Tag Archives: Atlanta Thrashers

Down the Frozen River Podcast #84- What’s the Problem, Senator?

Nick and Connor discuss the hullabaloo regarding the fallout of the Ottawa Senators and whether or not they should trade Erik Karlsson (thereby tanking and rebuilding). A quick look around California reveals contenders and pretenders, while All-Star talent and rookies are also reviewed.

Listen to this week’s podcast on our Libsyn page (and/or on your favorite podcast listening app that snags our RSS Feed).

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

Worst 1st Overall Pick of All-Time?

While scrolling through Instagram on Sunday, I came across some random post someone had made claiming a certain 1st overall pick from the 2012 NHL Entry Draft as being “the biggest bust in NHL Entry Draft history”. Of course, that got me thinking.

Who was/is the bigger bust, Patrik Stefan or Nail Yakupov?

In seven seasons with the Atlanta Thrashers and Dallas Stars, Stefan amassed 188 points in his career, while Yakupov has had just 120 points in five seasons with the Edmonton Oilers and St. Louis Blues.

This offseason, the Colorado Avalanche are taking a shot on Yakupov, who might have reached his last chance to make an impact at the NHL level– if not make something of his career (which might be in jeopardy, as well).

While Stefan had 26.9 points per season compared to Yakupov’s average of 24 points a season, Yakupov’s first NHL season was shortened to just 48 games thanks to the 2012-2013 lockout and has yet to see a full 82-game season without injury or being scratched from the lineup.

Stefan, of course, did have the 2004-2005 season long lockout to overcome, but played in 72 games in his rookie season of 1999-2000 with Atlanta.

For more comparison, Stefan’s rookie campaign witnessed five goals and 20 assists for 25 points and a minus-20 rating in 72 games played. Yakupov, in 48 games, produced 17-14-31 totals with a minus-4 rating.

Of course, there’s always sample size to consider.

Stefan played in 455 career NHL games, while Yakupov has only played in 292 career games thus far.

In points per game, the matchup’s pretty even. Yakupov has 2.43 points per game which is only .01 better than Stefan’s 2.42 points per game.

Then again, Yakupov does have an edge in a little over half the time than Stefan’s points per game ratio.

The fact of the matter is that Stefan cracked an NHL roster on a consistent basis, regardless of the lack of quality star-power in the Thrashers lineup over the years.

Yakupov, while plagued by injury, was often a healthy scratch for the Blues last season and signed with a team that’s coming off the worst season anyone’s seen in the last 20 years.

And that doesn’t even get at the fact that Edmonton had three consecutive years (2010, 2011, 2012) of the 1st overall pick in what should have been prime rebuilding time– fully incorporating Yakupov as part of the solution– before drafting their savior in Connor McDavid in 2015.

Sportsnet/YouTube

The 2016-2017 Avalanche were the worst team in the salary cap era and while they’ve made some improvements to their roster, there’s still nothing to show for the Ryan O’Reilly trade– which is another argument for another time.

Nail Yakupov alone does not make the 2017-2018 Colorado Avalanche that much better.

Most fans will always remember Patrik Stefan for his empty net gaffe that almost cost the Stars a win against the Oilers about a decade ago (Dallas went on to win in a shootout), but at least fans remember something about Stefan, whereas with his career teetering on the edge, Yakupov runs the risk of not being remembered for anything on his way out.

Robert Soderlind/YouTube

Both players have had minimal impact in their careers. Stefan came into the league riding on the waves of an expansion team that wasn’t expected to be great even a year or two out from his draft day. Yakupov joined the Oilers in the midst of high expectations for a perpetual rebuild.

Both were offset due to injuries.

So yes, for now, Yakupov might be the biggest 1st overall bust in the history of the NHL Entry Draft (which dates back to 1963), because of a little thing called perspective. He was supposed to be part of a trifecta of 1st overall picks that would kickstart the Oilers.

But he still has another chance to prove everyone wrong and prolong his career– thanks, in part, to Colorado’s 1-year, $875,000 contract.

March 27 – Day 159 – Red hot

It happened again. The very day we detest the most: Monday.

Fortunately, the NHL is a true pal and hooked us up with a half-dozen hockey games to make it better. The action starts with three contests (Detroit at Carolina, Florida at Buffalo and Nashville at the New York Islanders [SN]) at 7 p.m., followed by Chicago at Tampa Bay (NBCSN/TVAS) half an hour later. 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of Arizona at St. Louis, trailed an hour later by Colorado at Calgary, tonight’s nightcap. All times eastern.

A game of note this evening is the Red Wings‘ first of two straight visits to PNC Arena, as this is the game that had to be postponed in mid-December due to an issue with the arena’s surface cooling equipment.

Since we haven’t featured the Hurricanes all season and they’re quietly in contention for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference, let’s make a trip to Raleigh!

 

You may not believe me, but it’s true: 33-27-13 Carolina is still in the playoff conversation with nine games left in their regular season. It may not look like it at quick glance since the Hurricanes have only 79 points, but that’s due in part to the reason they are active tonight.

Eleventh-place Carolina has two games-in-hand on 39-30-6 Boston (84 points) because of its rescheduled contest against Detroit. Should the Canes have played that game and lost, they’d be in much worse shape. Instead, they’ll trail the Bruins by only a point if they win both their games-in-hand and could be in prime position to end their seven-season playoff drought.

Of course, that ignores what the ninth and 10th place Islanders and Lightning do, but I don’t see them featured today!

Much of the reason the Canes are in the position they’re in right now is due to their three-game winning streak and their 7-0-3 record in their last 10 games. Carolina has been an offensive juggernaut since March 9, as their 37 goals for is the highest total in the league since then.

Though Jeff Skinner and his 54 points have been the Hurricanes‘ offensive leader for the entirety of the season, he’s been joined of late by rookie Sebastian Aho and Elias Lindholm, who both have 11 points during this recent streak.

Don’t read too much into that last graf though. Skinner is still the primary threat for 16-20-8 Petr Mrazek to focus on tonight. 10 of the left wing’s dozen points since March 9 have been goals, doubling Aho’s five and tying Nikita Kucherov for most in the league over that stretch.

To focus on Aho for a minute, the Fin has made a living on the power play with his five man-advantage points during this run – a top-five effort in that time-frame. That success has led the Canes to a 28% success rate with the extra man since earlier this month, the eighth-best mark in the NHL in that time and second-best in a dominant Metropolitan Division that features some elite offenses.

This offensive prowess is a change from what has been Carolina‘s priority all season: defense. In fact, the Canes have allowed only 203 goals against this year, which ties for the 16th-best mark in the NHL.

Nothing tells this story better than Carolina‘s 85.3% season penalty kill rate, the second-best mark in the league. The PK has been a major point of focus for second-year defenseman Jaccob Slavin. The Hurricanes selected him from Colorado College in the fourth round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, and all he’s done is lead the team with 37 shorthanded shot blocks this year. Not bad, kid (he’s almost exactly three months younger than me, I get to call him kid).

In fact, Slavin and Co. has been so good, 24-20-11 Cam Ward has faced only 155 shots against while his club is shorthanded, the lowest total among the 30 netminders with at least 39 appearances.

Other than Joe Louis Arena’s farewell season, the biggest story about the 30-32-12 Red Wings this season has been the prediction-turned-reality that they’ll miss the postseason for the first time in 25 years.

