Almost every game being played tonight is being televised nationally in Canada, so I want no complaints about nothing to watch this evening. I’ll hear none of them!
As it so often does, today’s action finds its start at 7 p.m. with a pair of matchups (the New York Islanders at Montréal [RDS/SN] and Buffalo at Tampa Bay [TVAS]), followed an hour later by Detroit at St. Louis (NBCSN). Next up is Calgary at Colorado (SN360) at 9:30 p.m., trailed half an hour later by tonight’s nightcap: the New York Rangers at Vancouver. All times Eastern.
It is true that the Blues and Red Wings are reviving their former rivalry tonight, but there’s much more pressing matters taking place in the Rocky Mountains.
Currently sitting a point behind second wild card Anaheim, the 32-22-9 Flames are trying their hardest to stay within an arm’s reach of the playoff picture. They’ve posted a 2-1-1 record in their last four showings, due in large part to the solid play of their defense.
Since February 19, Calgary has allowed an average of only 30 shots against per game. That’s the (t)seventh-best mark in the league in that time, and the Flames owe it all to LW Johnny Gaudreau (averaging 1.8 takeaways per game since February 19), D Travis Hamonic (2.6 blocks per game in his last five showings) and F Curtis Lazar (averaging three hits per game over this run).
Gaudreau’s effort in particular stands out to me, as he’s usually known for his production on the offensive end of the ice considering he’s managed only a +12 goal-differential with his 20-53-73 season totals. However, with 23-16-6 G Mike Smith still recovering from his groin injury, Johnny Hockey has led the charge in making life as easy as possible for 2-1-0 G Jon Gillies while he fills in for the former Coyote.
Another way to keep the pressure off a young goalkeeper thrust into the limelight is by providing some attacking support on the other end. That’s where LW Matthew Tkachuk (3-2-5 totals since February 19) and Gaudreau (1-4-5 in his last four showings) come into play, as they’ve both averaged a point per game recently to spearhead an attack that has managed 2.8 goals per game since last Monday – the 10th-best scoring average in the league in that time.
Every year keeps getting better for Tkachuk. He posted impressive 13-35-48 totals in 76 games during his rookie season to finish seventh in voting for the Calder Trophy, and he’s only improved to post 24-23-47 marks this year. If the Flames can do nothing else, they certainly know how to identify talent at the left wing position.
Meanwhile, 33-24-5 Colorado – only a season removed from one of the worst campaigns in NHL history – is just three points behind the Ducks for the eight seed in the Western Conference. Similar to Calgary, the Avalanche are 2-1-1 in their past four showings, but Colorado has been finding its success largely on the offensive end.
There is a chiropractor in Denver making a whole lot of money off F Nathan MacKinnon, because the 22-year-old has put this entire team on his back since returning from injury. He’s averaged two points per game in his last four showings, managing 4-4-8 totals in that time.
Okay, so maybe it hasn’t been all MacKinnon. D Tyson Barrie (1-5-6 totals since February 20) and RW Mikko Rantanen (2-3-5) have also been pretty solid during this run. Together, they’ve willed the Avs to scoring 2.75 goals per game over the past eight days – the (t)11th-best scoring rate in the NHL in that time.
What’s been most impressive about Colorado lately is its unstoppable power play. Posting only a middle-of-the-pack 20.1 percent success rate for the entire season, the Avalanche have boasted 46.2 conversion percentage in their past four showings.
It is largely with the man-advantage where Barrie comes into play, as it’s on the power play where he registered his most recent goal and four of his last five assists. In fact, Barrie and MacKinnon have combined on five of the Avs’ six power play goals scored during this run. Calgary’s penalty kill has been good lately (neutralizing 85.7 of its infractions since February 20), but the Flames would still be wise to avoid the sin bin at all costs tonight.
Tonight’s game is the finale of the three-game regular season series between the Avs and Flames. Calgary has already clinched victory in the first two matchups, winning 3-2 in Denver on November 25 (C Mikael Backlund provided the game-winner in the second period) and 5-1 in Alberta four days ago (Backlund took First Star honors with his 1-2-3 performance).
With Anaheim being dormant this evening, a Calgary win of any variety would propel the Flames past the Ducks into the second wild card (technically, Calgary would tie Los Angeles for third in the Pacific, but lose a games played tiebreaker). Should Colorado be the club to come away with a regulation win, the Avs would jump from 11th in the Western Conference to ninth, only one point behind the Ducks.
It is true that the Avalanche have home ice this evening, but I feel confident the Flames can earn two points tonight. However, if they can’t keep D Nikita Zadorov – the club’s leader in penalty minutes – out of trouble, Colorado’s power play will show no mercy en route to a victory.
Have yourself a game, First Star of the Game D Roman Josi! He registered five assists in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, leading the Nashville Predators to a 6-5 victory over the Winnipeg Jets at MTS Bell Centre.
Unbelievably, a game that ended with 11 combined goals featured no goals in the first period even though the Preds and Jets fired 24 shots on goal altogether.
The second period made up for that offensive drought with a whopping seven goals.
The scoreless draw wasn’t broken until the 2:45 mark of the second period, courtesy of a F Matt Hendricks (RW Joel Armia and C Andrew Copp) wrist shot. Winnipeg’s advantage lasted 6:10 before Third Star F Craig Smith (Josi) leveled the game, but C Mark Scheifele (F Jack Roslovic and LW Kyle Connor) returned the advantage to the Jets and provided a brace (Second Star C Paul Stastny and RW Blake Wheeler) by the 14:23 mark – all in the span of 1:42.
The Preds saw Winnipeg’s two-straight goals and matched them with two of their own. Only 44 seconds after Scheifele’s second goal, C Kyle Turris (W Viktor Arvidsson and Josi) pulled Nashville back within a 3-2 deficit, followed by D Mattias Ekholm (F Calle Jarnkrok and Josi) leveling the game with a power play snap shot with 2:54 remaining in the frame. W Nikolaj Ehlers (RW Patrik Laine and D Ben Chiarot) scored the final goal of the period 33 seconds after Ekholm’s marker, setting the score at 4-3 going into the intermission.
Winnipeg earned its second two-goal lead of the night at the exact midway point of the third period when Stastny (Ehlers and Laine) scored a wrister – his first goal as a Jet – but the Preds proved they are more than capable of staging even the biggest of comebacks. Only 55 seconds after Stastny’s goal, Smith (D Yannick Weber) pulled Nashville back within a goal with a wrister, followed by F Ryan Johansen (Arvidsson and Josi) burying a wrister to level the game at 5-5 with 6:03 remaining in regulation.
Just like Stastny made his presence known with his new team, W Ryan Hartman (Josi) also built some serious rapport with his new squad by providing the game-winning goal with one minute remaining on the clock.
A player hanging out near the crease almost always yields a positive result. That proved to be the case in this instance, as Hartman was able to redirect Josi’s initial slap shot from the left face-off dot – that G Connor Hellebuyck moved towards in attempt to make a save – into the gaping cage after it crossed through the crease untouched.
The most points Josi had scored in any game all season before last night was two, and he’s a major reason no team in the NHL wants to play the Predators right now. If he continues playing like this in the playoffs, there’s little doubt that his club will be well on its way to its second-consecutive Stanley Cup Final.
G Pekka Rinne earned the victory after saving 34-of-39 shots faced (.872 save percentage), leaving the loss to Hellebuyck, who saved 26-of-32 (.813).
For the fourth straight day in the DtFR Game of the Day, a road team has earned at least a point. As such, the 74-47-19 hosts now have only an 18-point advantage on the visitors in the series.