Tag Archives: Austin Watson

October 11 – Day Eight – Second round preview

Now that all the fun of the opening week is behind us, it’s time to get focused for the two-month run to American Thanksgiving.

Don’t think the holiday is that important in the NHL? Maybe this will change your mind.

With that in mind, let’s jump into the five games on the schedule this evening. The action starts at 7:30 p.m. with two contests (New Jersey at Toronto [SN] and Pittsburgh at Washington [NBCSN]), followed two hours later by Boston at Colorado. Fixtures continue to fall in line every half hour as the New York Islanders visit Anaheim at 10 p.m. and tonight’s nightcap, Calgary at Los Angeles, drops the puck 30 minutes later. All times Eastern.

Tonight was supposed to be Brian Boyle‘s return to Toronto, but since his diagnosis of chronic myelogenous leukemia has kept him off the ice to star the season, we’ll delay the celebration of the Leafs’ trip to the second round until his return in mid-November.

Instead, let’s take in one of the NHL’s best rivalries in recent years.

 

If not for the Capitals’ significant roster turnover this offseason, it would have been safe to pencil these two squads into a third-straight meeting in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Then again, given Washington’s 2-0-1 record to lead the Metropolitan Division after a week of play, maybe that assumption isn’t too far off the mark.

What has made Washington so deadly to start the season has been its ultra-efficient offense. Though the Capitals average 4.33 goals-per-game ([t]fourth-best in the NHL), they take the fewest shots-per-game in the league at 25.7.

In effect, the Caps are attacking opposing goalies with scalpels instead of battle axes.

At the head of that attack is head surgeon W Alex Ovechkin (.389 shooting percentage), who’s assisted by American Sniper F T.J. Oshie (.375) – both of whom are in the top-15 of shooting percentage and combine for 10 of Washington’s 13 goals. With two solid centers in Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov feeding them passes, Head Coach Barry Trotz is optimistic his top-two lines won’t miss a beat after the offseason departures of F Marcus Johansson and RW Justin Williams.

Speaking of the title of “American Sniper,” Oshie should look out for Columbus’ LW Sonny Milano and his obnoxious .571 to start his rookie season. The kid’s going places with a shot like that, but we’ll worry about that when the Capitals and Jackets tangle in early December.

Back to our game tonight, Washington has felt its turbulent offseason most within the defensive corps. It’s a good thing G Braden Holtby moonlights as a brick wall, as his career .922 save percentage has been put to the test by facing an average of 37 shots-per-game, the (t)fourth-highest in the league. If the Pens want any chance of beating the reigning Jennings Trophy winner, they’ll need to attack him early and often.

All but two (D Nate Schmidt and D Kevin Shattenkirk) of the goalscorers from second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs have returned to Washington this season. Mentioned above as simply play-makers, Backstrom and Kuznetsov both found much success against Pittsburgh in May, as they both beat former Penguins G Marc-Andre Fleury for four goals apiece.

Similarly, only two players (C Nick Bonino and F Matt Cullen) that scored on Holtby last postseason departed Pittsburgh. In particular, Holtby is least looking forward to seeing F Jake Guentzel again, as the 23-year-old scored on him four times five months ago.

The Penguins simply haven’t played the same way twice to start the season (most notably falling flat on their faces in Chicago, losing 10-1), though they’d like to repeat their performance from Saturday when they beat Nashville 4-0.

Beyond simply jumping out to a quick start (F Evgeni Malkin scored the game-winning goal only 66 seconds into the game), Pittsburgh got back to playing a sound defensive game. The Predators managed to fire only 26 shots at G Matthew Murray, far below the Penguins’ average of 34.7 shots-against-per-game.

It was also in that game where the city of Pittsburgh fell in love with RW Ryan Reaves, similar to how St. Louis did seven years ago, as he provided a goal to go with his fights with W Cody McLeod and F Austin Watson. Fans and pundits alike questioned General Manager Jim Rutherford‘s decision to bring in an enforcer, but if he can manage to be a goon with a little bit of touch and put up similar numbers to his 7-6-13 performance last season, he’ll be a welcome addition to this lineup.

This is a tough game to pick, as it seemed the Penguins turned a corner last Saturday and are resuming the form we’ve come to expect from them year in and year out. That being said, I think this Capitals team matches up well against them. No matter how hard Pittsburgh’s defense tries, I believe that either Ovechkin or Oshie will be able to find just the right shot to beat Murray.


In an exciting and emotional night for the city of Las Vegas, the Golden Knights were able to beat the Arizona Coyotes 5-2 to win their first-ever home tilt at T-Mobile Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The Knights absolutely blitzed the Coyotes out of the gates, as they scored four of their five goals in 10:42 of play. First up was F Tomas Nosek (F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and D Luca Sbisa) burying a wrist shot 2:31 after puck drop, followed by Second Star of the Game D Deryk Engelland (LW Brendan Leipsic) finding the back of G Antti Raanta‘s net only 107 seconds later. Scoring what proved to be the game-winning goal was none other than Third Star W James Neal (D Brayden McNabb and W David Perron), the same man who has now accounted for all three of Vegas’ winners to begin its inaugural season.

Within this sequence, the puck first made its way towards the goal off a shot by McNabb from the top of the offensive zone. It was casually blocked by D Jason Demers at the top of the crease, but Neal was able to collect the rebound and pivot towards the face-off circle to Raanta’s right. Once he finished his spin, he squeezed his wrister between the goaltender’s blocker and the near post.

But Neal wasn’t done. Thanks to F Mario Kempe interfering with Fleury, Vegas earned a power play that Neal (W Reilly Smith and F Erik Haula) was able to convert with a wrister from the crease to beat a fallen G Louis Domingue five-hole. Though F Tobias Rieder (D Niklas Hjalmarsson) was able to get the Coyotes on the board with 7:23 remaining in the first period, it did little to dampen the spirits of the newborn hockey fans.

After a wild opening frame, the second and third periods were much more tame. C Oscar Lindberg (Leipsic) and D Kevin Connauton (C Derek Stepan and F Clayton Keller) were able to score for Vegas and Arizona, respectively, but their tallies had little impact on the outcome.

Overall, the Knights absolutely dominated this game. To start with, they won 68 percent of face-offs, but they were further helped by sloppy play from the Yotes. Though the statistic is recorded as takeaways, most of Vegas’ 12 steals (led by Smith’s three) were a result of aimless passes from Arizona. The Coyotes supposedly improved on paper this offseason, but this showing was not evident of that.

Fleury earned his third victory in as many games played by saving 31-of-33 shots faced (.939 save percentage), leaving the loss to Raanta, who saved two-of-five (.4) before being pulled. He was replaced by Domingue 6:15 into the game, and saved 21-of-23 (.913) for no decision.

That’s a fourth-straight win by a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series, a series that now favors the 5-2-1 hosts by four points.

Revised Mock 2017 NHL Expansion Draft

If you’re a regular here at Down the Frozen River then you know Colby Kephart, Connor Keith and I discussed our ideal Vegas Golden Knights rosters on last week’s episode of the DTFR Podcast.

Well, after careful (re)consideration, thanks to Sunday’s release of the protected and available lists for the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft, Connor and I have decided to reselect our Golden Knights rosters. Special thanks to CapFriendly for having such an amazing “mock expansion draft” tool available to everyone all season long leading up to this moment.

Without further ado, here they are…

vegas_golden_knights_logo

Nick Lanciani’s mock 2017-2018 Vegas Golden Knights roster:

ANAHEIM DUCKS– D Sami Vatanen (26 years old, 3 years left, $4.875 million cap hit):

The logic behind this one is fairly simple– Vegas picks the best player available from Anaheim’s pool of available players and either 1) utilizes his services or 2) flips him for even more assets (current or future, the choice is yours, Golden Knights GM George McPhee). Vatanen had 3-21-24 totals in 71 games with Anaheim in 2016-2017.

ARIZONA COYOTES– LW/RW Jamie McGinn (28, 2 years left, $3.333 million cap hit):

Choosing McGinn (9-8-17 totals in 72 games played last season) provides the Golden Knights with the safest pick from the Coyotes organization. He’s not expected to be the best player, but his contract is the perfect fit for a team that’s just starting out. It he does well, he’ll stick around, but if he doesn’t perform, then Vegas didn’t waste too much on being able to have a NHL caliber forward right out of the gate.

BOSTON BRUINS– D Colin Miller (24, 1 year left, $1.000 million cap hit):

While Boston does not want to have to see Colin Miller heading to Vegas, there wasn’t much the Bruins could do to protect the young blue liner, considering their vast expanse of core forwards to protect and defensive prospects lining up to take Miller’s current job in Boston. The Golden Knights luck out on this one, if Miller’s brilliance returns.

Despite playing in 19 more games this season than in 2015-2016, Miller had 6 goals and 7 assists (13 points) for Boston (whereas he had 3-13-16 totals in 42 games in 2015-2016).

BUFFALO SABRES– LW Matt Moulson (33, 2 years left, $5.000 million cap hit):

Moulson’s time with the Buffalo Sabres was up and down, but he gets a fresh start in Sin City. There shouldn’t be any hard feelings between the Sabres and Moulson on what otherwise seems like a natural, mutual, separation.

He had 14-18-32 totals in 81 games played in 2016-2017, which was better than his eight goals, 13 assists (21 points) in 81 games in 2015-2016 (after amassing three consecutive 40-plus point seasons).

CALGARY FLAMES– C/LW/RW Lance Bouma (27, 1 year remaining, $2.200 million cap hit):

Three goals and four assists (7 points) in 61 games played this year with Calgary doesn’t scream “exceptional forward”, however, it’s his intangibles that make him a quality asset for a franchise that has to build its identity from the ground up. Also, his durability as a forward (he can play either wing or center) makes him an attractive option for a franchise that won’t nearly have as much minor league depth to call up in the event of injuries throughout the season.

