Tag Archives: Art Ross

DTFR Overtime: Just Killing Prime

On the most recent episode of the Down the Frozen River Podcast, @connorzkeith expressed the sentiment that the Boston Bruins have been wasting the prime of their core group of players– not including David Pastrnak, or really anyone since the 2014 NHL Entry Draft currently on the roster.

Rather, Connor suggested that the Bruins were once a dominant team of the early 2010s with a core group of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask that’s still very much left intact from their 2011 Stanley Cup championship, but that they’ve been wasting the arc of the aforementioned players’s prime.

Luckily, Down the Frozen River has an in-house Boston historian and I am here to set the record straight. This is DTFR Overtime and what I’ve thought about after recording the last podcast.


Unknown-7

Hockey is a game of inches and odd puck bounces. It’s a collective game of skill with an over-reliance on luck. Whatever you believe, you better believe in the Hockey Gods. It’s only fate, destiny and just a game at the end of the day, right?

Wrong.

The business of hockey has played a huge part in impacting the game of hockey as we know it– impacting teams and how rosters are constructed, directly through the introduction of a salary cap as of the last full-season lockout in 2004-2005 and indirectly, through many other external factors (family, injuries, et cetera).

It was because of league expansion in the 1970s and because of the rival World Hockey Association (WHA) that Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Derek Sanderson and the Bruins didn’t nail down a dynasty. Of course, the Montreal Canadiens also played a part in it in 1971, 1977 and 1978, but the B’s lost star goaltender, Gerry Cheevers, to the Cleveland Crusaders of WHA from 1972 through 1976– right after winning the Cup in 1972 and during Boston’s appearance and subsequent loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1974 Stanley Cup Final.

Cheevers alone wasn’t the only difference maker in a Bruins uniform that left the black and gold for the higher paying WHA.

Sanderson jettisoned Boston for the Philadelphia Blazers in the summer of ’72 for a $2.600 million contract that made him the highest paid athlete in the world at the time, though he went on to only play in eight games with the Blazers due to injury and returned to Boston after the WHA’s 1972-1973 season on a $1 million deal. From 1972 through 1974 with the Bruins, Sanderson only played 54 out of 156 games and was sent down to the Boston Braves of the American Hockey League before being traded to the New York Rangers in June 1974.

John “Pie” McKenzie, a gifted point scorer known by his unconventional nickname left the Bruins for the WHA’s Blazers as a player-coach after the 1972 Stanley Cup Final and never returned to the NHL. McKenzie finished his playing days with the New England Whalers in 1979.

In the 1980s and early 90s, injuries and the emergence of the Edmonton Oilers as a top team in the National Hockey League plagued the primes of Ray Bourque, Brad Park, Cam Neely and the Big Bad Bruins.

Boston lost the 1988 and 1990 Stanley Cup Finals to the Oilers. Boston lost the 1991 and 1992 Eastern Conference Finals to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Boston Garden itself was closed in 1995– and then Boston missed the playoffs in 1997 for the first time in 30 years.

Good teams aren’t meant to remain on top forever.

There’s a reason why the Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy to win in all professional sports.

Claude Julien, the winningest coach (419 wins) in Bruins franchise history– having surpassed Art Ross‘s 387 wins mark with the team during his tenure in Boston– led the black and gold to two appearances in the Stanley Cup Final and one President’s Trophy (just the second in franchise history during the 2013-2014 campaign).

In 2011, the Bruins rode the backs of Nathan Horton, Marchand and Tim Thomas‘s insanity in goal. In 2013, a more experienced Boston team rallied from a 4-1 deficit in a Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round and charged all the way to a six game series battle with the Chicago Blackhawks that ultimately ended in defeat.

Thomas was no longer part of the story after 2012. Rask took over the reigns and never looked back. Jaromir Jagr came and went in a largely forgettable time in the spoked-B.

But the Bruins could skate with the best. Until they missed the playoffs in 2015 and 2016.

In the Salary Cap Era, teams are built up and ripped to shreds by massive longterm contracts and dollars being improperly allocated throughout the roster.

Peter Chiarelli got the Bruins in a salary cap hell, what with their fourth line center, Chris Kelly, making $3.000 million in his final years as a Bruin. In the broad scope of things, that was the least of Chiarelli’s mismanagement that ultimately ended his time in Boston. Neither the Tyler Seguin trade nor the Johnny Boychuk trade alone could be what led to the Bruins going from a top team deep in every roster spot to a team outside the playoff picture looking in with some mediocre placeholders.

Brett Connolly and Max Talbot didn’t yield the same results in Chiarelli’s last season with the Bruins– tangible or intangible– than any of the bottom-six forwards (Gregory Campbell, Shawn Thornton, Daniel Paille, Rich Peverley, Kelly and Michael Ryder) provided for the 2011.

Just one year removed from a President’s Trophy season that ended with an early First Round exit to Montreal, the Bruins found themselves on the verge of an uncomfortable position that they hadn’t been in since missing the playoffs in 2006 and 2007. They went on to miss the playoffs in 2015 and 2016.

So the Bruins did the only thing they’ve ever known. They reset themselves while still carrying a core group of players.

In the 70s, Boston rebuilt themselves around Orr, Esposito and friends when Sanderson left (then returned and left again via trade), Cheevers departed and McKenzie stormed off to the WHA. They drafted Terry O’Reilly in 1971, Stan Johnathan in 1975 and acquired Peter McNab from the Buffalo Sabres after the 1975 Stanley Cup Final.

The new identity Bruins flipped Esposito along with Carol Vadnais during the 1975-76 season to the New York Rangers for Brad Park, Jean Ratelle and Joe Zanussi and still had Orr until his departure via free agency in 1976.

Boston still had Johnny Bucyk, Wayne Cashman, Ken Hodge and Don Marcotte as key aspects of their 70s rosters.

They could have dismantled a team that won two Stanley Cups (and should have won more, if it weren’t for the WHA) after the franchise’s slow start in 1975. They didn’t.

Hockey has never been kind to good teams with the right players at what seems like it’s the right time (just ask last year’s Washington Capitals). But that’s the nature of the sport. No matter how much of a powerhouse you build– with or without a salary cap, with or without expansion or injuries– you can’t control the way the puck bounces.

Some players stick around in the league for long enough to become seasoned veterans of the NHL and never sniff a Stanley Cup Final appearance, let alone the postseason. It took Ron Hainsey until just last year with the Penguins to make his Stanley Cup Playoff debut and it took Bourque and Dave Andreychuk at least a couple of decades each to win it all.

Just because Bergeron, Marchand, Krejci, Chara and Rask only have a 2011 Stanley Cup championship together doesn’t mean they’ve been wasting their time, killing the prime of their careers.

For Boston, they ended a 39-year Stanley Cup-less drought.

They’ve already won once more than thousands of others who were lucky enough to make it to the NHL.

And they’ve forever cemented themselves in the history of the franchise, as well as the City of Boston as adopted sons and representatives of the Hub everywhere they go and in everything they do related to the sport or not.

Fans want rings and that’s one thing, but to say they’ve wasted their primes is another. They’ve contributed so much on and off the ice for the youth movement once again creeping up on the Bruins. Pastrnak is destined for stardom. Charlie McAvoy is an apprentice to Chara as Bourque was to Park in 1979.

Even Kevan Miller‘s found a bit of a resurgence in his offensive game, going end-to-end to throw the puck in front of the net to find Danton Heinen like Orr did with anyone.

The torch gets passed on. We’re all in for the ride.

And you pray to the Hockey Gods that they’ll let you win at least once.

November 7 – Day 35 – The day Western Canadians aren’t so friendly

It’s Tuesday in the NHL, so you know what that means: lots of games to be watched!

In total, there’s nine games on tonight’s schedule, starting with six (Washington at Buffalo [NBCSN], St. Louis at New Jersey, Edmonton at the New York Islanders [TVAS], Arizona at Pittsburgh, Florida at Carolina and Nashville at Columbus) at the usual 7 p.m. starting time. Vegas at Montréal (RDS/TSN2) waits half an hour after those games begin before dropping the puck, followed by Vancouver at Calgary at 9 p.m. Finally, tonight’s nightcap – Los Angeles at Anaheim (NBCSN) – finds its start at 10 p.m. to close out the evening’s action. All times Eastern.

What a slate of games! Just about every contest has a compelling reason to watch:

  • Edmonton at New York: For four seasons, F Ryan Strome called the Big Apple home. After an offseason trade, he’s wearing different shades of blue and orange.
  • Arizona at Pittsburgh: As assistant coach with the Penguins, Rick Tocchet won two-consecutive Stanley Cups. Now he’s trying to find a similar magic as the Coyotes’ head coach.
  • Nashville at Columbus: There’s few motivations stronger than playing against the team that cut you. Just ask LW Scott Hartnell.
  • Vancouver at Calgary: Ever since the Flames moved to Alberta, games against the Canucks have been circled in red.
  • Los Angeles at Anaheim: Round One of the Freeway Face-off goes down tonight on The Pond!

Somehow, the Flames have escaped being featured in the DtFR Game of the Day series for the past 34 days. With a rivalry game tonight, that number will not grow to 35.

 

Ever since the Flames’ first trip to Vancouver on February 1, 1981 representing the city of Calgary, the lore surrounding this rivalry has only grown by the game.

