The U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2019 was announced, a major shakeup in the Board of Governors may be ahead, extensions were signed, Jake Gardiner joined the Carolina Hurricanes and it’s time for our DTFR Podcast season previews (starting with the Pacific Division).
Detroit Red Wings
32-40-10, 74 points, 7th in the Atlantic Division
Missed the playoffs for the third straight season
Additions: F Adam Erne (acquired from TBL), F Valtteri Filppula, D Patrik Nemeth, G Calvin Pickard
Subtractions: F Louis-Marc Aubry (DEL), D Jake Chelios (KHL), F Martin Frk (signed with LAK), F Axel Holmstrom (SHL), F Wade Megan (retired), F Dylan Sadowy (signed with Utica, AHL), D Niklas Kronwall (retired), D Libor Sulak (KHL), D Luke Witkowski (signed with TBL), G Patrik Rybar (Liiga), G Harri Sateri (KHL)
Still unsigned: F Thomas Vanek
Re-signed: F Dominic Turgeon, D Joe Hicketts
Offseason Analysis: The Red Wings have a new General Manager in Steve Yzerman and with that, an entirely new outlook on their rebuild, as well as internal philosophy.
Yzerman is a proactive general manager, identifying and fixing holes before, during and after they occur, as well as assembling his own crew inside the front office and around the world in scouts.
Though Detroit isn’t expected to smash through the roof of annual Cup contenders this season, Yzerman is determined to bring the team he spent 22 seasons playing for back into relevancy.
Yes, that’s right, relevancy.
The Red Wings have missed the playoffs for the last three straight seasons and haven’t had an easy time adjusting to life in the salary cap era since winning the Cup in 2008 with a core largely built of players before the salary cap existed.
There have been a lot of smaller departures this offseason, but Yzerman’s brought in a familiar face from his days at the helm of the Tampa Bay Lightning, acquiring bottom-six forward, Adam Erne, from the Bolts in exchange for a 2020 4th round pick and the return of former Red Wing, turned Lightning, Philadelphia Flyer and most recently New York Islander, Valtteri Filppula via free agency.
Durable top-six defender, Patrik Nemeth was poached from the Colorado Avalanche in free agency and brings his up-and-down the defensive pairings style to an otherwise aging and oft-injured blue line.
Yzerman doesn’t get to lay claim to drafting Filip Zadina or Joseph Veleno, but he does get to reap the benefits of bringing them into the lineup.
One question that remains while the new regime in the front office continues to revaluate the situation and the long-term plan– what’s to become of current head coach, Jeff Blashill?
In four seasons with Detroit– albeit with a lackluster roster– Blashill has never led his team to higher than a 3rd place finish in the Atlantic Division and has a 1-4 record in the Stanley Cup Playoffs– dating back to his only appearance with the Red Wings in their First Round matchup with the Lightning in 2016.
There’s five pending-unrestricted free agents and seven pending-restricted free agents at season’s end, so things are very fluid in the Red Wings organization– especially with Yzerman in charge.
Offseason Grade: B
Detroit would have almost gotten an “A” grade for hiring Yzerman alone, but the fact that we have to consider the current roster and less than stellar free agent acquisitions– though still malleable and fitting for a team looking to speed up their transition from the basement back to the top– the Red Wings had a little bit of an “above average” offseason.
After what seems like an eternity has passed (drop the puck already), the 2019 Stanley Cup Final between the Eastern Conference champion, Boston Bruins, and the Western Conference champion, St. Louis Blues, kicks off Monday night at TD Garden.
Here’s a look at how the best-of-seven series should pan out.
A2 Boston Bruins (49-24-9, 107 points) vs C3 St. Louis Blues (45-28-9, 99 points)
Boston is making their third appearance in the Final in the last eight years– winning the Cup against the Vancouver Canucks in seven games in 2011 and losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games in 2013.
St. Louis is making their first Stanley Cup Final appearance in 49 years– losing in four games to the Bruins in 1970.
Regardless of the series outcome– history will be made.
The Bruins outlasted the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games in the First Round, bested the Columbus Blue Jackets in six games in the Second Round and swept the “Bunch of Jerks” known as the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final.
The Blues grounded the Winnipeg Jets in six games in the First Round, beat the Dallas Stars in seven games in the Second Round and took a bite out of the San Jose Sharks in six games in the Western Conference Final.
Both teams have incredible depth scoring, solid defense and out-of-this-world goaltending.
Only one team can win it all, however.
Both cities have met in all four major North American professional sports championship games and/or series, with St. Louis last beating Boston in the 1967 World Series as the Cardinals defeated the “Impossible Dream” Red Sox.
Since then, the B’s beat the Blue Notes in the 1970 Stanley Cup Final as Bobby Orr soared through the air after scoring “The Goal”, the New England Patriots defeated the St. Louis Rams (R.I.P.) in Super Bowl XXXVI and the Red Sox beat the Cardinals twice in 2004 and 2013.
