Tag Archives: Alex DeBrincat

Cassidy coaches Bruins to his 100th win with Boston in, 6-3, victory over Chicago

Jake DeBrusk had the defacto game-winning goal in the Boston Bruins, 6-3, victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night at TD Garden as David Krejci added a pair of goals and Danton Heinen notched three points in the win.

It was a rematch from January 1st’s 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium, in which Boston defeated Chicago, 4-2.

Brad Marchand (1-3–4 totals) became the first Bruins player to record four or more points in a regular season game against the Blackhawks since Jason Allison did so on Nov. 2, 2000 (2-2–4 totals).

Tuukka Rask (18-8-4 record, 2.38 goals against average, .920 save percentage in 31 games played) made 23 saves on 26 shots against for an .885 SV% in the win for Boston, while Collin Delia (6-3-3, 3.23 GAA, .920 SV% in 31 GP) stopped 31 out of 37 shots faced (.838 SV%) in the loss for Chicago.

Boston improves to 32-17-8 (72 points) and stayed put in 3rd place in the Atlantic Division, while the Blackhawks fell to 23-25-9 (55 points) and remain 7th (last) in the Central Division.

The Bruins also improved to 5-0-1 in the month of February while snapping Chicago’s seven-game winning streak.

Bruce Cassidy earned his 100th career victory behind the bench for Boston in the win.

He is the second-fastest B’s coach to reach the milestone, having done so in 166 games (Tom Johnson holds the franchise record for fastest to 100 wins in 138 games coached). Cassidy is 100-44-21 in his tenure with the Bruins since becoming the head coach on Feb. 7, 2017.

Adding to the impressive feat, Cassidy was originally drafted by the Blackhawks 18th overall in the 1983 NHL Draft.

David Pastrnak sustained a left thumb injury on Sunday night after attending a sponsorship dinner with several teammates. He underwent surgery and will be out at least two weeks.

As a result of Pastrnak’s injury, Krejci is the only player for Boston to suit up in every game this season.

Cassidy was left with minimal line changes to account for Pastrnak’s injury, placing DeBrusk alongside Peter Cehlarik and Krejci on the second line, while bringing back David Backes into the fold on the third line with Joakim Nordstrom and Trent Frederic.

Everything else was left the same, while Steven Kampfer (healthy scratch, AHL conditioning loan), Matt Grzelcyk (lower body) and Pastrnak (left thumb) were out of the lineup on Tuesday.

Alex DeBrincat (29) kicked things off with a floater from about the face-off circle in the attacking zone that Rask inadvertently redirected off his blocker and into the net behind him, giving Chicago the first lead of the night, 1-0.

Dominik Kahun (17) and Dylan Strome (23) recorded the assists on DeBrincat’s goal at 4:22 of the first period. With the goal, DeBrincat established a new career-high in goals and is on a nine-game point streak.

After Patrick Kane pushed Marchand into Delia, Marchand was assessed a two-minute minor penalty for goaltender interference at 7:12 of the opening period.

Zdeno Chara followed that up with a subtle roughing infraction against Kane at 8:23.

The Blackhawks had 49 seconds of a 5-on-3 power play opportunity, but could not convert on either skater advantage.

Midway through the first period, Brent Seabrook tripped up Chris Wagner at 13:43 and the Bruins went on the power play for the first time of the night.

A little over a minute into the ensuing power play, Krejci (13) unloaded a one-timer on a cross-ice pass from Patrice Bergeron past Delia to tie the game, 1-1, at 14:47.

Bergeron (32) and DeBrusk (6) tallied the assists on Krejci’s power play goal.

Just 49 seconds later, the Bruins were in command of their first lead of the night as Heinen (9) put home the rebound as the puck bounced off of Marchand on a pass from Bergeron to make it, 2-1, Boston at 15:36.

Marchand (45) and Chara (5) were credited with the primary and secondary assists, respectively.

Late in the first period, Marchand again got his name on the scoresheet as he one-timed his 22nd goal of the season past the Blackhawks goaltender.

Heinen (9) and Bergeron (33) notched the assists on the goal at 18:59 of the first period and the Bruins led, 3-1.

After one period, Boston led, 3-1, on the scoreboard and, 14-7, in shots on goal. The B’s also held the advantage in blocked shots (5-4), takeaways (5-2) and hits (7-6), while Chicago led in giveaways (7-3) and face-off win percentage (54-46).

The Blackhawks went 0/2 on the power play, while the Bruins were 1/1 entering the first intermission.

Erik Gustafsson tripped Krejci at 11:49 of the second period as both teams settled into a cool rhythm whereby the Bruins largely dominated possession and shots on goal, but neither team could muster one into the twine until late in the middle frame.

Connor Murphy cross-checked Heinen at 15:42 and Jonathan Toews high-sticked Bruins defender, Torey Krug, at 16:02, but Boston could not convert any of their three power play opportunities in the second period.

Shortly after Chicago killed Toews’ minor penalty, the B’s caught the Blackhawks in the vulnerable minute after a skater advantage with DeBrusk (15) tipping in a slap pass from Krejci at 18:06 of the middle frame to make it, 4-1, Boston.

