Tag Archives: Austin Watson

Crashville: Preds crumble after strong start, Jets take 2-1 series lead

 

So, uh, which one of these teams is supposedly the one with the roster full of seasoned vets that have been there before and can’t be rattled, again?

In a series that was just about as hyped as Avengers: Infinity War, we expected to see plenty of crazy, unexpected stuff. But, much like with the film, I’m not sure many people expected to see (spoilers) half of the cast crumble to dust. Or, at least not the half that did in this game.

After answering an anomalous Game 1 drubbing by taking a thrilling double-overtime victory in Game 2, it looked like the Preds were back on track as the series shifted to Winnipeg’s raucous home ice. Clearly now with the early stumble in the past, the defending Western Conference champs would be able to rely upon their experience and battle-tested mental toughness to grab a hold of the series against a young, unproven Winnipeg roster.

In the first period, that narrative seemed pretty well spot-on.

Quickly and effectively quieting the thunderous atmosphere in the early going (shoutout to the crowd for a mid-anthem ‘TRUE NORTH’ that I’m pretty sure I felt here in Ohio), the Preds found paydirt just 4:53 into the game with a new-look fourth line featuring Ryan Hartman, Mike Fisher, and Miikka Salomaki (in for a banged up Calle Jarnkrok) when 37-year-old Fisher banged home a loose puck as it squeaked out from underneath of Connor Hellebuyck after he thought he had made the stop on a quick point shot set up by Hartman (who got buried by Dustin Byfuglien for his troubles).

The Jets tried to answer a few minutes later, as Nikolaj Ehlers and Paul Stastny combined on a beautiful criss-cross play entering the zone, eventually setting up Stastny all alone behind the defense, but Pekka Rinne had the answer for his backhand attempt.

Winnipeg’s momentum would be stifled shortly after, though, as the Predators would head to the power play. P.K. Subban (showered in the ever-present boos that I’m still not-at-all sure of the reason for) took a perfect one-time feed from Filip Forsberg at the top of the left circle and spanked it home through Hellebucyk. (It’s worth noting that the confusing boos became much less enthusiastic after this)

The energy of the play seemed to follow the energy of the building for the next few minutes, with very little of note outside of an unsuccessful Viktor Arvidsson breakaway attempt and a nearly-successful fake dump-in by Patrik Laine the only real highlights until Austin Watson picked up the puck on a bad Winnipeg change, walked in one-on-one against Josh Morrissey, and let go a seemingly-harmless wrister from a tough angle that eluded Hellebuyck, caught the far post and went in to give the Preds the 3-0 lead with 2:24 to play.

Rinne made a few solid stops in the waning minutes (including a stellar left pad stretch to deny Blake Wheeler as he picked up a deflected shot and tried to tuck it inside the left post) to preserve the lead and keep the crowd quiet heading into the first intermission. Predators leading 12-10 in shots after 20.

In the second period the tone changed immensely, and it began very early.

Jacob Trouba leveled Forsberg just inside the blueline in the first 30 seconds of the game to give the crowd some jump, and his team seemed to feed off of that. 3:38 into the period Winnipeg finally got on the board (although nobody besides Stastny noticed at the time) when a Byfuglien point shot caught Stastny’s skate and deflected past Rinne to bring the deficit to two goals.

Wheeler found himself staring at a yawning cage just under two minutes later when the puck came to him off of a Rinne misplay behind the net, but he fired the puck over the net trying to lift it over the top of a sprawling Rinne and Nick Bonino. As Wheeler tried to corral the puck along the boards, he was leveled by Watson, who got jumped by Mark Scheifele for his efforts. Both players went to the box, and just over 30 seconds into the resulting four-on-four it would be Big Buff blasting home the 3-2 goal after a beautiful zone entry and puck movement by Tyler Myers and Bryan Little. Then just 14 seconds later the roof came off of Bell MTS Place when Stastny, Wheeler, and Trouba connected for a gorgeous tic-tac-goal to tie the game at three with still over 14 minutes remaining in the second.

With his team rattled, Rinne seemed to take it upon himself to settle things back down, first gloving down a laser from Laine on a two-on-one, then later denying Wheeler on a point blank attempt on a beautiful passing play.

Despite the best efforts of the Nashville netminder, though, Winnipeg would take their first lead of the night with 44.7 seconds remaining in the period when Laine (locked and loaded taking a pass from Stastny who grabbed the puck on the rebound of a prior Laine shot) fooled everyone by firing the puck across the ice to Byfuglien who hammered home the one-timer from distance to put the Jets up 4-3. They’d carry that score (and a 16-6 shot advantage in the period) to the dressing room, looking to put away the Preds in the third.

The third period started with quite a few bangs. Trouba and Bonino got into a shoving match early on that eventually became a fairly lengthy fight between the two. Byfuglien just missed erasing Arvidsson from existence, then made up for it by stapling Hartman to the glass as the Nashville forward went to clear the puck out of his zone while killing a Winnipeg power play.

Unfortunately that hit would be about the only positive result for Winnipeg on their man advantage, and when Colton Sissons returned to the ice after serving his time, he immediately redeemed himself by drawing a penalty that would give the Predators the momentum swing they needed. Forsberg walked the line at the point before firing home a gorgeous wrist shot that beat a screened Hellebucyk and knotted the score at four with 12:20 remaining.

Nashville looked to have an opportunity to regain the lead shortly after the power play goal when Trouba mishandled the puck at his offensive blueline, giving Arvidsson a clear-cut breakaway. But Hellebuyck confidently and emphatically snagged the puck out of the air with his glove, bringing the arena back to life.

Byfuglien nearly had himself a hat trick a few minutes after the save (and resulting momentum switch), pouncing on a loose puck to create a two-on-one but having his bid denied by Rinne. He then once more narrowly missed demolishing a Predators player, this time being Subban who managed to avoid the hit at the last possible moment.

Ryan Ellis‘ tough series continued, this time taking a Byfuglien shot to the side of his face that didn’t get hacked open by a skate blade in Game 1. Luckily it was just a high-rising wrist shot without a ton of power behind it, and he’d shake it off fairly quickly.

