Tag Archives: Alex Pietrangelo

St. Louis Blues 2017-’18 Season Preview

St. Louis Blues

46-29-7, 99 points, third in the Central Division

Eliminated in the Second Round by Nashville

Additions: W Beau Bennett, D Nate Prosser, F Brayden Schenn, C Oskar Sundqvist, W Chris Thorburn

Subtractions: LW Kenny Agostino (signed with BOS), C Jori Lehtera (traded to PHI), W David Perron (drafted by VGK), RW Ty Rattie (signed with EDM), RW Ryan Reaves (traded to PIT), W Nail Yakupov (signed with COL)

Offseason Analysis: The Blues’ biggest struggle last season was finding offensive production from someone not named Vladimir Tarasenko, the right wing that led his team with 75 points – 20 more than second-best F Jaden Schwartz.

Enter Flyer-turned-Note Schenn.

The fifth-overall pick in the 2009 Entry Draft has improved almost every season of his career. Starting with his rookie campaign in 2011-’12, Schenn has averaged .58 points-per-game, including .72 points-per-game for the past two seasons even though he played for the ninth-worst offense in the NHL during that time.

For those wanting more moves, you’ll have your wish next offseason when eight NHL contracts will expire. Until then, St. Louis is putting almost the exact same product on the ice as it did at last season’s end. Since that’s the case, the Blues’ goal of a seventh-straight playoff appearance will require a return to form from a few offensive pieces that had down years last season – particularly C Paul Stastny (18-22-40 totals), who has yet to match his career .8 points-per-game in a Blues sweater.

Of course, the main reason Stastny struggled to post numbers similar to his 10-39-49 totals from 2015-’16 was a lower-body injury suffered in March that forced him out of action for the last 10 games of the regular season and most of the Minnesota series. And he wasn’t the only one to face extended time off the ice, as a February ACL injury landed F Robby Fabbri on injured reserve. It was a disappointing halt to an excellent season for Fabbri, who had posted 11-18-29 totals in 51 games before going down.

Of course, it is these injuries that provided 21-year-old Ivan Barbashev his opportunity to explode onto the scene. In only 30 games, Barbashev was able to notch 12 points and helped the Blues close the season on a 12-2-2 run. It seems a safe assumption that he’s earned his way onto the Blues’ starting roster – at least until December when Patrik Berglund should return from his shoulder surgery.

Another task facing the Blues is identifying their new two-way defenseman, a role Kevin Shattenkirk filled for the past seven seasons. In the 20 regular season games following Shattenkirk’s trade to Washington, Captain Alex Pietrangelo more than stepped into that role by notching 5-13-18 totals for .9 points-per-game, far superior to the .5 points-per-game rate he managed in his opening 60 games.

With four assists in 11 playoff contests, Pietrangelo didn’t necessarily disappear from the scoresheet during the postseason, but his offensive contributions from the blue line were dwarfed by those of Joel Edmundson (3-3-6 totals) and Colton Parayko (2-3-5 totals). Drafted in 2012, 24-year-old Parayko has long been tapped as Shattenkirk’s replacement – especially given that he’s posted two consecutive 33+ point NHL seasons – but the Blues are cautiously hoping last April was Edmundson’s (another 24-year-old) coming-out party.

Will that dream pan out? Probably not. Edmundson has only managed 31 total points in two years of regular and postseason NHL play. But, if it somehow proves to be true, it will be hard to argue that St. Louis’ Edmundson (who’s playing for a contract this year, by the way), Parayko and Pietrangelo form one of the most dynamic defensive corps in the league.

Another interesting transition for this club is employing Thorburn as their new enforcer. For seven seasons, Reaves was charged with protecting the likes of Pietrangelo, Alex Steen and Tarasenko, but he’s looking after Pittsburgh’s stars now. With the likes of Duncan Keith still roaming the division, Thorburn – himself a four-year Central veteran – will need to assert himself early to protect St. Louis’ elite players.

Offseason Grade: B-

For the room it had on its roster (read: not much), St. Louis made a great addition in Schenn that should make a noticeable improvement on the offensive end.

But are the Blues a playoff team? I feel pretty confident saying they are. Do they make it to the Western Finals for the second time in three years or – God save me – qualify for the Stanley Cup Finals? Many of the pieces are still there, but there are more than a few talented teams in the mix. Then again, this team has proven in the past that when it’s hot, it’s en fuego. If the Notes are riding one of those highs in April, there’s no telling how far they could go.

2017 NHL Expansion Draft: Protected Lists

30 of the NHL’s 31 teams submitted their protected lists on Saturday by 5 p.m. ET. The protected lists were made public at 10:30 a.m. ET (originally scheduled for 10 a.m.) on Sunday. Additionally, the available lists of players to choose from were released.

The Vegas Golden Knights will now spend the next few days constructing their roster, with the full reveal set for Wednesday night during the NHL Awards Ceremony at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

To recap, here’s all of the protected players:

Anaheim Ducks

Forwards: Andrew Cogliano, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Corey Perry, Rickard Rakell, Jakob Silfverberg, Antoine Vermette

Defensemen: Kevin Bieksa, Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm

Goaltender: John Gibson

Arizona Coyotes

Forwards: Nick Cousins, Anthony Duclair, Jordan Martinook, Tobias Rieder

Defensemen: Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Alex Goligoski, Connor Murphy, Luke Schenn

Goaltender: Chad Johnson

Boston Bruins

Forwards: David Backes, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, Riley Nash, David Pastrnak, Ryan Spooner

Defensemen: Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller

Goaltender: Tuukka Rask

Buffalo Sabres

Forwards: Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno, Zemgus Girgensons, Evander Kane, Johan Larsson, Ryan O’Reilly, Kyle Okposo

Defensemen: Nathan Beaulieu, Jake McCabe, Rasmus Ristolainen

Goaltender: Robin Lehner

Calgary Flames

Forwards: Mikael Backlund, Sam Bennett, Micheal Ferlund, Michael Frolik, Johnny Gaudreau, Curtis Lazar, Sean Monahan

Defensemen: T.J. Brodie, Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton

Goaltender: Mike Smith

Carolina Hurricanes

Forwards: Phillip Di Giuseppe, Elias Lindholm, Brock McGinn, Victor Rask, Jeff Skinner, Jordan Staal, Teuvo Teravainen

Defensemen: Trevor Carrick, Justin Faulk, Ryan Murphy

Goaltender: Scott Darling

Chicago Blackhawks

Forwards: Artem Anisimov, Ryan Hartman, Marian Hossa, Tomas Jurco, Patrick Kane, Richard Panik, Jonathan Toews

Defensemen: Niklas Hjalmarsson, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook

Goaltender: Corey Crawford

Colorado Avalanche

Forwards: Sven Andrighetto, Blake Comeau, Matt Duchene, Rocco Grimaldi, Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Nieto

Defensemen: Tyson Barrie, Erik Johnson, Nikita Zadorov

Goaltender: Semyon Varlamov

Columbus Blue Jackets

Forwards: Cam Atkinson, Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno, Scott Hartnell, Boone Jenner, Brandon Saad, Alexander Wennberg

Defensemen: Seth Jones, Ryan Murray, David Savard

Goaltender: Sergei Bobrovsky

Dallas Stars

Forwards: Jamie Benn, Radek Faksa, Valeri Nichushkin, Brett Ritchie, Antoine Roussel, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza

Defensemen: Stephen Johns, John Klingberg, Esa Lindell

Goaltender: Ben Bishop

Detroit Red Wings

Forwards: Justin Abdelkader, Andreas Athanasiou, Anthony Mantha, Frans Nielsen, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Henrik Zetterberg

Defensemen: Danny DeKeyser, Mike Green, Nick Jensen

Goaltender: Jimmy Howard

Edmonton Oilers

Forwards: Leon Draisaitl, Jordan Eberle, Zack Kassian, Mark Letestu, Milan Lucic, Patrick Maroon, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