Krejci (32) and Marchand (46) had the assists on DeBrusk’s first goal in 13 games.

Not to be outdone, Duncan Keith (3) unloaded a blast from the point in the final minute of the second period to make it a two-goal game.

Murphy (6) and Kahun (18) had the assists on Keith’s goal at 19:37 and the Bruins went into the second intermission leading the Blackhawks, 4-2.

After 40 minutes of play, Boston led in shots on goal, 28-13, including a, 14-6, advantage in the second period alone.

Chicago held the advantage in blocked shots (9-8) and giveaways (16-8) through two periods, while the B’s led in takeaways (9-6), hits (19-13) and face-off win% (60-40).

The Blackhawks were still 0/2 on the power play, while the Bruins were 1/4 on the skater advantage entering the third period.

Sean Kuraly got things going in the third period with a hooking penalty at 1:16 of the final frame of regulation, but the Blackhawks didn’t convert on their last power play chance of the night.

A couple minutes later, after Noel Acciari delivered a clean hit on Kane, John Hayden found Acciari and dropped the gloves. Despite the two exchanging fisticuffs, the scrap was only so brief and thus, only worthy of matching roughing minor penalties at 3:53 of the third period.

During the ensuing 4-on-4 action, Gustafsson (12) waltzed through the slot and sniped a wrist shot past Rask’s blocker side to make it a one-goal game.

Keith (21) and Kane (49) had the assists on Gustafsson’s goal as the Blackhawks trailed the Bruins, 4-3, at 4:48 of the third period.

With his assist on the goal, Kane matched the longest assist streak in Blackhawks franchise history, which was set by the late Stan Mikita from Nov. 26th to Dec. 25, 1967 (14 games played in that duration).

Strome slashed Kevan Miller at 5:42 and the Bruins went on the power play for the fifth time Tuesday night.

Late in the ensuing skater advantage, Cehlarik (4) received a pass from Heinen and fired a one-timer into a mostly empty net as Delia was caught behind the play.

Boston led, 5-3, thanks to Cehlarik’s goal at 7:18 of the third period. Heinen (10) and Krug (35) had the assists on the power play goal.

Finally, late in the third period, Krejci (14) notched his second goal of the game at 15:42, with Marchand (47) and DeBrusk (7) picking up the tab on the assists.

The Bruins led, 6-3, and by the time the final horn signaled the end of the game, they had secured the win in their third straight home game.

Boston finished the night leading in shots on goal, 37-26, despite being outshot, 13-9, in the third period alone. The B’s also led in his (26-18) and face-off win% (56-44), while Chicago finished the game ahead in blocked shots (12-11) and giveaways (22-10).

The B’s went 2/5 on the power play Tuesday night and the Blackhawks went 0/3.

The Bruins begin a two-week road trip starting in Anaheim against the Ducks on Friday before visiting the Los Angeles Kings (on Sat.), San Jose Sharks (Feb.18th), Vegas Golden Knights (Feb. 20th) and St. Louis Blues (Feb. 23rd).

Boston’s next home game this month is Feb. 26th against the Sharks.


DTFR Podcast #135- Welcome to Seattle

This week’s episode is chock full of coffee infused, Seattle inspired, artisanal Seattle expansion discussion in addition to William Nylander’s new deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Plus, waivers and trades are rampant this time of year, Tom Wilson: The Bad and the Bad Things That Happened This Week, Chuck Fletcher was hired as General Manager of the Philadelphia Flyers and a 15-year first round draft pick look back of the Los Angeles Kings.

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DTFR Podcast #134- Slinging First Round Picks

The Board of Governors meeting gets underway next week involving the Seattle expansion vote, Bill Peters took a puck to the jaw and Rick Middleton and Vic Hadfield are having their numbers retired this week.

The Chicago Blackhawks and Arizona Coyotes made another trade with each other, Karl Alzner is being Wade Redden’ed, Ron Hextall got ousted as the Philadelphia Flyers GM, the Buffalo Sabres win streak reached double digits and the Winnipeg Jets brought back their Heritage Jerseys.

Nick and Connor also encourage all of Long Island to go to the New York Islanders game at NYCB Live (it’s the Nassau Coliseum) this week and quickly plan a hopeful trip to see Sporting KC play in Atlanta.

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

DTFR Podcast #131- Hockey Plague

Pekka Rinne signed a two-year extension, John Stevens and Joel Quenneville were fired, Willie Desjardin’s back and there’s a new guy in Chicago (Jeremy Colliton), Philadelphia Flyers goaltending is in the news again, people in Ottawa are fired up about Uber, Lou Lamoriello reached 2,400 games as a GM as the New York Islanders lead the Metropolitan Division and is Halloween the new Thanksgiving? Nick and Connor discuss.

