In a haste, Nick and Connor reveal eight more of their predictions for the NHL’s annual awards. The duo promises that next week’s episode will be longer, once Libsyn resets our monthly storage (March was a long month).
For those of you who expected less cringe-inducing puns with @connorzkeith on the IR, these past 3 days have surely been painful. My gracious cohorts have blessed me with the weekend’s slimmest pickings on this 4-game Sunday, so let’s just have a rundown of the games on the slate, shall we?
At 12:30pm EST (so that’s 11:30am local, on the morning of the time change, so let’s see how well the legs get moving at a typical morning skate timeslot on short rest) we have the scorching-hot Boston Bruins taking on 2003’s Chicago Blackhawks (for those of us who can remember a time where they were a bad team). An Original 6 matchup at the Madhouse on Madison would normally get the nod for Game of the Day (NBC gave it to them) but the Hawks are a shell of their former selves and are limping home to lick their wounds in the offseason while Boston runs roughshod over nearly every opponent they come into contact with. I’m not expecting a barnburner here.
At 7:30pm EST we have a tilt that could be fun, with two high-flying offenses squaring off in Pittsburgh as the Penguins host the Dallas Stars. The Penguins’ balanced attack will attempt to counter the OP Benn-Seguin-Radulov combo in a showdown that wouldn’t actually shock me if the final score was 9-8. But the possibility of a blowout snoozer (in either direction) definitely persists with a pair of teams that occasionally lay absolute eggs defensively, so I’m going to pass on this one for today’s honor.
At 9:00pm EST we have the very, very bad Arizona Coyotes hosting the ‘so bad we traded Thomas Vanek for Jussi Jokinen and Tyler Motte‘ Vancouver Canucks in the ‘Duel for Dahlin’. I…I just cannot be bothered to care about this game.
So then we are left with just one option, and the matchup that has earned the nomination for my first (and hopefully only) Game of the Day matchup:
Yes the old bitter rivalry between the Islanders and Flames is well-documented, and this one should live up to all the hype! [/sarcasm]
Alright, but really, this has the potential to actually be sort of fun.
Calgary is returning home after winning two straight on the road (a 5-1 thumping of Buffalo and a 2-1 victory over the Sens) for the start of a brief homestand, and are currently neck-deep in an absolute knock-down, drag-out, bare-knuckle brawl for the Western Conference wild card spots (5 points seperate 5 teams) and also trail San Jose and Anaheim by just 3 and 2 points respectively for 2nd and 3rd in the Pacific division.
Meanwhile, in Long Island (Brooklyn), the Isles are clinging desperately to their playoff dreams, as they haven’t won a game since February 16th, but have managed to snag pity points in 4 of the 8 losses. They’re a solid distance off of the final wild card spot, but the Devils team they’re chasing has been a bit shaky recently, and with their next 4 games against divisional opponents, with 3 coming on home ice (in fact they play 7 of 10 at Barclays to close out March), they desperately need to use this game to grab some momentum if they hope to mount any sort of a charge at sneaking into the postseason.
In the ‘fun-to-watch’ department, both of these squads give you no shortage of reasons to tune into this tilt. Calgary boasts a trio of 20-goal men in Michael Ferlund, Johnny Gaudreau, and Matthew Tkachuk, along with 30-goal scorer Sean Monahan. The latter is probably the most underrated pure sniper in the league today, possessing the kind of shot that leaves jaws agape and goaltenders waving hopelessly at thin air. Gaudreau is as shifty and entertaining as anyone, and routinely makes plays that make you question his relationship with physics. Throw in the young trio of offensively talented spark plugs in Ferlund, Tkachuk, and Sam Bennett (55 goals, 111 points, and 134 penalty minutes between them), and you have a fun group up front.
Even on defense the Flames have no shortage of entertainers. Captain Mark Giordano continues to make his case for the best defenseman in the league that no one has heard of, joining the flashy TJ Brodie and power play specialist Dougie Hamilton as Calgary’s trio of 30+ point d-men. Plus you can always count on some bone-jarring hits from Travis Hamonic to liven things up.
For the Islanders, the offense borders on the overpowering. New York has 3 players at point-per-game paces (okay, fine, Tavares has 67 in 68 games, whatever) and a host of others scoring more than their fair share. Captain John Tavares and linemate Anders Lee are both sitting on 31 goals this year, with Tavares’ aforementioned 67 points slightly overshadowing Lee’s 51. Josh Bailey continues his breakout campaign posting 65 points in 64 games, while new addition Jordan Eberle has posted 47 points so far, himself. But the biggest story is without a doubt rookie sensation Mathew Barzal. The diminutive youngster has posted 69 points in 68 games and is the hands-down favorite for the Calder Trophy this year.
The Isles can’t boast the same defensive firepower as Calgary, but Nick Leddy‘s 38 points outdo any single member of the Flames’ big three (although his Mike Commodore ‘Green Jacket’-worthy -33 rating beggars belief). Ryan Pulock and his 105mm Howitzer of a point shot come 2nd on the team at 21 points, but possibly most impressive has been young Thomas Hickey, who’s 20 points are accompanied by a +15 rating. On a team with a -24 goal differential, that’s immensely impressive.
The biggest divider between the two squads comes in net.
Mike Smith has been everything the Flames and their flashy-but-risky style of play could have hoped for. Posting a .921 save percentage and 2.53 GAA on the year, he has been just the steadying influence the Flames have asked him to be.
Now…for the Islanders…basically the entirety of their problems can be traced to their goaltending situation. As I wrote in my season preview article many months ago, for New York it was going to come down to either Jaroslav Halak takes over the net and leads them to success, or they’re going to have a bad time.
They’re having a bad time.
Halak has managed just a .908 save percentage with a 3.23 GAA in 47 contests this year, and while backup Thomas Greiss does possess a seemingly-fine 11-7-2 record, many of his appearances have been in relief and his numbers are even more abysmal at .891 and 3.84. If the Islanders had even average goaltending, that offense would have them firmly in the playoff picture. Instead, they’re clinging to hopes and dreams.
