Tag Archives: Alzner

December 4 – Day 61 – They’re currently in line for the postseason, but…

For the second day in a row, the NHL has scheduled only four games in a row. While a limited schedule makes it easier to keep an eye on everything, it does make it a slow night for our fantasy teams, doesn’t it?

What’s really nice about tonight’s slate is that all four games have a different starting time, which should hopefully ensure that there’s at least one contest being actively played from 7 p.m. – when San Jose makes its yearly visit to Washington (NHLN) – until Philadelphia at Calgary, which drops the puck at 9 p.m., wraps up around midnight. Starting between those games are the New York Islanders at Florida at 7:30 p.m., followed by Boston at Nashville (SN/TVAS) half an hour later. All times Eastern.

The only game I had circled on my calendar since the start of the season is taking place in the Saddledome, as G Brian Elliott is making his return to Calgary – his home for the 2016-’17 season – but I can’t say that matchup gets me all that excited. Instead, I think we need to wander towards The Capital of the Free World.

 

Though both these clubs currently occupy playoff positions, I wouldn’t go so far as to assume they are two of the top 16 teams in the NHL.

I find that especially apparent with tonight’s visitors, the 14-9-2 Sharks. Even though they’re in third place in the Pacific Division, they sport an offense that manages a third-worst 2.56 goals-per-game, putting them in the same conversation as Anaheim, Arizona, Boston, Buffalo, Detroit and Philadelphia in terms of offensive inefficiency – all teams currently sitting on the outside looking in at the tournament for the Stanley Cup if it started today.

Of course, having a winning record with an offense as bad as San Jose’s makes the defense look really, really good. In fact, it’s because the Sharks allow only 2.24 goals against-per-game (second in the NHL) that this team is able to thrive.

A major player in that effort is 10-6-1 G Martin Jones, who has managed a solid .926 season save percentage for a 2.23 GAA to rank sixth and fourth, respectively, in those statistics among the 34 goaltenders with at least 10 starts to their names.

But it’s not simply Jones. The Sharks’ physical defense has also been among the league’s strongest, allowing only 29.7 shots against-per-game to rank second-best in the NHL. Stand-out skaters include D Justin Braun (2.2 blocks-per-game), F Logan Couture (team-leading 27 takeaways) and D Brenden Dillon (2.8 hits-per-game), but it’s the entire team’s commitment to excellence in their own zone that really makes this San Jose team a tough out.

Meanwhile, the best word to explain the 15-11-1 Capitals is “average” (we’ll be generous and not tack on any adverbs). Gone are the days of dominating both ends of the ice, as Washington manages the (t)13th-fewest goals (2.89 per game) while allowing the 12th-most against (3.07 per game).

If anyone is going to take the blame for Washington’s struggles, it’s not going to be its stars. W Alex Ovechkin has been stellar this season with his league leading 19 goals (ok, he’s tied for the with Tampa’s RW Nikita Kucherov), while F Evgeny Kuznetsov has been equally stellar on the second line with his 9-20-29 totals.

14-6-0 G Braden Holtby has also been solid, posting a .919 save percentage for a 2.63 GAA to rank (t)12th and 11th, respectively, among the group of 34 netminders mentioned when we discussed Jones.

Instead, what seems to be holding the club back is simply the absence of yesteryear’s stars, specifically those on the blueline. With the exception of D John Carlson and his stellar 2-18-20 totals, there are no defensemen contributing on the offensive end anymore.

Though D Kevin Shattenkirk has moved on to the Big Apple, I think the major reason for this decline is the departure of D Karl Alzner to Montréal. No, Alzner was never a major offensive threat: he managed only 19-98-117 totals in his nine seasons with the Caps (.2 points per game, 13 per campaign). But it’s the fact that Alzner can dominate the defensive zone almost single-handedly that allowed the offense – and his defensive partner – the freedom and versatility to take chances when they had the puck on offense.

Should the Capitals desire to hold on to their playoff spot, I bet they’ll find a way to bring in another solid defenseman of Alzner’s mold. Until then, the Caps are a living example of what can happen when you overpay too many players.

Apparently below average is enough to get by in the Eastern Conference right now, because Washington currently occupies seventh place in the conference and the second wild card position. That being said, I think Washington’s offense has enough in it to get past the Sharks’ vaunted defense and earn two points tonight.


The Dallas Stars didn’t skip a beat playing in back-to-back DtFR Game of the Days, as they beat the Colorado Avalanche 7-2 at the Pepsi Center.

Though it took him a moment to get going, the first period ended up being dominated by First Star of the Game F Tyler Seguin, who buried an unassisted backhanded shot with 5:16 remaining in the frame, followed 4:26 later (RW Alexander Radulov and Third Star D John Klingberg) by a tip-in to set the score at 2-0 going into the first intermission.

In my preview for this game, I commented on RW Mikko Rantanen scoring fewer goals since making the trip to Stockholm, Sweden. He apparently read the column (thanks for reading, Mikko), as he scored a wrist shot (F Nathan MacKinnon) 39 seconds into the second period to pull Colorado back within a goal.

C Jason Spezza (C Devin Shore and Klingberg) returned the two-goal advantage to the Stars 6:09 later with what proved to be the game-winning tally. For a contest clincher, it was far from an incredible marker, but more a reward for good work in the defensive zone. D Erik Johnson and Shore battled along the boards for a solid five seconds before the center was able to move the puck back to Klingberg in the left corner. When the defenseman returned the pass, Shore was off to the races, screaming up the boards before sliding a centering pass to Spezza, who redirected a the puck through G Jonathan Bernier‘s five-hole.

Another player I brought up in my preview was D Greg Pateryn, though it was for his efforts on the other end of the ice. This evening, he was rewarded for his hard work with his first goal of the season (Radulov and LW Jamie Benn), a slap shot scored at the 7:52 mark of the second period to set the score at 4-1. W Blake Comeau (W Matthew Nieto and F Carl Soderberg) was able to net a wrister with 7:15 remaining in the frame, but it proved to be the Avalanche’s final goal of the night.

Second Star RW Brett Ritchie (LW Curtis McKenzie), Shore and Ritchie (C Radek Faksa and D Esa Lindell) again for a second time provided the Stars’ three insurance goals in the final frame to set the 7-2 final score.

G Kari Lehtonen earned the victory after saving 25-of-27 shots faced (.926 save percentage), leaving the loss to Bernier, who saved five-of-nine (.556). Bernier was replaced by G Semyon Varlamov following Pateryn’s goal, who saved 16-of-18 (.889) for no decision.

Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series seem to be finding their groove again, as they’ve earned points in three-consecutive games. That being said, they’ll need quite a few more wins to catch up with the 34-21-6 hosts, who lead the series by 14 points.

October 28 – Day 25 – Oil Capital of Canada

There may be some great college football games and the World Series on today, but remember to make room for hockey!

There’s only one matinee on the schedule today, and it occurs in Buffalo when the Sabres host San Jose (SN) at 1 p.m. The rest of tonight’s action starts at its usual time of 7 p.m. when six contests (Los Angeles at Boston, Philadelphia at Toronto [CBC], the New York Rangers at Montréal [CITY/NHLN/SN1/TVAS], Anaheim at Tampa Bay, Detroit at Florida and Arizona at New Jersey) drop the puck, followed by three more (Columbus at St. Louis, the New York Islanders at Nashville and Pittsburgh at Minnesota) an hour later. Chicago pays a visit to Colorado at 9 p.m., while Washington makes its yearly trip to Edmonton (CBC/SN1) 60 minutes later to complete the night’s festivities. All times Eastern.

Before the season started, I had the New York-Montréal fixture circled on my calendar for being a rematch from last season’s playoffs and an Original Six game. Considering how both those clubs have started their seasons, I’m reconsidering that decision and am instead far more interested in seeing W Alex Ovechkin and C Connor McDavid try to outscore each other.

 

Somehow, we’ve made it 25 days into this season without featuring the Oilers. I know they’ve had a slow start to a season of high expectations, but what kind of atrocity have I committed?

Yes, now that NHL coaches have had an offseason to prepare plans for taking on 3-5-1 Edmonton’s high-flying offense, life hasn’t been quite as simple as many orange-clad fans would have hoped while analysts were pegging the Oilers for a deep 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs run.

Figuring out what has been the Oil’s problem is a tall task, as it seems they’re under-performing on both ends of the ice. Of course, the most obvious struggles have occurred on the offensive end.

As we all so well remember, Edmonton’s offense last season was a truly thrilling pleasure to watch, as they averaged 2.96 goals-per-game – the third-best mark in the league. This year, the Oilers are performing a tribute to the 2010-’11 season that earned them the opportunity to select C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins first overall in the ensuing NHL Entry Draft, as their 2.22 goals-per-game is second-worst in the NHL.

Though it’d be easy to say that they’ve grown complacent after earning massive contracts this summer, this lackluster effort is no fault of F Leon Draisaitl or McDavid. Both are averaging more than one point-per-game (a benchmark for the best forwards in the game), and their first line (completed by LW Patrick Maroon) has accounted for nine of the Oil’s 20 goals on the season.