Defensemen: Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Andrej Sekera

Goaltender: Cam Talbot

Florida Panthers

Forwards: Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck

Defensemen: Aaron Ekblad, Alex Petrovic, Mark Pysyk, Keith Yandle

Goaltender: James Reimer

Los Angeles Kings

Forwards: Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar, Tanner Pearson, Tyler Toffoli

Defensemen: Drew Doughty, Derek Forbort, Alec Martinez, Jake Muzzin

Goaltender: Jonathan Quick

Minnesota Wild

Forwards: Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Mikko Koivu, Nino Niederreiter, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Jason Zucker

Defensemen: Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon, Ryan Suter

Goaltender: Devan Dubnyk

Montreal Canadiens

Forwards: Paul Byron, Phillip Danault, Jonathan Drouin, Alex Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher, Max Pacioretty, Andrew Shaw

Defensemen: Jordie Benn, Jeff Petry, Shea Weber

Goaltender: Carey Price

Nashville Predators

Forwards: Viktor Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg, Calle Jarnkrok, Ryan Johansen

Defensemen: Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi, P.K. Subban

Goaltender: Pekka Rinne

New Jersey Devils

Forwards: Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique, Kyle Palmieri, Travis Zajac

Defensemen: Andy Greene, John Moore, Mirco Mueller, Damon Severson

Goaltender: Cory Schneider

New York Islanders

Forwards: Andrew Ladd, Anders Lee, John Tavares

Defensemen: Johnny Boychuk, Travis Hamonic, Nick Leddy, Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock

Goaltender: Thomas Greiss

New York Rangers

Forwards: Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, Mika Zibanejad, Mats Zuccarello

Defensemen: Nick Holden, Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal

Goaltender: Henrik Lundqvist

Ottawa Senators

Forwards: Derick Brassard, Ryan Dzingel, Mike Hoffman, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Zack Smith, Mark Stone, Kyle Turris

Defensemen: Cody Ceci, Erik Karlsson, Dion Phaneuf

Goaltender: Craig Anderson

Philadelphia Flyers

Forwards: Sean Couturier, Valtteri Filppula, Claude Giroux, Scott Laughton, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek

Defensemen: Shayne Gostisbehere, Radko Gudas, Brandon Manning

Goaltender: Anthony Stolarz

Pittsburgh Penguins

Forwards: Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist, Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin

Defensemen: Brian Dumoulin, Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, Justin Schultz

Goaltender: Matt Murray

San Jose Sharks

Forwards: Ryan Carpenter, Logan Couture, Jannik Hansen, Tomas Hertl, Melker Karlsson, Joe Pavelski, Chris Tierney

Defensemen: Justin Braun, Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic

Goaltender: Martin Jones

St. Louis Blues

Forwards: Patrik Berglund, Ryan Reaves, Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Sobotka, Paul Stastny, Alexander Steen, Vladimir Tarasenko

Defensemen: Jay Bouwmeester, Joel Edmundson, Alex Pietrangelo

Goaltender: Jake Allen

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forwards: Ryan Callahan, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Ondrej Palat, Steven Stamkos

Defensemen: Braydon Coburn, Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman

Goaltender: Andrei Vasilevskiy

Toronto Maple Leafs

Forwards: Tyler Bozak, Connor Brown, Nazem Kadri, Leo Komarov, Josh Leivo, Matt Martin, James van Riemsdyk

Defensemen: Connor Carrick, Jake Gardiner, Morgan Rielly

Goaltender: Frederik Andersen

Vancouver Canucks

Forwards: Sven Baertschi, Loui Eriksson, Markus Granlund, Bo Horvat, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Brandon Sutter

Defensemen: Alexander Edler, Erik Gudbranson, Christopher Tanev

Goaltender: Jacob Markstrom

Washington Capitals

Forwards: Nicklas Backstrom, Andre Burakovsky, Lars Eller, Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin, Tom Wilson

Defensemen: John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov

Goaltender: Braden Holtby

Winnipeg Jets

Forwards: Joel Armia, Andrew Copp, Bryan Little, Adam Lowry, Mathieu Perreault, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler

Defensemen: Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers, Jacob Trouba

Goaltender: Connor Hellebuyck

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round – May 5

For the first and second rounds of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writer is Connor Keith.

 

Nashville Predators at St. Louis Blues – Game 5

Pekka Rinne stood tall, but not tall enough to prevent the Predators from falling 2-1 to St. Louis at the Scottrade Center in their Western Conference Semifinals matchup.

Instead, it was the Blues’ defense that played exceptionally well to earn the victory. Every single blueliner blocked two Predators shots, but the defensive corps was paced by Carl Gunnarsson‘s three. Add in the forwards’ rejections, and 25 total shots were blocked before reaching First Star of the Game Jake Allen, who saved all 22 shots faced except James Neal‘s (P.K. Subban and Roman Josi) five-on-three power play wrist shot with 6:10 remaining in the second period.

Speaking of Nashville’s special teams, they played incredibly. Not only did they convert the only extra-man opportunity of the combined eight in the contest, but the penalty kill also stood especially strong. In total, the Preds were shorthanded for 7:51, including 1:50 of five-on-three action late in the first period, but did not yield a tally.

But the Notes’ postseason success has not been due to their power play. Even though they played the eighth-best man-advantage during the regular season, they’ve managed an anemic 6.9% conversion rate in their 10 playoff games, the worst in the league since the end of the regular season.

Instead, it’s been grind-it-out goals like Second Star Dmitrij Jaskin‘s (Alex Pietrangelo and Vladimir Sobotka) wrister. Making his first appearance of the 2017 postseason, he took advantage of the rebound of Pietrangelo’s shot from the far point off Rinne’s right pad to beat the goaltender to the near post at the 5:43 mark of the second period.

With Jaskin and Neal both finding the back of the net in the middle frame, the score read 1-1 throughout the second intermission. That score remained for only 25 seconds in the third before Third Star Jaden Schwartz (Colton Parayko) buried St. Louis’ game-winner. Parayko intercepted an attempted clear by Josi at the far point and eventually fired a wrister on Rinne’s net. The netminder was more than able to make the save, but he couldn’t contain the rebound. Schwartz saw an opportunity, and he capitalized by lifting a wrister over Rinne’s right pad for his fourth goal of the postseason.

The Blues wanted a Game 6, and a Game 6 they’ll have. It’s scheduled for Sunday at 3 p.m. Eastern time and will be broadcast on NBC in the USA or SN and TVAS in Canada.

 

Edmonton Oilers at Anaheim Ducks – Game 5

With its 4-3 double-overtime victory over the Oilers at the Honda Center Friday, Anaheim has pulled within one game of the Western Conference Finals.

After Leon Draisaitl (Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson), Connor McDavid (Mark Letestu and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) and Drake Caggiula (McDavid and Kris Russell) all scored in the second period to set the score at 3-0, the Oilers were feeling confident going into the second intermission.

That confidence only grew the longer that score was displayed on the scoreboard. Cam Talbot played brilliantly for the opening 56:44 of play, saving all 40 shots the Ducks threw at him.

But as it turns out, all the Ducks needed was another attacker.

John Gibson left his net for the first time with 3:34 remaining in regulation. 18 seconds later, Second Star of the Game Ryan Getzlaf (Jakob Silfverberg and Ryan Kesler) scored a slap shot from the far point to set the score at 3-1.

Gibson reclaimed his net for the face-off at center ice, but departed with 2:59 remaining before the final horn. Exactly 18 seconds later once again, Cam Fowler (Silfverberg and First Star Corey Perry) struck his first goal of the 2017 playoffs to pull Anaheim within a tally.

Of course, the first two goals wouldn’t matter without a third. Once again Randy Carlyle sent Gibson into his crease for the center ice face-off, but the netminder deserted his post with 72 seconds remaining in play.

Though they didn’t score after only 18 seconds with the extra man this time, all that matters to the Ducks is that they scored. It was a wild play that was almost overturned by replay. With 21 seconds remaining in regulation, Fowler fired a wrist shot from the far point that Talbot was able to deflect. However, he was unable to contain the rebound, which Perry tried to collect and force into the net.