But that doesn’t mean the Wings are entirely incapable of good hockey. Though not as impressive as the Canes‘, Detroit is also riding a three-game streak of earning at least a point, and has a 4-1-1 record since March 16.

All but one of those six contests have been one-goal affairs, and it’s been a resurgent 9-8-1 Jimmy Howard, who just celebrated his 33rd birthday yesterday, that has led the charge. Sidelined for much of the season with a knee injury, he’s earned a .953 save percentage and 1.29 GAA since mid-March, the sixth and seventh-best marks in the league, respectively, during that stretch.

Howard has been especially exceptional when faced with an opposing power play. Though he’s faced 12 man-advantages since March 16, he has yet to allow a power play goal after saving all 12 shots he’s faced while his club is shorthanded.

As of publication of this article, it remains to be seen if Jeff Blashill will continue alternating goaltenders this evening. It’d be an odd time to stop the recent practice since the Wings played – and won – an overtime game yesterday before traveling from Michigan to North Carolina. I’d bank on seeing Mrazek in net this evening.

Offensively, nothing paints a picture like a 14% season success rate on the power play. It’s the second-worst rate in the NHL that still features Thomas Vanek – a current member of the Florida Panthers – as the third-best point-earner. Frans Nielsen and Henrik Zetterberg have been able to create symmetry at times this year, but now is not one of those moments. They’ve earned a combined three power play points since March 16. Three.

Thanks to the postponement of what became today’s game, these clubs have only met once this season. In what was the Canes‘ final visit to The Joe, Dylan Larkin scored two of Detroit‘s goals to lead the Wings to a 4-2 victory on October 25.

These teams will complete their three-game season series tomorrow night on the same surface, which adds even a bit more intrigue to tonight’s game.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Carolina‘s Skinner (30 goals for 54 points [both lead the team]) and Slavin (149 blocks for +19 [both lead the team]) & Detroit‘s Zetterberg (46 assists [eighth-most in the league]).

There’s not few, if any, hotter than the Hurricanes right now, and they’re doing it at the right time of the year. Especially given the fact that the Wings were involved in an overtime game yesterday, I like Carolina to continue its playoff push with a win today.

Hockey Birthday

  • Bryan Campbell (1944-) – Though this center spent most of his career in the WHA, he began his professional hockey career in the NHL. He played five seasons in the league, and spent most of that time in Chicago. He scored 106 points over 260 games, including a decent 1970-’71 season with 17 goals for 54 points.
  • Dustin Byfuglien (1985-) – It’s hard to believe, but this season marks this defenseman’s seventh season with the Thrashers/Jets organization. It seems just yesterday he was hoisting the Stanley Cup over his head with the 2010 Blackhawks.

Last night’s 6-3 DtFR Game of the Day Duck victory over the Rangers was a big one, as they converted a game-in-hand on their fellow competitors for the Pacific Division title for two points to create a two-point lead with seven games remaining to be played.

The busiest period was the first, as it featured four goals. The icebreaker belonged to Rick Nash (Marc Staal and Mika Zibanejad) and New York on a wrist shot 5:54 after the initial puck drop. That lead didn’t last too long though, as Third Star of the Game Patrick Eaves (Second Star Cam Fowler and First Star Ryan Getzlaf) pulled Anaheim even 3:01 later on a wrister. Once again the Blueshirts took a lead, this time off a Derek Stepan (Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello) slap shot, but the Ducks had another answer. Ryan Kesler (Getzlaf and Fowler) scored a power play tip-in with two minutes remaining in the frame to tie the game at two-all, which held into the first intermission.

At the 9:39 mark of the second period, Anaheim finally claimed its first lead of the game when Josh Manson (Getzlaf) scored a wrister. Making that goal even more impressive, the Ducks were shorthanded. That didn’t seem to phase New York though, as Brady Skjei (Jimmy Vesey and Zibanejad) buried only his fifth goal of the season 3:31 later to pull the Rangers even at three-all. That score held into the second intermission.

Whatever Randy Carlyle said in the dressing room, it worked because Anaheim buried three tallies and held the Rangers scoreless for the final 20 minutes. Andrew Cogliano (Kesler) takes credit for the game-winner 2:19 after the beginning of the final frame, followed only 2:04 later by an insurance tally from Eaves (Rickard Rakell and Getzlaf). To ensure the Rangers could not stage a late comeback, Nick Ritchie (Corey Perry) scored a wrister on an empty net with 98 ticks remaining on the clock to clinch the win.

Jonathan Bernier earned the victory after saving 25-of-28 shots faced (89.3%), leaving the loss to Henrik Lundqvist, who saved 28-of-33 (84.8%).

Thanks to the Ducks defending home ice, hosts in the DtFR Game of the Day series now trial the 81-57-23 road teams by only a lone point.

March 24 – Day 156 – Isle have what he’s having

Just like you look forward to Friday to begin your two-day break, this is a lot of the league’s rest day before a weekend of excitement.

There’s only four games on the schedule tonight, starting with the New York Islanders at Pittsburgh (NHLN/SN/TVAS) at 7 p.m. and Tampa Bay at Detroit half an hour later. San Jose at Dallas drops the puck at 8:30 p.m., with Winnipeg at Anaheim – tonight’s nightcap – getting underway at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • New York at Pittsburgh: Not only is it rivalry night in the Steel City, but the Isles have a chance to move into the playoff bracket.
  • Tampa Bay at Detroit: It’s been almost a year now, but these clubs did meet up in one of last season’s Eastern Quarterfinals.

With the Bruins on a four-game losing skid, they’ve opened the door for the Islanders to once again enter the playoff picture. Pair that with one of my favorite rivalries in the Metropolitan Division (at least), and we’ve got a surefire featured matchup!

 

The rivalry between these two clubs is well documented in multiple places around the web, though I would recommend the YouTube videos I included on November 18 when these teams met for the second time this season. In gist, previous meetings between these clubs have been… scrappy.

As mentioned before, 34-26-12 New York is licking its chops in anticipation for tonight’s game, because a win over a rival is made only sweeter by moving into the second wild card spot that is currently occupied by 38-30-6 Boston.

For the ninth-place Isles (fifth in the Metropolitan) to actually secure that win, they’ll need to shore up a defensive end that has been a little more than leaky this season. They’ve allowed 216 goals against already this year, the #fifth-most in the NHL.

Of course, that starts with the goaltender. Enter 25-16-5 Thomas Greiss, who was officially declared New York‘s starting goaltender after 6-8-5 Jaroslav Halak was sent to Bridgeport on New Year’s Eve. Greiss has tried to make solid use of his time, but his .914 season save percentage and 2.67 GAA rank only #(t)24th and #28th-best among the 46 goalies with at least 23 appearances.

While those are below-average numbers, it’s not as if he’s the only hole on that end of the Islanders‘ ice. The defense playing in front of him is not much better, as they allow 32.1 shots-per-game to reach Greiss’ net – the #fifth-highest average in the NHL. The main reason New York isn’t worse is the incredible play of Calvin de Haan, who has 170 shot blocks to his credit to not only lead the team, but also rank #fifth-best in the league.

I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but another issue in New York has been a power play that is successful on only 15.8% of attempts – the #fifth-worst effort in the league. Just like he does on the even-strength attack, Captain John Tavares has been the star of the man-advantage with his team-leading 17 power play points. He’s joined at the top of the Isles‘ extra-man scorers list by Anders Lee, as both have buried seven tallies.

