Don’t be sad that the Olympic hockey tournaments are gone. Instead, remember the fun we had.
That brings our full attention back to the NHL, and not a moment too soon: today’s half-dozen games are the final fixtures before tomorrow’s trade deadline. Here’s hoping your favorite player is still on your team’s roster by tomorrow’s puck drop!
Today’s schedule gets underway at noon with St. Louis at Nashville (NBC/TVAS), followed by Boston at Buffalo (SN360) five hours later and Detroit at the New York Rangers (NHLN) at 7:30 p.m. Two games drop the puck at 8 p.m. (Edmonton at Anaheim [SN] and San Jose at Minnesota), followed by tonight’s nightcap – Vancouver at Arizona – at 9:30 p.m. All times Eastern.
There’s more than a few interesting narratives associated with today’s games. Here’s just a few:
- St. Louis at Nashville: It’s a rematch of one of last year’s Western Conference Semifinals! The Predators won that series in six games.
- Boston at Buffalo: This rivalry has died down with the decline of the Sabres, but perhaps there’s a surprise in store today.
- Detroit at New York: Not only is this an Original Six rivalry, but the Rangers are retiring C Jean Ratelle‘s 19.
- Edmonton at Anaheim: The other 2017 Western Semifinal is also being revisited today. The Ducks needed all seven games to beat the Oil.
There have been few like Ratelle, so let’s make the trip to Manhattan to ensure his sweater ends up where it rightfully belongs: in the Madison Square Garden rafters.
Ratelle played his first NHL game during the 1960-’61 season following three successful campaigns with the Guelph Biltmore Mad Hatters/Guelph Royals, the Rangers’ OHA farm team before the creation of the NHL Entry Draft.
After suffering and recovering from a back injury during the 1963-’64, Ratelle earned a permanent spot on the Blueshirts’ roster a season later – and he never looked back. In 54 games, he scored decent 14-21-35 totals, followed by even better 21-30-51 marks in 1965-’66.
Those are decent numbers, but nothing really worth retiring a sweater over.
That all changed during the 1967-’68 campaign. Entering the season with only 139 points in 259 games played for his career, 27-year-old Ratelle registered a whopping 32-46-78 performance, starting a run of six-consecutive 70+ point seasons and 13-consecutive 67+ point seasons.
During the 1970-’71 season, Ratelle finally had the opportunity to start his trophy case. After posting 26-46-72 marks, he was awarded the Masterton Trophy for his impressive production paired with taking only 14 penalty minutes. That is a theme that followed Ratelle throughout his career, as we’ll discuss in a moment.
That recognition apparently did a lot to motivate Ratelle, because his 1971-’72 season was by far his best season as a Ranger and in the NHL. In only 63 games, he posted a career-high 46 goals and 109 points. For those astute at math, you probably realized that Ratelle averaged 1.73 points per game, or seven points every four games.
By comparison, Tampa Bay Lightning RW Nikita Kucherov is averaging a league-leading 1.32 points per game this season.
Yeah, Ratelle was pretty darn good.
As would be expected, that effort earned a few more accolades, most notably his lone listing as a season-ending All-Star team – he was the second team’s center. Ratelle also brought home the Pearson Award (now known as the Lindsay Award) and his first Lady Byng Trophy.
Ratelle had one last 100-point season up his sleeve, but in a bizarre twist of fate it was in 1975-’76, the year he was traded to Boston with D Brad Park and D Joe Zanussi for C Phil Esposito and D Carol Vadnais. Ratelle departed the Big Apple having registered 5-10-15 totals through 13 games. Upon arriving in Beantown, he exploded for 31-59-90 marks (36-69-105 season totals). His success through the difficult circumstances paired with committing only 18 penalty minutes earned him his second Byng.
Speaking once again of the Byng Trophy, there is one award that alluded Ratelle throughout this 21-year NHL career: the Stanley Cup. Whether with New York or Boston, he qualified for the playoffs 15 consecutive times, advancing to the Finals thrice (1972, ’77-’78). However, all three times ended in disappointment.
But rings aren’t what makes a player great. His achievements on the ice indicated greatness, as did his ability to it while also being one of the game’s true gentlemen.
Tonight, the Rangers will honor Ratelle’s impact on the franchise and the game by officially retiring his 19 alongside their eight other previously retired sweater already hanging in Madison Square Garden.
He joins another another 19 already hanging in The World’s Most Famous Arena: that of Willis Reed Jr. of New York Knickerbocker lore. Reed led the Knicks to both of their two NBA championships (1970, ’73), earning the Finals MVP award both times.