This matchup is far more than a simple Pacific Division rivalry. It’s a contest between coastal and midwest living; a battle between political parties; a war for the Art Ross Trophy.

If a hockey game could determine which way of life is superior, it would seem Calgary’s way of living has won out in the past. In all, the Flames, since moving to southern Alberta, have earned a 113-77-26-13 regular season record against their arch-nemeses that is further supported by their 21-17 postseason record.

In total, these clubs have met in the postseason seven times since 1982, with the Flames winning all but two of those series – including the last two. Their most recent playoff meeting occurred in the first round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs and was highlighted by Game 2’s 132 penalty minutes. D Deryk Engelland, now a member of the Vegas Golden Knights, was the primary on-ice offender in the fight, but the league eventually ruled that Flames Head Coach Bob Hartley played an even bigger role and fined him $50 thousand. Calgary won the series in six games.

That being said, the turn of the millennium was a positive one for the Canucks. They won seven-straight season series against Calgary starting with the 2007-’08 campaign – including sweeping the Flames 5-0-0 in 2013-’14. But, all good things must come to an end as the Flames have since regained an advantage and won the last three season series.

To make things even more exciting, this is also a fairly important early meeting between these clubs in regards to the Pacific Division, and even the Western Conference. Both squads have already earned 16 points in the standings to join the three-way tie for third place in the division and their also in a seven-way tie for fifth in the conference.

Technically, since the 7-5-2 Canucks have won only one game via shootout compared to the 8-6-0 Flames’ two, Vancouver is the superior team in the standings. As such, they currently occupy the West’s first wild card – an envious position only a month into the season, to be sure.

When things are going Vancouver’s way, it’s been one of the best in the league at preventing its opposition from finding the back of 4-4-2 G Jacob Markstrom‘s net. Though his .918 save percentage is far from being worth writing home to Gavle, Sweden about, he’s managed a 2.3 GAA that is sixth-best in the NHL among goaltenders with at least seven starts.

Of course, it doesn’t seem he’ll be writing home about tonight’s game anyways, as he lost 3-2 at home to the Red Wings last night. Instead, hockey sense leads me to believe 3-1-0 G Anders Nilsson will earn his fifth start of the season tonight. Though he’s had limited time, Nilsson has arguably been the stronger of the two netminders, as his .943 save percentage and 1.89 GAA are both second-best in the league among netminders with at least four starts.

Regardless of who starts, the Cancuks are going to rely on their solid defense to keep things under control. Whether it’s D Alex Biega, RW Derek Dorsett and D Erik Gudbranson‘s combined 80 hits or D Michael Del Zotto‘s 2.2 blocks-per-game – or, more likely, a sum of those parts – the Canucks are among the league’s best at keeping shots off their netminder, allowing a fourth-best 29.5 per game.

Meanwhile, everything seems to be coming up spades for the Flames of late, as they’re winners of their last three games, all against stiff Metropolitan competition.

The key to this winning streak: solid play in the defensive zone. Since October 29, Calgary has allowed only six goals in three games – the third-fewest in the NHL in that stretch.

That’s all the result of the incredible play by 8-5-0 G Mike Smith.

Yes, the same Smith that posted a rough 19-26-9 record in Arizona last year.

He’s been one of the top-three goaltenders in the NHL for the past nine days, as a .943 save percentage and 1.92 GAA earned him a perfect 3-0-0 record over that stretch. For the season, Smith has managed a solid .931 save percentage and 2.32 GAA to be in the discussion for top-10 goaltenders of the campaign so far.

Perhaps the key to Smith finding success is playing for a new team. During his first season with the Coyotes (who then represented simply the city of Phoenix from their arena in Glendale instead of the entire state of Arizona) in 2011-’12, Smith earned a 38-18-10 record on a .93 save percentage and 2.21 GAA for easily the best performance of his 12-season career.

For those Flames fans wondering, Smith is under contract through next season. Do with that information as you see fit.

These clubs have already met once this season, playing to a 5-2 Flames victory at Rogers Arena on October 14. LW Johnny Gaudreau, D Mark Giordano, D Dougie Hamilton, D Travis Hamonic and C Sean Monahan all registered goals for Calgary, while only RW Brock Boeser and Dorsett could find the scorecard for the Canucks.

Though the score of their last meeting may not indicate it, this game has a grind-it-out, defensive style written all over it. These types of games are my favorite without featuring a rivalry. Throw in the animosity and the fact that the Flames have already earned a win in the series away from the Scotiabank Saddledome, and this should be a nasty tilt. I like the Flames to hold on and win since the Canucks played last night, but we should be in for a thriller.


Thanks in large part to a three-goal explosion in the first period, the Winnipeg Jets beat the Dallas Stars 4-1 at the American Airlines Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that Winnipeg found success in Texas. After all, the arena is not only sponsored by the world’s largest airline, but also nicknamed The Hangar.

Whether that had anything to do with this game or not, the Jets didn’t take long to take control, as they had a one-goal lead after only 26 seconds of play courtesy of a C Mark Scheifele (First Star of the Game RW Blake Wheeler and LW Kyle Connor) wrist shot. With his fourth power play goal of the year (seventh overall), RW Patrik Laine (Wheeler and Scheifele) doubled Winnipeg’s advantage 4:46 later. Finally, only 57 seconds before heading to the dressing room for first intermission, Connor (Wheeler) scored a wrister to set the score at 3-0.

If not for F Bryan Little‘s hi-sticking penalty against C Jason Spezza, maybe Second Star G Connor Hellebuyck could have earned his first shutout of the season. Instead, Third Star LW Jamie Benn (D John Klingberg and RW Alexander Radulov) buried a backhanded shot 4:13 into the second period to pull the Stars back within a 3-1 deficit.

Even though Dallas fired a total of 23 shots in the final two periods, they could not sneak another goal past Hellebuyck. That fact became especially painful with 13 seconds remaining in the game, as Scheifele (Wheeler and D Jacob Trouba) slung a shorthanded snap shot from the blue line into an empty net to set the 4-1 final score.

Hellebuyck earned the victory after saving 33-of-34 shots faced (.971 save percentage), leaving the loss to G Ben Bishop, who saved 22-of-25 (.88).

Impressively, road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have won five of the last seven games to pull within four points of the 18-13-4 hosts.

November 3 – Day 31 – Campbell Bowl rematch

This had better be an exciting weekend of hockey, because Friday’s slate of games is extremely light. The action doesn’t start until 9 p.m. Eastern time when New Jersey visits Edmonton (NHLN/SN/TVAS), which is followed an hour later by tonight’s nightcap: Nashville at Anaheim.

There’s little more fun to feature than a rematch of last season’s playoffs, and that’s exactly what we get at the Honda Center this evening.

 

Who can forget last May’s thrilling Conference Finals series between these clubs? Even though C Ryan Getzlaf and the Ducks were the lone Western Conference team to escape Bridgestone Arena’s crazy atmosphere with a victory last postseason (a 3-2 overtime win in Game 4 to level the series at two-apiece), they could do nothing to break through G Pekka Rinne only two days later at the Honda Center, and even less to stop C Colton Sissons‘ Game 6 hat trick to send the Preds to their first-ever Stanley Cup Final.

And even though that was last season, don’t think for even one minute that the Ducks aren’t interested in exacting a little revenge against Nashville for stealing home ice away from them.

If 6-5-1 Anaheim wants to do that, it’ll need to improve on October’s limited chemistry. So far, the Ducks have struggled to find a good rhythm due to D Kevin Bieksa, W Patrick Eaves, D Cam Fowler, Getzlaf and F Ryan Kesler all being on injured reserve.

Yes, you read that correctly: all five of those players are injured right now. With the exception of Eaves, who was a trade deadline acquisition last February, all of those players have been staples of the Ducks’ lineup since at least the 2015-’16 season.

Getzlaf’s absence is certainly the most notable, as he’s been a member of the club since its Mighty Ducks days. If you put much stock in Hockey Reference’s point shares statistic, Getzlaf has been responsible for an average of 7.6 points in the standings per season since his 2005-’06 debut (to compare, Anaheim’s leading skater in point shares last season was Fowler, who individually accounted for 8.3 of the Ducks’ 105 points). Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Anaheim is only 2-3-1 when Getzlaf is not in the lineup this year.

Want something a little bit more tangible? Getzlaf has scored .95 points-per-game for his entire career. Considering Anaheim has managed only one goal in three of the four contests he’s missed, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to assume the captain could have provided a spark in at least one of those games.

Meanwhile, the Predators have had an even poorer start to the season with fewer excuses than the Ducks. C Nick Bonino and D Ryan Ellis are both on injured reserve, but I don’t think that’s the main source of Nashville’s problems.

Instead, I point to an anemic offense that has only managed 2.33 goals-per-game on 29 shots-per-game, both rates that are third-worst in the NHL.

Scoring was all W Viktor Arvidsson and F Ryan Johansen could do last season, as both registered an impressive 61 points to lead Nashville’s attack (Arvidsson won the goals-scored tiebreaker with his 31-30-61 totals). This year, they’ve combined for only 11 points – a total C Steven Stamkos and his 24 points are laughing at from atop the Art Ross Trophy leader board.