CAROLINA HURRICANES– LW Joakim Nordstrom (25, 1 year remaining, $1.275 million cap hit):

His production was cut in half (7-5-12 totals) this season despite taking part in 81 games with Carolina, however, Joakim Nordstrom is just one season removed from an impressive stint in his first full year with the Hurricanes (10-14-24 totals in 71 games played in 2015-2016) since being traded by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015 offseason. At 25 years old, he should be entering his prime.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS– D Trevor van Riemsdyk (25, 1 year remaining, $825,000 cap hit):

The Golden Knights hit the lottery with their selection from the Blackhawks in the sense that Trevor van Riemsdyk is an exceptional, young, defenseman, who should otherwise be stepping into a more prominent role as the future of Chicago’s blue line, but instead will become a household name in Vegas. Limited to only 58 games this season, van Riemsdyk notched 5-11-16 totals in his sophomore year after amassing three goals and 11 assists (14 points) in a full 82-game season his rookie year.

COLORADO AVALANCHE– C Carl Soderberg (31, 3 years left, $4.750 million cap hit):

Carl Soderberg went from a 51 point season in his first year with the Avalanche to just 6-8-14 totals in 80 games played this season, but the former Boston Bruin and three-time 40-plus point scorer can rejuvenate his career with the right combination of forwards around him in Vegas. Plus he’s not too shabby on the faceoff dot (Soderberg won 52% of his faceoffs this season alone).

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS– D Jack Johnson (30, 1 year remaining, $4.357 million cap hit):

Simply put, Jack Johnson would be the oldest defenseman on my version of the Vegas Golden Knights and that’s exactly where you’d want them to be, just starting out. He contributed 18 assists to go along with his 23 points for the Blue Jackets in 82 games this season, after being hampered by injury to just 6-8-14 totals in 60 games last season.

DALLAS STARS– D Greg Pateryn (26, 1 year remaining, $800,000 cap hit):

Pateryn has yet to play a full season, but perhaps the Golden Knights can give him more of a taste of being a regular in the NHL than the Dallas Stars and Montreal Canadiens did. He has 16 career points to his name and at best, is a depth guy that becomes a top-6 blue liner. At worst, he sees no time in the lineup and watches a season from the comfortable press box seats at T-Mobile Arena.

DETROIT RED WINGS– G Petr Mrazek (25, 1 year remaining, $4.000 million cap hit):

Once again, we have another offseason rendition of Character Issues (season two, 2017, starring Petr Mrazek, guest starring references made to season one (2016) star, P.K. Subban).

Whoever the Golden Knights choose to actually be their backup goaltender will be their backup goaltender, otherwise this guy is getting flipped *copies and pastes to every possible backup goaltender scenario*.

EDMONTON OILERS– D Eric Gryba (29, pending UFA on July 1st):

Since Gryba tallied 12 assists in 75 games played in the 2014-2015 season with the Ottawa Senators (one more point than the previous season in 18 more games), he hasn’t produced and has become a depth defenseman at best. A second, second chance with the Vegas Golden Knights might finally prove that Gryba is worth more to a franchise than just as a go-to healthy scratch. Or then again, he might just be a roster placeholder until free agency begins on July 1st.

FLORIDA PANTHERS– LW/RW Reilly Smith (26, 5 years left, $5.000 million cap hit):

Who didn’t have a down year with the Florida Panthers this season? Reilly Smith failed to reach the 40-point plateau for the first time since his 37 games played as a newcomer with the Dallas Stars in the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season. Instead, he had 15-22-37 totals in 80 games with the Panthers, following his trend of “on again, off again” performance. By Smith’s standards, he’s due for a spectacular season in 2017-2018 and he’s not the only surprise Florida left unprotected *cough cough Jonathan Marchessault cough*.

LOS ANGELES KINGS– D Brayden McNabb (26, 1 year remaining, $1.700 million cap hit):

Two goals and two assists (4 points) were all that McNabb put on the scoresheet for the Kings this season in 49 games. In 2014-2015 with Los Angeles, he had 22 assists in 71 games played (his first full season in the NHL and first appearance in the league since his acquisition by the Kings from the Buffalo Sabres). But nobody’s paying him to score goals and rack up points when they consider his heavy hitting approach to protecting his own zone.

MINNESOTA WILD– C Eric Staal (32, 2 years left, $3.500 million cap hit):

Why not? Make things interesting, George McPhee, and take Eric Staal over the plethora of defensemen that seem to be rumored in and out of Minnesota every other day. True to form, he had 65 points (28 goals, 37 assists) in 82 games with the Wild last season after a dismal 39 points (13 goals, 26 assists) in 83 games with the Hurricanes and the Rangers in 2015-2016. He makes everyone around him better, so he’s worth it.

MONTRÉAL CANADIENS– C Tomas Plekanec (34, 1 year remaining, $6.000 million):

I said it on last week’s episode of the podcast, but this is the easiest way for the Canadiens to avoid the awkward breakup with Plekanec reminiscent of their uncoupling with Saku Koivu almost a decade ago.

He had 10-18-28 totals in 78 games with Montreal this season a year after notching 54 points in 82 games and two years after reaching 60 points in 82 games played. He’s not the 70-point scorer like he was in 2009-2010, but he’s still a gifted center that brings a veteran presence to the new franchise.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS– C Colton Sissons (23, 2 years left, $625,000 cap hit):

Colton Sissons only had two goals and eight assists (10 points) in 58 games played this season for Nashville, but he came up clutch in their Stanley Cup Final run (and eventual defeat to the Pittsburgh Penguins). Someone good and young on the Predators is bound to be lost to the Golden Knights, unless they’ve already worked out a trade to avoid the inevitable scenario. Take a hard pass on James Neal, if you can.

NEW JERSEY DEVILS– RW Stefan Noesen (24, pending RFA on July 1st):

There’s really no stellar selection to make from the Devils, so why not go with a young, pending RFA forward? Besides, he had eight goals in 44 games with Anaheim and New Jersey this season.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS– LW Shane Prince (24, 1 year remaining, $850,000 cap hit):

Shane Prince had 18 points (5 goals, 13 assists) in 50 games with the Islanders this season, which bested his scoring output from last year in a dozen fewer games, so just imagine what a full season could do for him in the right situation.

NEW YORK RANGERS– G Antti Raanta (28, 1 year remaining, $1.000 million cap hit):

Whoever the Golden Knights choose to actually be their backup goaltender will be their backup goaltender, otherwise this guy is getting flipped *copies and pastes to every possible backup goaltender scenario*.

OTTAWA SENATORS– D Fredrik Claesson (24, 1 year remaining, $650,000 cap hit):

Claesson amassed 3-8-11 totals in 33 games with the Senators this season, one year after recording 2 assists in 16 games played. So there’s room for improvement if he’s only just entering his prime. Otherwise he’s a tactically smart depth defenseman addition to Vegas’s roster.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS– C/LW Michael Raffl (28, 2 years left, $2.350 million cap hit):

Michael Raffl’s 2016-2017 campaign was shortened due to injury and was largely one to forget (8-3-11 totals in 52 games played, down from 13-18-31 totals in a healthy 82-game 2015-2016 season). However, Raffl is durable and should be back to being a dependable depth scoring glue guy in a top-9 forward spot with Vegas.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS– G Marc-Andre Fleury (32, 2 years left, $5.750 million cap hit):

Should I even have to explain this one? I’m going to go with “no”.

SAN JOSE SHARKS– D Brenden Dillon (26, 3 years left, $3.270 million cap hit):

Brenden Dillon is a solid top-4 defenseman that has some time left on his contract that’ll see him into his prime with the Vegas Golden Knights. Did I mention he’s a good defenseman? He likes to hit people and stuff.

ST. LOUIS BLUES– RW/LW Dmitrij Jaskin (24, 1 year remaining, $1.000 million cap hit):

In 2014-2015, Jaskin had 13-5-18 totals in 54 games. Since then, he had 4-9-13 totals in 65 games (2015-2016) and just one goal and ten assists (11 points) in 51 games this season. He seems to be the odd man out for the St. Louis Blues and may be sparked by a change of scenery to shape up or lose a full-time NHL job– destined for the life of an AHL Lifer™.

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING– RW J.T. Brown (26, 1 year remaining, $1.250 million cap hit):

Okay, so 3-3-6 totals in 64 games played was a step backwards from a career year, 8-14-22 totals in 78 games in 2015-2016 for J.T. Brown, but he’s a gritty fourth liner. It’s well worth the risk/reward factor of taking him on for a season, trying him out and either 1) keeping him around because he’s won the hearts of the fans in Vegas, 2) let him go or 3) begin stockpiling veteran AHL Lifers™.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS– D Martin Marincin (25, 1 year remaining, $1.250 million cap hit):

Toronto doesn’t seem to be entirely sold on Martin Marincin and that’s understandable given his 1-6-7 totals in the last two seasons (but over 25 games played this season and 65 games played in 2015-2016). He’s not an offensive minded defenseman, that’s fine, just hit somebody or block a shot. Auston Matthews and the rest of the teens on the Maple Leafs aren’t available, so let’s go with Marincin.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS– G Richard Bachman (29, 1 year remaining, $650,000):

Whoever the Golden Knights choose to actually be their backup goaltender will be their backup goaltender, otherwise this guy is getting flipped *copies and pastes to every possible backup goaltender scenario*. **Actually, Bachman’s probably going to be their AHL starter with the Chicago Wolves, so we’ll leave it at that.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS– G Philipp Grubauer (25, pending RFA on July 1st):

Whoever the Golden Knights choose to actually be their backup goaltender will be their backup goaltender, otherwise this guy is getting flipped *copies and pastes to every possible backup goaltender scenario*.

WINNIPEG JETS– G Michael Hutchinson (27, 1 year remaining, $1.150 million cap hit):

Whoever the Golden Knights choose to actually be their backup goaltender will be their backup goaltender, otherwise this guy is getting flipped *copies and pastes to every possible backup goaltender scenario*.

Total Cap Hit (excluding players already on VGK roster): $68.410 million

Average age: 27 years old

At the end of the day, my thought process was to build around a few guys, bring in a lot of short-term contracts, flip a lot of goalies and attain a ton of draft picks (just like Danny Ainge, but in hockey). Don’t try to build your team via free agency in your first year. Do that next year and win the Cup in 2019, obviously.


By: Connor Keith

Connor Keith’s mock 2017-2018 Vegas Golden Knights roster:

After making my initial selections (effectively my preferred player off each roster), I found myself lacking forwards, a few 2018-’19 (or beyond) contracts and almost $10 million under the salary floor. This led to three or four modifications to my original selections.

