Tag Archives: Atkinson

Caps OT Win Puts Jackets On Brink

With an overtime-winning goal from Nicklas Backstrom, the Caps became the first team to win a game on home ice in this series as they moved within a win of the second round.  The Jackets have now lost three straight after starting the series with a 2-0 advantage.

The Jackets had played a solid first period, but the Caps got a power play that felt like it could shift momentum.  Instead, Matt Calvert scored a short-handed goal to give the Jackets their first 1-0 lead of the series off of some nice board work by Seth Jones.  The lead wouldn’t last long as Backstrom got a lucky break on a shot that went off of David Savard‘s skate, Sergei Bobrovsky‘s mask and into the goal.

As the second period started, it felt like the Caps were the hungrier team.  Dmitry Orlov sent a long stretch pass to Evgeny Kuznetsov that he buried to give the Caps their first lead of the game at 2-1.  It was one of several poor line changes by Columbus and Washington took advantage.  Despite continued pressure from the Caps, the Jackets would even it up when Calvert got his second of the game on a breakaway after initially whiffing on a shot and then making a spin move to put it in the net.  With 3:18 left in the 2nd period T.J. Oshie redirected a point shot from John Carlson to put the Caps ahead 3-2. Once again, it felt like maybe the Caps were going to take control of the game.

However, Oliver Bjorkstrand had other thoughts.  Ian Cole took a shot from the point that Bjorkstrand tipped to knot the game at three early in the third period.  Bjorkstrand had seen little time throughout the game (and the series), but he seemed to gain confidence in this game and John Tortorella rewarded him with additional time in the third period and overtime.  All of the momentum was with Columbus in the third period, but they couldn’t solve Braden Holtby.  The Caps were outshot 16-1 in the final frame of regulation.

Once again, the long change seemed to cause problems for the Jackets as momentum again shifted to the Caps in overtime.  The Jackets have struggled with the long change throughout the season and this trend seems to have carried into the playoffs.  The Jackets best chance in overtime was with Bjorkstrand and Jenner on the ice together.  It is a pairing that work at times in the early part of the season and which made some sense here given the game Bjorkstrand had played to that point and the series that Jenner has had.  But it wasn’t to be and the game-winning goal came on a shift in which the Caps managed to sustain pressure and, again, re-direct a point shot past Bobrovsky.

There were some encouraging signs for the Blue Jackets and John Tortorella was emphatic in the press conference that his team would be ready for Game 6 and that they would force a Game 7, but they are running out of chances and now they have their backs against the wall.  Getting Bjorkstrand involved in the game is definitely a positive as the Jackets have been over-relying on their top line.  Cam Atkinson finished the game with 28:25 time on ice and Artemi Panarin and Pierre-Luc Dubois weren’t far behind.

There are also some things to be concerned about.  Bobrovsky’s subpar save percentage in this game is probably not as big of a concern given that more than one of those goals was off a redirection.  What is more of a concern is that Panarin seemed less dynamic than usual after a slash to his knee.  While his 80 percent is still better than most players at 100 percent, his line has also been a big driver in this series and, as noted above, spends a lot of time on the ice.  The Jackets also need to make a decision about Brandon Dubinsky with Alexander Wennberg back on the ice.  Dubinsky’s struggles have been a story line this season, sometimes to the point of being tabloid material.  His struggles as this series have progressed are real and time on ice of just 7:28 (despite getting time on penalty kill) suggests the coaching staff is well aware of the issue.  Mark Letestu looked to be the better option as this game progressed.

The Caps will have the chance to finish the series off in Columbus on Monday and will have confidence having beaten the Jackets twice on the road.  Should they lose, however, the old doubts might start to creep back in, so the series still isn’t over yet and could have some surprises in store.

Columbus sitting pretty with 2-0 lead

 

Another overtime game, another Columbus Blue Jackets victory, as they beat the Washington Capitals 5-4 to take a two-tilt advantage going into Game 3.

Even though it was challenged for offsides, First Star of the Game LW Matt Calvert (D Zach Werenski and RW Josh Anderson) scored his fourth career postseason goal – and second-ever playoff overtime winner – to etch his name into Jackets lore on an elevated wrist shot to the near post from along the goal line with 7:38 remaining in the first overtime period.

For a franchise that has never escaped the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Blue Jackets are a mighty confident team right now. Going back to the regular season, Columbus has earned a 15-2-2 record in its last 19 games played and is showing no signs of slowing down yet.

That being said, tonight was not a game in which Columbus dominated play. That was made apparent right from the opening puck drop, as F Jay Beagle (D Brooks Orpik and D Jakub Jerabek) scored Washington’s first shot on goal to give the Capitals an early 1-0 advantage. That lead doubled to two 11:14 later when Third Star W Alex Ovechkin (D John Carlson and F T.J. Oshie) scored a power play slap shot from his usual spot in the left face-off circle.

In all, the Capitals out-shot the Blue Jackets 58-30, earning a dominating 28-shot differential that effectively demonstrated just how much action was taking place in G Sergei Bobrovsky‘s end.

However, it was the incredible play of Bobrovsky – who saved 54-of-58 shots faced (.931 save percentage) and earns the honorary DtFR Fourth Star – that not only kept the Jackets alive defensively, but also allowed Columbus to set up an effective counterattack on numerous occasions.

Enter Second Star RW Cam Atkinson with 1:35 remaining in the first period. Having been the Jacket called for the goalie interference penalty that allowed Ovechkin to find the back of the net 4:59 earlier, Atkinson (F Nick Foligno) collected a long stretch pass that crossed both blue lines to beat G Philipp Grubauer‘s left skate to the post with a wrister, pulling Columbus back within a goal.

Even though it came late in the period, Atkinson’s play signified a major turning point in this game. The tally came on the heels of the conclusion of two minutes of four-on-four play (F Pierre-Luc Dubois and F Evgeny Kuznetsov were charged with corresponding slashing minors) that certainly boosted the confidence of Columbus’ defense.

Of course, it didn’t take long for Washington to try to reclaim control after the intermission – and it did with a little help from F Brandon Dubinsky, who accidentally removed Carlson’s helmet with a hi-stick while hitting W Devante Smith-Pelly.

The power play is usually Ovechkin’s (C Nicklas Backstrom and Carlson) time to shine, and he didn’t disappoint by burying another one of his patented clappers at the 4:09 mark of the frame – only eight seconds after Dubinsky took his seat in the sin bin.

However, a two-goal advantage is all the Caps could manage, as the Jackets started to turn the tides in their favor to score three goals before the second intermission.

Getting back to the counterattack point from earlier, Anderson (Werenski and LW Artemi Panarin) was the next beneficiary at the 8:49 mark of the frame. After W Brett Connolly fell down in the corner to Bobrovsky’s right, Anderson pounced on the newly vacated puck to set up a five-on-two rush for Columbus. With such a man-advantage, it’s no surprise that the Jackets were able to pass the puck back-and-forth enough times to confuse Grubauer and pull themselves back within a one-goal differential.

The theme of Game 1 was unwise and untimely penalties, and the Capitals decided to reprise that story line for the remainder of the second frame with two such infractions that resulted in Columbus goals.

First was a RW Tom Wilson roughing penalty against D Seth Jones with 9:24 remaining in the period. Like so often happens in a hockey game – regardless of if it is in the regular season or playoffs – there was a little scrum in front of Grubauer’s net after he froze the puck. However, Wilson took offense to this one in particular and elected to literally jump into the fray and take Jones down to the ice. In turn, Atkinson (Panarin and Jones) made his stay in the penalty box only 37 seconds long after tying the game with a power play wrister.

Old habits die hard, so it only makes sense that Smith-Pelly was sent to the box with 2:20 remaining before the second intermission for a holding the stick penalty. This power play lasted 1:12, but the net result as the same: Werenski (RW Oliver Bjorkstrand and Panarin) scoring another goal for the Blue Jackets, giving them their first lead of the night.

With the rumored hockey gods distributing power play goals like Oprah gives away household appliances, it’s only logical that the Capitals would be handed one last opportunity to level the game when Werenski flipped the puck over the glass for a delay of game infraction with 4:51 remaining in regulation.

Still looking for his first goal of the 2018 postseason, Oshie (Backstrom and Carlson) capitalized on the man-advantage to bury a power play snap shot, tying the game at 4-4 with 3:35 remaining in regulation.

But wait, there’s more! After Oshie scored, F Boone Jenner didn’t like him very much so he tripped him with 1:59 remaining in regulation. That’s right, ladies and gentleman: Jenner decided to give the regular season’s seventh-best power play a shot at winning this game in regulation.

Fortunately for Jenner, he escaped the wrath of Head Coach John Tortorella when Wilson absolutely whiffed on an excellent opportunity, allowing the game to advance into overtime which eventually ended in Columbus’ favor.