Two hungry teams with flashy offenses and risky styles of play should make for a fun game, so I’ll put my stamp on Islanders @ Flames for today’s DTFR Game of the Day.
In yesterday’s Game of the Day segment, @nlanciani53 told you that you should watch the Washington Capitals attempt to right the ship on their west coast swing against the San Jose Sharks.
I assume he’d like me to apologize for that.
On a day full of fun games, the Sharks and Caps played to a bit of a snoozer, with Washington eventually winning 2-0 in the Shark Tank.
Philipp Grubauer managed a 23-save shutout, but teammate Alex Ovechkin was also shutout once again in his pursuit of 600 career goals. In fact, aside from Nick Backstrom tally in the final 2 minutes of the 2nd period, nobody managed to beat a goaltender the entire game, as Lars Eller‘s 2-0 dagger was scored into an empty net in the 3rd.
Skater of the Week: Connor McDavid
Likely a byproduct of the abysmal season Edmonton is having, McDavid has been enjoying a solid if less-than-stellar season (he’s still put up 64 points in 54 games, we’re just talking about the arguable best player in the world) and hadn’t made this esteemed list until now. But with eight points in four games this week (including a four-goal, five-point performance against the almighty Lightning), Edmonton’s lord and savior has claimed the throne.
McDavid saw a five-game point scoring streak (seven goals, 11 points) come to an end in Edmonton’s final game of the week, but managed to put up eight points in the week’s three prior contests, so he definitely is worthy of the nod.
Tendy of the Week: Devan Dubnyk
In a week of slim standout goaltending performances (apart from Andrei Vasilevskiy making what might actually be the greatest save in the history of hockey), Dubnyk’s 2-0-1 record manages to stand out, particularly paired with his .950 save percentage and 1.96 GAA.
Apart from giving up four goals in the overtime loss to Arizona (which came on 40 shots, allowing Dubnyk to still manage a .900 save percentage), Dubnyk backstopped two victories over division rivals to cap a stellar week, turning aside 35-of-37 shots faced against St. Louis, and posting a 44-save blanking of Chicago.
The lanky Saskatchawinian (I have no idea if that’s a real word, but it was fun to say) hasn’t quite matched his ridiculous numbers from last season to this point, but he’s still been more than solid and has the Wild poised for another playoff run.
*Editor’s note: It’s “Saskatchewanian,” Pete. But close enough.*
Game of the Week: Detroit Red Wings 6 @ New York Islanders 7 (OT), Friday February 9th, 2018
Someone pick up the damn phone, the 1980s are calling.
This was one of those games that just made you laugh, because nothing about it made any sense. Three goaltenders played in the game, none of them posting a save percentage higher than .857 (Petr Mrazek had a frankly disturbing .759 and played for the team that DIDN’T switch goaltenders). Nine, count them, nine skaters had multi-point games, including a hat trick for Brock Nelson, a four-point outing for Henrik Zetterberg, and Mathew Barzal‘s five-assist performance making him the first rookie in 100 years to post three five-point games in a season.
Detroit was all over the Isles early, dominating the first period and taking a 3-0 lead into the locker room. New York could only answer one time in the second period, before drawing to within one early in the third, only to have the Wings score twice more in a 2:12 span to regain a three-goal lead. But with about six minutes to play, Tyler Bertuzzi would attempt to chop off the leg of Cal Clutterbuck, giving the Islanders a five-minute major power play opportunity. An opportunity they would capitalize upon thoroughly.
Brock Nelson. 5-3. Anders Lee. 5-4. Nick Leddy. Tie game. Josh Bailey. The Isles now somehow lead this game 6-5 with 1:49 to play after scoring four times on a single power play. Who could have predicted this? Who could even believe this? Who is writing the script for this movie? Who’s got Mike Green in the slot? Oh, nobody does, and with 29 seconds to play the Red Wings complete the circus act to tie the game at six and force overtime.
Nelson would complete his hat trick to finally end the chaos 3:15 into the extra frame, but if we’re honest, everyone who watched this game were the real winners*.
*Except my father, who is still questioning how his team could score six goals and lose a hockey game.
News, Notes, & Nonsense:
Sidney Crosby scored the 400th goal of his career on Sunday against the Blues. I can only speak positively of him for so long at any given time, so I’ll just end this right here.
Lars Eller got himself a five-year, $17.5M extension with the Capitals, making him probably the highest-paid person in the world named Lars that doesn’t play drums.
Alexandre Burrows decided not to appeal his 10-game suspension for being an absolute piece of…err…I mean kneeing Taylor Hall in the head…a lot. Personally, I was really hoping he would appeal the suspension, and the league would respond by making it an 11-game suspension, just because it’s Alex Burrows.
Mark Scheifele is back off of IR, adding even more firepower to a Jets squad that might just screw around and grab a Presidents’ Trophy.
The Rangers basically announced in a letter to their fans that they are dropping the franchise on a landmine and starting over, which is probably disheartening to the fanbase, but New York was only one point behind my Blue Jackets when the letter was published so, like, I’m definitely not thinking about that when I try to go to sleep or anything.
Jack Eichel is out for at least a month after suffering a high-ankle sprain. This is devastating news for the Sabres, as they lose a key piece in their pursuit of a playoff spot. (Nobody say anything and let’s see if any Buffalo fans know that was sarcasm)
It’s the first Friday of 2018! Whether you worked all week or haven’t started back yet, you deserve to watch some hockey tonight!
The festivities begin at 7 p.m. when Pittsburgh visits the New York Islanders (SN/TVAS), followed half an hour later by a pair of contests (San Jose at Ottawa [RDS2] and Florida at Detroit). 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of Buffalo at Winnipeg, while tonight’s nightcap – Vegas at Chicago (SN1) – waits 30 minutes before getting underway. All times Eastern.
There’s only one rivalry game on the schedule today, and with both participants having fallen outside the playoff picture, it should be an exceptionally competitive and important matchup. We’re off to Brooklyn!