ANAHEIM – G Dustin Tokarski

Patrick Eaves, Josh Manson and Sami Vatanen were all available, but I decided to go with the 27-year-old netminder. Spending much of the 2016-’17 season in San Diego with the Ducks’ AHL affiliate, he posted a .898 save percentage for a 2.93 GAA, 17-win season. Yes, that’s not all that impressive, but he did post a 10-minute shutout (that’s a thing, right?) in his only NHL action this year. Tokarski’s true upside is that he has only one year remaining on his $650,000 two-way contract, meaning Vegas can send him to Chicago to prove himself or provide competition for their other goaltending prospects and not be committed to him long-term.

ARIZONA – RW Radim Vrbata

Is there any question of the best available Coyote? He notched 55 points (fourth-most among all Expansion Draft-eligible forwards) with a lackluster Arizona club that managed only a measly 191 goals all season, including 35 assists (fifth-best among forwards in the draft). Vrbata is not currently under contract, so George McPhee might need an impressive offer sheet to ensure 36-year-old veteran doesn’t run off in pursuit of a Stanley Cup in the twilight of his career.

BOSTON – D Adam McQuaid

There are few things I love more than a physical, stay-at-home defenseman – and McQuaid is just that. He blocked an impressive 144 shots this last season (eighth-best among defensemen in the draft) while also throwing 157 hits (10th-most among draft-eligible blue-liners). Not much gets past this 30-year-old (be it the puck or a skater), and he’ll be able to impart some wisdom among the youngsters while also making a few defensive contributions of his own.

BUFFALO – G Linus Ullmark

There’s not many skaters of value to Vegas in Upstate New York, but both available netminders could be solid picks. In particular, 23-year-old Ullmark is four years younger than Anders Nilsson and is under contract for two more seasons at the low price of $750,000, but the cherry on top is that he’s still waivers-exempt, meaning he can still be sent to Chicago if needed without other teams having the opportunity to sign him.

CALGARY – C Freddie Hamilton

Hamilton isn’t the sexy pick, but I’m not willing to pick free agent Michael Stone and have to fight to keep him, as he’s coming off a $4 million deal. Instead, we’ll take the 25-year-old youngster that was sneaky-good at the face-off dot in his 26 games played this season. He won almost 60 percent of his 126 play-resuming scrums to rank third-best among the centers available for the Golden Knights to select. If he can be convinced to put on a little more weight, he could be an effective fourth-liner.

CAROLINA – RW Lee Stempniak

Other than a 33-year-old long-time starting goaltender, the Hurricanes’ offerings are sparse. That leaves Stempniak as the obvious choice for McPhee and the Knights. He provided 40 points for a Carolina club that narrowly missed the postseason, but his biggest strength is his ability to steal the puck away from the opposition. He committed 57 takeaways during last season, the third-most among draft-eligible forwards.

CHICAGO – D Trevor van Riemsdyk

There are a few star-studded rosters that couldn’t protect everyone, and the Blackhawks are one of those. That leaves this stud of a young defenseman out to dry, and Vegas would be wise to bring him to the desert. At only 25 years of age, he notched 16 points during ’16-’17 and a +17 rating. The future is bright for this youngster, and he’s a perfect piece to build the first 10 years of Vegas’ defense around.

COLORADO – C Samuel Henley

If Chicago is on one end of the spectrum in terms of roster quality, Colorado is on the other – made apparent by its terrible 22-win season. Because of that, I decided to take a chance on one of the Avalanche’s prospects, a 23-year-old center. He only played in one NHL game this season, but it was a head-turner: he tied the December 1 game against the Blue Jackets at two-all in the second period (Columbus went on to win 3-2). He’s currently a restricted free-agent, but it shouldn’t be too hard to sign him to a low-cost contract.

COLUMBUS – D Jack Johnson

Speaking of the Blue Jackets, they have a resurgent defenseman available to be selected. Johnson joined the Jackets during the 2011-‘12 season, and it’s been an up-and-down affair. This last campaign was certainly an “up,” as he registered a +23 rating and scored five goals (tied for ninth-most among draft-eligible defensemen). Though he comes in at a price tag exceeding $4 million, the offensive threat from the blue-line is worth the money.

DALLAS – F Mark McNeill

If there’s anything Jim Nill and the Stars know how to do, it’s how to identify offensive talent (Exhibit A: the 2015-’16 season). Unfortunately, there are only four forwards (including Adam Cracknell) available for the Expansion Draft with more than 41 NHL games played this season, meaning McPhee might be led to snag a prospect. If for no other reason than his versatility (he can play both center and right wing), I’m drawn to McNeill. He registered only 39 points between Rockford and Texas in the AHL this season, but he proved his willingness to get his nose dirty by blocking a shot in his only game with Dallas on April 28. He’s currently a restricted free agent, so it shouldn’t be difficult to sign him to another minor league contract.

DETROIT – F Luke Glendening

For whatever reason (*ahem* tank *ahem*), the Wings decided to leave this versatile forward exposed for the draft. Vegas would be crazy to leave Glendening off its club. Locked into his contract until 2021 at the relatively low price of $1.8 million, he accounted for 14 points in 74 games played this season. Of course, Glendening isn’t known so much for his offensive contributions as much as his defensive presence. With 62 blocks to his credit last year, he registered the seventh-most among draft-eligible forwards.

EDMONTON – RW Iiro Pakarinen

Colby made fun of me for picking Pakarinen in our podcast last week, but I’m holding my ground with the right wing. The Oilers are a hard team to select from with a lot of their talented youth being ineligible for the expansion draft. I thought about selecting Kris Russell, but ended up needing a player signed through next year. Pakarinen has only one year remaining on his contract, but maybe he’ll be able to impress and earn a new contract.

FLORIDA – C Jonathan Marchessault

Since I had this center on my fantasy team this year, it must have been destiny that I’d choose him for the Golden Knights in the Expansion Draft. Marchessault is an excellent pick having scored a whopping 51 points – including 30 goals (third-most among draft-eligible forwards) – for the Panthers in 2016-’17. Making him even more attractive, he also leads draft-eligible forwards in takeaways with 64. In short, Marchessault is a must for Vegas.

LOS ANGELES – G Jack Campbell

Though he only has two NHL appearances for his entire career, Campbell is an attractive goaltending prospect. In 52 games with Ontario in the AHL, he posted a .914 save percentage for a 2.52 GAA, 31-win season – not to mention his perfect 20-minute shutout in his single appearance for the Kings.

MINNESOTA – D Matt Dumba

It is my opinion that the basis for a successful club is a solid defense, and this 22-year-old blue-liner is exactly the guy for the job. Pairing with fellow youngster van Riemsdyk, these two have the potential to grow into one of the best defenses in the league.

MONTRÉAL – LW Charles Hudon

To put it simply, I needed players under contract for next season. That being said, this left wing has also shown promise as a physical player. Throwing 11 hits in his three NHL games this season, he actually led all draft-eligible forwards in hits-per-game.

So there’s that.

NASHVILLE – RW Miikka Salomaki

There are quite a few solid players available from Nashville’s roster, including Mike Fisher, Matt Irwin, James Neal, Colton Sissons and Austin Watson just to name a few. Unfortunatley, at least a few of those are not under contract for next season, so I was led to draft Salomaki. The young right wing doesn’t seem attractive on the surface, but he actually averaged the third-most blocks-per-game at 1.8.

NEW JERSEY – D Ben Lovejoy

Not much is going right in New Jersey these days, but since Cory Schneider wasn’t available I had to make another pick. Though he comes with a considerable price tag of $2.7 million for the next two years, I think Lovejoy should be high on the Golden Knights’ list. If there’s one thing the defenseman does well, it’s block shots. He rejected 149 over the course of last season to rank sixth-best among draft-eligible blue-liners.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS – D Calvin de Haan

While we’re near the Big Apple, let’s grab another defenseman from the Isles. Similar to Lovejoy, de Haan has been a shot-blocking stud for a while now, as his 190 is the third-best total available among the expansion draft class’ defensemen. But he’s so much more than a simple blue-liner, as he also managed an impressive 25 points, including 20 assists.

NEW YORK RANGERS – RW Michael Grabner

Need a goal scorer that’s definitely under contract for next season? Since T.J. Oshie is a free agent, look no further than the Rangers’ incredible right wing. Not only did Grabner bury the fifth-most goals at 27, but he also didn’t yield many, as his +22 rating is the second-best among all draft-eligible forwards.

OTTAWA – RW Mike Blunden

I have no good reason for Vegas to draft Blunden other than he’s a decent pest at three hits-per-game this NHL season and that he’s under contract next year. If it weren’t for the contract rule, I was looking at Tom Pyatt.

PHILADELPHIA – D Michael del Zotto

This blue-liner is a free agent this summer, but I don’t expect him to garner a contract similar to the nearly $4 million deal he’s coming off of with the Flyers seeing as they were trying to trade him at the deadline and no other club took him. He’s a physical, two-way player that scored the fourth-most goals by a defenseman eligible for Vegas’ roster.

PITTSBURGH – D Ian Cole

Everybody that’s anybody is choosing Marc-Andre Fleury to go to Vegas, but I’ve come to the conclusion that (1) the Penguins are holding him out as bait to keep the Knights away from the true treasure that is Cole and (2) I want to be different. Overshadowed by Kris Letang and his known offensive talents, Cole is an excellent, physical two-way defenseman that not only notched 26 points in 2016-’17 (tied for sixth-most among draft-eligible blue-liners), but also an impressive +26 rating – the second-best among his peers eligible for Vegas – and 194 blocks – another stat he ranks second-best in among exposed blue-liners. At the age of 28, he still has a few more good seasons in him to make a real contribution to a club.

SAN JOSE – D Paul Martin

If Vegas doesn’t select Cole, they have another opportunity to pick a similar player in Martin. Though not as physical, Martin can still earn his wages with the puck on his stick by registering 26 points. What sets Martin apart is not only his ability to contribute offensively, but also his skill at stealing the puck. With 36 takeaways, he leads all Vegas-eligible defensemen in steals.

ST. LOUIS – W David Perron

Able to play either wing, Perron is a no-brainer for the Golden Knights given the rest of the Blues’ offerings. Under contract through next season, Perron registered the ninth-most assists among forwards with 28, but of even more significance is his ability to maintain possession. During the entire 2016-‘17 season, he gave the puck away only 21 times. Pair that with his 48 takeaways and he has a +27 turnover differential that ties for third-best among all available forwards.