Unfortunately for his team, though, it came when they were down a man and it took one of their best penalty killers off the ice. On the very next shift the Jets retook the lead for the final time when Wheeler buried the rebound of a Scheifele one-timer that he set up, giving Winnipeg the 5-4 lead with 4:59 to play.

Rinne was upset, as earlier in the sequence he had take a shot to the mask that seemed to break one of the straps of the helmet, but play was not called. Shortly after the goal, Adam Lowry attempted to steal the puck away from Rinne behind the net, and the Predators’ goaltender responded with a claymore-swing of his goal stick to the back of Lowry, putting Nashville down a man for the third time in quick succession in the final minutes of the game, this time when they were down a goal.

Bonino nearly played hero with a shorthanded goal, jumping on a loose puck in front of the Jets’ goal that no one but him seemed to be able to find, but Hellebucyk was able to blocker it away just in time.

Nashville was unable to mount much of an attack with the extra man after pulling Rinne, and Wheeler and Brandon Tanev (who extended his goal scoring streak to four games) added a pair of empty netters to seal a 7-4 Winnipeg victory in front of the hometown faithful.

In the end, it was Hellebucyk’s ability to settle down after a shaky start, and Nashville’s inability to counter momentum swings (and stay out of the box at crucial times) that played the biggest role in this one. It also didn’t hurt that Byfuglien may have played his best playoff game since his Cup run with the Blackhawks. What looks to be a very important Game 4 comes to you at 9:30 p.m. ET this Thursday (May 3) on NBCSN, and @nlanciani53 will have your DTFR recap coverage.

Preds beat Avs, 5-0, win series, 4-2

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Nick Bonino and the Nashville Predators reached the top of the mountain in their series with the Colorado Avalanche, defeating their opponent, 5-0, in Game 6 and, 4-2, in the series to advance to the Second Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Predators goaltender, Pekka Rinne, stopped all 22 shots he faced for a shutout in the win, while Colorado netminder, Andrew Hammond, made 32 saves on 37 shots against for an .865 save percentage in the loss.

For the second game in a row in the series, the Predators got on the scoreboard first. Even after they thought they had scored, but it was waved off.

With a little over 13 minutes remaining in the first period, Nashville thought they had made it, 1-0, after a puck got past Hammond. But in the eyes of the officials, Kyle Turris was guilty of having interfered with Hammond’s ability to get back and make a save— even though Hammond was outside of the crease and Turris was nudged by Colorado blueliner, Samuel Girard.

The call on the ice was confirmed after review. No goal. No penalty. No harm, no foul. Except for the loss of a timeout for the Predators, since it was technically a coach’s challenge on behalf of Peter Laviolette.

Nonetheless, Nashville didn’t back down.

Just 16 seconds later, Mattias Ekholm (1) fired a slap shot past Hammond and gave the Predators their first legitimate 1-0 lead of the night. Ekholm’s goal was the first by a Preds defender in the series and came as Austin Watson was screening Hammond.

Colton Sissons (3) and Nick Bonino (2) notched the assists on the goal after Sissons found Ekholm in open ice for the shot.

A few minutes later, the Sissons-Bonino-Watson line was making waves again for the road team.

Hammond challenged Sissons and dove to poke check the puck away, but the Avalanche netminder’s futile efforts resulted in Sissons easily wrapping himself around the outstretched goalie with a wide open net to aim for.

Sissons hit the post, but Watson (4) buried the rebound and Nashville went up, 2-0. Sissons (4) and Bonino (3) each picked up their second assists of the night on the goal at 10:19 of the first period.

Late in the period, Colorado captain, Gabriel Landeskog was guilty of slashing Predators defender, P.K. Subban. Nashville went on their first power play of the night that would last into the second period, given the official assessment of the penalty at 18:07 of the first period.

After one period, the Predators led, 2-0. Nashville also led in shots on goal (14-7), blocked shots (8-3) and faceoff win percentage (58-42). Colorado finished the first period leading in takeaways (2-1) and had yet to see any time on the power play. The Preds were 0/1 on the man advantage through 20 minutes played.

Colorado successfully killed off the minor penalty to Landeskog seven seconds into the second period, but then allowed Filip Forsberg and the Predators to enter the offensive zone on a two-on-one.

Forsberg (4) sent a laser of a shot past Hammond for his fourth goal of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, 38 seconds into the second period. Nashville went ahead, 3-0, as a result of Forsberg’s unassisted goal.

Shortly thereafter, Nikita Zadorov was penalized for interfering with Nashville forward, Viktor Arvidsson. Sven Andrighetto swiftly cross checked Arvidsson after the whistle and Arvidsson received a minor penalty for embellishment. Zadorov’s penalty was questionable, considering the timing and where the puck was relevant to Arvidsson, but Andrighetto’s cross check was rather balatant.

All three penalties were assessed at 6:13 of the second period and the Predators ended up with a power play as a result. Nashville failed to convert on the man advantage.

Bonino (2) wired one into the twine 13 seconds after the power play concluded for the Preds and gave Nashville a four-goal lead. Calle Jarnkrok (1) and Ryan Ellis (3) had the assists on the goal that made it, 4-0, Predators at 8:26 of the second period.

Zadorov thought he scored with a little over two minutes remaining in the period, but Carl Soderberg had entered the crease well ahead of the puck and the goal was waved off immediately.

Avalanche head coach, Jared Bednar, used his coach’s challenge, but the call on the ice was confirmed after review. No goal, no penalty. Colorado lost their timeout. Rinne’s ongoing shutout remained in tact.

Ellis tripped Mikko Rantanen in a leg-on-leg collision with 29 seconds left in the second period and was promptly jumped by Zadorov after the whistle. In addition to a roughing minor, Zadorov received a ten-minute misconduct at 19:31 of the second period.

Instead of being on the power play, Colorado ended up on the penalty kill.

After 40 minutes of play, the Predators led, 4-0, on the scoreboard. Nashville also led in shots on goal (25-16), blocked shots (11-9), hits (28-26), takeaways (3-2), giveaways (3-1) and faceoff win percentage (68-32). The Avs had not been on the man advantage through two periods and the Preds were 0/2.