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Chicago Blackhawks 2018-19 Season Preview

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Chicago Blackhawks

33-39-10, 76 points, 7th (last) in the Central Division

Additions: D Andrew Campbell (acquired from ARI), F MacKenzie Entwistle (acquired from ARI), F Chris Kunitz, F Marcus Kruger (acquired from ARI), F Jordan Maletta (acquired from ARI), D Brandon Manning, G Cam Ward

Subtractions: F Lance Bouma (signed, Switzerland), F Michael Chaput (acquired from VAN, not tendered a qualifying offer and signed with MTL), D Adam Clendening (signed with CBJ), F Christopher DiDomenico (signed, Switzerland), F Anthony Duclair (signed with CBJ), G Jeff Glass (signed to a PTO with CGY), F Vinnie Hinostroza (traded to ARI), F Marian Hossa (contract traded to ARI), F Tanner Kero (traded to VAN), D Jordan Oesterle (traded to ARI), F Patrick Sharp (retired)

Still Unsigned: D Cody Franson, F Tomas Jurco, D Michal Rozsival, D Viktor Svedberg, F Jordin Tootoo

Re-signed: None

Offseason Analysis: It was bound to happen. The shine was going to wear off. All good things must come to an end. All things must pass.

Throw whatever cliché you want at it, but the Chicago Blackhawks tumbled in 2017-18. The 2010, 2013 and 2015 Stanley Cup champions missed the playoffs for the first time in the Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane era– and they missed it by a lot.

Granted, injuries ravaged the lineup from the crease to one of the game’s most prolific Slovakian scorers.

Marian Hossa’s contract was traded this offseason as part of a seven-player deal with the Arizona Coyotes. His last NHL game came in 2016-17 and he’ll be sidelined for the remainder of his contract due to a skin disease.

Corey Crawford, Chicago’s starting netminder for the 2013 and 2015 Cup runs, sustained multiple injuries during the 2017-18 regular season, leaving him on injured reserve since about a year ago now.

His upper body injury– while not officially disclosed– has kept him sidelined with General Manager Stan Bowman and the Blackhawks hoping he’ll be ready to go for training camp. Crawford doesn’t sound as optimistic.

The fact that Cam Ward is likely going to be Chicago’s starting goaltender for however long it takes for Crawford to return is cause for concern.

Tight against the cap through their Cup runs, the Blackhawks decimated their roster in the “non-essential” roles to keep their Cup winning core together.

There’s just one problem. Those “non-essential” roles have become exposed holes.

Duncan Keith, 33, and Brent Seabrook, 35, aren’t getting any younger with no clear-cut future top-pair defender to be found on the depth chart. Toews (a minus-1 in 74 games last season) all but disappeared from his prominent star-status as the ‘Hawks went from scoring more goals than they allowed to a minus-27 goal differential in 2017-18– their worst goal differential in the Kane and Toews era.

And Crawford is hurt.

No amount of Scott Foster can salvage the wreckage of time that takes a toll on Cup contending competitors.

Alex DeBrincat remains a bright spot, while Kane remains a face of the organization–  but all expectations should be set on resetting. Expendable assets should be moved before the true foundation of a rebuild sets in.

One chapter closes, but the next one begins.

In the meantime, Marcus Kruger is back (does playing for the Blackhawks count as starring in a soap opera where the characters never die and come back from time to time?), Chris Kunitz was brought in as the new Patrick Sharp (Sharp retired, Kunitz fills a roster spot for the time being) and MacKenzie Entwistle is totally a real person that was involved in the Hossa trade and not a made-up player from a video game.

Offseason Grade: C-

There’s not much to sell, but pieces will once again be worth selling at the trade deadline. Unlike the Vancouver Canucks, the Blackhawks are just starting to enter a rebuild, so there’s a little leniency towards filling roster holes with grizzled veterans (even if they do have four Cup rings to back them up). Also because Chicago did the smart thing and only signed Kunitz to a one-year deal– no more, no less.

DTFR Podcast #122- 2018-19 Central Division Season Preview

It’s the DTFR Podcast’s official season preview for all things Central Division in 2018-19 as Nick and Connor embark on season five of the show…

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

Down the Frozen River Podcast #98- Do Or Donato, There Is No Try

Nick and Connor rambled about the remaining weeks of the regular season, who will finish last in the NHL, if Boston can catch Tampa, Columbus’s hot streak and more. They also previewed and predicted eight of the NHL’s annual awards. Anze Kopitar has 86 points on the season– get it right, Nick.

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January 10 – Day 95 – There’s no place like home

There’s only two games on the schedule today, but for once I’m not complaining about either failing to live up to NBC’s promotion of “Wednesday Night Rivalry.”

The action starts in Toronto when Ottawa pays the Maple Leafs a visit at 7:30 p.m. (SN/TVAS) and Minnesota at Chicago (NBCSN) cleans up the evening’s festivities half an hour later. All times Eastern.

Teams on the bye: Anaheim, Arizona, Boston, Colorado, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Montréal, Nashville, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Jose, St. Louis and Vegas.

Is there any question of which game we’re featuring tonight? The winner of the Wild-Blackhawks game will be the eighth seed in the Western Conference! It’s off to the Windy City with us!

 

Tonight’s tilt is Game 4 in a five-game series between these clubs. Chicago owns a 2-1-0 record against the Wild so far this season, and another win tonight would clinch the season series – an important note considering it is the second tiebreaker at the end of the season and both of these clubs are currently competing for the last wild card.

