Nick, Cap’n and Pete recap the last two weeks of trades and first few days of free agency 2K19.
The Colorado Avalanche’s first line was more prominent than the Boston Bruins’ first line in Wednesday night’s, 6-3, loss for Boston as the two top-line superpowers collided at Pepsi Center in Denver.
Mikko Rantanen (1-2–3 totals), Nathan MacKinnon (1-1–2) and Gabriel Landeskog (1-0–1) combined for six points on the night for Colorado, while Boston’s David Pastrnak (1-1–2), Patrice Bergeron (0-1–1) and Brad Marchand (0-0–0, minus-1) combined for three points.
Semyon Varlamov (6-5-2 with a .926 save percentage and 2.32 goals against average in 13 games played) made 20 saves on 23 shots against for an .870 SV% in the win for the Avs, while Jaroslav Halak (6-2-2, .932 SV%, 2.16 GAA in 12 GP) made 19 saves on 25 shots faced for a .760 SV% in the loss for the B’s.
Boston maintained 3rd place in the Atlantic Division with a 10-6-2 record (22 points) on the season, while Colorado improved to 4th place in the Central Division with a 9-6-3 (21 points) record.
The Bruins had been on a two-game winning streak coming off of a 5-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday and a 4-1 win on Sunday against the Vegas Golden Knights.
Head coach, Bruce Cassidy, kept the same lineup from the weekend for Boston, but with the added advantage of Tuukka Rask back with the team as a backup goaltender Wednesday night in his return from a personal leave of absence.
Rask will get the start against the Dallas Stars on Friday or Arizona Coyotes on Saturday.
Defenseman, Jakub Zboril, was recalled from the Providence Bruins (AHL) the other day as Dan Vladar was sent back down to Providence.
Brandon Carlo, Charlie McAvoy and Urho Vaakanainen may join the team at some point on the road trip, but did not make the initial journey to Colorado on Tuesday. Fellow injured blue liner, Kevan Miller traveled with the team to Denver, but is aiming to return on the road in Detroit against the Red Wings on Nov. 21st.
Wednesday night’s scratches for Boston were as follows: Carlo (upper body), Noel Acciari (healthy scratch), Vaakanainen (concussion), Zboril (healthy scratch), McAvoy (concussion) and Miller (hand).
The Battle of the Best First Lines began with Gabriel Landeskog (12) striking first at 10:16 of the first period as the Bruins couldn’t clear the puck out of their zone.
Zdeno Chara‘s turnover led to Mikko Rantanen finding Joakim Nordstrom out of position and sending Landeskog a pass without pressure for the snipe and a 1-0 lead for Colorado. Rantanen (12) had the only assist on Landeskog’s goal.
Avalanche defender, Mark Barberio, was guilty of cross checking Bruins forward, David Backes, at 14:50 of the first period and received a minor penalty– sending Boston on their first power play of the night.
Late in the ensuing power play, David Krejci worked a slap pass from the face-off circle on Varlamov’s right side along the dasher to David Pastrnak (17) in the low slot for the redirection and power play goal that tied the game, 1-1.
Backes (1) tipped the puck in the midst of Krejci’s (14) pass to Pastrnak, thereby lending the Three Davids to collect all of the possible points on the goal (Backes and Krejci the assists and Pastrnak the goal) at 16:43.
Moments later, on a turnover, turned breakaway opportunity, Jake DeBrusk (6) capitalized on an unassisted effort by getting Varlamov to commit and roof the puck into the the twine at 19:20 of the first period– giving the Bruins a 2-1 lead.
As both teams entered the dressing room for the first intermission, the B’s led in shots on goal (10-7) and on the scoreboard, 2-1. Boston also led in shot attempts that hit the post, 4-0, as well as hits, 8-4. Colorado had the advantage in takeaways (2-1), giveaways (3-1) and face-off win percentage (92-8) after the first period.
Both teams had three blocked shots each and the Bruins were 1/1 on the power play after one period. The Avs had yet to see time on the skater advantage.
DeBrusk (7) scored his second goal of the night (and first on the power play) after Grzelcyk kept the play alive in the offensive zone, completing a pass to Bergeron for the bumper back to Pastrnak who then one-timed a shot from the point that redirected off DeBrusk in front of Varlamov to give the Bruins a 3-1 lead.
Pastrnak (8) and Bergeron (17) were credited with the primary and secondary assists at 3:05 of the second period.
Pastrnak later hooked Barberio at 7:52 of the middle frame and the Bruins were shorthanded as a result for the first time in the action Wednesday night.
The Avalanche matched Boston’s puck moving efforts on their first power play of the evening with Tyson Barrie working the puck to MacKinnon for a cross-ice pass to Rantanen.
The young Colorado forward then snapped a shot past Halak’s blocker side to make it a one-goal game on the power play.