Brad Marchand led his team in scoring in the regular season with 100 points and his 18 points in 17 games played this postseason lead David Pastrnak (15 points), David Krejci (14), Patrice Bergeron (13), Charlie Coyle (12), Torey Krug (12) and the rest of the Bruins.
Bergeron leads his roster in goals so far in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs with eight, including a postseason leading six power play goals– the most by a Bruin since Cam Neely scoring nine goals on the power play in 1991.
Marchand is tied with Pastrnak for the second-most goals for Boston, trailing Bergeron with seven goals each, followed by Coyle (six) and Krejci (four).
The only Bruins without a goal this postseason are Brandon Carlo (a lineup regular), John Moore (primarily a scratch throughout this postseason) and Karson Kuhlman (appeared in six games in the First and Second Round before David Backes took over in each round on the second line right wing).
There have been 19 different scorers for Boston in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
General Manager, Don Sweeney, addressed his apparent lack of secondary scoring with the acquisitions on Coyle (6-6–12 totals in 17 games this postseason) and Marcus Johansson (3-6–9 totals in 15 games) leading up to the trade deadline.
Head coach, Bruce Cassidy, has adjusted his game on-the-fly, mixing up the lines when necessary to rejuvenate the scoring touch of “The Perfection Line” (Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak), while lighting a fire under the annual playoff performer in Krejci and his wingers Jake DeBrusk and Backes.
Marchand and Krug are tied for the lead in assists with 11, while defender and captain, Zdeno Chara, leads his crew in plus/minus with a plus-11 rating in 16 games played this postseason.
Chara, 42, missed Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final in Carolina, but is ready and refreshed to try to earn four more wins against St. Louis and join Johnny Bower (42, 1967), Dominik Hasek (43, 2008), Mark Recchi (43, 2011) and Chris Chelios (46, 2008) as the only players to win the Cup at the age of 42 or older.
The rest of the B’s defenders have played a shutdown style that has led to the Bruins in control of all the important statistical categories at the end of the night– the final score.
Boston is 11-0 when leading after two periods this postseason and has only trailed in 9.9% of their minutes played since the start of the Second Round.
They’re also on a seven-game winning streak– their third longest in franchise history in the postseason– behind only runs of 10-0 in 1970 and 9-0 in 1972.
Both of those years, the Bruins won the Cup.
Though Chris Wagner (upper body) and Kevan Miller (lower body) are out for the remainder of the playoffs, the next man up mentality has landed Noel Acciari a spot on the fourth line with Joakim Nordstrom and Sean Kuraly in place of Walpole, Massachusetts native Wagner, as well as regular time for Connor Clifton on the blue line in place of Miller.
Coyle, Wagner and defender, Matt Grzelcyk, are seeking to join Myles Lane as the only Massachusetts-born players to win a Cup with the Bruins. Lane did so in Boston’s first Stanley Cup championship back in 1929.
Meanwhile, Tuukka Rask (12-5 record, 1.84 goals against average, .942 save percentage in 17 games played this postseason) is having a Conn Smythe worthy performance in the net for the B’s.
Rask’s stats are better than his 1.88 GAA and .940 SV% in 22 games played in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final and better than Tim Thomas’ 1.98 GAA and .940 SV% in 25 games played en route to the 2011 Stanley Cup championship.
The B’s have gone ten full days without a game, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for Rask as his workload was reduced with the help of backup goaltender, Jaroslav Halak, in the regular season.
Sweeney and Cassidy and wanted a dynamic duo of goaltenders that would let their starter in Rask find his groove and work efficiently.
There’s no better efficiency than the way he’s playing right now.
With the shutout in Game 4 against the Hurricanes, Rask improved to 8-0 in eight career appearances in the Conference Finals, as well as franchise record holder for most series-clinching shutouts in Bruins history with three (surpassing Gerry Cheevers and Thomas’ previous mark of two series-clinching shutouts).
Boston held an intra-squad scrimmage last Thursday to keep the game-flow going and charged fans $20 to attend and see their players in action that they might not otherwise be able to afford to see (with Stanley Cup Final tickets on the secondary market going for $1,000).
Every dollar went to the Boston Bruins Foundation, which redistributes funds to charities throughout New England that help enrich the lives of children in the region.
The Bruins are facing the St. Louis Blues for the 3rd time in a playoff series (previous, 1972 Semifinals, BOS W, 4-0). Boston also swept St. Louis in the 1970 SCF.
St. Louis is well-familiar with “The Hub of the Universe”. They were swept by Boston in the 1970 Stanley Cup Final– the Blues third appearance in their first three years of existence as a franchise in the Final.
Then the two clubs met again in the 1972 Semifinals. Once more, the Blues were swept by the Bruins.
The team with a blue music note with wings for a crest has yet to win a game in the Stanley Cup Final. 1968, 1969 and 1970 resulted in 12 straight Stanley Cup Final losses to the Montreal Canadiens and Boston.
