Tag Archives: Bernier

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals – May 22

 

Anaheim Ducks at Nashville Predators – Game 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 9 -Day 172 – It all comes down to this

It’s all come down to this: the last day of the 2016-’17 NHL regular season. Don’t cry that it’s leaving; instead smile and laugh at the memories.

Oh yeah, and get amped for the Stanley Cup Playoffs!

To close out the season, the league has scheduled 10 games for our viewing pleasure. A trio of them (New Jersey at Detroit [SN1], Buffalo at Tampa Bay and Ottawa at the New York Islanders [RDS2]) start at 5 p.m., followed by another pair (Colorado at St. Louis and Columbus at Toronto [SN/TVAS]) an hour later. The usual starting time of 7 p.m. marks the puck drop of three contests (Pittsburgh at the New York Rangers, Carolina at Philadelphia and Florida at Washington) and Los Angeles at Anaheim (SN1) waiting until 8:30 to get started. Finally, 9 p.m. brings with it the regular season nightcap: Vancouver at Edmonton (SN). All times eastern.

Short list:

  • New Jersey at Detroit: The day many had hoped would never come. This is the final game to be played at Joe Louis Arena. I’ll forever consider the Wings a rival to my beloved Blues, but I hope Motown gives this incredible place one more victory for old times’ sake.
  • Columbus at Toronto: As long as the Leafs can avoid a regulation loss, they’ll win third place in the Atlantic Division and avoid the mighty Capitals.
  • Pittsburgh at New York: The last rematch of last season’s playoffs will be contested in Madison Square Garden.
  • Los Angeles at Anaheim: Though the Kings‘ season is complete after today, the Ducks still have something to play for: a Pacific Division banner.
  • Vancouver at Edmonton: As long as the Oilers don’t need a shootout to win, they can surpass Anaheim for the division title if it loses to Los Angeles.

It’s such hard decision among the contests in Toronto, Anaheim and Edmonton, as all three could have a significant impact on how the postseason plays out. Since there’s so much at stake in the Pacific, I think we have to focus in on the Freeway Face-Off!

 

I’ll start this article in a similar way I began yesterday’s:

The 39-35-7 Kings enter this game in fifth place in the Pacific Division and 10th in the Western Conference, already eliminated from playoff contention. With Nashville’s regular-season campaign complete at 94 points, the best Los Angeles can do is finish seven points behind eighth place.

This game is not about them (though they have more reasons to play spoiler than Pittsburgh did last night – more on that later).

Instead, all eyes (specifically those in Southern California and Northern Alberta) are on 45-23-13 Anaheim, the club currently leading the Pacific Division with a day left of play.

Notice the phrase currently leading. That is very intentional, as the Ducks have not ordered their division championship banner yet. The job tonight is simple: don’t lose in regulation. As long Anaheim earns at least one point, the second place Oilers cannot surpass them for the division title.

Fortunately, the repercussions for not sealing the deal tonight aren’t too bad, at least immediately. If Edmonton could manage to surpass the Ducks for first in the division, Anaheim would host the third place Sharks in the first round instead of the wild card Flames.

Either way, the Ducks retain home ice in the first round.

Anaheim has definitely been trending upwards of late. In fact, the Ducks are tied with Washington for the best record in the NHL since March 12 with their 10-0-3 record.

Just like its been all season, they’ve returned to winning ways by keeping the opposition off the board. Only 24 goals have been scored on the Ducks since mid-March, the fewest in the NHL in that time.

Of course, that starts with the goaltending. Both 25-16-9 John Gibson and 20-7-4 Jonathan Bernier have been fantastic over this run, as both have save percentages and GAAs better than .93 and 2.0, respectively.

Though Bernier was extremely impressive while filling in for Gibson during his injury, it seems the usual Number 1 has reclaimed his crease as Gibson has started the last two games. I expect the owner of the superior .96 save percentage and 1.32 GAA to take to the crease again tonight, as Gibson’s effort in his past three games has been third and second-best, respectively, among the 62 goalies who have played at least two games since mid-March.