Ranatnen’s (7) goal at 8:47 of the second period was assisted by MacKinnon (14) and Barrie (14) and gave the Avs a distinct swing in momentum for the rest of the period.
With Bruins captain, Zdeno Chara, unable to return to the game having sustained a lower body injury in the first period, Colorado pounced on the already weakened Boston blue line.
This, even after Nikita Zadorov had a brief visit to the penalty box for interfering with Bruins forward, Chris Wagner at 9:14. Colorado killed off Zadorov’s minor infraction with ease and kept the momentum going, leading in just about every statistical category by the end of the period.
Late in the second period, Bergeron hooked Rantanen who then embellished the infraction and received an unsportsmanlike conduct minor penalty himself and the teams would see 4-on-4 action at 19:11 of the second period.
Both teams would start the third a skater short for a little over a minute into the final frame.
Through 40 minutes of play, the Colorado Avalanche looked more and more like the complete 60-minute game playing style team that they have been so far this season and the Boston Bruins were looking like they were on the brink of collapse.
Boston still led the game, 3-2, entering the second intermission, but shots on goal were even, 14-14, with the Avs leading, 7-4, in the second period alone. The Bruins led in blocked shots (10-6), but the Avalanche led in everything else including, takeaways (6-5), giveaways (5-1), hits (13-10) and face-off win% (69-31).
Colorado was 1/1 on the power play, while Boston was 2/3 with the extra skater.
Early in the third period, Matt Calvert (2) converted on his second goal of the season after following up with the original play and crashing the net for a haphazardly taken backhand spin-o-rama that eyes set for the twine after a wacky bounce resulted off of Halak.
Calvert’s goal was unassisted at 2:11 of the third period and tied the game, 3-3.
From there, it was all Avalanche as the Bruins tumbled down the mountain that is the immense comeback capability of Colorado.
MacKinnon (12) added a goal of his own with a wrist shot that beat Halak cleanly from about the blue line on a rush into the attacking zone, giving the Avs their 2nd lead of the night, 4-3, at 9:02.
Rantanen (22) and Ian Cole (5) had the assists on what would become MacKinnon’s game-winning goal.
Krejci was guilty of holing Tyson Jost at 13:40 of the third period and with one second remaining on the ensuing power play, Jost (3) made the Bruins pay as former Bruin, Carl Soderberg, initially swiped at the puck through the legs of the Boston netminder, leaving the puck sitting at the goal line behind Halak, whereby Jost tapped it into the empty net.
With about three minutes remaining in regulation, Cassidy pulled his netminder for an extra attacker. Jared Bednar’s Avalanche were too much for the Bruins to handle, narrowly missing the empty net goal if it weren’t for Krejci’s heroics by the time the loose puck reached the crease on one empty net attempt.
However, while in the offensive zone on a last-ditch effort, Bergeron hooked his stick around MacKinnon and was penalized with a two-minute minor infraction at 18:57.
The Avalanche completed the hat trick on the power play with their third power play goal of the night on the ensuing skater advantage when Kerfoot (8) tipped a blast from Soderberg past Halak at 19:45 of the third period.
Soderberg (6) and Girard (8) had the assists on the goal and Colorado secured the 6-3 win as time expired.
At the final horn, the Avs led in shots on goal (25-23), giveaways (6-2), hits (22-15) and face-off win% (59-41), while the B’s led in blocked shots (20-18). Colorado was 3/3 on the power play and the Bruins were 2/3 on the skater advantage.
The Avalanche outscored Boston, 10-3, in their two meetings last season.
Boston is now 0-1-0 to begin a four-game road trip that swings through Dallas (Nov. 16th), Arizona (Nov. 17th) and Detroit (Nov. 21st)– after Wednesday night’s loss in Denver– before heading back home for a Black Friday (Nov. 23rd) matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
43-30-9, 95 points, 4th in the Central Division
2nd Wild Card in the West, lost in First Round to NSH 4-2
Subtractions: G Jonathan Bernier (signed with DET), F Blake Comeau (signed with DAL), F Felix Girard (signed with the Manitoba Moose, AHL), D Jesse Graham (signed with Utica Comets, AHL), F Rocco Grimaldi (signed with NSH), G Andrew Hammond (signed with MIN), D Brooks Orpik (acquired from WSH, bought out, then signed with WSH), F Nail Yakupov (signed, KHL)
Offseason Analysis: Now that Erik Karlsson has been traded from the Ottawa Senators to the San Jose Sharks, Colorado Avalanche General Manager Joe Sakic has had one of the best offseasons. Kidding aside, the Senators lottery protected their 2018 1st round pick in the three-team Matt Duchene trade, meaning the Avalanche have Ottawa’s 2019 1st round pick in addition to their own.
The #LoseForHughes watch has begun.
But as for Colorado’s offseason, things have gone swimmingly as Sakic’s roster made the playoffs last season for the first time since 2014. Blake Comeau’s 34 points (13 goals, 21 assists) in 79 games in 2017-18 have departed for Dallas. In his top-nine forward role, Sakic replaced the 32-year-old Comeau with 28-year-old, Matt Calvert.