A lot of franchise history has passed for St. Louis and names like Wayne Gretzky have even gone through the club (albeit for 31 games in the regular season and playoffs in 1996).
49 years later, hometown heroes, like Pat Maroon, and adopted hometown heroes, like David Perron (in his third stint with the organization) have led from the back-end of the top-nine group of forwards out.
Jaden Schwartz leads St. Louis in scoring with 12 goals– the second most in franchise history in a postseason, trailing Brett Hull’s 13 goals in 12 games played in the 1990 Stanley Cup Playoffs– and 16 points in 19 games in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Schwartz even has two hat tricks this postseason and is the first NHLer to record two hat tricks in one postseason since Johan Franzen did so with the Detroit Red Wings en route to their 2008 Stanley Cup championship.
Offseason acquisition, Ryan O’Reilly, has proven General Manager, Doug Armstrong, worthy of being named a finalist for GM of the Year this season, as O’Reilly has 3-11–14 totals in 19 games
Vladimir Tarasenko– St. Louis’ regular star– has eight goals and five assists (13 points) and is tied for third in scoring on the roster with Perron (6-7–13 totals) and Alex Pietrangelo (2-11–13 totals).
All of the Blues are in search of their first Stanley Cup championship ring and must face former captain and current Bruin, David Backes. After 10 years with the organization, Backes joined Boston on July 1, 2016. In his 13th career season, he’ll face his former team for the Cup.
St. Louis has had helping hands on the blue line in Pietrangelo’s 13 points and Colton Parayko’s 11 points this postseason.
Among their regulars, only Jay Bouwmeester and Carl Gunnarsson have yet to score a goal in this year’s playoffs (Zach Sanford also hasn’t recorded a point in three games played).
Backes’ storyline isn’t the only familiarity with the Blues, however.
Rookie goaltender, Jordan Binnington (12-7, 2.37 GAA, .914 SV% in 19 GP) holds the franchise record for most wins in a postseason by a rookie netminder, but spent last season on loan to the Providence Bruins (AHL).
If there’s team with more internal notes on the goaltender that they’re facing in this year’s Stanley Cup Final– it’s the Boston Bruins.
But Binnington’s not nervous– he hasn’t been all postseason long, en route to eliminating the Jets, Stars and Sharks.
He is, however, about to face his biggest challenge yet in the Bruins, unless Craig Berube finds a way to coach his team into taming the bears charging at them down the ice.
While Robert Thomas is likely good to go in Boston for Game 1, Vince Dun will be out of the lineup and day-to-day.
That’s no worry for the cool, calm and collected Berube– who’s guided his team from 31st (dead last) in the league on the morning of Jan. 3rd to the Stanley Cup Final after being named interim head coach back in November, replacing Mike Yeo.
Ten out of the last 13 Cup winners have had the shorter turnaround from the Conference Finals to the Stanley Cup Final, but we’re talking a difference of a few days as opposed to an average of just over a week for the two opponents this year.
The winner of Game 1– since the best-of-seven series format was adopted for the Final in 1939– has gone on to win the Cup in 61 out of 79 series’ (77.2% success rate).
Though both teams expect to play sloppy coming out of the gate, it is vital for Cassidy to keep his players on edge at the top of their game.
Play your game and you control the game. Play the Blues’ game and you’ll fall behind.
Berube managed to frustrate the Jets and Stars, while St. Louis lucked out against a battered Sharks roster.
That’s not to say the Blues are any less dangerous this time of year. In fact, they’re quite good. They won the Western Conference.
However, this time of year is both a sprint and a marathon. How fast can you skate up and down the ice for a full 60-minute (sometimes more) effort and can you maintain that for up to seven games?
Boston is a team with enough experience to go the distance, but St. Louis is a team with enough history to overcome.
In the end, the Bruins should be the ones raising the Cup above their heads for what might the be final time in their current core group of players’ careers as Bergeron, Krejci, Chara, Marchand and Rask continue to leave their mark on franchise history– defining careers worthy of recognition in the rafters of TD Garden.
Time will tell over six games in the series as the events unfold.
Regular season outcomes:
2-1 F/SO STL at Enterprise Center on Feb. 23rd, 5-2 BOS at TD Garden on Jan. 17th
5/27- Game 1 STL @ BOS 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS
5/29- Game 2 STL @ BOS 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
6/1-Game 3 BOS @ STL 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
6/3- Game 4 BOS @ STL 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS
6/6- Game 5 STL @ BOS 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS*
6/9- Game 6 BOS @ STL 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS*
6/12- Game 7 STL @ BOS 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS*
More on the Arizona Coyotes latest debacle with Seattle expansion looming, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith did something never done before, the Calgary Flames rise in the Western Conference and the St. Louis Blues dismal season. Bob Murray and the Anaheim Ducks made a few moves– signing Murray to an extension, claiming Chad Johnson off waivers and a minor trade.