TAMPA BAY – G Peter Budaj

Forwards, forwards, forwards – yet few of them have any real quality, and the ones that do aren’t under contract for long. Instead, let’s snag a goaltender that spent most of last season in the Pacific Division before being traded to the Bolts at the deadline. Especially without Fleury being selected in my draft, Budaj provides a quality immediate starter in net while the Knights establish their franchise goaltender.

TORONTO – G Antoine Bibeau

Speaking of, Bibeau could be just that guy should Ullmark not work out. He didn’t have an excellent showing with the Marlies this year, posting a .894 save percentage for a 13-win, 3.08 GAA campaign, but his two games in the NHL were relatively decent. Over 121 minutes, he posted a .927 save percentage and 1.98 GAA. It remains to be seen if that was a sampling of the future or just a solid two weeks.

VANCOUVER – RW Derek Dorsett

I had originally selected Alex Biega, but was forced to choose Dorsett to meet the proper number of contracts. If that doesn’t explain the Canucks’ situation, nothing will.

WASHINGTON – D Brooks Orpik

I wanted so badly to select Karl Alzner from Washington, but – similar to Vancouver – was forced to change my pick to meet contract rules. Orpik was easily the second-best selection even with his $5.5 million price tag for no reason other than his +32 rating, the best of any expansion draft-eligible defenseman. Pair that with his physicality, and Vegas should have a solid defense.

WINNIPEG – D Brian Strait

In only five NHL games played this season, Strait notched two points. Though it doesn’t sound like much, his points-per-game is actually sixth-best among all draft-eligible defensemen. Here’s hoping that effort continues if he can make it back to the league.

 

At the end of the draft, my Vegas Golden Knights cost a measly $45.1 million (only $1.3 million over the salary floor) with an average age of 28-years-old. Built into the roster are four two-way contracts eligible to be moved between Chicago (AHL) and Vegas as Gerard Gallant and McPhee see fit with another two being waivers-exempt (meaning they can be sent to the Wolves without going through the waiver process).

Though this draft may not maximize all the players under contract, it does provide the Knights almost $28 million to sign free agents and a draft pick or two. With that room, they might be able to attract names as elusive as Eaves, Oshie, Kevin Shattenkirk or Thomas Vanek.

2017 NHL Expansion Draft: Available Lists

30 of the NHL’s 31 teams submitted their protected lists on Saturday by 5 p.m. ET. The protected lists were made public at 10:30 a.m. ET (originally scheduled for 10 a.m.) on Sunday. Additionally, the available lists of players to choose from were released.

vegas_golden_knights_logo

The Vegas Golden Knights will now spend the next few days constructing their roster, with the full reveal set for Wednesday night during the NHL Awards Ceremony at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Vegas can choose from the following available players:

Anaheim Ducks

Forwards: Spencer Abott, Jared Boll, Sam Carrick, Patrick Eaves, Emerson Etem, Ryan Garbutt, Max Gortz, Nicolas Kerdiles, Andre Petersson, Logan Shaw, Nick Sorensen, Nate Thompson, Corey Tropp, Chris Wagner

Defensemen: Nate Guenin, Korbinian Holzer, Josh Manson, Jaycob Megna, Jeff Schultz, Clayton Stoner, Sami Vatanen

Goalies: Jonathan Bernier, Jhonas Enroth, Ryan Faragher, Matt Hackett, Dustin Tokarski

Arizona Coyotes

Forwards: Alexander Burmistrov, Shane Doan, Tyler Gaudet, Peter Holland, Josh Jooris, Jamie McGinn, Jeremy Morin, Mitchell Moroz, Chris Mueller, Teemu Pulkkinen, Brad Richardson, Garret Ross, Branden Troock, Radim Vrbata, Joe Whitney

Defensemen: Kevin Connauton, Jamie McBain, Zbynek Michalek, Jarred Tinordi

Goalies: Louis Domingue

Boston Bruins

Forwards: Matt Beleskey, Brian Ferlin, Jimmy Hayes, Alex Khokhlachev, Dominic Moore, Tyler Randell, Zac Rinaldo, Tim Schaller, Drew Stafford

Defensemen: Linus Arnesson, Chris Casto, Tommy Cross, Alex Grant, John-Michael Liles, Adam McQuaid, Colin Miller, Joe Morrow

Goalies: Anton Khudobin, Malcolm Subban

Buffalo Sabres

Forwards: William Carrier, Nicolas Deslauriers, Brian Gionta, Derek Grant, Justin Kea, Matt Moulson, Cal O’Reilly, Cole Schneider

Defensemen: Brady Austin, Mathew Bodie, Zach Bogosian, Justin Falk, Taylor Fedun, Cody Franson, Josh Gorges, Dmitry Kulikov

Goalies: Anders Nilsson, Linus Ullmark

Calgary Flames

Forwards: Brandon Bollig, Lance Bouma, Troy Brouwer, Alex Chiasson, Freddie Hamilton, Emile Poirier, Hunter Shinkaruk, Matt Stajan, Kris Versteeg, Linden Vey

Defensemen: Matt Bartkowski, Ryan Culkin, Deryk Engelland, Michael Kostka, Brett Kulak, Ladislav Smid, Michael Stone, Dennis Wideman, Tyler Wotherspoon

Goalies: Brian Elliott, Tom McCollum

Carolina Hurricanes

Forwards: Bryan Bickell, Connor Brickley, Patrick Brown, Erik Karlsson, Danny Kristo, Jay McClement, Andrew Miller, Andrej Nestrasil, Joakim Nordstrom, Lee Stempniak, Brendan Woods

Defensemen: Klas Dahlbeck, Dennis Robertson, Philip Samuelsson, Matt Tennyson

Goalies: Daniel Altshuller, Eddie Lack, Michael Leighton, Cam Ward

Chicago Blackhawks

Forwards: Kyle Baun, Andrew Desjardins, Marcus Kruger, Pierre-Cedric Labrie, Michael Latta, Brandon Mashinter, Dennis Rasmussen, Jordin Tootoo

Defensemen: Brian Campbell, Dillon Fournier, Shawn Lalonde, Johnny Oduya, Ville Pokka, Michal Rozsival, Viktor Svedberg, Trevor van Riemsdyk

Goalies: Mac Carruth, Jeff Glass

Colorado Avalanche

Forwards: Troy Bourke, Gabriel Bourque, Rene Bourque, Joe Colborne, Turner Elson, Felix Girard, Mikhail Grigorenko, Samuel Henley, John Mitchell, Jim O’Brien, Brendan Ranford, Mike Sislo, Carl Soderberg

Defensemen: Mark Barberio, Mat Clark, Eric Gelinas, Cody Goloubef, Duncan Siemens, Fedor Tyutin, Patrick Wiercioch

Goalies: Joe Cannata, Calvin Pickard, Jeremy Smith

Columbus Blue Jackets

Forwards: Josh Anderson, Alex Broadhurst, Matt Calvert, Zac Dalpe, Sam Gagner, Brett Gallant, William Karlsson, Lauri Korpikoski, Lukas Sedlak, T.J. Tynan, Daniel Zaar

Defensemen: Marc-Andre Bergeron, Scott Harrington, Jack Johnson, Kyle Quincey, John Ramage, Jaime Sifers, Ryan Stanton

Goalies: Oscar Dansk, Anton Forsberg, Joonas Korpisalo

Dallas Stars

Forwards: Adam Cracknell, Justin Dowling, Cody Eakin, Ales Hemsky, Jiri Hudler, Curtis McKenzie, Mark McNeill, Travis Morin, Patrick Sharp, Gemel Smith, Matej Stransky

Defensemen: Mattias Backman, Andrew Bodnarchuk, Ludwig Bystrom, Nick Ebert, Justin Hache, Dan Hamhuis, Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak, Greg Pateryn, Dustin Stevenson

Goalies: Henri Kiviaho, Maxime Lagace, Kari Lehtonen, Antti Niemi, Justin Peters

Detroit Red Wings

Forwards: Louis-Marc Aubry, Mitch Callahan, Colin Campbell, Martin Frk, Luke Glendening, Darren Helm, Drew Miller, Tomas Nosek, Riley Sheahan, Ben Street, Eric Tangradi

Defensemen: Adam Almquist, Jonathan Ericsson, Niklas Kronwall, Brian Lashoff, Dylan McIlrath, Xavier Ouellet, Ryan Sproul

Goalies: Jared Coreau, Petr Mrazek, Edward Pasquale, Jake Paterson

Edmonton Oilers

Forwards: David Desharnais, Justin Fontaine, Matt Hendricks, Roman Horak, Jujhar Khaira, Anton Lander, Iiro Pakarinen, Tyler Pitlick, Zach Pochiro, Benoit Pouliot, Henrik Samuelsson, Bogdan Yakimov

Defensemen: Mark Fayne, Andrew Ference, Mark Fraser, Eric Gryba, David Musil, Jordan Oesterle, Griffin Reinhart, Kris Russell, Dillon Simpson

Goalies: Laurent Brossoit, Jonas Gustavsson

Florida Panthers

Forwards: Graham Black, Tim Bozon, Jaromir Jagr, Jussi Jokinen, Derek MacKenzie, Jonathan Marchessault, Colton Sceviour, Michael Sgarbossa, Reilly Smith, Brody Sutter, Paul Thompson, Shawn Thornton, Thomas Vanek

Defensemen: Jason Demers, Jakub Kindl, Brent Regner, Reece Scarlett, MacKenzie Weegar

Goalies: Reto Berra, Sam Brittain, Roberto Luongo

Los Angeles Kings

Forwards: Andy Andreoff, Justin Auger, Dustin Brown, Kyle Clifford, Andrew Crescenzi, Nic Dowd, Marian Gaborik, Jarome Iginla, Trevor Lewis, Michael Mersch, Jordan Nolan, Teddy Purcell, Devin Setoguchi, Nick Shore

Defensemen: Matt Greene, Vincent Loverde, Brayden McNabb, Cameron Schilling, Rob Scuderi, Zach Trotman