Last season, shooting the puck like it was going out of style was a patented trademark of this Predators club, as they fired 31.2 shots-per-game to rank sixth in the statistic. Considering Arvidsson leads the team in shots (he’s fired 43 in 12 games played), I’d bank on his .07 shooting percentage back towards last season’s 12.6 percent sooner than later.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that F Filip Forsberg, who has fired 32 shots this season to rank third on the team, is leading the squad with his 8-5-13 totals (yes, he’s rocking a wildly impressive .25 shooting percentage). I expect that if more Predators follow his lead – followed by linemates converging on the crease like a basketball team grabbing at a rebound – and fire the puck more often, Nashville should start seeing improvements.

Neither of these clubs are bad teams, they’re just not playing well right now. With the Predators riding a two-game losing skid right now and the Ducks being at home, I like Anaheim to pull this game out and earn two points.


In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Washington Capitals held on to beat the New York Islanders 4-3 at Capital One Arena.

With both clubs scoring at least one goal each period, Washington won this game in the first period, in one school of thought, by tickling the twine twice. The Caps were the first to get on the board courtesy of D Taylor Chorney‘s (F Chandler Stephenson and First Star of the Game C Lars Eller) first goal of the season, struck 5:55 into the contest. The Islanders’ Sandwich Line answered the goal 7:06 later when C John Tavares (Second Star F Anders Lee and F Josh Bailey) buried a power play wrist shot. The final goal of the period belonged to Eller (Stephenson and D Madison Bowey), who scored a slap shot with 3:41 remaining before the first intermission to set the score at 2-1.

With another power play tally – this time by Lee (Bailey and C Mathew Barzal) – with 3:42 remaining in the second period, New York once again leveled the game, but this tie lasted even less time than the first as RW Alex Chiasson (Third Star D John Carlson and F Jay Beagle) buried a slapper only 12 seconds later to reclaim a 3-2 advantage for Washington.

Another new period, another opportunity for the Islanders to level the game. With his second goal of the night, Lee (D Thomas Hickey and Tavares) forced another tie seven minutes into the third period.

The game remained at three-all until only 3:21 remained in regulation. That’s when Eller (RW Tom Wilson and Carlson) scored his game-winning snap shot. Thanks to a quick leading pass into the neutral zone from Carlson to set up a breakaway opportunity for the Capitals, Eller had a clear shot from the top of the right face-off circle on G Jaroslav Halak. With that opportunity, he fired a snapper glove-side to beat the netminder to the near post.

Though the Sandwich Line took two more shifts to try to level the game in the remaining time, they could not beat G Braden Holtby to force overtime.

If the NHL gave out four stars, this game’s would absolutely be Holtby. Though he did give up three goals, he saved 35-of-38 shots faced (.921 save percentage) to earn the victory. That left the loss to Halak, who saved 15-of-19 (.789).

The Capitals’ home victory snapped a two-game winning streak by visiting teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, giving hosts a 17-10-4 record that is eight points better than the visitors’.

October 9 – Day Six – Goals on goals on goals

Happy Columbus Day, if you’re into that sort of thing (yes, Blue Jackets fans, I assumed you would be). Even if you aren’t, I’ll bet you’re into the day off work you potentially have and afternoon hockey.

That’s right, we have three matinees on tap this afternoon, with two (Colorado at Boston [SN1] and St. Louis at the New York Islanders) at 1 p.m. and New Jersey visiting Buffalo two hours later. Chicago at Toronto (NHLN) drops the puck at the usual time of 7 p.m., with Washington at Tampa Bay trailing half an hour later. 9 p.m. marks the beginning of Winnipeg at Edmonton, while tonight’s nightcap, Calgary at Anaheim, waits an hour before starting. All times Eastern.

There’s some great games on the slate today, including an old-timey rivalry and a rematch from last year’s playoffs, but something tells me an Original Six matchup featuring the two best offenses to start the season should prove exceptionally exciting.

 

 

 

 

 

I usually try to not repeat teams in the Game of the Day series early in the season, but its hard to avoid this explosive, star-studded matchup.

That doesn’t even mention that this contest features the top clubs from their respective conferences once you go through all the NHL’s tiebreakers.

If you like offense, this is the game for you. Both teams enter tonight’s game having scored 15 goals in two games played. That 7.5 goals-per-game average makes the Capitals’ five scores-per-game rate look pedestrian by comparison.

Let’s start with the visiting Blackhawks.

Their first action came Thursday night against the two-time reigning-champion Penguins. Chicago did not tremble at any of Pittsburgh’s accolades and instead took the Pens to the woodshed for a 10-1 beatdown. Two days later, the Hawks welcomed another strong Metropolitan Division team to town, only to show the Blue Jackets the door after beating them 5-1.

It’s been a mix of established and budding stars heading the charge for the Hawks so far, as 2015-’16 Art Ross Trophy winner F Patrick Kane (2-4-6 totals) and sophomore W Ryan Hartman (1-5-6) both have a half-dozen points to their credit. Of course, we also can’t forget Chicago’s prodigal son W Brandon Saad and his 4-1-5 effort, including his even-strength hat trick to open the season.

Hartman has arguably been the most pleasant surprise so far. The Hilton Head, S.C. native has been living every little boy’s dream having grown up a Hawks fan and playing on Kane’s second line. Last season, he posted 19-12-31 totals for his 76-game rookie campaign, but he looks well on his way to exceeding those numbers.

Hartman is obviously not going to keep up the three points-per-game rate he’s currently sporting, but if he can continue learning and being a consistent weapon for Kane, Windy City natives will begin second-guessing the LW Artemi Panarin trade even less than they already are following Saad’s performance.

All in all, the Blackhawks should provide the strongest test the Maple Leafs have faced so far in this young season.

Meanwhile, depending how you look at it, Toronto’s offense has perhaps been even more dominant as the Leafs have yet to score less than seven goals in a game. They opened the NHL season with a 7-2 demonstration in Winnipeg, followed by a thrilling 8-5 victory at home against the Rangers Saturday.

What has made the Leafs so dangerous in their first two games is that opposing defenses and goaltenders have no idea where the puck is coming from. Though C Nazem Kadri (2-2-4 totals) and C Auston Matthews (1-3-4) co-lead the squad with four points already in their accounts, seven other skaters already have three points this season – including newcomer F Patrick Marleau and his two-goal performance (both at even-strength, I might add) against the Jets.

Of course, Marleau is best known for his 19 seasons in San Jose, but the Sharks lost out on their bid to resign the 38-year-old when he elected to sign a three-year, $6.25 million contract in Toronto. At first glance, it seemed General Manager Lou Lamoriello overpaid for a senior player coming off his third-consecutive season of declining offensive production, but – similar to Chicago’s situation with Hartman – if Marleau can keep posting points from Toronto’s third line, he should prove the shrinking collection of doubters wrong.

Quick sidebar: During the preseason, I wrote about a team that uses its third line for depth scoring instead of the usual checking team. That squad is currently the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions. I don’t know if I’m quite ready to say yet that this Leafs team is destined to hoist some hardware, but a similar character could be forming in Hogtown.

I’m of the opinion that two-time Jennings Trophy-winner G Corey Crawford (.968 save percentage) and Chicago’s defense is far superior to one-time Jennings recipient G Frederik Andersen (.903, 3.5 GAA) and Toronto’s blue line, so the Hawks should be able to escape the Air Canada Centre with two points.


On the back of First Star of the Game G Henrik Lundqvist‘s 62nd regular-season shutout of his career, the New York Rangers were able to best the Montréal Canadiens 2-0 at Madison Square Garden in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The game remained a scoreless draw for much of the first period until D Brady Skjei (W Michael Grabner and F J.T. Miller) “buried” what proved to be the game-winner on G Carey Price.

It was a quick play off a face-off in New York’s offensive zone. Miller won the resumption of play, but it was Grabner that swatted the puck towards the near boards to Skjei. The defenseman advanced the puck along the wall to the end line before attempting a centering pass to Grabner at the top of the crease. At first glance, it appeared D Shea Weber had Grabner under wraps, but he instead proved to be the final one to touch the puck, as Skjei’s pass deflected off his right skate and into the net.

After a second period devoid of goals for either team, the Habs brought their strongest offense in the third period when they fired 13 shots at Lundqvist’s net, but they couldn’t find a tying goal. Instead, it was Second Star C Mika Zibanejad (Third Star W Pavel Buchnevich and F Chris Kreider) that found the back of the net, setting the 2-0 final score with a wrist shot.

Lundqvist earned the victory after saving all 34 shots-on-goal he faced, while Price was able to save only 23-of-25 (.92 save percentage) in defeat.

Thanks to the Blueshirts finding their first victory of the season, home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series now hold a one-point advantage over the roadies with a 3-2-1 record.

April 6 – Day 169 – Pacific pandemonium

Buckle up for a wild Thursday.

There’s a dozen games on tap this evening, starting with four (Ottawa at Boston [NBCSN/RDS], Pittsburgh at New Jersey [SN360], the New York Islanders at Carolina and Winnipeg at Columbus) at 7 p.m. and another two (Tampa Bay at Toronto [TVAS] and St. Louis at Florida) half an hour later. 8:30 p.m. marks the puck drop of Nashville at Dallas, with Minnesota at Colorado waiting 30 minutes before getting underway. A pair of contests (Vancouver at Arizona and Chicago at Anaheim [NBCSN]) see their start at 10 p.m., with our co-nightcaps – Calgary at Los Angeles (SN360) and Edmonton at San Jose – dropping the puck half an hour later. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Ottawa at Boston: These clubs are tied at 94 points apiece for second and third place in the Atlantic Division.
  • Tampa Bay at Toronto: Tampa‘s postseason dreams are still alive, but they’ll be dashed with a loss this evening.
  • Chicago at Anaheim: Chicago has already clinched home ice throughout the Western Conference playoffs, but the Ducks still have some work to do within the Pacific Division.
  • Edmonton at San Jose: Speaking of the Pacific, these squads are tied at 97 points apiece for second and third place.