Oh boy, where to start with this game? Both clubs have had reason for optimism at different points this season, yet – if things stay the way they currently stand – they could be scheduling tee times on April 8.
Of course, after winning two consecutive titles, 20-19-3 Pittsburgh figured to be in far better position than 10th in the Eastern Conference. Playoff qualification was supposed to be a given! Adding insult to injury, if they had simply beat Carolina at home last night instead of lose 4-0, the Pens would at least be in the postseason picture as the second wild card.
There’s reasons galore for why the reigning champs find themselves in the position they do, ranging from front office decisions to injuries and performance to plain bad luck, but we don’t have time to tackle all those things.
The biggest thing that is missing from this Penguins team is the very thing that has made the club so dominant for the last decade: offense. Pittsburgh averages only 2.71 goals per game through 42 games, the 10th-worst in the NHL.
However, the issue isn’t that simple. This offense has proved it is still capable of figuring things out, because the Penguins’ power play is actually the best in the league. Similar to the Sabres of the last two years, Pittsburgh can convert when the game is supposedly at its easiest – converting 25.7 percent of its man-advantage opportunities – but has only a league-worst 56 five-on-five goals to its credit.
That’s right, the Penguins were just compared to the Sabres. That hasn’t happened since the ’90s, and it was a compliment then.
So where did the offense go?
The easiest person to point at is C Sidney Crosby and his 14-22-36 totals. Managing only .857 points per game (regardless of the number of players on the ice), he’s on pace for the worst season of his career. Even his 36-49-85 effort in 2015-’16 season is superior, as he managed 1.06 points per game that year.
Oh yeah, and the Pens did more than simply qualify for the playoffs that year.
So far this season, Crosby has posted 17 points at even-strength and another 19 on the power play. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not too far off the pace of RW Phil Kessel, who’s managed 17-27-44 totals to lead the team. 19 of Kessel’s points have come at even-strength (only two more than Crosby’s) and 25 on the power play, a total that actually leads the league.
But points are very different than goals, and that’s where Crosby has slipped. He’s scored only eight goals at even-strength (compared to Kessel’s 11), a total that is tied with F Jake Guentzel for third-most on the team (13-10-23 totals) and one fewer than W Conor Sheary‘s – who’s having an absolutely miserable 11-5-16 third year while occupying a spot on the top line – nine.
Before we pick on the Islanders, don’t think F Evgeni Malkin escapes judgement. He’s posted 14-24-38 totals through 38 games played this season, which in and of itself is stellar. Averaging at least a point-per-game is the goal of all elite players in this league.
However, when we start breaking his stats down, he follows the same trend as Crosby. Eight of Malkin’s 14 tallies have been struck on the power play, meaning he’s scored only six times at even-strength. Centering Kessel’s second line has elevated his even-strength point total (20 of his points have come in five-on-five situations), but the fact that both of Pittsburgh’s franchise players aren’t finding the back of the net in the very situation most of the game is played is having ripple effects throughout the roster.
Road trips are hard, and the 20-17-4 Islanders – who currently sit in ninth place and two points outside playoff position – just got back from a tough one. New York has played three of its last four games away from the comforts of Barclays Center, and it returns home riding a four-game losing skid.
For most of the season, the Isles’ top line of F Josh Bailey (12-38-50 totals), F Anders Lee (24-15-39) and C John Tavares (22-28-50) has worked miracles to cover for the sins of their teammates, but it seems even they have run out of whatever secret sauce was keeping them on the scorecard.
Now that they aren’t bearing the load as well, New York’s atrocious defense is getting lit up. Since December 29, the Islanders have allowed a league-high 155 shots against, and that’s resulted in a whopping 21 goals against in four games played (5.25 per game), far and away the worst effort over that stretch.
It’s hard to blame 11-11-2 G Jaroslav Halak for his poor performance of late considering his insane workload, but he hasn’t been able to keep the Isles competitive during this run, managing only a .881 save percentage and 4.94 GAA in his last three starts.
What’s truly alarming about New York’s defense is that four defensemen – Thomas Hickey, Nick Leddy, Scott Mayfield and Adam Pelech – are managing at least two blocks-per-game over this losing skid. If I were Halak, I’d be truly frightened imagining my workload without their efforts.
Tonight’s tilt is the second in a four-game season series. Game 1 on December 7 went the way of the Penguins, who needed an overtime goal from D Matt Hunwick to beat New York 4-3 at PPG Paints Arena. Meetings 3 and 4 won’t take place until March, so both clubs will want to leave a positive impression on the other before diverging paths for two months.
Who wins a game between a sputtering offense and an anemic defense? Probably the team that can find success on the other end of the ice. Given the Isles’ home ice and their usually dynamic offense, I wouldn’t be surprised to see New York earn two points in the standings tonight.
Though they needed the shootout to get it done, the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the San Jose Sharks 3-2 at Air Canada Centre in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
Though two goals were struck in the first period, they were both scored in the last two minutes before intermission. The first tally belonged to First Star of the Game C Auston Matthews (D Connor Carrick and F William Nylander) with 1:23 remaining on the clock, followed only 31 seconds later by D Brenden Dillon (D Brent Burns and W Timo Meier) leveling the game with a snap shot, his first goal of the season.
Two more tallies were struck in the second period, but C Nazem Kadri (F Mitch Marner and D Morgan Rielly) didn’t wait until until the end of the frame to make his mark. He buried a power play tip-in with 7:20 remaining before intermission to give Toronto a 2-1 lead. However, San Jose would once again manage to find a leveling goal, this one courtesy of C Chris Tierney taking advantage of Second Star G Frederik Andersen misplaying the puck in front of his crease 5:38 later.
As no goals were struck in the third period or three-on-three overtime, the game was thrust into the shootout. As hosts, the Maple Leafs elected to go first.
- Who else is Head Coach Mike Babcock to send out than Matthews? The second-year stud converted the fourth shootout opportunity of his career, setting his mark as a pro at 4-for-12.
- Facing an early hole, F Logan Couture was the first Shark to participate. However, his backhanded shot was saved by Andersen, giving Toronto a 1-0 advantage through the first round.