Goalies: Jack Campbell, Jeff Zatkoff

Minnesota Wild

Forwards: Brady Brassart, Patrick Cannone, Ryan Carter, Kurtis Gabriel, Martin Hanzal, Erik Haula, Zack Mitchell, Jordan Schroeder, Eric Staal, Chris Stewart, Ryan White

Defensemen: Victor Bartley, Matt Dumba, Christian Folin, Guillaume Gelinas, Alexander Gudbranson, Gustav Olofsson, Nate Prosser, Marco Scandella, Mike Weber

Goalies: Johan Gustafsson, Darcy Kuemper, Alex Stalock

Montreal Canadiens

Forwards: Daniel Carr, Connor Crisp, Jacob De La Rose, Bobby Farnham, Brian Flynn, Max Friberg, Charles Hudon, Dwight King, Stefan Matteau, Torrey Mitchell, Joonas Nattinen, Steve Ott, Tomas Plekanec, Alexander Radulov, Chris Terry

Defensemen: Brandon Davidson, Alexei Emelin, Keegan Lowe, Andrei Markov, Nikita Nesterov, Zach Redmond, Dalton Thrower

Goalies: Al Montoya

Nashville Predators

Forwards: Pontus Aberg, Cody Bass, Vernon Fiddler, Mike Fisher, Cody McLeod, James Neal, P.A. Parenteau, Adam Payerl, Mike Ribeiro, Miikka Salomaki, Colton Sissons, Craig Smith, Trevor Smith, Austin Watson, Colin Wilson, Harry Zolnierczyk

Defensemen: Taylor Aronson, Anthony Bitetto, Stefan Elliott, Petter Granberg, Brad Hunt, Matt Irwin, Andrew O’Brien, Adam Pardy, Jaynen Rissling, Scott Valentine, Yannick Weber

Goalies: Marek Mazanec

New Jersey Devils

Forwards: Beau Bennett, Michael Cammalleri, Carter Camper, Luke Gazdic, Shane Harper, Jacob Josefson, Ivan Khomutov, Stefan Noesen, Marc Savard, Devante Smith-Pelly, Petr Straka, Mattias Tedenby, Ben Thomson, David Wohlberg

Defensemen: Seth Helgeson, Viktor Loov, Ben Lovejoy, Andrew MacWilliam, Jon Merrill, Dalton Prout, Karl Stollery, Alexander Urbom

Goalies: Keith Kinkaid, Scott Wedgewood

New York Islanders

Forwards: Josh Bailey, Steve Bernier, Eric Boulton, Jason Chimera, Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck, Stephen Gionta, Ben Holmstrom, Bracken Kearns, Nikolay Kulemin, Brock Nelson, Shane Prince, Alan Quine, Ryan Strome, Johan Sundstrom

Defensemen: Calvin de Haan, Matthew Finn, Jesse Graham, Thomas Hickey, Loic Leduc, Scott Mayfield, Dennis Seidenberg

Goalies: Jean-Francois Berube, Christopher Gibson, Jaroslav Halak

New York Rangers

Forwards: Taylor Beck, Chris Brown, Daniel Catenacci, Jesper Fast, Tanner Glass, Michael Grabner, Marek Hrivik, Nicklas Jensen, Carl Klingberg, Oscar Lindberg, Brandon Pirri, Matt Puempel

Defensemen: Adam Clendening, Tommy Hughes, Steven Kampfer, Kevin Klein, Michael Paliotta, Brendan Smith, Chris Summers

Goalies: Magnus Hellberg, Antti Raanta, Mackenzie Skapski

Ottawa Senators

Forwards: Casey Bailey, Mike Blunden, Alexandre Burrows, Stephane Da Costa, Christopher DiDomenico, Nikita Filatov, Chris Kelly, Clarke MacArthur, Max McCormick, Chris Neil, Tom Pyatt, Ryan Rupert, Bobby Ryan, Viktor Stalberg, Phil Varone, Tommy Wingels

Defensemen: Mark Borowiecki, Fredrik Claesson, Brandon Gormley, Jyrki Jokipakka, Marc Methot, Patrick Sieloff, Chris Wideman, Mikael Wikstrand

Goalies: Mike Condon, Chris Driedger, Andrew Hammond

Philadelphia Flyers

Forwards: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Greg Carey, Chris Conner, Boyd Gordon, Taylor Leier, Colin McDonald, Andy Miele, Michael Raffl, Matt Read, Chris VandeVelde, Jordan Weal, Dale Weise, Eric Wellwood

Defensemen: Mark Alt, T.J. Brennan, Michael Del Zotto, Andrew MacDonald, Will O’Neill, Jesper Pettersson, Nick Schultz

Goalies: Steve Mason, Michal Neuvirth

Pittsburgh Penguins

Forwards: Josh Archibald, Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen, Jean-Sebastien Dea, Carl Hagelin, Tom Kuhnhackl, Chris Kunitz, Kevin Porter, Bryan Rust, Tom Sestito, Oskar Sundqvist, Dominik Uher, Garrett Wilson, Scott Wilson

Defensemen: Ian Cole, Frank Corrado, Trevor Daley, Tim Erixon, Cameron Gaunce, Ron Hainsey, Stuart Percy, Derrick Pouliot, Chad Ruhwedel, Mark Streit, David Warsofsky

Goalies: Marc-Andre Fleury

San Jose Sharks

Forwards: Mikkel Boedker, Barclay Goodrow, Micheal Haley, Patrick Marleau, Buddy Robinson, Zack Stortini, Joe Thornton, Joel Ward

Defensemen: Dylan DeMelo, Brenden Dillon, Dan Kelly, Paul Martin, David Schlemko

Goalies: Aaron Dell, Troy Grosenick, Harri Sateri

St. Louis Blues

Forwards: Kenny Agostino, Andrew Agozzino, Kyle Brodziak, Jordan Caron, Jacob Doty, Landon Ferraro, Alex Friesen, Evgeny Grachev, Dmitrij Jaskin, Jori Lehtera, Brad Malone, Magnus Paajarvi, David Perron, Ty Rattie, Scottie Upshall, Nail Yakupov

Defensemen: Robert Bortuzzo, Chris Butler, Morgan Ellis, Carl Gunnarsson, Jani Hakanpaa, Petteri Lindbohm, Reid McNeill

Goalies: Jordan Binnington, Carter Hutton

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forwards: Carter Ashton, Michael Bournival, J.T. Brown, Cory Conacher, Erik Condra, Gabriel Dumont, Stefan Fournier, Byron Froese, Yanni Gourde, Mike Halmo, Henri Ikonen, Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, Tye McGinn, Greg McKegg, Cedric Paquette, Tanner Richard, Joel Vermin

Defensemen: Dylan Blujus, Jake Dotchin, Jason Garrison, Slater Koekkoek, Jonathan Racine, Andrej Sustr, Matt Taormina, Luke Witkowski

Goalies: Peter Budaj, Kristers Gudlevskis, Jaroslav Janus, Mike McKenna

Toronto Maple Leafs

Forwards: Brian Boyle, Eric Fehr, Colin Greening, Seth Griffith, Teemu Hartikainen, Brooks Laich, Brendan Leipsic, Joffrey Lupul, Milan Michalek, Kerby Rychel, Ben Smith

Defensemen: Andrew Campbell, Matt Hunwick, Alexey Marchenko, Martin Marincin, Steve Oleksy, Roman Polak

Goalies: Antoine Bibeau, Curtis McElhinney, Garret Sparks

Vancouver Canucks

Forwards: Reid Boucher, Michael Chaput, Joseph Cramarossa, Derek Dorsett, Brendan Gaunce, Alexandre Grenier, Jayson Megna, Borna Rendulic, Anton Rodin, Drew Shore, Jack Skille, Michael Zalewski

Defensemen: Alex Biega, Philip Larsen, Tom Nilsson, Andrey Pedan, Luca Sbisa

Goalies: Richard Bachman, Ryan Miller

Washington Capitals

Forwards: Jay Beagle, Chris Bourque, Paul Carey, Brett Connolly, Stanislav Galiev, Tyler Graovac, Liam O’Brien, T.J. Oshie, Zach Sill, Chandler Stephenson, Chrisitan Thomas, Nathan Walker, Justin Williams, Daniel Winnik

Defensemen: Karl Alzner, Taylor Chorney, Cody Corbett, Darren Dietz, Christian Djoos, Tom Gilbert, Aaron Ness, Brooks Orpik, Nate Schmidt, Kevin Shattenkirk

Goalies: Pheonix Copley, Philipp Grubauer

Winnipeg Jets

Forwards: Marko Dano, Quinton Howden, Scott Kosmachuk, Tomas Kubalik, J.C. Lipon, Shawn Matthias, Ryan Olsen, Anthony Peluso, Chris Thorburn

Defensemen: Ben Chiarot, Toby Enstrom, Brenden Kichton, Julian Melchiori, Paul Postma, Brian Strait, Mark Stuart

Goalies: Michael Hutchinson, Ondrej Pavelec

Home ice continues to pay off; Pens a win away

2017 Stanley Cup Finals – Game 5

 

After giving up its two-game advantage on the road, Pittsburgh stomped the Predators 6-0 at PPG Paints Arena Thursday to pull within a victory of hoisting its second-straight Stanley Cup.

Whether it was the friendly confines of the Steel City or the extra day of rest, everything went right for the Penguins. Pittsburgh’s most noticeable success was converting a quarter of its 24 shots on goal into tallies, especially when six different skaters scored the markers.

One of those proved especially important – and not only because it proved to be the game winning-goal. With a slap shot from the blue line, Justin Schultz (First Star of the Game Sidney Crosby and Patric Hornqvist) revived the Penguins’ dormant power play only 91 seconds into the contest by scoring between Austin Watson and Pekka Rinne‘s legs.

The extra-man opportunity was a direct result of the Pens’ early offensive onslaught. Even though Rinne faced only two shots on goal before Schultz’ marker, the first 50 seconds of play all took place in Nashville’s defensive zone. That prolonged Penguins possession directly led to Ryan Ellis holding Crosby to stop play. 31 seconds later, the Pens found themselves with a lead.