Obviously, the 23-17-4 Wild, who currently sit in 10th place in the Western Conference due to losing a games-played tiebreaker with both Chicago and Calgary, will have high hopes of leveling the series this evening. But do they have much of a chance of pulling it off?

I’m worried for them the answer is no. Minnesota has lost five of its last six road games (including one at United Center less than a month ago), including an active skid of four-straight. That run since December 17 makes the Wild the fourth-worst road team in the league, and it’s all because their defense simply doesn’t travel well.

Given, it’s not like Minnesota’s defense is all that spectacular in and of itself. The Wild allow 2.91 goals against per game for the season as a whole, the 14th-worst mark in the league.

However, in their six road games since December 17, the Wild have allowed a league-worst 25 goals against, or a second-worst 4.17 per game (the Wild would like to take this opportunity to thank the Islanders for allowing 16 goals in only three road games).

A major problem is Minnesota, even with LW Marcus Foligno throwing three hits per game, D Jared Spurgeon blocking 2.67 shots per game and W Jason Zucker averaging a takeaway-per-game, has allowed an average of 35 shots in each contest away from Xcel Energy Center since mid-December, a mark that is sixth-worst in the NHL in that time.

While Foligno’s, Spurgeon’s and Zucker’s efforts are impressive on their own, it seems to me to be a lack of commitment by the rest of the team on the defensive end – especially in terms of physicality. Foligno has not been afraid to rough up the opposition along the boards, but Matt Dumba has averaged the second-most hits-per-game during this section of games with only 1.67 to his credit. While physicality is only one aspect of playing defense, it seems to be lacking from Head Coach Bruce Boudreau‘s squad.

The icing… err, frosting, since icing is a penalty… on the cake though is the fact that the Wild’s defense has allowed all these shots of late against 7-8-2 G Alex Stalock. Most of this run came while 15-9-2 G Devan Dubnyk was recovering from his lower-body injury. Given how much he was getting peppered while filling in, I’d say Stalock did pretty well in his five most recent road starts. He posted a .914 save percentage and 2.93 GAA.

Dubnyk will be in goal tonight in only his second road game since returning to action. His first was that drubbing at the hands of the Avalanche where, due in large part to posing a .813 save percentage and 7.61 GAA, he lost his cool and tried to smash F Alexander Kerfoot‘s face into the ice. Perhaps the former Masterton Trophy-winner can keep his cool tonight, because his team desperately needs him to cover up for its defensive inefficiencies.

If last night’s 8-2 performance in Ottawa is any indication, it seems the 21-15-6 Blackhawks are starting to figure things out. Having won four of their past six games and earned a point in one of those losses, Chicago has surged into the second wild card and has pulled within three points of first wild card Dallas.

Since December 29, no offense has scored more goals than Chicago. The Hawks have managed an impressive 28 goals in six games, which averages into a second-best 4.67 per game behind Boston’s unbelievable 5.5 (for those that care, three of the top-five teams in goals-per-game since December 29 are in the Central Division).

While the usual suspects of C Jonathan Toews and F Patrick Kane have been impressive over this run, posting respective 5-4-9 and 3-6-9 totals, the Blackhawk that truly takes the cake is sophomore C Nick Schmaltz, who’s currently riding a four-game goal streak. He’s done it all for the Hawks lately, posting 5-5-10 totals to elevate his season marks to 12-19-31. Having already surpassed last year’s numbers, Schmaltz is poised to join the ranks of recent dominant Chicago forwards. How does one club get W Alex DeBrincat, Kane, LW Artemi Panarin (well, last season), Schmaltz and Toews all on the same team?

Just like Minnesota saved its top goaltender for the Hawks, 2-1-1 G Jeff Glass will probably be in net tonight for Chicago after 3-5-3 G Anton Forsberg played yesterday against the Sens. Playing his rookie season at 32-years-old, Glass has posted a .908 save percentage and 3.51 GAA in his first four NHL starts.

The United Center hasn’t been the imposing threat to road teams as it was only a year or two ago, but with an 11-6-2 record at home this season, I think the Blackhawks can find a way to pull this one out.


Though the Carolina Hurricanes gave them all they had, First Star of the Game F Tyler Johnson and the Tampa Bay Lightning was able to win yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day 5-4 at Amalie Arena.

Johnson was an unstoppable force throughout the entire game, as he registered a goal in each frame. However, before he struck his tally for the first period, three others found the net. First was LW Brock McGinn (RW Justin Williams and D Jaccob Slavin), who gave Carolina the advantage 3:23 into play with a power play wrist shot. Tampa pulled the game back even 6:39 later courtesy of a wrister from D Victor Hedman (RW Nikita Kucherov and C Steven Stamkos). The exchange of goals continued with 7:50 remaining in the period when W Sebastian Aho bagged an unassisted wrister, but Johnson (D Anton Stralman and Second Star F Brayden Point) set the score at 2-2 on a tip-in 4:16 later.

In terms of playing time, Johnson didn’t have to wait too long to find his second goal of the night. Only 1:58 into the second period, he (Third Star D Jake Dotchin and Point) gave Tampa its first lead of the night with a backhanded shot. However, Carolina continued to show its resilience when D Justin Faulk (F Teuvo Teravainen and F Jordan Staal) scored a power play wrister 8:38 later, leveling the game at three-all.