Of that list, the two tie-breaking games certainly stand out among the rest. It’s a tough choice between them, and I don’t think there’s really a wrong answer.

But…

Since Montréal has already clinched the Atlantic and both the Oilers and Sharks can still win their division, we have to turn our attention to The Tank for this episode Pacific Pandemonium!

 

No, not pandamonium. Pandemonium.

Though, come to think of it, that is a good representation of what is going on out West.

The top three teams in the Pacific are all over each other, and each still has a chance to advance into first place in the group. In fact, this panda .gif is so accurate, it even shows the fourth-place Flames leaving the tussle, as they’re already locked into one of the wild cards.

To continue with our panda metaphor, the bear at the bottom of the pile is certainly the 45-28-7 Sharks. Though tied with Edmonton on points, they’ve played one more game to put them in third place. Should they fall tonight, whether it be in regulation or extra-time, they will be unable to claim the top seed in the division.

The reason they’ve fallen from grace is their 1-8-0 record over the second half of March. As pointed out the last time we featured San Jose, it led the Pacific by five points at the beginning of the month. Now, the Sharks are simply fighting for home ice in the first round.

That article went on bemoaning the Sharks and their play of late. Somebody in San Jose‘s front office must have read it, because things have certainly changed since the beginning of April.

San Jose enters tonight’s game on a two-game winning streak (their first since March 12-14), and it’s all because 35-22-6 Martin Jones rediscovered his game. Over the second half of March, Jones posted an atrocious .862 save percentage and 3.85 GAA. Simply put, you’re not going to win many games that way.

Jones’ goaltending coach is Johan Hedberg, himself a former NHL goaltender.  Undoubtedly, Hedberg probably also went through tough patches like Jones did. Whatever he said or did with Jones has obviously worked, as the Sharks have their number one goalie back.

Jones hasn’t been just good in these last two games, he’s been great. He’s posted an incredible .969 save percentage and averaged only one goal-allowed, both numbers that are near the top of the league to start the month.

One of the best tests of a goalie is his performance against the power play, especially when the penalty kill in front of him manages only an average 80.9% kill rate on the campaign. Of all the goaltenders to have faced at least eight power play shots in the past four days, Jones is one of only six to have saved all of them.

There is still one remnant from the losing skid, though it’s no surprise given the Sharks‘ season success rate of only 16.7% on the power play that ties for sixth-worst in the NHL. San Jose has converted neither of its extra-man opportunities this month even though both Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski – the Sharks‘ best players on the man-advantage – have not missed any time.

With a game-in-hand on the Pacific-leading Ducks, 44-26-9 Edmonton still has its sights set on hoisting its first Division Champion banner since 1992. They can make a strong step in that direction with a win tonight.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Oilers did just that (win, that is), as they’ve earned a 9-2-0 record in their past 11 games – the third-best record in the league in that time.

The only thing better than Edmonton‘s record is its propensity for scoring the puck. 44 Oilers goals have been struck since March 14, the most in the league since then. I probably don’t need to tell you who’s behind most of those tallies, but would I be doing my job if I didn’t?

Simply put, Connor McDavid is really, really good at hockey. He’s registered 20 points in his past 11 games to pace the league since mid-March. What is truly impressive about McDavid’s late-season surge is that he’s calling his number more often. He’s only notched 29 goals on the season, a surprisingly low total since he’s effectively locked up his first Art Ross Trophy. But lately? He’s buried six of those tallies in the last 11 contests, a run that is matched by line-mate Patrick Maroon to co-lead the squad.

The Oil‘s offensive dominance continues on the power play, where it has converted an impressive 28.9% to rank sixth-best in the league since mid-March. McDavid is joined on this attack by Leon Draisaitl and Milan Lucic, as they’ve all notched five man-advantage points in the past 24 days. Lucic has been especially impressive during this run, as four of his points have been goals, which ties for the second-highest total in the NHL in that time.

Edmonton‘s penalty kill has also been excellent of late, as it’s properly defended and neutralized 85.7% of its infractions to tie for the sixth-best mark in the league since mid-March. Andrej Sekera deserves a lot of the credit for that success, as he’s blocked eight shots on the penalty kill in the past 11 games, which ties for second-most in the league.

The Oilers own a one-point lead in the series between these clubs this season, thanks to forcing overtime they first ran into the Sharks on December 23. These clubs last met March 30 in Edmonton, where the Oil bested San Jose 3-2 thanks to Maroon’s two-goal night.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Edmonton‘s Draisaitl (75 points [eighth-most in the league] on 47 assists [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]), McDavid (66 assists for 95 points [both lead the league] and a +25 [10th-best in the NHL]) and Cam Talbot (40 wins [third-most in the league], including seven shutouts [tied for third-most in the NHL]) & San Jose‘s Burns (74 points [ninth-most in the league]) and Jones (35 wins [seventh-most in the NHL]).

I’m surprised: Vegas favors the Sharks to win tonight on a -125 line. While Jones’ resurgence have helped to cool my doubts about San Jose going into the playoffs, I still don’t think it’s enough to fend off the Oilers‘ dominant offense.

Hockey Birthday

  • Connie Broden (1932-2013) – This center did the unthinkable by the standards of today’s game: he played only six regular season games in the NHL – all with the Canadiens – and scored only three points, but he hoisted two Stanley Cups. Talk about an effective career!
  • Michel Larocque (1952-1992) – This goaltender was selected sixth-overall by Montréal in the 1972 NHL Amateur Draft, and that’s where he played most of his 11 seasons. Amassing a career 160-89-45 record, he won four Vezina Trophies and the 1979 Stanley Cup.
  • Olaf Kolzig (1970-) – The only South African to play in the NHL to date, this goaltender was the 19th-overall pick by Washington in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft. All but one of his 17 seasons were spent with the Capitals, and he won the 2000 Vezina and 2006 King Clancy Memorial Trophies and played in two All-Star Games before retiring.
  • Hal Gill (1975-) – Another player to spend most of his career with the club that drafted him, this defenseman was selected by Boston in the eighth round of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft. He hoisted his lone Stanley Cup as a member of the Penguins‘ 2009 squad.
  • Ville Nieminen (1977-) – This NHL journeyman was picked by Colorado 78th-overall in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft. In only seven seasons, he played with seven different clubs, but before being shipped off from the Avalanche, he helped them to the 2001 Stanley Cup.
  • Travis Moen (1982-) – Calgary selected this left wing in the fifth round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, but he never played a game with the Flames. Instead, he spent half of his 12-year career in Montréal. Another Stanley Cup winner, he was a member of the 2007 Ducks.
  • Clarke MacArthur (1985-) – Buffalo selected this left wing 74th-overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, but he’s in his fourth season with the Senators. Due to suffering a concussion during training camp, he finally made his season debut Tuesday.

With a two-goal shutout victory over the Rangers in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, I present you your 2016-’17 regular season champion, the back-to-back Presidents’ Trophy-winning Washington Capitals!

With four prominent skaters healing up in the press box, the Rangers entered this contest over-matched. That being said, they managed to keep the Capitals off the board until only 5:11 remained in the second period. Alex Ovechkin (Second Star of the Game Evgeny Kuznetsov and Third Star Marcus Johansson) took advantage of a Brendan Smith holding penalty to score a deflected power play goal.

That was the only tally Washington managed before the second intermission, meaning the game’s lone insurance goal was struck in the third period. It came off Kuznetsov’s (Johansson and Justin Williams) stick, a wrist shot 5:42 into the frame.

First Star Braden Holtby earned the victory after saving all 24 shots he faced, leaving the loss to Henrik Lundqvist, who saved 23-of-25 (92%).

With the final playoff pushes seeing their last breaths, hosts in the DtFR Game of the Day series are truly taking advantage of their home-ice advantage. They’ve improved their records in the series to 87-59-25 (seven points better than the road teams) by winning six of the last seven games.

March 31 – Day 163 – Keeping it in Alberta

Welcome to the penultimate Friday in the NHL’s regular season. Unless you’re a fan of one of the 16 teams heading for the playoffs, there’s not much hockey left to be watched so make sure to catch the rest of this season’s games!

Tonight’s festivities start with Pittsburgh at the New York Rangers (SN) at 7 p.m., followed half an hour later by New Jersey at the New York Islanders. 8:30 p.m. marks the puck drop of Columbus at Chicago,  with two more (St. Louis at Colorado and San Jose at Calgary) getting underway at the top of the hour. Two contests – Los Angeles at Vancouver (SN360) and Washington at Arizona – share the role of nightcap and get started at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Pittsburgh at New York: Not only is it a rematch of last year’s Eastern Quarterfinals, but the Blueshirts could pull within four points of third place in the Metropolitan Division.
  • Columbus at Chicago: Two of the three best teams in the league? Yes please.
  • San Jose at Calgary: Thanks to the Sharks‘ loss last night, the Flames are only three points out of third place in the Pacific Division.