That man-advantage goal proved to simply be the tip of the iceberg for the Penguins. Bryan Rust (Chris Kunitz and Trevor Daley) doubled Pittsburgh’s lead 5:12 after Schultz’ marker, and Evgeni Malkin (Second Star Phil Kessel and Third Star Ron Hainsey) took advantage of a four-on-four situation with 11 seconds before the first intermission to set the score at 3-0.

The cause of the four-on-four play was another chapter in the Crosby-P.K. Subban saga. With 1:32 remaining in the first period, both were officially charged with coincidental holding penalties when they fell to the ice behind Matthew Murray‘s net and – instead of getting up and rejoining play – continued their shenanigans.

First it was Crosby repeatedly shoving Subban’s head into the ice. Once the defenseman finally could separate himself, he did his best to repay the favor before play was stopped and they received early dismissal to their respective dressing rooms.

More than simply scoring pucks was involved in this effort. Aside from giving the puck away five times (due in large part to Smashville living up to its name and throwing 41 hits, including seven by Watson), the defense also played a major role in stopping a Predators club that was trailing for almost the entire game.

Led by Mattias Ekholm‘s four shots on goal, Nashville managed just as many shots on Murray as the Pens did against Rinne: 24. That number could have been significantly larger in favor of the Preds if not for the excellent play of the blue liners. Led by Schultz’ three rejections, the Pens blocked an impressive 16 shots to keep Murray’s workload relatively minimal.

Not that Murray needed much help. He saved all 24 shots he faced – including a few stops with his suspect glove – for his second shutout of the postseason. Pittsburgh has now won four games by shutout – two apiece by Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury – to double the effort of any other 2017 playoff team.

Murray’s solid play in net, especially in comparison to his performances in Nashville, was more than enough motivation for the Penguins to keep applying pressure offensively. After notching three goals in the opening frame to chase Rinne, Pittsburgh matched its effort in the second with tallies from Conor Sheary (Crosby and Jake Guentzel), Kessel (Olli Maatta and Crosby) and Hainsey (Malkin and Kessel) against Juuse Saros.

In particular, Sheary’s tally was important due to rookie Guentzel’s involvement in the play. With another secondary assist for his 21st point, the youngster has tied Dino Ciccarelli and Ville Leino for most playoff points by a rookie.

He’ll have at least one more opportunity to break the record and help his club hoist the Stanley Cup in Game 6 this Sunday at Bridgestone Arena. Just like all the others in this Finals series, that contest is scheduled for 8 p.m. Eastern time and will be televised on NBC in the United States and CBC, SN or TVAS in Canada.

Preds’ counterattack levels Cup Finals

2017 Stanley Cup Finals – Game 4

 

After losing the first two games of the Stanley Cup Finals, Nashville has done exactly what it needed to do by beating the Penguins 4-1 at Bridgestone Arena in Game 4 to level the series at two games apiece.

Entering Monday’s match, the Predators had averaged 32.3 shots-on-goal per game in the Finals, a lofty number compared to the Pens’ 22.3 average.

Even though it didn’t quite reach that number Monday, three offerings proved extremely important for Nashville in the 15th minute of the first period. The first was an Austin Watson wrist shot fired on Matthew Murray‘s net from beyond the far face-off circle with 5:11 remaining in the frame. The netminder was able to make the stop, but he couldn’t contain the rebound.

That’s where Calle Jarnkrok (Craig Smith and Watson) comes into play only two seconds later. He and Smith both crashed Murray’s crease to collect the rebound. Smith was the first to the loose puck and bat the puck out of the air over the goalie’s left leg. Murray deflected that offering too, but he couldn’t stop the third: a Jarnkrok wrister from the near corner of the crease to give the Preds a 1-0 lead.

Mike Sullivan elected to challenge the play for goaltender interference, but Toronto correctly ruled that Smith’s follow-through, though it made obvious contact with Murray, did not occur before  before the puck had entered the net.

Beyond that marker, offense – specifically offensive possession – was at a premium in Game 4. Don’t let a 4-1 final score fool you, as both clubs managed only 26 and 24 shots, respectively, due in large part to the strong defensive efforts by both squads.

Pittsburgh preferred to keep Murray’s workload to a minimum by blocking shots before they reached his crease. In total, the Penguins blocked 18 Nashville attempts, including an impressive four rejections by Brian Dumoulin.

Meanwhile, the Predators played with a bit more finesse in front of First Star of the Game Pekka Rinne, preferring to force and capitalize on turnovers. Not only did Matt Irwin lead that charge with two of the Preds’ eight takeaways, Nashville was a bigger beneficiary of the Penguins’ sloppy handling. Pittsburgh gave the puck away 16 times, including a miserable four by Ron Hainsey.

Regardless of how either team decided to play, this type of game makes a club’s ability to counter-strike paramount to its success.

The first of those breakaway tallies was struck only 66 seconds after Jarnkrok had finished celebrating his second goal of the playoffs, courtesy of Sidney Crosby (Dumoulin).

Given the events late in Game 3 and their interactions over the first 15:57 of play, P.K. Subban was definitely under Crosby’s skin early in the contest. Anytime they came in close contact, Crosby made sure to give the defenseman an extra shove.

But being under Crosby’s skin does not mean he cannot score. After Dumoulin laced a blue line-to-blue line pass to him at the top of his offensive zone, Pittsburgh’s captain took advantage of his one-on-one matchup with Rinne to patiently wait until the netminder committed to a forehand deke. Crosby then pulled the puck across to his backhand side to bounce the puck off the far post and then off the netminder’s left skate to level the game.

The score read 1-1 for the remainder of the opening frame, but the counterattack theme continued in the second period. This time, both goaltenders were up to the task… at least at first glance.

First up was Rinne, who saved a breakaway wrister fired from the crease by Chris Kunitz at the 3:29 mark. That attempt was followed only 16 seconds later by Murray batting Third Star Frederick Gaudreau‘s wrap-around offering back towards center ice just before it crossed the goal line.

Or so it seemed.

None in the building noticed it, but someone in Toronto did. From approximately 770 miles away, the NHL stopped play almost a full minute later to force a review of Murray’s seemingly miracle save. Video showed that the puck did barely completely cross the red goal line before Murray sent it the other way, meaning the Predators earned a 2-1 lead. Ryan Ellis and Harry Zolnierczyk provided the assists on Gaudreau’s tie-breaking – and what proved to be game-winning – tally.

Yet another Predators breakaway opportunity formed with seven minutes remaining before the second intermission. It started in Nashville’s defensive zone along the far boards when Roman Josi forced the puck towards the blue line. Though Ian Cole tried to separate James Neal from the puck, the former Penguin forced his way past the defenseman to advance it into the neutral zone to Second Star Mike Fisher. Fisher’s adversary was Evgeni Malkin, who knocked the Predators’ captain to the ice – but not before he batted a puck towards Viktor Arvidsson. Arvidsson beat Justin Schultz to the pass, and in doing so set up a one-on-one matchup with Murray. Arvidsson took the opportunity to line up a wrister towards the far post to beat the goalie’s suspect glove.

Trailing by two goals in the final period, the Penguins managed the best offense they could muster in attempts of tying the game. Even then, their 10 shots were not enough to get past Rinne. To further tilt the tables in its favor, Pittsburgh pulled Murray with 3:31 remaining before the final horn. The Pens were rewarded for that decision only eight seconds later when Filip Forsberg (Mattias Ekholm and Subban) scored a wrister from his defensive face-off circle to set the 4-1 final score.

The Stanley Cup Finals, now a best-of-three series, will recommence following a 90-minute flight from the Music City to the City of Bridges. Game 5 is scheduled for Thursday at 8 p.m. Eastern time at PPG Paints Arena and may be viewed on NBC in the United States and CBC, SN or TVAS in Canada.

Preds’ power play perplexes Pens

2017 Stanley Cup Final – Game 3

 

After returning home to the friendlier environment of Bridgestone Arena, Nashville dominated the Penguins Saturday night with a 5-1 victory to pull within a game of leveling the Stanley Cup Finals.

One of the biggest story lines coming into Game 3 was which goaltender Peter Laviolette would play: usual starter Pekka Rinne or Juuse Saros, who played the remaining 16:32 of Game 2. It should have been no surprise that Rinne maintained his position between the pipes, just as it was no surprise that the Penguins tried to test him early.

Though Pittsburgh fired only a half-dozen first period shots at Rinne, none were better than Jake Guentzel‘s (Ian Cole and Sidney Crosby) wrist shot 2:46 into the contest. The lone goal of the first period, he took advantage of Rinne being unable to contain the rebound off Cole’s slap shot from the near point and squeezed his five-hole attempt underneath the netminder for an early Pens lead.

With his 13th tally since April 12, Guenztel has surpassed Jeremy Roenick for second-most playoff markers by a rookie is only a goal short of tying Dino Ciccarelli‘s record for most all-time.

It was only Rinne’s second shot faced of the night and gave an early impression that he was still fighting the same demons he was in the Steel City. As it would turn out, he was more than deserving of his First Star of the Game honor.

Following the rough start to the evening, Rinne would save 26-straight Penguins shots to close the remaining 57:14 of play with an overall .964 save percentage.

But after allowing a goal early in the game, it does not matter how well a goalie performs if his offense cannot find the back of the opposition’s net.

Then again, who needs an offense when Nashville has such a productive defense?

With Justin Schultz in the penalty box for holding Harry Zolnierczyk at the 4:13 mark of the second period, Second Star Roman Josi (Calle Jarnkrok and Mattias Ekholm) fired a slap shot from the far face-off circle with 22 seconds remaining in the man advantage to level the game with the first of the game – but certainly not the last – to beat Matthew Murray‘s glove.

That power play goal, paired with the rejuvenated support from Nashville’s “Seventh Man,” proved to be exactly the spark the Preds needed. Only 42 seconds after Josi’s game-tying marker, Third Star Frederick Gaudreau (Austin Watson and Josi) found what proved to be the game-winner: a breakaway wrister that turned a defending Cole into a screen against his own netminder to beat him – once again – glove side.

The second period couldn’t end quickly enough for Pittsburgh, but it couldn’t get to the dressing room before getting officially reacquainted with an old friend. With 23 seconds remaining before the second intermission, former Penguin James Neal (Viktor Arvidsson and Josi) completed the Predators’ fantastic frame by banking an insurance wrister off the back of Murray’s glove and into the net.