Plus, Nick and Connor review the last 15 years of first round picks by the Pittsburgh Penguins and do a deep dive on their future and what it might look like.
In a first, everyone (except for Jordan) appears on the Down the Frozen River Podcast to predict how the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs will go before the 2017-18 NHL regular season even ends, technically speaking. The 100th episode anniversary is informally observed.
We’ve all had some time to digest the spectacle that was the 2018 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, now let’s reflect on the experience as a whole for a minute and discuss ways to make it more interesting, considering ratings fell for the third year in a row.
This is DTFR Overtime and I’ve been neglecting you all through the holidays.
The Winter Classic is great.
You heard that right. I love an outdoor NHL game. Not for the most commonly stated reason why NBC loves the game. No, I couldn’t care less about how much a player feels like they’re a kid again playing outdoors on their backyard rink, local pond, river or lake.
I love the Winter Classic because it’s different.
Different jerseys, different atmosphere, different venue and usually a different game winner.
The Buffalo Sabres-New York Rangers matchup actually turned out to be a good one. Just when all hope was thought to be lost after trailing 2-0 early, the Sabres showed up on the scoreboard.
In the end, the Rangers won and that was fitting, since they were closer to their home ice than the technically speaking “home” team in this year’s Winter Classic due to a clause in New York’s contract with Madison Square Garden that states the Rangers cannot play a home game outside MSG.
Overtime outdoors with flames in the end seemed like a perfect ending to a largely under-produced, under-promoted, sporting event.
The Winter Classic has always shown potential. Why not tap into it?
Let’s address the obvious elephant in the room from this year’s matchup– the matchup itself. Sure, letting Jack Eichel run around outside is a great idea and all, but against the New York Rangers at Citi Field? None of that makes sense, considering 1) if you’re going to go with the 10th anniversary narrative, at least invite the Pittsburgh Penguins alumni team and Sabres alumni team to skate around the mini rink during intermission or something and 2) it should have been you, New York Islanders.
Not a Sabres-Islanders matchup, but rather a Battle for New York (City). Rangers-Islanders at Citi Field would’ve made a lot more sense, because, you know. The Islanders are the New York Mets of the NHL. Jimmy Fallon loves the Rangers, Jon Stewart loves… well, the Mets. At least the Islanders have that whole color scheme going for them (oh and a new arena coming soon to Belmont Park).
NBC didn’t have a problem calling up archival footage of Sidney Crosby scoring the shootout winning goal from the first Winter Classic at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, NY.
Like Colby Kephart said on the podcast two weeks ago, Crosby’s path to glory at the NHL level started with that game winning shootout goal. He rose to stardom, but didn’t win a Cup immediately. Prior to appearing in the 2008 Stanley Cup Final (and 2009, 2016 and 2017 as well), Crosby’s biggest stage was his Winter Classic moment (again, until he lifted the Cup over his head in 2009, 2016 and 2017).
Eichel could’ve been played up as the American version of Crosby– still one of the greatest players in the league, though sometimes overlooked as if he had to prove himself some more.
Don’t like a Pittsburgh-Buffalo rematch 10 years in the making? That’s fine.
A Rangers-Islanders matchup would’ve made more sense on New Year’s Day if you really want to play the rivalry card. It also would’ve actually meant something in the ultra-competitive Metropolitan Division.
As much as people hate on NBC for taking away divisional or actual rivalry games from local media broadcasting crews, sometimes it must be done. Nationally displaced local fans want to be able to watch their teams with ease– having some of their biggest matchups on national television isn’t a bad thing when it’s done right.
Give us the standings– give us the storylines of recent hatred among the clubs and national audiences might eat it up more than hearing over and over again where somebody is from or how one goaltending coach taught the two goalies at opposite ends of the ice everything they know.
If the league could schedule one or two matchups between rivals within a week or two before they take things outside, imagine what a perfect storm of potential chaos that would be on the ice.
Of course, timing is everything when it comes to touting a rivalry as a premiere event to be seen by all.
Remember how the 2016 Winter Classic was a 5-1 blowout by the Montreal Canadiens on road ice at Gillette Stadium? The Boston Bruins missed the playoffs in 2015 and they went on to miss them again in 2016.
They were in a lull in talent on the ice. Their longest rivalry with Montreal had crescendoed when Bruins exorcised their demons in 2011 en route to the Cup, but not much of the championship roster from 2011 remained in 2016– except for core players in Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask.
Then the rivalry went dormant as Boston fell asleep at the wheel in the Second Round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs when the Canadiens ousted the President’s Trophy winning Bruins in seven games.
And 2017’s Winter Classic matchup of the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks at Busch Stadium didn’t go as hoped for a 50-year old rivalry– the Blues defeated the Blackhawks 4-1.
If you’re looking ahead to the 2019 Winter Classic between Boston and Chicago from Notre Dame Stadium, well, you better hope both teams are as lively as they’ve been at times this season on January 1, 2019.
Timing is everything.
