Tag Archives: Backstrom

October 13 – Day 10 – Sold their souls to the Jersey Devil

Sorry, no obscure celebrity references in the title today. Hopefully you came for the references and stayed for the hockey previews.

Friday has a few fun games on the roster, starting with two (Washington at New Jersey and the New York Rangers at Columbus [NHLN/SN1/TVAS]) at 7 p.m. Another pair of contests (Anaheim at Colorado and Ottawa at Calgary) drop the puck at 9 p.m., followed by tonight’s nightcap, Detroit at Vegas, 90 minutes later. All times Eastern.

It’s unfortunate that New Jersey and Vegas weren’t squaring off tonight, as two undefeated clubs tangling would have been a fun sight. Instead, we have to choose between one or the other, and since we’ve already featured the Golden Knights twice this season, it looks like it’s off to Newark with us!

 

Anyone who pegged the New Jersey Devils to start the season a perfect 3-0-0, please stand up.

OK, now all of you sit down, because I think most of you are liars.

A season removed from the third-worst offense in the league, the Devils have absolutely exploded to start this campaign, as they average 5.33 goals-per-game to rank second-best in the NHL.

While it’d be fun to assume that the reason for Jersey’s improvement is the addition of C Nico Hischier (0-1-1 totals), the top-overall pick in this season’s NHL Entry Draft, much of the offense has actually come from W Jesper Bratt, a Swedish 19-year-old that was a sixth-rounder from the Class of 2016.

Bratt (3-3-6) has been absolutely outstanding to begin his rookie career, as he currently averages a goal and an assist per game. It’s an elite group to be a member of, as only Washington’s D Christian Djoos can make a similar claim – though he’s played in only one game.

Additionally, a total of only six players currently average two points-per-game, and it is quite a group. Bratt and Djoos are currently sharing company with the likes of Detroit’s D Mike Green, Buffalo’s LW Evander Kane and Washington’s C Evgeny Kuznetsov and W Alex Ovechkin.

Not too shabby, as all are established names in his league.

Another integral part to the Devils’ early success has been free agent signing D Will Butcher. Another rookie, he’s managed to provide five assists – three of which were on the power play – to fully integrate himself into New Jersey’s attack from the blue line.

Why the Avalanche didn’t want Butcher in their system is beyond me. Maybe General Manager Joe Sakic thought he accidentally happened into his Hobey Baker Award.

Turns out he was wrong in that assessment.

As a result of Butcher’s play on the man-advantage, Jersey has seen a massive improvement on its power play. Last season, the Devils converted 17.5 percent of opponents’ penalties into goals, but this year is a totally different ball game (err… puck game). New Jersey has found success in four-of-13 opportunities for a 30.8 percent conversion rate, the fifth-best in the NHL.

Unfortunately, numbers like Bratt’s and Butcher’s are tough to maintain even for RW Jaromir Jagr, much less two rookies. Both skaters will return to Earth eventually, so G Cory Schneider will need to continue his bounce-back season. Having played all three of the Devils’ games so far, he’s managed a .948 save percentage and a 2.00 GAA to rank among the top-10 goalies in the league.

In the red corner, the Capitals enter this game on a two-game losing skid (most recent of which was Wednesday’s 3-2 home defeat at the hands of the Penguins).

As I stated in Wednesday’s preview, Washington is playing far better than its offseason would have indicated. In particular, the Caps’ power play has been very good, as they’ve already registered three goals in 13 extra-man opportunities.

One of Washington’s best play makers, C Nicklas Backstrom has been at the front of the man-advantage surge. He’s already registered three power play assists in four games. One of his favorite goal scorers to set up has been F T.J. Oshie, who has scored two man-advantage goals of his own. Considering New Jersey is playing the eighth-worst penalty kill to start the season, they’d be wise to keep RW Stefan Noesen under control.

Additionally, RW Tom Wilson will make his season debut this evening. He was suspended for the first four games of the season for boarding St. Louis’ LW Samuel Blais in their preseason game on October 1. Wilson has already served two suspensions this season after serving a first during the preseason, so he’ll be walking on eggshells with Head Coach Barry Trotz and the Department of Player Safety. If the former first-rounder cannot clean up his game in his contract year, he may struggle to find a job that pays the way he wants it

If Wilson shows any signs of timidity, I’d guess the Devils won’t hesitate to jump on him.

Considering all the momentum is on New Jersey’s side right now, I’m leaning towards the Devils taking this game. That being said, Vegas is leaning towards the Capitals taking this one, favoring them in the -140 range.


After allowing the Dallas Stars to score the first goal, the Nashville Predators buried four unanswered tallies to win yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Bridgestone Arena.

Dallas’ lone goal of the night was struck 8:04 into the contest courtesy of LW Jamie Benn (C Jason Spezza and D John Klingberg), who used a power play wrist shot to pot his first marker of the season. The Stars held onto that lead throughout the opening period and into the first intermission.

It took only 3:27 of action after returning to the ice for First Star rookie D Samuel Girard (D P.K. Subban and W Cody McLeod) to find his first goal of his NHL career. That slap shot leveled the game at one-all, allowing Second Star F Filip Forsberg‘s (Girard and F Ryan Johansen) power play wrister 2:54 later to be what proved to be the game-winner.

There’s nothing like a revenge goal with the cherry on top being that it ended up the winner. 5:12 into the second period, Spezza was sent to the penalty box for tripping Forsberg, the eventual goalscorer.  The play started when Forsberg entered the offensive zone along the near boards. Under pressure from two Stars penalty killers, he was forced to retreat back towards the point before passing to Girard on the opposite side of the zone. The youngster advanced towards G Ben Bishop‘s crease before firing a slap shot from the face-off circle to the netminder’s stick side. Bishop was forced to make a diving save but was unable to contain the rebound, leaving him vulnerable to Forsberg’s elevated wrister.

W Viktor Arvidsson (Forsberg) and Subban tacked on braces in the third period to cement the Preds’ second-straight victory.

Third Star G Pekka Rinne earned the victory after saving 30-of-31 shots faced (.968), leaving the loss to Bishop, who saved 27-of-30 (.9).

The DtFR Game of the Day series has certainly favored the 6-3-1 home teams so far, as they now have a four-point advantage over the visitors following tonight’s win.

October 11 – Day Eight – Second round preview

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round – May 8

 

Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 6

By beating Pittsburgh 5-2 at PPG Paints Arena, the Capitals have forced a winner-takes-all Game 7 for a chance to play in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Simply put, absolutely nothing was going right for the Penguins. Though the Capitals did throw an impressive 38 hits (led by both Jay Beagle and Tom Wilson‘s five blows), Pittsburgh still should have managed more than 18 shots on goal.

It wasn’t until 7:43 remained in the first period that the Pens managed their first shot on Braden Holtby‘s goal. Unfortunately for them, Third Star of the Game T.J. Oshie (Evgeny Kuznetsov and Second Star Nicklas Backstrom) was already getting to work on the Capitals’ first goal of the night 24 seconds later, a power play snap shot from the far face-off circle.

Another part of the game the Penguins struggled at was keeping the puck away from Washington. They committed a combined 11 giveaways, the most egregious of which was Ron Hainsey‘s at the 6:32 mark of the second period.