There’s no doubt that the Rangers’ hoisting Ratelle’s sweater is an honor by the entire franchise, but can these 27-30-5 Blueshirts, who occupy last place in the Metropolitan Division, honor him with their play?
It doesn’t seem likely, given the fact that they’re riding a six-game losing skid.
There’s little good that can be said about New York’s effort lately, but the Rangers’ play in their defensive end has left much to be desired. Even with the play of F J.T. Miller and W Mats Zuccarello (both with a team-leading four takeaways since February 13), W Cody McLeod (4.4 hits per game in his last five showings), D Rob O’Gara (averaging two blocks per game since joining the Rangers), New York has allowed 35.33 shots against per game during this losing skid, the sixth-worst mark in the NHL in that time.
That’s put a lot of pressure on 23-21-4 G Henrik Lundqvist, and he just hasn’t been able to steal enough victories behind this team this season. In his last four starts, Lundqvist has managed an uncharacteristic .859 save percentage for a 4.77 GAA, pulling his season marks down to .914 and 2.89.
Put Lundqvist’s struggles with a porous defense, and you get a Rangers team that has allowed 4.33 goals per game since February 13 – far and away the worst mark in the league in that time.
Turning our attention to the 25-26-10 Red Wings, we find a team currently in fifth place in the Atlantic Division coming off a 1-2-1 home stand. Over that run, Detroit actually played some decent defense to earn its three points.
Led by the solid efforts of W Justin Abdelkader (3.8 hits per game since February 18) and D Danny DeKeyser (2.8 blocks per game during the home stand), the Wings have allowed only 30.5 shots to reach 17-19-7 G Jimmy Howard per game, and he’s reacted very well to the limited workload to post a cool .92 save percentage and 2.31 GAA. That strong play has improved Howard’s season marks to a .911 save percentage and 2.8 GAA.
Between the Wings’ defense and Howard’s effort, Detroit has allowed only 2.5 goals per game in its last four showings – the (t)10th-best effort since February 18.
Tonight’s game is the finale of the three-game season series between these clubs, and it’s an important one considering either side has earned three point against the other. New York won the first meeting at Madison Square Garden on Black Friday 2-1 in overtime (Zuccarello provided the game-winning goal only 37 seconds into overtime), but the Wings leveled the series December 29 by defending Little Caesars Arena to a 3-2 shootout victory (F Andreas Athanasiou took First Star honors for his eight-shot, one-goal performance).
If the Rangers need an example of how to play defense, they’ll get a decent one tonight. With that in mind, I think the Wings can pull off the road victory at MSG.
Thanks to Kirill Kaprizov’s game-winning goal to complete his four-point night, the Olympic Athletes from Russia’s men’s hockey team won the Olympic gold medal by beating Germany 4-3 at Gangneung Hockey Centre.
Germany almost escaped from the first period tied at 0-0, but Slava Voynov (Nikita Gusev and Kaprizov) ruined that opportunity with half a second remaining before the intermission. Voynov roofed a wrist shot over G Danny aus den Birken’s right shoulder to give the OAR the lead.
A misplayed puck got Germany right back into the game. Driving towards the goal line, Felix Fchutz (Brooks Macek and Patrick Hager) flipped a puck towards G Vasily Koschechkin with little more than a prayer of if finding the back of the net. However, Koshechkin let the puck bounce off his arm and fall into the crease, where it eventually rolled across the red line to level the game at 1-1 at the 9:32 mark of the frame.
Tied through the second intermission, the OAR reclaimed the lead with 6:39 remaining in regulation courtesy of a goal from Gusev (Kaprizov and Pavel Datsyuk), but that advantage lasted only 10 seconds before Dominik Kahun (Frank Mauer and Yasin Ehliz) tied the game once again at 2-2. Germany claimed its first (and only) lead of the championship game with 3:16 remaining in regulation when Jonas Muller (Ehliz and Frank Hordler) beat Koshechkin, but an uninformed dump by the Germans while they were on the power play led to Gusev (Artyom Zub and Kaprizov) scoring a shorthanded, but even-strength with Koshechkin off the ice for the extra attacker, goal.
Overtime lasted 9:40 before Kaprizov (Gusev and Voynov) took advantage of a Patrick Reimer high sticking penalty to score the medal-winning goal.
Koshechkin saved 22-of-25 shots faced (.88 save percentage) to earn the victory, leaving the overtime loss to aus den Birken, who saved a solid 26-of-30 (.867).
After that result in the DtFR Game of the Day, home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day now have a 21-point advantage over the roadies with their 73-46-18 record.