Though their injury list is nearly as long as this preview, the 46-17-10 Penguins are the second-best team in the Metropolitan, Eastern Conference and the NHL. Having already locked up their spot in the playoffs, Pittsburgh will try to continue their impressive offensive performance that has returned 250 goals – the #most in the NHL.

As you’d probably guess, the man behind that charge is none other than Captain Sidney Crosby. He leads Pittsburgh‘s offensive juggernaut with 81 points, 41 of which are goals – another mark he paces the club in. His season goal total is already the second-highest of his career, but it doesn’t seem he’ll match or succeed his 2009-’10 personal best of 51 tallies in a campaign.

One of the Pens‘ favorite ways to score the puck is via the power play, as they are #tied for third-best in the league with their 22.3% success rate. Second-year Penguin Phil Kessel has been instrumental in that effort with his team-leading 28 power play points, but Crosby still manages to get his beak wet, as 13 of his goals have come with the extra-man – the most on the squad.

So far this year, the Penguins have had the upper-hand when squaring off against the Islanders, as they’ve won two of the previous three matchups. Of course, the most recent meeting on November 30 was the one the Isles won 5-3.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include New York‘s Josh Bailey (37 assists [leads the team]), Cal Clutterbuck (193 hits [leads the team]), Dennis Seidenberg (+23 [leads the team]) and Tavares (62 points [leads the team]) & Pittsburgh‘s Ian Cole (+28 [seventh-best in the league]), Crosby (41 goals [leads the NHL] for 81 points [tied for second-most in the league]), Matthew Murray (.925 save percentage [sixth-best in the NHL] for a 2.34 GAA [10th-best in the league]) and Justin Schultz (+32 [tied for best in the NHL]).

I haven’t seen Vegas’ line for tonight’s game yet, but I can only assume it favors the home Penguins. None are better than Pittsburgh at scoring the puck, and the Islanders can’t help but allow goals. All signs point toward the Isles fighting for a playoff spot on a different night.

Hockey Birthday

  • Doug Jarvis (1955-) – Toronto selected this center 24th-overall in the 1975 NHL Amateur Draft, but he never played a game for the Leafs. Instead, he played most of his 13 seasons in Montréal, where he hoisted four-straight Stanley Cups. His hardware collection also includes the 1984 Frank J. Selke and the 1987 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophies.
  • Pat Price (1955-) – 13 picks before Jarvis was selected, the Islanders picked up this defenseman. He played 13 seasons in the NHL, and spent most of his time in Quebec. From 1976-’78, he registered an impressive +51 rating on only 37 points.
  • Philippe Boucher (1973-) – The 13th-overall selection in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft by Buffalo, this defenseman spent 16 seasons in the league, mostly in Los Angeles. During his sixth campaign with Dallas, he was traded to Pittsburgh to win the 2009 Stanley Cup and close out his career.
  • Maxim Kuznetsov (1977-) – Detroit selected this defenseman 26th-overall in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he spent most of his NHL career. Unfortunately for him, his tenure in the league was only 136 games and four seasons long.
  • Ron Hainsey (1981-) – A longtime member of the Thrashers/Jets organization, this defenseman was selected 13th-overall by Montréal in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. Similar to Boucher, Hainsey was traded to Pittsburgh at this season’s trade deadline in hopes of claiming his first Stanley Cup.
  • P.A. Parenteau (1983-) – Though selected by Anaheim in the ninth round of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, this left wing has been a career journeyman over his nine seasons in the league. Currently, he plays for the Predators after joining them at this season’s trade deadline.

I predicted a defensive matchup, and that’s exactly what we got in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as Washington needed a shootout to knock off the Blue Jackets at the Verizon Center.

Although a combined total of 48 shots were fired over the course of the first 40 minutes, the first goal of the game wasn’t struck until the 41 second mark of the third period. That tally belonged to Seth Jones (Brandon Dubinsky and Boone Jenner) and the Jackets, but the Capitals were more than prepared to deal with that obstacle. 5:58 after Jones’ marker, Third Star of the Game Dmitry Orlov (Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams) buried his sixth goal of the season to tie the game at one-all, the score that held through the remainder of regulation and the five-minute three-on-three overtime period.

Who knew that even a shootout could be a defensive affair?

  1. The only person that didn’t apply to was T.J. Oshie, who scored the first shootout attempt to give the Caps an early lead.
  2. Cam Atkinson was charged with leveling the shootout for Columbus, but First Star Braden Holtby was having none of that. He saved Atkinson’s shot to keep Washington‘s 1-0 shootout lead.
  3. Evgeny Kuznetsov tried to improve on the Capitals‘ advantage, but Second Star Sergei Bobrovsky would not yield.
  4. Sam Gagner tried to reward Bobrovsky’s work, but he met a worse fate than Atkinson – he completely missed.
  5. Nicklas Backstrom had a chance to end the shootout with a goal, but Bobrovsky earned one more shot for his club after saving the center’s attempt.
  6. It’s not often a team gets three tries to tie a shootout, but Alexander Wennberg did not take advantage of that opportunity. Holtby made the save to earn the extra point in the standings.

Holtby saved 29-of-20 shots faced (96.7%) to earn the victory, leaving the shootout loss to Bobrovsky, who saved 44-of-45 (97.8%).

That victory is the second-straight by a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series, which is now tied at 79-56-23.

February 27 – Day 131 – Qui(c)k Trip to Minnesota

This Monday in the NHL is no different than many of the others in that there aren’t too many games on the schedule this evening. The staggered starts begin at 7 p.m. with Montréal at New Jersey (RDS), followed half an hour later by Ottawa at Tampa Bay (RDS2). Finally, tonight’s nightcap – Los Angeles at Minnesota (NBCSN/TVAS) – drops the puck at 8 p.m. All times eastern.

Jonathan Quick‘s triumphant return to the ice Saturday has significantly increased Los Angeles‘ chances of making the playoffs, but they face a stiff test against the Wild tonight. What better way to see if they’re up to the task for a magical run?

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Just as I was prepared to count the Kings out of this year’s edition of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Quick reemerged from injured reserve and proved he is more than capable of resuming the high quality play we know he’s capable of. He proved that by allowing only one tally against the Ducks.

He resumes control of a team 30-27-4 Kings team that is currently three points outside a playoff spot, as it’s only fifth-best in the Pacific Division and ninth-best in the Western Conference. Unfortunately for Los Angeles, Quick’s return probably will have little impact on the offense, where it needs the most help. The Kings have managed only 149 goals  in 61 games this season, which ties for the sixth-worst scoring rate in the NHL.

The issue becomes immediately apparent when one analyzes the Kings‘ individual performances. Jeff Carter has had an incredible season and is far-and-away Los Angeles‘ brightest spot as his 30 goals and 55 points are both team-highs. But he leads second-best Tanner Pearson by 11 tallies and 18 points, a wildly large disparity.

Compare that same differential to Minnesota‘s much more well-rounded attack. Mikael Granlund, the Wild‘s leading point-scorer, has 55 points to his name, only nine more than Mikko Koivu. Similarly, he and Nino Niederreiter – who both have 19 tallies – lead Jason Zucker‘s effort by only one goal.

Not surprisingly, the offense continues to struggle even when presented with the man-advantage. Even with Carter’s 16 power play points and nine extra-man goals, the Kings have found success only 16.7% of the time, the seventh-worst rate in the league.

What’s kept Los Angeles alive this season is that as bad as the power play has been, the penalty kill has been good. Led by Alec Martinez‘ 26 shorthanded shot blocks, the Kings have properly defended 84.5% of opposing power plays, the fifth-best effort in the NHL.