Though it doesn’t go down as a turnover because First Star Andre Burakovsky dislodged the puck with a hit along the far boards, Hainsey brought the contact on himself. At the tail end of what proved to be a long 76-second shift, he tried to maintain possession for his club instead of chip the puck out of the defensive zone, turning back towards Marc-Andre Fleury‘s goal. Burakovsky took advantage of the exhausted defenseman to squeeze a wrist shot between Fleury and the far post to double the Caps’ lead.

But not all of Washington’s goals were results of Penguins mistakes. The game-winner certainly qualifies as one of those, as Backstrom (Oshie and Dmitry Orlov) won the third frame’s opening face-off to bury a snapper only 16 seconds later to set the score at 3-0.

John Carlson (Matt Niskanen and Kuznetsov) and Burakovsky tacked on two more goals within 1:12 of one another to set up a comfortable five-goal advantage for the visiting Caps, more than enough to survive Jake Guentzel (Sidney Crosby) and Evgeni Malkin‘s (Conor Sheary and Brian Dumoulin) two-goal surge in the remaining 3:22 of regulation.

The series’ deciding game has been scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday, May 10. American viewers can catch the game on NBCSN, while Canadian hockey fans will be serviced by both CBC and TVAS.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round – May 1

 

Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 3

By beating Pittsburgh 3-2 in overtime, the Capitals have pulled within a game of leveling their Eastern Conference Semifinals matchup

The tone of this match was set early  – at the 5:24 mark, specifically – when Captain Sidney Crosby was injured after driving towards Braden Holtby‘s crease. While Alex Ovechkin‘s slash across the back appeared to be intentional, his taking Crosby’s left skate out from under him and whacking him across the head with his stick while preparing to play defense was done with no malice.

The contact threw Crosby off-balance and he tumbled across Holtby’s crease. The first thing he came in contact with was Matt Niskanen, and it is here where Crosby probably got hurt.  The defenseman was taken by surprise and raised his hands to fend him off, a reasonable reaction especially since the puck was still in his defensive zone. But with hands come a stick, and Niskanen’s ended up catching Crosby squarely in the forehead. Though conscious, Pittsburgh’s star stayed down following the hit and the play was soon stopped.

Crosby did not see the ice for the rest of the game with an apparent head injury and Niskanen was charged with a five-minute major and a game misconduct, suspending him for the remainder of Game 3. Niskanen probably doesn’t deserve the misconduct he received, but was forced into a penalty befitting one who downs – intentionally or accidentally – a league superstar.

As one would expect, the physical series became only more so after play resumed. 67 hits were thrown in all between the two clubs, led by Pittsburgh’s 36. Chris Kunitz was the Penguins’ most dominant checker with seven hits, with his counterparts Brooks Orpik and Ovechkin both managing four blows apiece.

All the physicality made it difficult for either club to find much rhythm throughout the game, which is why power plays and man-advantages proved to be so important.

The first tally of the game was a wrist shot from Second Star of the Game Nicklas Backstrom (Ovechkin and Justin Williams), but even with the five-on-three power play it was not easy. After receiving Ovechkin’s pass from above the far face-off circle, Backstrom fired his shot from the far corner of the slot. Obviously boucing the puck off Marc-Andre Fleury‘s stick and Ian Cole‘s shaft was the plan, because his shot ended up in in the corner of the goal to give the Caps a 1-0 lead with 6:55 remaining in the first period.

No goals were struck in the second period, but the Penguins’ situation became even more dire when Patric Hornqvist accidentally injured teammate Conor Sheary. He bore the brunt of his attempted hit on Lars Eller, and his recoil sent him crashing into Sheary’s head. Similar to Crosby, Sheary did not return for the remainder of the game.

The lack of bodies started becoming apparent late in the frame and through much of the third. Losing two top-line forwards in a game is detrimental to any team, but especially one that is trailing.

Though technically scored at even-strength, Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s (Marcus Johansson and Williams) wrister at the 9:46 mark of the third might as well have been with the man-advantage given his exhausted opponent. Given the circumstances, the Capitals  – and the many Pittsburgh fans that made their ways home early – thought they’d iced the victory away.

Then the Penguins made things interesting.

Knowing his club needed a goal as soon as possible, Mike Sullivan pulled Fleury for an extra attacker with 2:56 remaining in regulation, and Third Star Evgeni Malkin (Phil Kessel and Justin Schultz) capitalized with 63 seconds later on his six-on-five slap shot from the near face-off circle.

There was little to no celebration by Malkin, as he knew there was still work to be done. Sullivan left his piecemeal top-line on the ice for the remainder of regulation and eventually called a wise timeout with 94 seconds remaining before the final horn.

That’s exactly the rest the Penguins needed, as Schultz (Malkin and Kunitz) scored a slap shot with only 65 ticks remaining in regulation to level the game at two-all and force overtime.

That extra period didn’t last long though, due in part to Trevor Daley holding Johansson 2:40 after it began. 33 seconds later, First Star Kevin Shattenkirk (Backstrom and Kuznetsov) took advantage of the man-advantage by ripping a slap shot past Fleury for the first postseason game-winner of his career.

Of course, Washington’s work has only just begun. With the Penguins winning both games at the Verizon Center, they still have home ice in this series. If the Caps truly want to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the third time in franchise history, they’ll need to repeat Monday’s performance in Game 4.

Speaking of, Game 4 is slated for Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time at PPG Paints Arena. The contest will be televised on NBCSN in the USA and CBC and TVAS in Canada.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round – April 29

For the first and second rounds of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writer is Connor Keith.

 

 

 

 

 

New York Rangers at Ottawa Senators – Game 2

With four goals from First Star of the Game Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Ottawa won 6-5 in a wild double-overtime contest to take a two-game lead in its Eastern Conference Semifinals series against the Rangers.

Many a young boy in Ottawa dreams of playing for the Senators when he grows up. Not many get that opportunity. Even fewer get to play with the Sens in the playoffs.

Pageau joined that select list in 2013, but he’s created a list all his own by playing arguably the best game of his professional career to lead his hometown team to a come-from-behind victory.

His day started early, but then again, so did the Rangers. Only 4:16 after puck drop, Michael Grabner (Jesper Fast) scored a shorthanded snap shot to give the Blueshirts an early lead. Pageau seemed to take exception to that, so he leveled the game at one-all with 6:01 remaining in the frame.

Then came New York’s big period. With the exception of Marc Methot‘s (Mike Hoffman and Ben Harpur) snapper with six minutes remaining in the frame, the Rangers dominated the second period by scoring three goals in 5:12. First up was Chris Kreider (Mika Zibanejad and Ryan McDonagh), who scored a wrist shot at the 10:39 mark. 2:31 later, Derek Stepan (Rick Nash) buried a shorthanded wrister on Craig Anderson. Finally, with 4:09 remaining in the frame, Third Star Brady Skjei (McDonagh and Zibanejad) banged home a wrister to set the score at 4-2 going into the second intermission.