- With the opportunity to force a miss-and-lose situation for San Jose, Marner’s wrist shot was saved by Third Star G Martin Jones.
- Unfortunately for the Sharks, F Joe Pavelski‘s wrister met the same fate: saved by Andersen. Toronto led 1-0 through two rounds.
- What a weird situation for F Patrick Marleau to be in: if he scored a goal, he’d defeat the very club he played with for 19 years. Whether he wanted that honor or not, he found iron, giving San Jose the opportunity to continue the shootout.
- And that’s exactly what RW Kevin Labanc did. He beat Andersen to tie the shootout 1-1 through three rounds, forcing extra frames.
- You probably noticed that the goaltenders played pretty well tonight. That trend continued when Jones saved Nylander’s wrister.
- With his back against a wall, Andersen duplicated Jones’ performance by saving RW Joonas Donskoi‘s wrister to maintain the 1-1 tie.
- Consider this a ditto for Jones, but this time against a LW James van Riemsdyk wrister.
- Make it a double for Andersen as well, as he saved Burns’ wrister to extend the shootout to six rounds.
- Finally someone found the back of the net! C Tyler Bozak sneaked his shot past Jones to force a sudden death situation for San Jose.
- Tierney came as close as he could to continuing the shootout, but his attempt found iron to give the bonus point to Toronto.
Both goaltenders performed marvelously, but only one could come away with the victory. That proved to be Andersen, as he saved 33-of-35 (.943 save percentage) through 65 minutes of play. That left Jones with the shootout loss after he stopped 26-of-28 (.929).
Home ice has been a big deal in the DtFR Game of the Day series this year, as the 51-28-11 hosts, who have earned points in seven of the last eight games, have a 24-point advantage on the visitors in the series.
I will now attempt to write a coherent article as I lay near-comatose full of grilled chicken, hamloaf, turkey, mashed potatoes, corn, biscuits, rolls and whatever else I might have eaten that my holiday-overloaded mind can’t recall. Thumbs up, let’s do this.
Skater of the Week: Mathew Barzal
I told myself I wouldn’t pick Josh Bailey again, so this time I picked his teammate. I promise you I’m not actually an Islanders fan.
The Isles continue to score at a torrid pace, and while John Tavares and Bailey both matched Barzal’s six-point output in this week’s three games, I’m giving the nod to the rookie. A bit of a dark horse to even make the squad at the beginning of the year, I did make note of Barzal in my preseason preview article about the Isles, and he’s making me look smarter than I actually am.
With 35 points in 36 games so far this season, the 20-year-old from Coquitlam, B.C. has really come into his own in recent weeks. Currently riding a four-game point streak, Barzal chipped in four goals and two assists in three contests this week, including a hat trick Saturday night at Winnipeg.
If guys like Barzal and Bailey (not to mention Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle) continue to produce the way they are, the Isles look to be very dangerous, as they finally possess the complimentary firepower to free up some space for Tavares.
Tendy of the Week: James Reimer
Chill, Bruins fans (looking at you, Lanciani), I know Tuukka Rask had a crazy good week himself. But, considering their major stats were nearly identical, I’m giving the nod to Reimer based on him grabbing a shutout when Rask didn’t, and the fact that he faced 23 more shots than the Boston netminder.
Smilin’ Reimer was truly on it this week. Winning all three games, he allowed just four total goals, scooping up a 1.33 GAA and a .964 save percentage across the contests. With Roberto Luongo still on the shelf, the Panthers desperately need Reimer to continue playing at a high level for them to have any real shot at keeping pace in the Atlantic. At least for the time being, he’s doing just that.
Game of the Week: Basically the entire night of Thursday, December 21st
10 games. Seven of them needed OT or the shootout to decide them. Even the three regulation games were at least weird if nothing else. The Hurricanes toppled the Predators, the Stars blanked the Blackhawks, and the Oilers upset the juggernaut Blues.
Among the games decided in extra time, you had everything from defensive struggles (Bruins over Jets 2-1 in the shootout, Kings over the Avs 2-1 in OT), offensive showcases (Ducks over Isles and Sharks over Canucks, both 5-4 contests), and a couple rivalry showcases (Devils take out the Rangers 4-3, and Penguins edge the Jackets 3-2 in an extremely heated affair, both in shootouts).
Just one of those strange nights where the hockey gods decide that everything gets an extra sprinkling of awesome.
News, Notes, & Nonsense:
Radko Gudas got suspended for about 137 games for a slash, because at this point he has to be doing stupid stuff on purpose.
Boone Jenner had a game misconduct penalty retroactively rescinded (because that’s apparently worth something) by the league after being kicked from the CBJ/PIT game by possibly the softest game misconduct ever issued.
Alexander Burmistrov has ‘retired’ from the NHL to return to his native Russia and play in the KHL. A once-promising prospect of the Atlanta/Winnipeg organization, Burmistrov left the NHL for the KHL back in 2013 before returning in 2015. His NHL career never really blossomed into what was hoped, and it sounds like the 26-year-old simply enjoys playing at home much more than playing in North America.
Zac Rinaldo again finds himself amid controversy, staring a likely-lengthy suspension in the face. After laying a hard (though seemingly clean) hit on Nathan MacKinnon, Rinaldo sucker punched Avs rookie Samuel Girard who had come over to confront him after the hit. Erik Johnson then stepped in and used the fact that he is the size of a Chevrolet Silverado to his advantage, but by this point things had already entered into the category of line brawl. Girard never dropped his gloves, or even looked as though he had any intention of actually fighting Rinaldo, so it’s easy to see where the impending punishment has grounds to stand on (particularly in the case of oft-suspended Rinaldo), but counter-points have been made by more than a few people, most notably former NHL tough guy Paul Bissonnette, most to the tune of ‘Girard probably shouldn’t have gone after someone he didn’t intend to fight’. Regardless, expect to see a lot less of Rinaldo over at least the next few games.