Just as the night’s scoring began for the Predators, it would also find its conclusion on the power play. This time, Crosby (for boarding Ryan Ellis), Filip Forsberg (for cross checking Evgeni Malkin) and Malkin (for cross checking Forsberg) were all in their respective penalty boxes to set up a five-on-four opportunity for Nashville. Ekholm (Jarnkrok and Colton Sissons) waited only 27 seconds before ripping a slap shot top shelf over Murray’s stick shoulder.

Though Ekholm’s marker would prove to be the last yielded by Murray, the damage was more than done. He saved only 23-of-26 shots faced (.848 save percentage) for five goals allowed, but his most striking statistic is his performance against the power play.

Even though Murray faced only two shots while short a skater, both offerings found their way past him. The fact that the Penguins penalty kill allowed only two shots on three Predators power plays proves that it is Murray that needs to improve on this aspect of his game before Game 4.

Not all of Murray’s goals allowed were directly his fault though. The goaltender was able to stop the Preds’ first breakaway opportunity in the third period – an offering by Gaudreau 2:27 into the period – but he couldn’t save the second. After Chris Kunitz bounced the puck off Phil Kessel‘s skate to give it to Craig Smith at center ice, it was all the wing could do but attack Murray’s unreliable glove side with a wrister from between the face-off circles to set the score at 4-1 with 15:06 remaining.

Offensively for the Penguins, it should be very concerning to Mike Sullivan that his primary striking corps of Crosby, Kessel and Malkin managed only three shots on goal among them (all by Kessel). Though the story of Guentzel is exciting, it is these men that are expected to spearhead their club – not the rookie. If the Penguins cannot get this issue resolved, they could find the same fate awaiting them in Game 4.

If the Penguins did anything well, it was block shots. Though the Predators led the shots-on-goal statistic 33-28, that differential could have been much higher if not for Pittsburgh’s impressive 20 rejections. In particular, Olli Maatta stood out from the rest by leading his club with three blocks – a total matched in Game 3 only by Nashville’s Ellis.

Bridgestone Arena will come alive once again this Monday – country singers, catfish and all –  at 8 p.m. Eastern time. For those that don’t have tickets, you’re encouraged to tune your television to NBC if you reside in the United States or CBC, SN or TVAS in Canada.

Penguins trounce Predators 5-3 in Game 1

2017 Stanley Cup Final– Game One Recap

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Comebacks are a bit of Peter Laviolette’s specialty. That is until Monday night when Nashville Predators head coach, Laviolette, faced fellow Massachusetts native and Pittsburgh Penguins head coach, Mike Sullivan in Game 1 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.

Sullivan coaxed his Penguins to the 5-3 victory on home ice— staving off a looming Predators comeback at PPG Paints Arena.

Jake Guentzel scored the game winning goal late in the 3rd period before Nick Bonino added an empty net goal for good measure, securing the win for Pittsburgh goaltender Matthew Murray.

Murray made 23 saves on 26 shots against for an .885 save percentage in the win, while Nashville’s Pekka Rinne stopped 7 out of 11 shots faced for a .636 SV% in the loss.

This year’s Stanley Cup Final begins with controversy, though of a different kind from what you’re probably thinking about (a borderline hit, a blown call or whatever). No, this year’s Stanley Cup Final began with a coach’s challenge that drastically turned the momentum of Game 1 on its side.

P.K. Subban thought he had scored his 3rd goal of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs early in the 1st period, but after Sullivan challenged the call on the ice, the refs determined that prior to the puck entering the net, the Predators had entered the zone offside.

The review lasted 4:12 and was the 19th coach’s challenge of the 2017 postseason. It was only the 5th to result in the call on the ice being overturned.

Sullivan, of note, is 2-for-2 in the successful outcome of having utilized his coach’s challenge this postseason.

With 6:10 to go in the 1st period, Calle Jarnkrok and James Neal took coinciding minor penalties for interference and cross checking, respectively, resulting in a 5-on-3 power play for the Penguins.

It didn’t take long for Pittsburgh to capitalize on the two man advantage, as Evgeni Malkin (8) opened up scoring on a power play goal. Trevor Daley (3) and Sidney Crosby (14) assisted the goal that made it 1-0 Penguins.

Conor Sheary (1) followed suit with a goal of his own less than a minute later on a tremendous no look pass from Chris Kunitz. Sheary’s one timer goal from the side of the net made it a 2-0 game and was assisted by Kunitz (4) and Crosby (15).

Bonino (3) capped off the three goal 1st period for Pittsburgh, scoring his first of two goals on the night with 17 seconds left in the period after throwing a shot near Nashville’s goal before it deflected off of Predators defenseman, Mattias Ekholm, and in. Brian Dumoulin (3) collected the only assist on Bonino’s goal.

After 20 minutes of play, the Penguins led 3-0 on the scoreboard, while the Predators led in just about every other category, including shots on goal (11-8).

Nashville was unsuccessful on their first power play opportunity of the night almost four minutes into the 2nd period, but they wouldn’t be fooled again for the rest of the night on the man advantage.

Almost a minute after the Penguins killed off Olli Maatta’s interference minor, Ian Cole was sent to the penalty box for roughing Jarnkrok after a stoppage in play.

With Viktor Arvidsson screening Pittsburgh’s net minder, Ryan Ellis (5) unloaded a shot past Murray with 18 seconds left on the ensuing power play and cut the lead to two. Subban (9) and Mike Fisher (1) recorded the assists on the power play goal, which made it 3-1. Fisher’s assist snapped a career worst 16-games without a point in the playoffs.

Entering the 2nd intermission, the Predators trailed 3-1 despite outshooting the Penguins 20-8 in the game and 9-0 in the 2nd period alone. That’s right, Pittsburgh failed to record a shot on goal in the 2nd period. Nashville became the first team to hold an opponent to 0 shots on goal in a period in a Stanley Cup Final game since the NHL officially began tracking the stat in the 1957-1958 season.

Mounting a comeback effort in the 3rd period, Colton Sissons (6) redirected a shot behind Murray on a power play with 9:54 to go in regulation. Roman Josi found a loose puck as a result of a botched pass attempt from Jarnkrok and fired the puck on goal after Nashville won the offensive zone face-off on a power play, thanks to Malkin’s slashing minor against Subban. Josi (6) and Jarnkrok (3) were credited with the primary and secondary assists.

Trailing by a goal, the last thing the Preds wanted to do was take a stupid penalty. Thankfully, the Penguins weren’t able to convert on Subban’s delay of game minor penalty for sending the puck over the glass.

Shortly after killing off Subban’s penalty, Frederick Gaudreau (1) notched his first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal and tied the game, 3-3, with 6:31 to go in regulation.

The assists on Gaudreau’s goal went to Austin Watson (3) and Fisher (2).

Exactly 37 minutes after Bonino made it a 3-0 game, the Pittsburgh Penguins recorded their 9th shot on goal. And it wasn’t just any shot from the Pens. It was also a goal, this time on a wrist shot from the rookie, Guentzel (10) with 3:17 to go in the 3rd period. Again, that’s two shots in a span of 37 minutes between the 1st period and the 3rd period (and both shots were goals).

Matt Cullen (6) and Justin Schultz (8) picked up the assists on Guentzel’s game winning goal that had made it a 4-3 game.

Prior to becoming the hero of Game 1, Guentzel had “been getting really frustrated lately” as a result of his recent point skid— or more accurately, his recent goal skid— which put him in the fourth line spot that he was playing on Monday night, per our in house Penguins beat Down the Frozen River contributor, Connor Keith.

Finally, Bonino (4) doused the hopes of yet another rallying effort by Nashville with an empty net goal at 18:58 of the 3rd period. Kunitz (5) had the only assist on the goal that made it an untouchable 5-3 game.

At the final horn, the Penguins held on to win Game 1, despite trailing in nearly every important statistical category not including the final score. Nashville outshot Pittsburgh 26-12, led in blocked shots, 14-9, and hits, 37-31. The Penguins dominated the face-off dot on the night winning 58% of face-offs taken.

Pittsburgh finished the night 1/3 on the power play, while Nashville had marginally better success, converting on two of their three (2/3) man advantage opportunities on Monday.

The Penguins take a 1-0 series lead heading into Wednesday night for Game 2 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final on home ice. Puck drop at PPG Paints Arena is scheduled for a little after 8 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can tune in to NBCSN for coverage, while Canadian viewers have their choice of CBC, SN or TVA Sports.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals – May 22

 

Anaheim Ducks at Nashville Predators – Game 6

Though the Ducks led in almost every statistical category, it was Nashville that won 6-3 Monday to claim its first-ever Clearance Campbell Bowl and a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Game 6 had a sour start for Anaheim before the puck was even dropped. With John Gibson sidelined with a lower body injury, Randy Carlyle and the Ducks were forced to turn to backup Jonathan Bernier, making his first Stanley Cup playoffs start.

Unfortunately for Bernier, it was baptism by fire. He faced only four shots in the first period, but he gave up two goals. The first was struck only 81 seconds into the contest by Second Star of the Game Austin Watson (Yannick Weber and Matt Irwin), his first faced of the game. Two shots and 7:26 later,  a wrist shot from First Star Colton Sissons (Third Star Pontus Aberg) set the score at 2-0.

Following Sissons’ marker, the tides turned largely in favor of the visiting Ducks. Though they didn’t find the back of Pekka Rinne‘s net in the first frame, they did fire an impressive shots on net compared to Nashville’s four. That dominance continued in the second period when Anaheim fired 13 shots, nine more than Nashville.

Even more impressive, the Ducks could have registered even more shot offerings. Led by Watson’s six rejections, the Predators blocked a total of 22 shots in the game. A large reason for Anaheim’s strong possession time was a result of its work at the face-off circle. Thanks in large part to Ryan Getzlaf‘s 73% face-off win rate, the Ducks won 62% of play resumptions.

The most important thing the Ducks ensured by keeping puck in their offensive zone? They kept pucks off Bernier.

The Ducks were finally rewarded for their hard work at the 4:45 mark of the second period courtesy of Ondrej Kase‘s (Getzlaf and Sami Vatanen) wrister on a gaping cage due to Rinne blocking a previous shot at the near post.