Darnell Nurse shoved him to the ice before he could fire, leaving the puck exposed on the near side of the crease. Third Star Rickard Rakell found the loose biscuit with 17 seconds remaining to miraculously squeeze a backhanded shot between Patrick Maroon‘s legs, under Nurse’s stick, past Kesler’s stick and through Talbot’s five-hole.

To put it simply, Rakell wouldn’t be able to pull off the shot twice in a row.

But all those heroics did was force overtime. In all, 23 shots were recorded between the two clubs – including 14 by Anaheim – but none could find the back of the net in the first overtime period.

The second overtime period didn’t even last half as long as the first, as Perry (Getzlaf and Rakell) buried a wrist shot at the 86:57 mark to give the Ducks a 3-2 advantage in the series.

Though he was probably exhausted, Perry’s goal was a crash-course in patience. After receiving a pass from Getzlaf from the far boards, Perry crossed the slot from far to near waiting for Talbot to commit. Once he did, he was unable to seal his near post as quickly as he would have liked, and Perry took advantage for only his second tally of the 2017 playoffs.

Part of the reason Edmonton struggled so mightily in the late stages of the game was due to their injuries on the blue line. The Ducks came out of the gates flying, throwing hard hits on Matt Benning and Andrej Sekera that forced both from the game for a short while. Though Benning was able to return to action late in the opening frame, Sekera could not retake the ice, leaving the Oil with only five defensemen for most of the game.

The Ducks will have their first opportunity to punch their ticket to the Western Conference Finals this Sunday at 7 p.m. Eastern time at Rogers Place. Viewers in America should tune their sets to NBCSN, while Canadian fans are advised to watch either SN or TVAS.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round – April 30

For the first and second rounds of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writer is Connor Keith.

 

St. Louis Blues at Nashville Predators – Game 3

With a goal per period, Nashville beat the Blues 3-1 at Bridgestone Arena Sunday to take a 2-1 lead in their Western Conference Semifinals series.

While the Predators played well, it certainly didn’t hurt that St. Louis struggled to find any rhythm for most of the contest. That became no more apparent than during the second period when the Notes didn’t register their first shot on goal until 7:01 remained in the frame, their first of only four in the second period and 13 in the final 40 minutes.

Of course, that shot was the one that ended up being St. Louis’ lone goal of the game. Alex Steen takes credit for deflecting Alex Pietrangelo‘s initial shot from the near point past Third Star of the Game Pekka Rinne to set the score at 2-1.

That tally was struck exactly 10:30 after Nashville’s game-winner, the first of Cody McLeod‘s (Colton Sissons and Mattias Ekholm) postseason career. McLeod certainly earned the marker after receiving Sissons’ pass from the near boards in the slot. He couldn’t make full contact on his initial attempt, but Jake Allen could not freeze the puck. The enforcer-turned-striker took advantage and lifted his backhanded shot over Allen’s left pad to then set the score at 2-0.

Second Star Roman Josi (Sissons and Harry Zolnierczyk) tacked on an insurance tally with 5:49 remaining in regulation, but it is First Star Ryan Ellis who has truly been impressive so far this postseason. Thanks to his pure snap shot (Filip Forsberg and P.K. Subban) with 9:26 remaining in the first period, he has registered eight points in these playoffs, a total that ties the incredible Erik Karlsson for most by a defenseman in the 2017 postseason. In fact, it could be argued that Ellis has been superior to the Senator so far, as he has achieved his production with two more goals and one fewer game played.

Game 4 is scheduled for Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. Eastern time. NBCSN will televise the game in the United States, while Canada will be served by SN and TVAS.

 

Anaheim Ducks at Edmonton Oilers – Game 3

The Ducks seem to enjoy playing in Alberta, as they beat Edmonton 6-3 at Rogers Place Sunday night to pull within a victory of tying their Western Conference Semifinal.

Sometimes, all one needs is a change of scenery. That’s usually said around the trade deadline or during the offseason, but the Ducks took advantage of the three-hour plane ride to formulate an offensive gameplan that produced three goals before the Oilers could react.

That attack started only 25 seconds into the game courtesy of a Rickard Rakell (Second Star of the Game Ryan Getzlaf and Brandon Montour) snap shot, followed 5:08 later by First Star Jakob Silfverberg‘s (Third Star Hampus Lindholm) wrist shot. Getzlaf completed Anaheim’s first period attack by scoring a snapper with 8:09 remaining in the frame.

But the Ducks weren’t in the clear yet. Patrick Maroon (Kris Russell and Leon Draisaitl) scored a tip-in 40 seconds before the close of the first period, followed by Anton Slepyshev (David Desharnais and Russell) and Connor McDavid both burying the puck before the close of the second period’s ninth minute to tie the game at three-all.

That’s when Anaheim reclaimed control of the contest – and this time, they would not yield.

McDavid tied the game at the 8:40 mark of the second period. Chris Wagner (Josh Manson and Shea Theodore) scored the game-winning goal only 48 seconds later.

Though Theodore does get an assist, this play truly starts when Manson receives his pass in the Ducks’ defensive zone and advances into the attacking third. Once he crossed the blue line, he bounced a pass off the near boards to Wagner. The first-year Duck took possession and fired a slap shot from the face-off circle all in the same motion to send the puck towards Cam Talbot. The goaltender should have been able to make the save, but he seemed to be caught off-guard. That led to him trying to awkwardly use his blocker to deflect the puck in mid-air, which ultimately led to his giving up a five-hole goal.

Though the Ducks managed only one goal in the second period, Wagner’s tally represented all the work being done on the defensive end of the ice. John Gibson faced 14 tough shots in the second frame and allowed only two tallies. If not for him, this game could have been a true barn-burner – a situation that would almost certainly favor the Oilers.

Silfverberg (Manson and Theodore) and Ryan Kesler (Silfverberg) provided the two insurance goals at the 4:56 and 10:38 marks, respectively, to ensure the Oil had no chance of another comeback.

The Ducks’ opportunity to tie the series at two-all is scheduled for Wednesday at 10 p.m. Eastern time. NBCSN will broadcast the game in the United States, while Canadians should tune to either SN or TVAS.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round – April 28

For the first and second rounds of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writer is Connor Keith.

 

Nashville Predators at St. Louis Blues – Game 2

After dropping Game 1, St. Louis desperately needed a victory to salvage home ice at the start of the second round to level the series at 1-1. Thanks to First Star of the Game Vladimir Tarasenko‘s two goals, the Blues did just that by beating Nashville 3-2 Friday night at Scottrade Center.

Though the fourth-best (okay, tied for fourth-best) goalscorer of the 2016-17 regular season earned the spotlight, it was actually Nashville’s defense that performed the best all night. Spearheaded by Roman Josi‘s four blocks, St. Louis managed only 20 shots all game – led by Tarasenko’s six.

Making that effort even more impressive is the fact that the Predators served a whopping 23 penalty minutes. By comparison, St. Louis served only two and Patrik Berglund‘s interference corresponded with an embellishment penalty by Third Star Ryan Ellis, meaning Nashville did not earn a single man-advantage all game.

In all, the Preds faced five Blues power plays and yielded only one tally: a Tarasenko (Alex Pietrangelo and Alex Steen) wrist shot with 20 seconds remaining before the first intermission.

Most of those penalty minutes belonged to Vernon Fiddler, who was caught practicing questionable form when hitting Colton Parayko with 92 seconds remaining in the first period. The skaters made knee-to-knee contact as Fiddler hit the defenseman behind Jake Allen‘s net. It earned him a game misconduct and a major penalty, giving the Blues a five-minute unlimited power play that led to Tarasenko’s marker to tie the game at one-all.

All the shorthanded situations is also a major reason the Preds only managed 24 shots on goal of their own. It is difficult, even for the postseason’s third-best offense, to get any rhythm going when playing without a full fleet of weapons.

But even when faced with that self-imposed handicap, a defensive effort that impressive will eventually produce chances on the other end of the ice. That was no more apparent than when Ellis intercepted Vladimir Sobotka‘s attempted pass to Berglund at St. Louis’ blue line. Since both squads were advancing towards the Blues’ offensive zone, the defenseman had to steer his shot past only one possible defender to beat Allen’s glove 3:07 into the third period and set the score at 2-1.