Ken Hitchcock reached the 800-win plateau as a head coach when his Dallas Stars beat the Blackhawks in the aforementioned Thursday night 4-0 blanking. Hitch is only the 3rd coach in NHL history to reach the milestone, with just that night’s opposing coach Joel Quenneville and Scotty Bowman ahead of him.
Editor’s note: The common thread between those coaches? All three have coached the St. Louis Blues, yet none could lead the Notes to the Stanley Cup.
Thank goodness for hockey, or else this would’ve been another one of those brutal Mondays.
There’s a half-dozen games on the schedule today, starting with three (Washington at the New York Islanders, Dallas at the New York Rangers and Colorado at Pittsburgh [SN/TVAS]) at the usual time of 7 p.m. and Florida at Detroit half an hour later. 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of Vancouver at Winnipeg, while tonight’s nightcap – Carolina at Anaheim – waits until 10 p.m. to get underway. All times Eastern.
It’s hard to find action better than the two games taking place in the Big Apple this evening, but lets head south from The City, cross the Manhattan Bridge and take in an important Metropolitan Division rivalry taking place in Brooklyn.
Before you start complaining, yes: we did already feature this matchup this once this season on November 2. In fact, it was a stellar 4-3 game at Capital One Arena won by C Lars Eller and the Capitals with only 3:21 to spare before three-on-three overtime.
I’m expecting more of the same when these rivals square off tonight at the Barclays Center, because second place in the division is on the line this evening.
The 18-11-1 Capitals are not only the current owners of that second-place spot, but they’ve also won seven of their last eight games – including a current four-game winning streak.
Both ends of the ice have been impressive during this run, especially considering Washington’s offense has averaged four goals-per-game since November 22 (led by none other than W Alex Ovechkin and his 8-5-13 totals). However, I’ve been most impressed by the Caps’ defensive effort of late, as they’ve allowed only 18 goals over this run to tie Boston for second-fewest in the NHL in that time.
Now, when you have a Vezina-winning goaltender on your team, the job of defenseman is usually not a tough one. G Braden Holtby has posted a .92 season save percentage and 2.57 GAA to rank among the top 11 netminders in the NHL with at least 11 starts.
He’s been just as good of late too, as he’s managed a .92 save percentage and 2.34 GAA since November 22, both of which rank among the top 10 of the 26 goaltenders with at least six starts since then.
But don’t read into Holtby’s performance as a reason for the defense to mail in their efforts, because it’s been in fact the opposite. Over the past eight games, Washington’s defensive corps has allowed only 241 shots against – the third-fewest in the NHL. That incredible defensive effort has been spearheaded by D John Carlson‘s 2.75 blocks-per-game, as well as D Brooks Orpik and RW Tom Wilson‘s 3.37 hits-per-game.
That defense will prove especially important tonight when Washington takes on the 16-10-3 Islanders, who currently occupy fourth place in the Metropolitan Division and the first wild card. When New York has found its success, it has employed one of the most potent offenses in the game.
So far this season, the Islanders have scored a whopping 103 goals, which averages into 3.55 per game. Pick your favorite offense that doesn’t wear a lightning bolt as its crest, and the Islanders are better (in laymen’s terms, New York is second-best).
I’ve said it multiple times this season, but the core of this attack is the Isles’ incredible Sandwich Line. F Josh Bailey (5-27-32 totals), F Anders Lee (17-12-29) and C John Tavares (17-12-29) are the three leading point earners on this club, though they are followed close behind by rookie sensation C Mathew Barzal (8-20-28).
One of the best ways to get past the Caps’ defense is to take one of their players off the ice, as their 79.43 penalty kill rate is the 12th-worst in the league. While New York’s power play isn’t exactly the league leader its base offense is, I have a sneaking suspicion it’ll improve on its 11th-ranked 20 percent success rate if it earns to points tonight.
Though it’s not exactly that important right now, the Caps and Isles won’t resume their four-game season series until they play a two-day home-and-home series in mid-March. Of course, head-to-head record is the second tiebreaker if these clubs are tied come
As for who wins this evening, I’m having tough time picking against the Caps. The fact that they have Ovechkin at their disposal should be enough to propel them to their fifth-straight win.
Though the San Jose Sharks were able to mount a tremendous two-goal comeback in the third period to force overtime, the Minnesota Wild was able to hold on for a 4-3 victory at the SAP Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
Usually, the “tale of two halves” expression is used to describe a basketball, football or soccer match, but it applied to yesterday’s featured hockey game quite well as the Wild were able to score the first three goals of regulation.
Minnesota started its attack 4:19 into the game on a D Ryan Murphy (W Jason Zucker and Second Star of the Game C Eric Staal) power play wrist shot, his first goal of the season. That goal was followed 6:08 later by Staal (D Ryan Suter and F Mikael Granlund) burying a wrister of his own to set the score at 2-0.
Staal (Murphy and Granlund) further expanded the Wild’s lead at the 4:58 mark of the second period, but his wrap-around tally proved to be the final one Minnesota could manage in regulation.
After that, it was all San Jose.
Third Star D Brent Burns (C Joe Thornton and F Tomas Hertl) was the first Shark to register a goal, as he banged home a power play slap shot with 53 seconds remaining before the second intermission to pull San Jose back within a 3-1 deficit.
Someone must have told Burns how much catching up he needs to do to match his performance from last season, because 2:41 after he returned to the ice, he (F Joe Pavelski) scored another power play clapper to trim Minnesota’s lead to one. Hertl (D Dylan DeMelo and D Tim Heed) completed the comeback with 5:01 remaining in regulation with a wrister.
Speaking of people saying things to players, Head Coach Bruce Boudreau was probably furious with his squad for squandering a 3-0 advantage, and I’ll bet he let them know it during the break before three-on-three overtime. Apparently First Star W Nino Niederreiter took that message to heart, because he scored an unassisted wrister with 1:34 remaining before the shootout to earn Minnesota the bonus point.
If all it takes to constitute a good game is one that extends beyond regulation, we’ve gotten some real treasures the past five days in the DtFR Game of the Day series as all of them have required either overtime or a shootout to determine a winner. With the road team winning yesterday, visitors have pulled within 15 points of the 38-22-8 hosts.