With the comeback halfway complete, Anaheim looked to be well on its way to forcing a Game 7 at the Pond – but that was before Sissons (Aberg and Filip Forsberg) squeezed a backhanded shot between Bernier’s wickets to reclaim a two-goal lead for the Preds.

But the Ducks weren’t dead yet. Only two minutes after Aberg’s tally, Chris Wagner (Nicolas Kerdiles and Antoine Vermette) bounced a wrister off Rinne’s head to pull Anaheim back within a goal, and Cam Fowler (Vatanen) leveled the game at three-all 8:52 into the third period.

Fowler’s goal was not without controversy though, as Rinne felt Corey Perry‘s screen was a little too snug. Though Peter Laviolette challenged the play, but the referees sided with the Ducks and decided that Perry did not interfere with the netminder.

But whether the goal counted or not didn’t matter, the Ducks could not find a fourth marker. Unfortunately for them, the Predators could – and what a series-winner it was.

After receiving a pass from Calle Jarnkrok in the neutral zone, Sissons flew up the near boards into his offensive zone. Fowler ripped the puck off Sissons’ stick, but Jarnkrok was following close enough behind to maintain Nashville’s possession in the near slot. Once Jarnkrok saw Bernier had committed to sealing the near post, he crossed a pass to Sissons, who completed his hat trick with a nasty top shelf wrister.

As the clock was winding down and the Ducks still trailed by a tally, Carlyle was forced to pull Bernier for the extra attacker to try to continue his club’s season with 2:33 remaining in regulation. Forsberg (Vernon Fiddler) took advantage only 11 seconds later to set off the loudest cheers Bridgestone Arena had ever heard.

Watson (Ryan Ellis) tacked on yet another empty netter with 1:34 remaining in the game to set the final 6-3 score.

Regardless of the Predators’ opponent, they’ll be on the road for Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Puck drop for the series opener is scheduled for Monday, May 29. Though a starting time has yet to be announced, it is expected to be at 8 p.m. Eastern time.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals– May 20

Nashville Predators at Anaheim Ducks– Game 5

The Nashville Predators are one win away from continuing to make franchise history and advancing to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final thanks to a 3-1 victory against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on Saturday night. 

Nashville’s Pontus Aberg scored the game winning goal in the 3rd period and Pekka Rinne made 32 saves on 33 shots faced for a .970 save percentage in the win. Anaheim goaltenders, John Gibson and Jonathan Bernier split time in goal, as Gibson left the game after the 1st period with a lower body injury. 

Gibson stopped all 10 shots he faced in the 1st period, while Bernier made 16 saves on 18 shots against for an .889 SV% in the final two periods of play.

The Predators take a 3-2 series lead back home to Bridgestone Arena for Game 6. Nashville can advance to their first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history with a win on Monday night.

After 20 minutes of play, the game was still tied, 0-0. Shots on goal were even, 10-10, and the Ducks were leading in hits, 15-13, as well as giveaways, 4-3. Nashville led in blocked shots, 7-6 and went 0/1 on the power play, while Anaheim went 0/2 on the man advantage in the 1st period.

Chris Wagner (2) kicked off the game’s first goal at 12:46 of the 2nd period to give the Ducks a 1-0 lead. Wagner promptly fired a shot on a rebound off of Rinne’s glove after Brandon Montour had initially threw the puck on goal. Montour (7) and Jakob Silfverberg (5) collected the assists on the goal.

Filip Forsberg took a penalty for hooking Sami Vatanen with six minutes remaining in the 2nd period. Anaheim failed to convert on the man advantage and took a penalty of their own when Josh Manson was sent to the box for cross checking Forsberg shortly after he was released from the sin bin.

Nashville was on the power play for just the second time of the night, trailing 1-0 on the scoreboard until Colin Wilson (2) was at the right place at the right time. With less than a minute remaining in the period (and almost 10 seconds left on the power play), 

P.K. Subban shot the puck from the point, only to have it blocked before it could reach the net. That’s when Colton Sissons freed the loose puck and found Wilson in the slot, who then threw the rubber biscuit on goal and beat Bernier to tie the game 1-1 at 19:19 of the 2nd period.

After 40 minutes of play, the Ducks led 23-21 in shots on goal, 13-11 in blocked shots, 26-19 in hits, 5-2 in takeaways and 10-7 in giveaways, but the scoreboard still read 1-1. Statistically speaking, Nashville was close, but not too close.

Scoring chance for scoring chance was matched by each team through the first 10 minutes of the 3rd period. The Predators caught Anaheim’s defense lagging behind a play as they broke out on a rush, whereby Aberg crashed the net and dove for a rebound. Aberg (1) shot the puck while diving, leaving Bernier with no time to recover and square up to the shot in desperation.

Aberg gave Nashville their first lead of the night, 2-1, at 11:01 of the 3rd period. Forsberg (6) and Mattias Ekholm (8) were credited with the assists. The goal was Aberg’s first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal. He has one career regular season goal that he scored back in November, while also amassing 31 goals for the Milwaukee Admirals (t-3rd in the AHL) this season. 

Bernier was forced to vacate his net in the closing minute of the game for the extra attacker as the Ducks were desperate to defend their home ice advantage. Unfortunately, things did not go as planned, as Nashville’s Austin Watson (2) stumbled upon a loose puck and fired it on goal from his just about the blue line in his own zone.

Watson’s empty net goal was unassisted at 19:12 of the 3rd period and put Nashville up by two goals.

The Predators finished the game 1/2 on the power play, while Anaheim failed to score on all four of their special teams advantages. The physical series has continued to claim more casualties, as Gibson indicated he would be good to go for Game 6, but is officially pending evaluation before Ducks head coach, Randy Carlyle makes a decision.

Anaheim led in shots on goal, 33-29, blocked shots 18-15, hits 32-25 and in giveaways 15-13 at the conclusion of Game 5 on Saturday night.

With the 3-1 victory, the Predators take a 3-2 series lead into Game 6— on home ice— Monday night in Nashville. Puck drop is scheduled for a little after 8 p.m. ET. Fans looking to watch the game can tune to NBCSN in the United States, while Canadians can catch the action on CBC and/or TVA Sports.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals – May 12

 

Nashville Predators at Anaheim Ducks – Game 1

With their 3-2 overtime victory over Anaheim at the Honda Center, the Predators have stolen home-ice advantage and a one-game lead in the Western Finals.

The biggest difference in this game seemed to be energy and rest. The Predators eliminated St. Louis on May 7 while the Ducks just finished their series against Edmonton on Wednesday, meaning Nashville had three more free days before resuming play.

That extra energy showed itself in a multitude of ways, but it was most noticeable in the shots on goal category. Led by Ryan Ellis‘ seven attempts that made their way to Second Star of the Game John Gibson, Nashville led the Ducks  in shots by a whopping 46-29 differential.

It took 5:15 of action before the Ducks could register even their first shot on Third Star Pekka Rinne, but it’s all they needed to take a 1-0 lead. Jakob Silfverberg was the one to register the goal, using the defending Roman Josi as a screen to bury a potent upper-90 snap shot from the near face-off circle.

But that lead didn’t last all that long, as the Predators’ efforts finally bore fruit with 7:26 remaining in the first period via a Filip Forsberg (Matt Irwin and Ryan Johansen) redirection through both Antoine Vermette and Gibson’s legs to level the game at one-all.

In terms of of the Predators’ shooting effort, it was a similar start to the second period as they managed five shots before the Ducks reached Rinne once. Fortunately for Nashville, its second tally came quicker than its first, as Austin Watson (Johansen and Mattias Ekholm) scored a slap shot only 2:42 into the middle frame for the first playoff goal of his career.

The rest of the second period was a test of special teams, specifically an Anaheim power play that can’t find results no matter how well it performs.  Only 34 seconds separated Colin Wilson exiting the penalty box after hooking Rickard Rakell and Ellis earning a seat for roughing Andrew Cogliano. Between the two man-advantages, the Ducks managed only one shot that reached Rinne (courtesy of Ryan Kesler), but the postseason’s best goaltender was more than up to the task and stopped the attempt with ease.

Randy Carlyle apparently had enough of his club being dominated offensively in the first two periods, so the Ducks turned the tables in the third. Anaheim fired five shots at Rinne in the opening 7:21 of the third frame, the last of which was a Hampus Lindholm (Nate Thompson) snapper to level the game at two-all.

Anaheim won 56% of face-offs against the Predators all game, and that came into play on Lindholm’s goal. Thompson beat Calle Jarnkrok at the dot to Rinne’s right to maintain possession in his offensive zone. He shoved the puck back towards the far point to the waiting blueliner, who was more than able to bang home his marker over the netminder’s stick shoulder.

Following their game-tying tally, the Ducks tried their hardest to lose the game by firing not one, but two pucks over the glass within 33 seconds of each other. Though Nashville earned 87 seconds of five-on-three play, it could not find its game-winning goal in regulation.

Instead, the Predators waited until the 9:24 mark of overtime before First Star James Neal (P.K. Subban and Ekholm) ripped his winning snapper into Gibson’s net. It doesn’t quite qualify for a tic-tac-goal play, but it was an absolutely brilliant assist by Subban to set up the marker.

Ekholm began the sequence by driving on Gibson’s crease in attempts of forcing the puck across the goal line, but the netminder was up to the challenge and somehow forced the puck into the far corner. The defenseman got back to his skates, chased down the puck and reset the play at the near point to Subban. The former Hab looked like he had all intentions of firing a slap shot back into the scrum, but decided instead to find a wide-open Neal in the near face-off circle. In the same swipe, Neal took possession and fired his shot over a splayed Gibson to end the game.

It’s only fitting that between these clubs’ primary colors both black and blue are represented. Hockey has never been classified as a gentleman’s game, and neither Anaheim nor Nashville are wasting any effort on chivalry. Not only were 55 total hits thrown between them, but tempers were also flaring even before the first intermission.

In particular, Johansen was certainly frustrated after Ryan Getzlaf fired a slap shot right at the Predator’s right hand covering his groin. A player would certainly be within his rights for being aggravated after taking a puck in that area, but it looks as if Getzlaf intentionally took aim at Johansen’s crotch, making the action all the more egregious. The physicality between these sides will be something to behold as this series advances.

This series will resume Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time. American viewers can catch the action on NBCSN, while SN and TVAS will broadcast the game in Canada.