1 lead held into the second intermission.
Kane took credit for both the insurance goals in the final frame. The first (Schmaltz and Artemi Panarin) was a snap shot, and the second was an unassisted backhander on an empty net.
Darling earned the victory after saving 36-of-37 shots faced (97.3%). Marc-Andre Fleury also had a better game than the numbers indicate in the loss, saving 25-of-28 (89.3%).
With Chicago‘s home victory, DtFR Game of the Day hosts have pulled within 10 points of the 70-44-22 roadies.
There’s only two games on Wednesday’s schedule, but don’t let that distract from the quality of at least one of the matchups. The action starts at 7 p.m. with Carolina at Tampa Bay, followed an hour later by Pittsburgh at Chicago (NBCSN/SN/TVAS).
Although the Lightning are fighting valiantly to break into the playoff discussion, there’s no way we’re passing up the opportunity to witness a potential Stanley Cup Finals preview.
The Penguins make their yearly trip to the United Center with a 38-15-8 record, the third-best mark in both the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference. As you’d expect from a club that has one of the all-time best players at the helm, offense is the name of the game for the Pens, as they’ve accounted for 211 goals this year – the most in the NHL.
That player hinted at above is, of course, Captain Sidney Crosby. He’s scored 34 goals for 67 points, both the best marks on the squad. On pace for 93 points by season’s end, it’ll be his best campaign since 2013-’14 when he broke the 100-point mark for the fifth time of his career.
With an offense like that, it’s hard to struggle on the power play. Considered, is a 21.6% conversion rate – ninth-best in the league – struggling? Regardless of the answer (I’d argue yes, but I’m also a little biased), Phil Kessel has been an absolute machine when his club has the man-advantage. He’s registered 26 points on the power play this season, which ties for the best mark in the league. Most of those have been helpers though, as he’s preferred to set up Crosby, who has a team-high 11 extra-man goals.
Playing host this evening are the 39-18-5 Blackhawks, the second-best team in both the Central Division and the Western Conference. As you’d expect from a club that has won its last four games and has such a position in the conference table, Chicago plays very well on both ends of the ice, yet it’s their offense that has been powering this team this season, as they’ve accounted for 185 goals in 62 games – the seventh-best rate in the league.
It’s nowhere near last year’s Hart, Lindsay and Ross-winning 106- point performance, but Patrick Kane is still the man making the Blackhawks machine run. He leads the club with 65 points and 24 goals.
What is probably the biggest surprise for a team of this caliber is how much Chicago has struggled on the penalty kill. Successfully neutralizing only 76.4% of opposing power plays, the Blackhawks rank third-worst in the NHL. The injured Niklas Hjalmarsson has tried his hardest to resolve this issue with his 34 shorthanded shot blocks, but he’s the only member of the club to have more than 25 to his credit.
Only one other team currently qualifying for the playoffs – the Montréal Canadiens – can claim one of the bottom-10 penalty kills in the league. They’ve already made an effort to resolve that issue by trading for Johnny Oduya, who’s 22 shorthanded blocks on the season already rank second-most for the Hawks without him even playing a game in a red sweater.
Both clubs have a lot to gain from a victory tonight. If the visiting Penguins come away with victory (heck, even if they only force the game beyond regulation), they’ll improve to second-place in the Metropolitan Division – though they don’t really clear Columbus, as the Jackets will trail by only two points and have a game in hand. Pittsburgh also has the most to lose from a regulation loss for that exact same reason, as well as the Rangers trailing them by only two points.
Less pressure is on the Hawks as far as losing is concerned, but winning provides a valuable prize. Since the Wild, who lead Chicago by five points, are inactive tonight, the Blackhawks would pull within three points of the Western Conference lead.
Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Chicago‘s Scott Darling (.929 save percentage [tied for second-best in the NHL] for a 2.18 GAA [tied for fourth-best in the league]) and Kane (41 assists [tied for fourth-most in the NHL] for 65 points [tied for fifth-most in the league]) & Pittsburgh‘s Crosby (34 goals [most in the NHL] for 67 points [second-most in the league]), Evgeni Malkin (62 points [eighth-most in the NHL]), Matthew Murray (.926 save percentage [tied for fifth-best in the league] for a 2.29 GAA [ninth-best in the NHL]) and Justin Schultz (+30 [tied for fifth-best in the league]).
Chicago is absolutely rolling right now. In their last 10 games, they’ve only lost one contest. One. Of course, the Penguins are a more than worthy adversary, but I don’t see the Blackhawks getting pushed around too much at the United Center.
- Max Bentley (1920-1984) – The most successful of the three Bentley brothers, this Hall-of-Fame center played a dozen seasons in the NHL – most of which in Toronto. In his six campaigns with the Maple Leafs, he hoisted the Stanley Cup three times. The four-time All-Star also won the 1943 Lady Byng and 1946 Hart Memorial Trophies.
- Allan Stanley (1926-2013) – This defenseman also had a knack for hoisting the Cup, as he did it four times over his 21-season career – all with Toronto, his longest tenured club. Named to the Hall of Fame in 1981, he played in seven All-Star games.
- Ron Francis (1963-) – Greatness must have been created on this date, as this Hall of Fame center was also born on March 1. Selected by Hartford fourth-overall in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft, Francis played almost his entire 23-year career with the Whalers/Hurricanes franchise. Two of the years he was absent from the organization were spent in Pittsburgh, where he won back-to-back Stanley Cups. The four-time All-Star won the Byng Trophy three times, as well as the 1995 Frank Selke and the 2002 King Clancy Memorial Trophies.
- Brad Winchester (1981-) – Known most for his St. Louis days, this left wing was selected 35th-overall by Edmonton in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. He officially retired from the NHL in 2015, three years after his final appearance in the league.
- Alex Steen (1984-) – Picked 24th-overall by Toronto in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, this center is playing his ninth season in St. Louis this year. He’s scored 520 points during his career, 209 of which are goals.
Washington took the Rangers to the woodshed in yesterday’s DtFR Game of they Day, as they won 4-1 at the Madison Square Garden.
The Capitals finally got on the board at the 27:28 mark of regulation with a snap shot from First Star of the Game Marcus Johansson (Dmitry Orlov and Second Star Evgeny Kuznetsov), followed 8:58 later by Brett Connolly‘s (Third Star Matt Niskanen and Lars Eller) wrist shot that proved to be the game-winner. No other scores were struck in the second period, leaving the score at 2-1 going into the second intermission.
Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day have earned points in each and every one of the past 12 games to earn a 70-43-22 record – a dozen points better than hosts in the series.
If Saturdays are good for nothing else, they’re definitely fantastic for hockey.
Even better, we’re treated with a wide sample of matinee action today. Anaheim at Los Angeles (NHLN/SN1) gets things started at 4 p.m., followed an hour later by a trio of contests (Washington at Nashville [SN], the New York Islanders at Columbus and the New York Rangers at New Jersey). The usual starting time of 7 p.m. marks the puck drop of Montréal at Toronto (CBC/CITY/TVAS), followed 60 minutes later by Philadelphia at Pittsburgh (NBC/SN/TVAS2). Finally, today’s co-nightcaps (San Jose at Vancouver [CBC/SN1] and Buffalo at Colorado) drop the puck at 10 p.m. All times eastern.
- Anaheim at Los Angeles: The Freeway Face-Off resumes at 1 p.m. local time.
- New York at New Jersey: The Battle of the Hudson River also rages on at the Prudential Center.
- Montréal at Toronto: These rivals go way, way back.
- Philadelphia at Pittsburgh: So do these enemies, but tonight’s game will not take place at PPG Paints Arena. Instead, it’s under the lights at Heinz Field.