Things were looking grim for the home fans, but Guy Boucher had just the right things to say to his club. That intermission pep talk led to Mark Stone (Second Star Dion Phaneuf and Fredrik Claesson) scoring a snapper just 88 seconds into the frame to pull Ottawa within a goal, but Skjei (Brendan Smith) was quick to reclaim a two-tally lead for the Rangers, burying a snapper of his own 3:42 later.

Skjei’s marker set the score at 5-3, the same differential that read when Pageau took control of the contest. The Senators’ comeback didn’t resume until 3:19 remained in regulation. That’s when the Ottawan scored his second goal (Zack Smith and Phaneuf) of the game on a deflected Smith shot.

62 seconds separated the Rangers from heading back to Manhattan with home-ice advantage, but once again Pageau had other ideas. With the sixth attacker, Kyle Turris took Erik Karlsson‘s pass from the near point to slam home a slap shot from Alex Ovechkin-land toward Henrik Lundqvist‘s net. The netminder probably would have been able to make the save if not for Pageau, who redirected the shot in mid-air to squeeze it between the far post and Lundqvist’s body.

Pageau has only registered one hat trick in his career before Saturday’s effort. It was on May 5, 2013 in Game 3 of the Senators’ Eastern Conference quarterfinals series with Montréal, only his third-ever playoff appearance.

But he’s never scored four goals in a game. Not in the postseason. Not in the regular season.

At least not until Saturday.

The brightest star on the ice decided enough overtime was enough after 22:54 of extra hockey. It was a breakaway goal that started in Anderson’s end. Alexandre Burrows beat Nick Holden to a loose puck at the far end of the goal line and cleared it into the neutral zone. Starting from the blue line, Pageau took chase and claimed possession near center ice along the far boards. Using Tommy Wingels – who entered the offensive zone with him – as a decoy, Pageau made Lundqvist commit to one or the other before cocking his snapper. Once he saw the netminder cash in on saving an attempt from Wingels, he fired his shot over Lundqvist’s glove to pull Ottawa within two victories of the Eastern Finals.

An extra day off has been included between Games 2 and 3, so Madison Square Garden will not come alive until 7 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday, May 2. American hockey fans can watch that game on NBCSN, while Canadians will be serviced by CBC and TVAS.

 

Pittsburgh Penguins at Washington Capitals – Game 2

The Penguins’ offense showed no mercy in their 6-2 beat-down against Washington at the Verizon Center.

Though there were a firestorm of goals, none of them were struck in the first period. For Pittsburgh, it was Second Star of the Game Marc-Andre Fleury keeping the Capitals off the board, saving all 16 shots he faced in the opening 20 minutes. Meanwhile, it was an extremely physical attack from the Caps’ skaters that kept the Pens off-balance. Both John Carlson and T.J. Oshie were a big part of that effort, as they both ended the game with five hits apiece (Oshie threw two of his blows in the opening frame).

Nothing seems to get an offense humming quite like a shorthanded goal. That’s exactly what happened for the Penguins, as Matt Cullen capitalized on his steal at the blue line to score an unassisted wrist shot on Braden Holtby only 75 seconds into the second period. Though Matt Niskanen (Ovechkin and Third Star Nicklas Backstrom) did cash in on Jake Guentzel‘s hooking penalty to level the game, Pittsburgh’s offense was certainly cooking.

That became brutally apparent when First Star Phil Kessel (Sidney Crosby and Guentzel) and Guentzel (Crosby) scored within 3:10 of each other in the second half of the period. Kessel’s goal was a beautiful wrister to beat Holtby top shelf from the far face-off dot, but Guentzel’s was a low wrister that should have been an easy glove save for the reigning Vezina Trophy winner.

Due in part to Guentzel’s marker, Holtby was pulled for the third period in favor of Philipp Grubauer, the Capitals’ backup goaltender with only one previous game of NHL playoff action. Pair his lack of experience with Kevin Shattenkirk sending the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty, and it’s no wonder Kessel (Justin Schultz and Evgeni Malkin) was able to score a power play wrister only 2:19 into the final frame to set the score at 4-1.

Once again Washington had a response to the Pens’ first goal of the period – a wrister courtesy of Backstrom (Ovechkin and Oshie) – but the Capitals couldn’t close the gap any further. 107 seconds after Backstrom’s tally, Malkin (Ian Cole and Kessel) tipped-in his goal that all but ended any chance of a Washington comeback.

Guentzel (Matt Cullen and Olli Maatta) tacked on an empty netter with 43 seconds remaining in the game for his seventh of the postseason.

You could’ve heard a pin drop in the Verizon Center after Malkin’s goal. It fell quiet as fans watched a team destined for greatness begin to lose its edge in the second round of the playoffs.

The Capitals will face an uphill battle if they want to qualify for the Eastern Finals for the first time since 1998. Pittsburgh needs only two more victories to close the series, and it will have three home game opportunities to do just that.

The series will resume at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Penn. with Game 3 on Monday, May 1 at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time. Residents of the United States can watch that game on NBCSN, while Canadians will be able to choose between CBC or TVAS.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round – April 23

For at least the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writers are Connor Keith and Nick Lanciani.

 

 

 

 

 

Ottawa Senators at Boston Bruins – Game 6

By: Nick Lanciani

The Ottawa Senators came back in Game 6 to eliminate the Boston Bruins from 2017 Stanley Cup Playoff competition with a 3-2 victory in overtime on road ice at TD Garden on Sunday. Clarke MacArthur had the game-winning power play goal to end the series.

Third Star of the game and Senator’s goaltender, Craig Anderson, made 28 saves on 30 shots faced for a .933 save percentage in the win, while Boston’s Tuukka Rask made 26 saves on 29 shots against for an .897 SV% in the loss.

After killing off three consecutive delay of game penalties for sending the puck over the glass, the Bruins had their first power play opportunity of the afternoon after Ottawa forward, Mark Stone, tripped Sean Kuraly as he was exiting the defensive zone.

On the ensuing power play, Brad Marchand faked a shot and slid a pass over to Drew Stafford (2) who went high with a slap shot, beating Anderson on the blocker side, to give Boston a 1-0 lead at 18:13 of the 1st period. Marchand (2) and Charlie McAvoy (3) recorded the assists on Stafford’s goal.

In an incredible display of goaltending, Rask denied Stone on a breakaway and follow up shot with about 15 seconds left in the period after David Pastrnak failed to connect on a pass to a mid-line change Bruins defense.

McAvoy was sent to the box early in the 2nd period for tripping Senators forward, Tommy Wingels in a manner similar to how Ottawa defenseman, Chris Wideman, injured Bruins forward, David Krejci in Game 5 with a knee-on-knee collision. Wideman’s play was not penalized, unlike McAvoy’s.

While on the power play, Bobby Ryan (4) tied the game, 1-1, 3:26 into the 2nd period on a redirected slap shot from Derick Brassard. Brassard (5) and Erik Karlsson (6) were credited with the primary and secondary assists on Ryan’s power play goal.

Past the halfway mark in the 2nd period, Kyle Turris (1) received a pass from Ryan Dzingel and unleashed an absolute laser of a wrist shot that found the back of the net. Dzingel (1) had the only assist on Turris’s goal, which made it 2-1 Ottawa.