Calvert had 9-15–24 totals in 69 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets last season and is looking to turn things around in health and in offensive production as a top-nine forward.
While Colorado’s top line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen look to continue leading the team in production, Alexander Kerfoot seeks to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump on the second line.
On defense, Sakic knows time is on his side.
Nikita Zadorov and Tyson Barrie have made an effective pairing with Samuel Girard and Erik Johnson contesting for more ice time. Girard had an impressive rookie debut with three goals and 17 assists (20 points) in 68 games played, while Barrie and Johnson played veteran roles– anchoring the blue line for the Avs.
Patrik Nemeth proved to be a smart pickup off waivers from the Stars last season as a bottom-pair defender, so it was an easy decision to re-sign with the NHL’s hottest up-and-coming team from a 48-point season in 2016-17 to a 95-point effort (and playoff berth) in 2017-18.
To complete his top-six defensemen on the depth chart, Sakic signed 29-year-old durable defender, Ian Cole, to a three-year contract worth a friendly $4.250 million per season.
Cole had 20 points in 67 games with the Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins last season and is looking to prove that he’s more than just a flash in the pan at this point in his career.
A two-time Cup winner with the Penguins, Cole is in the midst of his prime and brings a competitive edge to the Avs in his quiet stability.
In goal, Semyon Varlamov has some competition for the starting job– if he can stay healthy– as Philipp Grubauer was acquired at the draft in June and signed to a three-year extension at a cap friendly $3.333 million per season.
Grubauer, 26, dropped the first two games of the Washington Capitals postseason run in April while Braden Holtby was figuring himself out, but managed a 15-10-3 record in 35 games played in the 2017-18 regular season as Washington’s backup. He also had a 2.35 goals against average and .923 save percentage in his most games played in a season since reaching the NHL during the 2012-13 season.
Varlamov, 30, managed to play in 51 games last season, despite injuries, and amassed a 24-16-6 record to go along with a 2.68 GAA and .916 SV%. Last season was much better than his 6-17-0 record in 24 games played in 2016-17, in which Varlamov had a career-worst 3.38 GAA and .898 SV%.
With one-year remaining on his contract at $5.900 million a season, Varlamov’s reached a make-or-break point in his career, let alone his time in the Mile High City. Grubauer is the way of the foreseeable future and a little healthy competition never hurt anyone for the starting job.
Sure Jonathan Bernier’s moved on to the Detroit Red Wings, but Colorado has one of the most sought after goalies that was on the slim trade market among options in the crease.
Offseason Grade: B-
The Avalanche had some needs and they filled them. In accordance with hockey logic, Colorado shouldn’t be as good as they were last season this season, but for the first time in at least a few years it appears they’ve found a reliable goaltender.
As MacKinnon continues to emerge and the kids grow into their own, Sakic’s roster looks set to make some waves in the coming years– at least as a spoiler (they took Nashville to six games before being eliminated after all), if not something more.
Despite acquiring Brooks Orpik only to buy him out as some sort of larger scheme the Capitals secretly wanted all along to sign him to a one-year, $1.000 million contract, Colorado didn’t make a bad choice this offseason. It’s just the beginning of making themselves an attractive free agent destination once again.
With a 3-2 victory at Pepsi Center, the Nashville Predators have taken a commanding 3-1 advantage in their First Round series against the Colorado Avalanche.
All three periods had a very distinct character in this tilt. Act One featured the Predators team that many were predicting could win the Stanley Cup during the offseason, followed by a second period that saw both clubs’ emotions boil over. Finally, Colorado mounted an exciting comeback in the third frame that fell just short of forcing overtime.
Let’s tackle them in that order, shall we?
Perhaps the most boring of the three periods was the first, but that is more a compliment to the second and third frames than it’s an insult to the opening 20 minutes.
G Jonathan Bernier in particular experienced a very quick introduction to Game 4, as he took a W Viktor Arvidsson slap shot to the mask only 22 seconds into the match. In fact, the clapper was so forceful that it damaged the cage through which Bernier peers, forcing him to swap his mask for his blank head gear worn at practice while Avalanche Head Equipment Manager Mark Miller made the necessary repairs.
However, Miller was far from the center of attention while he was working, as the Avs unwisely ended up with D Patrik Nemeth (closing hand on puck) and F Carl Soderberg (hi-sticking against C Nick Bonino) both occupying the penalty box at the same time whilst he was working, resulting in a 2:41 Predators power play that included 1:19 of five-on-three action.
It seems that Bernier’s blank mask is his good luck charm when it comes to facing such tough tasks, as the scoreless draw that was on the scoreboard when Nemeth entered the sin bin remained when Soderberg was released. However, for fear of wearing out any positive juju the mask may contain, Bernier swapped out masks once again for his usual duds at the next stoppage of play.