Though he didn’t start the game, G Braden Holtby takes the overtime loss after saving seven-of-eight shots faced (.875 save percentage) in the third period and overtime. He replaced Grubauer, who saved 18-of-22 (.818) and earned no decision, following the second intermission.

Of note, W Andre Burakovsky suffered an upper body injury on his first shift of the game, meaning the Capitals played almost the entire contest with only 11 forwards. It remains to be seen what his status for Game 3 and beyond will be for Washington.

After a short flight west to Central Ohio, Game 3 will take place at 7:30 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday, April 17 at Nationwide Arena. American viewers can catch the game on NBCSN, while Canada will be serviced by SN360 and TVAS.

Costly penalties abound; Jackets win 4-3 in overtime

 

In a contest filled with a combined 29 penalty minutes and four power play goals, the Columbus Blue Jackets earned a 4-3 overtime victory to beat the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena in Game 1 of their first round matchup.

With the exception of this being the first overtime match of the 2018 postseason, easily the biggest story coming out of this game is RW Josh Anderson‘s boarding penalty against D Michal Kempny with 2:37 remaining in the first period. Kempny struggled to return to his skates after the hit and never returned to the game, earning Anderson a match penalty (and a probable call from the Department of Player Safety if D Drew Doughty‘s one-game suspension is any indication) and the Capitals a five-minute power play.

Having managed only four shots on goal in their first two power plays against Columbus’ (t)fifth-worst regular season penalty kill, Second Star of the Game F Evgeny Kuznetsov took matters into his own hands to score two goals in the first 58 seconds of Anderson’s infraction. Both markers, which set the score at 2-0, were a result of primary apples from C Nicklas Backstrom and hockey assists by Third Star D John Carlson.

However, the man-advantage didn’t just favor the hosts, as the Blue Jackets also earned themselves a pair of power play markers in the third period – including the tally that forced overtime.

RW Tom Wilson was caught charging D Ryan Murray 1:18 into the third period, and W Thomas Vanek (F Pierre-Luc Dubois and First Star LW Artemi Panarin) needed only 13 seconds of the man-advantage to tie the game at 2-2 with a wrist shot (C Alexander Wennberg [F Boone Jenner and Vanek] got the Jackets on the board with a second period even-strength goal).

Even though Washington regained a one-goal lead at the 5:12 mark when W Devante Smith-Pelly (LW Jakub Vrana and Carlson) scored a wrister, another Capitals penalty – this one an W Andre Burakovsky tripping infraction against D Seth Jones – proved to really send the hosts off the rails.

Burakovsky was sent to the sin bin with 5:05 remaining in regulation with a two-minute sentence, but Jones (Panarin and RW Cam Atkinson) – the very man he tripped – found it in him to post his bail after serving only 39 seconds of confinement by scoring a wrister.

Forgiveness is a fickle thing in the NHL, isn’t it?

Speaking of forgiveness, the Capitals will be begging for it from Head Coach Barry Trotz before too long considering how easily Panarin (D Ian Cole and Dubois) was able to get into position to rip his overtime wrister over G Philipp Grubauer‘s left shoulder.

Upon receiving Cole’s falling pass from Columbus’ zone, Panarin sped along the left boards – dodging D Dmitry Orlov in the process – to end up on Grubauer’s front porch. Instead of being patient and attempting to drag the play across the crease, Panarin elected to elevate his wrister from the slot to beat the netminder to the far post.

G Sergei Bobrovsky earned the victory after saving 27-of-30 shots faced (.9 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Grubauer, who saved 23-of-27 (.852).

With the obvious goal of limiting penalties in Game 2, the energy levels of both teams – specifically Columbus’ offense and Washington’s defense – will be of much interest. Playing almost the entire game short a skater can be extremely taxing, and everyone involved will surely be grateful for the extra day off before returning to Capital One Arena.

Speaking of Game 2,  it’s scheduled for Sunday, April 15 at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. For those that can’t make it to Capital One Arena, the tilt will be broadcast on NBCSN, SN360 and TVAS2.

April 5 – Day 176 – From green jackets to Blue

To commemorate the final Thirsty Thursday of the regular season, make sure to pour one out for the best day of the hockey week. Fortunately, that should be pretty easy to do considering there’s a dozen games spread out across the continent.

The action finds its start at 7 p.m. with five contests (Toronto at New Jersey, the New York Rangers at the New York Islanders, Carolina at Philadelphia, Nashville at Washington [NBCSN] and Pittsburgh at Columbus), followed half an hour later by two more (Montréal at Detroit [RDS/TSN2] and Boston at Florida [TVAS]). Calgary at Winnipeg drops the puck at 8 p.m., while Vegas at Edmonton (SN1) waits an hour before doing just the same. Next up is Arizona at Vancouver (SN360) at 10 p.m., with tonight’s co-nightcaps – Minnesota at Los Angeles and Colorado at San Jose – cleaning up the festivities 30 minutes later. All times Eastern.

There’s rivalries galore tonight!

  • New York at New York: The Battle of New York looked so good at the beginning of the season, but neither team was able to maintain that positive energy and make the playoffs.
  • Pittsburgh at Columbus: Pens fans don’t want to admit that this is a rivalry, but important games like this one might be just the trick to change their minds.
  • Montréal at Detroit: It’s the penultimate Original Six matchup of the season.
  • Calgary at Winnipeg: This rivalry might be dated, but the Jets just might run up the score for fun anyways.

Even though it’s not on national television, there’s only one game worthy of begin watched after the first round of The Masters is done. In fact, it just so happens to be taking place in Jack Nicklaus’ hometown.

 

The past month has been pure bliss for Ohioan hockey fans, as the 45-29-6 Blue Jackets have gone on a 13-1-1 record to improve from outside the playoff picture to competing for second place in the Metropolitan Division.

The biggest reason for that success has been Columbus’ unstoppable offense – specifically the spectacular play of the first line. Combined, LW Artemi Panarin, F Pierre-Luc Dubois and RW Cam Atkinson have managed incredible 25-36-61 totals since March 4 to lead the Jackets to averaging a league-best 4.27 goals per game in that time.

Of those three, Panarin is certainly deserving of the most attention. Though all three members of the top line are averaging at least a point per game over their last 15 outings (Dubois barely makes the grade with his 6-9-15 marks), the Russian has been the class of the bunch with his 9-18-27 totals sine March 4, averaging 1.8 points per game in that time to improve his season numbers to 27-53-80 – new career-highs in assists and points with two games left to play.

Another major player on this offense has been D Seth Jones – to the point that he might as well be considered a fourth member of the first line. Since March 4, he’s posted impressive 6-10-16 totals (16-41-57 overall), with all but three of those points occurring with at least one member of the top line also participating on the play.

One team that knows all about that story of resurgence is the 45-29-6 Penguins, who were also falling on on the wrong side of the playoff cutoff early in the season. Since then, Pittsburgh has climbed into the second position in the division that Columbus is searching for, and it has done its best to hold onto that spot with a 2-1-0 record in the past week.

The position most under the microscope in Pittsburgh lately (you know, other than the gaping hole in center field that should be occupied by Andrew McCutchen if not for Robert Nutting’s questionable business practices) has been the Penguins’ goaltending. Completing his comeback from another injury, 26-16-3 G Matt Murray looks like he is rounding back into form just in time for another playoff run. In his past three starts, Murray has managed a .912 save percentage and 2.67 GAA – both marks that are well better than his season numbers of .907 save percentage and 2.9 GAA.

Of course, Murray will be facing arguably his toughest test tonight since returning to action on March 20. Any help he can get from his defense – which has allowed a 13th-best 30.33 shots against per game since March 29 – will go a long way towards Pittsburgh stealing another win at Nationwide Arena.

With both teams tied at 96 points with two games remaining, saying this is a huge fixture just might be the understatement of the season. With 43 regulation+overtime wins to Columbus’ 39, the Penguins have already clinched the tiebreaker over the Jackets should it be necessary at the end of the campaign. As such, a regulation win tonight would clinch second place in the Metropolitan Division for Pittsburgh – the same position from which it has won back-to-back Stanley Cups.

Of course, that means anything better than a regulation loss keeps the Blue Jackets alive for swiping second, but the fact that their final game of the season is in Nashville compared to the Penguins hosting the D Erik Karlsson-less Senators makes this even more of a must-win for Columbus.

Unfortunately, tonight’s opponent hasn’t exactly been very generous to Columbus all season, as Pittsburgh has swept the Blue Jackets through the first three meetings this year – even if a couple of those games were won by the skin of its teeth beak.

Similar to the potential playoff series between these clubs, Games 1 and 2 both took place in the Steel City before transitioning west for the second half of the series. They first met on December 21, playing to a 3-2 shootout victory (F Evgeni Malkin earned First Star honors for his regulation and shootout goals). The Jackets were back in Pittsburgh only six days later, but they once again fell in a shootout – this time by a 5-4 final score (Malkin stole headlines again with three points and another shootout goal).