Trailing 2-1 early in the 3rd period, Boston caught Ottawa in a slow line change, which resulted in a quick rush from Colin Miller to Marchand, who fired a shot at Anderson, producing a rebound. Patrice Bergeron (2) was on the doorstep and scored on the rebound from the left side of the crease, having tapped the trickling puck into the twine while Anderson sprawled to recover.

Marchand (3) and Miller (1) were given the helpers on the play and the Bruins tied the game, 2-2.

For the fourth time in the series, overtime was necessary to determine a game winner.

Pastrnak was sent to the box for tying up MacArthur on a Senators rush with 14:06 to go in the overtime period.

MacArthur (2) ended the series on the ensuing power play, scoring Ottawa’s second power play goal of the afternoon at 6:30 of overtime. Ryan (3) and Brassard (6) notched the assists on the game winning goal.

Sunday’s game marked the first time in Senators franchise history that they were involved in four overtime games in a playoff series. Additionally, all six games in the series were decided by one goal.

Per the NHL’s PR department, 17 out of 41 First Round games (41.5%) have required overtime in this year’s postseason, which ties the record for an opening round. In 2013, 17 out of 47 games (36.2%) required overtime in the Conference Quarterfinals.

Of note, Ottawa had three shots on goal in the 3rd period, while Boston recorded 12 shots on net in the last twenty minutes of regulation. In overtime, the Senators had six shots on goal, while the Bruins failed to record a shot on net.

The Senators advance to the Second Round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs and will face the New York Rangers at the Canadian Tire Centre in Games 1 and 2, as Ottawa will have home ice in the series.

The first contest of the series will take place Thursday at 7 p.m. Eastern time. American viewers can watch the game on CNBC, while Canadian residents will be serviced by both CBC and TVAS.

 

Washington Capitals at Toronto Maple Leafs – Game 6

By: Connor Keith

On the backs of Braden Holtby and Marcus Johansson, the Capitals beat in overtime Toronto 2-1 at the Air Canada Centre Sunday night to advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals for the third-straight year.

Only 6:31 of extra time was required before Washington made its move. The play started in the far face-off circle in front of Frederik Andersen. Evgeny Kuznetsov won the scrum by kicking the puck back to John Carlson at the far point. The defenseman shoved the puck down the far boards to Justin Williams, who fired a shot a slap shot from the top of the face-off circle. That attempt never reached the waiting netminder because it was intercepted by Johansson, who redirected the puck beyond his reach to the near post.

It’s only fitting this contest went to overtime, as all but Game 4 of this series required post-regulation hockey to determine a winner. In fact, overtime has been a theme throughout the 2017 playoffs so far. In addition to being the first time the Caps played five overtime games in a single playoff series, this was the 18th match to require extra time – an NHL record for a single round.

This game was a true goaltending treat. No matter how hard each offense tried, it simply could not register a goal. In all, the Capitals fired 36 shots at Andersen (94.4%) and Toronto 37 at Holtby (97.4%) over the course of the game, but they both answered the bell on all but three combined times.

Both regulation tallies were struck in the third period. The scoreless draw survived 47:45 before being snapped by Auston Matthews (Morgan Rielly and Zach Hyman) with a wrist shot from the slot. The Maple Leafs didn’t get to celebrate their lead long though, as Johansson (Lars Eller and Brooks Orpik) buried a wrister of his own only 5:06 later to level the knot at one-all and force the eventual overtime.

Much of the reason neither club could find a goal for so long was due to the very disciplined play by both sides.  Only five penalties were recorded in the entire game to yield what proved to be effectively one power play – an opportunity for Washington due to William Nylander holding Nicklas Backstrom.

Technically, the Leafs did earn a man-advantage in the first period when Johansson was caught holding Nylander, but Tyler Bozak‘s hi-stick against Carlson negated that power play only 22 seconds into the opportunity.

Nazem Kadri and T.J. Oshie were sent to the box simultaneously for roughing with 47 seconds remaining in regulation for the final two infractions.

With their victory, the Capitals will host the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Verizon Center for Games 1 and 2 of their Eastern Conference Semifinals matchup. It will be their second-straight meeting in the second round and their fourth since the turn of the millennium.

Game 1 drops the puck at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time on Thursday. Residents of the United States can watch the game on NBCSN, while interested Canadians will be serviced by both SN and TVAS.

This will be the 10th time the Capitals and Penguins have squared off in the postseason, but it’s been a lopsided affair in the past. Pittsburgh has won all but one of the previous series and has advanced to the next round six straight times at the Caps’ expense. Washington’s only time besting the Pens was in the 1994 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, winning four games to two, before falling in the conference semifinals to the New York Rangers, the eventual Stanley Cup Champions.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round – April 13

For at least the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writer is Connor Keith.

 

Toronto Maple Leafs at Washington Capitals – Game 1

Though it was an uphill battle, Washington managed to maintain home-ice advantage by beating the visiting Maple Leafs 3-2 in overtime at the Verizon Center.

Though the final score may not be indicative of a true goalie battle, that’s exactly what this game was. It’s well known how good both Washington’s and Toronto’s offenses are, but both Third Star of the Game Braden Holtby and Frederik Andersen were up to the task of keeping the opposition neutralized. The netminders combined for 76 saves on 81 shots faced, including 44 rejections by Holtby.

For anyone wondering if the Leafs were going to be content with simply qualifying for the playoffs this year, rookie Mitch Marner (James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak) proved otherwise. He buried a wrist shot only 95 seconds into the game, beating Holtby’s left skate.

Near the midway point of the first, the Caps were originally the beneficiary of a questionable goaltender interference call. Though Nazem Kadri was certainly in Holtby’s crease, the left wing’s skate barely restricted the netminder’s stick. Fortunately for Jake Gardiner, the NHL’s new review system for the playoffs ruled in his favor to give the youngsters an impressive two-goal lead on his unassisted strike.

Andersen played well all game, but his play and the Leafs’ two goals were not enough to daunt Second Star Justin Williams. The three-time Stanley Cup champion provided both goals to pull the Caps even, starting with his first (T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom) with 7:36 remaining in the opening frame. He scored his power play wrister two seconds after Brian Boyle returned to the ice from his interference penalty to end Washington’s five-on-three advantage.

Williams’ second tally was struck with exactly four minutes remaining in the second frame. Assisted by Matt Niskanen and Evgeny Kuznetsov, Williams collected the rebound, which was sitting right between Andersen’s legs, of the defenseman’s initial shot and buried it to level the game at two-all.

Though they needed overtime, the Capitals were able to complete their comeback. But instead of Williams being the goalscorer, it was First Star Tom Wilson, who managed to knock down Martin Marincin‘s attempted clear and rip his wrister from the near face-off circle top-shelf over Andersen’s glove for his first NHL playoff goal.

Win, lose or draw, the most impressive thing about Toronto’s play is it was not afraid of anything the Capitals threw at it. Washington tried early and often – made evident by Lars Eller‘s cross-check against Marincin early in the first – to get under the young Leafs’ skins, but Mike Babcock’s well-coached club would not be drawn into a dumb reactionary penalty. Do not count the Maple Leafs out simply because of their youth.