Much of the reason both goaltenders have found such success is they haven’t been overworked. Though the Ducks‘ blueline has been only slightly above-average at keeping pucks off the crease on the year (they average 29.8 shots allowed-per-game), the 395 they’ve allowed in their past 13 games is tied for fifth-fewest in the league.

Both Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen have been a big part of that play, as they co-lead the team with 21 shot blocks since March 12. Jakob Silfverberg has also been instrumental with his 11 takeaways in that time.

On the season as a whole, only two clubs have been better than the Ducks when faced with a penalty kill situation. Gibson has played a major role in that effort all year, as his .909 season save percentage against the power play is the fourth-best mark in the league among the 48 goalies with at least 25 appearances on the year.

Doing their best to play spoiler tonight will be the visiting Kings, Anaheim‘s greatest rival. Though the postseason is out of their grasp, there is probably nothing more they would like to do than harm the Ducks‘ Stanley Cup playoff chances by declining them the opportunity to outright win the Pacific Division.

Unfortunately, it’s been an up-and-down effort of late for Los Angeles. Since March 16, the Kings have matched every win with a loss for a 6-6-0 record. In fact, every game since March 31 has alternated results. The 31st was a win, the 2nd was a loss. The 4th was a win… you get the idea. April 8 was a win, so…. well, things aren’t looking good for Los Angeles if this trend continues.

Offense has been Los Angeles‘ biggest struggle not only during this stretch, but for the entire season overall. On they year, the Kings have averaged only 2.42 goals-per-game, the sixth-lowest average in the NHL. Since mid-March, that number is down to 2.25, including two shutouts.

The brightest star on the Kings‘ offense of late is easily Anze Kopitar. With 10 points in a dozen games, he’s the only forward that has contributed more than seven tallies in the past three weeks. That being said, Jarome Iginla has also been decent with his team-leading four goals during this run.

Though far from a dominant force throughout the season, Los Angeles‘ power play has been especially shoddy of late, converting only 16.7% of its 36 most recent opportunities. Just like he’s been on the entire offense, Kopitar has been the most impressive during this skid with his four power play points.

If anything positive can be said about Los Angeles‘ power play, it’s that it’s unpredictable. All six tallies since March 16 have come off a different stick, and those scorers are evenly split between the power play units.

If the season series is any indication, we’re in for a fantastic game tonight. Both clubs have won two of the four previous games between them this campaign for copied 2-2-0 records. Making things even more interesting, both teams have gone 1-1-0 on home ice.

The last time they met up was February 25 at the Staples Center. Speaking of home ice, that is the game the Kings scored four goals (including two from Tyler Toffoli) to give Jonathan Quick a 4-1 victory in his first full game of the season. He saved 32 shots faced in his first game back from his groin injury.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Anaheim‘s Ryan Getzlaf (55 assists [tied for third-most in the league]) and Gibson (2.22 GAA [fifth-best in the NHL] on a .924 save percentage [tied for fifth-best in the league], including six shutouts [sixth-most in the NHL]) & Los AngelesJeff Carter (32 goals for 66 points on 250 shots [all lead the team]) and Drew Doughty (+8 [leads the team]).

The easy pick is obviously the Ducks, who have much more to play for, to win on home ice. The problem is you can never use such concrete logic when predicting a rivalry game of this magnitude. I’ll still take Anaheim to clinch the Pacific Division tonight, but I have no doubt in my mind that the Kings will make it as difficult as they possibly can.