I know the NHL loves its outdoor games, but the best game happening today is easily the one in Hogtown between two of the best teams the Atlantic Division has to offer.
Nevermind the fact that these teams have been competing since 1917, how could a rivalry not emerge between the two largest cities in Canada, especially when they’re separated by only
337 miles 542 kilometers?
Montréal makes their second and final trip of the regular season to the Air Canada Centre with a 32-21-8 record, the best mark in the Atlantic Division. Defense and goaltending has definitely been the name of the game in the City of Saints this season, as the Habs have allowed only 156 goals in 61 games, which ties them for the eighth-best rate in the NHL.
Of course, that always starts with the goaltender, and the Canadiens have a good one in 25-16-6 Carey Price. His .918 save percentage and 2.43 GAA are not only the best of the two netminders Claude Julien has at his disposal, but they also tie for 11th and 12th-best in the league, respectively, among the 43 goalies with at least 23 appearances.
What makes Price special is the fact that the defense playing in front of him is, although above average, not one of the elite units in the league. They allow 29.8 shots-per-game to reach his crease, which ties them for only 11th-best in the NHL. Shea Weber has been at the forefront of that effort with his team-leading 127 shot blocks. At the rate Weber is on, he is on pace for a total of 171 blocks by the end of the regular season, the second-highest mark of his career.
Surprisingly, that effort does not carry over to the penalty kill at all, as the Canadiens rank ninth-worst in the league when down a man. Even with Weber’s 34 shorthanded blocks (which ties for third-most in the NHL), Montréal only stops 80.3% of opposing power plays.
Of course, if they’re allowed to, the Habs usually have a good chance of earning that goal back. Successful on 21% of attempts, Montréal ranks 10th-best in the league on the man-advantage. That effort has been headlined by Shea “Special-Teams-Mastermind” Weber, who has 19 power play points to lead the team. 11 of those points have been goals which tie for fourth-most in the NHL in addition to – you guessed it – leading the squad.
Hosting them this evening are the 28-20-12 Maple Leafs, the third-best team in the Atlantic. This team has certainly accumulated some offensive firepower, as they’ve taken credit for 186 goals so far this season, the fifth-most in the NHL.
The ringmaster of that attack is the next NHL stud, rookie Auston Matthews. He’s already accounted for 52 points this season and shows no sign of slowing down. One of his favorite things to do is shoot the puck, but Toronto isn’t complaining. Even though he leads his club in shot attempts, he has the fourth-highest shooting percentage (13.3%) for 28 goals, the clubhouse lead.
When was the last time the Leafs could claim the best power play in the league? Regardless, it’s happening right now, as their 23.1% success rate is .3% better than Minnesota’s. While one rookie leads the even-strength effort, another has taken an interest in the five-on-four play. William Nylander has 19 power play points to his credit to lead the squad, but it’s actually Nazem Kadri he’ll need to keep an extra-close eye on. Kadri has potted 10 goals with the extra man this season, which leads the team.
The penalty kill has also played extremely well this season for Toronto. Led by Roman Polak‘s 29 shorthanded shot blocks, the Leafs have correctly battled 83.5% of opposing power plays, which ties for eighth-best in the NHL.
The Canadiens have already clinched the season series between these clubs this year with a perfect 3-0-0 record. The last time they met was January 7, when the Habs won 5-3 on this very surface thanks to Alexander Radulov‘s one-goal, two-point performance.
Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Montréal‘s Max Pacioretty (28 goals [tied for fourth-most in the league]) and Price (25 wins [ninth-most in the NHL]) & Toronto‘s Matthews (28 goals [tied for fourth-most in the league]).
It’s not a huge spread, but being favored is always a club’s preference. Vegas has marked the Maple Leafs as a -114 favorite to win this evening, and I believe they’ll be able to keep up their end of the bargaining. Regardless of how well their special teams will play or home ice advantage, this is big hurdle for this team. Toronto does not want to get swept by one of their biggest rivals this season, and they’re going to put everything on the line tonight to win.