I’d love to watch the Hawks and Jackets square off, but it doesn’t have major playoff implications – and that’s what we’re all about this time of year. As much as I dislike repeating teams on back-to-back nights, it looks like we have to catch the Sharks‘ plane to Calgary for another important Pacific tilt.

 

If the Sharks can be happy about anything right now, it’s that today is the final day in what has been a dreadful March for them. Their 6-9-0 mark is tied with Arizona for the sixth-worst record in the month, and being compared to Coyotes in anything is usually a sign of trouble.

What makes the recent struggles an even harder pill to swallow is that it is spoiling an overall solid regular season. When the final game in February was played, San Jose was not only leading the Pacific Division by five points, but also trailed Minnesota by only seven points for the top seed in the Western Conference.

Thirty days later, the 43-27-7 Sharks sit alone in third place in the division, and four teams separate them from home ice throughout the conference playoffs. It leaves a club and fan base that entered the season on a quest to hoist its first Stanley Cup wondering if they can even escape what will be a very trying quarterfinals matchup against the Ducks, Flames, Oilers or possibly even the Blackhawks.

As I mentioned yesterday, it’s been an nearly all-inclusive collapse (defense notwithstanding) by the Sharks that has resulted in their horrendous run over the past 15 games.

Since 33-32-6 Martin Jones was in net last night, I’d assume 10-6-1 Aaron Dell will start in goal tonight (of course, I tabbed Dell to start yesterday and I was wrong, so who knows?). Dell has actually been a solid backup all season, as his .928 save percentage and 2.09 GAA are not only better than Jones’ effort, but also rank (t)third and fourth-best in the league among the 56 netminders with at least 16 appearances.

Whether we get that Dell or the Dell that has seen his save percentage drop to .915 in March remains to be seen, but you can plan on Justin Braun and San Jose‘s defense playing as strong as ever.

All season the goal has been to keep pucks off Dell and Jones’ crease as much as possible, and they’ve done an excellent job in achieving just that. All year, they’ve allowed only 27.5 shots-against per game – the third-best rate in the league – and they’ve actually been slightly better of late, allowing only 27.1 per game in March.

No Shark deserves more credit for that than Braun. He’s been the defensive stalwart of the club all year, and it shows in his team-leading 154 shot blocks. Another that has done well defensively is Joe Thornton, but he does his work before the opposition even thinks about firing at the net. He leads the squad in takeaways with 64 (tied for eighth-most in the league), including 13 this month.

The goaltending issues have proven to be especially detrimental to San Jose‘s penalty kill. Since it has been only an average effort on the season as a whole (80.8% kill rate is 15th-worst in the NHL), taking away the luxury of a usually-reliable backstop has dropped the Sharks to ninth-worst in March, neutralizing only 78% of their infractions. Dell has saved only 85% of the power play shots that have come his way this month, the 14th-worst effort among the 38 goalies with at least six March appearances.

Special teams seem to be a struggle for Peter DeBoer’s squad this year, as his power play has actually been worse than his penalty kill. The Sharks rank seventh-worst on the season with their 17.1% success rate with the man-advantage.

It’s surprising that San Jose has been so poor, mostly because they have one weapon few can match: Brent Burns. The offensive-minded blueliner has notched 24 points on the power play this campaign, which ties for 16th-most in the NHL.

Perhaps the Sharks‘ mojo has relocated itself to Cowtown. Currently in possession of a 43-30-4 record and the West’s first wild card, the Flames have earned a 15-4-1 record since February 15. That ties Columbus for the best mark in that time, though I’d argue the Flames have been better with one fewer game played.

I may actually be on to something regarding San Jose‘s mojo, as Brian Elliott has been fantastic during this run. After a rocky start to the season, he’s reclaimed the starting job in Calgary and made it his own. Since mid-February, he’s earned a .933 save percentage and a 1.97 GAA, the fourth and fifth-best marks in the league, respectively, among the 33 goalies with at least nine appearances in that time.

Tonight is the fourth of five games between these clubs this season, and the Flames have the opportunity to clinch the series victory with a win tonight. They’ve gone 2-1-0 so far against San Jose, including the last time they met on January 11. It was a closely contested affair, but Dougie Hamilton scored with 2:19 remaining in regulation to earn a 3-2 win for the Flames in the Saddledome.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Calgary‘s Johnny Gaudreau (42 assists for 59 points [both lead the team]) and Mark Giordano (176 blocks for a+22 [both lead the team]) & San Jose‘s Burns (73 points [eighth-most in the league]) and Jones (33 wins [seventh-most in the NHL]).

It’s hard to argue with recent success. Vegas has marked the Flames a -130 favorite to win tonight. Just like I said yesterday, the Sharks‘ rebound has to start in the crease. While Calgary certainly doesn’t pose the offensive threat the Oilers did a night ago, the Flames‘ confidence should be enough to get past whichever goaltender DeBoer decides to go with.

Hockey Birthday

  • Bud MacPherson (1927-1988) – For seven seasons MacPherson roamed along Montréal‘s blueline, and he was rewarded with one All-Star Game and the 1953 Stanley Cup.
  • Gordie Howe (1928-2016) – There’s no discussion: this right wing is one of the greatest players the world has ever seen. Named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972 – seven years before his last season in the league – he played in 23 All-Star Games over 26 NHL seasons (all but one with Detroit) and won both the Hart Memorial and Art Ross Trophies six times apiece, not to mention his four Stanley Cups.
  • Bob Pulford (1936-) – Another Hall of Famer, this left wing played all but two seasons of his 16-year career in Toronto. He won four Stanley Cups in the process, including three-straight from 1962-’64.
  • Bill Hicke (1938-2005) – Spending most of his time in Montréal, this right wing played 13 seasons in the NHL. The three-time All-Star was good for almost as many penalty minutes as points contributed, but that didn’t stop him from being a two-time Stanley Cup champion.
  • Gilles Gilbert (1949-) – Selected by the North Stars 25th-overall in the 1969 NHL Amateur Draft, this goaltender played 416 games over his 14-year career. Spending most of his time in Boston, he earned a 192-143-60 record before hanging up his pads.
  • Tom Barrasso (1965-) – Buffalo selected this goaltender fifth-overall in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft, but he played a majority of his career for the Penguins. He played well for both clubs, as he earned the 1984 Calder Memorial and Vezina Trophies and the 1985 William M. Jennings Trophy with the Sabres and back-to-back Stanley Cups in Pittsburgh.
  • Pavel Bure (1971-) – Though only selected in the sixth round of the 1989 NHL Entry Draft by Vancouver (his longest-tenured club), this right wing had a highly successful career. In addition to six All-Star Game appearances, he won two Maurice Richard Trophies and the 1992 Calder. All of that added up to a Hall of Fame induction in 2012.
  • Michael Ryder (1980-) – Montréal selected this right wing in the eighth round of the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he played most of his 11 seasons. That being said, he was wearing the crest of the arch-rival Bruins when he hoisted his lone Stanley Cup.
  • David Clarkson (1984-) – A longtime right wing for the Devils, this Toronto-native played 10 seasons in the NHL. He could’ve been playing his 11th this year with Columbus, but he was denied the opportunity to practice with the club due to failing his physical.
  • Steve Bernier (1985-) – The 16th-overall selection in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft by San Jose, this right wing has played 633 games over 11 seasons in the league. His longest -tenured club is New Jersey, with whom he scored 28 goals for 65 points.
  • Jakob Chychrun (1998-) – This rookie defenseman was the 16th-overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft by Arizona. He shows promise on the offensive end of the ice, as he’s provided 19 points already this year, the third-most among Coyotes blueliners.

Thanks to Second Star of the Game Cam Talbot‘s 38-save effort, Edmonton was able to best the Sharks 3-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day to improve into second place in the Pacific Division.

Though Talbot had a strong night, it didn’t start off the best way. He allowed Jannik Hansen (Paul Martin) to score only his eighth goal of the season 1:01 into play to allow the Sharks to take an early lead. Fortunately for him, Third Star Patrick Maroon (First Star Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl) provided a game-tying goal 9:21 later. Though Zack Kassian was sent off the ice for hooking birthday boy Marc-Edouard Vlasic with 3:24 remaining in the period, McDavid (Oscar Klefbom and Drake Caggiula) was able to score a shorthanded backhander only 52 seconds later to give the Oil a 2-1 lead it would not yield.

Maroon (Kris Russell) provided what proved to be the game-winning goal 7:51 into the third period with a tip-in. It became the winner with 6:01 remaining in regulation when Joe Pavelski (Vlasic and Hansen) scored a tip-in of his own, but the Sharks were unable to find another tally before the final horn.

Talbot earned the victory after saving 38-of-40 shots faced (95%), leaving the loss to Jones, who saved 19-of-22 (86.4%).

We’re all squared up once again in the DtFR Game of the Day series, as both home and away teams in the series have an identical 189 points. Road sides still have more wins with their 83-59-23 record.

March 20 – Day 152 – Who’s going to win? Boston Orr Toronto?

Another Monday, another week in the greatest hockey league in the world.

There’s five games on the schedule this evening, starting with two (Boston at Toronto [TVAS] and Buffalo at Detroit [NBCSN]) at 7:30 p.m. and another – Arizona at Nashville – half an hour later. 8:30 p.m. marks the puck drop of San Jose at Dallas, with tonight’s nightcap – Los Angeles at Edmonton – getting under way 30 minutes later. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Boston at Toronto: Not only is it an Original Six matchup, but it’s also an integral contest in the fight for third place in the Atlantic.
  • Los Angeles at Edmonton: Nothing makes a rivalry better than both teams fighting for playoff position.