One player that has really stood out to me is Zack Kassian, the third-line right wing that had a major coming-out party in the playoffs by scoring two game-winning goals against the Sharks. So far this year, he only has an assist to his credit, well under his .31 points-per-game scoring rate for his career.

Perhaps Kassin is one of those “Mr. April”-types: a player that has a knack for coming through in the clutch. That’s all fine and well when the calendar is flipped to that month, but it can be a major burden on the club in the remaining six months of the season. For Edmonton’s sake, let’s hope he can find a way to rediscover his scoring touch.

If he – and the rest of his team, for that matter – can’t, you have to wonder how much longer Head Coach Todd McLellan will keep Draisaitl on the top line if the offense continues to struggle. Though the Oilers have solid depth at the center position (Nugent-Hopkins, Ryan Strome and Jujhar Khaira are currently the bottom-three at the position), moving the German to his natural position on the second line could spread the offensive spark needed to get this team going.

Of course, I say all this after the Oil posted a 5-4 victory over the Stars Thursday. Perhaps the offense is finally finding its groove after all and McLellan will be able to keep his super line intact.

While the better half of Edmonton’s game so far has been defense, it still has not been as exemplary as last season. For the entirety of 2016-’17, the Oilers allowed 207 goals against, or 2.52 goals-per-game, which was the fifth-best effort in the Western Conference and eighth-best in the entire NHL.

A major part of that success was G Cam Talbot, who rocked a .919 save percentage to a 2.39 GAA, both of which ranked eighth-best in the league among goaltenders with at least 49 starts. Making those numbers even more impressive was the fact that Talbot, then 29-years-old, started a whopping 73 games last season to 4294 minutes.

Remember, those are only regular season numbers. Add in the postseason, and Talbot saw 5093 minutes last year. The fact that he showed up for camp this year is a true testament to his character given that workload.

Maybe it’s last season’s work schedule that is playing its part on 3-4-1 Talbot this year, because he simply has not been as good in his eight starts this season (out of nine games played by Edmonton, for those keeping track). Though it doesn’t help that he’s playing behind a defense that gives up a 10th-most 31 shots-per-game, his .909 save percentage and 2.96 GAA are the biggest change from last year’s Oilers team to this one, so either he needs to return to last season’s form or McLellan needs to better utilize backup G  Laurent Brossoit, or else General Manager Peter Chiarelli will be forced to further tax his tight budget to improve the defense while keeping in mind Draisaitl and McDavid’s contracts.

One team that knows more than its fair share about the salary cap is the 4-5-1 Capitals. As a result of following a “this is the year” mentality for the last three seasons (at least), General Manager Brian MacLellan was forced to make some tough decisions that eventually resulted in D Karl Alzner, F Marcus Johansson, D Kevin Shattenkirk and RW Justin Williams all exiting the Washington fold.

What’s left is a team that is struggling on both ends of the ice, made most apparent by their two-game losing skid at the hands of Florida and Vancouver.

While the offense is far from its former form (the Capitals average a 13th-worst 2.9 goals-per-game), it has been G Braden Holtby that has been the biggest blemish on Washington’s efforts. Even though he has a defense in front of him limiting his workload to 32.7 shots-per-game (14th-most in the NHL), he’s managed only a .913 save percentage for a 2.87 GAA.

For a netminder that owns career .921 and 2.32 marks, this is the definition of a slump.

Unfortunately for Head Coach Barry Trotz, helping Holtby out of his tough stretch is not as simple as starting G Philipp Grubauer, as the backup has been even worse than the starter with an .85 save percentage and 4.67 GAA.

I think Grubauer is a fine backup, but I can’t vouch for his ability to bounce back and get his season turned around. Holtby, however? I’ll bet you every cent I own (it’s a depleting total, cash in now!) that he’ll find a way to get this campaign back under his control to help a downgraded, but certainly not talent-less Capitals team to a fourth-straight playoff appearance.

The question is, of course, if his comeback begins tonight. It’s certainly possible, but considering both of Edmonton’s top-two lines got on the scorecard at least twice in its last game, I think the Oilers can keep their positive momentum rolling in tonight’s tilt.


Behind the impeccable play of First Star of the Game G Pekka Rinne, the Nashville Predators beat the Chicago Blackhawks 2-1 at the United Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Rinne allowed only one goal on 44 shots faced for a .977 save percentage. Making that stat even better – or worse, depending on your perspective – his lone blemish was an unassisted shorthanded wrist shot by F Artem Anisimov with 26 seconds remaining in the first frame.

Though G Corey Crawford entered the second period in line for the win, he exited the ice for the second intermission in line for what proved to be his fourth loss of the season. The only way for that to happen was for Crawford to allow both of the Predators’ goals in the middle frame, and he did just that.

First up was C Calle Jarnkrok, who leveled the game only 57 seconds into the period  with an unassisted wrister, his first goal of the season. But it was Second Star F Craig Smith‘s (D P.K. Subban and LW Kevin Fiala) power play wrister, buried with 8:58 remaining in the frame, that proved to be the deciding goal.

The Predators’ extra-man opportunity owes its start to D Jan Rutta for tripping C Frederick Gaudreau at the 9:30 mark of the period. Chicago was within 28 seconds of a successful kill before Smith took advantage of C Colton Sissons‘ screen to beat a blinded Crawford’s blocker with a wrister from the top of the left face-off circle.

Though the Blackhawks would fire 15 shots in the third period, Rinne stood tall to earn his fifth victory of the season. Crawford took the loss after saving 28-of-30 shots faced (.933 save percentage).

Nashville’s victory helped road teams avoid the business-week sweep at the hands of the 14-7-4 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, but visitors still trail the series by eight points.

October 20 – Day 17 – Don’t get confused, Mike Green

You know that feeling you get when 5 p.m. rolls around on a Friday? Allow me to magnify that for you: there’s hockey on tonight!

Specifically, there’s six games happening around the league this evening, starting with two (Vancouver at Buffalo [SN360] and San Jose at New Jersey) at 7 p.m. and another pair (Washington at Detroit and Pittsburgh at Florida [TVAS]) half an hour later. The action continues at 8 p.m. when Minnesota visits Winnipeg before tonight’s nightcap – Montréal at Anaheim (RDS/TSN2) – closes out the festivities two hours later.

I was going to feature G Anders Nilsson‘s return to Buffalo this evening, but since he played in the Canucks’ game in Boston last night and is unlikely to draw back-to-back starts, I’m slightly more drawn to the action in Motown.

 

I know we’ve already watched the Red Wings once this week, but that’s what we get on days when the schedule isn’t exactly filled to the brim with exciting matchups.

#ThanksNHL

And, considering expectations for the Wings this season (and the Capitals too, for that matter), we should enjoy watching them as much as we can while they’re still playing well and staying relevant.

How much longer 4-3-0 Detroit can keep up its solid start is certainly the question, as the Wings are currently the last team in if the playoffs started today (you know how important playoff positioning is in Week 3 of a 27-week season).

Earning them this better-than-expected start has certainly been their offense. It may not be as daunting as the days of old (à la C Steve Yzerman and basically anybody else on his line), but the Wings quietly run a decent top-two lines.

The top line is headlined by W Anthony Mantha (3-4-7 totals) and F Henrik Zetterberg (4-4-8), both of whom are averaging at least a point-per-game. If G Braden Holtby and the Caps can fend them off, a second line that includes the likes of W Justin Abdelkader (2-2-4) and F Dylan Larkin (1-7-8) are right behind to continue applying the pressure.

Two skaters that should also be included in that group are defensemen Mike Green and Nick Jensen. 32-year-old Green, a former first-round selection by the Capitals that played 10 seasons in Washington, actually leads the team in points scored with his 1-8-9 totals, while youngster Jensen has provided four assists from the third defensive pairing.

As Minnesota and Ottawa have already proven this season, teams that sleep on this squad are liable to miss out on points that should be earned against a rebuilding club.

That rebuild is no more apparent than when the Wings take to the power play. No matter how hard Green tries with his team-leading four power play points, the club has only converted four-of-27 man-advantage opportunities for an abysmal 14.8 percent success rate that’s eighth-worst in the league. Fortunately for the Wings, they aren’t exactly playing an exemplary penalty kill this evening (Washington kills only 78.6 percent of opposing power plays, 13th-worst in the NHL), so they might be able to find some success.

Of course, it seems the Capitals are experiencing a bit of a rebuild themselves. Though the offense is still trucking right along at 3.14 goals-per-game, the defense has definitely suffered following the offseason’s transactions.

It is no fault of Holtby’s that Washington is allowing an average of 3.43 goals against-per-game (10th-worst in the league). He’s still trucking along as well as ever with his .931 save percentage and 2.19 GAA, both of which are top-10 efforts in the NHL among goaltenders with at least three starts.

Instead, the Capitals are fielding (Icing? No, that’s a penalty…) a defensive corps that allows an 11th-worst 33.9 shots against-per-game – even with D Brooks Orpik blocking 2.6 shots-per-night. In particular, D Dmitry Orlov has been pretty rough to open the season. He has yet to produce a point after posting 6-27-33 totals last season, and has been on the ice for 11 goals against for a -3 rating (both team-worsts).