Of course, no matter how good Quick looked against Anaheim, the Wild is a far superior opponent. Even more alarming, it’s not even the offense that makes this team the best team in both the Central Division and the West. Instead, it’s the incredible play of their netminder, who has allowed only 136 goals against – the second-fewest in the league.

To put things simply, 32-11-3 Devan Dubnyk has been one of, if not the best goaltender in the NHL this season. Not only is his .933 save percentage and 2.01 GAA the best in the State of Hockey, but they’re also the best and second-best marks, respectively, in the league.

His effort is made only more impressive by the fact that he faces an average of 31 shots-per-game, the (t)10th-highest rate in the NHL. Jared Spurgeon has done all he can to limit his netminder’s work with 106 shot blocks, but he’s the only skater with more than 80 to his credit. But, with as well as Dubnyk, is playing, I doubt Bruce Boudreau will hear him complain too much.

The Wild continue to be an impenetrable force even when they’re down a man, as their 83.1% penalty kill rate is 10th-best in the league. Just has he does at even-strength, Spurgeon headlines the penalty kill, as his 15 shorthanded blocks lead the club.

The Wild‘s penalty kill is good, maybe even great, but their power play is even better. Actually, to be more specific, it’s tied for best in the league with Toronto, as both are successful on 22.8% of attempts. Granlund headlines that attack with his 17 power play points, but it’s Niederreiter who will keep Quick on his toes. The Swiss wing has buried eight extra-man goals, the most on the squad.

On January 7, the Wild made their annual trek to the Staples Center to face Los Angeles, and they almost came away with two points. Instead, Pearson scored an overtime winner to give the Kings a 4-3 victory.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Los Angeles‘ Carter (30 goals [tied for second-most in the league]) & Minnesota‘s Dubnyk (32 wins on a .933 save percentage [both best in the NHL] and a 2.01 GAA [second-best in the league], including five shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the NHL]), Granlund (+29 [seventh-best in the league]), Koivu (+30 [sixth-best in the NHL]), Spurgeon (+32 [tied for second-best in the league]), Ryan Suter (+33 [best in the NHL]) and Zucker (+32 [tied for second-best in the league]).

With Minnesota favored -145 by Vegas, I’d be very surprised if the Kings manage to even force overtime this evening. Abysmal might be a compliment for this offense, and it will be made only worse by the overpowering play of Dubnyk. The Wild should continue to fight for the Western lead with relative ease this evening.

Hockey Birthday

  • Braydon Coburn (1985-) – Currently playing his third season in Tampa Bay, this defenseman was originally selected eighth-overall by Atlanta in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. Most of his 12-season career was spent in Philadelphia, and he was a member of that 2010 Flyers team that won the Eastern Conference from the seven-seed.
  • Dustin Jeffrey (1988-) – Drafted in the sixth-round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft by Pittsburgh, he last appeared in the league with Arizona in the 2015-’16 season.

Twice scoring two goals in a period, the Columbus Blue Jackets took it to the Rangers in Madison Square Garden in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, winning 5-2.

Only 1:02 into the game, First Star of the Game Alexander Wennberg (David Savard and Oliver Bjorkstrand) got the Jackets‘ attack started with a tip-in tally. Rick Nash (Jimmy Vesey and Derek Stepan) pulled New York back even with his snap shot 3:05 later, but a Second Star Cam Atkinson (Sam Gagner and Zach Werenski) power play snapper at the 6:47 mark once again gave the Blue Jackets a lead. That 2-1 score held into the first intermission.

The same man to strike first in the opening frame took credit for the lone tally of the second. Wennberg’s (Bjorkstrand) 12th goal of the year was a backhanded shot at the 9:47 mark of the period, and proved to be the eventual game-winner.

The Wennberg-Atkinson pattern continued 4:12 into the final frame, as Atkinson (Brandon Dubinsky) buried a snapper to give Columbus a 4-1 lead. With 24 seconds remaining in the game, Josh Anderson (William Karlsson and Scott Hartnell) scored the Jackets‘ final tally of the night, followed by Jesper Fast‘s (Marc Staal and Oscar Lindberg) goal with a second remaining on the clock.

Third Star Sergei Bobrovsky earned the victory after saving 28-of-30 shots faced (93.3%), leaving the loss to Henrik Lundqvist, who saved 21-of-26 (80.8%).

It’s been nine days since a road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series has lost. That incredible streak has given the 69-43-21 visitors an 11-point lead over hosts.

February 23 – Day 127 – When the Rangers are in Canada, are they called Mounties?

Thursday is one of my favorite nights for hockey. Not only is there usually tons of games on, but there’s only one more day of work and, hey, Thirsty Thursday isn’t just an expression!

In all seriousness though, there’s some high-quality games being played tonight, even if there’s only six on the schedule. The action starts at 7:30 p.m. with three contests (the New York Islanders at Montréal [RDS], the New York Rangers at Toronto [TVAS] and Calgary at Tampa Bay), followed half an hour later by Colorado at Nashville (SN360). Arizona at Chicago (NBCSN) drops the puck at 8:30 p.m., followed two hours later by tonight’s nightcap: Boston at Los Angeles (SN).

It’s been a week since we’ve featured the Rangers, and even longer for the Maple Leafs. Let’s get both off that list by featuring the biggest city in the United States against the biggest in Canada. Off to the Air Canada Centre!

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The Rangers make their trip to The Queen City with a 38-19-2 record, the fourth-best mark in both the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference. The reason for that success? An impressive offense that has managed 196 goals, the third-most in the NHL.

Even though he’s only in his third full season with the senior club, J.T. Miller has been at the head of that attack with his team-leading 46 points, already accounting for three more scores than his previous career-high. He’s certainly proven that Glen Sather was right to draft him 15th-overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

Part of the reason Miller has been so deadly is due to linemate Michael Grabner, who takes credit for a team-high 26 goals. Just like Miller has already done Grabner is on pace to exceed his current 34-goal career-high by three goals.

Hosting the Blueshirts tonight are the always exciting Maple Leafs, whose 28-20-11 record has earned them third place in the Atlantic Division. As you’d expect from a team that has won their past two games and drafted a center with the first pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, offense is the name of the game in Toronto, as they’ve managed 185 goals already this season, which ties for fifth-most in the NHL.

That rookie, of course, is Arizonan Auston Matthews, and he’s already made an immeasurable impact on a franchise that hasn’t tasted the playoffs since 2013. Not only is he a shining light at the end of the tunnel for brighter futures, he’s providing an early sampler by having the Leafs competitive ahead of schedule thanks to his team-leading 52 points (the second-most among rookies).

Matthews has been especially deadly when he calls his own number. As he grows his supporting cast, the center will learn to distribute the puck just as much as he shoots, but it’s certainly been a pleasure to witness him bury a team-leading 28 goals this season, a total that ties for fourth-most in the league regardless of NHL-tenure.

You’re hard-pressed to find a better club on the power play than Toronto, because there isn’t one. Successful on 23.5% of attempts, the Maple Leafs are best in the league. Since Matthews has been busy with operating the even-strength action, fellow rookie William Nylander has taken up the role of “power play specialist,” as his 19 points with the man-advantage is tops in Toronto. Yet it’s been Nazem Kadri who has been the most dangerous with the extra man, as he has a team-leading 10 power play goals on his resume.