Hopefully you haven’t had your fill of Atlantic hockey yet, because tonight’s offering at the Air Canada Centre is too big to ignore.

 

 

 

 

 

So, as things stand in the Atlantic after the weekend series between the Canadiens and Senators, Boston trails second-place Ottawa by only four points and both have played 71 games (of course, the inactive Senators are going to end up with a game-in-hand after tonight’s contest).

That’s the good news for the Bruins. The bad news? They lead Toronto by an even slimmer three points – and the Maple Leafs still have a game in hand.

Boston goes to battle this evening with a 38-27-6 record, thanks in large part to its defense and goaltending. The Bruins have played solidly on both ends of the ice, but I’m most impressed by the fact that they’ve allowed only 186 goals, which ties for 11th-fewest in the NHL.

That effort always starts with the goaltender, and 33-17-4 Tuukka Rask has been a darned good one over the past eight years. With his .912 season save percentage and 2.32 GAA, he ranks (t)25th and 10th-best, respectively, among the 38 goalies with at least 28 appearances.

Although that save percentage is in line to be his worst since playing full time with Boston‘s senior team, he’s been bailed out multiple times this year by one of the better defensive units in the league. Led by the 238 evenly-distributed shot blocks by Captain Zdeno Chara and Adam McQuaid, the Bruins‘ blueline has allowed only 26.6 shots-per-game to reach Rask’s crease, the second-best rate in the entire league.

Pair a good defense with a good goaltender, and – what do you know – you get a great power play. In fact, Boston‘s 85.4% kill rate is second-best in the league. This has been when Rask has truly shined this season, as he’s faced the (t)11th-most power play shots this season, but has saved 89.4% of them. That ties Devan Dubnyk – the probable winner of the 2017 Vezina Trophy – for the seventh-best mark in the NHL.

Special-team success continues for the Bruins when they earn the man-advantage. The three-headed attack of Torey Krug, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak (all of whom have 21 power play points) has converted 20.8% of man-advantages into goals, the 10th-best mark in the league. Of those three, Pastrnak has been the most impressive, as he’s buried nine extra-man goals.

Of course, it’s not as if the Leafs are the only teams applying pressure. Toronto is also in a heated race for the second wild card spot, as it leads the Islanders by only a point. To apply even more pressure, this game against the Bruins is Toronto‘s game-in-hand on New York. Since the Isles would win the regulation+overtime wins tiebreaker if things came to that, Toronto needs this win in the most desperate way.

The Maple Leafs have their offense to thank for their 32-23-15 record, as they’ve managed to produce 211 goals in 70 games – the sixth-highest rate in hockey.

My, what youth can do for an organization. Last season, Toronto accounted for only 192 goals – the third-fewest in the NHL. Enter Auston Matthews, and everything has changed. The rookie has been unstoppable, and it shows in his team-leading 56 points. Even more impressive? 32 of those points have been goals, another total where he leads the squad.

Where Toronto has been truly unstoppable is the power play. They convert 23.6% of their opportunities into goals – the best in the league. To compare, Anaheim had the best power play in the league last year and converted 23.1%.

Yes, these Leafs are better than last year’s Ducks. For those wondering, the tank is over. The Maple Leafs are back.

While you’d be correct in assuming a rookie is the cause of the success, you’d be wrong to guess it’s Matthews’ doing. He’s been good, but the power play has actually been William Nylander‘s personal project this year. He’s registered a team-leading 23 man-advantage points, even though it’s Nazem Kadri who’s scored the most goals on the power play with 11 to his credit.

Toronto is even good on the penalty kill. It refuses to yield a goal on 83.3% of opposing power plays, the ninth-best mark in the league. Frederik Andersen – another added player for this season –  deserves the credit for much of that success, as he’s faced the second-most power play shots in the league, yet yielded a goal only 10.9% of the time, which ties Mike Condon for the eighth-best mark in the NHL.

If there’s one team the Bruins have dreaded playing this year, I’d venture to guess it’s the Maple Leafs. Three times they’ve gone to battle with Toronto, and three times they’ve fallen in regulation. In total, the Leafs have scored 14 goals against Boston, including six on February 4 the last time these clubs met.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Boston‘s Marchand (37 goals [second-most in the NHL] for 79 points [tied for third-most in the league]) and Rask (six shutouts [tied for third-most in the NHL] among 33 wins [tied for fifth-most in the league]) & Toronto‘s Andersen (four shutouts [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]) and Matthews (32 goals [tied for ninth-most in the league]).

Given the fact that tonight’s game is taking place at the Air Canada Centre and the Leafs‘ success against the Bruins this season, I’m very surprised Vegas has marked this contest at +110. I think Toronto wins its fourth-straight against the Bruins tonight.

Hockey Birthday

  • Bobby Orr (1948-) – There are few that have accomplished as much in their career as this defenseman. Although he played only a dozen seasons (most of those with Boston), this Hall-of-Famer was an eight-time James Norris Memorial Trophy winner, seven-time All Star, three-time Hart Memorial Trophy winner and two-time winner of the Art Ross, Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup.
  • Sergei Kostitsyn (1987-) – Montréal selected this left wing in the seventh round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, but he actually played more of his 353 career games in the league with Nashville. Last appearing in the NHL in the 2012-’13 season, he registered 176 points over six seasons.

When these clubs met in Ottawa Saturday, they needed a shootout to determine the winner. In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, Montréal hosted the Senators to a 4-1 victory.

Only 28 seconds into the game, the Canadiens had a one-goal lead thanks to a Second Star of the Game Tomas Plekanec (Andrei Markov and First Star Paul Byron) backhanded shot. Tom Pyatt (Mike Hoffman and Jean-Gabriel Pageau) leveled the game 4:08 later, but Jordie Benn‘s (Nathan Beaulieu and Alexander Radulov) slap shot with 2:15 remaining in the frame proved to be the game-winning goal for the Habs.

Byron (Third Star Brendan Gallagher and Shea Weber) and Beaulieu (Andrew Shaw and Phillip Danault) provided the two insurance goals in the third period.

Carey Price saved 30-of-31 shots faced (96.8%) to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Craig Anderson, who saved 33-of-37 (89.2%).

Montréal‘s victory is the first by a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series since Tuesday, and it pulls hosts within three points of the 78-54-22 series visitors.

February 10 – Day 114 – Should the Blackhawks be scared of Winnipeg?

It’s not often I say this, but today is not a great day for hockey – no matter how hard Hall of Fame coach Bob Johnson tries to convince us otherwise.

There’s only two games on the schedule today, and they’re both snoozers. Both Tampa Bay at Minnesota (NBCSN/TVAS) and Chicago at Winnipeg drop the puck at 8 p.m. eastern this evening.

Of the two, I expect the contest in Manitoba to be the better tonight since it’s a divisional matchup, so off to Canada we go!

Unknown-2Unknown-4

 

 

 

 

 

This is the fifth game in 33-17-5 Chicago‘s six-game road trip leading up to their bye week, but that doesn’t seem to be bothering them too much. They’re currently riding a three-game winning streak that has propelled them to the second-best mark in the Western Conference. The reason they’ve been so good? Their offense has managed 154 goals in 55 games, which ties for the 10th-best rate in the league.

Remember how Patrick Kane won the Hart Memorial Trophy, the Ted Lindsay Award and the Art Ross Trophy last season for absolutely annihilating the NHL with 106 points? He may not be reaching that number again this year, but he’s still leading the pack for the Hawks. His 53 points are the most on the club. However, it’s not him scoring the puck this campaign. Instead, he’s leaving that responsibility to Marian Hossa, who’s 19 tallies are tops in Chicago (sorry Wade Megan, we’re only counting NHL goals).

The main issue for the Blackhawks continues to be their penalty kill, which ranks fourth-worst in the league and stops only 76.7% of opposing power plays. One of the few bright spots has been the play of Niklas Hjalmarsson, who has blocked 27 shots when facing the man-advantage.

Playing host this evening are the 25-27-4 Jets, who currently occupy fifth-place in the Central Division and 11th in the Western Conference, due in part to their two-game losing skid. The biggest struggle in Winnipeg this season is on the defensive end, as the Jets have allowed 175 goals against – the most in the NHL.

17-13-1 Connor Hellebuyck has gotten most of the starts this season, and for good reason: he has the best save percentage and GAA in Winnipeg. Saving .909 percent of pucks for a 2.78 GAA, he stacks up (t)30th and 32nd in the league against the 47 other netminders with at least 17 appearances.

That being said, it’s been 4-4-0 Ondrej Pavelec that Paul Maurice has charged with manning the crease for the past four games, even though his .888 save percentage and 3.55 GAA are the worst marks by Jets goalies. It’ll be interesting to see who Maurice decides to give the nod against Chicago‘s solid offense.

Unfortunately, the troubles don’t stop there for Winnipeg. Even though Dustin Byfuglien has a decent 95 shot blocks to his credit to lead the squad (ties for 33rd-most in the NHL), the Jets allow 30.7 shots to reach Hellebuyck’s crease per game, the (t)12th-worst rate in the league.