It seems losing both D Karl Alzner and D Nate Schmidt is proving a bit tougher to handle than previously hoped – and that was before D Matt Niskanen went down with an upper-body injury last Friday. Fortunately for the Caps, they may not notice those departures as badly this evening considering the Red Wings are not a club that likes to pepper opposing goaltenders.

It’s another game of evenly-matched offenses, which means Detroit should have the upper-hand in this game (that’s weird to say when Holtby is playing for the opposing team) based on its defense. The Wings should be more than able to take two points tonight, especially if G Jimmy Howard rediscovers his form from his first three starts.


Though they needed the shutout, the New York Islanders were able to beat the New York Rangers 4-3 at Madison Square Garden in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The Islanders came out with guns blazing to start this game, as F Anders Lee (D Ryan Pulock and RW Jordan Eberle) was able to bury a power play wrist shot only 2:40 into the game. That early lead didn’t last long though, as C David Desharnais (D Kevin Shattenkirk and D Marc Staal) scored a tip-in only 2:22 later to level the game at one-all. Much to the Islanders’ delight, that tie lasted only 64 seconds courtesy of Second Star of the Game F Brock Nelson‘s (LW Andrew Ladd) wrister to retake the lead for the Boys from Brooklyn.

All goals are important, but C Mathew Barzal‘s (D Calvin de Haan and F Josh Bailey) wrister 75 seconds into the second period will stick out in the minds of the Islanders for the next couple of weeks. Not only was it the first of Barzal’s NHL career, but it also proved to be the one that ensured the Isles would make it to overtime.

The Rangers’ comeback began in earnest 3:29 into the third period when W Mats Zuccarello (Third Star D Brendan Smith) scored a wrister to pull the Blueshirts back within a goal. Brooklyn people and Manhattanites alike were on the edge of their seats until F Kevin Hayes (RW Jesper Fast and D Ryan McDonagh) leveled the game at three-all with a backhanded shot.

Even though a total of six shots were fired over five minutes of three-on-three overtime and the Islanders played the final 79 seconds on the power play, neither club could find the golden goal, forcing the first shootout of the 2017-’18 DtFR Game of the Day series.

  1. Zuccarello drew the first chance to fire at G Jaroslav Halak, and he made good on the opportunity to give the Blueshirts an early lead.
  2. Eberle tried to match it against G Henrik Lundqvist, and he did. 1-1 after two shooters.
  3. Next up for the Rangers was C Mika Zibanejad, but Halak was able to make the save.
  4. With the opportunity to take the lead, Head Coach Doug Weight sent out First Star C John Tavares. The captain converted the break to give the Islanders a 2-1 lead.
  5. Tavares’ goal forced a miss-and-lose situation for Desharnais and the Rangers, but the center wasn’t able to get past Halak. That gave the Islanders a 4-3 victory on a 2-1 shootout.

Halak earned the victory after saving 38-of-41 shots faced (.927 save percentage), leaving the shootout loss to Lundqvist, who saved 35-of-38 (.921).

The Isles’ road victory snaps a two-game winning streak by the 10-5-2 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, but the hosts still have a six-point advantage.

Montreal Canadiens 2017-’18 Season Preview

Unknown-1

Montreal Canadiens

47-26-9, 103 points, 1st in the Atlantic Division

Eliminated in the 1st round by the New York Rangers

Additions: D Karl Alzner, C Jonathan Drouin, C Byron Froese, RW Ales Hemsky, C Peter Holland, D Joe Morrow, D David Schlemko, D Mark Streit, D Matt Taormina

Subtractions: D Nathan Beaulieu, C Connor Crisp, RW Bobby Farnham, C Brian Flynn, LW Dwight King, D Andrei Markov, D Nikita Nesterov, RW Alexander Radulov, D Mikhail Sergachev, D Dalton Thrower

Offseason Analysis: I wonder if Marc Bergevin‘s phone has stopped smoking yet…

After a roller coaster 2016-’17 campaign, which saw a scorching 13-1-1 start simmered by an 18-18-7 stretch and then doused by a 1-5-1 run that ended Michel Therrien’s coaching tenure (again) and saw Claude Julien replace him (again), they finished the season with a 16-7-1 hot streak to win the Atlantic Division and carry solid momentum into the playoffs.

And then the Rangers beat them in 6.

Sports. They’re weird.

After looking like potential Cup contenders, the Habs now found themselves facing a very ominous offseason with little to show for it. GM Marc Bergevin had loaded up at the deadline in an effort to take a shot at a deep playoff run, and now many of his assets were pending UFAs. There was also the endless stream of Carey Price rumors to add to the pressure. But Bergevin didn’t wait long to start silencing his critics.

With Tomas Plekanec‘s production declining rapidly (the former 70-point producer managed just 10 goals and 28 points in 78 games) and questions over young Alex Galchenyuk‘s ability to shoulder the load of #1 center duties, Bergevin stunned the hockey world when he shipped promising defensive prospect Mikhail Sergachev and a 2nd round pick to Tampa Bay for human highlight reel Jonathan Drouin and a 6th round pick.

Though he’s had his struggles in Tampa (including a controversial holdout after an AHL demotion), a breakout performance in the 2016 playoffs followed by dominant stretches of the ’16-’17 campaign showed that the former Halifax Mooseheads superstar is coming into his own in the pro game, and is likely to soon be making fools of NHL defenders just as he did to QMJHL d-men a few years ago. As long as his play at center continues to improve, Montreal will have a devastating 1-2 punch up the middle for many years to come.

Next up was possibly the biggest fish Montreal needed to fry: Locking up arguable best-goalie-in-the-world Carey Price. With Price’s deal entering its final year, dark clouds seemed to be looming in the distance. What were the Habs going to do? Would they re-sign him? COULD they re-sign him? Was there any foreseeable way to replace him?

Well, as often happens in situations such as these…homeboy got paid. In fact, this particular homeboy got paid more than any goaltender in history, to the tune of about $10.5M per year from the time it takes effect in 2018 until it expires in 2026. Habs fans, go ahead and buy that #31 jersey.

Now we get to the meat and potatoes of Montreal’s offseason. On July 1st, the Habs lost roster regulars Dwight King, Brian Flynn, and Nathan Beaulieu on top of key components Andrei Markov and Alex Radulov. The former has been the guiding force of the entire defensive corps for the better part of a decade, and the latter was a free agency homerun from last season, contributing 18 goals and 54 points. But with Shea Weber now firmly at home in red and blue, and Drouin arriving to bolster the offense, Bergevin could afford to let them go in the interest of cap space.

Speaking of cap space gained on July 1st, Bergevin wasted little time utilizing it. On the opening day of free agency alone, he brought in useful depth in the form of Byron Froese and Joe Morrow, and solidified his blueline with former Washington Capitals stalwart Karl Alzner. Though certainly not an offensive dynamo, Alzner’s career +61 rating and ice time average north of 20 minutes per game show his value as a reliable blueline anchor. Alzner is also one of the league’s resident ironmen, having not missed a single game of action since the 2009-10 season. Couple that with being on the right side of 30 years old, and his 5-year, $4.625M contract carries very little apparent risk.

Two days later the Habs brought in speedy winger Ales Hemsky on a 1-year, $1M contract. Though his production has dipped in recent years, he can still be relied upon for around 15 goals and 40-45 points in a full season, and with a low-risk deal, he could be another free agent success story similar to Radulov.

Hemsky also potentially fills a hole in the Habs lineup, as they really don’t possess a bonafide top line RW. But if he would happen to find chemistry with Drouin and captain Max Pacioretty, that line would feature a generous mix of speed, elusiveness, skill, and power. Add in a 2nd line of last year’s big surprise in Phillip Danault, who put up 40 points in 82 games after netting just 10 in 53 prior NHL appearances, Galchenyuk, and pesky Brendan Gallagher, and opposing teams have more than just one line to pay attention to.

The bottom six is going to be a brawl. I have Charles Hudon, Tomas Plekanec, and Artturi Lehkonen making up the 3rd line with Paul Byron, Torrey Mitchell, and Andrew Shaw completing the lineup. But Montreal has a spoil of riches at forward on the depth chart, with the option of adding size (6’3″ 214lb Jacob de La Rose, 6’3″ 220lb Andreas Martinsen, or 6’6″ 237lb Michael McCarron), skill (former 1st round picks Peter Holland and Nikita Scherbak), or versatility (veterans Chris Terry and Byron Froese) all at their disposal.

Scherbak is a particularly interesting option, as the 21 year-old 26th overall pick from 2014 is possibly more highly skilled than anyone not named Drouin or Galchenyuk on the entire roster. A WHL standout, his production has been solid (if not spectacular) in the AHL. Depending on his preseason/training camp showing, Scherbak could land himself anywhere from a continued AHL role all the way up to knocking Hemsky off of the top line.