- King Clancy (1903-1986) – This defenseman spent most of his 16-season NHL career with the original Senators franchise. Hoisting two of his three Stanley Cups with the club, the Hall of Famer is now memorialized in the NHL by having a leadership and humanitarian award named in his honor.
- Anton Volchenkov (1982-) – Another defenseman that spent most of his career in Ottawa, this Russian was selected 21st-overall in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft by the Sens. Although he has not yet formally retired, he has not made an appearance in the NHL since the 2014-’15 season.
- Justin Abdelkader (1987-) – This left wing was selected 42nd-overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by Detroit, and he’s been there ever since. His best season was in 2014-’15 when he accounted for 23 goals and 44 points, both career-highs.
With three-straight unanswered goals in the first frame, the Flames bested Florida 4-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
A whopping five goals were struck in the first period, starting with Nick Bjugstad‘s (Jussi Jokinen and Reilly Smith) power play slap shot for the Panthers only 4:54 into the game. That 1-0 lead is all the motivation the Flames needed to start their scoring stampede. Sam Bennett (Michael Stone and Second Star of the Game Troy Brouwer) pulled the game even 4:03 after Bjugstad’s tally, and Mikael Backlund (Matthew Tkachuk and Michael Frolik) gave the Flames a 2-1 lead with a wrist shot. The goal that proved to be the game-winner belonged to Deryk Engelland (Frolik and Tkachuk), the third Calgary goal in 4:54 of play. With 2:40 remaining in the period, Third Star Aleksander Barkov (Jonathan Huberdeau and Smith) pulled Florida back within a goal with a pure snap shot, setting the score at 3-2.
For the past seven days, all road teams featured in the DtFR Game of the Day series have done is win. That streak has improved the visitors’ record to 67-43-21, eight points better than home teams in the series.
After a busy weekend of 22 games, it’s understandable that there’s only two this evening as we begin a new week. Tonight’s action starts at 8 p.m. with Florida at St. Louis (NHLN/SN/TVAS), followed an hour later by Anaheim at Arizona (SN1). All times eastern.
If you haven’t checked the standings recently, the one and only Florida Panthers have been on a bit of a surge of late and forced themselves into the Eastern Conference playoff discussion.
Thanks in part to their current four-game winning streak, the 27-20-10 Panthers currently occupy fifth place in the Atlantic Division and ninth in the East, just a point behind Toronto in the second wild card. The simplest reason for why Florida is on the outside looking in has to be the offense, which has managed only 144 goals – the eighth-fewest in the NHL.
Vincent Trocheck has been charged with leading the Panthers‘ attack, and he has 41 points to show for it. 20 of those have been goals, which is also a team-high total. His numbers are indicative of the Panthers‘ situation overall, as many of the leading forwards’ numbers are only slightly lower than Trocheck’s. Then again, Tom Rowe did not build this team to be an offensive juggernaut, so maybe everything is going according to plan.
Regardless, it’s safe to assume that Rowe would like a little bit more productivity on the power play, as the Panthers rank fourth-worst in the league with a 15% success rate. Jon Marchessault has led that attack with 12 power play points, but Reilly Smith is the skater that’s imposed the biggest threat – he’s buried six markers on the man-advantage, the best total in Florida.
Instead, the Panthers earn their pay on the penalty kill, where they rank third-best in the league by stopping 85% of opposing man-advantages. That effort is led by Mark Pysyk, who has 12 shorthanded shot blocks to lead the squad.
Playing host this evening is 31-23-5 St. Louis, the third-best club in the Central Division. When the Blues have found success this season, it’s been on the offensive end, as their 168 tallies are 10th-most in the NHL.