Most recently, the Penguins made the trip to Nationwide Arena on February 18, claiming a dominant 5-2 victory on the back of C Riley Sheahan‘s two-goal effort.

It feels weird to say, but with every offense in the NHL chasing Columbus’ lately, the Penguins’ attack might have to work to keep up in this tilt should Murray be unable to keep the Jackets’ top line under control. Since I have to make a pick, I think the Blue Jackets earn two points tonight.


With their 3-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild at Honda Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Anaheim Ducks have clinched a spot in the playoffs for the sixth-consecutive season.

All credit goes to the goaltenders for keeping the first frame a scoreless affair. Even though First Star of the Game G Ryan Miller faced 13 Wild shots and G Devan Dubnyk faced 11 Anaheim offerings, both nets remained empty.

Thanks to C Ryan Getzlaf tripping F Mikael Granlund 5:16 into the second period, that scoreless draw ended at the 6:08 mark courtesy of D Mathew Dumba (D Jonas Brodin and W Jason Zucker) burying a power play slap shot. Minnesota’s one-goal advantage lasted 6:47 before LW Nick Ritchie (D Francois Beauchemin and Third Star D Josh Manson) leveled the game with a snap shot.

Another pair of goals were registered in the third period, but much to the disappointment of Minnesotans everywhere, they both belonged to the Ducks. Second Star W Ondrej Kase (Manson and C Adam Henrique) takes credit for the first, as he tapped home a shot with 3:56 remaining in regulation to score what proved to be the game-winning goal.

Not every goal is a pretty one, but Kase isn’t complaining with his 20th tally of the season – not a bad mark for an NHL sophomore playing on a third line. Manson fired an initial clapper from the point, but Dubnyk was able to make a miraculous save considering all the bodies he had to track the puck through (I counted at least two, but would accept arguments as high as five). However, pads aren’t very good at preventing saves from becoming juicy rebounds, which is exactly what led to Kase completing the play with a tip-in.

Now facing a deficit with little time remaining on the clock, Head Coach Bruce Boudreau was forced to pull Dubnyk for the extra attacker. That left the Wild’s net wide open, allowing F Andrew Cogliano (W Jakob Silfverberg and Beauchemin) to score his 11th goal of the season to set the 3-1 final score with 2:13 remaining.

Miller earned the victory after saving 26-of-27 shots faced (.963 save percentage), leaving the loss to Dubnyk, who saved 27-of-29 (.931).

Anaheim’s win is the third in a row for home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The series’ hosts now have an imposing 101-54-21 record that is 50 points better than the visitors’.

March 22 – Day 162 – Get ready for a wild ride

Thursdays are just the best days in the NHL, aren’t they?

There’s 10 games on tap today, starting with four at 7 p.m. (Tampa Bay at the New York Islanders [SN], the New York Rangers at Philadelphia, Arizona at Carolina and Florida at Columbus) and two more (Edmonton at Ottawa [RDS] and Washington at Detroit [NBCSN]) half an hour later. Toronto at Nashville (TVAS) drops the puck at 8 p.m., while Vancouver at Chicago waits 30 minutes before getting underway. Los Angeles at Colorado finds its start at 9 p.m., while tonight’s nightcap – Vegas at San Jose (NBCSN) – closes out the evening’s festivities with a 10 p.m. tilt. All times Eastern.

There’s two rivalries on the schedule tonight, including:

  • New York at Philadelphia: A fierce matchup like this should get the Rangers excited to snap the Flyers’ three-game point streak.
  • Vancouver at Chicago: The beginning of the decade was so long ago, wasn’t it? If the fans were in charge, I’d bet either group of supporters would happily take a loss by their team tonight.

Instead, I’m most drawn to the Panthers-Blue Jackets and Kings-Avalanche matchups, as both are going to have some serious playoff implications.

Considering how hot Columbus is and the fact that the Panthers need only one point to advance into a playoff spot, let’s make the trip to Central Ohio to see how that match unfolds.

 

For those that still use the Florida Panthers as the punchline to your hockey-related jokes, it’s time for you to catch up to the final third of the 2017-18 season. The 37-27-7 Panthers have not lost consecutive games since February 18 and 20, earning an 11-2-1 record in that time to put them right on the doorstep of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket.

Before we jump into just how well Florida has been playing, we should probably have a discussion about its schedule. Over the past 14 games, the Panthers have played only three away from BB&T Center, of which only two were outside the state of Florida.

However, a run like this is not due just to limited travel and the luxury of sleeping in their own beds on a nightly basis. After all, the Panthers have played – and beaten – clubs like Washington, Pittsburgh, Toronto, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Boston recently, all of which are currently on the right side of the East’s playoff bubble. Mix in taking the Lightning to overtime at Amalie Arena on March 6, and you have a Florida team that is playing some incredible puck.

This may come as a surprise, but the best offense in the Eastern Conference since February 22 has been none other than the Florida Panthers, whose 3.71 goals per game is (t)second-best in the league in that time.

A major reason for that success has been the brilliant play by the first line, specifically W Evgeni Dadonov. All three of the starting forwards – Dadonov (8-11-19 totals since February 22, 23-33-56 overall), C Aleksander Barkov (6-13-19 since February 22, 26-47-73 overall) and F Nick Bjugstad (7-9-16 since February 22, 17-28-45 overall) – are averaging more than a point per game over their past 14 showings, leading the way for an attack that still boasts F Vincent Trocheck (28-38-66 overall) and F Jonathan Huberdeau (23-41-64 overall) on the second line.

Of course, any good offense these days employs some contributions from the blue line. Enter D Keith Yandle, who’s posted 1-13-14 totals over this 14-game run to improve his season marks to 7-42-49. Yandle has been a vital asset during this impressive run by the Panthers, as all but one of his last 20 points have been registered with either of the top-two lines.

The best way to describe Florida’s offense might be by equating it to a reckless boxer that drops his guard to throw a punch.

Over this run, the Panthers have averaged a whopping 34.43 shots per game. Given the amount of success they’re finding lately, it’s obviously a strategy that is working for them and one I don’t see Head Coach Bob Boughner deviating from anytime soon.

However, there’s such a commitment to the offensive end that Florida’s defense gets left exposed on the regular.

How exposed, you ask?

Even though it seems like Florida is possessing the puck as well as anybody, its defense still allows 34.79 shots against per game, the seventh-most in the league since February 22. Games with the Panthers are high-energy affairs that leave both sides exhausted after everything is said and done.

This style of play would not work if not for the exemplary play of 15-9-2 G Roberto Luongo. He’s started all but three of the Panthers’ last 14 games, earning eight victories with a .926 save percentage and 2.51 GAA. Coming into tonight’s action, Luongo boasts a .928 season save percentage (fifth-best in the league) and 2.53 GAA.

While the Panthers have been hot lately, they’ve still suffered a few losses during this impressive run. If that’s not your style, you’ll love what the 41-28-5 Blue Jackets have been up to lately, as they’ve posted nine-consecutive victories to climb into third place in the Metropolitan Division.

Just like the Panthers, Columbus’ driving force during this run has been an indomitable offense. Since March 4, the Jackets have averaged an insane 4.22 goals per game, easily the best mark in the NHL in that time.

LW Artemi Panarin has saved his best hockey for the end of the year, and nobody in Ohio is complaining.

Hold on, let me check: Hey @jdettro and @vanekatthedisco, are you guys okay with the Breadman going nuts now instead of at the beginning of the season?

Yeah, I thought as much.

Over the last nine games, Panarin has posted unbelievable 7-8-15 totals to improve his season marks to 25-43-68, numbers that have him in line to exceed last campaign’s 31-43-74 effort that earned him a spot on the second NHL All-Star team at season’s end.

Of course, it hasn’t just been Panarin doing all the work, as he’s joined by linemate RW Cam Atkinson on his opposite wing. Atkinson has also averaged a point per game during this winning streak with his 4-5-9 totals, improving his season marks to 17-18-35.

A major way that Columbus’ recent attack is different than Florida’s is that the Jackets are getting far more contributions from their third line than the Panthers could ever dream of. Both F Boone Jenner (5-4-9 totals since March 4) and C Alexander Wennberg (2-7-9 since March 4) are averaging a point per game during this winning streak, and their ability to continue to apply scoring pressure even while the first and second lines are getting a breather is a big reason why Columbus is finding so many wins right now.

Remember that bit about how the Panthers are dropping their guard to find their offensive firepower?

That’s a ditto for the Blue Jackets.