 

Nashville Predators at Chicago Blackhawks – Game 1

When First Star of the Game Pekka Rinne reaches peak performance, he’s tough to beat. Chicago learned that the hard way, as it fell 1-0 to the Predators at the United Center.

Though Chicago then led the shot count 5-3, Nashville took the opening – and only –  score in the ninth minute of play, courtesy of a quick tip-in from Second Star Viktor Arvidsson (Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen).

That proved to be the last tally of the game, though a total of 41 more shots were fired between the two offenses. Rinne was outstanding, as he saved all 29 shots he faced.

Though he gave up a tally, Third Star Corey Crawford was also solid, saving 19-of-20. But the real reason Chicago gave up only one score is found within Crawford’s stat line. His defense was exemplary, and allowed the second-fewest among all the first playoff games. Brent Seabrook was the brightest star, blocking four shots on the night.

 

Calgary Flames at Anaheim Ducks – Game 1

Though the Flames fired a dozen shots at John Gibson in the third period, Anaheim defended home ice with a 3-2 victory at the Honda Center.

The Ducks’ win is a result of one thing: their power play. Special team action was expected in this matchup, as these clubs were numbers one and two in times shorthanded during the regular season. This series already looks like it will be decided by the club that takes better advantage, as 24 total penalty minutes were assessed in only the first game.

Anaheim converted two of its seven extra-man opportunities, and Second Star of the Game Jacob Silfverberg played a role in both of them. The wing assisted First Star Ryan Getzlaf to the opening goal of the game, a wrister only 52 seconds into the contest, and buried the game-winning marker (Patrick Eaves and Shea Theodore) with 2:13 remaining in the second.

If Calgary can’t convert any more than one extra-man situation into a goal, their playoff run may see an untimely end. Sean Monahan (Kris Versteeg and T.J. Brodie) did manage one at the 8:43 of the first period to level the game, but the Flames couldn’t take advantage of their other four opportunities, including two in the third period (technically three, though the final power play lasted only a second before the end of regulation).

Another issue for the Calgary is Anaheim’s unrelenting offense, regardless of the number of players on the ice. Led by 17 attempts in the first period, the Ducks fired the puck on Brian Elliott‘s net 41 times. Not only will that wear out the 32-year-old goaltender, but it also means that the Flames do not have the puck in their offensive zone very often. Both those variables add up to early playoff exits.

April 5 – Day 168 – The hardware is ready for the taking

After a busy Tuesday in the NHL, only two games will be contested on the final Wednesday of the regular season.

The action starts at 7:30 p.m. with Montréal at Buffalo (RDS/SN), followed half an hour later by the New York Rangers at Washington (NBCSN/TVAS). All times eastern.

Is there any question which game we’re featuring tonight? Off to the American capital! Hopefully the cherry blossoms are still in bloom.

 

It looks said and done, but the 47-26-6 Rangers still technically have a ridiculously small chance at earning the third seed in the Metropolitan Division. All they need to do is win all their games without a shootout, increase their +39 goal differential to at least +53 and hope the Blue Jackets suffer three-straight blowout losses to close the season.

If that sounds impossible, it’s because it almost certainly is. Then again, I’m kind of pulling for a tie so severe the NHL runs out of official tiebreakers. That’d be awesome.

Of course, that neglects the fact that the Rangers are probably happy where they are. A road series against Montréal sounds much more manageable than a road series against Pittsburgh.

Since the odds of all that happening are slim, the Rangers play the role of lame duck in the three remaining games of their regular season.

But don’t read that as Blueshirts aren’t taking advantage of their situation. They’re using this opportunity to rest some players (including Jesper Fast, Ryan McDonagh, Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello tonight), while giving others who are still completing their return from the trainer’s room an opportunity to iron out some kinks – à la 31-18-4 Henrik Lundqvist, who will start in net for only his fifth time since coming back from a hip injury.

Though I can’t say I’ve had the chance to watch the Rangers recently, I’d guess Alain Vigneault is taking advantage of the fact that there are no negative repercussions to experimenting with new plays or strategies.

A combination of all of these things (and probably a few more) are probably the reason New York has gone only 1-0-2 in its last three games.

When the Blueshirts have been at the top of their game this year, everything has revolved around the offense. They’ve averaged 3.15 goals-per-game, the fourth-best scoring rate in the league.

Usually, Zuccarello takes the lead on offense, as he’s notched a team-leading 59 points. Since he’ll be sitting in the press box this evening, that responsibility will fall to J.T. Miller, who is chasing his Norwegian teammate by three points.

Of the two, Miller has actually been the more prolific scorer with his 22 goals, and he’s using his propensity for finding the back of the net to reign in Zuccarello in the clubhouse scoring race. He has buried two goals in the last three games, and added on two more assists.

Of course, he still plays second fiddle (well, technically fourth fiddle) to Chris Kreider in the goal-scoring department. Kreider has buried 28 goals this season to lead the team, and has matched Miller’s two-goal surge of late with a pair of his own.

Scorers can be found throughout the Rangers‘ roster, and that becomes even more apparent when they take to the power play. Usually successful only 20% of the time, New York is riding a real hot-streak right now with the extra man, as it’s converted 44.4% of its man-advantages into goals in its last three games (tied for second-best in the league in that time).

Of those expected on the ice tonight, defenseman Brady Skjei has been a major part of that success. Though he’s only managed assists, he has two power play points in the last nine days to lead the team. Four different Rangers have provided the man-advantage goals, all of whom should be on the ice tonight.

Earlier, we briefly touched on Vigneault experimenting with his club’s play. If he’s been changing things up on the penalty kill, he’s doing exactly what he needs to. On the season, New York has successfully defended only 79.7% of its penalties – the eighth-worst rate in the NHL.

That’s all changed of late. In the past three games, the Rangers have allowed only one power play goal against for a 87.5% penalty kill rate. That ties for the ninth-best rate in the league in that time.

Lundqvist deserves a lot of the credit for this impressive run with his .923 power play save percentage that ties for seventh-best in the NHL in his last three games.

New York may have little to gain from this game, but there’s still some work to be done for the 53-18-8 Capitals. They have yet to lock-up anything beyond a spot in the playoffs, but that can all change tonight. Should Washington simply avoid a regulation loss, it will have won the Metropolitan Division, the Eastern Conference and the Presidents’ Trophy.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because Alex Ovechkin and Co. did that very same thing a year ago, only to fall to Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Not only has Washington been the best team all season, it’s also been the past team in the league since March 14. Going 9-1-1 in their past 11 games, it seems the Caps are peaking at just the right time as they try for their first Stanley Cup.

Just like New York‘s season-long success, offense has been the core of this recent surge. The Capitals have scored 39 goals in the past 23 days, which ties Toronto (another potent offense) for the second-highest total in that time.

Having the best year of his career since his 2009-’10 season, Nicklas Backstrom has been an absolute machine over the past 11 games. He’s registered a whopping 17 points in that time to not only lead the team, but also rank third-best in the NHL since March 14.