Arvidsson (2) caught an aerial pass from Subban at center ice and drove to the net, scoring a highlight reel goal, given his low placement of his hands on the stick (as though it were a mini-stick game in someone’s basement). Subban (3) picked up the only assist on the goal that made it 5-0 Nashville at 2:36 of the third period.

Colorado’s Mark Barberio interfered with Predators forward, Craig Smith, around the halfway point of the third period. Nashville failed to convert on the ensuing power play.

At the final horn, the Predators had won the game, 5-0, and led in shots on goal, 37-22. Blocked shots were even at 13 blocked shots apiece. Meanwhile, Nashville finished the night leading in hits (36-30) and faceoff win percentage (63-37). Neither team was successful on their respective special teams play after 60 minutes (Colorado finished 0/1 on the power play and Nashville went 0/3).

With the First Round series win, the Nashville Predators will play host to the Winnipeg Jets in the Second Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

No quit, Avalanche beat Predators, 2-1, force Game 6

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Andrew Hammond, Gabriel Landeskog, Sven Andrighetto and the rest of the Colorado Avalanche stole Game 5 from the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena on Friday night. Hammond was making just his first Stanley Cup Playoff start since he did so in 2015 with the Ottawa Senators.

Oh, and by the way, Hammond was part of November’s Matt Duchene trade. Advantage, Joe Sakic.

Hammond made 44 saves on 45 shots against for a .978 save percentage in his first NHL win in two years, while Nashville’s netminder, Pekka Rinne, made 25 saves on 27 shots faced for a .926 SV% in the loss.

Early in the first period, Nashville’s Kevin Fiala tripped up Colorado’s Alex Kerfoot and gave the Avalanche the first power play of the night. Colorado was not able to convert on the ensuing man advantage.

Both teams swapped chances back and forth, but neither side was able to put a goal on the scoreboard as the first period ended, 0-0.

J.T. Compher picked up a minor penalty for holding Craig Smith at 20:00 of the first period after the Avalanche failed to touch the puck between when the incident occurred and when time expired. The Predators would begin the second period on their first power play of the night.

After one period, Nashville led in shots on goal (11-8), blocked shots (10-3), takeaways (4-0) and faceoff win percentage (71-29). Meanwhile, Colorado was 0/1 on the man advantage. Both teams had nine hits aside and four giveaways entering the first intermission.

Much like the first period, there wasn’t a lot happening in the second period.

Nashville started the second frame of the game on the power play, but didn’t convert on the man advantage. Both teams then continued to swap chances until things got uneasy towards the end of the period.

With about three minutes remaining in the second period, Hammond went to play the puck— except he mishandled it. The Predators were not able to capitalize on the Avalanche netminder’s error, but they did sustain the pressure in the offensive zone and got a couple of tremendous rebound opportunities.

The Preds even had a clear sightline to the puck while Hammond was down, but nobody could get it to hit the twine.

Finally, at 17:47 of the second period, Nikita Zadorov slashed Predators captain, Roman Josi, and the crowd at Bridgestone Arena went from already elevated (based on the last few minutes of frantic play) to berserk.

Colorado’s penalty kill, however, was too much to handle for Nashville’s special teams and the score remained, 0-0.

After 40 minutes of play, Nashville led in shots on goal (25-17), blocked shots (15-8), hits (14-13), takeaways (6-0) and faceoff win percentage (71-29). For the lack of a better word, the Predators were dominating in every possible way, except for on the scoreboard. Both teams had ten giveaways each and neither team had yet to convert on the power play (Colorado was 0/1 and Nashville was 0/2 through two periods).

Fiala was again guilty of a minor penalty early in the third period— this time for holding Colorado forward, Blake Comeau at 1:39.

The Avalanche bungled a line change in the midst of their ensuing power play and were penalized for too many men on the ice. Colin Wilson served the bench minor in the box for Jared Bednar’s Colorado crew.

There would be 20 seconds of 4-on-4 action until the Predators would then see an abbreviated power play. But Nashville’s special teams were to no avail as Hammond stood tall.

Just past the halfway mark of the third period, Mattias Ekholm sent a shot on Hammond that appeared to rebound right into the pathway of an oncoming Predators forward who looked like he kicked the puck into the open goal.

That Predators forward was Nick Bonino (1) who was crashing the net on what was not exactly a rebound, but rather a deflection to the open space to the side of the net— though not a good one— by Hammond.

Bonino’s goal was immediately waved off and reviewed.

Fans inside Bridgestone Arena began singing “Let It Be” by The Beatles in unison while the refs reviewed the play, which, in hindsight, could’ve been bad if the home fans had any influence on officiating. Maybe don’t sing “Let It Be” if you actually want the call on the ice to be the exact opposite (unless Preds fans were implying the refs to “let [the leg motion] be [called a goal on the ice]”).

Upon replay, everyone in attendance and watching from home, could see Bonino shifted his leg into a prime redirection motion and kept skating into the puck. Or at least, that might be a loose explanation for something that many fans assumed wouldn’t be reversed given the track record of NHL officiating and review this season.

But that didn’t happen.

The call on the ice was reversed and Bonino had scored his first goal of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs with the assists credited to Ekholm (5) and Austin Watson (3). Nashville was in command of a 1-0 lead at 10:18 of the third period.

Colorado didn’t let the party in Nashville last too long, though.

Nathan MacKinnon held onto the puck in the offensive zone for just long enough to get Rinne to overcommit and bump into his own defender, failing helplessly to the ice, while MacKinnon slid a loose puck over to Gabriel Landeskog.

Landeskog (4) pocketed the loosed puck on the doorstep of the crease into the gapping goal into front of him to tie the game, 1-1, at 15:49. The Avalanche bulldozed Nashville’s momentum.

MacKinnon (3) and Mikko Rantanen (4) had the primary and secondary assists on the goal and Colorado kept trucking.

Less than three minutes later— on a similar play— Sven Andrighetto (1) found a rebound and Rinne out of position to score on what was otherwise an empty net and give the Avalanche their first lead of the night, 2-1, at 18:32 of the third period.