If you’re one to buy into any sort of thing like that, then perhaps you’d think Bernier should have stuck with the white headgear considering First Star of the Game F Filip Forsberg (F Ryan Johansen and Third Star D Mattias Ekholm) scored a wrist shot with 4:27 remaining in the first period to score Nashville’s first game-opening goal of the series.
That being said, I highly doubt Bernier’s mask played too much into Forsberg’s strike, as D Duncan Siemens – playing in only his third-career Stanley Cup Playoff game after being one of Colorado’s first-round picks in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft – was little more than dead weight in his attempt to slow down his opposition. The forward dragged Siemens along as he drove toward Bernier’s crease before patiently depositing his wrister behind the netminder’s left skate.
Due in large part to the extended power play, the Predators dominated the first period in a far stronger fashion than a 1-0 score hints at. Nashville out-shot the Avs 15-8 – nearly doubling the hosts’ offensive offerings.
Inversely, even though the Predators added two more goals in the second frame, it didn’t seem like either team had much of an upper hand on the other in the middle 20 minutes.
That was due in large part to the Predators taking five penalties to Colorado’s three, including a 24-second five-on-three opportunity that effectively amounted to a 3:36 extended power play for the Avalanche.
Just like the Preds, Colorado was unable to convert neither that two-man advantage nor any other second period power play into a goal, which played right into the hands of Nashville. 47 seconds after F Colton Sissons was released from the penalty box (he was guilty of playing the puck with his hand at the face-off dot), he (Forsberg and Ekholm) scored a wrister at the 7:18 mark of the frame to double the Predators’ advantage to two goals.
Just in case Colorado didn’t learn the error of its ways the first time in losing track of penalized players returning to action, F Craig Smith (F Austin Watson) reiterated the lesson with 8:11 remaining in the third period. Having been released from serving RW Ryan Hartman‘s roughing penalty against W Sven Andrighetto only seven seconds before, Smith collected a loose puck at center ice and proceeded to rip a wrister over Bernier’s glove.
Speaking of Hartman, he kind of went berserk at the 9:41 mark of the frame – hence the reason he roped Smith into the box with him to help serve his penalties. Just seconds before the the events leading up to the infractions, Andrighetto borderline speared Smith near his midsection while both were working their ways towards G Pekka Rinne‘s zone. This sent Hartman well over the edge, as he dropped the gloves at the next stoppage of play and pounced on Andrighetto without waiting for the Swiss to agree to fight.
As a result, Hartman was charged with holding the stick and roughing, while Andrighetto only took a roughing penalty to give Colorado the two-minute power play that featured RW Mikko Rantanen getting severely cut below the eye by F Nathan MacKinnon‘s stick (Rantanen returned to play before the end of the frame) and led to Smith’s goal.
To complete our conversation about unruly penalties, it wasn’t only Andrighetto and Hartman allowing their tempers to get the best of them. Ekholm and Second Star LW Gabriel Landeskog were charged with negating penalties with 6:32 remaining in the period (slashing and roughing, respectively), and F Alexander Kerfoot‘s roughing infraction against Rinne held over into the third period.
It’s Kerfoot’s penalty that really made Head Coach Jared Bednar’s reluctant decision to replace Bernier with G Andrew Hammond – another product of the F Matt Duchene trade, for those keeping track at home – even harder to make. However, it was announced that Bernier suffered a lower-body injury, meaning it was time once again for the Hamburglar to take over the NHL.
If only one period of action is enough evidence (it isn’t), the Avs are no worse off defensively in Game 5 with Hammond than they were with Bernier. After the backup-turned-starter saved 23-of-26 shots faced (.885 save percentage) in the first two frames, the former Senator saved all eight shots that came his way in the final period.
Colorado finally got on the scoreboard at the 5:20 mark of the third period when Landeskog (F Tyson Jost and D Tyson Barrie) buried the lone power play goal of the game, a five-on-three wrister with Hartman and Sissons in the penalty box for charging Soderberg and tripping F J.T. Compher, respectively.
The comeback continued with 8:59 remaining in regulation when Kerfoot (W Matthew Nieto and D Nikita Zadorov) pulled the Avs back within a goal on a wrister. Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette challenged for goalie interference against W Blake Comeau – and likely should have won the challenge considering Comeau’s skate made contact with Rinne before the puck even reached him – but the NHL is the NHL and decided to keep the marker on the board.
Regardless, even though the Avs fired a total of 11 shots at Rinne in the third period, he did not yield the game-tying goal. In all, Rinne saved 31-of-33 shots faced (.939 save percentage) to earn his first road playoff victory since Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals in Anaheim on May 20, 2017.
Speaking of road wins, Colorado’s offense cannot afford to fall in another 3-0 hole in Game 5 in Nashville if it wants to extend its postseason any further. After all, the Avs have only won one of the three games in which they scored the first goal.