The 3-3 tie held for a considerable time, even though both clubs combined to fire 26 shots in the second period. However, the draw was finally broken when Dotchin (Point and W Ondrej Palat) tickled the twine with a snap shot. 5:27 later, the Bolts went up what proved to be an insurmountable two goals when Johnson (Hedman) completed the hat trick with a wrister.

Johnson’s final goal was simply a pure spectacle of his superior speed to that of D Noah Hanifin. Hedman dumped the puck towards center ice from his defensive zone to enact a line change, but Johnson decided to race Hanifin to ensure there was no chance for icing. Once he realized he could take possession, Johnson squeezed past the defenseman, upending him in the process, to set up a one-on-one battle with G Cam Ward. The netminder fended off the first backhander from within his crease, but he couldn’t stop an immediate second try by Johnson: a wrister over his left blocker.

That’s not to say the Canes gave up on the remaining five minutes of regulation. In fact, the exact opposite is true, as F Elias Lindholm (Faulk and Teravainen) pulled Carolina back within a one-goal deficit with 1:18 remaining in the frame, but even with six attackers the Hurricanes couldn’t find a leveling marker.

G Andrei Vasilevskiy saved 28-of-32 shots faced (.875 save percentage) to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Ward, who saved 29-of-34 (.853).

It’s no surprise, but the 52-29-12 home teams are absolutely dominating the DtFR Game of the Day series. The hosts’ record in the series is 26 points better the roadies’, the same advantage Tampa Bay has on the Oilers for the Presidents’ Trophy.

DtFR Overtime: Where’s the Star Power?

Welcome to DtFR Overtime, where somebody on the most recent podcast offers some deeper thoughts on one of the points of discussion.

Today’s subject: Star power and the absence of it.

We all know the list of current NHL stars: LW Jamie Benn, D Brent Burns, C Sidney Crosby, G Braden Holtby, F Patrick Kane, D Erik Karlsson, G Henrik Lundqvist, C Auston Matthews, C Connor McDavid, W Alex Ovechkin, G Carey Price, G Jonathan Quick, C Steven Stamkos, D P.K. Subban, RW Vladimir Tarasenko, C John Tavares

OK, I think you get the idea.

But how important are these stars really? I mean, of the skaters listed above, they play an average of only 21 minutes – or barely over a third of a game.

While the top NHL teams put a strong value on depth scoring, I would argue that, over the course of a season, it is necessary for Team X’s star to be the best player on the ice for that team to have success.

It sounds basic, right?

It is, but even the clubs that seem to be built to withstand the unfortunately inevitable scoring droughts from its top players are struggling this season.

My first example is the 12-11-5 Chicago Blackhawks, a club that currently sits in 12th place in the Western Conference and is at risk of missing the postsesaon for the first time since the 2007-’08 campaign.

I brought up Kane in the list of stars earlier, but his team-leading 10-17-27 totals are not the reason Chicago finds itself on the outside looking in. Instead, this star-laden team is struggling to find leadership from its captain.

Getting outplayed by rookie F Alex DeBrincat‘s 11-9-20 effort, C Jonathan Toews has only 8-11-19 totals to his credit and is on track for the worst offensive production of his professional career. Perhaps it is no surprise that the Blackhawks have an 11-2-2 record when Toews finds his way onto the scorecard, but a 1-9-3 record when he doesn’t.

That was fun, especially for a fan of a Central Division team that hasn’t worn a lick of red since the 1997-’98 season. Let’s head east and examine another city where it looks like the local club is in an even more dire situation

Welcome to Ottawa, the national capital of Canada.  Expectations were high after forcing a seven-game Eastern Conference Finals series with Pittsburgh back in May, but all the 9-11-6 Sens, who currently sit third-to-last in the conference, have done this season is disappoint.

To be fair, Karlsson at least has the excuse of an injury to partially explain his slump. The hard part in figuring out Karlsson’s 1-16-17 effort is that he’s mostly on track from a points-per-game standpoint. Given he missed the Sens’ first five games, his .81 points-per-game is, while not exemplary by his standards, still a solid output.

Unfortunately, this is where points can distract from goals. You probably noticed he only had one tally to his credit, which is where I think his team needs him most.

The 14-10-2 Sharks are facing a similar situation with their star defenseman Burns, who has managed only 1-11-12 totals in 26 games a year after posting 29-47-76 numbers to win the Norris Trophy. As such, San Jose does not have the solid footing in the standings it would like, as the Sharks are holding onto their second wild card position by winning only a games-played tiebreaker.

Now, I’m not going to sit here on my couch and pontificate about how to score a goal in the NHL against the 30-something best goaltenders in the world. I mean, I live in the South and can barely keep my skates underneath me the entire time I’m at the rink. But, I am going to say that Karlsson’s .05 goals-per-game for the season and Burns’ .04 is – you guessed it – the worst performances of their careers.