If you’re worried about making adidas Winter Classic merchandise and getting it out to the consumers in time for the big game, let alone scheduling the right venue, teams and ticket sales, then why not have all 31 teams prepare something. Let every NHL franchise draw up a set of potential home and road Winter Classic sweaters.
Instead of announcing the following year’s Winter Classic a year and a half ahead of when it’s going to be played, just keep the fans in suspense– let rumors swirl about every team’s potential outdoor look and/or venue for just long enough until the league says “surprise, it’s going to be the Vegas Golden Knights against the Nashville Predators from Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee”. Trust me, people would want to go see that.
Worried about having jerseys made in time for fans to purchase? Make the Winter Classic announcement in July or August, then make the Winter Classic jerseys go on sale in pro shops in December.
Boost your holiday sales while not having to give in to the demands of consumers who want to get everything done and out of the way in October or November leading up to the December holidays and Happy Honda Days.
I know it’s hard, but actually keep some things secret.
The Winter Classic should be around through 2021 at least (pending NBC broadcasting rights and negotiations regarding an extension or who knows, maybe ESPN will want to cover hockey again in three years?), but we shouldn’t find out– through the league or anonymous sources– that the Blackhawks will be hosting the Penguins in a first ever home-and-home matchup in 2020 whereby Chicago hosts the Winter Classic and Pittsburgh hosts the Stadium Series until, say, before the start of the 2019-20 season.
The 2019 Winter Classic shouldn’t have been unveiled by a report from Barstool Sports in November 2017. Calendar-year-wise that’s a difference of two years.
That’s at least a year and six months of potential suspense that could’ve been building over where the local market cash grab outdoor game would be venturing off to– it’s Chicago again, isn’t it? Dammit.
At the very least, a league that’s pulling in $4.5 billion in revenue that also doesn’t want to share more money with the players (hello forthcoming lockout anytime between 2020 and 2022) should shell out $1 million to get someone like Lady Gaga or yes, even Coldplay (because hockey is played in the cold), or literally anyone other than Goo Goo Dolls, Nate Ruess or someone NBC wants on TV because they’re a winner or runner up from The Voice.
You can either praise Sidney Crosby all day during a game in which Crosby isn’t involved or you can give me a reality TV singing contestant that nobody’s heard of but you can’t have both in one day, NBC! *That sounded better in John Oliver’s voice in my head than it did when I wrote it, but the point still stands.*
Think of it this way, Mr. Bettman.
If you cast aside one or two outdoor games a year– because we all know three or four of them a year is too many– then you should have enough money to attract someone better than this year’s Super Bowl Pepsi Halftime Show performer, Justin Timberlake, and assert your dominance over the NFL in intermission/halftime entertainment at your very own “super bowl” (ahem, the Winter Classic) months before the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
I’ll even take more of whatever this year’s Road to the Winter Classic was actually about (I think it was a Honda ad) if you’d just entertain us all for once during intermission instead of putting us to sleep before the Blackhawks come back out of the locker room for their 82nd outdoor game of the season.
And if it’s supposed to have a winter carnival vibe, maybe don’t bring the same stuff every year to each venue.
Bubble hockey is great and all, but giant inflatable snow globes and inflatable jerseys have gotten old. NASCAR’s Fanatics merchandise tent is more exciting than your free FanFest or whatever.
And please, bring back the Winter Classic Alumni Game. Beg NBCSN to show that instead of whatever Mecum Auto Auction they’re rerunning on New Year’s Eve or whatever.
I just don’t want to go a day without hockey, especially when I’m starting a new calendar year.
Thursdays are fantastic, aren’t they? There’s only one day of work left, the weekend is on its way and the cherry on top is that there’s tons of hockey to watch in the meantime.
Nine games will be played in all this evening, starting with two (the New York Islanders at Philadelphia [SN1] and Columbus at Carolina) at 7 p.m., followed half an hour later by three more (Dallas at Boston [NBCSN/TVAS], Florida at Montréal [RDS] and Detroit at Tampa Bay). Another trio of contests (Toronto at Nashville, Ottawa at Minnesota [RDS2] and Anaheim at Winnipeg) drop the puck at the top of the hour and San Jose at Edmonton – tonight’s nightcap – gets the green light at 9 p.m. All times eastern.
- Detroit at Tampa Bay: In light of the Red Wings not qualifying for the postseason for the first time in 26 years, I present to you their final rematch of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
- San Jose at Edmonton: Currently tied at 93 points, this is the first of two meetings in eight days between the Oilers and Sharks, who could meet up in the Western Quarterfinals.
Sorry Wings, but you got some love already this week. It’s off to Alberta with us for the biggest game of the night.
Nothing makes for more exciting hockey this late in the season than two divisional rivals tied on points and games-played scrapping for home ice in the playoffs. The cherry on top? They very well could be fighting to host tonight’s opponent in that first round.