After a quick plane ride from the Rocky Mountains to the Smokies, Game 5 is scheduled for 9:30 p.m. Eastern on Friday, April 20 and will take place at Bridgestone Arena. The match can be viewed on NBCSN, SN360 and TVAS.
Today marks the final Monday of regular season NHL action. Do with it what you will, but I’d strongly recommend watching hockey.
Buffalo at Toronto gets the evening underway at 7 p.m., followed half an hour later by a pair of tilts (Winnipeg at Ottawa [RDS] and Carolina at Florida). Two more puck drops (Washington at St. Louis [NHLN/TVAS] and Edmonton at Minnesota) are scheduled for 8 p.m., while tonight’s nightcap – Colorado at Los Angeles (SN/SN1) – waits until 10:30 before getting started. All times Eastern.
I’d originally marked today’s DtFR Game of the Day as the Battle of the QEW, but Buffalo extending its streak of missing the postseason to a seventh season puts a damper on that option. Instead, let’s make the trip to Hollywood to see if Colorado can keep its playoff hopes alive.
There were major concerns surrounding 42-28-9 Colorado’s playoff chances when 24-16-6 G Semyon Varlamov was shut down with a lower-body injury, but 18-11-3 G Jonathan Bernier put a damper on that last night with a 38-save performance against the Ducks.
Bernier’s performance in Anaheim, albeit an overtime loss, shouldn’t have really been all that much of a surprise. After all, Varlamov missed the entire month of January due to injury, and Bernier posted a 9-2-1 record in his stead with a .936 save percentage and 2.17 GAA – both marks that are even better than the solid .913 save percentage and 2.86 GAA that he has to show for the entire season.
Bernier seems to relish at the opportunity to be the starter, and he’ll be relied upon this week to once again prove his worth and complete Colorado’s playoff push.
However, since he was in action last night, it remains to be seen if he’ll man the pipes this evening or if 0-1-0 G Andrew Hammond – yes, the Hamburglar from the Senators’ 2015 playoff push – will be called into action for only his second NHL start of the season. Hammond commanded the Avalanche’s crease on March 28, posting a .939 save percentage in a 2-1 home loss to the Flyers.
Of course, part of what makes the Avs so great is not even what they have to offer on the defensive end, but instead their solid attack. Colorado has averaged four goals per game in its last two games, with seven different players averaging at least a point per game in that span.
Of those seven, no player has shone quite as bright as F Tyson Jost. People that don’t regularly watch Colorado might think I misspelled F Nathan MacKinnon (MacKinnon does, after all, rank fifth in the NHL in points and 10th in goals and assists), but Jost has scored three goals in these last two games to improve the second-liner’s season totals to 12-10-22.
Joining Jost in posting at least a point per game in Colorado’s last two outings include D Tyson Barrie (1-2-3 totals since March 30, 13-42-55 overall), F Alexander Kerfoot (1-2-3 since March 30, 18-24-42 overall), W Sven Andrighetto (2-0-2 since March 30, 8-13-21 overall), RW Mikko Rantanen (1-1-2 since March 30, 28-54-82 overall), MacKinnon (0-2-2 since March 30, 38-56-94 overall) and LW Gabriel Landeskog (0-2-2 since March 30, 24-35-59 overall).
The 43-28-8 Kings enter tonight’s tilt as the Western Conference’s first wild card and riding a three-game point streak. As has been a characteristic of Los Angeles and the three California teams for years now, the Kings have found that success by playing some spectacular and physical defense.
Since March 26, Los Angeles has allowed only 26 shots against per game. That’s the second-best mark in the NHL in that time, bested only by Edmonton allowing one fewer shot in its last three games. D Derek Forbort (3.3 blocks per game since March 26) and C Anze Kopitar (five takeaways in his last three games) have led that defensive charge, but the Kings have also had the luxury of four players (LW Kyle Clifford, Forbort, F Trevor Lewis and LW Tanner Pearson) imposing their wills along the boards and averaging two hits per game during this run.
This defensive success has kept 31-27-3 G Jonathan Quick‘s workload light, and that’s just fine by him as he’s managed a .964 save percentage and .96 GAA in his last two starts to lead the Kings to allowing only 1.33 goals against per game since March 26 – the lowest mark in the league in that time.
Quick, the (t)ninth-most winningest goaltender on the season, has a .923 save percentage and a 10th-best 2.37 GAA for this campaign, not to mention a (t)fourth-best five shutouts.
The Kings have certainly had the upper hand in their last two meetings with the Avs, as they’ve earned four points in comparison to Colorado’s one. Just like tonight’s tilt, December 21’s contest took place at Staples Center, where Los Angeles earned a 2-1 overtime victory (W Dustin Brown provided the game-winner). Meanwhile, the March 22 matchup in Denver was a much more lopsided affair, as the Kings posted a dominating 7-1 score (Kopitar earned First Star honors with his four-goal performance).