Last year, Karlsson scored 17 of the Sens’ 212 regular season goals. That may only be eight percent of the total, but Ottawa earned a 12-3-3 record when he personally put a goal on the scoreboard, including a perfect 2-0-0 record in the postseason. Similarly, Burns’ career-high 29 goals earned the Sharks an 18-7-1 record last season, though it might be of bigger note that Edmonton did not allow him to find the back of the net in their six-game first round matchup, the Sharks’ only playoff series of the 2017 postseason.

Now, don’t read this as all doom-and-gloom for these respective squads. All of these teams can get right back into the playoff discussion (yes, even Ottawa thanks to a weak Atlantic Division) or better cement their position in the tournament if their biggest players can simply rediscover their mojo.

Take for example Montréal, where as recently as two weeks ago it looked like the 13-13-3 Canadiens had never seen, much less used hockey sticks before. Then Price came back from his lower-body injury, and the Habs look better than ever.

Of course, things weren’t exactly peachy in Québec before Price took time off. In his 11 appearances before retreating to the press box, Price had managed only an .877 season save percentage and 3.77 GAA to earn a 3-7-1 record, forcing Habs fans and bloggers alike to wonder when exactly this injury occurred.

But since Price’s return on November 25, Price and the Habs have been almost unbeatable, as they’ve won five of their last six games with him in net. The goaltender himself has been extremely successful as well, as he’s posted a .94 save percentage and 1.67 GAA in that time.

But the turnaround hasn’t been simply in the defensive end. Even the offense is gelling now that its true leader is back (Sorry LW Max Pacioretty, but this is Price’s team. You’re captain by technicality), as success breeds success and positive energy. Since Price’s return, Montréal’s offense has managed a whopping 4.5 goals-per-game, highlighted by Saturday’s 10-1 shellacking of the Red Wings. Even taking out that major outlier, the Habs’ 3.4 goals-per-game is much better than the 2.32 goals-per-game they’d managed before Price’s return. This surge has propelled the Canadiens from sixth place in the Atlantic Division into third – a playoff spot.

Since we’re on the topic of Montréal and its stars and I already brought up Pacioretty, we might as well discuss my concerns over this team. Pacioretty is struggling something fierce right now. He’s only managed 8-8-16 totals so far this season, and is on pace for his worst professional season since his first two years with the Habs.

Unfortunately for Canadiens fans, this scoring skid is not limited to just this season. I don’t need to remind them of the magic disappearing act he performed in the playoffs against the Rangers, managing only a lone assist. In fact, since March 14 of last campaign, he’s managed only 10-14-24 totals in games that count (aka everything but the preseason).

While I belittled the letter Pacioretty wears on his sweater, he is still one of the leaders on this team. For the Habs to sustain this recent success, Pacioretty is going to need to snap out of his slump – even if it means he has to become a play-maker before resuming a goalscorer role.

Another team that has had more struggles than it would like is the two-time reigning Stanley Cup champions. While they’ve had trouble finding depth scoring and are now facing even bigger goaltending issues than they had before, the 15-11-3 Penguins have held onto a playoff position for most of the year.

Now, the operative word here is ‘most.’ There was a point in late November when the Penguins had fallen outside the playoff picture, and – as you might guess from the other examples – I would pin a lot of the club’s struggles on Crosby.

It is very hard to point at a player that is contributing a point-per-game on the season and say he is not doing enough for his team. After all, isn’t this the same team that supposedly embodies the speed-based future of the sport while also trotting out RW Ryan Reaves onto the ice every game? Why can’t his lousy 1-2-3 totals be the problem?

And yet, it’s hard to ignore that Pittsburgh’s slump aligned almost perfectly with Crosby’s goal-scoring slump. Between October 21 and November 22, Crosby managed only 1-6-7 totals in 15 games, which led the Penguins to earning only a 6-7-2 record in that time.

You might say that 6-7-2 isn’t a terrible run while one of the league’s top players is on the schneid, and I’d agree if that team wasn’t in the highly competitive Metropolitan Division. The Penguins also have the luxury of employing RW Phil Kessel and F Evgeni Malkin, who were able to keep the team mostly afloat with their combined 10-18-28 effort.

If that stat does nothing other than stress the importance of Crosby to his team, I don’t know what does. The fact that the Penguins were losing, or at least treading water, while two players created nearly 30 goals in 15 games is unbelievable.

Anyways, Crosby has rediscovered his scoring ways since then, and the Pens are all the better for it. Starting with November 24, the captain has earned 6-6-12 totals that are closer to what fans expect from him. As such, the Penguins have found their way back into the win column, earning a 4-2-0 record in spite of G Matthew Murray missing Pittsburgh’s last three games with a lower-body injury.

Of course, the Penguins are doing a great job of poking a hole in my argument by falling from third in the division back into the second wild card spot while Murray is healing, but I’m still going to hold firm that G Tristan Jarry has earned a 3-1-0 record filling in not because of his solid .926 season save percentage (though that doesn’t hurt), but because Crosby has scored a goal in every game but – you guessed it – Jarry’s one regulation loss.