Compher (3) and Tyson Barrie (4) had the assists on Andrighetto’s first goal of the series and suddenly the Predators were facing a loss on home ice in an elimination game.

Peter Laviolette pulled his goaltender with about a minute remaining in regulation after calling a timeout to instruct his Predators roster what to do as time ticked down.

It did not matter. Colorado held off elimination for at least one more night.

At the final horn, the Avalanche had won Game 5 by a score of 2-1 despite being outshot (45-27). Nashville led in blocked shots (18-14), giveaways (14-13) and faceoff win percentage (61-39), but never got as physical as they have in previous games in the series. In fact, Colorado led in hits (17-16) after 60 minutes.

The Avalanche finished the night 0/2 on the power play, while the Predators went 0/3 on the man advantage.

For the first time since Game 6 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, the Nashville Predators lost a postseason game at home. Not just to anyone, but to the Colorado Avalanche— last year’s worst team in the league that only amassed 48 points on an 82-game regular season.

But this year’s Avalanche team is different. They had a 47-point increase in standings between last season and this season (tied for 4th best in NHL history) and they’re looking to play spoiler.

The Predators take a 3-2 series lead into Game 6 on the road Sunday night at Pepsi Center. Puck drop is scheduled for a little after 7:00 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can catch the action on NBCSN. Meanwhile, fans interested in watching the game in Canada can do so on Sportsnet or TVAS.

Dating back to their days as the Québec Nordiques, the Colorado Avalanche are 0-3 lifetime in a series where they have trailed 3-1.

Preds survive Colorado comeback; win away from Second Round

 

With a 3-2 victory at Pepsi Center, the Nashville Predators have taken a commanding 3-1 advantage in their First Round series against the Colorado Avalanche.

All three periods had a very distinct character in this tilt. Act One featured the Predators team that many were predicting could win the Stanley Cup during the offseason, followed by a second period that saw both clubs’ emotions boil over. Finally, Colorado mounted an exciting comeback in the third frame that fell just short of forcing overtime.

Let’s tackle them in that order, shall we?

Perhaps the most boring of the three periods was the first, but that is more a compliment to the second and third frames than it’s an insult to the opening 20 minutes.

G Jonathan Bernier in particular experienced a very quick introduction to Game 4, as he took a W Viktor Arvidsson slap shot to the mask only 22 seconds into the match. In fact, the clapper was so forceful that it damaged the cage through which Bernier peers, forcing him to swap his mask for his blank head gear worn at practice while Avalanche Head Equipment Manager Mark Miller made the necessary repairs.

However, Miller was far from the center of attention while he was working, as the Avs unwisely ended up with D Patrik Nemeth (closing hand on puck) and F Carl Soderberg (hi-sticking against C Nick Bonino) both occupying the penalty box at the same time whilst he was working, resulting in a 2:41 Predators power play that included 1:19 of five-on-three action.

It seems that Bernier’s blank mask is his good luck charm when it comes to facing such tough tasks, as the scoreless draw that was on the scoreboard when Nemeth entered the sin bin remained when Soderberg was released. However, for fear of wearing out any positive juju the mask may contain, Bernier swapped out masks once again for his usual duds at the next stoppage of play.

If you’re one to buy into any sort of thing like that, then perhaps you’d think Bernier should have stuck with the white headgear considering First Star of the Game F Filip Forsberg (F Ryan Johansen and Third Star D Mattias Ekholm) scored a wrist shot with 4:27 remaining in the first period to score Nashville’s first game-opening goal of the series.

That being said, I highly doubt Bernier’s mask played too much into Forsberg’s strike, as D Duncan Siemens – playing in only his third-career Stanley Cup Playoff game after being one of Colorado’s first-round picks in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft – was little more than dead weight in his attempt to slow down his opposition. The forward dragged Siemens along as he drove toward Bernier’s crease before patiently depositing his wrister behind the netminder’s left skate.

Due in large part to the extended power play, the Predators dominated the first period in a far stronger fashion than a 1-0 score hints at. Nashville out-shot the Avs 15-8 – nearly doubling the hosts’ offensive offerings.

Inversely, even though the Predators added two more goals in the second frame, it didn’t seem like either team had much of an upper hand on the other in the middle 20 minutes.

That was due in large part to the Predators taking five penalties to Colorado’s three, including a 24-second five-on-three opportunity that effectively amounted to a 3:36 extended power play for the Avalanche.

Just like the Preds, Colorado was unable to convert neither that two-man advantage nor any other second period power play into a goal, which played right into the hands of Nashville. 47 seconds after F Colton Sissons was released from the penalty box (he was guilty of playing the puck with his hand at the face-off dot), he (Forsberg and Ekholm) scored a wrister at the 7:18 mark of the frame to double the Predators’ advantage to two goals.

Just in case Colorado didn’t learn the error of its ways the first time in losing track of penalized players returning to action, F Craig Smith (F Austin Watson) reiterated the lesson with 8:11 remaining in the third period. Having been released from serving RW Ryan Hartman‘s roughing penalty against W Sven Andrighetto only seven seconds before, Smith collected a loose puck at center ice and proceeded to rip a wrister over Bernier’s glove.

Speaking of Hartman, he kind of went berserk at the 9:41 mark of the frame – hence the reason he roped Smith into the box with him to help serve his penalties. Just seconds before the the events leading up to the infractions, Andrighetto borderline speared Smith near his midsection while both were working their ways towards G Pekka Rinne‘s zone. This sent Hartman well over the edge, as he dropped the gloves at the next stoppage of play and pounced on Andrighetto without waiting for the Swiss to agree to fight.

As a result, Hartman was charged with holding the stick and roughing, while Andrighetto only took a roughing penalty to give Colorado the two-minute power play that featured RW Mikko Rantanen getting severely cut below the eye by F Nathan MacKinnon‘s stick (Rantanen returned to play before the end of the frame) and led to Smith’s goal.