On the blueline, I expect to see Shea Weber sharing top pairing minutes with Jordie Benn, with new arrival Karl Alzner partnering with Jeff Petry on the 2nd pair (though Alzner could certainly swap with Benn should the latter faulter under heavy minutes). I’d expect the 5-6 defensemen to be Brandon Davidson and David Schlemko, with veteran free agent signing Mark Streit likely to draw in should they need a little extra firepower. There isn’t nearly as much competition here as in the forward group, but Joe Morrow and Zach Redmond could throw a wrench in the top 6 with strong preseason showings, as could PTO invite Eric Gelinas.

The goalies are Carey Price and Al Montoya, with little likelihood of that changing, as youngsters Charlie Lindgren and Zach Fucale continue getting their feet wet in the AHL.

Offseason Grade: B+

With so much on his plate, it would have been easy for Bergevin to falter over the summer. But he managed to replace (and arguably upgrade) multiple lost pieces, all on reasonable terms, and lock up the cornerstone of his franchise well into the next decade. They’ll need to rely on the improvement of some young talent, but should they get that, the Habs look poised for another division title and maybe even a solid playoff run.

March 23 – Day 155 – Stars upon thars

Thursday is upon us again, which means a lot of hockey action to watch. The festivities begin at 7 p.m. with two games (Tampa Bay at Boston [TVAS] and Columbus at Washington), followed half an hour later by four more (New Jersey at Toronto, Carolina at Montréal [RDS], Pittsburgh at Ottawa [NHLN/RDS2] and Arizona at Florida). A trio of contests drop the puck at 8 p.m. (Vancouver at St. Louis, Calgary at Nashville and Philadelphia at Minnesota) to precede Dallas at Chicago at 8:30 p.m. 9 p.m. marks the beginning of Edmonton at Colorado, 90 minutes before the start of tonight’s nightcap: Winnipeg at Los AngelesAll times eastern.

Is there any question of which game we’re watching tonight? When two of the top-three teams in the league square off and the Metropolitan Division lead is on the line, it’s must-see TV!

 

Two points is all that separates these clubs from one another at the top of the Metropolitan Division. That differential is made only tighter by Pittsburgh sitting right between them in second place.

Of course, that could all change after tonight’s games. Columbus, Pittsburgh or Washington could finish tonight leading the division/conference/league.

47-17-8 Washington‘s path is simplest: don’t lose in regulation. As long as the Capitals earn at least a point tonight, they’ll retain their lead – no matter how Pittsburgh does in Ottawa.

Of course, the Capitals have every intention of improving their two-game winning streak into three, and they’ll do that on the back of their incredible defense and goaltending that has allowed only 156 goals – the fewest in the entire league.

For 37-11-6 Braden Holtby, it’s unfortunate that goaltenders like Sergei Bobrovsky and Devan Dubnyk are having such spectacular seasons, as last year’s Vezina Trophy winner is actually having an even better campaign this year than last. He has a .925 season save percentage and 2.05 GAA, the fifth and second-best marks, respectively, in the league among the 40 netminders with at least 28 appearances.

But what truly sets Washington apart this year is not simply the fact that it not only has Holtby at its disposal, but also one of the elite defensive units in the game. Led by Karl Alzner and his 151 shot blocks (the 10th-most in the NHL), the Capitals have allowed only 27.8 shots-per-game to reach Holtby’s crease, the fourth-lowest total in the league.

Pair those two facets together, and that ice is pretty solid. Although I would argue the Capitals still under-perform in this aspect, they still play one of the better penalty kills in the league. Tied for seventh-best in the league, Washington has successfully snuffed out 83.8% of opposing power plays.

In my opinion, this is where Holtby’s Vezina-pitch falls flat. He only has a .847 save percentage against the power play, the sixth-worst effort in the league.

Fortunately for Washington, Alzner and the defense are prepared to pick up the slack. With 36 shorthanded blocks, Alzner leads a pack of eight skaters (note: I’m being intentional about using the word skater; four of these skaters are forwards) that have notched more than 10 blocks on the penalty kill.

Just like Edmonton last night, the Capitals are more than capable of reclaiming any goals they allowed while on the penalty kill with their own elite power play. Washington successfully converts 22% of man-advantages, which is the sixth-best mark in the NHL. Nicklas Backstrom is far-and-away the lead man on special teams, as his 30 power play points lead not only the Capitals, but the entire league. Of course, he also has one of the best offensive weapons in the game at his disposal in Alex Ovechkin, who has 13 man-advantage goals to his credit to lead the team.

While they’ll need some help from the Senators, the 47-19-6 Blue Jackets are also eligible for the league’s top spot for the night. Should the Penguins fall, Columbus can take over the top spot in the league with a victory in regulation tonight by virtue of winning the third tiebreaker – the season series.

After tonight’s game, both Columbus and Washington will have played 73 games. Should the Jackets win in regulation, they’ll both also be tied with 46 regulation+overtime wins.

The Blue Jackets already lead the season series with Washington 2-1-0, but they’d be much more comfortable with this tiebreaker with another win tonight. That would clinch their series advantage over the Capitals with three points, as these clubs will meet up only once more this season.

It will be a battle of defense tonight, as the Jackets have also found most of their wins by limiting opposing scoring chances. Columbus has allowed only 168 goals against, which ties for second-fewest in the NHL.

Leading that charge is 39-13-4 Bobrovsky, the proud owner of the most wins in the league so far this season. He’s earned every single one of them, as his .931 save percentage and 2.04 GAA are both best in the league among the 40 netminders with at least 28 appearances.

What makes Bobrovsky so impressive is the fact that he’s doing better than Holtby, but with a far inferior defense. Though led by Jack Johnson‘s 112 shot blocks, the Jackets have allowed 30.1 shots against per game, only the 12th-lowest average in the league.

That effort shines through in the penalty kill. Though Bobrovsky has faced the fifth-most shots from teams on the power play, he’s saved 88.7% of them, which ties for the 13th-best power play save percentage in the NHL. That has led the Jackets to killing 82.6% of their penalties, the 10th-best rate in the NHL.

Columbus‘ power play is also extremely talented – though not as much as Washington‘s. Successful on 21.4% of attempts – the eighth-best mark in the league – the Blue Jackets have been led by none other than Alexander Wennberg and his 22 power play points. Though it’s been two weeks since his last contribution on the special teams, he’s still a point of emphasis for Barry Trotz’ club.

Another member of the special team that the Caps will keep an eye on is Nick Foligno, as the left wing has registered 11 power play goals this season to lead his club.

Earlier we discussed the fact that the Jackets have had the upper-hand on the Caps this year. It didn’t look that way the last time they met though, as Washington hosted the Blue Jackets to a five-goal shutout victory on January 5.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include ColumbusCam Atkinson (33 goals [tied for fifth-most in the league]), Bobrovsky (2.04 GAA on a .931 save percentage for 39 wins [all best in the NHL], including six shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the league]) and David Savard (+27 [tied for eighth-best in the NHL]) & Washington‘s Backstrom (56 assists [second-most in the league] on 78 points [fifth-most in the NHL]), Holtby (eight shutouts among [most in the league] 37 wins [tied for second-most in the NHL] on a 2.05 GAA [second-best in the league] and a .925 save percentage [fifth-best in the NHL]), Dmitry Orlov (+29 [sixth-best in the league]), Brooks Orpik (+32 [tied for second-best in the NHL]) and T.J. Oshie (+27 [tied for eighth-best in the league]).

For those that love a low-scoring affair, this is the game for you. Since there’s so much on the line tonight, I expect a very competitive, intense game that will end in a Washington victory. Whether it ends in regulation, overtime or a shootout, I will not venture a guess.

Hockey Birthday

  • Don Marshall (1932-) – This left wing hoisted the Stanley Cup five years in a row during his 10-year career in Montréal. In all, he appeared in 19 NHL seasons and played in seven All-Star Games.
  • Bengt-Ake Gustafsson (1958-) – A fourth-round pick by Washington in the 1978 NHL Amateur Draft, this Swedish right wing played 629 games over nine years for the Capitals. He never finished a season with fewer than 40 points, and twice notched 75.
  • Alex Selivanov (1971-) – Philadelphia may have selected this right wing in the sixth round of the 1994 NHL Entry Draft, but he never wore a Flyers sweater. Instead, he spent most of his seven-year career in Tampa Bay. He scored one postseason overtime goal during his playing days to beat – you guessed it – the Flyers.
  • Patrick Bordeleau (1986-) – It’s been a tough career for this scrappy left wing. Although selected by Minnesota in the fourth round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, he didn’t start his NHL career until 2012 with Colorado. After recovering from an off-season back surgery, he played less than a minute in his first game in the 2014-’15 season before fracturing his kneecap. That was his last game in the league – since then, he’s been playing in Wales.
  • Michal Neuvirth (1988-) – Since being selected 34th-overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft by Washington, this Czech goaltender has played with four clubs over nine seasons of play. This year marks his second with Philadelphia, where he’s earned a 28-18-5 record.