Confidence – which I am led to believe is the word people are actually looking for when they discuss momentum in sports (I mean, “momentum” is technically mass x velocity, so the momentum of a sports team cannot change without either a plane or a player transaction) – is like hitting in baseball: it’s a contagious thing.

Star players are not star players simply because they can score or stop goals no one else can. Stars are stars because they can make those plays and make the athletes associated with them feel like they too can contribute to the ultimate goal and find wins and success.

Stars are leaders.

And that’s why stars have to perform their best. That’s why they have to have the best numbers on their team. It’s not to belittle the third and fourth liners, but it’s their success that should drive a team to achieve more.

Success breeds success.

In that same train of thought, leaders can’t create success from the rest of their team while they themselves are struggling to find their groove. Stars are stars because they find that motivation to excel within themselves, and then use that flame to light the others’ torches.

You might have noticed the thread that connects all of the players called out in this column: Toews, Karlsson, Burns, Pacioretty and Crosby are all captains. These players have been selected by their coaches and peers based not only on their undoubted skills, but also on their work-ethic and leadership abilities. They were honored with that distinction, so it is time for them to step up and serve the letter and crest on the front of their sweaters and get/keep their squads on track.

These teams are capable of winning; it just takes a little input from a star.

December 2 – Day 59 – My exes used to live in Texas

Welcome to another Saturday in the NHL. With everybody else watching the college football conference championships, that leaves more hockey for you and me.

Oh, that’s not how television works?

While I get that figured out, the first Saturday of December brings with it a big bag of presents from the NHL, as there’s a dozen games on today’s schedule. The action starts at 1 p.m. with Boston at Philadelphia (SN), followed by the only other matinee of the day: St. Louis at Minnesota at 6 p.m. The usual 7 p.m. starting time is chock-full of action with six games (Toronto at Vancouver [CBC/CITY], Detroit at Montréal [SN/TVAS], San Jose at Tampa Bay, Buffalo at Pittsburgh [NHLN], Columbus at Washington and Florida at Carolina) slated to drop the puck, with two more (New Jersey at Arizona and Anaheim at Nashville) in tow an hour later. 9 p.m. marks the start of Chicago at Dallas, while tonight’s nightcap – Edmonton at Calgary – will get underway 60 minutes after. All times Eastern.

What a collection of games! All but two matchups are between teams separated by eight points or less in the standings. As for our Game of the Day, I had a few picked out at the start of season…

  • Boston at Philadelphia: Ever since the Flyers beat the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals to become the first expansion team to win a title, these clubs have not gotten along.
  • St. Louis at Minnesota: Speaking of playoff rematches, this one was far more recent – as in, last year’s Western Conference Quarterfinals, recent.
  • Detroit at Montréal: To keep the Stanley Cup theme going, no clubs have hoisted the trophy more than these two Original Six teams.
  • Anaheim at Nashville: The Ducks and Predators squared off in a gritty, nasty seven-game series for the right to represent the Western Conference in last year’s Stanley Cup Finals.
  • Chicago at Dallas: F Patrick Sharp‘s two tenures with the Blackhawks was divided by two seasons spent with the Stars. Tonight marks his first trip back to Texas since moving back to the Windy City.
  • Edmonton at Calgary: In this rivalry, the teams don’t only represent only themselves, but also a stark feud between two Albertan cities.

Let me say it again for everybody in the back: What. A slate. Of games.

This is a tough pick today, because I don’t like featuring the same teams all the time (*cough* take a hint NBC and NHL *cough*). That being said, the contest that attracts my attention the most is taking place in the Lone Star State.

 

For those concerned, I’m not drawn to this game simply because of the Sharp story, though I suppose it is one worth noting.

After being a third-round pick by Philadelphia in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, Sharp was traded to the Blackhawks during the 2005-’06. He would proceed to play 10 seasons in Chicago, scoring 511 points – including 239 goals – over 679 games en route to three Stanley Cup championships.

As seems to be the case following many championship seasons nowadays, Chicago faced some serious salary cap issues after the 2014-’15 season, which led to Sharp and D Stephen Johns getting shipped to Dallas in exchange for D Trevor Daley and C Ryan Garbutt.

Sharp spent the last two seasons with the Stars, but they only really got one good season out of him. During the 2015-’16 campaign, the forward provided 20-35-55 totals to help get Dallas back to the playoffs for only the second time since the 2007-’08 season when the Stars were Western Conference finalists.

Unfortunately, Sharp’s second season with the club was nowhere near as good as his first. Limited to a measly 48 games, he provided Dallas only 18 points and a -22 rating as the Stars failed to earn a postseason berth. Though I’m not going to argue that Sharp is the reason the Stars struggled last year (*cough* G Kari Lehtonen and G Antti Niemi *cough*), he was not renewed for this season, allowing him to return to his beloved Blackhawks on a one-year contract.

So far, Sharp has been rather uninspiring from Chicago’s third line, as he’s managed only 3-4-7 totals playing alongside young studs F Alex DeBrincat (11-8-19) and F Ryan Hartman (4-9-13). Considering he’ll turn 36-years-old before you hang up your 2018 calendar, his recent bodies of work might force him to consider the dreaded “R” word once this campaign is through.