Hockey Birthday

  • Jimmy Roberts (1940-2015) – This skater spent most of his 15 seasons in Montréal, though he had a lengthy tenure with the Blues as well. He was a three-time All Star and, more importantly, has his name on the Stanley Cup five times as a player.
  • Michel Parizeau (1948-) – The Rangers selected this center 10th-overall in the 1965 NHL Amateur Draft, yet he never played a game with the Blueshirts. In fact, he spent only one season in the NHL, as he played most of his eight years with the Nordiques in the WHA.
  • Rick Tocchet (1964-) – Though a longtime Flyer – albeit in two stints – after being selected by Philadelphia in the sixth round of the 1983 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing won his lone Stanley Cup as a member of the 1992 Penguins.

Three goals in the third period is exactly what the doctor ordered for Toronto, as it beat the Penguins 5-3 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day to secure its spot in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It was not the start the Maple Leafs wanted to this game, though. Former Leaf Phil Kessel (Matt Cullen and Tom Kuhnhackl) buried a snap shot only 6:11 into the contest to give Pittsburgh an early 1-0 lead. That advantage didn’t last long though, as James van Riemsdyk (Tyler Bozak and Roman Polak) leveled with a snapper of his own only 29 seconds later. The one-all score held into the first intermission.

Only 1:29 after Tom Sestito‘s goaltender interference penalty, Bozak (William Nylander and Jake Gardiner) scored a power play snapper at the 3:30 mark of the second frame. This time, it was the Pens who had the answer, as Sidney Crosby (Jake Guentzel and Justin Schultz) leveled the match at two-all 4:25 later with a power play slap shot.

Pittsburgh once again took a one-goal lead 6:51 into the third period courtesy of an unassisted Guenztel wrist shot, but that is what lit a fire under Toronto‘s belly. In all, the Maple Leafs fired a dozen shots on Marc-Andre Fleury‘s net in the final frame, and three got past him. Kasperi Kapanen (Matt Hunwick and Auston Matthews) leveled the game with 5:30 remaining in regulation with the first goal of his career, followed by Connor Brown‘s (Gardiner and Hunwick) game-winner 2:42 later. With four seconds remaining, Matthews scored his 40th goal of the season (only the fourth rookie under 20-years-old in NHL history to achieve that total) on an empty net to ensure the Leafs‘ victory.

Curtis McElhinney earned the victory after saving 12-of-14 shots faced (85.7%). He replaced Frederik Andersen, who had saved three-of-four (75%), after the starter was struck in the head by Sestito. Fleury saved 25-of-29 (86.2%) in the loss.

After 175 games in this 2016-’17 DtFR Game of the Day series, the 88-61-25 home teams have finally clinched the deciding victory in our featured series. The hosts have 201 points to their credit to create a five-point spread the visitors are incapable of surpassing.

April 1 – Day 164 – Ducks dominance or Oilers ownage?

Eight games will be played this penultimate Saturday of the NHL regular season, starting with Florida at Boston (SN) at 1 p.m. The other matinee of the day drops the puck an hour later and features Minnesota at Nashville. The usual starting time of 7 p.m. marks the beginning of five contests (Ottawa at Winnipeg [SN], Toronto at Detroit [CBC/NHLN], Montréal at Tampa Bay [CITY/TVAS], New Jersey at Philadelphia and Dallas at Carolina), and tonight’s nightcap – Anaheim at Edmonton (CBC/SN) – gets underway at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Toronto at Detroit: Not only is this one of the more historical rivalries in the game, but Alexey Marchenko also makes his first – and last – trip to Joe Louis Arena as a visitor.
  • New Jersey at Philadelphia: The Battle of the Jersey Turnpike rages on tonight on Broad Street.
  • Anaheim at Edmonton: Oh, you know, there’s nothing major on the line in this game. Just the lead in the Pacific Division, that’s all.

There’s no joking about it, tonight’s festivities in Edmonton are going to have a significant impact on the race for the Pacific championship. Though we were just there a couple days ago, it’s off to Edmonton with us!

 

The best way to complete our three-day stop in Alberta is by featuring the best two teams in the Pacific Division. Only a point separates the Ducks and Oilers from each other with five fixtures left on the schedule.