A dominating 20-shot second period is just what the doctor ordered for Anaheim, as it bested the visiting Oilers 4-3 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The scoreboard operator got to work early last night, as Leon Draisaitl (Patrick Maroon and Connor McDavid) earned Edmonton a one-goal lead with a slap shot 5:58 into the game. That advantage didn’t lost long though, as Patrick Eaves‘ (Third Star of the Game Ryan Getzlaf and First Star Hampus Lindholm) snap shot leveled the game 1:48 later. That didn’t seem to sit well with McDavid (Draisaitl and Kris Russell), so he returned the lead to the Oil at the 8:49 mark, and they would’ve held onto it if not for Lindhom’s (Second Star Rickard Rakell and Getzlaf) tip-in with 31 seconds remaining before intermission.

Anaheim took it’s first lead of the evening 93 seconds after returning from the break. Josh Manson (Lindholm) provided the tally, his fourth of the year. It proved to be a lead the Ducks would not yield, thanks to Rakell’s (Getzlaf) wrist shot with 8:37 remaining in the second frame. That set the score at 4-2, which held almost the remainder of the game.

The reason Rakell’s goal is the winner and not Manson’s is due to Mark Letestu‘s (McDavid and Maroon) power play snapper with seven seconds remaining in regulation. Unfortunately for the Oilers, it was too little, too late.

Jonathan Bernier earned the victory after saving 29-of-32 shots faced (90.625%), leaving the loss to Cam Talbot, who saved 14-of-18 (77.8%). Following Rakell’s eventual-winning goal, Talbot was pulled for Laurent Brossoit, who saved all 16 shots he faced for no decision.

Forget the fact that Anaheim now occupies second place in the Pacific Division, the real news here is that home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series now trail the 79-56-22 visitors by only a point thanks to the Ducks‘ win.

March 14 – Day 146 – Potential Stanley Cup Finals preview? We’ll have to see…

Nine games are being contested in the NHL tonight, and there’s more than a few good ones. Like it almost always does on a weeknight, the action starts at 7 p.m. with three contests (Winnipeg at New Jersey, Minnesota at Washington and the New York Islanders at Carolina), followed by another trio (Chicago at Montréal [NBCSN/RDS], Tampa Bay at Ottawa [RDS2] and Toronto at Florida [TVAS]) half an hour later. The Western Conference starts getting involved at 9 p.m. with Dallas at Edmonton, followed 90 minutes later by tonight’s co-nightcaps: Arizona at Los Angeles and Buffalo at San JoseAll times eastern.

Since the Blackhawks make only one trip to the Bell Centre per year, it’s always an exciting Original Six game. That being said, the match I’m most attracted to features the class of each conference squaring off at the Verizon Center.

 

There’s not many hockey fans that would complain about a Stanley Cup between these clubs. They’ve been at the top of their respective conferences for almost the entirety of the year, and both feature the full package. They have explosive offenses, and are backed goaltenders that, by the time the 2017 NHL Awards Show is over, have both won Vezina Trophies (Yes, I’m giving Devan Dubnyk this year’s Vezina. Show me a more worthy candidate.).

The fourth-best team in hockey, the 43-18-6 Wild currently have a narrow one-point (but with a game-in-hand) lead over Chicago for first place in both the Central and the Western Conference. As said before, Dubnyk has been absolutely exceptional this year, but Minnesota‘s offense has grown into one of the most dominant in the game.

Two hundred twenty goals in 67 games sounds impressive on its own, but who would’ve guessed the Wild would host an offense that trails only Pittsburgh for league superiority? That attack is spearheaded by first-line right wing Mikael Granlund, who has a career-high 63 points to his credit. In fact, he’s so good his .94 points-per-game scoring rate is 15th-best in the entire NHL.

You have to keep layering the accolades on Granlund when you focus on Minnesota‘s goal-scoring, as he leads the club with 23 tallies – another career high. He’s closely trailed by Eric Staal, Jason Zucker and Nino Niederreiter, who have 22, 21 and 20, respectively. To put things simply, Minnesota‘s top-two lines are deadly.

As you’d expect, that attack doesn’t stop when the Wild earn a man-advantage. When an opponent commits a penalty, Minnesota converts 21.1% of their power plays into goals, the eighth-best rate in the league.

Guess who leads that effort.

Yup, it’s Granlund, as he has 18 power play points on his resume this year. Yet he doesn’t have the clubhouse lead in man-advantage goal-scoring – that responsibility belongs to Niederreiter, who has eight power play goals even though he hasn’t scored one since February 12.

If the power play is good, the penalty kill is great, as the Wild‘s 84% success rate ties for sixth-best in the league (more on that later). Although I usually give credit to the leading shorthanded shot blocker in this situation (fine… way to go Jared Spurgeon with your 18 blocks), it’s better to acknowledge Dubnyk’s play. Even though he’s faced 203 shots when down a man (14th-most in the NHL), his .897 save percentage in that situation is sixth-best in the league.

One of the few teams better than the Wild are the 44-17-7 Capitals, but they shouldn’t take that to heart – nobody’s better than Washington (just ask Al Capone about the IRS)! The Verizon Center must be the second home of the Department of Defense, as Washington has allowed only 147 goals all season – the best total in the league.

34-11-5 Braden Holtby is an absolute machine. Winner of last year’s Vezina Trophy, he’d be a shoe-in for this year’s season’s award if not for the stellar play of Dubnyk as his .926 season save percentage and 2.03 GAA are fifth-best and tops in the league, respectively, among the 41 netminders with at least 26 appearances.

Part of the reason Holtby’s found such success is due to a solid blueline playing in front of him. Led by Karl Alzner and his 142 shot blocks (tied for 10th-most in the NHL), the Caps‘ defense has allowed only 27.7 shots-per-game to reach his crease, which is the fourth-best rate in the league.

Remember how Minnesota was tied for the sixth-best penalty kill in the league? That other team is the Washington Capitals, who have also rejected 84% of the power plays they’ve faced. The defense leads the way in that effort – especially Alzner, who has 35 shorthanded shot blocks, which ties for fourth-most in the league.

Oh yeah, and then there’s also the notorious Washington offense, which has been solid since, I don’t know… 2005, when Alex Ovechkin entered the league. That offense especially comes to mind when the Capitals earn the power play, as their 21.3% success rate is the seventh-best mark in the NHL. Although Ovechkin would love you to think it him and his team-high 12 man-advantage goals, Nicklas Backstrom is actually the mastermind behind the Caps‘ power play with his 26 extra-man points.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Minnesota‘s Dubnyk (.931 save percentage [tied for best in the NHL] and a 2.07 GAA for 36 wins [both second-best in the league], including five shutouts [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]), Granlund (+28 [eighth-best in the league]), Mikko Koivu (+31 [tied for fourth-best in the NHL]), Spurgeon (+32 [third-best in the league]), Ryan Suter (+34 [best in the NHL]) and Zucker (+33 [second-best in the league]) & Washington‘s Backstrom (47 assists [third-most in the NHL] for 68 points [ninth-most in the league]), Holtby (eight shutouts [most in the NHL] and a 2.03 GAA [best in the league] and .926 save percentage [fifth-best in the NHL] for 34 wins [third-most in the league]), Dmitry Orlov (+27 [ninth-best in the NHL]) and Brooks Orpik (+31 [tied for fourth-best in the league]).

Even though they’re losers of their past four games, Vegas favors Washington to win tonight’s game with a -145 line. I’m absolutely appalled the spread is that large, even though I do think the Capitals manage to pull out the win tonight with home ice.

The special teams units of both teams are solid, and the goaltenders are even better. Everything is going to boil down to each team’s defensive play, and I’m certain the Caps are better in that department. Washington wins a close one.

Hockey Birthday

  • Vaclav Nedomansky (1944-) – This right wing spent only six seasons in the NHL, and most of that time was with the Red Wings. After four years in the WHA, his best season was in 1978-’79 when he buried 38 goals for 73 points.
  • Patrick Traverse (1974-) – Drafted 50th-overall by Ottawa in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft, this defenseman appeared in seven seasons between 1995 and 2006. Spending most of his time with the club that drafted him, he finished his career with an overall +2 rating.

The Blues notched a huge 3-1 victory against Los Angeles in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day to expand their lead over the ninth-place Kings to five points in the race for the second Western wild card.

Things really started heating up with 6:23 remaining in the second period when Third Star of the Game David Perron (Alexander Steen) scored a wrist shot to break the scoreless draw. The Kings fired an incredible 21 shots-on-goal in the frame, but First Star Jake Allen saved them all to preserve St. Louis‘ one-goal lead going into the second intermission.

Only 70 seconds after returning to the ice for the final period, Magnus Paajarvi (Patrik Berglund and Alex Pietrangelo) provided what proved to be the game-winning goal with a power play wrister. Los Angeles finally got on the board when Dustin Brown (Drew Doughty and Tyler Toffoli) scored a wrister with 2:55 remaining in regulation to pull within a score, but Steen (Pietrangelo) scored on an empty net with seven seconds remaining in the game to seal the Notes‘ victory.

Allen saved all but one of the 39 shots (97.4%) he faced to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Jonathan Quick, who saved 23-of-25 (92%).