Pair a poor defense with poor goaltending, and you get a miserable penalty kill. That’s the situation Winnipeg finds itself in, as it’s 76.6% kill rate in third-worst in the NHL. Fortunately for the Jets, they do have Toby Enstrom managing the defensive special team with his team-leading 22 shorthanded blocks.

The Blackhawks just got the monkey off their back in Minnesota, beating the Wild for the first time in nine games Wednesday. Now they turn their attention to the Jets, an unusual team that seems to genuinely look forward to playing the Hawks. Winnipeg has already won the first four contests between the clubs by a combined score of 14-5. They last met in Chicago on January 26, where the Jets won 5-3.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Chicago‘s Scott Darling (.925 save percentage [fourth-best in the NHL] for a 2.31 GAA [ninth-best in the league]) should he play, Duncan Keith (34 assists [tied for seventh-most in the NHL]) and Kane (36 assists [tied for third-most in the league] among 53 points [tied for seventh-most in the NHL]) & Winnipeg‘s Mark Scheifele (25 goals among 53 points [both tied for seventh-most in the league]).

This is a tough game to pick. Chicago is the obvious choice given their winning streak and overall superior play, but they are on the tail end of a long road trip. Winnipeg has home ice, and of course has won the last four games against the Hawks in convincing fashion. I wouldn’t bet on this game, but I’ll take the Jets to try to complete the season sweep.

Hockey Birthday

  • Bud Poile (1924-2005) – This right win played for every Original Six team but Montréal, but he spent most of his days in a Toronto sweater. His most memorable season was in 1946-’47, when he won the Stanley Cup. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1990 as a Builder.
  • Randy Velischek (1962-) – The 53rd-overall pick in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft by the North Stars, this defenseman played most of his career in New Jersey. His 1984-’85 campaign in Minnesota was probably his best, as he notched 13 points while only allowing six goals.
  • Peter Popovic (1968-) – Selected by Montréal in the fifth-round of the 1988 NHL Entry Draft, this defenseman played 485 games over eight seasons in the league – most of which with the Canadiens. His 1995-’96 season was his best, marking a +21 with 14 points to his credit.
  • Mike Ribeiro (1980-) – Currently in his third season in Nashville, this center was selected 45th-overall in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft by Montréal. He’s most known for his six seasons in Dallas.
  • Jakub Kindl (1987-) – The 19th-overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by Detroit, this defenseman is in his first full season with the Panthers after getting traded from the Red Wings last year.

Three coaching changes: three winning debuts. Bruce Cassidy pushed the right buttons last night in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as Boston bested the Sharks 6-3.

Third Star of the Game David Backes (Torey Krug and David Krejci) got things started quickly, burying a slap shot only 52 seconds into the game to give the Bruins an early lead. It only lasted 6:59 though, as ex-Bruin Joe Thornton (Tomas Hertl) scored his wrister to level the game. The next two goals belonged to the home team. First Star Patrice Bergeron (Backes and Brandon Carlo) took his turn first by scoring a tip-in with 4:08 remaining in the period, followed 1:39 later by Second Star David Pastrnak‘s (Bergeron) power play slap shot to set the score at 3-1 going into the first intermission.

Justin Braun (Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau) did his best Backes impression to pull the Sharks within a tally only 1:08 after resuming play, but Boston‘s offense was more than up to the task. With 6:56 remaining in the second period, Tim Schaller (Riley Nash and Dominic Moore) scored the eventual game-winning goal, followed 6:07 later by Pastrnak’s (Bergeron and Brad Marchand) second power play goal of the game, which set the score at 5-2 going into the second intermission.

With 2:37 remaining in the game, Timo Meier (Joel Ward and Hertl) scored a wrister for his third tally of the season, but even that goal didn’t go unanswered. With exactly 30 seconds remaining in the game Marchand (Bergeron and Backes) tacked on one final goal for the Bruins.

Tuukka Rask earns the victory after saving 23-of-26 shots faced (88.5%), while Aaron Dell takes the loss, saving 18-of-20 (90%). He replaced Martin Jones, who’d saved only nine-of-12 (75%), after the first intermission. Jones earned no decision.

Boston‘s win is the second in three days by a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series to improve the hosts’ record to 61-37-18, 10 points better than the roadies.

January 13 – Day 90 – Ready for an Original Six game?

It’s finally Friday, so sit back and watch some hockey after that stressful business week. The action gets started at 7 p.m. with two games (Toronto at the New York Rangers and Chicago at Washington [NHLN]), followed half an hour later by two more (the New York Islanders at Florida and Buffalo at Carolina). Columbus at Tampa Bay (SN/TVAS) drops the puck at 8 p.m., trailed an hour later by tonight’s co-nightcaps (New Jersey at Calgary and Winnipeg at Arizona).

Short list:

  • Toronto at New York: It’s another Original Six game this evening, this one taking place at Madison Square Garden.
  • New York at Florida: Last postseason, the Islanders upset Florida in the Eastern Quarterfinals before falling to Tampa Bay.

Don’t tell anybody, but Toronto is only four points out of playoff position, and tonight’s game in the Big Apple will be a good test to see if they’re capable of acting  on the opportunity.

UnknownNew York Rangers Logo

 

 

 

 

 

The Leafs make their lone trip of the season to Manhattan with an 18-13-8 record. The main problem for Toronto has been their defense and goaltending, which has allowed 111 goals against – only the 15th-fewest in the league.

With the exception of six games, 17-9-7 Frederik Andersen has always been the man in charge of the crease for the Maple Leafs this season. So far, he’s saved .918 percent of shots faced for a 2.69 GAA, which ties for 18th and 27th-best among the 44 goalies with 17 or more appearances.

While Andersen has been far from impressive, he can’t shoulder the entire blame. The Leafs have allowed an average of 32.6 shots-per-game to reach Andersen’s crease, tied for the fourth-worst in the league. Morgan Rielly has given all he can and more to Toronto, as he leads the club with 67 shot blocks.

If the Leafs truly want to make a playoff push, I’d expect them to be active at the trade deadline to bring in a quality defenseman.

Although the Leafs have tied for the seventh-best effort on the penalty kill with a 83.6% kill rate (led by Roman Polak‘s 16 short-handed blocks), percentages can be deceiving. Toronto averages 11:35 penalty minutes per game, the second-highest in the NHL, and Andersen has struggled mightily. He’s allowed 19 power play goals to slip past him, which ties for the seventh-most in the league.

Fortunately, Toronto has been very successful on the power play. Led by William Nylander and his 15 power play points, the Maple Leafs bury the puck 22.4% of the time with the man-advantage, the seventh-best rate in the league. Nazem Kadri has been the one responsible for most of those situational goals, with eight to his credit (tied for the fourth-most in the NHL).

You know you’re in a tough division when you’re riding a two-game winning streak and have the fifth-best point percentage in the NHL, yet you’re still only in a wild card spot. That’s the position the 28-13-1 Rangers find themselves in, although that can change with a win tonight, as they could take advantage of Pittsburgh‘s two-game losing skid and jump into third place in the division. As they have been all season, they’ll be led by their dominant offense that has accounted for a league-leading 144 points.

Although it’s more than a two-headed assault, the main pair getting a lot of the praise right now in New York are Kevin Hayes and Derek Stepan, both of whom have an impressive 31 points to their credit. Of course, they’ve mostly been facilitators. The striker on this team is still Michael Grabner with his 19 tallies.

As you might expect, the Blueshirts‘ power play is no slouch. In fact, they’re third best in the league, successful on 23.2% of their opportunities. Ryan McDonagh has been at the forefront of that effort with nine power play points, but hasn’t been the one scoring the goals. That duty has been shared by Chris Kreider, Rick Nash, Brandon Pirri and Jimmy Vesey, all of whom have four power play goals.

Even the penalty kill has been impressive, refusing to yield to the opposition’s man-advantage 83% of the time, the 10th-best effort in the league. Kevin Klein gets to take a lot of responsibility for that ranking, as his 16 shorthanded blocks are tops on the club.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include New York‘s Grabner (+22 [fifth-best in the NHL]), Nick Holden (+20 [tied for seventh-best in the league]) and Henrik Lundqvist (18 wins [tied for eighth-most in the NHL]) & Toronto‘s Andersen (17 wins [10th-most in the league]) and Auston Matthews (21 goals [tied for third-most in the NHL]).

Vegas has put a -137 next to the Rangers‘ name to indicate they’re the favorites this evening. It’s hard to argue with, given their success regardless of who they’re playing. Until Toronto can put together a full game on a regular basis, they will not be able to stand up to talented teams like New York.

Hockey Birthday

  • Art Ross (1886-1964) – It’s nearly impossible to fully summarize all Ross did. The defenseman won two Stanley Cups as a player, and tacked on an additional three as a coach or general manager for Boston. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1949, and the yearly award for the season’s leading scorer is named in his honor.
  • Cesare Maniago (1939-) – This goaltender played 568 games over 15 seasons in the NHL, mostly with the North Stars. He completed his career with a 190-257-97 record on a 3.27 GAA.
  • Kelly Hrudey (1961-) – Another netminder, the Islanders drafted Hrudey 38th-overall in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft. That being said, he spent most of his 15 seasons in Los Angeles en route to a 271-265-88 career record.
  • Nikolai Khabibulin (1973-) – Drafted in the ninth round of the 1992 NHL Entry Draft by the original Jets, this goaltender would’ve been a steal 100 picks earlier. The Bulin Wall finished his 18-season career with a 333-334-97 record, four All Star selections and a 2004 Stanley Cup title while in Tampa Bay.
  • Sergei Brylin (1974-) – The 42nd-overall pick in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft played his entire career with the club that drafted him – New Jersey. During that time, he notched 308 points to win three Stanley Cups.
  • Marc Staal (1987-) – The middle Staal brother was the 12th-overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by the Rangers, and that’s where he’s played every since. Over his entire career, he’s notched a +40.
  • Connor McDavid (1997-) – In only 88 career games, the first pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft by Edmonton has already notched 96 points. There’s no ifs about it: he will be the next superior player, if he’s not already.
  • Ivan Provorov (1997-) – The seventh-overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft by Philadelphia, this defenseman has finally joined the Flyers this season. He’s made quite the impact, tying Shayne Gostisbehere with 19 points for most by a Philly blueliner.