To complete our conversation about unruly penalties, it wasn’t only Andrighetto and Hartman allowing their tempers to get the best of them. Ekholm and Second Star LW Gabriel Landeskog were charged with negating penalties with 6:32 remaining in the period (slashing and roughing, respectively), and F Alexander Kerfoot‘s roughing infraction against Rinne held over into the third period.

It’s Kerfoot’s penalty that really made Head Coach Jared Bednar’s reluctant decision to replace Bernier with G Andrew Hammond –  another product of the F Matt Duchene trade, for those keeping track at home – even harder to make. However, it was announced that Bernier suffered a lower-body injury, meaning it was time once again for the Hamburglar to take over the NHL.

If only one period of action is enough evidence (it isn’t), the Avs are no worse off defensively in Game 5 with Hammond than they were with Bernier. After the backup-turned-starter saved 23-of-26 shots faced (.885 save percentage) in the first two frames, the former Senator saved all eight shots that came his way in the final period.

Colorado finally got on the scoreboard at the 5:20 mark of the third period when Landeskog (F Tyson Jost and D Tyson Barrie) buried the lone power play goal of the game, a five-on-three wrister with Hartman and Sissons in the penalty box for charging Soderberg and tripping F J.T. Compher, respectively.

The comeback continued with 8:59 remaining in regulation when Kerfoot (W Matthew Nieto and D Nikita Zadorov) pulled the Avs back within a goal on a wrister. Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette challenged for goalie interference against W Blake Comeau – and likely should have won the challenge considering Comeau’s skate made contact with Rinne before the puck even reached him – but the NHL is the NHL and decided to keep the marker on the board.

Regardless, even though the Avs fired a total of 11 shots at Rinne in the third period, he did not yield the game-tying goal. In all, Rinne saved 31-of-33 shots faced (.939 save percentage) to earn his first road playoff victory since Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals in Anaheim on May 20, 2017.

Speaking of road wins, Colorado’s offense cannot afford to fall in another 3-0 hole in Game 5 in Nashville if it wants to extend its postseason any further. After all, the Avs have only won one of the three games in which they scored the first goal.

After a quick plane ride from the Rocky Mountains to the Smokies, Game 5 is scheduled for 9:30 p.m. Eastern on Friday, April 20 and will take place at Bridgestone Arena. The match can be viewed on NBCSN, SN360 and TVAS.

Avs score three in first period, take Game 3

 

The old saying goes that a team is never behind in a playoff series until it loses a home match. With that in mind, the Colorado Avalanche beat the Nashville Predators 5-3 to win Game 3 and pull within a victory of leveling their First Round series.

The good news for the Predators is that G Juuse Saros saved all 18 shots he faced in his 33:34 of action.

The bad news is, of course, that he didn’t start the game.

Instead, that honor was bestowed upon G Pekka Rinne, who saved only 11-of-15 (.733 save percentage) before being lifted at the 4:25 mark of the second period.

Going back to the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals, this was the third-consecutive road playoff game that saw Rinne get chased from the crease, not to mention his fourth-consecutive road playoff loss.

The Avs have made a living in this series pouncing on Rinne early, and that trend was only magnified with the luxury of home ice when they buried three markers before the first intermission.

Just like in Games 1 and 2, the Avs scored the first goal when Third Star of the Game W Blake Comeau (F Carl Soderberg and W Matthew Nieto) buried a tip-in only 1:50 into play – Colorado’s first shot on net in the contest. That advantage doubled to two goals with 6:36 remaining in the frame when W Gabriel Bourque (D Patrik Nemeth and F J.T. Compher) scored another tip-in from a similar position as Comeau’s tally: right in front of Rinne’s crease.

Not to be outdone by his own bottom-six, First Star F Nathan MacKinnon made sure to get on the scoreboard 4:43 after Bourque’s marker by scoring a wrist shot with a breakaway-springing assist from Second Star LW Gabriel Landeskog.

MacKinnon’s next act not only proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back for Rinne, but it also ended up as the game-winning goal by the time the Predators’ comeback attempt was said and done.

4:22 into the second period, RW Mikko Rantanen did his best Serge Savard spin-o-rama impression to fire a centering pass from along the goal line. However, Landeskog was not able to corral the pass and the puck trickled towards the high slot. C Kyle Turris had an opportunity to take possession of the loose puck, but it bounced over his stick to MacKinnon, who was sure to pocket his wrister over Rinne’s right shoulder.

Now with a comfortable 4-0 advantage, Colorado made it its job to weather whatever resurgence Nashville was going to assuredly muster up. Unfortunately, that plan didn’t work to perfection when Nemeth and D Nikita Zadorov were both sent to the penalty box at the 9:27 mark of the second frame for respective cross checking and hooking penalties.

Handed a full two minutes of five-on-three play, the Preds did exactly what any good squad would do and took advantage of that opportunity. Nashville finally got on the scoreboard with 9:37 remaining in the second period to pull within a 4-1 deficit courtesy of a F Ryan Johansen (F Filip Forsberg and D Ryan Ellis) wrister.

While Nemeth was serving up the remainder of his penalty, G Jonathan Bernier decided it would be really neat to make a save with his neck. Ellis’ shot rode up on him and would have sneaked by had the netminder not squeezed the puck between his head and shoulder pads. As would be expected, Bernier took a second to recover from the play, but he stayed in the game.

Even though no more scoring occurred in the second frame after Johansen’s marker, Pepsi Center’s scoreboard operator still had much to do. Four more penalties occurred before the second intermission. Three of those infractions were against the Predators, including negating holding penalties between MacKinnon and D P.K. Subban. What doesn’t make the scorecard is why MacKinnon was holding Subban in the first place, as the Nova Scotian was on the receiving end of a questionable elbow. These teams are growing increasingly displeased with each other, and that is made even more apparent when the heavily-favored Predators struggle to get past Bernier and the Avs.

The closest Nashville got to a third period comeback occurred at the 7:12 mark when F Colton Sissons (D Roman Josi and Ellis) buried a wrister, but the Predators couldn’t make anything more out of that positive energy. That forced Head Coach Peter Laviolette to pull Saros for an extra attacker, allowing Landeskog (Rantanen and D Mark Barberio) to score an empty-netter with 1:36 remaining in regulation.