Should that winning trend continue tonight, the Kings will jump back into third place in the Pacific Division, but they’ll be giving a game-in-hand to Anaheim in the process that – should it convert it into a win of its own – could return the table to how it currently stands.
Meanwhile, as the Western Conference’s second wild card, Colorado has much to gain by pulling off the road upset tonight. A regulation win would propel the Avalanche over Los Angeles into the first wildcard spot, a much more certain position that also has the luxury of avoiding the dreaded Predators in the first round of the playoffs.
However, similar to Los Angeles’ situation with Anaheim, the Blues still have a game-in-hand on Colorado even though they’re also in action tonight at home against the Capitals. If the Avs are lucky, they can expand their lead on St. Louis to three points with a win and a Notes regulation loss, but it’s possible that Colorado could end the night further from playoff qualification than it started – that happens if the Avs lose in regulation and St. Louis earns at least one point, as the Blues would jump into the second wildcard in that situation due to the aforementioned game in hand.
With the top two lines playing remarkably well for Colorado, the Avs are going to be a tough out tonight regardless of who they have in net. However, Los Angeles’ success against against the Avalanche so far this season has me thinking it will be the Kings that come away with two points tonight.
In a penalty-riddled meeting that is just begging for a follow up in the postseason, the Washington Capitals clinched their third-consecutive Metropolitan Division title by downing the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 at PPG Paints Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
A whopping 38 combined penalty minutes were distributed in this game, with the hosts taking 10 more than Washington due in large part to F Evgeni Malkin and Assistant Coach Mark Recchi both getting called for misconducts with 61 seconds remaining in regulation. Surprisingly, neither side could capitalize on its five power play opportunities.
One player that went unaffected by all this commotion was First Star of the Game G Philipp Grubauer. Though a late goal by Third Star RW Patric Hornqvist (Malkin and LW Carl Hagelin) cut his dreams of a career-high fourth shutout 3:45 short, his 36-of-37 performance (.973 save percentage) was more than enough to earn the victory.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have an offense scoring a goal per period in support. Washington registered all three of its tallies before Hornqvist got the Penguins on the scoreboard, starting with F T.J. Oshie‘s (W Andre Burakovsky and D John Carlson) wrist shot 6:25 into the first period.
Second Star D Dmitry Orlov (F Evgeny Kuznetsov) provided the game-winner on a wrister with 6:14 remaining in the second period. After the Pens had dumped the puck into their offensive zone at the end of a power play to get an even-strength line on the ice, Orlov ended up with possession and began driving through the center of the ice towards G Matt Murray. With D Olli Maatta left to beat, Orlov decided to use him as a screen and fire his wrister through the Finn’s legs, beating Murray’s blocker.
While Orlov does get credit for his second game-winner of the season, the biggest goal in this contest just might have been RW Tom Wilson‘s (D Matt Niskanen) tip-in only 23 seconds into the third period. The Toronto native’s 14th marker of the season set the score at 3-0, meaning Pittsburgh needed far more than a relatively late goal from Hornqvist to seriously cast doubt into the hearts and minds of the Capitals.
Murray took his 16th regulation loss of the season after saving only 31-of-34 shots faced (.912 save percentage).
In addition to clinching their third-consecutive division title, the Capitals’ road win also snapped an eight-game winning streak and 10-game point streak by the home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The hosts in the series now have a 98-54-21 record that is 44 points superior to the roadies.
The Original Trio reunite for a very fun-filled podcast. The Carolina Hurricanes were sold, Jaromir Jagr is soon to be unsigned, All-Star Rosters were scrutinized, US and Canada men’s national teams were analyzed and more in this action packed episode. #HealthBeforeHockey
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.
I don’t mean to be a Negative Nancy, but Sundays during football season can be a real struggle for a hockey blogger.
The problem is the league doesn’t schedule too many games while they have major competition. The NHL is used to working with the NBA (heck, 11 arenas are used by both leagues, and Carolina’s PNC Arena is also N.C. State’s home court), but the NFL has a special talent for attracting everyone’s attention (just ask your preacher!).
Oh well, there’s only 10 more Sundays until the Super Bowl, then it’ll all be behind us. Thanks for reading my tangent.
Anyways, there’s four games on today’s schedule, starting with a pair (Los Angeles at Chicago [NHLN] and Ottawa at Winnipeg [SN/TVAS]) at 7 p.m. Tonight’s co-nightcaps (Arizona at Vegas and Dallas at Colorado) don’t wait long to drop the puck, as they’re slated to get underway an hour later at 8 p.m. All times Eastern.
Folks, we have a problem: since I try my hardest to not repeat teams within the span of two or three days, that technically would leave us with only two games to choose from tonight.
Except, the Senators-Jets and Coyotes-Golden Knights games don’t look like they’ll be very… good. At least 12 points separate the competing clubs in both these matchups.