During this winning streak, Columbus has allowed an average of 32 shots against per game, the (t)14th-most in the NHL since March 4. Fortunately, it has its own Luongo in 33-21-5 G Sergei Bobrovsky, who’s started six of the Jackets’ last nine games. In those outings, the Russian has posted an impressive .93 save percentage and 2.17 GAA, improving his season marks to an imposing .92 save percentage and 2.42 GAA.

While nothing noticeable happens if the Blue Jackets win this game, the standings could look totally different if they lose.

Should the Jackets emerge victorious tonight, they’d pull into a tie with Pittsburgh for second place in the Metropolitan Division with 89 points. However, the Pens would hold onto their spot due to having a game in hand on Columbus.

In other words, no pandemonium here.

But, let’s just say you’re not a fan of either of these teams, or even an Eastern Conference club. Let’s just say you’re a fan of chaos.

In that case, you need to cash in on the Panthers tonight.

Not only would Florida snap Columbus’ nine-game winning streak – the longest active in the NHL right now, but a Panthers win would jump them ahead of New Jersey for the second wild card… with another game in hand in their pockets. That game in hand means that all Florida technically needs to advance into the playoff picture – at least temporarily – is one point, as it would win the games-played tiebreaker over the Devils.

Of course, the Jackets not winning tonight has the potential to open up another can of worms, as that brings the Flyers into the picture. Should Columbus fall – whether in regulation or extra time – and Philly win in regulation or overtime, the Flyers would jump back into third place in the Metropolitan Division, forcing the Jackets into the first wild card.

Isn’t this time of year fun?

In addition to the difficulty of playing a team that is performing the best it has all season, the Panthers also have the fact that they’re still looking for their first victory against the Jackets this season lurking in the back of their minds.

In two previous meetings, Columbus has come away with a total of four points, beating the Panthers 7-3 in Sunrise on November 2 (Jenner posted a one-goal, three-point game) and narrowly defending home ice on January 7 with a 3-2 shootout victory (Bobrovsky earned First Star honors with a 42-save performance, plus four more in the shootout).

This has the potential to be one of the wildest games of the season. Skaters are going to be flying up and down the ice at blazing speeds and firing more shots than Head Coach John Tortorella knows profanities. Games like these boil down to which goaltender can make the most saves, which is why – as much as I love Luongo and am impressed by his recent performance – I have to lean towards the younger Bobrovsky earning Columbus two points tonight.

However, there’s no telling how a game between these high-powered offenses could end, so there’s a good shot Florida could depart Ohio with the point it needs to jump Jersey in the table.


With two two-goal periods, the Arizona Coyotes cruised to a 4-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

It took only 1:46 of play before C Jack Eichel committed the first penalty of the game – a holding infraction against D Niklas Hjalmarsson – and Third Star of the Game C Dylan Strome (D Alex Goligoski and W Brendan Perlini) made him pay 1:52 later with a power play deflection. F Jordan Nolan (F Evan Rodrigues and D Nathan Beaulieu) leveled the game at 1-1 on a backhanded shot with 8:18 remaining in regulation, but First Star C Derek Stepan (D Oliver Ekman-Larsson and F Clayton Keller) returned the one-goal advantage to the Coyotes 6:02 later with what proved to be the game-winning goal.

Another first period penalty proved to be the demise of the Sabres, as Beaulieu was sent to the penalty box with 4:06 remaining in the frame for hi-sticking Strome. Once again Buffalo pulled within 10 seconds of successfully killing off the penalty, but Stepan posted Beaulieu’s bail early by waiting out an attempted sliding block by F Scott Wilson and threading a wrist shot from above the right face-off circle through four skaters and past G Chad Johnson‘s right skate.

RW Richard Panik (Keller and Stepan) and F Max Domi (D Jakob Chychrun) provided two insurance goals in the third period to seal the victory for Arizona.

Second Star G Antti Raanta earned the victory after saving 29-of-30 shots faced (.967 save percentage), leaving the loss to Johnson, who saved 13-of-15 (.867). Johnson was pulled at the 6:04 mark of the second period with a yet to be announced injury, pulling G Linus Ullmark into play. Ullmark saved 12-of-13 (.923) for no decision.

Another DtFR Game of the Day, another two points for the featured road teams. Visitors have earned points in 10 of the last 12 tilts we’ve focused on, meaning the 89-53-20 hosts’ lead in the series is now trimmed to 33 points.

March 6 – Day 146 – Colorful adjectives

Nine games are on today’s schedule, so let’s jump right in!

Like most nights, the action finds its start at 7 p.m. with a quartet of games (Detroit at Boston [NBCSN/SN/TVAS], Montréal at New Jersey [RDS/TSN2], Winnipeg at the New York Rangers and Vegas at Columbus), followed half an hour later by the Governor’s Cup featuring Florida at Tampa Bay. A pair of tilts drop the puck at 8 p.m. (Dallas at Nashville and Carolina at Minnesota), with Colorado at Chicago waiting 30 minutes before getting underway. Finally, Washington at Anaheim (NBCSN) closes out the evening’s schedule at 10 p.m. All times Eastern.

Some of the games I circled before the start of the season include…

  • Detroit at Boston: Original Six matchup, anyone?
  • Vegas at Columbus: Remember that C William Karlsson guy the Blue Jackets left exposed for the expansion draft? Turns out he’s pretty good at hockey.
  • Florida at Tampa Bay: Given the Panthers’ recent surge, this season’s Governor’s Cup is turning out to be a big deal.

Of those three, the game in Ohio looks like it will be the most competitive. Off to Nationwide Arena!

 

 

 

 

 

Though selected by the Ducks in the second round of the 2011 Entry Draft, Karlsson played only 18 NHL games with Anaheim before it shipped him, RW Rene Bourque and a 2015 second round pick to Columbus (the Jackets used to select C Kevin Stenlund, if you’re wondering) at the 2015 trade deadline for D James Wisniewski and Detroit’s 2015 third round pick (the Ducks chose F Brent Gates, for those keeping score at home).

Though it seems hard to believe in light of this season, Wild Bill was far from the main attraction in this transaction. The Ducks were rolling as the Western Conference’s top seed, and they brought in the experienced 30-year-old Wisniewski to shore up their defensive end. Ultimately, Anaheim fell in the Western Finals in seven games to Chicago, even though it rolled through the first two rounds by suffering only one loss.

But this isn’t about those Ducks. It’s about Karlsson.

After only one offseason in the Columbus system, Karlsson earned a permanent spot on the NHL roster for the 2015-’16 season. He improved nominally on his 3-2-5 totals in 21 games during the 2014-’15 season, managing 9-11-20 marks in 81 games played in what was technically his rookie campaign. Of note, Karlsson also earned 10 votes for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy that season, finishing 32nd behind award-winner and former rival C Anze Kopitar.

We started to get glimpses of Karlsson’s new normal last season, as he improved his season marks to 6-19-25 in 81 regular season games played. Though far from exemplary, Karlsson was still showing growth and reason for optimism.

Then the postseason started, and Karlsson officially earned his “Wild Bill” nickname.

The Blue Jackets lasted only five games in last season’s playoffs against the Penguins, but boy was the Swede impressive. He posted dominant 2-1-3 totals (tying RW Cam Atkinson and F Boone Jenner for most goals and forcing a four-way tie for most points [W Brandon Saad]) in his five showings, while also tying W Matt Calvert for a team-leading +4 goal-differential.

This is the return General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen was hoping for when he traded Wisniewski!

Well… maybe not.

Not only was Karlsson left exposed to the Golden Knights for the expansion draft, but Kekalainen also traded a 2017 first round pick (Vegas flipped that pick to Winnipeg, who selected W Kristian Vesalainen) and a 2019 second round pick to General Manager George McPhee to ensure Karlsson was the Jacket selected to relocate to Sin City.

There’s no telling if McPhee and Head Coach Gerard Gallant always had their eye on Karlsson or if they considered him at Kekalainen’s request, but considering how everything has gone their way this season, I wouldn’t doubt it. I’m sure they saw Wild Bill’s coming out party in April and dreamed of playing him on their top line with much success.

Of course, even with his playoff performance, who could have expected this explosion? Karlsson has played in every game this season for the Golden Knights, posting 35-24-59 totals in 65 showings. His 35 goals are (t)fourth-most in the league, and he’s only five short of Richard Trophy-leader W Alex Ovechkin. Additionally, his +39 goal differential on the season is far and away the best in the NHL, as he has a +5 advantage on linemate W Reilly Smith.

Karlsson is slated to become a restricted free agent this summer, but I have an inkling he’ll be a Golden Knight for the considerable future considering Vegas has almost $28.5 million in cap space next season.

Even though they’re still leading the Pacific Division by 10 points, the 42-18-5 Golden Knights don’t necessarily come to Columbus in top form. A win against the Devils Sunday snapped a three-game losing skid that saw Vegas earn only one point.