James Neal (Colton Sissons and Ellis) accounted for Nashville’s other marker, a deflection scored on Ellis’ initial shot from the far point 7:49 into the game. It was only the Predators’ second shot on goal of the night.

Nashville’s lead lasted only 4:32 until Second Star Jori Lehtera (Berglund and Parayko) leveled the game once again for the Blues, but they had yet to lead in the contest.

Until, that is, Tarasenko (Joel Edmundson and Jaden Schwartz) buried his game-winning wrister with 3:51 remaining in regulation. Schwartz attacked up the far boards, traversing all three zones with the puck in his possession. Once he reached the face-off dot, he passed back towards the blue line to Edmundson, who kick-passed to St. Louis’ favorite right wing. Tarasenko dropped to a knee to get the proper contact on his shot to beat Pekka Rinne‘s right pad.

In a game dominated by defense, it’s only logical that a strong Blues stand at the end of the contest would be the reason they held on for victory. Even more fitting, the biggest play came from one of the biggest stars on the ice. With Rinne pulled for the sixth attacker, Ryan Johansen had a wrist shot cocked and ready to fire from the near face-off circle. But instead of sending a shot flying towards Allen, his stick met Tarasenko’s, who dove to knock the puck away from the center.

The now best-of-five series shifts a little over 300 miles southeast to Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. for Games 3 and 4. Speaking of Game 3, puck drop is set for Sunday at 3 p.m. Eastern time and will be broadcast on NBC in the United States of America or SN and TVAS in Canada.

 

Edmonton Oilers at Anaheim Ducks – Game 2

When the best player on the ice is the goaltender, the team attacking him faces an uphill battle. That’s exactly what happened to Anaheim Friday, as it fell 2-1 at the Honda Center to give the Oilers a two-game advantage in their Western Conference semifinal.

No matter what the Ducks threw at him, First Star of the Game Cam Talbot was absolutely electric in the crease. In all, he faced 40 shots in Game 2, and stopped all but one of them for a ..975 save percentage.

The opposite goaltender, John Gibson, played nowhere near Talbot’s level, but he didn’t necessarily need to be that often. He faced only 23 shots, but did let two by (91.3%).

Instead, Anaheim played an incredible defense to counter the Oil’s fantastic netminder, made evident by the few shots Gibson faced. Though Edmonton did give the puck away 13 times, the Ducks caused more than their fair share of turnovers by playing a very physical game. In total, Anaheim threw 32 hits, including five by Second Star Ryan Getzlaf to lead the club.

Whether by a corps of blue liners or goaltender, what resulted was a grind-it-out, tough contest typical of a playoff matchup featuring the top two teams of a division.

Then again, that doesn’t well explain the first goal of the game, as Andrej Sekera buried a quick unassisted slap shot only 65 seconds into the game to give Edmonton an early one-goal lead. Hampus Lindholm was trying to pass to Jakob Silfverberg at the goal line and set up a breakaway opportunity, but his dish was too strong and sneaked to Sekera at the near point. Seeing no better option, the defenseman banged home his first goal of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs and only his second career postseason marker (his first was scored way back in 2011 with the Sabres).

The game-winning tally belongs to Patrick Maroon (Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) at the 6:41 mark of the second period, but his play started before he even took to the ice. 1:43 before he scored his tip-in, Korbinian Holzer was caught holding Zack Kassian‘s stick to earn himself a seat in the penalty box.

Similar to the Rangers-Senators game Thursday, hockey has a way of perfectly playing out the “what comes around, goes around” idiom. Only 8:34 after Maroon had scored the insurance goal, Darnell Nurse was sent to the sin bin for hi-sticking Jared Boll. Silfverberg (Third Star Cam Fowler and Ryan Kesler) didn’t wait long to capitalize on that mistake, waiting only 20 seconds before pulling the Ducks back within a goal.

Unfortunately for Anaheim, they could not manage to break through the might Talbot over the remaining 24:26 of regulation. The Ducks now face an intense uphill climb to the Western Finals, as they will need to win three of the next five games – and at least one in Canada – to simply force a deciding Game 7 on The Pond.

Their first chance to get back into the series will be this Sunday at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta. Puck drop is scheduled for at 7 p.m. Eastern time and the contest may be viewed on NBCSN in the USA and SN or TVAS in Canada.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round– April 19

For at least the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writers are Connor Keith and Nick Lanciani.

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Washington Capitals at Toronto Maple Leafs – Game 4

By: Connor Keith

With the Capitals’ 5-4 victory over Toronto at the Air Canada Centre Wednesday, the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal featuring the two-time defending Presidents’ Trophy winners and the NHL’s version of the all-rookie team is now a best-of-three series.

Barry Trotz probably didn’t need to say much to his club to stress how important this game was, but whatever he did say obviously worked. Before Toronto had even managed its second shot on goal, First Star of the Game T.J. Oshie (Nicklas Backstrom and Nate Schmidt) had already registered the Capitals’ first tally.

That trend continued for the rest of the first period. Though Zach Hyman (Jake Gardiner and Third Star William Nylander) managed to register a marker for the Maple Leafs, Alex Ovechkin (Kevin Shattenkirk) and Second Star Tom Wilson (Lars Eller and Dmitry Orlov) – twice (Andre Burakovsky and Brooks Orpik) – all got on the board before the first intermission to give the Caps a 4-1 lead.

Over the course of the remaining 40 minutes, the real pressure was on Braden Holtby and Washington’s defensive corps, the best in the business during the regular season. Led by Orlov’s five shot blocks throughout the contest, that defense played exceptionally, allowing only 28 total shots against in the second and third periods. Holtby let one by each period to allow the Leafs to pull within a goal with eight minutes remaining on the clock, but the man to save Washington has a little bit of history wearing red, white and blue.

The play started with a loose puck at the blue line of Frederik Andersen’s zone that neither Burakovsky nor Auston Matthews could fully take control. Though the puck ended up between three Maple Leafs, it was Backstrom that ended up with possession. The center quickly passed to Oshie, who ripped a snap shot from the near slot between Andersen’s glove and the pipe.

Oshie’s tally proved to be especially important, as it became the game-winner when Tyler Bozak (Mitch Marner and Nylander) banged home a wrister with the extra attacker with 27 seconds remaining in regulation.

The Capitals made it unnecessarily hard on themselves to secure this victory though, as both Eller (delay of game – smothering puck) and Orpik (slashing against Marner) earned seats in the penalty box during a face-off in the defensive zone to set up 1:53 of five-on-three play to start the third. Regardless, the regular season’s seventh-best penalty kill proved itself by allowing only five shots to reach Holtby, and he saved all of them to maintain the then 4-2 advantage.

The series will recommence Friday at 7 p.m. Eastern time at the Verizon Center, the home of the Capitals. Americans wishing to watch game will find it on NBCSN, while Canada will be serviced by both CBC and TVAS2.

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Ottawa Senators at Boston Bruins— Game 4

The Ottawa Senators are one win away from advancing to the Second Round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs after beating the Boston Bruins 1-0 in Game 4. Bobby Ryan continued his hot streak with the only goal in Wednesday night’s action in Boston, while Craig Anderson picked up the 22 save shutout win.

Bruins goaltender, Tuukka Rask made 26 saves on 27 shots faced for a .963 save percentage in the loss.

After trading scoring chance after scoring chance in the first period, neither Anderson nor Rask had allowed a puck to sneak behind them into the net. Brad Marchand had a couple of tremendous breakaway opportunities in the first 20 minutes that Anderson had denied (first with his left leg on a Marchand backhand going five-hole attempt, then later with his right leg on another opportunity whereby Marchand couldn’t elevate the puck enough on a forehand snapper).

The Senators dominated possession of the puck on special teams advantages, but couldn’t translate any of that attacking zone time into a power play goal after entering Wednesday night 3/10 on the power play. Instead, the Bruins killed all three of the penalties they amassed in Game 4 to improve their penalty kill to a 76.9% effective rating.