F Austin Watson did score a wrister 21 seconds later that was challenged for goaltender interference, but Toronto ruled it to be a good goal. Of course, it didn’t ultimately matter, as the Predators were unable to score two goals to level the game.

The Avalanche’s comeback is far from done, however. Game 4 is still an important match in this playoff series, as the Predators could go home with either a 2-2 tie or needing only one more win to advance to the Western Conference Semifinals. Game 4 is scheduled for 10 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday, April 18 at Pepsi Center. Fans can catch the game on NBCSN, SN and TVAS.

Nashville routs Colorado, 5-2, in Game One

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While the National Hockey League may, in fact, be getting younger, the Nashville Predators do not care. Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena, Nashville beat the youngest team in the league in their first-ever postseason matchup, defeating the Colorado Avalanche by a score of 5-2 in Game 1 of their 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round best-of-seven game series.

Filip Forsberg’s two-goal third period effort yielded the game winning goal as well as some Predators franchise history as Pekka Rinne recorded 25 saves on 27 shots faced for a .926 save percentage en route to the win. Forsberg’s 17-11—28 career Stanley Cup Playoff totals tied Nashville’s franchise record for most career playoff points with the Preds.

With one more point in this postseason, Forsberg will surpass David Legwand and Shea Weber— who both had 13-15—28 totals in their time with the Predators in the postseason.

Avalanche goaltender, Jonathan Bernier, turned aside 26 shots out of 30 shots against for an .867 SV% in the loss.

Nikita Zadorov (1) kicked off the game’s scoring with his first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal at 6:36 of the first period, giving Colorado an early 1-0 lead, surprising everyone but the Predators faithful at Bridgestone Arena, given Nashville’s sheer dominance at home in the regular season as well as their numerous comebacks at home in last year’s edition of the playoffs.

Mikko Rantanen (1) and Nathan MacKinnon (1) were credited with the assists on Zadorov’s goal.

Despite many attempts to put the puck past Bernier, this season’s President’s Trophy winners were held scoreless through 20 minutes of play. If that’s not surprising enough, Nashville’s sloppy start resulted in two minor penalties near the end of the first period, though Colorado was unable to convert on their man advantages.

Early in the second period, however, Nashville came alive.

Austin Watson (1) pocketed his first goal of the postseason 3:16 into second period action. Colton Sissons (1) and Ryan Johansen (1) had the assists on Watson’s goal that tied the game, 1-1.

But not even two minutes later, the Predators found themselves in a hole when a Carl Soderberg shot was redirected by Blake Comeau (1) past Rinne at 4:51. Comeau’s goal put the Avs back in front, 2-1, and was assisted by Soderberg (1) and Matt Nieto (1).

Almost midway through the second period, Hart Trophy candidate, Nathan MacKinnon was called for slashing Preds defenseman, P.K. Subban.

It only took ten seconds for Nashville to convert on the power play.

Craig Smith (1) made it a 2-2 game with a power play goal and threw momentum by the wayside. Johansen (2) notched his second assist of the night as the Predators began to dominate the action.

After 40 minutes of play, with the score tied, 2-2, Nashville was leading in shots on goal 21-17 and was 1/1 on the power play.

Just past six minutes into the third period, Filip Forsberg (1) scored a nifty goal to put the Predators ahead for the first time in the game, 3-2. Preds captain, Roman Josi (1), and forward, Viktor Arvidsson (1) assisted on Forsberg’s first goal of the night.

Mark Barberio was called for a slashing minor against Miikka Salomaki at 7:58 of the third period, but Bernier and the Avalanche were able to hold off on the Nashville onslaught and kill the penalty.

Then Forsberg wowed everyone.

First he put the puck between his own legs and then he went through the legs of Samuel Girard and beat Bernier with a good shot. It’s worth mentioning that Forsberg was moving at full speed, too, making Girard look like molasses. The irony, of course, is that Girard was part of Nashville’s package sent to Colorado in the three-team Matt Duchene trade back in November.

Forsberg notched his 2nd goal of the night on a beautiful individual effort and made it 4-2 Nashville with less than eight minutes remaining in regulation.

Kyle Turris (another product of the aforementioned Duchene trade) was guilty of a slashing penalty (against Girard, no less) 12 seconds after Forsberg’s goal, but at that point everything was coming up Predators.

With time ticking down, Avalanche head coach, Jared Bednar, pulled his goaltender for an extra skater. Sadly it was too little, too late.

Colton Sissons (1) put home the empty net goal at 18:03 of the third period to solidify the victory for Nashville. Watson (1) snagged the only assist on the goal that made it 5-2.

At the final horn Arvidsson played until the end, firing a shot a second too late— or rather, not to Zadorov’s liking, as Zadorov swiftly gave him a cross check and was assessed two penalties at the conclusion of the game, as is an annual tradition (always) somewhere in playoff hockey.

Zadorov’s cross checking minor and misconduct penalties read as being handed out at 20:00 of the third period. Not enough time to see what else Nashville could have done, given there was no time left on the clock.

Nashville finished the game leading in shots on goal (31-27), blocked shots (18-17), hits (36-24) and giveaways (9-7). Colorado led in faceoff win percentage, 53-47%. The Avalanche were unsuccessful on the power play all night (0/3) and Nashville went 1/2 on the man advantage.

The Predators take their 5-2 victory in Game 1 and 1-0 series lead into Game 2 on Saturday afternoon for a 3 p.m. ET puck drop at Bridgestone Arena. Depending on your location, United States national viewers can tune to NBC or CNBC for coverage, meanwhile fans in Canada can flip to SNW, SNP or TVAS.

March 9 – Day 149 – Guest Star(s) Edition

Welcome to my first (and probably last after how bad that pun was) attempt at the ‘Daily Matchups’ column.

The weekend is here and the NHL has a limited schedule, but some solid games are on tap this evening.