Vegas’ biggest struggle right now seems to be on the defensive end. Since February 26, the Knights have allowed 36.75 shots against per game, the fourth-most of any team in the league in that time. That mark is well off the 30.6 shots the Golden Knights have allowed per game all season, which is sixth-best in the NHL.

However, unlike a couple teams in the Metropolitan Division, Vegas’ defense isn’t poor due to a lack of effort. D Brayden McNabb in particular has been leaving everything on the ice lately, as his five hits-per-game and 2.5 blocks per game over the past week are both the best marks on the team in that time.

Of course, additional shots have made life a bit more difficult for 22-8-3 G Marc-Andre Fleury. Though he’s managed a decent enough .914 save percentage in his last three starts, the added shots mean that he’s posted a rather unattractive 3.31 GAA. For the season, Fleury has now earned a .928 save percentage and 2.24 GAA.

Tonight’s tilt will be 33-28-5 Columbus’ first since getting back from a three-game Californian road trip that saw the Jackets earn only two points (a 4-2 win in San Jose).

While away from home, the Jackets’ usually solid defense failed them miserably. With 28-21-5 G Sergei Bobrovsky accustomed to facing only 31.3 shots per game (the [t]eighth-best mark in the league), Columbus’ defense has allowed 34.67 in its past three games – the ninth-worst mark in the NHL since March 1.

Just like McNabb has been doing all he can to keep the Knights’ defense together, D Jack Johnson has been doing the same for the Ohioans. Johnson’s 2.7 hits per game and two blocks per game since March 1 are both tied for the team leads (F Brandon Dubinsky and D Ian Cole, respectively) as he is making his presence known all over the ice.

If you’ve reached this paragraph expecting talk about Bobrovsky, you have another think coming as the Russian will be unavailable tonight due to illness. Instead, that forces 5-7-0 G Joonas Korpisalo into the spotlight with his .899 season save percentage and corresponding 3.3 GAA, as he’ll be tonight’s starter. Korpisalo’s last showing was in Los Angeles on March 1, where he saved 29-of-34 shots faced (.853 save percentage) for five goals against.

When the Blue Jackets made their inaugural trip to Vegas on January 23, they joined the long list of teams that have suffered at the hands of the Golden Knights. With a two-goal night from none other than Karlsson, Vegas dominated Columbus to a 6-3 victory.

As for which of these teams needs the points in the standings more, the answer has to be Columbus. Currently occupying the Eastern Conference’s second wild card, the Jackets are in a dog fight with at least three other teams for two playoff spots, meaning every point is important. In fact, if Columbus does not win tonight, it runs the risk of dropping behind the Panthers if they can best the Lightning.

Playoff qualification is all but assured for the Golden Knights at this point, and the same might be able to be said for a Pacific Division banner soon enough. However, they’ve fallen behind the Predators for the conference’s top seed, meaning a potential Game 7 in the Western Finals is currently slated to be played at Bridgestone Arena. Trailing by four points with the same number of games played, this will be a very tight race to keep an eye on.

With two defenses struggling, there’s a big chance this game can turn into a barn burner. If that proves to be the case, there’s no doubt the Golden Knights will earn the victory, as their offense easily outclasses that of the Blue Jackets and should definitely be able to take care of Korpisalo.


The Calgary Flames had an answer for almost everything the Pittsburgh Penguins could throw at them, but it was the hosts that won 4-3 in overtime in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at PPG Paints Arena.

Only 3:05 into the first period, the Penguins had already earned a two-goal advantage. D Chad Ruhwedel (RW Phil Kessel) provided Pittsburgh’s first tally at the 2:10 mark, followed only 55 seconds later by an unassisted wrist shot by F Evgeni Malkin. However, Calgary wasn’t going to let this game get away that easily, as D Mark Giordano (Third Star of the Game W Troy Brouwer and C Matt Stajan) buried a wrister at the 6:14 mark, followed by a C Mikael Backlund (F Michael Frolik and D Travis Hamonic) backhanded shot to level the game at 2-2 – the score that would hold into the first intermission.

The second period would also end with a tied score, but not without a flurry of goals in the final three minutes. Second Star D Kris Letang (Malkin and LW Carl Hagelin) returned a one-goal advantage to Pittsburgh with 2:59 remaining in the frame, but Brouwer (D T.J. Brodie and LW Johnny Gaudreau) buried a wrister with only three seconds remaining before the break to pull the Flames back even at three goals apiece.

With no goals being struck in the third period, that set up a five minute three-on-three overtime period, but First Star D Justin Schultz (Kessel and Malkin) needed only 2:36 of that to provide the Pens’ game-winner.

By removing four players from action, there’s a lot of free space on the ice to execute some deadly passes. That’s exactly what happened in this situation, as Kessel drove towards G Jon Gillies‘ net from the right face-off circle to draw the netminder’s attention – as well as that of Backlund and Frolik. That left Schultz with exactly zero people paying attention to him, leaving the defenseman with more than enough time to bury his snap shot into the gaping cage.

G Tristan Jarry earned the victory after saving 35-of-38 shots faced (.921 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Gillies, who saved 28-of-32 (.875).

Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have been unstoppable this week, as they’re currently riding a six-game winning streak. With that success, the 80-47-19 hosts have earned a 29-point advantage over the series’ roadies.

Why Jackets Fans Need to Step Off the Ledge

This has definitely not been the season that Jackets fans had hoped for in September or even the season it seemed like it would be in late October.  Sitting outside of a playoff spot with a week to go before the trade deadline is less than ideal.  With the Devils now seven points ahead of the Jackets with 23 games left, the only spot left for them in the playoffs may be the eighth seed and a first round matchup against Tampa Bay, a team they have struggled mightily against this year.

Even if they went on a tear and somehow got the sixth or seventh seed, they would likely find themselves playing the Penguins or Capitals in round one, two other teams they have not played particularly well against.  The loss yesterday to Pittsburgh was not encouraging–a team built around speed looked slow and lethargic compared to the Pens (even more amazing when you consider the Jackets are the younger team) and the Jackets’ Vezina-winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky again struggled to solve the Penguins.

Many fans are frustrated.  They want results and are tired of waiting.  I certainly understand this, but I also think that perspective is needed and last year’s unexpected season probably had us thinking the team was closer than it was just as the prior season’s disastrous performance had us thinking the team was further away that it actually was.

I’m going to take you back in time to April of 2016 at the end of that disastrous season when I wrote the following on another site:

So, a Jackets team that is capable of winning the Cup has those basic ingredients–an elite defenseman, an elite center, solid goaltending and forward depth.  The Jackets do not possess all of these things, clearly and you could argue that the 2015-16 Jackets had none of those things.  So, what is a reasonable timeline to get to the destination?

I am going to argue that the Jackets are closer than you think, but that the timeframe to get there is longer than you want it to be.  I believe this team can compete for a Cup in three years.

Three years.  This is year two.  Yes, it seems that the team has taken one step forward and one step back since then, but things are still on schedule.

Let’s start by looking at elite defensemen.  Zach Werenski and Seth Jones is as good of a pair as any in the NHL.  In 2016, this was still a question mark because we hadn’t seen Werenski.  This has been solved.  Beyond the top pair, there are some issues that will need to be addressed, but this could be resolved through players in the pipeline.  Markus Nutivaara has really shown his worth this season.  Gabriel Carlsson is still in Cleveland.  Vladislav Gavrikov will spend another year in the KHL–shout out to the NHL for deciding not to go to the Olympics!  Before he was hobbled with injuries, Ryan Murray was solid.  Beyond Jones, the right side is the weakness.  Savard has had a horrible year.  David Savard will get another chance next year likely paired with Nutivaara or Carlsson as Jack Johnson will not be back.  Maybe a new partner will reinvigorate him.  If not, one of the lefties will need to take that spot.  Either way, keep in mind that Jones and Werenski will play monster minutes in any future playoff run and the bottom pair will play minimal minutes.  They just need to get a top-four that works consistently.

Pierre-Luc Dubois has exceeded expectations.  His even-strength CF% within 1 is second only to Artemi Panarin for Jackets’ regulars (Zac Dalpe is the statistical anomaly at #1 due to small sample size).  His size, speed and willingness to drive to the net could make him a player in the mold of Ryan Getzlaf.  He’s the center the franchise has always needed.  There may be growing pains, but the potential is there and the work ethic also seems to be there.

Forward depth.  Let’s start with the positive.  The Jackets have a wealth of options on the right side.  Josh Anderson, Cam Atkinson and Oliver Bjorkstrand can all be scoring threats and they do it in their own unique ways.  Anderson’s size and speed make him a tough guy to defend.  Atkinson also possesses speed, but has more agility and creativity.  Bjorkstrand is a sniper who is also become a solid defender despite his size.  Meanwhile, Vitaly Abramov has picked up right where he left off last season in the QMJHL.  It is unclear if he’ll make the team next year or spend a year in Cleveland, but Abramov has a high upside.