New York shouldn’t expect to catch the Leafs napping when they commit a penalty either, as Toronto is home to the (t)eighth-best penalty kill in the NHL. Led by Roman Polak‘s solid 28 shorthanded blocks, the Maple Leafs don’t yield a goal in 83.3% of penalty kill situations.

Tonight marks the final of three meeting between these clubs this season, and it’s a true rubber match as both sides have a 1-1-0 record against the other. In an interesting turn of events, both teams have won on their opponent’s ice. The Leafs beat New York 4-2 at Madison Square Garden on January 13, followed six days later by the Rangers besting Toronto 5-2 on tonight’s surface.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include New York‘s Grabner (+28 [eighth-best in the league] with 26 goals [10th-most in the NHL]) and Henrik Lundqvist (27 wins [tied for seventh-most in the league]) or Antti Raanta (2.32 GAA [ninth-best in the NHL]) & Toronto‘s Frederik Andersen (24 wins [10th-most in the league]) and Matthews (28 goals [tied for fourth-most in the NHL]).

It’s not much of line, but Vegas favors Toronto to win tonight’s game with a -110 line. Although both teams have exceptional offenses, I’m leaning towards the Leafs winning tonight’s contest. Not only do they have home ice, but both of Toronto‘s special teams have been exceptional this season, and that should give them the edge.

Hockey Birthday

  • Jeff O’Neill (1976-) – Drafted fifth-overall in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing was selected by Hartford and spent most of his playing days with the organization – even if a majority of that time was in Carolina! He was named an All-Star one time in his 11-year career.
  • Dan Snyder (1978-2003) – Due to a single car accident cutting his life short, this center played only 49 games in the NHL (all with Atlanta), but his memory lives on in various forms, including the organization (now in Winnipeg) and the Chicago Wolves naming awards in his memory and the creation of a scholarship for natives of his hometown Elmira, Ontario, among others.

If only Philadelphia hadn’t committed goaltender interference as its disallowed goal slipped by Braden Holtby 23 seconds into the game, maybe this DtFR Game of the Day would have ended differently for them. Instead, the Capitals swiped a cool 4-1 victory.

The first goal of the game that stayed on the scoreboard belonged to Nicklas Backstrom (Second Star of the Game T.J. Oshie and Alex Ovechkin), who scored his snap shot 6:33 after the initial puck drop. First Star Evgeny Kuznetsov (John Carlson and Justin Williams) followed that up with 3:32 remaining in the frame by scoring a power play snapper to set the score at 2-0. That final goal of the period proved to be the winning tally.

6:54 into the second period, Third Star Brayden Schenn (Brandon Manning) tried to spark life into the Flyers with a deflection that found the back of the net, but Kuznetsov (Williams and Taylor Chorney) once again set the scoring advantage for Washington at two goals by burying a deflection of his own with 2:01 remaining in the frame.

Oshie (Ovechkin and Backstrom) provided a final insurance tally with 5:17 remaining in the game to ensure a Caps win.

Holtby earned the victory after saving 33-of-34 shots faced (97.1%), leaving the loss to Michal Neuvirth, who saved 25-of-29 (86.2%).

If a team is going to be featured in the DtFR Game of the Day series, they want to be wearing white, as the 65-43-21 road teams have won their past five contests and now have a five-point lead over the hosts.

2017 NHL Trade Deadline Preview: Central Division

Unknown-21. Minnesota Wild– 37-12-6 (80 points, 55 GP)

To nearly everyone’s surprise, the Minnesota Wild are first in the Central Division. I say “to nearly everyone’s surprise” because the Central Division is usually just assumed to be controlled by the Chicago Blackhawks, since at least 2010.

Aside from needing to maintain this surge in momentum that the Wild have been on, it’s reasonable to believe Minnesota will move someone that’s been largely expendable for the Wild organization, but could perhaps use a fresh start elsewhere in return for a nice little package that’ll get them further in the playoffs than in recent years. Look, I really don’t know what Minnesota needs, other than to end some of the rumors that are always swirling the team about Jonas Brodin’s future and such.

Potential assets to trade: F Erik Haula, D Jonas Brodin

Potential assets to acquire: D Cam Fowler (ANA), F Martin Hanzal (ARI), F Ryan Spooner (BOS), D Kevan Miller (BOS), D Joe Morrow (BOS), F Drew Stafford (WPG)

Unknown-22. Chicago Blackhawks– 35-17-5 (75 points, 57 GP)

The Chicago Blackhawks look like they’re going to go with their usual formula this season at the trade deadline. Acquire a veteran or two, make them look like they robbed the team they made a deal with, then not be able to sign a bunch of people in the offseason after winning the Cup. It is an odd year, after all.

The Blackhawks have a plethora of later picks in the 2017 draft, which all but solidify the “acquire some old guy” theory. They also have almost all of their first, second and third round picks as well, so if they needed to replenish anything immediately and focus on maintaining a future, they could do so.

This could be the year that some 38-year-old forward with a lengthy term and cap hit remaining on his contract gets moved to find a more suitable and long term replacement alongside Patrick Kane, Artemi Panarin, Jonathan Toews, et al.

Potential assets to trade: F Marian Hossa, F Marcus Kruger, F Andrew Desjardins, D Michael Rozsival, G Scott Darling

Potential assets to acquire: D Cam Fowler (ANA), F Martin Hanzal (ARI), F Radim Vrbata (ARI), D Michael Stone (ARI), F Jarome Iginla (COL), F Tomas Plekanec (MTL), D Dennis Seidenberg (NYI), F Drew Stafford (WPG), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)

Unknown3. St. Louis Blues– 29-22-5 (63 points, 56 GP)

The St. Louis Blues really shouldn’t be where they are in a playoff spot, but this is the world we live in now with the current structure of the Stanley Cup Playoffs format. I digress.

St. Louis is one of those teams that’s marginally decent and could, on a whim, take a turn for the worst. This is one of those years where the Blues management should strongly consider whether or not they have the tools for a deep playoff run and a future, because at a glance– they don’t. They’re getting older and they’ve had to witness the loss of a franchise player in David Backes to free agency because of the salary cap and all.

It’s always better to get something for a player than to get nothing at all. And St. Louis has a defenseman that’s in demand that they’ll probably lose this offseason in free agency if they don’t try to move him now. They’ve got to stay ahead of the downward curve as much as they can to stay competitive.

Potential assets to trade: F Patrik Berglund, D Kevin Shattenkirk, G Carter Hutton

Potential assets to acquire: F Ryan Spooner (BOS), D Joe Morrow (BOS), F Ryan Strome (NYI), F Curtis Lazar (OTT), G Reto Berra (FLA), F Tyler Johnson (TB), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)

Unknown4. Nashville Predators– 27-21-8 (62 points, 56 GP)– currently the first Wild Card in the Western Conference

After acquiring one of the better defensemen in today’s game in June, the Nashville Predators are far from hitting the mark everyone expected they would. Now, whether or not the Preds will make the playoffs and just how far might they go remains to be seen, but if anything, they should be buyers at the trade deadline, as opposed to sellers.

The floor hasn’t fallen out from underneath Nashville and they’ve simply been caught in a transition year. Could they restructure some parts of their roster, yes, but it might be wise to just do that in free agency when more options will be open. It would be unwise to simply do nothing at the deadline, though, as Nashville could dangle some of their veterans as bait.