The man behind that attack is exactly who you’d expect him to be. Vladimir Tarasenko not only leads the Notes with 56 points, but he also has the 10th-highest mark in the league. As the Russian continues to grow into being one of the elite scoring threats in the league, the versatile right wing’s game has evolved as defenses have worked extra hard to limit his looks at net. Those 56 points are split evenly between goals and assists, with his 28 tallies leading the club and the assists ranking second on the team.
St. Louis continues that success when they’re provided the man advantage, as their 21.6% success rate ties for sixth-best in the league. Although Tarasenko continues his scoring ways on the power play, it’s actually proven to be Kevin Shattenkirk‘s point of expertise. His 20 points with the extra man lead the team, and he ties Tarasenko with seven power play goals for tops in St. Louis.
The special teams success continues for the Blues on the penalty kill, where they rank fourth-best in the NHL. Led by Captain Alex Pietrangelo‘s 29 shorthanded shot blocks, the Notes have properly stopped 84.6% of opposing power plays.
Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Florida‘s Aleksander Barkov (+12 [best on the team]) and Trocheck (20 goals among 41 points [both lead the team]) & St. Louis‘ Carter Hutton (four shutouts [tied for eighth-most in the league]) and Tarasenko (28 goals [tied for third-most in the NHL] among 56 points [10th-most in the league])
Vegas has marked St. Louis a -135 favorite, but I think that might be a little strong. While I do think the Blues will pull out the victory, Florida‘s defense is the reason they’ve surged through the Eastern table. The Notes will certainly have their hands full this evening.
- Phil Esposito (1942-) – If this center was the type to put his awards and trophies on his mantle, he probably had to install another fireplace. In addition to his two Stanley Cups and 10 All Star games, he also won five Ross Trophies, two Harts and two Pearsons. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1984, followed three years later by his #7 being retired by Boston.
- Pierre Bouchard (1948-) – If you’re drafted fifth-overall by Montréal in the 1965 NHL Amateur Draft, you should expect some trophies coming your way. Spending eight of his 12 seasons with the Canadiens, this defenseman hoisted five Stanley Cups.
- Glen Hanlon (1957-) – Vancouver selected this goaltender 40th-overall in the 1977 NHL Amateur Draft, but he spent most of his 14 seasons with the Red Wings. He retired with a 167-202-61 career record.
- Niclas Wallin (1975-) – Selected in the fourth-round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, this blueliner played most of his 10-year NHL career with the club that drafted him: Carolina. He was a member of the Canes‘ 2006 Stanley Cup-winning side.
No matter how hard Columbus tried, it was not able to get ahead of former Ryan Johansen and the visiting Predators, who won yesterday’s back-and-forth DtFR Game of the Day 4-3.
Nashville‘s lead doubled to two thanks to a Kevin Fiala (Mike Fisher) backhander at the 9:38 mark of the second period, but Brandon Saad (Seth Jones and Second Star of the Game Zach Werenski) buried a tip-in only 58 seconds later to pull the Blue Jackets back within a goal. That theme repeated, as First Star Calle Jarnkrok (Neal and P.K. Subban) scored a snap shot with 4:20 remaining in the frame to give the Preds another two-goal lead, followed by Oliver Bjorkstrand‘s (Alexander Wennberg and Werenski) slap shot only 1:59 later to set the score at 3-2, which held into the second intermission.
Columbus finally pulled even when Werenski (Wennberg and Jones) scored his snapper 3:41 into the final frame, but Mattias Ekholm‘s (Filip Forsberg and Subban) snapper proved to be the winner, struck 5:28 later.
With that victory, road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have pulled within a point of the 64-44-18 homers.
Tuesdays are usually some of the busiest days in the NHL, and today features seven games for us to take in. As usual, the action starts at 7 p.m. when two games drop the puck (Colorado at New Jersey and Vancouver at Pittsburgh [NHLN/SN/TVAS]), followed half an hour later by another pair (the New York Islanders at Toronto and Buffalo at Ottawa [RDS]). A couple more games get underway at 8 p.m. (Anaheim at Minnesota and Dallas at Winnipeg), with tonight’s nightcap – Arizona at Edmonton – dropping the puck an hour later. All times eastern.