On the left side, Panarin has been everything he was billed to be, but he has also impressed me with his play away from the puck more than I expected.  Matt Calvert always gives 100 percent.  Other than those two, this has been part of the team’s struggles this season.  Before yesterday’s injury, Nick Foligno has not looked as quick as he has when the team is at its best.

But, there is some good news.  For one, I don’t think Sonny Milano has been as bad as some would have you believe and I think maybe Torts needs to relax with the kid just a bit and find line mates who can cover for his deficiencies as he works on them.  This team was at its best this year when Milano was in the lineup.   The Jackets either need to give Milano another chance at second line left wing or they need to find someone else to fill that role so that Foligno can slot in on the third line.

The Jackets have center depth, it just seems that, outside of Dubois, every center is slotted about 1 spot above where they should be.  Alexander Wennberg‘s 2016-17 performance was inflated by unsustainable power play production.  Once Wennberg stopped producing on power play (January of last year), his overall performance trailed off and frankly, it hasn’t rebounded.  I’ll probably write about this at more length, but despite what you may have read elsewhere, his struggles are real.  The Jackets options are (1) upgrade Wennberg or (2) fix the problem on the second line left wing and hope that improves Wennberg’s production.  Given that Wennberg is never going to produce his own goals and the Jackets’ competition has Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, the first route may be the better route, but it is also the more expensive route.

The other issue may be Brandon Dubinsky.  No, I’m not all that concerned that he has “career-threatening issues” as some have reported.  I’m more concerned that the reporting has created a rift and lead him to want out.  Stan Fischler suggested this on a recent broadcast. Trying to move Dubinsky would be a real challenge.  Beyond that, Dubi playing on the third (or fourth) line is exactly the sort of depth we need.  The team may need to rebuild this relationship and hopefully certain journalists can avoid fanning the flames further.

In the pipeline and under the radar is Kevin Stenlund, who has been playing in Europe. Stenlund could challenge Lukas Sedlak next year for a roster spot or play a season in Cleveland with Abramov, which wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for both players.

While it has been a disappointing season in Cleveland as well, there are still some guys there who could provide the Jackets some needed depth.  Paul Bittner, Calvin Thurkauf and Tyler Motte are still young and could be nice additions to the bottom six.

The drags on the Jackets speed game and possession statistics may soon be moved.  Johnson has reportedly demanded a trade, and I’d like to personally thank him for that.  If reports are true that he could yield a first round pick (or more), that is very good news for the Jackets.  On a sadder note, Boone Jenner is probably in need of a change of scenery.  He doesn’t seem to mesh well with what the Jackets are attempting to do.  He could also still yield a valuable asset in return and could create some cap space for the offseason to address some of the issues raised above and to start dealing with extensions for key players like Panarin and Werenski.

Which leaves us with goaltending.  While I believe Joonas Korpisalo is an improvement over his predecessor, there remains a $9 million (plus?) question with respect to Bobrovsky after next year.  That’s a conservative estimate of what the two-time Vezina winner might seek on his next contract.  At 30-years-old, he’s also likely going to be seeking a six-eight year deal.  That is a large commitment to a player who has yet to come up big when it matters most.  The Rangers and Canadiens have two great goaltenders making $8.5 million and $10.5 million next year.  They are also both out of the playoffs this year with the Rangers having sent a letter to fans breaking it to them gently that they will be deadline sellers.

There is no doubt that the Jackets would be even worse without Bob, but the question has to be asked if the team can afford to tie up that much cap space in one player.  If not, this is the offseason they have to start dealing with the transition.  Does that mean buying out Elvis Merzlikins’ contract with Lugano so the 23-year-old can come over to North America next year?  Does that mean making a deal to acquire a goaltender in case negotiations with Bob don’t work out?  Does that mean getting Korpisalo more playing time next year despite the theory that Bob doesn’t do well on long rest?  Or, does it mean doing the unthinkable–trading Bobrovsky and acquiring a replacement at a lower cap hit?  It is a difficult situation and one that could define the franchise going forward.

While it would hurt to miss the playoffs, I would not be bothered by getting the top 10 pick I fully expected the team to get last year.  That’s another asset that can either be flipped for immediate help or, the better option in my view, kept to sustain organizational depth into the future.

Regardless, the Jackets are closer now than they were two years ago, and still on schedule.  They have the center they needed.  They have the defensemen they needed.  And, for now, they have an elite goaltender though they need to make a decision about his future.  They also have players who can yield them assets at the deadline (and, in Jenner’s case, even at the draft) if they decide to move them.  The Jackets are not far away, if they can use these assets and some cap space to address their issues on the second line, they can be in a position to be a contender next year and beyond.

Weekly Bumblings for Week 9 With Special Guest Host, Cap’n Cornelius

Peter’s vacation continues, so you are stuck with me once more for the recap of last week’s NHL action.

Player of the Week: Artemi Panarin

You didn’t really think I’d get through two straight columns without talking about the Blue Jackets, did you? The Breadman had been having a solid if unspectacular year as the calendar turned to December.  Despite his talent (or because of it), it had taken some time for the Jackets to find line mates that paired well with the Russian winger.  The initial thought was to put him with Alexander Wennberg and Cam Atkinson.  On paper, that line made all of the sense in the world—two high scoring wingers paired with a player who showed his acumen for setting the table last season.  On the ice was a different story.  While Atkinson and Panarin clicked at points, Wennberg was too conservative, often playing in no man’s land beyond the offensive zone face-off circles.

This lead to weeks of John Tortorella running the blender to try and find lines that worked. In the meantime, Wennberg’s injury also forced Tortorella to get more creative at center, a position the Jackets had been looking to upgrade during the offseason.  Enter rookie, Pierre-Luc Dubois.  While the Jackets wanted Dubois to be their center of the future, the team had been hesitant to play him at the position, preferring to try and ease him in.  But Torts took the advice of Dubois’ father who had found that when he was struggling with his game, he actually improved when forced into the rigors of playing center.  After a bit of a cold spell for Dubois, Tortorella decided to give it a try and Dubois slowly moved his way up the lineup, taking advantage of the opportunity presented by Wennberg’s absence, and finding himself on the top line with Panarin and Josh Anderson.  If the Jackets make noise in the postseason, the decision to unite the three unlikely line mates may be looked back as the moment that set the table for their success.

So, in recent weeks, the line which has affectionately become known as PB&J (Pierre, Breadman and Josh) has started to click, but Panarin had yet to really have a performance where he went off. That changed on Friday night in New Jersey.  After a poor performance in Columbus on Tuesday against the Devils (notwithstanding excellent possession performances from the PB&J line), the Jackets’ backs were to the wall.  They really needed the win against their divisional opponent given how tight the race is in the Metropolitan.  The game didn’t start well for the Jackets with the team entering intermission down 2-0 and likely facing an unhappy LukasTortorella in the locker room.  But the tide would turn in the second period largely due to the efforts of Panarin.

Panarin caused a turnover which found its way to Dubois’ stick for his first assist of the night. Another turnover created by Panarin lead to a goal by Lukas Sedlak in the middle of a line change to even up the score.  Panarin’s third assist of the night may have been the most impressive.  As four Devils watched Panarin, he saw the trailer, Scott Harrington, and made a perfect cross ice pass to get Harrington the goal.  After the Devils tied it before the second period ended, the Jackets got a rare power play goal when Panarin made a backhanded pass to Wennberg who, in a rarer aggressive play, went to the net and buried the puck.  Panarin would add a fifth first assist of the night when he found an open Zach Werenski for the fifth and final goal of the night. And that summary of the game doesn’t even fully encapsulate how well Panarin played.  He was consistently finding his way through traffic and the puck seemed to be magnetically attracted to the tape on his stick blade.

While Saturday’s game was not nearly as exciting, Panarin still managed a Corsi For percentage of 58%. The Jackets would strike early as Panarin found Anderson behind the net and he would bury it top shelf.  When you have Sergei Bobrovsky in net, sometimes one goal is enough, and it would prove to be the case.  Panarin now has 6 straight primary assists for Columbus, but when you look back at Panarin’s performance this week, the thing that stands out that is underrated about him and is the big difference from Brandon Saad, is his play away from the puck.  His work in creating two turnovers that set up those first two goals against New Jersey during a crucial time in the game on Friday prevented the game from getting out of control and righted the ship for a team that had a couple poor performances against divisional opponents before that game.

Game of the Week: Winnipeg Jets 3 at Tampa Bay Lightning 4 (OT), December 9, 2017.

We’ve covered this game extensively this week, and with good reason. One of the top teams in the Western, versus one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. A classic matchup between the immovable object and the unstoppable force.  Even with the Jets coming off of two losses entering the game, you knew they would play up for this one.  Yes, I’m talking about Winnipeg for the second time in my two weeks doing this column and no it isn’t because there is a social media account that retweets anything you tweet featuring the word Winnipeg, positive or negative (yes, that really was a thing).