The night begins at 7:00 p.m. with the Red Wings from Detroit making a short drive down to Columbus to take on the streaking Blue Jackets. Action continues at 7:30 p.m., with a Canadian clash between the Ottawa Senators and Calgary Flames. Our Game of the Day selection begins at 8:30 p.m. Buckle your seatbelts because the Anaheim Ducks are visiting the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center and precious points are on the line. Drink your coffee if you plan to watch Minnesota v. Vancouver. The nightcap game starts at 10:30 p.m.

If you take a glance at the standings, you will quickly realize that the Ducks and Stars are in must-win mode. Both teams currently have 80 points, which is good enough for a playoff position, but there are plenty of teams behind them looking to change that. This is the point in the season that teams are in desperate need of points and are looking for any way to win.

The last time these two teams played, it was a bit of a snooze-fest. Anaheim took a 1-0 decision, with the lone goal coming off the stick of Hampus Lindholm. With the circumstances being a bit different this time around, expect a little more back-and-forth action this evening. It is worth noting that the Ducks are on the second half of a back-to-back, while the Stars have had a couple days off. It is entirely possible a well-rested Ben Bishop shuts down his end of the ice, making this a one-sided affair.

Anaheim enters tonight’s game at 34-22-12 after dropping last night’s contest to the Nashville Predators. The Stars have managed a record of 37-24-6, entering tonight’s game coasting through a two-game losing streak.

For the Ducks, your player to watch will be goaltender Ryan Miller. He is the likely starter, coming into tonight with a 2.52 GAA and a 0.925 SV%. The defensive corps will need to step up against talented offense if they want to help Miller keep pucks out of the net.

For the Dallas Stars, look for the offensive tandem of Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, and Jamie Benn to go to work. They have all eclipsed 55+ points on the season and are more than capable of taking advantage of a weary opponent.


As already alluded to, last nights Game of the Day was a victory for the home team. The Predators and Ducks met at Bridgestone Arena, as Nashville went for their 10th consecutive win. Anaheim needed a win to continue their playoff push, while Nashville still has hopes for a President’s Trophy.

The Predators had a strong start out of the gate, earning them a 2-0 lead after twenty minutes. Craig Smith got them on the board at 5:26 of the first period, with assists going to Turris and Hartman. Ryan Johansen lit the lamp at 15:20 to double-up their lead.

In the second period, there was plenty of back-and-forth play, but neither team would find twine. That is, until the Predators took a penalty towards the end of the second frame. The Ducks looked to capitalize on this opening, but instead, gave up a short-handed goal. Austin Watson was the contributor here, widening the gap to 3-0.

Entering the final stanza, Anaheim needed some help. They mustered up a big third period to shorten the lead. Rickard Rakell scored at 6:04 of the third, with Nashville now holding the dreaded 3-1 lead. To make things a bit more interesting, Rakell found twine at 16:35 to cut the deficit once again. Getzlaf assisted on both goals, earning himself two points on the night. The valiant rally wouldn’t be enough, as Viktor Arvidsson slammed the door shut. His score in the final two minutes would be the last tally, earning Nashville a 4-2 win.

November 16 – Day 44 – Defense is a Boughner

Fantasy hockey players, consider this your alert: with a dozen games on the schedule, there’s tons of points to be earned tonight!

Like they do most nights, the festivities begin at 7 p.m. when two games (New Jersey at Toronto and Carolina at the New York Islanders), followed half an hour later by three more (Arizona at Montréal [RDS/TSN2], Pittsburgh at Ottawa [RDS2] and Dallas at Tampa Bay). 8 p.m. marks the start of two contests (Nashville at Minnesota and Philadelphia at Winnipeg) with another pair (Washington at Colorado and St. Louis at Edmonton) waiting an hour before getting underway. Vegas at Vancouver gets green-lit at 10 p.m. and tonight’s nightcaps – Boston at Los Angeles (SN) and Florida at San Jose – close things out half an hour later. All times Eastern.

There’s quite a few games that have caught my eye this evening. That list includes:

  • Pittsburgh at Ottawa: It’s the first of three rematches of last season’s Eastern Conference Finals.
  • Dallas at Tampa Bay: Welcome home G Ben Bishop; welcome home.
  • Vegas at Vancouver: D Luca Sbisa called British Columbia home for three seasons, but he’s traded his Vancouver digs for a pad in Sin City.
  • Florida at San Jose: For the last two years, Bob Boughner was an assistant coach for Head Coach Peter DeBoer in San Jose. Tonight, he’ll square off against him as the 15th head coach in Panthers history.

It’s a tough selection among those four, but I have a great way to determine which game is the DtFR Game of the Day: we’ve featured 30 of 31 NHL teams in the series so far, but the one club that escapes us is the Panthers. It’s time to resolve that today.

 

I don’t think you really understand how happy it makes me each year to say we’ve featured every club at least once in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Of course, the Panthers haven’t exactly done themselves any favors with 14 points in the standings…

Regardless of Florida’s current situation, there’s no doubt of Boughner’s ability as a coach. He’s been a head man before, even if his experience wasn’t in the NHL. For eight total seasons (two four-year terms) he was the skipper his hometown OHL team, the Windsor Spitfires. In particular, his first stint with the club was certainly noteworthy. After missing the playoffs in 2006-’07, his first season coaching the organization, he built the Spitfires into a team capable of winning back-to-back Memorial Cups in 2009 and ’10.

Of course, what can you expect from a team that featured the likes of D Ryan Ellis, D Cam Fowler, G Philipp Grubauer, F Taylor Hall, F Adam Henrique, RW Zack Kassian and F Austin Watson?

Winning two CHL championships is a good way to get noticed by the big kids in the hockey business, and Boughner was hired as an assistant coach to Scott Arniel with the Blue Jackets in 2010-’11 before returning to Windsor a year later.

His second four-year stint with the Spitfires was nowhere near as good as his first (given, winning back-to-back titles is a tough act to replicate), as he only qualified Windsor for the OHL playoffs two times – both times falling in the first round.

Following 2014-’15’s failure to reach the postseason, Boughner returned to the NHL as an assistant coach for DeBoer in San Jose, working primarily with D Brent Burns and the defense. The Sharks found much success in Boughner’s two years with the club, as they qualified for their first-ever Stanley Cup Finals in 2016.