Not only is St. Louis‘ victory important in the NHL standings, but it also strongly impacts the DtFR Game of the Day series as well. Thanks to the Blues, the 74-52-22 road teams now have a one-point lead over homers in the series.

February 28 – Day 132 – Shattenkirk welcome tour

Tuesdays are absolutely fantastic, aren’t they? Anything is better than Monday, and the NHL makes that even better by usually scheduling a wide slate of games that night. That action gets a strong start at 7 p.m. with four games (Washington at the New York Rangers [SN1/TVAS], Nashville at Buffalo, Colorado at Philadelphia [NBCSN] and Arizona at Boston), followed half an hour later by another pair of contests (Carolina at Florida and Columbus at Montréal [RDS]). 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of two matchups (Edmonton at St. Louis and Minnesota at Winnipeg), with Pittsburgh at Dallas trailing 30 minutes after. Los Angeles at Calgary (SN1) gets green-lit at 9 p.m., followed an hour later by Detroit at Vancouver. Finally, Toronto at San Jose – tonight’s nightcap – gets underway at 10:30 p.m. All times eastern.

Rivalry nights mean only more with the ultra-competitive nature of the Metropolitan Division this season. Looks like we’re headed to Madison Square Garden.

Washington Capitals LogoNew York Rangers Logo

 

It seems impossible to believe, but this is the first time this season Down the Frozen River has featured a CapitalsRangers matchup. In our defense, we’ve only had two previous opportunities, but that’s no excuse given the incredible hockey being played by both clubs this season.

While this rivalry has technically existed since the 1980s, it’s really heated up since 2009 with the clubs meeting in the playoffs five times from ’09-’15. Mix in the fact that they’ve played in the same division since 2014, and you get one of the better matchups of the season.

So far, it’s been all New York when these teams compete, as they’ve won both games by a combined 6-3 score. They last met only Sundays ago on February 19 at the World’s Most Famous Arena, where the Blueshirts won 2-1 in front of their usual 18,006 fans.

Before hopping into Washington‘s preview, I’d be remiss to ignore the fact that the Capitals came away with the big shiny prize of the 2017 trade deadline: defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, formerly of the Blues. Shatty, as he was affectionately known in St. Louis, had the second most points (42) on the club this season, including seven power play goals. His move reunites him with the injured T.J. Oshie, another former fan-favorite in the Gateway to the West.

In comparison, the Capitals‘ best offensive blueliner before Shattenkirk’s arrival was the injured Matt Niskanen, who had 32 points and only one tally on the man-advantage. As if Washington needed help scoring the puck, this move certainly puts them in an even better position in those regards. Shattenkirk also has the added luxury of leaving one solid defensive corps and joining another. This is important, as his offensive contributions can often cause a negligence on the defensive end, made evident by his -11 mark – the second-worst in St. Louis among all players.

As for the Caps as a whole, they’re just the best team in hockey getting better. To put it simply, their 41-13-7 record gives them a three-point lead over Minnesota for the Presidents’ Trophy, and with that comes a lead in the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference. As imposing a reputation as Washington‘s offense has, it’s actually been the defense and goaltending leading the charge this year, as the Capitals have allowed only 128 goals against – the fewest in the NHL.

It is truly an understatement to say that 31-8-5 Braden Holtby is good at his job. Not only are his .928 save percentage and 1.97 GAA the best marks in Washington, they’re also fourth and tops, respectively, in the league. Vezinas don’t win themselves, you know.

As stated before, Holtby also has the added luxury of one of the top defensive units playing in front of him. Led by Karl Alzner‘s 122 shot blocks, Washington‘s blueline-corps has allowed only 28 shots-per-game to reach Holtby’s crease, which ties for the fifth-best rate – with St. Louis, ironically – in the league.

That success carries right over into the penalty kill, where the Capitals rank seventh-best after stopping 83.8% of opposing power plays. Just as he is at even-strength, Alzner is a brick wall of a shot blocker, as his 32 rejections are most in Washington.

What should be alarming to the Rangers is that the Caps‘ power play is even better than their penalty kill. Successful on 21.8% of attempts, Washington is sixth-best with an extra-man at their disposal. Nicklas Backstrom headlines the power play with his 23 man-advantage points, but we all know who’s scoring all the goals in these situations. It’s none other than Alex Ovechkin, who has a dozen goals on the power play – almost all of them probably from his spot in the left face-off circle.

Their the scary monsters of the league, but it seems the 40-20-2 Rangers are unfazed by the daunting task of taking down the Caps as they’ve already bested them twice this season. Currently occupying fourth place in both the Metropolitan and the East, the Blueshirts are most known for their offense, which has managed a whopping 203 tallies this year – the second-most in the NHL.

How many third lines can you think of that are as intimidating as this one? The Rangers have found scoring magic this season, specifically with J.T. Miller, whose 47 points are tops on the club. Most of Miller’s points are assists, as he prefers to set up fellow wing Michael Grabner, who does a great job of finishing plays. He has 26 goals to his credit – all but one at even-strength – to lay claim to the squad’s scoring title.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include New York‘s Grabner (+28 [eighth-best in the league]) and Henrik Lundqvist (28 wins [seventh-most in the NHL]) or Antti Raanta (.92 save percentage [10th-best in the league]) & Washington‘s Backstrom (45 assists [tied for second-most in the NHL] for 63 points [sixth-most in the league]), Holtby (1.97 GAA [best in the NHL], including seven shutouts [tied for most in the league], on a .928 save percentage [fourth-best in the NHL] for 31 wins [tied for third-most in the league]), Dmitry Orlov (+28 [tied for eighth-best in the NHL]) and Ovechkin (27 goals [tied for eighth-most in the league]).

You know what a -110 line in Vegas says to me tonight? “We’re going to favor the Rangers on home ice, but we don’t feel very confident that they can hold their own against Washington.” It’s rarely wise to bet against the Caps, and I wouldn’t advise it this evening.

Hockey Birthday

  • Eric Lindros (1973-) – One of the most recent Hall of Fame inductees, this center was selected first-overall in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft by Quebec. Playing most of his 13-season career in Philadelphia, the six-time All-Star was the recipient of the Hart and Pearson Trophies in 1995.

In a back-and-forth match like we witnessed in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, it almost always boils down who scores last. That proved to be First Star of the Game Mikael Granlund, who’s tally a dozen seconds into overtime secured Minnesota a 5-4 victory over the visiting Kings.

The Wild actually never led yesterday’s contest until the 60:12 mark, as it was Nick Shore (Marian Gaborik and Jake Muzzin) who struck the first goal, a snap shot 8:15 into play. Nino Niederreiter (Third Star Jared Spurgeon and Second Star Ryan White) pulled Minnesota even 4:45 later, but an unassisted Tanner Pearson deflection with 4:59 remaining in the first frame set the score at 2-1, the count that held to the first intermission.

Once again the Wild tied the game, this time on a Jordan Schroeder (Chris Stewart) deflection 4:23 into the second period. That 2-2 draw held until 8:30 remained in the frame. That’s when Muzzin (Nic Dowd and Dwight King) scored a deflection to once again give Los Angeles a one-goal lead. 1:35 later, Minnesota‘s White (Eric Staal) pulled the Wild into a tie – again. The three-all score held into the second intermission.

Minnesota scored last, so… Cue Gaborik (Shore and Trevor Lewis), who buried a wrist shot 1:57 after returning from the break. The pattern struck one more time only 5:07 later, as Jason Zucker (Tyler Graovac and Schroeder) buried a wicked turn-around wrister to tie the game. It was so good, in fact, that you need to see it for yourself.

Overtime lasted only 12 seconds before Granlund (Spurgeon and Mikko Koivu) powered his way through two Kings before burying a wrister past Jonathan Quick to secure the bonus point for the Wild.

Devan Dubnyk earned the victory after saving 26-of-30 shots faced (86.7%), leaving the overtime loss to Quick, who saved 30-of-35 (85.7%).

For the first time in 10 days, a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series has finally held serve and earned two points on its own ice. Minnesota‘s victory pulls hosts within 10 points of the 69-43-22 roadies.

February 22 – Day 126 – Guess who’s found their stride

Like most Wednesdays, the NHL is not exactly an active place this evening, as only three games will be contested. The action starts at 7:30 p.m. with Edmonton at Florida (SN), followed half an hour later by Washington at Philadelphia (NBCSN/TVAS). Finally, Boston visits Anaheim (SN/SN1) at 10:30 p.m. to act as this evening’s nightcap. All times eastern.

Do you know how long it’s been since we’ve featured either the Capitals or the Flyers? There’s no way we’re missing this rivalry!

Washington Capitals LogoPhiladelphia Flyers Logo

 

For those looking for holes in the 39-12-7 Capitals‘ game, I wish you the best of luck. There’s a reason they lead the Presidents’ Trophy race, as they play extremely well on both ends of the ice. That being said, the main reason Washington has the best scoring differential in the NHL is because of their exemplary defensive play, which has allowed only 121 goals this season – the fewest in the NHL.