Potential assets to trade: F James Neal, F Mike Ribeiro, F Vernon Fiddler, D Yannick Weber

Potential assets to acquire: D Cam Fowler (ANA), D Michael Stone (ARI), F Ryan Spooner (BOS), D Joe Morrow (BOS), F Tomas Jurco (DET), F Ryan Strome (NYI), F Tyler Johnson (TB), F Onrej Palat (TB)

Unknown-25. Dallas Stars– 22-25-10 (54 points, 57 GP)

Facing a lot of injuries and an aging roster, the Dallas Stars have a lot of attractable options to sell as rentals for teams looking for just a little more depth to get them further this season.

This is not how the Stars expected this season to go, but this is what they’ve got. Contrary to what Dallas likes to believe, they should trade at least one of their goaltenders and acknowledge that other parts of their roster could be filled with a younger player that might be able to keep up with the speed game of the Central Division, let alone the modern NHL. Additionally, Stars GM Jim Nill has some repairs to make on the blue line, but it’s best if they wait until free agency to do so.

Potential assets to trade: F Adam Cracknell, F Patrick Eaves, F Jiri Hudler, F Lauri Korpikoski, F Patrick Sharp, G Kari Lehtonen, G Antti Niemi

Potential assets to acquire: F Radim Vrbata (ARI), G Anders Nilsson (BUF), F Matt Duchene (COL), F Gabriel Landeskog (COL), F Tomas Jurco (DET), F Ryan Strome (NYI), F Curtis Lazar (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), G Marc-Andre Fleury (PIT), F Jonathan Drouin (TB), F Tyler Johnson (TB), G Ben Bishop (TB), F Drew Stafford (WPG), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG), G Ondrej Pavelec (WPG)

Unknown-46. Winnipeg Jets– 25-29-4 (54 points, 58 GP)

Despite all of the hype from earlier this season, the Winnipeg Jets have cooled down a bit. After having a taste of the postseason in 2015, Winnipeg’s been on the lookout for a savior like Patrik Laine for quite some time. This might not be their year to get into the playoffs and on a long run, but they can certainly set themselves up for next year as sellers on March 1st.

They don’t have much to sell, but they have just enough to revamp parts of their roster, while still being able to land a good draft pick or two and really building a solid foundation for the future. It’s not wrong to think that the Jets might be taking the Toronto Maple Leafs model and fast forwarding through all of the mumbo-jumbo that the Leafs had going on for the last decade until now. The kids are alright in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Potential assets to trade: F Shawn Matthias, F Drew Stafford, F Chris Thorburn, D Paul Postma, D Mark Stuart, G Michael Hutchinson, G Ondrej Pavelec

Potential assets to acquire: D Cam Fowler (ANA), F Ryan Spooner (BOS), D Joe Morrow (BOS), G Malcolm Subban (BOS), G Anders Nilsson (BUF), F Matt Duchene (COL), F Gabriel Landeskog (COL), F Tomas Jurco (DET), F Ryan Strome (NYI), F Curtis Lazar (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), G Marc-Andre Fleury (PIT), D Kevin Shattenkirk (STL), F Ondrej Palat (TB), G Ben Bishop (TB)

Unknown-17. Colorado Avalanche– 15-36-2 (32 points, 53 GP)

This is pathetic, stupid, hockey. I mean, the Colorado Avalanche are like, when the Atlanta Thrashers first came into the league level bad. I won’t go as far to say that they’re like an AHL team, but the Avalanche have a situation that couldn’t possibly get any worse– but looks like it will– before it gets better.

Fifteen wins in 53 games played so far this season. Fifteen.

Colorado GM Joe Sakic has an immensely improbable mountain to climb. Yet, as we’ve seen Super Joe do before (at least on the ice), he’s looking to perform and perform in a big way. The biggest sellers at this year’s trade deadline, the Avalanche are looking at dumping everyone except for Nathan MacKinnon and their head coach, Jared Bednar. Though it pains me to see franchise players, like Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog, being shopped after an unsuccessful turnaround since 2009.

Potential assets to trade: F Rene Bourque, F Joe Colborne, F Blake Comeau, F Matt Duchene, F Jarome Iginla, F Gabriel Landeskog, F John Mitchell, D Tyson Barrie, D Cody Goloubef, D Erik Johnson* (*pending his injury status), D Fedor Tyutin, G Calvin Pickard

Potential assets to acquire: D Cam Fowler (ANA), F Martin Hanzal (ARI), D Michael Stone (ARI), F Ryan Spooner (BOS), D Kevan Miller (BOS), D Joe Morrow (BOS), G Malcolm Subban (BOS), F Tomas Jurco (DET), F Tomas Plekanec (MTL), F Ryan Strome (NYI), F Curtis Lazar (OTT), G Marc-Andre Fleury (PIT), F Tyler Johnson (TB), F Ondrej Palat (TB), G Ben Bishop (TB), D Martin Marincin (TOR), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)

January 21 – Day 98 – Saturday night is rivalry night

Eleven games. Yes, 11. What a way to spend a Saturday. We get an early start today, as St. Louis at Winnipeg gets underway 3 p.m., and another matinee drops the puck two hours later with Carolina at Columbus. The usual starting time of 7 p.m. brings with it four games (Ottawa at Toronto [CBC/CITY/TVAS2], Buffalo at Montréal [SN/TVAS], Los Angeles at the New York Islanders and New Jersey at Philadelphia), and another trio begin an hour later (Tampa Bay at Arizona, Washington at Dallas [NHLN] and Anaheim at Minnesota). The final two games drop the puck within half an hour of each other: Edmonton at Calgary (CBC/SN) starts first at 10 p.m., with Colorado at San Jose acting as this evening’s nightcap. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Ottawa at Toronto: The Battle of Ontario rages on in the biggest city in Canada.
  • New Jersey at Philadelphia: The Jersey Turnpike connects these two cities, but that doesn’t mean their hockey teams like each other.
  • Edmonton at Calgary: Another rivalry takes place in the province of Alberta.
  • Colorado at San Jose: After Matt Nieto spent four seasons with the Sharks, he was claimed off waivers two weeks ago by the Avalanche.

There’s no way we’re missing a rivalry that could result in Toronto a massive shakeup in the Atlantic Division. To the Air Canada Centre we go!

Unknown-6

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know we just featured this matchup last Saturday, but the stakes just keep getting raised in this rivalry. With a regulation win this evening, the Leafs will improve from from fourth place in the division to second. Pair that with a Flyers victory, and the Bruins find themselves outside of playoff position for the night.

The impact this game could have on the standings is incredible.

Ottawa begins the third Battle for Ontario on a two-game winning streak and in possession of second place in the Atlantic with a 24-15-4 record. They’ve found that success by not allowing opponents to score, allowing only 110 goals this season, which ties for fifth-fewest in the league.

12-7-3 Mike Condon has been the man between the pipes more often than not for the Senators this season. As indicated by his record, he’s done a decent job, as his .92 save percentage and 2.31 GAA are both tied for 13th best among the 52 netminders with at least 11 appearances this year.

It’s been important for Condon to have the success he’s had, as the defense playing in front of him has been far from incredible. Even with Erik Karlsson‘s team-leading 114 blocks (tied for second-most in the NHL), the Senators allow 30.4 shots-per-game to reach their goalie’s crease, tied for the 12th-worst effort in the league.

Playing host this evening are the 21-14-8 Maple Leafs. Given their most recent first-round draft choice, it should be no surprise that their resurgence is due to offensive success. They’ve scored 133 goals so far this year in 43 games – the sixth-best rate in the league.