It’s time for me to keep the promise I made Tuesday.
We have a relatively busy schedule today, as there’s nine of a maximum 15 games to be played. Like it does almost every night, the action begins at 7 p.m. with two contests (Arizona at Boston and the New York Islanders at Pittsburgh [SN/TVAS]), followed by three more (Calgary at Montréal [RDS/TSN2], Colorado at Tampa Bay and Winnipeg at Florida) half an hour later. Dallas at St. Louis is the only tilt to drop the puck at 8 p.m., and the next game, Philadelphia at Vancouver, doesn’t get underway until 10 p.m. Finally, tonight’s co-nightcaps (Ottawa at Los Angeles [RDS] and Carolina at San Jose) get started at 10:30 pm. to close out the evening. All time Eastern.
I hinted Tuesday that this was a big week for the Metropolitan Division. Phase two of that claim occurs tonight in the Steel City.
Making this relatively important matchup even more exciting is knowing how much these teams don’t get along. Whenever this series comes up on the calendar, I remember the first time I saw the fights between these organizations in February 2011 that led to 346 PIM, including 16 major penalties and 21 misconducts.
With that in mind, it almost makes the record between these clubs moot – except for the fact that playoff position is not determined by most or least penalties.
While this series has been relatively evenly matched since it began in 1973 (Pittsburgh owns only a 116-106-22 record against the Isles all-time), the Pens has absolutely dominated the New York since the 2004-’05 lockout. Over the past 12 seasons, the Penguins have won 10 of the past 12 season series, including winning seven-straight series from 2007-’08 to 2013-’14.
Of note, last year’s series between these clubs did end in a 2-1-1 tie, but the Penguins won the series based on the regulation+overtime wins tiebreaker 2-1.
This rivalry has also extended into the postseason four times. This is where New York has really put its foot on Pittsburgh’s throat, as the Islanders have advanced to the next round three of the four times they’ve run into the Penguins.
Playoff series between these teams have been an absolute thrill in the past. The first time they squared off was in the 1975 Quarterfinals. This series was dominated by the Penguins early, as they jumped out to a 3-0 advantage. But RW Ed Westfall wasn’t interested in losing to the higher seeded Pens, so he scored three goals, including the series clincher in at Civic Arena, to lead New York to four-straight wins arrange a date with the other Pennsylvanian team, with which they played another seven-game series.
Another incredible series occurred between these sides in the 1993 Patrick Division Finals. With neither team able to take control of the back-and-forth series (even though the road team won both Game 1 and Game 3), they required a deciding Game 7 in Pittsburgh to settle the matter.
Further stressing how evenly matched these clubs were, regulation was not enough to determine which side was to advance to the Prince of Wales Conference Finals against Montréal. 5:16 into the first overtime period, W David Volek, who had scored only eight goals during the regular season, snapped the 3-3 tie to eliminate the two-time reigning Stanley Cup champions.
Even in the series they lost, the Islanders were still a tough out for Pittsburgh. During the 2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, the top-seeded Penguins needed six games to beat the Islanders, due in large part to the combined efforts of C John Tavares (3-2-5 totals) and future Penguin D Mark Streit (2-3-5).
Anyways, enough talk about the past. It’s time to figure out who has the upper-hand in the opening meeting of the four-game series between these clubs this year.
Let’s start with the 16-9-2 Islanders, who currently occupy the East’s top wildcard spot and are winners of eight of their past 11 games.
For both the entire season as a whole as well as this recent run of success, offense has been the name of the game in Brooklyn. Only one team – the Tampa Bay Lightning – can claim an offensive proficiency better than the Isles’ 3.66 goals-per-game, and New York has posted an even better 4.09 goals-per-game since November 11.
The man leading this vaunted attack is none other than Captain Tavares, who has managed 17-14-31 totals to position himself in third place in the race for the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy.
Of course, he also has the luxury of playing the role of misunderstood fruit on everyone’s favorite line in hockey: New York’s Sandwich Line. Named after the classic BLT, F Josh Bailey (5-26-31 totals) and F Anders Lee (16-12-28) join with Tavares to form the unstoppable trifecta at the top of the Islanders’ roster.
Add in the solid efforts of rookie C Mathew Barzal (7-19-26 totals) on the second line and you have a scary good group of forwards, even without mentioning RW Jordan Eberle (11-9-20) and F Joshua Ho-Sang (2-10-12).
The second wild card 15-11-3 Penguins are another team that likes to do their work on the offensive end, but they’ll need a little bit of help from the Isles’ D Scott Mayfield and his team-leading 23 penalty minutes to get the opportunity to employ their fourth-ranked power play.
What makes Pittsburgh so successful with the man-advantage is that it is so unpredictable. Led by RW Phil Kessel‘s 3-14-17 effort on the power play, five players have at least 10 extra-man points to help the Pens convert 25.68 percent of their man-advantage opportunities into goals. Of that group, C Sidney Crosby and RW Patric Hornqvist have been stellar, scoring six power play goals apiece.
Unfortunately, that success hasn’t translated into even-strength play. For the entire season, Pittsburgh averages only 2.96 goals-per-game to rank 15th-best in the NHL, well below last season’s league-leading 3.39 goals-per-game.
That’s why I feel like RW Ryan Reaves might be one of the bigger keys to the game for the Penguins this evening. With his team-leading 88 hits, perhaps he can find a way to get under Mayfield’s skin to earn the Pens a power play opportunity. If the Pens can get to the man-advantage, they should be able to convert given New York’s (t)second-worst 75 percent kill rate.
Since the Islanders are shorthanded 3.26 times-per-game (the 12th-fewest in the NHL), I think they’ll be able to keep their cool this evening and earn two points on the road.
Though they needed a shutout, the Toronto Maple Leafs were able to beat the Calgary Flames 2-1 at the Air Canada Centre in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
Calgary’s lone regulation goal was struck in the first period. Thanks to W Matt Martin getting caught holding RW Garnet Hathaway at the 9:27 mark, D Mark Giordano (C Sean Monahan and W Troy Brouwer) was able to take advantage of the ensuing power play to bury a wrist shot 1:10 later.