The game got off to a quick start as you’d expect from two offensive powerhouses. Adam Lowry showed some great patience with two Lightning players defending him to find Andrew Copp in the slot for the first goal of the game.  The Lightning continued their streak of nine straight games with a power play goal (that’s possible, eh?) when Brayden Point made a beautiful feed to give Yanni Gourde a goal that Connor Hellebuyck had no hope to stop.

A Cedric Paquette goal was overturned for goaltender interference by Chris Kunitz, so the score would stay 1-1, but Mikhail Sergachev would finally put the Lightning ahead with a beautiful shot after losing his defender with a quick change of directions. The Jets would not go away though.  Former Youngstown Phantom, Kyle Connor, would redirect a rising shot from Josh Morrissey to even the game at 2 and that is how the second period would end.

Winnipeg retook the lead near the midway point of the third period when Nikolaj Ehlers somehow found Andrei Vasilevskiy’s five hole before the goaltender could even react to the shot.  After Vasilevskiy would stop another attempt by Ehlers, Nikita Kucherov’s shot through traffic somehow found the net and the score was again tied at three.  Note—the sequence I just described happened in all of about 2 minutes of game time.  Both teams then settled down and got the game to overtime to salt away a point for their troubles.

Overtime wouldn’t last long though as Point would elude Bryan Little and get his backhand over Hellebuyck.

The Lightning continue to be in a class by themselves in the early part of the season, but the Jets gave it their all.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

A busy week in NHL and other hockey news. On Tuesday the news came down that Russia would be banned from the Winter Olympics as punishment for their concerted efforts to violate anti-doping rules during the Sochi games in 2014.  Clean Russian athletes will still be permitted to play at the games, but not under the Russian flag.  If they are looking for a team name, I suggest “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Russia, Steroid Free!”  There was concern that the KHL might prevent its players from playing in the Olympics, which would have thrown a monkey wrench in Team Canada’s plans for the games.  However, cooler heads prevailed as the KHL probably realized there was value to having its athletes compete on the world’s highest international stage…unlike the NHL.

Backing up slightly, last Monday the City of Seattle approved the memorandum of understanding with the Oak View Group to remodel the ancient KeyArena at a cost of around $600 million (most of it comes from private funds) so that it could be suitable to host one or more professional sports franchises. This will likely be the death knell for a competing project which would have seen a new arena built closer where the existing stadiums are, in SoDo.  The NHL owners, who conveniently had a Board of Governor’s meeting, couldn’t wait to let Seattle know that they would be willing to take their money consider their application for expansion.  Fee for expansion?  $650 million, exceeding the $500 million that Vegas just paid.  I think Seattle is a great market for hockey in an underserved part of the country, but I also think the economics of a team with startup costs of over one billion dollars are a bit shaky.  For comparison, the Blue Jackets paid a franchise fee of $80 million and built an arena at a cost of $175 million…and still eventually needed a bailout from local government.  From the league’s side, it is understandable why they prefer Seattle to, say, Quebec City, because of the geographic balance adding the market will create.

Finally, let’s take a moment to remember 11 years ago when Anson Carter and his Columbus Blue Jackets teammates released a Christmas album. Amazingly I see no trace of this masterpiece on YouTube, so, if you are looking for a Christmas gift for me, there you go.

Jackets and Oilers Are Perfect Trade Partners

There have been a lot of rumors swirling in recent weeks about the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Edmonton Oilers. Jackets GM, Jarmo Kekalainen, was recently at the Oilers-Devils game.  Oilers GM, Peter Chiarelli, was at the Jackets-Sabres game on Monday.  Darren Dreger went on TSN 1050 in Toronto yesterday and had this to say:

“But things have changed a little bit. So let’s go back to the draft in Chicago. I know Columbus was willing to consider a top pick for Ryan Murray. Now they want player-for-player, and they’re in the market for a center. Is it Ryan Nugent-Hopkins out of Edmonton. Who might it be. Right now Nuge is playing great hockey for the Oilers, so I don’t think they’re interested in parting with him. But my sense is the asking price – if it’s Ryan Murray, or for most defenseman that the Oilers have some interest in – is still too high.”

Last night, the Oilers got absolutely hammered in St. Louis, losing to the Blues by a final score of 8-3. It is the second time in the last week they have lost to St. Louis, having lost 4-1 on November 16.  In between, they managed another blowout loss to Dallas, 6-3.  While Cam Talbot isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire with a 5-on-5 save percentage of 91.2 percent, he’s also faced more shots against 5-on-5 than all but two other goalies—Frederik Andersen and Andrei Vasilevskiy – not to mention facing the fifth-most high-danger chances against in the league.

No doubt, Edmonton is currently having some bad luck. The luck stat, PDO, has them third from the bottom with 96.67 percent combined shooting and save percentage.  Their shooting percentage is particularly noteworthy because they are shooting an abysmal 5.8 percent.  This is particularly interesting given that their expected goals for is top-five in the league.  This means they are not just getting shots, they are getting quality shots and for whatever reason they are not going in to this point.

So, what we know about the Oilers is that they are doing a good job in the offensive zone though they have been unlucky, and they are letting opponents get too many shots on net, which may be asking too much of Cam Talbot. If they were going to try and salvage this season, the fix has to be on defense.  Darnell Nurse has finally started to look like the player that people hoped he could be.  Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson have struggled a bit.  But the biggest problem is still Kris Russell.  It should be no surprise that Russell is their worst defenseman when you look at Corsi For Percentage as that has been a problem for Russell for a long time.

Meanwhile, Columbus’ struggles have been finding a center who can play with Artemi Panarin. An early experiment with Alex Wennberg failed when Wennberg became too passive.  There was no chemistry with team captain, Nick Foligno, who only converted to a center out of necessity.  While Pierre-Luc Dubois has shown some promise in recent games on a line with Panarin and Josh Anderson, the Jackets may not want to rush Dubois and may want insurance in case he hits the dreaded “wall” later in the season.  This is a team that is near the top of its division, a division that includes the Stanley Cup champs, despite not playing its best hockey and it is clear that management feels with an addition that the team can contend for a Cup this season.

Meanwhile, the Jackets top defensive pair of Zach Werenski and Seth Jones has been out of this world. With John Tortorella loosening the reigns and allowing Jones and Werenski to “rove” in the offensive zone, the dynamic duo has already accounted for 7 goals. You shouldn’t be shocked to learn that their possession stats are also quite good. What has been a surprise, has been the play of young Markus Nutivaara.  In just his second season, the 2015 seventh round pick of the Jackets has suddenly contributed offensively the way that Tortorella had hoped that he would, putting up 7 points and solid possession numbers.

On the other hand, David Savard and Jack Johnson have struggled and it isn’t the much maligned Johnson who has struggled the most, it has been Savard. Tortorella finally had seen enough and scratched Savard last week against the Rangers.  Savard was back in against Buffalo on Monday and both he and Johnson were significantly better.  If that pair can get back to playing at the level they did last season, the Jackets have a better shot of making it deep into the playoffs.  Don’t listen to rumors from out-of-town reporters that throw around Savard’s name.  It seems highly unlikely a team weak in depth on the right side is going to give up on Savard just because of some early-season woes.

The one regular defenseman I haven’t yet mentioned is Ryan Murray, who has spent the season paired with Nutivaara. As has been the case for most of Murray’s career, his role on that pair has been to be the “responsible defenseman” freeing up Nutivaara to roam in the offensive zone. He’s quietly excelled in this unheralded role, managing a positive Relative Corsi, but, more interestingly, the highest expected goals for percentage of any Blue Jackets defenseman.

The Jackets are blessed to have a seventh defenseman who is ready to take on a regular role. Gabriel Carlsson played for the Jackets during their playoff series against the Penguins and showed some promise playing a similar role to what Murray is currently playing.  And, while he still needs some work, Carlsson’s possession numbers aren’t bad in the limited minutes he’s been given.  The problem is that Carlsson won’t crack the lineup as long as the other six defenseman are on the roster and the AHL isn’t going to give Carlsson the development he needs at this stage, though it is a fine temporary solution to get him playing time.

Additionally, both Johnson and Murray will be free agents in the off-season. Murray is still a restricted free agent, but after taking a bridge deal on his last contract, he’ll be looking to get some real money this summer.  Meanwhile, the Jackets have another prospect in Vladislav Gavrikov who will be in Russia through the end of his current contract in the summer of 2019, but will then likely be looking to make the jump to the NHL.  With the Jackets re-signing Cam Atkinson and looking ahead to extending Werenski and potentially Sergei Bobrovsky in the summer of 2019, they may not be able to commit to Murray long-term.