It remains to be seen if Auston Matthews can be the one to lead Toronto to the Promised Land for the first time in 50 years, but he’s certainly making a good impression in his rookie season. His 38 points are enough to lead the club, as are his 22 goals.

What is most impressive is the Leafs‘ power play. They’ve managed to be second in the NHL with the man-advantage, converting 24.1% of opponent’s penalties into goals. This has been where fellow rookie William Nylander has shone, as his 15 power play points are tops on the team. That being said, the true striker of the special teams unit plays on the other power play line, as Nazem Kadri‘s nine extra-man goals are the best on the squad and tied for second-most in the NHL.

These Leafs are truly a complete team, as the other special team has been just that: special. Toronto‘s penalty kill ranks fourth-best in the NHL, refusing to yield a tally on 84.9% of their infractions. Mark Giordano has been a big part of that effort with his team-leading 32 shorthanded blocks.

Twice these teams met already this season, and twice it’s been in the Canadian capital. As these clubs will only meet four times total this year, the Battle of Ontario shifts to Toronto, and the Leafs bring back a 1-0-1 series lead.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Ottawa‘s Condon (three shutouts [tied for fifth-most in the league]) and Karlsson (30 assists [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]) & Toronto‘s Frederik Andersen (19 wins [tied for ninth-most in the league]) and Matthews (22 goals [tied for third-most in the NHL]).

Vegas has marked Toronto a -139 favorite, and with good reason. They’ve been playing some fantastic hockey over the last month, going 9-2-1 since December 22. What sets the Leafs apart today is their dominance in the special teams play. Unless Condon plays lights-out, I don’t see the Leafs dropping a second-straight home game.

Hockey Birthday

  • Georges Vezina (1887-1926) – Vezina won three Stanley Cups over his nine seasons with Montréal, and the Hall of Famer is remembered today by the trophy awarded annually to the league’s best goaltender. Unfortunately, his life was cut short at the age of 39 due to tuberculosis.
  • Doug Weight (1971-) – The 34th-overall pick in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft by the Rangers, this four-year All Star played 19 seasons – most of which in Edmonton. He hoisted the lone Stanley Cup of his career in 2006 in Carolina, followed five years later by the Clancy. Of course, he just made his coaching debut Thursday, leading his Islanders to a three-goal shutout victory.
  • Andrei Zyuzin (1978-) – San Jose drafted this defenseman second-overall in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft, but he played most of his 10-season career in Minnesota. He finished his playing days with a -40 goal-differential.
  • Dany Heatley (1981-) – Another second-overall pick, this left wing was selected by Atlanta in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, though he played most his career in Ottawa. It was a magical rookie season for Heatly, as he took home the 2002 Calder before earning three All Star selections over his 13-season career.
  • Jonathan Quick (1986-) – Los Angeles drafted this goaltender in the third round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, and he’s never worn another sweater since. The Kings made a good selection, as they’ve hoisted the Stanley Cup twice on a netminder that won the 2012 Smythe and the 2014 Jennings. Unfortunately, the All-Star suffered a groin injury in the first game of the season and is not projected to return to the ice for another month.
  • Darren Helm (1987-) – Just like Quick, this forward was selected by the same team he’s played for ever since (Detroit) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, even though he was picked two rounds later. He was a rookie on the Wings‘ 2008 Stanley Cup team and contributed four points in that playoff run, including a goal and assist against Pittsburgh in the Finals.

Sometimes, a goal is all you need. That was the case for the Blackhawks last night, as they beat Boston 1-0 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

With 1:26 remaining in regulation, First Star of the Game Marian Hossa (Tanner Kero and Vinnie Hinostroza) takes credit for the lone tally of the game. His wrister from the left faceoff zone beat Third Star Tuukka Rask to the near post to ensure the victory.

Second Star Scott Darling earned the victory by saving all 30 shots he faced, while Rask fell just short, saving all but one of the 22 pucks (95.5%) that entered his crease.

Chicago‘s win was the second-straight shutout in the DtFR Game of the Day series, which now stands at 52-34-14 in favor of the hosts, who lead visitors by five points.

November 16 – Day 35 – It’s just Pittsburgh-Washington. You know, nothing special…

There’s two games being played in the NHL tonight. Two.

I suppose we have no right to complain since there was only one contest Monday…

But I’m still sour about it.

Anyways, Pittsburgh at Washington (NBCSN/SN/TVAS) gets things started at 7:30 p.m., followed by Arizona at Calgary (SN/SN1) at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

You have a 50-50 shot of picking our Game of the Day. Hopefully you’re a good guesser.

pittsburgh_penguins_logoWashington Capitals Logo

 

Something tells me you guessed right. A rivalry to this magnitude cannot be missed, no matter how much you want to watch two of the bottom three teams in the Western Conference.

Pittsburgh enters the Verizon Center with a 10-3-2 record. As we’ve come to expect from the Penguins, it has been a solid offense that has led the way to that success.

They’ve been led so far by Evgeni Malkin, who has 15 points to his credit. That being said, Sidney Crosby has been far-and-away the most impressive player on the squad with 10 goals on his resume in only nine games played. I was concerned that his preseason concussion could be the symbolic straw that broke the camel’s back, but it seems to have awoken a Crosby that hearkens back to, if not succeeds, his 2010-’11 form before being sidelined for over a year.

Western Pennsylvania is home to the third-strongest power play in the league, as the Pens are successful on 25.5% of their attempts. Phil Kessel has been the man in charge on the man-advantage, responsible for nine power play points, including six assists. Patric Hornqvist has been the one completing most of the plays, potting four power play goals.

Hosting the Penguins this evening are the 9-4-2 Capitals. What has been most impressive about Washington‘s play so far has not been their offense, but actually their defense and goaltending, which has allowed only 35 goals against this season – the fourth-lowest total in hockey.

Braden Holtby enters the night with a 7-3-1 record on a .922 save percentage and 2.16 GAA, ranking him ninth and eighth-best in the NHL, respectively, among goaltenders with at least 11 appearances.

Holtby doesn’t get all the credit though, as the defense playing in front of him has been pretty spectacular as well. Thanks to Brooks Orpik‘s 26 blocks and the example he sets for his fellow blue-liners, Holtby faces only 27.9 shots per game, the third-lowest average in the game. An under-worked goaltender is usually a good goaltender, which is the case for the man between the pipes in the nation’s capital.

Surprisingly, Washington has yet to find much success on the power play this season. Connecting on only 11.9% of their opportunities, the Caps are tied for sixth-worst in the league with the man-advantage. I’m not too concerned yet though, as the Caps ranked fifth-best a season ago after connecting on 21.9% of their attempts.

This intense rivalry was made only deeper by the occurrences of last postseason. En route to their fourth Stanley Cup title, the Pens upset the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Capitals four games to two in the Eastern Semifinals. The league further rubbed that fact in Washington‘s face by having the Caps be Pittsburgh‘s first home opponent, meaning they had to watch the Penguins hoist their Stanley Cup banner.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Pittsburgh‘s Crosby (10 goals [tied for second-most in the league]) and Washington‘s Marcus Johansson (12 points [leads the team]).

Vegas doesn’t have a line listed for this game, which only affirms this as the tightly-contested matchup we’ve come to expect. I’m biased towards one of these clubs, but I’m leaning towards Washington taking the victory for no other reason than they have home ice. This should be an absolutely fantastic 60+ minutes of hockey.

