One of my favorite days of the hockey calendar is finally upon us: Opening Saturday.
What could possibly be so awesome about this day, you ask? Take a look at today’s schedule. With the exception of the Boston Bruins, every single club is in action today.
The festivities start at 2 p.m. when Colorado visits New Jersey (SN), but the real meat of the day starts at 7 p.m. when seven fixtures (the New York Rangers at Toronto [CBC], Detroit at Ottawa [SN1], Tampa Bay at Florida, Buffalo at the New York Islanders, Nashville at Pittsburgh [NHLN], Montréal at Washington [CITY/TVAS] and Minnesota at Carolina) drop the puck. Dallas at St. Louis joins the mix at 8 p.m., trailed 30 minutes later by Columbus at Chicago and Vegas at Arizona at 9 p.m. A trio of games (Edmonton at Vancouver [CBC], Philadelphia at Anaheim and Winnipeg at Calgary [CITY/SN1]) get the West Coast involved at 10 p.m., followed half an hour later by tonight’s nightcap: Los Angeles at San Jose. All times Eastern.
There’s a compelling reason to watch almost every game. Here are just a few I thought of…
- New York at Toronto: It’s an Original Six matchup. Do I really need to say more?
- Tampa Bay at Florida: If you like intrastate rivalries, this is the game for you.
- Nashville at Pittsburgh: Oh, you know, just a Stanley Cup Finals rematch. No biggie.
- Montréal at Washington: It’s homecoming for D Karl Alzner!
- Dallas at St. Louis: Head Coach Ken Hitchcock spent the last six seasons with the Blues. Now, he’s back with his ex in Dallas.
- Columbus at Chicago: After being traded from the Hawks this offseason, LW Artemi Panarin is so amped for this game.
- Winnipeg at Calgary: It’s old-timey rivalry night in Alberta.
- Los Angeles at San Jose: If you like intrastate rivalries that actually matter, this is the game for you.
Like I said, there’s a compelling reason to watch almost every game.
However, this is the “Game of the Day” series, not the “Games of the Day.” I already broke that rule on Opening Day, so I can’t do it again today.
With that in mind, I’m leaning towards making our first visit of the year to the Windy City.
That Stanley Cup rematch was tempting, but we’ll let both squads find their form before they tangle in The Music City a month from now.
Of course, no matter how much I sell this game on the superior action between the two squads, there’s two players in particular that will garner all the attention: Columbus’ Panarin and Chicago’s W Brandon Saad.
Saad, originally drafted 43rd-overall by the Blackhawks in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, is now in his second stint with the team after being traded from Columbus for Panarin, an undrafted Russian that looks like he can solidify the Jackets’ position near the top of the Eastern Conference for the next 10 years – at least.
Both players played vital roles for their now-former teams last season. The Bread Man registered a lowly 31-43-74 effort in 2016-’17 after posting 30-47-77 numbers during his rookie campaign, while Saad managed 24-29-53 totals last season in Columbus.
Based on those numbers alone and considering Saad has never posted more than 53 points in a season in his five full NHL seasons, it’s safe to say that the Blue Jackets won this trade on ice. But, in a league ruled by a salary cap, one of the most important numbers has a dollar sign associated with it. Both players will earn $6 million for every year they’re under contract, but Saad’s four-year deal is two seasons longer than Panarin’s.
Stan Bowman, the Blackhawks’ general manager, is fully aware that Panarin is the superior left wing of the two, but he also knows that because of that very fact, the Russian’s salary is going to skyrocket the day he has the opportunity to test free agency. That’s why he opted to go the more fiscally-responsible option in Saad, an option with which he’s won two Stanley Cups.
All that being said, I still think Columbus won this trade. We’ll have a final answer when we see how much bread Panarin is bringing home in 2019-’20.
If you can manage to take your eyes off those two players, you should witness quite a game between two solid teams. The Blue Jackets shut out the Islanders 5-0 yesterday at Nationwide Arena with goals from LW Sonny Milano, RW Cam Atkinson, D Ryan Murray, D Zach Werenski and F Pierre-Luc Dubois – not to mention a perfect performance by G Sergei Bobrovsky on 29 shots faced.
Of course, even that incredible effort pales in comparison to the Hawks’ annihilation of the back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Penguins Thursday. Led by a hat trick from – who would’ve guessed – Saad in his first game back in a red sweater, Chicago exploded to a statement 10-1 victory.
Both clubs enter this game with high confidence and higher aspirations for their seasons. In fact, if we break out the standings tiebreakers, these are the top teams in their respective conferences. I expect a highly competitive game, but am leaning towards Chicago winning due to the Jackets playing last night and having to travel.
The Vegas Golden Knights saw the numbers about franchises making their regular season debuts and told statisticians to shove ’em, as they beat the Dallas Stars 2-1 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day series.
Who woulda thunk it?
In fact, it wasn’t simply a win by an expansion team, but a come-from-behind victory. With 2:59 remaining in the second period, F Tyler Seguin (F Devin Shore and D John Klingberg) tipped-in a power play to give the Stars the advantage with only 22:59 of action remaining.
Then Third Star of the Game W James Neal happened. Assisted by D Nate Schmidt and D Luca Sbisa, he scored his first goal with 9:33 remaining in regulation to level the game at one goal apiece.
But he wasn’t done. Neal followed up that marker with what proved to be the game-winning goal with 2:44 remaining in regulation. Assisted by former Star C Cody Eakin and D Jason Garrison, Neal dropped to both knees in the slot to elevate his wrist shot to the far post over G Kari Lehtonen, securing the Knights’ first-ever victory.
First Star G Marc-Andre Fleury earned his first victory in a non-Penguins sweater by saving 45-of-46 shots faced (.978 save percentage), leaving the loss to Lehtonen who saved nine-of-11 (.818). Lehtonen replaced starter G Ben Bishop four minutes into the third period after being cut by a shot from W Reilly Smith, forcing him to be pulled and receive medical attention. Bishop had saved all 19 shots he faced before leaving the game.
Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are off to an impressive start, as they have a three-point advantage on hosts with their 3-1-0 record.