Enter the Oilers and frequent trade rumor candidate Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Nugent-Hopkins is having a great season from a production standpoint, despite finding his line mates changing with some frequency.  He’s on a pace to have his best season to date with 17 points including 8 goals through 21 games.  That’s roughly a 30-goal pace and nearly 70 points. On the flip side, his possession stats are not particularly stellar.  He has a negative Relative Corsi For Percentage and Relative Expected Goals For Percentage.  I do have to wonder how much of that is based on the line mates he is playing with to this point in the season.  He’s spent the most time out there with Milan Lucic (who has lost a step) and Ryan Strome.  At times they have had him out there with Lucic and Zack Kassian.  All of those players are negative possession players.  Kassian has only 3 points, all assists, to this point in the season.

With Leon Draisaitl counting $8.5 million against the cap and Connor McDavid’s new deal with a $12.5 million annual cap hit kicking in next year, it has been clear for a while that Nugent-Hopkins was the odd man out. Paying $6 million for your third line center or playing an $8.5 million center as a wing is not exactly the best use of resources when McDavid is already getting $12.5 million against the cap.  Using Nugent-Hopkins to land a defenseman to round out the top 4 and send Kris Russell down to anchor the bottom pair would be a wise move for the Oilers, but one they need to pull off sooner than later if they have any hope of making the playoffs this spring.  While I think there is a good argument that the deal should be one-for-one given Nugent-Hopkins’ $6 million cap hit, I think it is likely the Oilers want something more and that may be the hardest part for the Jackets.  I’d keep Sonny Milano or Boone Jenner in mind as a possible second piece in a deal.  Milano might fit the Oilers’ game plan better than he fits with Torts’ system.  Jenner is another possible cap casualty for the Jackets who is going to be coming off his bridge deal this summer.

While a deal makes sense for both sides and both sides seem to be investigating the possibility, that doesn’t mean it gets done. The Jackets hold the cards here in the respect that they are near the top of the standings and don’t need to make a move right now, particularly as long as Dubois and Panarin are playing well together.  If this deal doesn’t happen, there will be other options for the Jackets.  I’ll look at some of those options in my next column, barring a trade in the meantime.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 6

Player of the Week: Nathan MacKinnon

Remember that kid from the same town as Sidney Crosby that got drafted #1 overall by the Avs a few years ago? Yeah, I’m betting more of you than would care to admit didn’t.

MacKinnon has sort of fallen off the radar in recent years, though playing for a perennial also-ran in a smaller market can certainly take some blame. A promising rookie campaign was followed up by 3 less-than-stellar seasons, and MacKinnon sort of disappeared from the spotlight. Always producing enough to stay out of the doghouse, but never matching the lofty expectations, he seemed doomed to float around on a mediocre team and risk hearing the ‘bust’ associated with his name.

But this year MacKinnon has come out firing, and has helped the Avs to be…well, at least less bad than predicted. With 22 points in 19 games (in addition to eight on the power play, one shorthanded, and a rare +1 rating on a team that isn’t exactly the first word in positive goal differentials), he has shown flashes of the firepower that landed him that #1 draft spot.

In 3 games this week, MacKinnon tallied 2 goals and 5 assists for 7 points, including a 5 point night during the Avs’ 6-2 shalacking of Washington, and the game-winning OT goal against Detroit Sunday night. Take out a scoreless effort against Nashville, and it becomes an even more impressive week for the 22 year old.

With Matt Duchene gone, the Avs will look to MacKinnon to continue to carry the offensive load, so let’s see if he can pull that spotlight back his way and remind a few people of his existence.

Team of the Week: Winnipeg Jets

*insert horrible cliche’ something akin to ‘flying high’ here*

What has gotten into these guys, eh?

Winnipeg soared (oh no) through their three-game week with a perfect 3-0-0 record on the back of a ridiculous string of “Iceman” (stop) Connor Hellebuyck performances. Stopping 97 of 102 shots faced, and never allowing more than two goals in any game, the young netminder backstopped his team right to fourth place in the league. Patrik Laine (1G, 2A) and Joel Armia (1G, 3A) carried point streaks through the week (resisting “Maverick” and “Goose” reference), but perhaps more impressive was the balance of scoring throughout the team, as only three players that played in all three contests were held scoreless over the week.

The Jets are in the discussion for Canada’s best team. I’m not actually sure why that’s significant, but I’ll (barrel) roll with it. Hard to say whether or not the success will continue, I mean, at some point they have to use Steve Mason in net again, but Winnipeg has the afterburners lit (please help) for now.

Fans are just hoping that things don’t end up going inverted.

Game of the Week: Buffalo Sabres 4 @ Pittsburgh Penguins 5 (OT), Tuesday November 14th, 2017

In a game that saw nine goals, 77 shots, 63 hits, eight power plays (with three resulting goals), and the winning team never officially having the lead for an actual amount of time, the Sabres gave the defending Cup champs all they could handle.

Only 3:45 into the first period it would be Evander Kane converting on a 2-on-1 with Jack Eichel that would set the tone of Pittsburgh chasing the game. Sam Reinhart would add to the Penguins’ deficit later in the period when, while on the power play, he would jump on a rebound created by Marco Scandella‘s shot hitting the end boards at approximately 17,000 mph. But with just 19 seconds remaining in the first Patric Hornqvist would capitalize on a weird bounce of his own, collecting a misplayed puck from Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner and firing it off the Ryan O’Reilly‘s leg and into the net to halve the Buffalo lead.

But just 16 seconds into the second Sidney Crosby would make a drop pass to no one behind his own net, allowing Jack Eichel to pick up the puck and deposit it into the Pittsburgh net before Matthew Murray had any inkling of impending doom. Conor Sheary would draw the Pens back to within one just over four minutes later, before Crosby would atone for his earlier sin to even the score with a PPG at the 17:15 mark of the middle frame. In the dying minutes of the second, however, Ryan Reaves would take an elbowing penalty, and Benoit Pouliot would capitalize on the power play with just seven seconds remaining in the period to regain the Buffalo lead.

Lehner and the Sabres spent most of the third period trying to hold onto their lead, getting outshot 13-6 in the final frame, but with just over six minutes to play Evgeni Malkin would send the most picture-perfect saucer pass you could ever hope to witness across the ice to Phil Kessel who would make no mistakes and draw the game even. Conor Sheary would then win the game just 16 seconds into overtime, after Crosby dominated board play behind the Buffalo goal and sent a feed directly to his tape, sending the Pittsburgh fans into a frenzy and this Jackets fan who remembers last year’s first round series-clinching goal far too clearly into the fetal position.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Radko Gudas got a 10-game suspension for being Radko Gudas, Luke Witkowski got a 10-game suspension for being Luke Witkowski, and Matthew Tkachuk got a two-game suspension for being Matthew Tkachuk.

The NHL announced that the 2019 Winter Classic will feature the Chicago Blackhawks hosting the Boston Bruins at Notre Dame Stadium. This, partnered with the Flyers hosting the Penguins in the first announced Stadium Series game, goes to further prove that Gary Bettman acknowledges the existence of approximately 7-8 of the 31 teams in the league.

Speaking of underperforming teams that Gary Bettman loves, holy smokes are the Canadiens a dumpster fire. Complete disarray from the product on the ice all the way up to upper management, it’s almost like having possibly the worst defense corps in the league suddenly becomes extremely worrisome when you can no longer rely on the best goalie in the world to win every game for you because his limbs are falling off.

Some guy that apparently makes rap music (to steal a line from Dave Mustaine: “Two words combined that can’t make sense”) did a hockey-themed thing on SNL. I didn’t know who he was so I didn’t care.

Editor’s note: Poor Chance the Rapper.

Jason Zucker still hasn’t stopped scoring goals, but rest assured now that I’ve realized that he had been on the bench of my fantasy team throughout this entire hot streak, he’s 110% guaranteed to go colder than Red Deer in January.

Edmonton and LA made waves by trading Jussi Jokinen and Mike Cammalleri straight up for one another, in an absolute blockbuster of a deal circa 2009.

The Blue Jackets signed winger Cam Atkinson to a seven-year deal, mere hours after Aaron Portzline reported the two sides were apparently nowhere even remotely close to a deal. (This is newsworthy/funny to me, Cap’n, and pretty much no one else)

The Golden Knights used their 5th goalie of the season on Tuesday night, as Maxime Lagace seemed to be dealing with an injury during a blowout loss to the Oilers. WHL emergency call-up Dylan Ferguson played the final 9:14 of the 3rd period, allowing one goal, but living a dream in the process. Ferguson was all of us, citing that he was starstruck when Connor McDavid went out of his way to give the 19 year old netminder a tap on the pads and a “Good job, kid” at the end of the game. Lagace has played since, and Malcolm Subban is back off of IR, so it’s likely…okay, fairly likely…that Ferguson has seen the last of his NHL experience, at least for the time being.