Thanks to the NHL’s rule book, the tie is broken by regulation+ overtime wins. Tonight’s hosts – the Oilers – have 38 to their credit. The Sharks have 41, so they’d be hosting that playoff series if it started right now.
Of course, that may or may not be the case following tonight’s events. No matter how this contest ends, we will have a clear cut third-place team in the Pacific Division with five games remaining to be played by Anaheim, Edmonton and San Jose.
Things have been better for the 43-26-7 Sharks than they are right now. Although they beat the Rangers 5-4 in overtime Tuesday night, those are the only two points they have to show for their past seven games.
Nothing has gone right for the Sharks in the last two weeks. San Jose has been outscored 27-12 since March 16, showing that the struggles are equal parts offensive and in goal.
You’ll notice I didn’t say defensive. I slightly over-exaggerated before, as the defense has actually remained consistent with their entire campaign. They’ve allowed only 201 shots (28.7 per game) to reach 33-20-6 Martin Jones‘ crease, which is pretty close to their 27.6 season average.
Instead, the issue has been Jones and backup 10-6-1 Aaron Dell. Peter DeBoer has been almost religious in alternating his goaltenders in the month of March, as Jones has made only two pairs of consecutive starts.
What has resting his backstops done for him? Dell has an .881 save percentage and 3.4 GAA. Ouch. Unfortunately, that’s good in comparison to Jones’ .862 and 4.04 GAA.
Jones’ recent struggles continue on the penalty kill, where he’s managed only an .8 save percentage against opponents’ power plays. That is the ninth-worst mark in the league among the 40 netminders with at least three appearances and has resulted in a 64.7% kill rate, the second-worst in the NHL since mid-March.
As of publication of this article, no word has been released from the Sharks whether Dell or Jones will be in net. Since Jones started his second-straight game two nights ago, I’m going to guess Dell will get the nod tonight. I do not know whether that’s the right or wrong choice, but I do know Dell has been the 11th-worst goaltender in the league since March 16, meaning Jones has been… worse.
But the issues aren’t simply limited to DeBoer’s goaltending situation. The Sharks‘ offense has been abysmal too, averaging only 1.7 goals per game. The lone standout over this stretch has been Patrick Marleau, who has buried three of San Jose‘s dozen goals in the past two weeks, not to mention tacking on two more assists.
My biggest concern is that Joel Ward, the man who has notched the sixth-most points (27) and goals (t19) all season for San Jose, did not register a point during the recently-ended skid. Perhaps it is just coincidence, but I think it is no accident that his most recent assist was on March 14 in a victory against the Sabres. The sooner he returns to form, the sooner the Sharks become the team we’ve come to expect.
All that being said about the offense as whole, the power play has actually been solid of late. Not only is a 23.5% conversion rate 10th-best in the league since mid-March, but it also well exceeds the Sharks‘ 17.2% season rate.
While the third month of the year has not gone so well for the Sharks, it’s been splendid for the 42-25-9 Oilers. They’ve taken advantage of playing only two of their 12 games away from Rogers Place to earn an 8-3-1 record in March.
Just like you’d expect from a team led by Connor McDavid, offense has been the driver to Edmonton‘s success. The Oilers have scored 42 goals since March 4, the second-highest total in the league in that time.
In addition to the stellar play of McDavid, line mate Leon Draisaitl has also been exceptional as both have 17 points to their credit this month, which ties for fourth-most in the league in that time. Don’t get confused though; the captain is still in charge of this attack, as he’s scored six of his 27 goals this month, two more than his partner in crime.
As you might expect, Draisaitl and McDavid continue their chemistry on the power play. Since March 4, the Oil has successfully converted 27% of its opponents’ penalties into goals, the fourth-best mark in the league.
The man-advantage seems to be Draisaitl’s forte, as he’s set up five power play goals in March to lead the team in extra-man points. Of course, someone has to score those assists…
That’s where Mark Letestu and Milan Lucic come into play. They are the other two forwards on Draisaitl and McDavid’s power play unit, and they’ve both buried two goals apiece in that situation this month to lead the team.
The Oilers have been just as good of late on the penalty kill with their 88.5% kill rate, so the Sharks will have their work cut out for them this evening. My advice: avoid Andrej Sekera at all costs. He’s blocked nine shots on the penalty kill to not only lead the team, but tie for fourth-most in the league in that time-span.
Thanks to forcing overtime the first time these clubs met, Edmonton trails the Sharks by only a point in the season series between them. The last time they met was January 26, the Oilers‘ lone win against San Jose this season. They traveled to The Tank and emerged with a 4-1 victory thanks to Sekera’s two goals and Cam Talbot‘s 32 saves.
Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Edmonton‘s Draisaitl (71 points [10th-most in the NHL]), McDavid (89 points on 62 assists [both lead the league]) and Talbot (seven shutouts [tied for second-most in the NHL] among 38 wins [third-most in the league]) & San Jose‘s Burns (73 points [eighth-most in the NHL] on 45 assists [tied for ninth-most in the league]) and Jones (33 wins [seventh-most in the NHL]).