Therefore, it looks like we’re going to have to break my rule, but are we going to watch the Kings-Blackhawks rivalry or what looks to be the most competitive game of the day according to the standings?
I just don’t have it in me to feature Chicago for the 11th time this season – especially while it sits outside playoff position.
Maybe Probably next Sunday, Hawks fans.
Like I said yesterday, a big part of 15-10-1 Dallas’ four-game winning streak is its success on the defensive end. Since November 24 (a.k.a. since American Thanksgiving), the Stars have allowed only nine goals against, the (t)third-fewest in the NHL in that time.
Let’s jump a little deeper into this topic and talk about Dallas’ penalty kill.
For the entire season, the Stars have already stopped 84.2 percent of opposing power plays to be ranked (t)fourth-best in the NHL, but they’ve been even better over this four-game run by killing 86.7 percent of penalties (the [t]sixth-best effort since November 24).
Even though G Ben Bishop‘s .882 save percentage while the Stars have been shorthanded since American Thanksgiving has been only average, he’s been aided by the stellar play of D Greg Pateryn, who leads the team during this run with four shorthanded blocks, and the entire kill team. With the Avalanche converting only 19.8 percent of their power plays for the season (15th-best in the NHL), the Stars should be able to keep Colorado’s special teams contained.
Of note for the Stars is that Bishop will probably not draw the start this evening having led Dallas to a 3-2 shootout victory last night against the Blackhawks. Instead, 2-3-1 G Kari Lehtonen and his .897 save percentage will probably earn his sixth start of the season.
Speaking of the 12-10-2 Avs, it seems like the wheels are starting to come off like many prediccted this preseason. Since trading F Matt Duchene on November 5, the Avs have earned a measly 4-5-2 record that falls squarely at the feet of the offense, which has managed only 33 goals in 11 games played (the [t]10th-fewest in the league in that time).
What’s frustrating about this slump for the Avs is they know they’re capable of so much more. After all, Colorado does average an eighth-best 3.17 goals-per-game.
The problem is that all of Colorado’s depth scoring has absolutely disappeared since making the trip to Stockholm, Sweden. Even though rookie F Alexander Kerfoot (5-6-11 since November 5), suspended LW Gabriel Landeskog (5-4-9 since then) and F Nathan MacKinnon (5-11-16 in that time) have all performed spectacularly in the past month, the biggest contributors behind them are two defensemen with a combined 13 points.
You might try to argue that this is what happens when a team trades away a former third-overall pick that has scored 430 points in his career, but the fact of the matter is Duchene provided only 4-6-10 totals before being shipped from the state capital of Colorado to the national capital of Canada, only the fourth-best effort on the squad at the time.
Instead, I point to RW Mikko Rantanen‘s drop-off as a reason for the Avalanche’s decline. In his opening 13 games of the season, Rantanen managed 5-7-12 totals – including a whopping eight power play points evenly split between goals and assists.
Though he’s still producing points on the top line with MacKinnon and W Nail Yakupov, only two of his eight points in the past 11 games have been goals, with both of them coming with the man-advantage. While I don’t think it will be a cure-all for Colorado, the sooner Rantanen rediscovers his scoring touch, the sooner it will get back to improving on last year’s debacle of a 22-56-4 season.
Regardless of depth scoring, we should also probably have a discussion about how averaging three goals-per-game for nearly a month isn’t enough to earn Colorado more wins, but I suppose that’s a discussion for another day.
Considering defense has been the backbone of the Stars’ recent run of success, I have a hard time believing they’ll allow the Avs offense much room to operate tonight.
By winning yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at the American Airlines Center 3-2 after a shootout, the Dallas Stars have beaten the Chicago Blackhawks twice in three days.
It seems both planes traveling from O’Hare International Airport to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport chose to play Annie as their in-flight entertainment, because the theme of “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better” seemed to be on the minds of both clubs.
RW Alexander Radulov (F Tyler Seguin and LW Jamie Benn) got the exchange of goals started 5:57 into the game when he buried a power play wrist shot, but the Blackhawks leveled the game at one-all only 2:34 later courtesy of D Cody Franson‘s (F Ryan Hartman and D Duncan Keith) first goal of the season.
Scoring subsided until 7:45 remained in the second period; that’s when C Radek Faksa (LW Remi Elie and F Tyler Pitlick) bagged a snap shot to return a one-goal advantage to Dallas. Though it took them a little bit longer to tie the game, W Brandon Saad (D Connor Murphy and C Jonathan Toews) was able to set the score at 2-2 with 41 seconds remaining before the second intermission. Ironically, the Annie theme involved even season goal counts, as both Faksa and Saad registered their 10th goals of their campaigns.
Neither squad could break the tie with the remaining 20 minutes of regulation, nor could Chicago or Dallas take advantage of five minutes of three-on-three overtime. Since somebody has to win, the game advanced into the shootout.