- Colorado at New Jersey: Not only is it the original Coloradan franchise against the current, but Eric Gelinas also makes his first return to the Prudential Center.
- Buffalo at Ottawa: The Sabres‘ second rivalry game in four days.
That’s right, we know that Gelinas is making the first return to his original home arena. We try to keep track of everything around here at Down the Frozen River.
That being said, it’s been a long time since we’ve watched the Senators. Let’s take in their game against rival Buffalo.
Sabres fans need not watch the film above. They know what it is.
If there was ever any question of this matchup being a rivalry in the Northeast Division, this game ended that discussion. Only 15 days after Paul Gaustad had a leg tendon sliced in a game against the Senators, Ottawa‘s Chris Neil threw a shoulder at Sabres‘ co-captain Chris Drury‘s head early in the second period of their February 22, 2007 contest, drawing blood. What ensued was a melee complete with scrapping goaltenders Martin Biron and Ray Emery.
Oh yeah, and coaches Bryan Murray and Lindy Ruff were, let’s just say, not happy with each other.
One-hundred total penalty minutes were distributed, and five players – including Emery – were ejected from the game.
To complete the rivalry, the Sens are adamant they didn’t do anything wrong that night. Of course, Buffalo disagrees.
No love lost here. How fitting for a Valentine’s Day matchup.
The 23-23-10 Sabres make their trip to southeastern Ontario in seventh place in the Atlantic Division and 14th in the Eastern Conference. Like I explained Saturday, Jack Eichel‘s high ankle sprain at the beginning of the season threw this team’s offense off its rhythm in a terrible way, as they’ve managed only 137 goals in 56 games – the seventh-worst scoring rate in the league.
If anything can be said for Buffalo‘s situation, it’s impressive how newcomer Kyle Okposo acclimated to his new surroundings. After signing with the Sabres on the first day of free agency this past offseason, he’s done his best to lead the offense with 37 points. The easiest way to do that is by scoring, and that’s exactly what he’s done as his 18 goals are tied with Evander Kane for most in The Nickel City.
Don’t believe for a minute, though, that the Sabres are incompetent, because that’s so far from the truth. That point is made no more apparent than when Buffalo has the man-advantage. Led by Okposo’s 19 power play points, the Sabres convert a league-leading 23.4% of opponent’s penalties into goals. Matt Moulson is responsible for most of those tallies, scoring a team-leading nine times with the extra man.
Of course, a lot of those are given back when Buffalo goes on the penalty kill themselves, as they stop only 74% of opposing power plays – the second-worst rate in the NHL. With his 25 shorthanded blocks, Josh Gorges has tried his hardest to help the Sabres, but him and Rasmus Ristolainen are the only two skaters with more 20 blocks on the kill. Perchance the Sabres trade for a long-term blueliner before the deadline? We’ll see…
Playing host this evening are the 29-18-6 Senators, winners of their past two games to go with the second-best record in the Atlantic. The key to success in the Canadian Capital is no-doubt goaltending, as the Sens have allowed only 142 goals, which ties for sixth-fewest in the NHL.
It looks like Craig Anderson will be the man in net this evening for Ottawa. When he’s been available this season, he’s been the obvious start: his .927 save percentage and 2.34 GAA are not only the best marks on the team, but also (t)seventh and 14th-best in the league, respectively, among the 57 netminders with at least 10 starts.
Anderson is a welcome sight in Ottawa, as his superior play certainly bolsters an average defense. Even with Erik Karlsson‘s team-leading (and third-most in the league) 142 shot blocks, the Sens still allow 30.2 shots to reach Anderson’s crease per game, which is only 15th-best. Just like Buffalo before, I’ll be interested to see if Pierre Dorion makes a move for a blueliner before the trade deadline.