Noel Acciari thought he had his second goal of the postseason just past halfway in the 2nd period on a redirected slap shot from Charlie McAvoy, however after Ottawa challenged the goal on the condition that it might have been offsides, video replay clearly showed Acciari entering Boston’s offensive zone illegally about 20 seconds before the would-be goal was scored. As a result, the call on the ice was overturned and the score remained, 0-0.

Ryan (3) tapped home the game winning goal after receiving a fake shot pass from Erik Karlsson. Ryan crashed the net while Rask was seemingly down and away and if it weren’t for the fact that Rask’s stick paddle was parallel to the ice, perhaps he might have made more than just one desperation save on Ryan’s initial shot.

Instead an outstretched Rask bumped the puck, slowing its velocity, but failed to cover it up for a face-off, leaving the hard-charging Ryan with an easy to pocket “just tap it in” moment reminiscent of the movie Happy Gilmore but with more of a success rate than Happy Gilmore’s mini golf endeavor.

Karlsson (5) and Derick Brassard (3) had the primary and secondary assists on Ryan’s goal at 5:49 of the 3rd period.

Ottawa takes a 3-1 series lead home to Canadian Tire Centre on Friday. Puck drop is scheduled for a little after 7:30 p.m. ET and Game 5 can be viewed nationally in the United States on USA and on Sportsnet and TVA Sports in Canada.

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Minnesota Wild at St. Louis Blues – Game 4

By: Connor Keith

Facing elimination, the Wild pulled out a 2-0 victory Wednesday over St. Louis at Scottrade Center, pulling them within a 3-1 deficit in their Western Conference Quarterfinal.

Staying true to form, this was another goaltending battle between two of the hottest netminders in the game right now. First Star of the Game Devan Dubnyk rejected each and every one of the 28 Blues shots he faced for his first victory of the 2017 postseason, while Jake Allen saved 26-of-28 (92.9%) in the loss.

The Blues seemed to know what was on the line in this game, and you could see it in their play. That sentence can be read both positively and negatively, and unfortunately for St. Louis it was the latter. Even though the Notes led the first period’s hit count (including five over the course of the game by Third Star Ryan Reaves) – which usually increases the fans’ energy – they managed only four shots on goal.

Second Star Charlie Coyle and the Wild – who fired 11 shots in the first period – took advantage of their opponent’s lackadaisical start by burying a wrister with 3:10 remaining in the frame. Though unassisted, he did get a helper on the play from Allen. Coyle dumped the puck into the zone, and Eric Staal’s pursuit forced Allen to make a play behind his net.

That’s where Coyle’s plan came to fruition. Allen’s sole intention was to get the puck out of the zone, so he tried to play it up the far boards. Instead of chasing the puck, the forward stayed home and intercepted Allen’s attempt at the far face-off circle. He immediately ripped his wrister that banked off the near post and into the back of the net.

The only other goal belonged to Martin Hanzal (Jason Pominville and Nate Prosser), a wrist shot with 3:19 remaining in the second period.  The play stretched the full stretch of the rink, starting with Prosser’s pass from the near face-off dot in the Wild’s defensive zone. His pass found Pominville at the red line, and he immediately dished to a streaking Hanzal. The center split Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo before releasing his shot from between the face-off circles, beating Allen stick-side.

Minnesota forced a Game 5, and it will host that contest at the Xcel Energy Center Saturday at 3 p.m. Eastern time. The Canadian broadcasters will be both SN and TVAS, and American viewers may watch that matchup on NBC.

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Anaheim Ducks at Calgary Flames— Game 4

The Anaheim Ducks punched their ticket to the Second Round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 3-1 victory on the road, sweeping the Calgary Flames in four games.

Nate Thompson scored what would become the game winning goal early in the first period as the Ducks went on to sweep a playoff opponent in a best-of-seven game series for just the fifth time in franchise history.

Anaheim goaltender, John Gibson made 36 saves on 37 shots against for a .973 save percentage in the win, while Calgary goalies Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson split time in the loss. Elliott stopped two out of three shots before being replaced 5:38 into the 1st period by Johnson who went on to save 20 out of 21 shots against over 51:50 of time on ice.

Patrick Eaves (1) kicked things off on the scoreboard with an unassisted goal at 5:38 of the 1st period. Thompson (2) followed suit with his game winning goal 78 seconds later that made it 2-0 Anaheim. Rickard Rakell (3) and Corey Perry (2) notched assists on Thompson’s goal at 6:46 of the 1st.

Late in the 2nd period the Flames took advantage of their third and final power play of the night as Sean Monahan (4) continued his recent run of scoring. Kris Versteeg (3) and Troy Brouwer (2) collected the assists on Monahan’s power play goal at 16:07 of the 2nd period. Calgary cut the lead in half and went into the second intermission trailing, 2-1.

As the clock ticked down on Calgary’s season, Johnson vacated the goal for an extra attacker. Gibson stood tall as save after save piled up and the Ducks failed to clear the puck without icing it.

After a blocked shot, Ryan Getzlaf (3) brought the puck across the ice and put the series away on an empty net goal with 6.7 seconds left on the clock.

Having won the series, 4-0, the Anaheim Ducks advance to the Second Round and will face the winner of the Edmonton Oilers vs. San Jose Sharks series matchup.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round– April 16

For at least the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writers are Connor Keith and Nick Lanciani.

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Minnesota Wild at St. Louis Blues – Game 3

By: Connor Keith

St. Louis is one game away from the Western Conference Semifinals thanks to its 3-1 victory over the Wild Sunday afternoon at the Scottrade Center.

“A goal a frame keeps the Wild away” seemed to be Mike Yeo’s lesson for his club, and St. Louis performed that plan to a t. That attack started early, as Second Star of the Game Colton Parayko (Patrik Berglund and David Perron) scored a wrist shot under Devan Dubnyk’s glove from beyond the face-off dots.

The second period’s goal was a little later than the third, but no less important. The play actually started with 5:48 remaining in the frame when Ryan White hi-sticked Third Star Jaden Schwartz. As it turns out, Schwartz is not the Blue Note Minnesota wanted to aggravate, as he was able to tip-in a power play tally only 67 seconds later (Alex Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko) to register what proved to be the game-winning goal.

Steen completed the scoring by taking credit for the third period’s goal, though he was also the beneficiary of a missing Wild player. Assisted by Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka, the center fired a wrister into a vacant net from behind the blue line to ensure the Blues’ victory.

Though the offense performed spectacularly, it was actually Jake Allen that took First Star honors. Though his defense blocked a whopping 23 shots (led by Captain Alex Pietrangelo’s five), Allen still faced 41 pucks throughout the game, saving all but Charlie Coyle’s (Zach Parise and Ryan Suter) tip-in with 7:01 remaining in the second period that then tied the game at one-all.

The Notes’ first opportunity to punch their ticket into the next round will occur Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. Eastern time. American viewers can watch the contest on NBCSN, while Canadians will be serviced by both SN360 and TVAS2.

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Pittsburgh Penguins at Columbus Blue Jackets – Game 3

By: Connor Keith

With their 5-4 overtime victory in Columbus, the Penguins are a game away from eliminating the Blue Jackets and punching their ticket to the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

It’s not just the Maple Leafs’ rookies that are capable of scoring, as First Star of the Game Jake Guentzel is already having himself a brilliant postseason. Sunday’s overtime snap shot (Sidney Crosby) was not only his second game-winning goal of his first playoff appearance, but also his third-goal of the night for the first hat trick of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Though Guentzel buried the tally, Crosby actually did all the work. The captain took possession of the puck behind Sergei Bobrovsky’s net with two Jackets surrounding him. For eight seconds he fought with Brandon Dubinsky and David Savard in the trapezoid to maintain ownership before dishing to the rookie patiently waiting at the far corner of the goal crease. Immediately upon receiving the pass, Guentzel squeezed a quick snapper between Bobrovsky and the far post to win the game for the Pens.