The Maple Leafs leveled the game in the waning minutes of the second frame courtesy of D Morgan Rielly‘s unassisted snap shot with 1:13 remaining before the second intermission. It was Rielly’s fourth goal of the season.
The Flames especially tried to end the game in regulation, as they fired 17 shots at First Star of the Game G Frederik Andersen, but neither they nor the Leafs could break the tie in either regulation or the five minute three-on-three overtime period.
As the home team, Head Coach Mike Babcock had the option to shoot first or second in the shootout.
- He chose first and sent out C Auston Matthews. As you’d expect from a player of his caliber, he beat Third Star G Mike Smith to give the Leafs an early 1-0 lead.
- Head Coach Glen Gulutzan called on Monahan to level the shootout score. After converting his first two opportunities of the season, he was unable to make his third as fired his shot over the net.
- Next up for Toronto was F Mitch Marner, who had the opportunity to force a miss-and-lose situation for the Flames if he could get a shot past Smith. The netminder knew the situation as well, because he was able to save the snapper.
- With the opportunity to make yet another headline, LW Matthew Tkachuk was tapped as the Flames’ next shooter. He didn’t disappoint and leveled the shootout at one-all.
- With the opportunity to win the game against his old Pacific Division rivals, F Patrick Marleau did what I’d probably do in that situation: he sailed his attempt over the net.
- Now it was LW Johnny Gaudreau‘s turn to end the game. He did a little better than Marleau by putting his shot on frame, but Andersen was able to save the wrister.
- Second Star F William Nylander went two NHL seasons without scoring a shootout goal, but last night ended the skid. He set the shootout score at 2-1, setting up a miss-and-lose situation for Calgary.
- Looking at the stats, it’s a wonder C Mikael Backlund represented the Flames’ best opportunity to continue the game. Last night marked the sixth shootout opportunity of his career, and Backlund has missed all six.
Andersen saved 47-of-48 shots faced (.979 save percentage) to earn the victory, leaving the shootout loss to Smith, who saved 28-of-29 (.966).
For the seventh consecutive day, home and road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have exchanged victories (it must be everyone’s holiday spirit). With yesterday being the home team’s turn, they’ve improved their record to 36-22-6, 15 points better than the visitors’.
Last Sunday was spectacular, as there was little to no overlap between the three games, meaning fans could focus in on only one game at a time.
With this Sunday’s four-game schedule, we get pretty darn close to that similar situation. The action starts in Edmonton at 4 p.m. when Detroit visits the Oilers, followed two hours later by Colorado at the New York Islanders and Montréal at Chicago (NHLN/RDS/SN) at 7 p.m. Finally, this evening’s nightcap drops the puck at 9 p.m. when New Jersey makes its annual visit to Calgary (SN360). All times Eastern.
If Original Six matchups get you really excited, there’s no doubt the Canadiens-Blackhawks game is the one for you. That being said, we featured Chicago yesterday and I don’t want to feature teams on back-to-back days this early in the season.
Because of that, let’s feature the only game between two teams that are currently in playoff position (because, you know, that’s super important the first week of November).
That’s right, you read it correctly: if the standings remain the way they are right now, the 8-5-0 Avalanche and the 7-5-1 Islanders are both on their way to extending their seasons by at least four playoff games.
Even more unpredictable is that Colorado enters tonight’s game riding a three-game winning streak. The Avs offense has been firing on all cylinders since October 28 against the Blackhawks, as it has scored 15 goals (five goals-per-game) for the (t)fourth-most in the league in that time.
Leading the charge over this stretch is none other than the top overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft: F Nathan MacKinnon. Though he personally hasn’t been the goalscorer, his 2-5-7 totals in the past three games have undoubtedly been among the top performances in the league over the past week.
But if MacKinnon isn’t scoring the goals, who is? Answer: RW Mikko Rantanen, who has scored four of his five goals on the season since October 28, including two on that date against Chicago.
Even though he played for a notoriously bad Avalanche offense last season that scored only 2.01 goals-per-game, Rantanen managed a 20-18-38 rookie season in 75 games played lat year. This Finn is an absolute stud with a nose for twine that should be very exciting to watch for the remainder of his career, whether in Denver or elsewhere.
In particular, the Avs have been very advantageous, as they’ve converted a (t)second-best 50 percent of their power plays since last weekend; and as you might expect, MacKinnon and Rantanen have been a major part of that effort. Considering New York’s 79.5 percent kill rate for the season is 11th-worst in the NHL, the Isles would be wise to keep D Johnny Boychuk and his team-leading 11 PIM under control.
Speaking of the Islanders, they’ve also been one of the strongest offenses in the league as their 3.62 goals-per-game is (t)third-best.
New York’s culprit is just as predictable as Colorado’s, though he’s been a lot better about spreading the puck around to both of his wings. C John Tavares has been one of the brightest stars in the league this season (did anyone say contract year?), as his 12 goals are overshadowed only by RW Nikita Kucherov‘s 14.
Even though Tavares is a
good great goalscorer, he also makes his parents proud by showcasing his ability to share with the rest of what I’ve affectionately named the Sandwich Line. Linemates F Josh Bailey and F Anders Lee have also seen some solid offensive numbers this season, as they both have point totals at or in excess of 15. In particular, Lee has been the most impressive scorer without a “C” on the front of his sweater, as eight of his 15 points are goals.
With two hot offenses going head-to-head, this contest will almost certainly come down to the defense and goaltender that bend the most without breaking. Though neither blue line is necessarily fantastic, I’m leaning towards New York holding off MacKinnon and Rantanen to earn two points.
Pitching his second shutout in as many starts, Second Star of the Game G Corey Crawford and the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Minnesota Wild 2-0 at the Xcel Energy Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
Both Crawford and First Star G Devan Dubnyk were absolutely spectacular in this contest. Both had shutouts through the first two periods, and Dubnyk allowed his lone goal with 5:42 remaining in regulation. Crawford ended the night saving all 24 shots faced, while Dubnyk made 33-of-34 saves (.971 save percentage).