- As hosts, the Stars elected to shoot first. Head Coach Ken Hitchcock sent Radulov onto the ice, who proceeded to beat G Anton Forsberg.
- In attempts to hold serve, Head Coach Joel Quenneville deployed Toews, but Bishop was there to save the wrister.
- Next up for Dallas was Seguin, who matched Radulov’s effort to force a miss-and-lose situation for the Hawks.
- There’s few on Chicago’s roster more clutch than F Patrick Kane, but his snapper fell victim to the same fate as Toews’: saved by Bishop.
Bishop earned the victory after saving 32-of-34 shots faced (.941 save percentage), leaving the shootout loss to Forsberg, who saved 33-of-35 (.943).
Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have been absolutely rolling of late, as they’ve won 14 of the past 19 matchups. As such, their 34-20-6 record is 16 points better than the roadies’.
Well NHL fans, we are roughly at the quarter-mark of the season (slightly past that actually… my bad). It has been very interesting to say the least. There have been quite a few surprises, but there is plenty of hockey left to be played. I wanted to take a moment to give you my humble opinions on some of the (potential) regular-season award winners at this point.
Tampa Bay Lightning
I’m going to overrule the St. Louis Blues and go with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Although currently just one point ahead in the number-one spot in the league, they have been playing lights-out (pun intended) hockey. The revival of post-injury Steven Stamkos has rocked this team. The goal support coming from Nikita Kucherov has also been a pleasant surprise. These players lead the league in points and both have top spots in assists and goals respectively. If their goaltending remains strong and their offense can continue producing, there is no reason to doubt that they are capable of winning this award.
Hart Memorial Trophy
I was very close to arguing Sergei Bobrovsky, but most people would quit reading the article at that point. In all seriousness, if Stamkos continues his dominant play and the Lightning continue being one of the best teams in the league, he is destined to win this award for a pretty simple reason. This honor is intended to go to the most valuable player, meaning that without this player, the team would be completely different. With the absence of Stamkos for most of last season, the Lightning earned just 94 points and missed the playoffs entirely. In his return, they are on pace for 100+ points and a top finish in the league. Sure there were other changes to this team, but having Stamkos is one of the biggest.
Calder Memorial Trophy
This may be been the toughest choice so far. Do I think Boeser is the best first-year player this year? Honestly, I’m still not sure. The difference between Boeser and other rookies is that he is playing on a team with limited talent, so he gets the opportunity to shine. This is the same reason why I consider Clayton Keller and Alexander Kerfoot top candidates. At the end of the day, this specific award doesn’t go to the best first-year player, it goes to the one who displayed their talents in terms of statistics. When you’re buried on a 3rd or 4th line playing limited minutes, it is difficult to make a huge impact right away. While some rookies are still developing on their respective clubs, Vancouver has thrown Boeser into the fire and he has responded well. The Canucks are playing pretty good hockey right now and Boeser (11-11-22) has a big role in that success.
Alright, now it’s time to talk about Bobrovsky. The Columbus Blue Jackets are currently first in the powerhouse Metropolitan Division and the goaltending department is a key reason why. The offense is still working out the kinks and the special teams units have been struggling (most notably the power-play). Bobrovsky has the capability to win a game by himself and he has done so several times this season. He leads the NHL with a 1.92 GAA and a 0.935 SV%. Pair that with his league leading four shutouts and second-place 14 wins overall and you can see my case. He arguably owns both the save of the year and the runner-up to the save of the year as well. If Bobrovsky can continue his great play, he should repeat as the Vezina Trophy winner.
James Norris Memorial Trophy
So who should I pick here? Brent Burns? No. Erik Karlsson? No. Alex Pietrangelo? Sure, why not? This is an interesting year in terms of defensive play. Many of the typical candidates for this award have struggled and may be on the outside looking in at the end of the season. Pietrangelo has taken the league by storm (although many people still don’t know who I’m talking about). In my opinion, this award winner must play both ends of the ice, meaning they have strong offensive and defensive play. Pietrangelo is leading defenseman in goals (7), tied for second in points (20), and also tied for second in the +/- category (11). While his isn’t the best pure defensemen, he has the best overall game, which should give him this award if he can continue his strong play.
Jack Adams Award
Last, but not least, this is the part where I get to to discuss the unexplainable wonder that is the Las Vegas Golden Knights. Gallant was actually a finalist for this award with the Florida Panthers. Now in his first season behind the bench in Las Vegas, he has turned what should have been a train wreck into an incredible story. The question of if this story will continue will likely dictate if he is considered for this award once again. The Golden Knights are now 15-7-1 and still hold first place in the Pacific Division. Even if they falter and simply squeak into a playoff spot, one would imagine Gallant gets the nod here. Honestly, this will probably be a tossup along with New Jersey’s John Hynes and Tampa Bay’s Jon Cooper, but anything can happen between now and the post-season.