Another Penguins youngster that deserves praise is Second Star Bryan Rust, as the sophomore’s tally at the start of the second period sparked a streak of three unanswered goals. It was a tip-in 5:21 (Brian Dumoulin and Evgeni Malkin) after resuming play after the first intermission. Dumoulin originally fired his slap shot from the blue line towards Bobrovsky’s glove side, but outside the near post. Waiting at the near corner of the crease, Rust resolved that issue by redirecting the puck between the netminders’ legs and beyond the goal line. The wing’s tally then pulled Pittsburgh back within a 3-2 deficit.

As a high-scoring overtime contest will indicate, offense was the name of the game for both clubs. Third Star Cam Atkinson was a major part of that effort for Columbus, as he registered two of its four tallies – both in the first period. His first (Dubinsky and Nick Foligno) was only 11 seconds into the game, a snap shot on the rebound of Dubinsky’s attempt that rebounded off Marc-Andre Fleury’s right pad.

Only 4:51 later, Atkinson struck again to reclaim a 2-1 lead for the Jackets. This time, it was an unassisted backhander immediately after stealing the puck off an unsuspecting Crosby’s stick at the near face-off dot. That steal set up a one-on-one situation against Fleury, and the right wing made the netminder commit to the near post before pulling the puck across the crease and burying it on the opposite side.

The Blue Jackets’ defense actually deserves a lot of credit in this game. Though they did allow Pittsburgh to fire 47 shots on goal, they managed an impressive 29 shot blocks, including a whopping seven courtesy of Jack Johnson.

The Pens and Jackets will take to the ice again Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time, and Pittsburgh will have the opportunity to end the series. The contest will be broadcast on CNBC on the United States, while Canadians can take the game in on either SN360 or TVAS2.

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Montreal Canadiens at New York Rangers– Game 3

By: Nick Lanciani

Special teams opportunities were costly for the New York Rangers on Sunday night, as Shea Weber’s 2nd period goal on the power play (the 2nd of the night for the Montreal Canadiens) proved to be enough to hand the home team Rangers with their sixth straight loss in the Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden— dating back to the 2015 Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

New York’s Henrik Lundqvist made 26 saves on 29 shots against in the loss, while Montreal’s Carey Price made 20 saves on 21 shots faced for the win.

Both teams failed to score in the first period, setting up for what some may have thought to be an intense goaltender battle for the rest of the night, considering the many saves Lundqvist and Price made in Games 1 and 2.

But Artturi Lehkonen (1) of the Canadiens had other things in mind when he scored his first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal in just his 3rd career NHL playoff appearance on the power play at 17:37 of the 2nd period. J.T. Miller had been in the box for New York for a delay of game infraction after using his hand to illegally win a faceoff.

Brendan Gallagher (2) and Tomas Plekanec (2) had the assists on Lehkonen’s goal which made it 1-0 Montreal heading into the 2nd intermission.

Weber pounced on another power play goal for Montreal after Mats Zuccarello served a high sticking double minor for the Rangers. Weber’s goal was his first postseason goal with the Canadiens since the offseason blockbuster trade with the Nashville Predators involving P.K. Subban in June and was his 14th career playoff goal.

Alex Galchenyuk (2) and Alexander Radulov (3) tallied the assists on Weber’s goal at 7:42 of the 3rd period.

The Habs went up 3-0 on a goal from Radulov (2) at 15:35 of the period, which all but  officially put things away. Phillip Danault (2) was credited with the only assist on Radulov’s goal.

Price’s bid for a shutout came to an end with 2:56 remaining in the game, as Brady Skjei (1) fired one past the Montreal goaltender for his first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal. Kevin Klein (1) and Mika Zibanejad (1) had the assists on the Rangers goal which cut the lead to two, but proved to be too little, too late.

The Canadiens now lead the series 2-1 with Game 4 scheduled for Tuesday night at 7 p.m. ET and can be viewed nationally in the United States on NBCSN, as well as CBC and TVAS in Canada.

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Edmonton Oilers at San Jose Sharks– Game 3

By: Nick Lanciani

Cam Talbot and the Edmonton Oilers were victorious at SAP Center on Sunday night with a 1-0 win against the San Jose Sharks and their second straight shutout in the series.

Scoreless through a little over fifty minutes, Edmonton’s Zack Kassian (2) wired a shot past San Jose goaltender, Martin Jones, to give the Oilers a 1-0 lead and the only goal of the night. Kassian’s goal was unassisted at 10:45 of the 3rd period.

Talbot continued to play lights out hockey with a 23 save performance and his second straight shutout in the win, while Jones amassed 20 saves on 21 shots faced for a .955 save percentage in the loss.

Joe Thornton made his return to the Sharks lineup and had two shots on goal, as well as two hits in 16:27 of ice time.

The series resumes on Tuesday night with Game 4 in San Jose at 10 p.m. ET and can be seen nationally in the United States on NBCSN, as well as SN and TVAS in Canada. The Edmonton Oilers now have a 2-1 series lead and will look to make it a 3-1 series lead on Tuesday with a chance to punch their ticket into the Second Round in Game 5 back on home ice at Rogers Place if they can pull off another win on the road.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round – April 14

For at least the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writer is Connor Keith.

 

New York Rangers at Montréal Canadiens – Game 2

Montréal redeemed itself in in Game 2 by beating the Rangers 4-3 in overtime at the Bell Centre to level their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal at a game apiece.

And none of it would have been possible if not for Third Star of the Game Tomas Plekanec‘s (First Star Alexander Radulov and Alex Galchenyuk) miracle goal with 18 ticks remaining on the clock in regulation. Carey Price had vacated his crease for the extra attacker, but the real advantage occurred when Shea Weber knocked Michael Grabner down along the blue line. That freed up the Galchenyuk to find Radulov in the far corner, who then set up Plekanec on the far post for a quick tip-in.

In similar fashion as far as the clock was concerned, the Canadiens waited to strike until the end of the overtime period was near. Radulov (Max Pacioretty and Weber) earned the first playoff game-winning goal of his career in the scrappiest of ways. Though the Habs captain had fired the initial shot, Second Star Henrik Lundqvist was able to keep that attempt out of his net. He was unable to contain that shot however, leaving the rebound in front of his crease ready for the taking by Radulov, who buried a wrister five hole for the victory.

Speaking of Lundqvist, he stood tall though he faced adversity all night. He knew he was in for a tough game when his stick snapped early in the first period. He was without that important piece of equipment for almost a minute, and Jeff Petry (Phillip Danault and Radulov) was able to take advantage for the opening goal of the game.

In all, the Rangers netminder saved an incredible 54-of-58 shots faced (93.1%). By comparison, Price saved 35-of-38 (92.1%) in his win.

 

Columbus Blue Jackets at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 2

Thanks in large part to another stellar performance by Second Star of the Game Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguins earned a 4-1 victory against the Blue Jackets at PPG Paints Arena to claim a two-game advantage in their Eastern Quarterfinals matchup.

Mike Sullivan is going to have quite the decision on his hands when Matthew Murray is cleared to resume play. Though last year’s Stanley Cup-winning goaltender was expected to command the Pens’ crease throughout the postseason, longtime starter Fleury has saved a combined 70 of 72 shots faced (97.2%) for two-straight victories.

Offensively, no one on the ice was finer than First Star Sidney Crosby. He posted a three-point effort on the night, including the lone tally of the first period.

It was an excellent play that started with Conor Sheary ripping the puck away from Sergei Bobrovsky behind the goaltender’s net. After Bobrovsky had given up on the play to return to his goal line, Sheary passed to Third Star Jake Guentzel (who took credit for the game-winner in the second period), who was waiting on the near side of the crease. Bobrovsky committed to saving a Guentzel shot, so the rookie dished across the crease to Crosby, who powered home an easy wrist shot.

 

 

St. Louis Blues at Minnesota Wild – Game 2

It may not be what many predicted, but the Blues emerged from two games at the Xcel Energy Center with a two-game lead in their Western Conference Quarterfinals matchup against Minnesota thanks to a 2-1 victory.