Vegas has marked Edmonton a -126 favorite tonight, a line I think the Oilers are more than capable of upholding. Unless the Sharks get their goaltending under control, the hot Oilers should get their fans screaming at full-throat and even more excited for their return to the playoffs.
- Doug Wickenheiser (1961-1999) – Montréal selected this center with the top pick in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft, but he actually spent more of his 10-year career in St. Louis. Hockey fans truly in the know remember Wickenheiser for completing the Blues‘ “Monday Night Miracle” with an overtime goal against Calgary to force a Game 7 in the 1986 Campbell Conference Finals.
- Ty Conklin (1976-) – Some guys just seem to be born unlucky. This goaltender, who has nine years of NHL experience with six different teams (mostly with Edmonton), was a member of the 2008 Penguins team that lost in the Stanley Cup Finals to Detroit. So he could get his hands on the hardware, he joined the Red Wings the following season, who ended up losing the Stanley Cup to Pittsburgh.
- Marc-Edouard Vlasic (1987-) – This defenseman was selected 35th-overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by San Jose, and that’s where he’s played ever since. Even though this is his 11th season, tonight’s game is only the fifth he’s ever played on his birthday in the NHL. His last was in 2013, and it was a special one: he notched his first birthday goal.
With four goals in the opening period, the Blackhawks easily beat Pittsburgh 5-1 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
Though the scoring started quickly thanks to First Star of the Game Artemi Panarin‘s (Third Star Patrick Kane and Second Star Tanner Kero) wrist shot 3:23 after the opening puck drop, the Hawks truly took command of the game in the final six minutes of the first frame. With what proved to be the game-winning goal, Richard Panik (Nick Schmaltz and Jonathan Toews) buried a snap shot with 5:21 remaining, followed by Marcus Kruger (Kane and Panarin) and Marian Hossa (Ryan Hartman) in the closing minute of the period to set Chicago‘s advantage at four goals.
A win by the road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series was an important one yesterday, as it set the visitors’ record at 83-58-23 and gave them a two-point advantage on the hosts.
The Philadelphia Flyers made a splash in the trading market acquiring the service of center Valtteri Filppula, a 2017 4th round pick and a conditional 2017 7th round pick from the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for defenseman Mark Streit.
The Flyers retained 4.7% of Streit’s salary in the deal.
Filppula was drafted 95th overall in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft by the Detroit Red Wings. The 32-year-old forward is a native of Vantaa, Finland and had 7-27-34 totals in 59 games played with Tampa this season.
He has 152 goals and 270 assists for 422 points in 775 career NHL games with the Red Wings and the Lightning, in addition to 24-55-79 totals in 152 Stanley Cup Playoff appearances.
The veteran center was a member of the 2008 Stanley Cup champion Red Wings.
Streit was acquired by the Lightning on Wednesday afternoon before being flipped to the Pittsburgh Penguins. He leaves the Flyers organization after almost four complete seasons with the team and having served as an alternate captain for the last three.
He has 5-16-21 totals in 49 games played this season and amassed 30-110-140 totals in 274 games as a member of Philadelphia.
Eleven games. Yes, 11. What a way to spend a Saturday. We get an early start today, as St. Louis at Winnipeg gets underway 3 p.m., and another matinee drops the puck two hours later with Carolina at Columbus. The usual starting time of 7 p.m. brings with it four games (Ottawa at Toronto [CBC/CITY/TVAS2], Buffalo at Montréal [SN/TVAS], Los Angeles at the New York Islanders and New Jersey at Philadelphia), and another trio begin an hour later (Tampa Bay at Arizona, Washington at Dallas [NHLN] and Anaheim at Minnesota). The final two games drop the puck within half an hour of each other: Edmonton at Calgary (CBC/SN) starts first at 10 p.m., with Colorado at San Jose acting as this evening’s nightcap. All times eastern.
- Ottawa at Toronto: The Battle of Ontario rages on in the biggest city in Canada.
- New Jersey at Philadelphia: The Jersey Turnpike connects these two cities, but that doesn’t mean their hockey teams like each other.
- Edmonton at Calgary: Another rivalry takes place in the province of Alberta.
- Colorado at San Jose: After Matt Nieto spent four seasons with the Sharks, he was claimed off waivers two weeks ago by the Avalanche.
There’s no way we’re missing a rivalry that could result in Toronto a massive shakeup in the Atlantic Division. To the Air Canada Centre we go!
I know we just featured this matchup last Saturday, but the stakes just keep getting raised in this rivalry. With a regulation win this evening, the Leafs will improve from from fourth place in the division to second. Pair that with a Flyers victory, and the Bruins find themselves outside of playoff position for the night.
The impact this game could have on the standings is incredible.
Ottawa begins the third Battle for Ontario on a two-game winning streak and in possession of second place in the Atlantic with a 24-15-4 record. They’ve found that success by not allowing opponents to score, allowing only 110 goals this season, which ties for fifth-fewest in the league.