The goal Dubnyk allowed belonged to Third Star F Artem Anisimov (D Duncan Keith and F Patrick Kane), and he didn’t have much of a chance to make the save. For starters, the Hawks had a power play due to rookie F Luke Kunin committing a double-minor hi stick against D Cody Franson, so the Wild’s defenses were already dropped.
Chicago made good work of the advantage, as Kane started with the puck at the right point before passing along the blue line to Keith while Anisimov was setting himself up in the crease as a screen. The defenseman snapped a waist-high shot towards the net that Anisimov deflected towards the far post for the first goal of the game.
The Hawks’ victory is the second-straight by a road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series, pulling the visitors within four points of the 17-12-4 home teams.
Most Thursdays are busy, and this one is no different. A perfect dozen games are on the schedule, so we should be in for an exciting night of hockey action.
Like most nights do, this evening’s festivities find their beginning at 7 p.m. when two games (Vegas at Boston [SN/SN360/TVAS] and the New York Islanders at Washington) drop the puck, followed by three more (Detroit at Ottawa [RDS2], the New York Rangers at Tampa Bay and Columbus at Florida) half an hour later. 8 p.m. marks the beginning of a second trio of contests (Philadelphia at St. Louis, Montréal at Minnesota [RDS/TSN2] and Dallas at Winnipeg), with a pair of matchups (Carolina at Colorado and Pittsburgh at Calgary) holding an hour before getting underway. Buffalo at Arizona finds its start at 10 p.m., half an hour before tonight’s nightcap: Toronto at Los Angeles. All times Eastern.
There’s reasons aplenty to choose any one game this evening. Here’s just a few I can think of:
- Vegas at Boston: After being selected in the expansion draft, D Colin Miller makes his first trip back to the TD Garden.
- New York at Washington: It’s rivalry night in the US Capital!
- Philadelphia at St. Louis: C Jori Lehtera played for the Blues for three seasons, but he was traded to the Flyers this offseason.
Of those three games, the one that gets me the most excited is taking place at Capital One Arena. Off to the DMV!
For those wondering, no: you can’t register for your new license plates at Capital One Arena. This is a different DMV.
I’ve made it a habit of late to feature stellar offenses, and the 7-4-1 Islanders have been nothing short of that so far. Through a month of action, New York has done nothing but average 3.67 goals-per-game, the fourth-highest scoring rate in the entire NHL.
Even among all the talk about his future, all C John Tavares does is score. He’s been an absolute monster to start this season, as his 11-4-15 totals through 12 games played are undoubtedly the best on the team. In fact, his 11 goals are the second-most by any player in the NHL and only two short of RW Nikita Kucherov‘s baker’s dozen.
Tavares’ primary partner in crime is none other than F Josh Bailey, who has managed a 3-11-14 effort so far this year. Tack on F Anders Lee‘s 6-6-12 totals, and you have a first line that has accounted for 20 of the Isles’ 44 goals (45 percent). If the Capitals can’t find a way to squelch what I affectionately refer to as New York’s Sandwich Line (named such because of Bailey, Lee and Tavares’ initials), G Braden Holtby could be in for a long day.
Speaking of 5-3-0 Holtby, it’s been the activity in his end of the rink that has been the biggest struggle for the 5-6-1 Capitals. Of course, even though his .919 season save percentage and 2.75 GAA may not be necessarily indicative of the fact, it hasn’t really been his fault Washington has seen a spike in goals against this season. Holtby has faced 258 shots already this campaign (32.3 per start), which is the second-highest work load among goaltenders with eight or fewer starts this season.
Instead, it’s largely his defense’s fault that the Caps have allowed a seventh-worst 3.42 goals-per-game. That being said, there is one defenseman that has been laying it all on the line for his club: Brooks Orpik.
The former first-rounder has been all over the ice doing the nitty-gritty things to help his team win: he’s throwing hits (three per game); he’s blocking shots (2.6 per game); heck, he’s even providing sparks by earning seats in the penalty box (his eight penalty minutes are [t]second-most among Washington defensemen). If Head Coach Barry Trotz knows nothing else about his team, he knows Orpik will do everything short of scoring to help the team in red (he hasn’t registered a marker since his three-goal explosion in 2015-’16).
Fortunately for Holtby, the Islanders’ 30.4 shots-per-game is the 10th-lowest in the NHL, so his defense should be able to manage this evening’s onslaught for the most part. If they can’t, I think this could be the Isles’ third-straight victory.
Bolstered by First Star of the Game G Cory Schneider‘s first shutout of the season, the New Jersey Devils beat the Vancouver Canucks 2-0 at Rogers Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
I predicted a competitive contest, and that’s exactly what we got. Only one goal was registered in the opening 59:44 of play (read: basically the entire game), and the only reason W Drew Stafford (Third Star F Taylor Hall) was able to score the Devils’ insurance marker was due to Second Star G Jacob Markstrom abandoning his post for the Canucks’ extra attacker.
Otherwise, this was a game dominated by the goaltenders. Schneider certainly earned his shutout, as Vancouver threw everything it had at him. He saved all 37 shots he faced to earn his first clean sheet since on the road since January 16, 2016.
Markstrom was also exemplary, as he saved all but one of his 25 shots faced (.96 save percentage) in his third loss of the season.
Unfortunately, it was that lone blemish, scored courtesy of RW Jimmy Hayes (Hall) with 9:51 remaining in the second period, that proved to be the deciding goal – and Markstrom had actually already performed brilliantly on the play.
Hall entered the offensive zone screaming up the far boards to set himself up for a quick wrist shot against Markstrom. The netminder did exactly what he needed to, using his left pad to direct the shot towards to his right. Unfortunately for him, Hayes was the first to reach the loose puck, and he banged a slap shot from above the right face-off circle off the far post.
Jersey’s victory is the second-straight by a road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series. That being said, the 16-10-4 home teams still own a six-point advantage in the series.