Of course, orchestrating that effort is 29-8-5 Braden Holtby, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner. Although it certainly helps to have an offense like the Caps do, Holtby has earned every win to his credit this season, as his .926 save percentage and 2.01 GAA are (t)fourth and (t)best in the NHL, respectively, among the 43 goalies with at least 22 appearances.

He also has the benefit of one of the best defenses in the league, too. Led by Karl Alzner‘s 112 shot blocks, Washington‘s blue line allows only 27.9 shots-per-game to reach Holtby’s crease, the sixth-best rate in the game.

The theme of sixth-best continues on the penalty kill, where the Caps neutralize 84.3% of opposing power plays. Just as he does at even-strength, Alzner is an unstoppable force when his club is down a man, as he leads the squad with 31 shorthanded blocks.

Oh yeah, and the power play is the better of the two special teams units. Scoring a goal on 21.8% of opportunities, the Caps are eighth-best in the league with the extra man. That effort is headlined by Nicklas Backstrom and his 23 power play points, even if it is Alex Ovechkin scoring all the goals (he has a dozen tallies with the man-advantage).

That’s a lot for the 28-24-7 Flyers to handle. After a good start to the season, Philadelphia now finds itself in sixth place in the Metropolitan Division and 11th in the Eastern Conference, three points behind Florida for the second wildcard.

A dried up offense is the main reason Philly has seen its stock drop so dramatically in the past month. At one point one of the best in the league, the Flyers have accounted for only a total of 154 goals this year – the 10th fewest in hockey. Jakub Voracek is trying his hardest with his team-leading 49 points – as is Wayne Simmonds with his team-leading 25 goals (both have registered a point in four of the last five games) – but the rest of the squad is in a major funk that will be difficult to break against tonight’s opposition.

Don’t let the overall drop in production fool you, though. The Flyers are still one of the best in the league – tied for eighth-best, in fact – on the power play, as they convert an impressive 21.3% of opportunities. Philadelphia employs a two-headed attack, as both Captain Claude Giroux and Brayden Schenn tie with 23 power play points for the team lead, but Schenn has been most impressive: 14 of his points are goals, the highest mark on the squad.

Tonight’s contest is the third in the four-game season series between these clubs, and both have won their respective first matchup on home ice. That being said, Washington still has a 1-0-1 advantage over the Flyers thanks to forcing a shootout before falling 3-2 on December 21. The last time they met was January 15, when the Capitals knocked Philly around for a five-goal shutout victory.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Philadelphia‘s Radko Gudas (192 hits [leads the team]), Ivan Provorov (124 blocks [leads the team]), Simmonds (25 goals [leads the team]) and Voracek (34 assists for 49 points [both lead the team]) & Washington‘s Backstrom (44 assists [second-most in the league] for 61 points [fifth-most in the NHL]), Holtby (seven shutouts [tied for most in the league] and 2.01 GAA [tied for best in the NHL] on a .926 save percentage [tied for fourth-best in the league] for 29 wins [fourth-most in the NHL]), Dmitry Orlov (+27 [ninth-best in the league]), Brooks Orpik (+32 [tied for second-best in the NHL]) T.J. Oshie (+24 [10th-best in the league]) and Ovechkin (27 goals [tied for seventh-most in the NHL]).

Only one team has a positive (read: bad) line next to their name tonight, and it’s the Flyers with their +138. Unfortunately for them, I don’t know if it would matter if they were hitting on all cylinders coming into this game, the Capitals are, as usual, just plain better than most every other team in the league. I figure Washington should win by at least two goals.

Hockey Birthday

  • Sid Abel (1918-2000) – Spending most of his playing days in Detroit, this forward played in the NHL for 14 seasons. It was a successful career, as three All-Star selections, the 1949 Hart Trophy and three Stanley Cups landed him in the Hall of Fame.
  • Tim Young (1955-) – Selected 16th-overall in the 1975 NHL Amateur Draft, this center played 10 seasons in the league, most of which with the North Stars. His lone All-Star appearance was in 1977.
  • Pat LaFontaine (1965-) – A long time Islander, this Hall of Fame center was the third-overall pick in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft. Although he never hoisted the Stanley Cup, he did play in five All-Star games and won the 1995 Masterton Trophy.

It’s hard to lose with a three-goal period, and the Blackhawks proved that with a 5-3 victory in Minnesota in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Surprisingly for a contest that featured eight markers, the first goal of the game wasn’t struck until 20:58 had ticked off the clock. First Star of the Game Jonathan Toews (Brian Campbell and Trevor van Riemsdyk) takes credit with his wrist shot, but Second Star Mikael Granlund (Nino Niederreiter and Mikko Koivu) leveled the game 3:22 later with a power play wrister. Thanks to a wrister from Richard Panik (Toews) 41 seconds after Granlund’s tally, Chicago took a 2-1 lead into the second intermission.

You know how the goal song at the Xcel Energy Center is Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy?” That’s exactly what happened during the third frame, as five goals were struck. Third Star Nick Schmaltz (Toews) buried the first tally of the period only 33 seconds after it began, giving the Hawks a 3-1 lead. Zach Parise (Marco Scandella and Jason Pominville) pulled the Wild back within a tally at the 6:41 mark, but Toews (Schmaltz and Panik) buried the eventual game-winning backhander only 102 seconds later. Granlund (Niederreiter and Koivu) scored his second power play goal of the night with 6:51 remaining in regulation to once again pull Minnesota within a tally, but Toews’ (Schmaltz) hat-trick-completing wrister on an empty net sealed the Hawks‘ victory.

Corey Crawford earned the victory after saving 29-of-32 shots faced (90.625%), leaving the loss to Devan Dubnyk, who saved 34-of-38 (89.5%).

The winning ways for the 64-43-21 road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series won’t stop, as their four-game winning streak has propelled them to a three-point lead over hosts.

January 31 – Day 104 – A real test

I hope you enjoyed your All-Star break, because we’re back on the hockey circuit and won’t stop until April 9.

I tried to make that sound as bad as possible, but I think all I did was make hockey fans more excited.

We get back to action with a bang, as all but two teams are fighting for two points tonight. As usual, the action starts at 7 p.m. when four games (Washington at the New York Islanders, Columbus at the New York Rangers, Nashville at Pittsburgh and Philadelphia at Carolina) drop the puck, trailed half an hour later by another quartet of contests (Buffalo at Montréal [RDS], New Jersey at Detroit, Boston at Tampa Bay [SN/SN1/TVAS] and Ottawa at Florida [RDS2]). Winnipeg at St. Louis gets underway at 8 p.m., followed 30 minutes later by Toronto at Dallas. 9 p.m. marks beginning of two matches (Minnesota at Edmonton and Los Angeles at Arizona), with Colorado at Anaheim (SN/SN1) waiting until 10 and tonight’s nightcap, Chicago at San Jose, dropping the puck at 10:30 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Washington at New York: It’s rivalry night in Brooklyn.
  • New Jersey at Detroit: Kyle Quincey was drafted by the Wings and spent eight seasons with the club over two stints.

Sorry Quincey, but since Doug Weight has taken control of the Islanders, they’ve been playing as well as anybody. This rivalry cannot be missed tonight, as it will show a lot about New York‘s potential for the rest of the season.

Washington Capitals LogoNew York Islanders Logo

 

Yes, the Isles have gone 4-0-1 since Weight has taken over, but they have yet to face the likes of the 33-10-6 Capitals. Then again, there’s not many that can claim to be as good as Washington either, as they have a three-point lead over the second-best team in the league.

The reason for their success? Their defensive prowess. The Caps have allowed only 102 goals this season, the fewest in the league.

As it does with every defensive team, it all starts with the goaltender: 24-8-4 Braden Holtby. Last year’s Vezina winner has a season .93 save percentage and 1.96 GAA, the second-best effort in the league among the 45 goalies with at least 19 appearances.

But Washington doesn’t simply rely on one of the best netminders in the game – they also play impressive defense. Led by Karl Alzner‘s team-leading 97 shot blocks, the Capitals allow only 28.2 shots-per-game to reach Holtby’s crease, the seventh-best effort in the NHL.

As you’d expect from a defense of that caliber, opposing power plays don’t find very much successes against the Caps. Washington is the home of the fourth-best penalty kill in the league, stopping 85.1% of opposing man-advantages dead in their tracks. Once again, Alzner leads that effort. as his 27 shorthanded blocks both top the team and tie for second-most in the league.

After reading that, fans that follow the 21-17-9 Islanders closely are already a little bit concerned, because they know where, even if they are riding a two-game winning streak, their team has struggled this season: on the offensive end.

He’s no Mike Bossy, but the Islanders offense is, for the third-straight season, all about Captain John Tavares. Once again, he leads the club with 40 points and 19 goals, but the big issue this year is that there is no more than one other major offensive threat. Beyond Anders Lee and his second-most 17 tallies, there is not another scorer on the team with more than 10 goals. In comparison, the Capitals have five players that have lit the lamp 13 or more times.

This is no more apparent than when New York is on the power play, as they’ve only converted 14.6% of opponents’ penalties into goals – the fifth-worst rate in the league. It’s the same folks leading this effort, as Tavares’ 11 power play points are tops on the team, as are his and Lee’s five power play goals.