Both clubs’ defenses were the true stars of this game. Neither Jake Allen (21 saves, 95.5%) nor Devan Dubnyk (22 saves, 91.7%) faced more than 24 shots, and a combined 27 shot blocks were earned between the two teams. The brightest blueliners were Jay Bouwmeester and Colton Parayko, as both rejected three shots apiece from reaching Allen’s crease.

Another blueliner that earned his pay was Joel Edmundson, who seems to be taking over Kevin Shattenkirk‘s former position of two-way defenseman. Assisted by Patrik Berglund and Magnus Paajarvi, he fired a slap shot from the blueline to give the Notes an early lead in the second period.

Zach Parise (Eric Staal and Ryan Suter) made sure St. Louis would not escape the frame with the lead, though. Taking advantage of Alex Steen and Scottie Upshall sitting in the penalty box, Staal collected his own rebound and slid a pass between Allen and a sprawled Bouwmeester to Parise waiting at the top of the crease. The wing elevated his wrist shot bar-down over Allen to level the game at one-all.

With 2:27 remaining in regulation, Jaden Schwartz (Alex Pietrangelo and Kyle Brodziak) provided St. Louis its second tally of the night. The Blues’ captain dished to Schwartz from the red line, who entered the offensive zone slow enough to allow David Perron to screen Dubnyk. Schwartz did not simply use that screen, he used Perron. He fired his wrister five hole… on Perron… to find the back of the net before the Minnesota netminder even knew a shot was fired.

San Jose Sharks at Edmonton Oilers – Game 2

With a 2-0 victory over the Sharks at Rogers Place, Edmonton pulled even at one game apiece in its Western Conference Quarterfinal and earned the celebration it had been waiting 11 years for.

The Oilers scored only four shorthanded goals during the regular season, but both tallies they registered in the victory were on the penalty kill. One of those – the opening goal of the game – belonged to First Star of the Game Zack Kassian. He was the best player on the ice all night, sticking his nose in every play and throwing six hits – including two bone-rattling blows on Logan Couture and Brenden Dillon.

His shorty was a direct result of a Joe Pavelski fumbled puck early in the second period (It was that kind of night for the Sharks. They managed only 16 shots on goal). The wing collected the puck at the Sharks’ blueline, but Pavelski tried to steal it right back.

Unfortunatly for San Jose, his steal landed right on Mark Letestu‘s stick, who returned the puck to the streaking wing for a one-on-one showdown against Martin Jones. Kassian elected to fire a snap shot from between the face-off dots, beating the netminder low for the winner.

The usual star of the Oilers would not be outdone. Just like Kassian, Third Star Connor McDavid registered the first goal of his playoff career in a shorthanded situation. Assisted by Darnell Nurse and Second Star Cam Talbot, he fired a snapper from the far face-off dot after screaming up the boards to beat Jones low.

April 2 – Day 165 – Gigantic goalies

After the final game is complete this evening, we will be officially in the final week of the 2016-17 NHL regular season. It is officially crunch time.

This Sunday’s action gets started at 12:30 p.m. with Boston at Chicago (NBC/TVAS). After that, we have staggered starts every hour, on the hour. 3 p.m. marks the puck drop of the New York Islanders at Buffalo (SN), followed an hour later by Nashville at St. Louis. Carolina at Pittsburgh (NHLN) gets underway at 5 p.m., and a trio of games (Colorado at Minnesota, Dallas at Tampa Bay and Washington at Columbus) follows suit 60 minutes later. 7 p.m. marks the puck drop of San Jose at Vancouver (SN), half an hour before Philadelphia at the New York Rangers (NBCSN). More of the West Coast gets involved at 9:30 p.m. with Anaheim at Calgary (SN1), an hour before tonight’s nightcap: Arizona at Los Angeles.

Short list:

  • Boston at Chicago: For those that love Original Six battles, this is, if my count is correct, the second-to-last one of the year.
  • Nashville at St. Louis: The difference between third in the Central Division and the second wild card is nonexistent.
  • San Jose at Vancouver: A 10-year veteran of the Canucks, Jannik Hansen now makes his home in San Jose.
  • Philadelphia at New York: The Flyers are still hanging around in the playoff hunt, but they’ll need to beat another rival to stay alive.

Call me biased, but there’s no way we’re not heading to Scottrade Center for this important Central Division matchup.

 

8-3-2. That’s the 40-27-11 Predators‘ record since March 7. Though it’s not the best run in that stretch of time, it’s still been more than enough to all but punch Nashville‘s third-straight ticket into the playoffs. Currently occupying the second wild card, it has a 10-point advantage on the Kings.

In fact, all the Preds need to do is avoid a regulation loss and they will be among the 16 teams playing after next Sunday’s regular season finale.

Of course, Smashville has bigger ideas in mind than simply eliminating Los Angeles. Third place in the Central Division is held by their opponent this afternoon, who leads the Predators with only one-fewer game played.

To surge past the Notes, the Predators will probably employ the same tactic that has been the backbone of their recent winning ways: goaltending.

Wait, I thought Nashville was an offensive team… Well, that’s true. On the season as a whole, the Predators have notched 2.92 tallies-per-game, the ninth-best scoring rate in the NHL. Yet since early March, the Preds have allowed only 28 goals against, which #ties for sixth-fewest in that time.

In short, 31-18-8 Pekka Rinne has been excellent of late. Already among the league’s better goaltenders on a normal day, his .931 save percentage and 1.97 GAA of late are far superior to his season-long averages of .917 and 2.44. In fact, since March 7, he’s posted the eighth and (t)sixth-best marks, respectively, among the 32 goalies with at least seven appearances in that time.

Rinne can’t save everything though. That becomes brutally apparent when a Predator takes a seat in the penalty box. Over the past month, Rinne has saved only 32-of-41 power play shots against (78%), which ties for the 11th-worst power play save percentage in that time span.

But take notice of how many shots he’s faced. 41 is a lot. In fact, it’s tied for 14th-most in the league since early March. Therein lies Smashville‘s penalty kill problem. P.K. Subban leads the team with five shorthanded shot blocks, especially when paired with his two shorthanded takeaways.

But yes, only five blocks on the penalty kill in his last 13 games. And yes, he leads the team with that measly total over this stretch.

The penalty kill needs to be a bigger priority for this team, and it needs to see improvements in a hurry. Over the past month, Nashville is sixth-worst in the NHL when down a man, neutralizing only 74.3% of its infractions.

Special teams seem to be a struggle for David Poile’s club this season, because the power play actually manages to be worse than the penalty kill. The Predators tie with Colorado (remember, being compared to the Avalanche in any way this season is a recipe for disaster) for the second-worst man-advantage in the NHL since March 7, converting only 11.4% of opportunities.

Of that limited success, much of it has been off James Neal‘s stick. He’s scored three of Nashville‘s four power play goals in the past month, an impressive effort given the mire he’s been surrounded by.

Can you pick the best team in the league since March 5? Here’s a hint: they’ll be wearing blue today.

That’s right, it’s the 42-28-7 Blues. Having gone 11-1-2 since then, the Notes tie Carolina with 24 points in that time – on two fewer games.

Similar to Nashville‘s surge over the past month, this streak is a direct result of improved play in the crease by Jake Allen. He’s gone 30-19-5 all season, but 8-1-2 of that has come in the past 29 days.

Among goalies with at least four appearances in the past month, Allen is second only to Sergei Bobrovsky in his play. In the month of March, Allen posted an excellent .953 save percentage and 1.35 GAA, making him almost impenetrable to opposing offenses.

What definitely sets him apart from Rinne is the Blues‘ success on the penalty kill. While the Predators are prone to giving up power play goals, St. Louis has successfully neutralized 86.5% of their infractions in the past month, the fifth-best rate in the NHL.

St. Louis‘ power play has also been having a run of success this month. Led by Alex Pietrangelo and his five power play points, the Notes have converted 21.2% of their power plays since March 5, the 10th-best mark in the league.