And that brings us to present day. Since being hired as the Panthers head coach on June 12, he’s led the club to a not-so-great 6-9-2 record that – as I indicated in my season preview – I blame almost entirely on General Manager Dale Tallon.

As the saying goes, “If it walks like a duck, flies like a duck and sounds like a duck, it’s probably a duck.” Well, these Panthers are definitely no Anaheim Ducks. Even though I’m sure Boughner – a former defenseman with 10 seasons of NHL experience – is telling his blueliners all his tips and tricks, Florida is the worst defense in the NHL as measured by shots against-per-game, as their 36.6 is 1.1 more than second-worst New Jersey.

Given the obnoxious number of shots it allows, perhaps it’s no surprise Florida has registered the sixth-fewest blocks so far this season. I usually hold D Aaron Ekblad in high esteem, but as one of, if not the best defenseman on this team, his 1.5 blocks-per-game are definitely not cutting it.

Even D Andy Greene, who plays for a nominally better defense in Jersey, has managed 2.1 blocks-per-game this year. Good leaders lead by example, and Ekblad needs to do that if he wants any chance of a positive future for this Panthers organization – especially since he’s locked in with this team until the end of the 2024-’25 season.

Maybe the Panthers are a more violent team; maybe that’s how they are trying to play defense. Guess again, because Florida’s 320 hits are fifth-fewest in the NHL.

Making matters worse, F Derek MacKenzie, whose 37 hits lead the team, is currently listed as day-to-day and it is uncertain if he’ll be able to return to the ice for the first time since getting injured early in Saturday’s game against the Devils. If he’s not ready to play and D Alex Petrovic is still banished to the press box with his team-leading three hits-per-game, F Micheal Haley and his 1.8 hits-per-game would take over as the Panthers’ primary muscle.

What all of this means is 3-3-1 G Roberto Luongo should probably be commended for his .919 save percentage and 3.09 GAA. He’s doing the best he can to provide the league’s (t)ninth-best offense a chance every night he takes to the crease.

Last thing about the Panthers before we talk Sharks real quick: that offense, though. Jonathan Huberdeau (7-14-21 totals) and Vincent Trocheck (8-10-18) are absolute studs, as they’ve racked up all those points on separate lines. Snoozing on Florida’s offense is a recipe for disaster, and G Martin Jones would be wise to treat every attack from the top-two lines just like he would against the other team in the Sunshine State.

That’s actually as good a transition as any, because 10-6-0 San Jose makes a living out of rejecting even the best of offenses, allowing a league-leading 2.25 goals against-per-game.

Perhaps Boughner can use the Sharks’ defense – the same defense he helped build – as a teaching tool for his club, because there’s few blue lines in the league better than San Jose’s. Though 8-4-0 Jones has been solid with his .925 save percentage, it’s the fact that D Justin Braun (2.4 blocks-per-game), D Brenden Dillon (3.1 hits-per-game) and co. have allowed only 28.8 shots against-per-game that has earned the Sharks third place in the Pacific Division.

In my opinion, one of the best indicators of a really good defense is finding success with a man in the penalty box. The Sharks pass that test with flying colors (I can only assume those colors are teal and orange), as their 88.5 percent kill rate is second-best in the NHL. Considering the Panthers’ power play is (t)12th-worst in the league, they shouldn’t have too much trouble keeping those numbers up tonight.

Florida’s offense squares up rather nicely with San Jose’s defense, and the Sharks’ sixth-worst attack might find it in them to struggle against the Panthers’ defense. If that proves to be the case, I give the edge to San Jose since it’s playing at home and it has Jones at its disposal.


With a third period hat trick by First Star of the Game F Artem Anisimov, the Chicago Blackhawks beat the New York Rangers 6-3 at the United Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Anisimov’s (F Patrick Kane and Second Star F Nick Schmaltz) first goal of the game wasn’t struck until the 1:07 mark of the third period, leaving him only 18:53 to complete his performance. After F John Hayden (D Cody Franson and D Duncan Keith) set the score at 3-1 46 seconds after Anisimov’s first goal, the Russian struck again (Franson and Schmaltz) at the 5:14 mark with a power play wrist shot.

Since his second goal proved to be the game-winner, I suppose we’ll let it be the most important of Anisimov’s night, but his tip-in with 3:48 remaining in regulation (Schmaltz and RW Richard Panik) to send headgear flying has to earn silver. That tally set the score at 5-3 and was followed 2:18 later by C Jonathan Toews‘ (Panik and D Brent Seabrook) fifth marker of the season to set the 6-3 final on an empty net.

Making tonight’s win even sweeter for the Hawks, it technically counts as a come-from-behind victory due to C Mika Zibanejad‘s (F Chris Kreider and W Pavel Buchnevich) wrister 9:58 into the first period. He gave the Rangers a one-goal advantage that lasted 29:10 before Third Star W Alex DeBrincat (Panik and Keith) sneaked a wrister past G Henrik Lundqvist with 52 seconds remaining in the second period to level the game.

The Blueshirts also put up a strong fight in the middle of the final frame, as they scored two goals between Anisimov’s second and third. F Kevin Hayes (W Mats Zuccarello and W Rick Nash) takes credit for the first at the 7:08 mark with a wrister, followed 4:48 later by an unassisted Nash backhanded shot to set the score at 4-3 in favor of Chicago. Momentum was certainly on New York’s side at that moment, but the fact that the Hawks’ defense allowed only nine shots on goal in both the second and third periods put a halt to that positive energy rather quickly.

G Corey Crawford earned the victory after saving 25-of-28 shots faced (.893 save percentage), leaving the loss to Lundqvist, who saved 30-of-34 (.882). King Henrik was lifted after Anisimov’s second goal in favor of G Ondrej Pavelec, who completed the game saving seven-of-eight (.875) for no decision.

Not only is this the second-straight 6-3 score in the DtFR Game of the Day series, but it’s also the third-straight victory by the now 23-16-5 home teams who now have a six-point advantage over the roadies.

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 the 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.