12-7-3 Mike Condon has been the man between the pipes more often than not for the Senators this season. As indicated by his record, he’s done a decent job, as his .92 save percentage and 2.31 GAA are both tied for 13th best among the 52 netminders with at least 11 appearances this year.
It’s been important for Condon to have the success he’s had, as the defense playing in front of him has been far from incredible. Even with Erik Karlsson‘s team-leading 114 blocks (tied for second-most in the NHL), the Senators allow 30.4 shots-per-game to reach their goalie’s crease, tied for the 12th-worst effort in the league.
Playing host this evening are the 21-14-8 Maple Leafs. Given their most recent first-round draft choice, it should be no surprise that their resurgence is due to offensive success. They’ve scored 133 goals so far this year in 43 games – the sixth-best rate in the league.
It remains to be seen if Auston Matthews can be the one to lead Toronto to the Promised Land for the first time in 50 years, but he’s certainly making a good impression in his rookie season. His 38 points are enough to lead the club, as are his 22 goals.
What is most impressive is the Leafs‘ power play. They’ve managed to be second in the NHL with the man-advantage, converting 24.1% of opponent’s penalties into goals. This has been where fellow rookie William Nylander has shone, as his 15 power play points are tops on the team. That being said, the true striker of the special teams unit plays on the other power play line, as Nazem Kadri‘s nine extra-man goals are the best on the squad and tied for second-most in the NHL.
These Leafs are truly a complete team, as the other special team has been just that: special. Toronto‘s penalty kill ranks fourth-best in the NHL, refusing to yield a tally on 84.9% of their infractions. Mark Giordano has been a big part of that effort with his team-leading 32 shorthanded blocks.
Twice these teams met already this season, and twice it’s been in the Canadian capital. As these clubs will only meet four times total this year, the Battle of Ontario shifts to Toronto, and the Leafs bring back a 1-0-1 series lead.
Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Ottawa‘s Condon (three shutouts [tied for fifth-most in the league]) and Karlsson (30 assists [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]) & Toronto‘s Frederik Andersen (19 wins [tied for ninth-most in the league]) and Matthews (22 goals [tied for third-most in the NHL]).
Vegas has marked Toronto a -139 favorite, and with good reason. They’ve been playing some fantastic hockey over the last month, going 9-2-1 since December 22. What sets the Leafs apart today is their dominance in the special teams play. Unless Condon plays lights-out, I don’t see the Leafs dropping a second-straight home game.
- Georges Vezina (1887-1926) – Vezina won three Stanley Cups over his nine seasons with Montréal, and the Hall of Famer is remembered today by the trophy awarded annually to the league’s best goaltender. Unfortunately, his life was cut short at the age of 39 due to tuberculosis.
- Doug Weight (1971-) – The 34th-overall pick in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft by the Rangers, this four-year All Star played 19 seasons – most of which in Edmonton. He hoisted the lone Stanley Cup of his career in 2006 in Carolina, followed five years later by the Clancy. Of course, he just made his coaching debut Thursday, leading his Islanders to a three-goal shutout victory.
- Andrei Zyuzin (1978-) – San Jose drafted this defenseman second-overall in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft, but he played most of his 10-season career in Minnesota. He finished his playing days with a -40 goal-differential.
- Dany Heatley (1981-) – Another second-overall pick, this left wing was selected by Atlanta in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, though he played most his career in Ottawa. It was a magical rookie season for Heatly, as he took home the 2002 Calder before earning three All Star selections over his 13-season career.
- Jonathan Quick (1986-) – Los Angeles drafted this goaltender in the third round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, and he’s never worn another sweater since. The Kings made a good selection, as they’ve hoisted the Stanley Cup twice on a netminder that won the 2012 Smythe and the 2014 Jennings. Unfortunately, the All-Star suffered a groin injury in the first game of the season and is not projected to return to the ice for another month.
- Darren Helm (1987-) – Just like Quick, this forward was selected by the same team he’s played for ever since (Detroit) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, even though he was picked two rounds later. He was a rookie on the Wings‘ 2008 Stanley Cup team and contributed four points in that playoff run, including a goal and assist against Pittsburgh in the Finals.
Sometimes, a goal is all you need. That was the case for the Blackhawks last night, as they beat Boston 1-0 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
With 1:26 remaining in regulation, First Star of the Game Marian Hossa (Tanner Kero and Vinnie Hinostroza) takes credit for the lone tally of the game. His wrister from the left faceoff zone beat Third Star Tuukka Rask to the near post to ensure the victory.
Second Star Scott Darling earned the victory by saving all 30 shots he faced, while Rask fell just short, saving all but one of the 22 pucks (95.5%) that entered his crease.
Chicago‘s win was the second-straight shutout in the DtFR Game of the Day series, which now stands at 52-34-14 in favor of the hosts, who lead visitors by five points.