In the meantime, he’ll try to help his 12-9-4 Hawks get back into the Western Conference playoff picture.

Figuring out why Chicago is on the outside looking in is a difficult task. After all, they back up a ninth-ranked offense (3.16 goals-per-game) with an even better defense (2.68 goals against-per-game) that’s ranked fifth-best in the NHL.

One of my biggest complaints with the Blackhawks is their incredibly unsuccessful power play. Converting only 17.1 percent of their man-advantage opportunities, the Hawks are tied with San Jose for the eighth-worst extra-man attack in the NHL.

This struggle has led Head Coach Joel Quenneville to try some crazy units to resolve his club’s problem. As of Friday’s practice, DeBrincat, D Gustav Forsling, D Duncan Keith, RW Richard Panik and C Jonathan Toews made up Chicago’s top power play team, with F Artem Anisimov, D Cody Franson, F Patrick Kane, W Brandon Saad and F Nick Schmaltz taking second-team duties.

Let’s see, what’s weird about Chicago’s first unit? Oh, maybe that there’s a rookie earning solid power play minutes alongside two defensemen… or maybe that Kane isn’t on the unit…

Like I said, crazy things.

One thing I really like about putting Anisimov, Kane and Schmaltz on the same unit is that it puts Kane in what I’m considering the “joker” position. Take into account that all seven of Anisimov’s power play points are goals (the most on the team), while all five of Schmaltz’ are assists – that makes them a logical pair.

Meanwhile, Showtime has earned a team-leading nine points this season with the man-advantage, but only two of them have been goals. Of course, with 295 career regular season goals to his name, Kane is far from a “pass first” player. Putting Kane with Anisimov and Schmaltz, he’s able to take on the role of goal-scorer or join Schmaltz as another play-maker.

If I’m an opposing goaltender, in this case G Ben Bishop, that versatility is a very scary threat.

Meanwhile, things seem like they’re going 14-10-1 Dallas’ way. They’re currently riding a three-game winning streak, including a 4-3 overtime victory over these Blackhawks Thursday night (more on that later).

We came into the season celebrating what the Stars’ offense could be capable of with LW Jamie Benn, RW Alexander Radulov and F Tyler Seguin combining to form an ultimate super-line. Instead, the story of late has been Dallas’ defense, which has allowed only seven goals since November 24, the (t)second-fewest in that time span.

12-7-0 Bishop has been solid over this run – he’s managed a .925 save percentage in these last three games – but I’ve been much more impressed with the defensive corps playing in front of him.

Behind the unexpected leadership of D Greg Pateryn – who’s thrown eight hits and blocked seven shots during this run – from the second defensive pair, Dallas’ D- corps has allowed only 94 shots to reach Bishop in the past week, the third-fewest in the NHL.

What makes this game especially fun – you know, beyond the Blackhawks trying to get past Dallas for fourth place in the Central Division – is that it’s a rematch of Thursday’s matchup. In that game, F Mattias Janmark scored two goals – including the game-winner – to earn the Stars a 4-3 overtime victory against the Hawks at the United Center. Something tells me Chicago would like to return the favor of sending the home fans at the American Airlines Center away unhappy.

That being said, I’m leaning towards the Stars taking this contest with their excellent defense.


The Los Angeles Kings showed no mercy in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they beat the St. Louis Blues 4-1 at Scottrade Center.

In fact, the Kings were so on top of their game that they registered their game-winning goal before a full seven minutes had ticked off the clock. First Star of the Game F Tyler Toffoli (C Nick Shore and LW Tanner Pearson) opened the scoring with a wrist shot 1:43 after the opening puck drop, followed 4:29 later by Third Star C Anze Kopitar‘s (F Alex Iafallo and D Jake Muzzin) fourth game-clincher of the year.

The play that led to Kopitar’s goal stretched the entire length of the rink. Muzzin started with the puck in his own defensive zone and fed a quick pass to Kopitar at the red line. Once he established the offensive zone, Kopitar dished to Iafallo along the right boards, who fired a snap shot towards G Carter Hutton. Hutts made the save with his pads, but the rebound bounced right to the Slovenian, who deftly pocketed his wrister in the back of the net.

St. Louis finally got on its shiny new scoreboard with 4:43 remaining in the second period courtesy of a power play deflection from F Patrik Berglund (D Colton Parayko and D Vince Dunn), his first goal of the season. Unfortunately for the Notes, that positive momentum was erased 3:39 later when F Adrian Kempe (D Alec Martinez and D Drew Doughty) set the score at 3-1 going into the second intermission.

Only one goal was struck in the third period, but it was enough to signal defeat to the home fans. Toffoli (Pearson and Muzzin) scored his second goal of the game with a deflection 9:06 before the end of regulation, setting the 4-1 final score.

Second Star G Darcy Kuemper earned the victory after saving 39-of-40 shots faced (.975 save percentage), leaving the loss to Hutton, who saved 18-of-21 (.857) before being pulled in favor of G Jake Allen for the third period. Allen saved six-of-seven (857) for no decision.

Los Angeles’ road victory snaps a six-game winning streak by home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, but the visitors still trail the 33-20-6 hosts by 15 points.