Hockey Birthday

  • Pierre Larouche (1955-) – Pittsburgh selected this center eighth overall in the 1974 NHL Entry Draft, but his longest tenure was with Montréal, the team with which he won two Stanley Cups.
  • Kari Lehtonen (1983-) – The second overall pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft by Atlanta,  this goaltender is playing his seventh-consecutive season in Dallas.

For the third time in the last four Games of the Day, we needed overtime to determine who walked out of the arena with two points. Last night, it was the visiting Devils who beat Dallas 2-1.

All the regulation scoring action happened before 11 minutes ticked off the clock. New Jersey opened the scoring 7:40 after the opening puck drop when Third Star of the Game Damon Severson (P.A. Parenteau and Beau Bennett) buried a wrister to take a 1-0 lead. It lasted only 2:53 before Patrick Eaves (Antoine Roussel) leveled with a wrister of his own.

After 49:27 of scoreless play, it’s almost ironic that Second Star Adam Henrique (Kyle Palmieri) buried his snap shot only 44 seconds into overtime to end the game for New Jersey.

Cory Schneider earns the victory after saving 23-of-24 shots faced (95.8%), while First Star Antti Niemi takes the overtime loss, saving 31-of-33 (93.9%).

New Jersey‘s victory sets the DtFR Game of the Day series at 21-12-4, still favoring the home squads by eight points over the roadies.

November 15 – Day 34 – The Devils went down to Dallas

As you might guess with only one game yesterday, there’s a ton going down tonight. It’s like your favorite bar – you know, the one that has all your favorite microbrews on tap? Perfect.

Anyways, we get started with three games at 7 p.m. (Ottawa at Philadelphia [RDS2], San Jose at Carolina and Washington at Columbus), followed half an hour later by another trio (Nashville at Toronto [TVAS], Florida at Montréal [RDS] and Tampa Bay at Detroit [NBCSN]). 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of a third triplet of games (Buffalo at St. Louis, Calgary at Minnesota and Chicago at Winnipeg), followed 30 minutes later by New Jersey at Dallas. Los Angeles at Colorado gets underway at 9 p.m., and the co-nightcaps – the New York Rangers at Vancouver and Edmonton at Anaheim – are an hour later.

Short list:

  • Tampa Bay at Detroit – Remember last year when the Lightning beat the Red Wings in the Eastern Quarterfinals in five games? Detroit does.
  • New Jersey at DallasVernon Fiddler wore green for five seasons, but he’ll be wearing white tonight at the American Airlines Center.
  • Edmonton at Anaheim – It’s a similar situation for Patrick Maroon. In his fifth year of service with the Ducks, he was traded to the Oil for a prospect and a draft pick.

Since he’ll only be making one visit to Big D this season, we’ll follow Fiddler back to his old stomping grounds.

New Jersey Devils LogoUnknown-2

 

 

The amount of restraint it requires me every time we feature the Devils to not post this song is almost unbearable, but given the subject material’s name, there was no way I could contain myself.

After a couple seasons in Phoenix, Fiddler joined the Stars before the 2011-’12 season to begin his five-year tenure. While in town, the center played 366 games – the most he’s played with a single club, even though he had an extra season in Nashville‘s system – to score 112 points, 69 of which were assists.

Fiddler certainly served his time with the club. Although they entered last season projected to find much success, times were not always so fun in Dallas. He and the Stars went 145-119-30 in his first four seasons in Dallas, qualifying for the postseason only once to be eliminated by Anaheim.

Of course, last year made it all worth it. Well, at least the regular season. With a 50-23-9 record, the Stars took top regular season honors in the Western Conference, but were upset in the quarterfinals by St. Louis.

This off-season, he joined New Jersey in free agency, and they’ve gone 8-3-3 so far for fourth place in the Metropolitan Division. While the offense has left much to be desired, the Devils have been able to find success by keeping their opposition off the board.

Cory Schneider has started 11 games already this season for a 6-3-2 record on a .927 save percentage and 2.24 GAA, which ranks 11th and 14th-best, respectively, among goaltenders with six or more appearances.

What makes Schneider’s efforts more impressive is that the defense playing in front of him is only average, if not slightly worse. He faces an average 30.86 shots per game, which is a touch over the league average. Captain Andy Greene takes the most credit for limiting his netminder’s workload with 28 blocks to his credit, but he is the only Devil with more than 23 blocks.

That success has not translated well to the defensive special team. New Jersey ranks eighth-worst in the NHL on the penalty kill, negating only 79.5% of their infractions. To their credit, they have tried their hardest to limit trips to the penalty box this season, as Fiddler leads the club with only 13 minutes in the sin bin.

Jersey‘s power play is indicative of their offensive struggles this season. Successful on only 14% of their attempts, the Devils rank ninth-worst in the league and are about as far from being a threat as Newark is from Dallas. Damon Severson has been most active on the man-advantage with five points to his credit in that situation.

After a five game road trip throughout western Canada, the Stars return home with a 6-6-4 record on the season. While the offense has not performed like they did a season ago, the defense and goaltending is responsible for Dallas not being higher in the Western Conference table.

Kari Lehtonen has started nine games this season for a 3-4-3 record on a .891 save percentage and 3.18 GAA, which ranks fifth and ninth-worst among goaltenders with five or more appearances.

He may be the last line of defense, but Dallas‘ situation doesn’t lie directly on Lehtonen’s shoulders. Even with Johnny Oduya‘s 36 blocks, the Stars‘ netminders face 31.125 shots per game, which exceeds the league average by almost a full shot. It doesn’t sound like much, but it only takes one shot to become a goal and effect the outcome of a game, and even if it doesn’t trickle into the net, it is still another shot Lehtonen has to save.

As you’d expect, the penalty kill hasn’t treated the Stars very nicely either. Dallas faces 3.75 man-advantages per game (almost half a penalty more than the league average), but have only defended 76.7% to rank fourth-worst in the NHL. Either the kill has to improve or Dallas needs to find a better way to impose their will, because this combination is not working.

Some players to keep an eye on tonight include DallasTyler Seguin (20 points [leads the league] on 13 assists [tied for second-most in the NHL]) and New Jersey‘s Taylor Hall (12 points [leads the team]).

It looks are bets are off in Vegas for this one, so hopefully that indicates a competitive game. Although I do believe that Dallas will be the better of these two teams come April, I think Jersey is able to get out of Dallas with the victory due to the Stars‘ poor netminding and their offense still searching for their identity.

Hockey Birthday

  • Yannick Tremblay (1975-) – The defensman was the 145th-overall pick in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft. Selected by Toronto, he only appeared in three seasons with the Leafs before five campaigns with Atlanta.

The Tampa Bay Lightning beat the New York Islanders 4-0 in the only game played yesterday – thereby our Game of the Day.

J.T. Brown (Cedric Paquette and Braydon Coburn) takes credit for the first, and thus winning, score with 2:02 remaining in the opening period with a wrist shot. Ryan Callahan (Andrej Sustr and Victor Hedman) also scored in the remaining 20 seconds of the frame.

Two more goals were scored in the second period by Nikita Kucherov (First Star of the Game Steven Stamkos) and Vladislav Namestnikov (Stamkos and Kucherov) to seal the victory.

Second Star Andrei Vasilevskiy earns the shutout victory after saving all 34 shots he faced, while Jaroslav Halak takes the loss, saving 27-of-31 (87.1%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series stands at 21-12-3, favoring the home sides by nine points over the roadies.