As you’d might guess, Vladimir Tarasenko has potted a couple of those tallies, but what makes the Blues truly dangerous is the fact that six different players have scored a power play goal in the past month. Unpredictability is a dangerous weapon, and St. Louis has employed it well.

As far as the season series is concerned, this game is meaningless since the Predators have already won three of the previous four meetings. The last time they met was December 30, and it was Nashville‘s most dominant victory in the series. Jusse Saros led the way by saving all 25 shots he faced for a 4-0 shutout at Scottrade Center, the site of today’s matchup.

Some players to keep an eye on during today’s game include Nashville‘s Ryan Johansen (47 assists [ninth-most in the league]) and Rinne (31 wins [10th-most in the NHL]) & St. Louis‘ Allen (four shutouts [tied for ninth-most in the league]) or Carter Hutton (2.34 GAA [10th-best in the NHL]) and Tarasenko (36 goals [fifth-most in the league]).

According to the odds-makers in the desert, St. Louis is a -135 favorite to win this afternoon. I have to agree. Where the Blues will truly dominate today is in special teams situations. The Predators‘ best shot at pulling off the upset is keeping both penalty boxes empty.


It needed overtime, but Edmonton was able to hold home ice and best the Ducks 3-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day to improve into first place in the Pacific Division.

The first period nearly escaped scoreless, but First Star of the Game Connor McDavid (Patrick Maroon and Adam Larsson) had other plans. He buried a wrist shot with 49 seconds remaining in the frame to give the Oilers a 1-0 going into the first intermission.

That didn’t seem to sit well with Ryan Getzlaf (Jakob Silfverberg and Cam Fowler) over the break, as he took advantage of Matt Hendricks being sent to the sin bin by scoring a power play slap shot 3:27 into the second period. That tied the game at one-all, the same score that read going into the second intermission.

8:53 into the final frame, Patrick Eaves (Antoine Vermette and Silfverberg) provided Anaheim its first lead of the night. It was the result of another power play, this time a slashing penalty by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. But what goes around, comes around. With 1:58 remaining in regulation, Third Star Milan Lucic (Leon Draisaitl and McDavid) scored a power play tally of his own to level the game at two-all and force overtime.

Three-on-three play didn’t last long before Draisaitl (McDavid) ended it. After only 1:26 of overtime play, the third-year pro buried a wrister to win the game for Edmonton.

Cam Talbot took the victory after saving 16-of-18 shots faced (88.9%), leaving the overtime loss to Second Star John Gibson, who saved 34-of-37 (91.9%).

The 84-58-25 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are now riding a three-game winning streak. That’s important as the series comes to a close, as it gives them a three-point advantage on the roadies.

March 13 – Day 145 – West is wild

It’s another Manic Monday in the NHL, with 16 teams in action this evening. Like it usually does, tonight’s festivities start at 7 p.m. with two games (Tampa Bay at the New York Rangers [TVAS] and Columbus at Philadelphia [SN1]), followed half an hour later by Carolina at the New York Islanders (NBCSN). 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of Winnipeg at Nashville, which precedes Pittsburgh at Calgary by an hour. A trifecta of matchups (Boston at Vancouver, Colorado at Arizona and St. Louis at Los Angeles) act as tonight’s tri-nightcap, as the all drop the puck at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

Things have really tightened in the Western Conference wild card race, and that competition will be on full display tonight when the eighth and ninth-place teams square off in the Staples Center!

 

 

 

 

 

St. Louis enters tonight’s game with a 35-27-5 record, which is good enough for fourth in the Central Division and eighth in the Western Conference. It’s been an up-and-down season for the Blues, but they’re definitely riding an “up” right now with their four-game winning streak.

When St. Louis is winning like it is right now, it’s usually due to its offense. Having notched 185 tallies in 67 games, the Notes are tied for the 11th-best scoring rate in the league. As you’d probably guess, the engineer behind most of that scoring is Vladimir Tarasenko, who has an impressive 61 points to lead the team.

Even more impressive? His goal total, which currently stands at 32. He ties for third in the NHL in scores, and is on pace for seven more before the season comes to a close.

St. Louis is especially effective on the power play, as its 22.3% success rate ties for fourth best in the league (and best in the west). Although Tarasenko leads the team with 20 power play points and eight power play goals, he has not been very effective of late with the extra man. In his past five games, he’s only registered one point – albeit a goal – with the man-advantage.

Special teams seem to be a point of emphasis for Mike Yeo, because the Notes are also very strong on the penalty kill. Led by Captain Alex Pietrangelo‘s 29 shorthanded blocks, the Notes have successfully defended 83.6% of their penalties, the eighth-best rate in the NHL.

Playing host this evening are the 33-28-6 Kings, the fifth-best team in the Pacific Division and ninth-best in the West. Winners of their past two contests, Los Angeles‘ biggest struggle this season has been scoring, as their 166 goals is the eighth-lowest total in the league. That being said, the Kings have have managed to score a dozen goals in their past four games, so perhaps Darryl Sutter has finally found a solution for his club.

Although offense has been tough to come by for the club as a whole, Jeff Carter has been having a fantastic season. He’s notched 31 goals for 59 points, both totals that lead the team. It’s quite the resurgence for him, as – if he stays on pace – he’ll have the best campaign of his career since his 46 goal, 84 point effort with Philadelphia in 2008-’09.

But beyond Carter, scoring has been a struggle for Los Angeles. To put things simply, it’s not a good sign when the second-best scorer on the team – Tanner Pearson – has only 22 goals. Excluding those two, no other Kings have more than a dozen tallies.

The Kings have found their success this season on the defensive end of the ice, and that is no more apparent than when they’re on the penalty kill. Refusing to yield a goal on 84.9% of its infractions, Los Angeles ranks fourth-best in the NHL when down a man. Alec Martinez deserves a lot of credit for that prosperity, as his 28 shorthanded shot blocks lead the team.

To make this game even more important, it acts as a rubber match for the season series between these clubs, as they’ve both one of their previous two meetings. The Blues last visited the City of Angels on January 12 when they fell 5-1.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Los Angeles‘ Carter (31 goals [tied for seventh-most in the NHL]) and St. Louis‘ Tarasenko (32 goals [tied for third-most in the league]).

I’m not surprised that Vegas favors Los Angeles to win tonight, but I am surprised the Kings have a -145 advantage. Both teams enter the game hot, but I like Los Angeles to pull together a victory on the back of their solid defense and their newfound explosive offense.


Sparked by two quick first period goals to chase Devan Dubnyk, Chicago fought within a point of the Western Conference lead by beating the Wild 4-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Who else to get the Blackhawks on the scoreboard than Second Star of the Game Patrick Kane? Assisted by Artemi Panarin and Johnny Oduya, he scored a wrist shot only 51 seconds into the game to give the Hawks an early 1-0 lead. That differential doubled to two when Panarin (Kane and Niklas Hjalmarsson) scored a snap shot 3:47 later. Minnesota pulled back within a tally with 9:30 remaining in the frame when Eric Staal (Nino Niederreiter and Marco Scandella), but could not level the game before the first intermission.

5:28 into the second period, Trevor van Riemsdyk (Marcus Kruger and Jordin Tootoo) expanded Chicago‘s lead back to two goals with a wrister that proved to be the game-winner. Even though the Wild fired 20 shots on goal in the second period, they could not break through First Star Corey Crawford.

Once again the Wild pulled within a goal when Mikael Granlund scored an unassisted wrister 46 seconds after starting the third frame, but once again Minnesota couldn’t pull even. They couldn’t manage another goal for the rest of the game, and Marian Hossa (Third Star Duncan Keith) made sure a comeback would be difficult by setting the score at 4-2 with 6:18 remaining in regulation.

Crawford saved 42-of-44 shots faced (95.5%) to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Darcy Kuemper, who saved 18-of-20 (90%). Kuemper came into the game in relief of Dubnyk, who was pulled after allowing two goals on two shots. Dubnyk earned no decision after 4:38 of play.

With that victory, home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have finally reclaimed an advantage, even if it is only by one point, over the roadies with a 74-52-21 record.