Of course, Backstrom is known for his ability to pass the puck. On the receiving end of many of those assists has been T.J. Oshie, who has buried a team-leading seven goals in the past fortnight. Of course, we’d be remiss to forget the left wing on that line: Ovi. The captain has also been extremely successful, as his goal total in this run is only one short of Oshie’s mark.

One of the most feared aspect of Washington‘s game is its power play. Lundqvist will be put to the test tonight, as the Capitals have converted 38.7% of their opponent’s penalties of late into goals. The usual suspects are behind this success, as Backstrom leads the team in power play points since mid-March with nine and Ovechkin has five man-advantage goals.

The opposite special team has also been solid over the past 23 days, as the Capitals have successfully defended 84.4% of their shorthanded situations. 41-12-6 Braden Holtby has been good, but I’ve been most impressed with Brooks Orpik and the blueline. Together, they’ve combined for a dozen shorthanded shot blocks over the past three weeks to allow only  37 power play shots to reach 12-6-2 Philipp Grubauer or Holtby.

Though the Caps have a solid lead on New York in the standings, things haven’t gone quite so smoothly for them when they actually see the Rangers face-to-face. The Blueshirts currently lead the four-game series 2-1-0 coming into tonight’s game, though the last time they met Washington was when they lost to them.

It was February 28 in Madison Square Garden. Lundqvist was in net, but was unable to stop Marcus Johansson from earning a two-goal, three-point night to lead the Caps to a 4-1 victory.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include New York‘s Michael Grabner(+23 [leads the team]), Nick Holden (160 hits [leads the team]), Kreider (28 goals [leads the team]) and Derek Stepan (203 shots [leads the team]) & Washington‘s Backstrom (62 assists [second-most in the league] for 85 points [tied for fourth-most in the NHL]), Holtby (eight shutouts [tied for most in the league] among 41 wins [tied for most in the NHL] on a 2.11 GAA [second-best in the league] and a .924 save percentage [tied for fourth-best in the NHL]), Dmitry Orlov (+31 [fifth-best in the league]), Orpik (+32 [tied for third-best in the NHL]) and Oshie (+27 [seventh-best in the league]).

Though the Rangers should be a scary team when they face Montréal next week to start the playoffs, it’s hard to pick them to win tonight. Washington simply has too much to play for, not to mention home ice and the fact it’s the best team in hockey. I’d bet on the Capitals winning by two goals.

Hockey Birthday

  • Gord Donnelly (1962-) – Though selected by St. Louis 62nd-overall in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft, this defenseman never played a game for the Notes. Instead, he spent much of his 12 seasons in Quebec. A consistent enforcer, he spent 2069 minutes in the penalty box, including 316 in the 1991-’92 season alone (4.45 minutes-per-game).

Boy was I wrong in my prediction for yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day. I thought we’d get a closely contested game in the Blue Jackets‘ favor, but Pittsburgh instead exploded for a 4-1 victory.

Rookie Carter Rowney (Scott Wilson) found the Penguins‘ icebreaker with 69 seconds (keep it together Rob Gronkowski) remaining in the first period. His tip-in to find the back of Sergei Bobrovsky‘s net was only the second goal of his young 24-game career.

Things really got rolling for the Pens in the second period, as two scores were added before the second intermission. 9:26 into the frame, Patric Hornqvist (Tom Kuhnhackl) provided what came to be the winning goal with a pure wrist shot. 3:04 later, Third Star of the Game Brian Dumoulin (First Star Jake Guentzel and Second Star Sidney Crosby), the same defenseman I called out in my preview, rose to my challenge and buried his first tally of the season to set the score at 3-0.

Only 33 seconds into the final frame, Guentzel (Justin Schultz and Crosby) provided Pittsburgh its final insurance goal. By scoring a shorthanded snap shot with 9:40 remaining in regulation, Brandon Dubinsky robbed Matthew Murray of his fifth shutout of the season.

Murray saved 38-of-39 shots faced (97.4%) to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Bobrovsky, who saved 23-of-27 (85.2%).

The 86-59-25 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day have now won five of the last six games in the featured series. That expands their lead to five points with only five days remaining in the regular season.

March 23 – Day 155 – Stars upon thars

Thursday is upon us again, which means a lot of hockey action to watch. The festivities begin at 7 p.m. with two games (Tampa Bay at Boston [TVAS] and Columbus at Washington), followed half an hour later by four more (New Jersey at Toronto, Carolina at Montréal [RDS], Pittsburgh at Ottawa [NHLN/RDS2] and Arizona at Florida). A trio of contests drop the puck at 8 p.m. (Vancouver at St. Louis, Calgary at Nashville and Philadelphia at Minnesota) to precede Dallas at Chicago at 8:30 p.m. 9 p.m. marks the beginning of Edmonton at Colorado, 90 minutes before the start of tonight’s nightcap: Winnipeg at Los AngelesAll times eastern.

Is there any question of which game we’re watching tonight? When two of the top-three teams in the league square off and the Metropolitan Division lead is on the line, it’s must-see TV!

 

Two points is all that separates these clubs from one another at the top of the Metropolitan Division. That differential is made only tighter by Pittsburgh sitting right between them in second place.

Of course, that could all change after tonight’s games. Columbus, Pittsburgh or Washington could finish tonight leading the division/conference/league.

47-17-8 Washington‘s path is simplest: don’t lose in regulation. As long as the Capitals earn at least a point tonight, they’ll retain their lead – no matter how Pittsburgh does in Ottawa.

Of course, the Capitals have every intention of improving their two-game winning streak into three, and they’ll do that on the back of their incredible defense and goaltending that has allowed only 156 goals – the fewest in the entire league.

For 37-11-6 Braden Holtby, it’s unfortunate that goaltenders like Sergei Bobrovsky and Devan Dubnyk are having such spectacular seasons, as last year’s Vezina Trophy winner is actually having an even better campaign this year than last. He has a .925 season save percentage and 2.05 GAA, the fifth and second-best marks, respectively, in the league among the 40 netminders with at least 28 appearances.

But what truly sets Washington apart this year is not simply the fact that it not only has Holtby at its disposal, but also one of the elite defensive units in the game. Led by Karl Alzner and his 151 shot blocks (the 10th-most in the NHL), the Capitals have allowed only 27.8 shots-per-game to reach Holtby’s crease, the fourth-lowest total in the league.

Pair those two facets together, and that ice is pretty solid. Although I would argue the Capitals still under-perform in this aspect, they still play one of the better penalty kills in the league. Tied for seventh-best in the league, Washington has successfully snuffed out 83.8% of opposing power plays.

In my opinion, this is where Holtby’s Vezina-pitch falls flat. He only has a .847 save percentage against the power play, the sixth-worst effort in the league.

Fortunately for Washington, Alzner and the defense are prepared to pick up the slack. With 36 shorthanded blocks, Alzner leads a pack of eight skaters (note: I’m being intentional about using the word skater; four of these skaters are forwards) that have notched more than 10 blocks on the penalty kill.