Talk about an evening of comebacks. First, Third Star of the Game Taylor Hall made his return to Edmonton. Then, the Oilers scored a game-tying goal with 7:24 remaining in regulation to force overtime, which they used to beat the Devils 3-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The lone goal of the first period belonged to Travis Zajac (Kyle Palmieri and Michael Cammalleri) and the visiting Devils. He tipped-in his shot with 1:54 remaining in the frame to put New Jersey ahead going into intermission.

Edmonton pulled the game back even almost immediately after returning to the ice. 16 seconds after the initial puck drop, Andrej Sekera (Second Star Leon Draisaitl and Adam Larsson) scored a snapper to tie the game at one-all. That draw lasted until 51 seconds remained in the second period, when Steven Santini (Hall and P.A. Parenteau) scored the first goal of his career. Once again, Jersey took a one-goal lead into the dressing room.

As stated before, the Oilers tied the game with 7:24 remaining in regulation off a wrister from First Star Patrick Maroon (Draisaitl and McDavid). Neither side was able to break the knot, so the game advanced into three-on-three overtime.

Only 1:50 into the five-minute period, Draisaitl (McDavid and Oscar Klefbom) ended the game in the home club’s favor with an impressive slap shot, his 16th goal of the season.

Cam Talbot earned the victory after saving 16-of-18 shots faced (88.9%), leaving the loss to Cory Schneider, who saved 31-of-34 (91.2%).

The Oilers‘ victory is the second-straight by a home club in the DtFR Game of the Day series, improving the hosts’ record to 49-29-14, 10 points better than the visitors.

1st Annual Colby’s Corner Awards

2015 is coming to an end and it’s time for all the awards for this early 2015-2016 season. This Colby’s Corner will be different, as Nick and I will tag team these awards, sharing who we think should win and why.

The Wayne Gretzky Award– Given to the best offensive player

Colby Kephart– Jamie Benn. I choose Jamie Benn because the answer is in the numbers. Mr. Benn is 1st in goals scored with 19 goals, and 2nd in points with 39. Benn is also 5th in assists, but this doesn’t explain what he truly means to this Dallas team. Jamie Benn is the best offensive player of the year.

Nick Lanciani– You’ve got to go with Jamie Benn here, quite simply because he was last year’s Art Ross Trophy winner and is still maintaining a consistent scoring pace. While his counterpart, Tyler Seguin, might have showed signs of slowing down over the last week or so, Benn’s game elevates the level of everyone around him and Seguin will quickly get back into the same rhythm.

Goaltender of the year (sorry Bryz, it’s not you)

CK– Henrik Lundqvist. King Henrik is the best goalie in this early season. He is 1st in save percentage and 3rd in both goals-against-average and wins. Lundqvist’s numbers are similar to Carey Price’s MVP season from last year.

NL– Washington’s Braden Holtby has continued to stake his claim in the short list of elite goaltenders in the world. This season he’s got a 1.95 GAA, .928 SV%, and a 17-4-1 record to boot in 22 games played. We said in our season previews that Washington would be a dominant team and Holtby is a dominant force in front of the net. Speaking of the Force, I’m excited for Star Wars…

If Carey Price wasn’t injured, I’m sure he’d be making a strong case for himself this season as he did last season when he took home the Vezina Trophy and Hart Trophy.

The Bobby Orr Award– Given to the best defensemen of the year

CK– John Klingberg. This young defenseman has proven himself in this season with 30 points thus far, which is crazy. I understand he is on one of the best teams in the league, and plays alongside stars like Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. But he has 5 goals and 25 assists in just 28 games played, which is more than a point a game.

NL– There’s a reason why I picked up Klingberg on my fantasy team, if we’re talking specific aspects of the game. Otherwise, Erik Karlsson is leading defensemen in points with 6-26-32 totals through 29 games played, so really if you want to split this one into “best two-way/offensive defenseman” and “best defenseman” I’d be able to give both of them an award.

Coach of the Year (so far) Award

CK– Lindy Ruff. At this point, you are seeing a trend that I believe Dallas is a top team this year, and this man is a big reason why. He has made many lucrative moves, like deciding who to play with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. It was once Patrick Sharp on the wing, but in recent games it has been Valeri Nichushkin. This kid only had one assist last season but this season has 12 points, proving himself to Mr. Ruff.

NL– Umm, can we talk about what they’re doing in Vancouver, Los Angeles, San Jose, and Ottawa, or should I just go with a cop out and pick Lindy Ruff as well? I’ll tell you who’s not my coach of the year, but I wouldn’t want a stanchion sent my way between the benches… John Tortorella gets a pass for now with regards to “worst” coach of the year.

But if you want me to say who I’d pick as coach of the year right now (again) it’s got to be Ruff. Actually, just make Dallas earn all the front office of the year awards. Well, maybe almost all of them. Washington would definitely be their main competition. Hmm, actually, would Ruff mind sharing our award with Barry Trotz? Asking for a friend.

Best Team of 2015

CJhyiLmKCK– Dallas Stars. No surprise here as I am saying that the Dallas Stars are the best team in the league thus far. They lead the NHL with 44 points and their offense is the best with 98 goals for this season. They also have the most wins the league, with 21 wins in 28 games (that’s only 7 losses!).

 

NL– Well, if the Ottawa Senators get any hotter, I might be picking them soon, but yeah, Dallas or Washington again. No surprise here. Maybe even Montreal, if they can avoid losing nine straight to match their winning streak to start the season. I don’t just want to go with this season’s eventual President’s Trophy winner, so really I’m just trying to add a few more teams to the conversation.

 

Rookie of the year (until Nick jinx’s him)

CK– Artemi Panarin. 9 goals, 19 assists—this kid has to be considered one of the biggest surprises of the season. I may not know how to pronounce his name, but I know he has been great for the Blackhawks this season and will be competing for the NHL rookie of the year award.

NL– I hate picking a “rookie of the year” halfway through, because usually I end up jinxing them, so I guess I’ll have to be careful with this one. Artemi Panarin, bud, I don’t want to ruin your chances, but if I had to pick who I think will take home the Calder Trophy in June, well, I’ve got to go with Max Domi. I just think that in the long run Domi will be able to overcome the 5 points in scoring separation between himself and Panarin as it stands right now.

With that said, if I’m picking one for right now it’s definitely Panarin. No questions asked. Actually, did anybody think of a defenseman? Oh well.

Patrik Stefan’s Team of the Year– Worst team of the year

CK– Toronto Maple Leafs. Toronto fans were excited to win the Mike Babcock sweepstakes and had high hopes for this season. They knew the offense would be affected with the Phil Kessel trade, but no one knew it would be this bad. Toronto is struggling, and I feel they will finish near the bottom of the league this season.giphy

 

NL– Any team that’s near the bottom of the standings that starts with a “C” is splitting this award. So Columbus, Carolina and Colorado, congrats! You’re losers! But winners in our hearts.

*Disclaimer: I’m fully aware that things are still dismal in Toronto and possibly Calgary, so we’ll see which one of those Canadian teams is in contention for this award at the end of the regular season. They’ll probably have to do worse than one of the “C” teams mentioned above though.

Biggest surprise of year

CK– Arizona Coyotes. The Arizona Coyotes are the biggest surprise of this season as they are making an interesting push to playoffs. They have been bouncing between being the 3rd division spot or out of the playoffs. Max Domi and Anthony Duclair are having strong rookie seasons, and have surprised both the league and me personally.

NL– Remember how I mentioned Max Domi before, yeah, well that was intentional. I was leading you to the obvious. The Vancouver Canucks and the Tampa Bay Lightning are big surprises this year, with the Canucks currently 2nd in the Pacific Division and well, not in last like I thought they would be after their inactivity in the offseason. I mean, Matt Bartkowski? Really? Then again, it looks like he’s found a home on the blue line defending Johnny Canuck from the opposition.

And Tampa’s currently 6th in the Atlantic Division, albeit a close spread in points, only ten points out of first and two points from a wild card spot, but one would think they would be flexing their muscle this season as they did in their Stanley Cup Final run last spring. If they fall further, they’re definitely the biggest surprise, in my eyes, for all the wrong reasons. Likewise, Jon Cooper would probably deserve some heavy scrutiny, with the whole hysteria surrounding Steven Stamkos’s pending unrestricted free agency possibility.

But if I have to be nice and pick a pleasant surprise, I’m going with either Vancouver- as I already discussed- or Arizona- as Colby already pointed out (and I’m totally hopping on that Domi-Duclair bandwagon by the way).