That defense hasn’t stopped the Sens from being one of the superior teams on the penalty kill though. Led by Dion Phaneuf‘s 26 shorthanded blocks, Ottawa properly defends 83.6% of their penalties, the eighth-best rate in the league.
That defensive effort is necessary to make up for Ottawa‘s shortcomings on the power play. Even with Mike Hoffman‘s team-leading 17 power play points, the Senators only convert 16.6% of their extra-man opportunities into goals – the eighth-worst rate in the league. Regardless of how the rest of the team has performed, Hoffman has certainly been impressive: 11 of his points with the extra man have been goals, a total that not only leads the team, but ties for second-most in the NHL.
You wouldn’t know it going off each team’s respective spot in the standings, but the Sabres have already clinched their season series against Ottawa with a 3-0-1 record. Buffalo proved that dominance over the Senators only 10 days ago when the Sabres won a four-goal shutout at the KeyBank Center.
Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Buffalo‘s Robin Lehner (.923 save percentage [tied for sixth-best in the league]) or Anders Nilsson (.922 save percentage [tied for eighth-best in the NHL]) & Ottawa‘s Anderson (.927 save percentage [tied for second-best in the league], including four shutouts [tied for sixth-most in the NHL] for a 2.34 GAA [ninth-best in the league]) and Karlsson (37 assists [fourth-most in the NHL]).
To my surprise, Ottawa is a relatively heavy favorite to win tonight’s game with a -135 line. It’s hard to pick against the Senators give how well Anderson has played since returning to the ice, but the Sabres are a confident bunch when playing against them. This could be a nail-biter to the end.
- Bernie Geoffrion (1931-2006) – There are good hockey players, and then there are great ones. This Hall of Fame right wing is one of the greats. Playing almost his entire 16-year career in Montréal, he won six Stanley Cups to go with his 11 All-Star nominations.
- Petr Svoboda (1966-) – This defenseman is another player that spent most of his career with the Canadiens. In his second season after being drafted fifth-overall in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft by Montréal, he hoisted his lone Stanley Cup.
- Sean Hill (1970-) – Habs alumni just keep rolling in. This blueliner was drafted by Montréal in the eighth-round of the 1988 NHL Entry Draft, but he spent most of his career in Carolina. He was a member of the Habs‘ 1993 Stanley Cup-winning team.
- Marian Gaborik (1982-) – This right wing was selected third-overall in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft by Minnesota, and that’s still his longest-tenured club. That being said, he’s in his fourth season with the Kings after joining them for their 2014 Cup run.
- Tom Pyatt (1987-) – The Rangers selected this center in the fourth-round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, but his longest-tenured club is Tampa Bay. That being said, he currently plays for Ottawa, so let’s see if he can notch his first birthday point in his third try tonight.
- Brandon Sutter (1989-) – Although he’s playing his second season in Vancouver, this forward was selected by Carolina 11th-overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. He’s scored 220 points over his nine-year career.
A two-goal third period is just what the doctor ordered for the Rangers, as they were able to beat Columbus 3-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
Only one goal was struck in the opening frame, and it belonged to the home Jackets. Third Star of the Game Brandon Dubinsky (Brandon Saad and Seth Jones) is the guilty party, burying his wrister 8:12 after the initial puck drop.
Only 12 seconds into the second period, the score read 1-1 thanks to a shorthanded wrister from Dan Girardi (Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller), and that’s the mark that stayed on the scoreboard the remaining 19:48 of the frame to set up an exciting third period.
Only 4:49 into the third, Hayes broke the tie with an unassisted wrister, but the contest was once again knotted 7:04 later when Nick Foligno (David Savard) potted a wrister of his own. First Star Jimmy Vesey (Derek Stepan and Nick Holden) provided the game-winner, scoring his wrister with 6:32 remaining in regulation.
Thanks to New York‘s victory, only six points separate the roadies from the 62-40-18 homers in the DtFR Game of the Day series.