Just like Edmonton last night, the Capitals are more than capable of reclaiming any goals they allowed while on the penalty kill with their own elite power play. Washington successfully converts 22% of man-advantages, which is the sixth-best mark in the NHL. Nicklas Backstrom is far-and-away the lead man on special teams, as his 30 power play points lead not only the Capitals, but the entire league. Of course, he also has one of the best offensive weapons in the game at his disposal in Alex Ovechkin, who has 13 man-advantage goals to his credit to lead the team.

While they’ll need some help from the Senators, the 47-19-6 Blue Jackets are also eligible for the league’s top spot for the night. Should the Penguins fall, Columbus can take over the top spot in the league with a victory in regulation tonight by virtue of winning the third tiebreaker – the season series.

After tonight’s game, both Columbus and Washington will have played 73 games. Should the Jackets win in regulation, they’ll both also be tied with 46 regulation+overtime wins.

The Blue Jackets already lead the season series with Washington 2-1-0, but they’d be much more comfortable with this tiebreaker with another win tonight. That would clinch their series advantage over the Capitals with three points, as these clubs will meet up only once more this season.

It will be a battle of defense tonight, as the Jackets have also found most of their wins by limiting opposing scoring chances. Columbus has allowed only 168 goals against, which ties for second-fewest in the NHL.

Leading that charge is 39-13-4 Bobrovsky, the proud owner of the most wins in the league so far this season. He’s earned every single one of them, as his .931 save percentage and 2.04 GAA are both best in the league among the 40 netminders with at least 28 appearances.

What makes Bobrovsky so impressive is the fact that he’s doing better than Holtby, but with a far inferior defense. Though led by Jack Johnson‘s 112 shot blocks, the Jackets have allowed 30.1 shots against per game, only the 12th-lowest average in the league.

That effort shines through in the penalty kill. Though Bobrovsky has faced the fifth-most shots from teams on the power play, he’s saved 88.7% of them, which ties for the 13th-best power play save percentage in the NHL. That has led the Jackets to killing 82.6% of their penalties, the 10th-best rate in the NHL.

Columbus‘ power play is also extremely talented – though not as much as Washington‘s. Successful on 21.4% of attempts – the eighth-best mark in the league – the Blue Jackets have been led by none other than Alexander Wennberg and his 22 power play points. Though it’s been two weeks since his last contribution on the special teams, he’s still a point of emphasis for Barry Trotz’ club.

Another member of the special team that the Caps will keep an eye on is Nick Foligno, as the left wing has registered 11 power play goals this season to lead his club.

Earlier we discussed the fact that the Jackets have had the upper-hand on the Caps this year. It didn’t look that way the last time they met though, as Washington hosted the Blue Jackets to a five-goal shutout victory on January 5.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include ColumbusCam Atkinson (33 goals [tied for fifth-most in the league]), Bobrovsky (2.04 GAA on a .931 save percentage for 39 wins [all best in the NHL], including six shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the league]) and David Savard (+27 [tied for eighth-best in the NHL]) & Washington‘s Backstrom (56 assists [second-most in the league] on 78 points [fifth-most in the NHL]), Holtby (eight shutouts among [most in the league] 37 wins [tied for second-most in the NHL] on a 2.05 GAA [second-best in the league] and a .925 save percentage [fifth-best in the NHL]), Dmitry Orlov (+29 [sixth-best in the league]), Brooks Orpik (+32 [tied for second-best in the NHL]) and T.J. Oshie (+27 [tied for eighth-best in the league]).

For those that love a low-scoring affair, this is the game for you. Since there’s so much on the line tonight, I expect a very competitive, intense game that will end in a Washington victory. Whether it ends in regulation, overtime or a shootout, I will not venture a guess.

Hockey Birthday

  • Don Marshall (1932-) – This left wing hoisted the Stanley Cup five years in a row during his 10-year career in Montréal. In all, he appeared in 19 NHL seasons and played in seven All-Star Games.
  • Bengt-Ake Gustafsson (1958-) – A fourth-round pick by Washington in the 1978 NHL Amateur Draft, this Swedish right wing played 629 games over nine years for the Capitals. He never finished a season with fewer than 40 points, and twice notched 75.
  • Alex Selivanov (1971-) – Philadelphia may have selected this right wing in the sixth round of the 1994 NHL Entry Draft, but he never wore a Flyers sweater. Instead, he spent most of his seven-year career in Tampa Bay. He scored one postseason overtime goal during his playing days to beat – you guessed it – the Flyers.
  • Patrick Bordeleau (1986-) – It’s been a tough career for this scrappy left wing. Although selected by Minnesota in the fourth round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, he didn’t start his NHL career until 2012 with Colorado. After recovering from an off-season back surgery, he played less than a minute in his first game in the 2014-’15 season before fracturing his kneecap. That was his last game in the league – since then, he’s been playing in Wales.
  • Michal Neuvirth (1988-) – Since being selected 34th-overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft by Washington, this Czech goaltender has played with four clubs over nine seasons of play. This year marks his second with Philadelphia, where he’s earned a 28-18-5 record.

A dominating 20-shot second period is just what the doctor ordered for Anaheim, as it bested the visiting Oilers 4-3 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The scoreboard operator got to work early last night, as Leon Draisaitl (Patrick Maroon and Connor McDavid) earned Edmonton a one-goal lead with a slap shot 5:58 into the game. That advantage didn’t lost long though, as Patrick Eaves‘ (Third Star of the Game Ryan Getzlaf and First Star Hampus Lindholm) snap shot leveled the game 1:48 later. That didn’t seem to sit well with McDavid (Draisaitl and Kris Russell), so he returned the lead to the Oil at the 8:49 mark, and they would’ve held onto it if not for Lindhom’s (Second Star Rickard Rakell and Getzlaf) tip-in with 31 seconds remaining before intermission.

Anaheim took it’s first lead of the evening 93 seconds after returning from the break. Josh Manson (Lindholm) provided the tally, his fourth of the year. It proved to be a lead the Ducks would not yield, thanks to Rakell’s (Getzlaf) wrist shot with 8:37 remaining in the second frame. That set the score at 4-2, which held almost the remainder of the game.

The reason Rakell’s goal is the winner and not Manson’s is due to Mark Letestu‘s (McDavid and Maroon) power play snapper with seven seconds remaining in regulation. Unfortunately for the Oilers, it was too little, too late.

Jonathan Bernier earned the victory after saving 29-of-32 shots faced (90.625%), leaving the loss to Cam Talbot, who saved 14-of-18 (77.8%). Following Rakell’s eventual-winning goal, Talbot was pulled for Laurent Brossoit, who saved all 16 shots he faced for no decision.

Forget the fact that Anaheim now occupies second place in the Pacific Division, the real news here is that home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series now trail the 79-56-22 visitors by only a point thanks to the Ducks‘ win.

March 14 – Day 146 – Potential Stanley Cup Finals preview? We’ll have to see…

Nine games are being contested in the NHL tonight, and there’s more than a few good ones. Like it almost always does on a weeknight, the action starts at 7 p.m. with three contests (Winnipeg at New Jersey, Minnesota at Washington and the New York Islanders at Carolina), followed by another trio (Chicago at Montréal [NBCSN/RDS], Tampa Bay at Ottawa [RDS2] and Toronto at Florida [TVAS]) half an hour later. The Western Conference starts getting involved at 9 p.m. with Dallas at Edmonton, followed 90 minutes later by tonight’s co-nightcaps: Arizona at Los Angeles and Buffalo at San JoseAll times eastern.