That all being said, it seems Weight, himself a successful center during his playing days, is working to resolve that. Since he’s taken command of the ship, his team has scored a combined 16 goals over five games (3.2 goals per game), well above their season average of 2.87. That includes their last two contests when they beat the likes of Sergei Bobrovsky and Carey Price with seven total goals.

One thing not entirely in Weight’s bailiwick is the penalty kill, which has also been a liability this season. New York is 10th-worst on the season when down a man, yielding a goal 19.9% of the time even though Calvin de Haan has done all he can to keep pucks off net with his team-leading 24 shorthanded blocks. Since Weight has taken over the Islanders, the penalty kill has performed well 81.8% of the time, which ties for 11th-best over that stretch.

Tonight is the rubber match between these clubs, as they both finished their last meeting with identical 2-2-0 records in the series. That game was on December 27, and the Isles used the energy of the filled-to-capacity Barclays Center to beat the visiting Capitals 4-3.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include New York‘s Thomas Greiss (.928 save percentage [fifth-best in the NHL] for a 2.25 GAA [tied for eighth-best in the league]) and Dennis Seidenberg (+21 [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]) & Washington‘s Nicklas Backstrom (34 assists [tied for second-most in the league] among 47 points [tied for eighth-most in the NHL]), Holtby (six shutouts [most in the league] and a 1.96 GAA [tied for second-best in the NHL] and .93 save percentage [third-best in the league] for 24 wins [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]), Dmitry Orlov (+21 [tied for ninth-best in the league]), Brooks Orpik (+27 [tied for second-best in the NHL]) and Alex Ovechkin (23 goals [tied for fourth-most in the league]).

I know that the Islanders are rolling right now, but I expect Washington to be too good defensively to let New York break through. Obviously the goal is to win, but the Isles remaining competitive in this game will be a major indicator to see if they can overtake the Flyers for the eight seed before the season ends.

Hockey Birthday

  • Camille Henry (1933-1997) – This center played almost exclusively for the Rangers over his 14-season career, and they were happy to have him. He was a three-time All Star and won the 1954 Calder and 1958 Byng trophies.
  • Bob Turner (1934-2005) – Although this blueliner played only eight seasons, they were eight impressive ones. All but two of his campaigns were spent in Montréal, and he was awarded with just as many Stanley Cups as All-Star nominations: five.

January 16 – Day 93 – Defense vs. Offense

Happy Martin Luther King Day! What better way to celebrate than with hockey?

In all seriousness, he did a lot of powerful things for not only the United States, but the world as a whole. All people, regardless of color, ethnicity, race, religion or any other variable have a lot to thank King’s effort for.

Putting our attention back on hockey, seven games will be waged today, starting with two at 1 p.m. (the New York Islanders at Boston [SN] and Dallas at Buffalo). The matinees continue at 3 p.m. with Montréal at Detroit [RDS], followed an hour later by another pair of contests (Tampa Bay at Los Angeles [SN] and Winnipeg at San Jose). Washington at Pittsburgh (NBCSN/SN/TVAS) drops the puck at 7 p.m., with tonight’s nightcap – Arizona at Edmonton – waiting until 9 p.m. before getting underway.

Short list:

  • Montréal at Detroit: For those who love their Original Six hockey, here’s your game of the day.
  • Washington at Pittsburgh: Eastern Semifinals rematch? Check. Rivals? Check. Just met last Wednesday? Check.

I would apologize for featuring yet another CapsPens matchup, but the reason we watch these is because they’re always exciting. To PPG Paints Arena we go.

Washington Capitals Logopittsburgh_penguins_logo

 

Thanks to beating the Flyers 5-0 yesterday for their ninth-straight victory, the 29-9-5 Capitals are not only the hottest team in hockey, but also the best in the Metropolitan Division, Eastern Conference and league.

Though it’s taken a little longer than many expected for them to reach that position in the table, they’ve done it on the back of their incredible goaltending that has allowed only 82 goals, the fewest in the NHL.

That goaltender is 21-8-4 Braden Holtby, winner of last season’s Vezina Trophy. He’s found his success on a .933 save percentage and 1.85 GAA – the third and second-best efforts, respectively, in the NHL with at least 17 appearances.

He’s certainly been good, but with blueliners like Washington‘s, all he has to do is act as a last-line-of-defense. Led by Karl Alzner‘s team-high 81 blocks, only 27.8 shots-per-game reach Holtby’s crease, sixth-fewest in the league.

That success has carried into the penalty kill, where the Caps are second-best in the league. Much of the reason they don’t yield a power play goal on 86.5% of opposing opportunities is due to Alzner’s 21 shorthanded blocks, the most on the club.

Playing host this evening are the 26-11-5 Penguins, the third-best team in the Metropolitan. Losers of their past three games, when the Pens find success they play some phenomenal offense. They’ve scored 143 goals already this season, the second-most in the league.

As we’ve come to expect since they started playing together in the 2006-07 season, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have been the two-headed monster known as the Pittsburgh Penguins. Even though they don’t share a line in even-strength play, both skaters have notched a team-high 46 points. Of course, Crosby has been the more dangerous of the two with a team-leading 26 goals to his credit.

As for the power play, Pittsburgh is also a very formidable foe. They’re successful on 22.8% of attempts, the fourth-highest conversion rate in the NHL. This is where Phil Kessel and his team-leading 18 power play points shine, but Crosby is once again the main goalscorer, with nine extra-man goals in his pocket.

The main spot the Penguins still need to improve on is their unattractive penalty kill. Even with Ian Cole‘s team-leading 19 shorthanded blocks, Pittsburgh prevents only 78.2% of opposing power plays, the sixth-worst rate in the league.

These clubs have already met three times this season, and Washington has a 2-0-1 lead in the series. Although the Capitals have beaten Pittsburgh by at least three goals the last two times they’ve met, both of those games were at the Verizon Center. Pittsburgh won on Opening Night on their home ice, albeit in a shootout.

Some players to keep an eye on include Pittsburgh‘s Crosby (26 goals [most in the league] among 46 points [tied for third-most in the NHL]), Kessel (28 assists [tied for sixth-most in the league]), Malkin (46 points [tied for third-most in the NHL], including 28 assists [tied for sixth-most in the league]), Matthew Murray (.925 save percentage [tied for fifth-best in the NHL] for a 2.28 GAA [10th-best in the league]) and Justin Schultz (+20 [tied for ninth-best in the NHL]) & Washington‘s Nicklas Backstrom (30 assists [fourth-most in the league] among 42 points [10th-most in the NHL]), Holtby (six shutouts [most in the league] on a 1.85 GAA [second-best in the NHL] and a .933 save percentage [third-best in the league] for 21 wins [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]), T.J. Oshie (+21 [tied for seventh-best in the league]) and Alex Ovechkin (21 goals [tied for third-most in the NHL]).

Thanks in part to having a home ice advantage this evening, Vegas favors the Penguins at -120. That being said, the Capitals are playing out of their minds right now and I expect them to complete the upset this evening.

Hockey Birthday

  • Brenden Morrow (1979-) – The 25th-overall pick in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft by Dallas, this left wing played most of his 15-season career with the club that drafted him. By the time he hung up his skates, he’d notched an impressive 575 points.
  • Jason Ward (1979-) – Although drafted higher than Morrow at 11th-overall by Montréal in the same draft, this right wing did not find as much success. He only played eight seasons in the NHL to accumulate 81 points.
  • Jamie Lundmark (1981-) – This center was the ninth-overall pick by the Rangers in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, and although he played most of his games in New York, he actually spent one more season in Calgary. He finished his six-year NHL career a point shy of 100.
  • Matt Duchene (1991-) – Colorado selected this center third-overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, and with the Avalanche he’s played all his 532 games. Although he has 402 points over his career, this has not been a great season for assists. His .32 assists-per-game this campaign is the second-worst of his career.

Thanks to three-straight unanswered goals, the Wild can truly claim to be the best in the west, beating Chicago 3-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

It was the home Blackhawks who got on the board first, thanks to a wrister from First Star of the Game Patrick Kane (Artem Anisimov and Artemi Panarin) at the 4:33 mark. It was the lone goal of the first frame.

4:16 after returning to the ice, Chicago doubled their lead when Kane (Anisimov) buried another wrister, but it wasn’t long (2:07, to be exact) before Third Star Nino Niederreiter (Mikael Granlund and Jonas Brodin) scored a power play wrister to pull Minnesota back within a goal. With exactly nine minutes remaining in the second period, Chris Stewart (Jordan Schroeder and Ryan Suter) pulled the Wild even with a wrist shot. The two-all score held into the second intermission.

Only one goal was struck in the third period, belonging to Jason Pominville (Marco Scandella) 5:08 after play resumed for the winning goal.

Second Star Devan Dubnyk earned the victory after saving 33-of-35 shots faced (94.3%), leaving the loss to Corey Crawford, who saved 29-of-32 (90.6%).

Minnesota‘s victory is the the third-straight by the road team in the DtFR Game of the Day, setting the series record at 49-32-14 in favor of the hosts by four points.