Since the Blackhawks make only one trip to the Bell Centre per year, it’s always an exciting Original Six game. That being said, the match I’m most attracted to features the class of each conference squaring off at the Verizon Center.

 

There’s not many hockey fans that would complain about a Stanley Cup between these clubs. They’ve been at the top of their respective conferences for almost the entirety of the year, and both feature the full package. They have explosive offenses, and are backed goaltenders that, by the time the 2017 NHL Awards Show is over, have both won Vezina Trophies (Yes, I’m giving Devan Dubnyk this year’s Vezina. Show me a more worthy candidate.).

The fourth-best team in hockey, the 43-18-6 Wild currently have a narrow one-point (but with a game-in-hand) lead over Chicago for first place in both the Central and the Western Conference. As said before, Dubnyk has been absolutely exceptional this year, but Minnesota‘s offense has grown into one of the most dominant in the game.

Two hundred twenty goals in 67 games sounds impressive on its own, but who would’ve guessed the Wild would host an offense that trails only Pittsburgh for league superiority? That attack is spearheaded by first-line right wing Mikael Granlund, who has a career-high 63 points to his credit. In fact, he’s so good his .94 points-per-game scoring rate is 15th-best in the entire NHL.

You have to keep layering the accolades on Granlund when you focus on Minnesota‘s goal-scoring, as he leads the club with 23 tallies – another career high. He’s closely trailed by Eric Staal, Jason Zucker and Nino Niederreiter, who have 22, 21 and 20, respectively. To put things simply, Minnesota‘s top-two lines are deadly.

As you’d expect, that attack doesn’t stop when the Wild earn a man-advantage. When an opponent commits a penalty, Minnesota converts 21.1% of their power plays into goals, the eighth-best rate in the league.

Guess who leads that effort.

Yup, it’s Granlund, as he has 18 power play points on his resume this year. Yet he doesn’t have the clubhouse lead in man-advantage goal-scoring – that responsibility belongs to Niederreiter, who has eight power play goals even though he hasn’t scored one since February 12.

If the power play is good, the penalty kill is great, as the Wild‘s 84% success rate ties for sixth-best in the league (more on that later). Although I usually give credit to the leading shorthanded shot blocker in this situation (fine… way to go Jared Spurgeon with your 18 blocks), it’s better to acknowledge Dubnyk’s play. Even though he’s faced 203 shots when down a man (14th-most in the NHL), his .897 save percentage in that situation is sixth-best in the league.

One of the few teams better than the Wild are the 44-17-7 Capitals, but they shouldn’t take that to heart – nobody’s better than Washington (just ask Al Capone about the IRS)! The Verizon Center must be the second home of the Department of Defense, as Washington has allowed only 147 goals all season – the best total in the league.

34-11-5 Braden Holtby is an absolute machine. Winner of last year’s Vezina Trophy, he’d be a shoe-in for this year’s season’s award if not for the stellar play of Dubnyk as his .926 season save percentage and 2.03 GAA are fifth-best and tops in the league, respectively, among the 41 netminders with at least 26 appearances.

Part of the reason Holtby’s found such success is due to a solid blueline playing in front of him. Led by Karl Alzner and his 142 shot blocks (tied for 10th-most in the NHL), the Caps‘ defense has allowed only 27.7 shots-per-game to reach his crease, which is the fourth-best rate in the league.

Remember how Minnesota was tied for the sixth-best penalty kill in the league? That other team is the Washington Capitals, who have also rejected 84% of the power plays they’ve faced. The defense leads the way in that effort – especially Alzner, who has 35 shorthanded shot blocks, which ties for fourth-most in the league.

Oh yeah, and then there’s also the notorious Washington offense, which has been solid since, I don’t know… 2005, when Alex Ovechkin entered the league. That offense especially comes to mind when the Capitals earn the power play, as their 21.3% success rate is the seventh-best mark in the NHL. Although Ovechkin would love you to think it him and his team-high 12 man-advantage goals, Nicklas Backstrom is actually the mastermind behind the Caps‘ power play with his 26 extra-man points.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Minnesota‘s Dubnyk (.931 save percentage [tied for best in the NHL] and a 2.07 GAA for 36 wins [both second-best in the league], including five shutouts [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]), Granlund (+28 [eighth-best in the league]), Mikko Koivu (+31 [tied for fourth-best in the NHL]), Spurgeon (+32 [third-best in the league]), Ryan Suter (+34 [best in the NHL]) and Zucker (+33 [second-best in the league]) & Washington‘s Backstrom (47 assists [third-most in the NHL] for 68 points [ninth-most in the league]), Holtby (eight shutouts [most in the NHL] and a 2.03 GAA [best in the league] and .926 save percentage [fifth-best in the NHL] for 34 wins [third-most in the league]), Dmitry Orlov (+27 [ninth-best in the NHL]) and Brooks Orpik (+31 [tied for fourth-best in the league]).

Even though they’re losers of their past four games, Vegas favors Washington to win tonight’s game with a -145 line. I’m absolutely appalled the spread is that large, even though I do think the Capitals manage to pull out the win tonight with home ice.

The special teams units of both teams are solid, and the goaltenders are even better. Everything is going to boil down to each team’s defensive play, and I’m certain the Caps are better in that department. Washington wins a close one.

Hockey Birthday

  • Vaclav Nedomansky (1944-) – This right wing spent only six seasons in the NHL, and most of that time was with the Red Wings. After four years in the WHA, his best season was in 1978-’79 when he buried 38 goals for 73 points.
  • Patrick Traverse (1974-) – Drafted 50th-overall by Ottawa in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft, this defenseman appeared in seven seasons between 1995 and 2006. Spending most of his time with the club that drafted him, he finished his career with an overall +2 rating.

The Blues notched a huge 3-1 victory against Los Angeles in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day to expand their lead over the ninth-place Kings to five points in the race for the second Western wild card.

Things really started heating up with 6:23 remaining in the second period when Third Star of the Game David Perron (Alexander Steen) scored a wrist shot to break the scoreless draw. The Kings fired an incredible 21 shots-on-goal in the frame, but First Star Jake Allen saved them all to preserve St. Louis‘ one-goal lead going into the second intermission.

Only 70 seconds after returning to the ice for the final period, Magnus Paajarvi (Patrik Berglund and Alex Pietrangelo) provided what proved to be the game-winning goal with a power play wrister. Los Angeles finally got on the board when Dustin Brown (Drew Doughty and Tyler Toffoli) scored a wrister with 2:55 remaining in regulation to pull within a score, but Steen (Pietrangelo) scored on an empty net with seven seconds remaining in the game to seal the Notes‘ victory.

Allen saved all but one of the 39 shots (97.4%) he faced to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Jonathan Quick, who saved 23-of-25 (92%).

Not only is St. Louis‘ victory important in the NHL standings, but it also strongly impacts the DtFR Game of the Day series as well. Thanks to the Blues, the 74-52-22 road teams now have a one-point lead over homers in the series.