What makes this game even more important is this is the last time they’ll run into each other this year – barring a postseason meeting. The reason for Anaheim‘s advantage can be found in their second run-in with Oilers of the year. On December 3 – ironically at Rogers Place, the same surface on which they’ll square off tonight – Edmonton needed overtime to best the Ducks 3-2.

That overtime loss is the differential in the season series between these clubs. Since both have won two of the previous four meetings, Anaheim has a one-point advantage on the Oilers in both the series and the standings as a whole.

The 42-23-12 Ducks have been playing some fantastic hockey since mid-March. They’re riding a nine-game point streak that has seen them go 7-0-2 and climb to the top of the Pacific Division.

As has been the case all year, Anaheim has made this surge on the back of its defense and goaltending. The Ducks have allowed only 17 goals in their past nine games, which is the second-fewest in the league since March 12.

Though normally bearing the title of backup, a main reason for the Ducks‘ surge is 19-7-4 Jonathan Bernier, who has been the only goaltender to take to the crease during this run. He’s played remarkably, as his .938 save percentage and 1.86 GAA over this stretch are (t)fifth and (t)seventh-best among the 42 goalies who’ve made at least four appearances since mid-March.

What makes Bernier’s play even more impressive is he hasn’t had quite the defense that he and 23-16-8 John Gibson have grown accustomed to this season. Though not by much, Anaheim‘s blueline is under-performing by their standards as they’ve allowed 30.3 shots-per-game to reach Bernier’s crease in the past nine games, which is actually sixth-tenths more than their season average.

That slight decrease in performance can’t be blamed on Hampus Lindholm or Sami Vatanen though. They’ve been playing out of their minds of late, as they both have 18 shot blocks to their credit since March 12.

Perhaps the reason for the Ducks‘ almost indiscernible drop in defensive production is due to Cam Fowler‘s recent play.  Though he averages 1.7 shot blocks per game for the entire season, that rate has dropped to 1.3 in the last nine games.

Like I said, almost indiscernible. We’re splitting hairs here; Fowler has still been excellent, as have Lindholm and Vatanen. The Ducks still have a defense to be reckoned with, not to mention the red-hot Bernier playing in net. In short, scoring against the Ducks is not an easy thing to do.

The true mark of a good defense is a solid penalty kill, and Anaheim has one of those. It ranks fifth-best on the season and stops 85.1% of opponents’ power plays. As you’d expect, the reason for the Ducks‘ success is twofold – as in two fantastic goalies. Both Bernier and Gibson save over 90% of power play shots against. Of the 28 netminders who’ve faced 175 or more man-advantage shots this season, they’re the only two goaltenders in the league who can make that claim.

Of course, every team has a hole. For the Ducks, that issue this year is the power play, and that’s especially been the case over the last 20 days. The Ducks have found the back of the net with the man-advantage only three times in the past nine games for a horrendous success rate of 10%. Only three teams in the NHL have been worse since March 12.

43-25-9 Edmonton has also been playing incredible hockey since mid-March, especially when it has the puck on its stick. Since March 14, the Oilers have buried 37 goals – five more than Carolina, Chicago and Washington (incredible offenses in their own rights) to lead the NHL. That offensive explosion has led the Oil to a 8-1-0 mark in that time, which ties for second-best in the league.

Just like it’s been all year, Todd McLellan‘s club has utilized a two-headed attack of none other than Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. Both have 16 points apiece since the 14th to co-lead the league.

Since both play a solid, unselfish game, they get credit for a lot of helpers. Patrick Maroon, the final third of Edmonton‘s top line, has been the man taking advantage of that of late, as he’s potted six beauties in the past 18 days to lead the squad.

An offense of this caliber does not mess around. Since March 14, Edmonton has taken advantage of 29% of its man-advantage situations to score nine power play goals. Four of those have been a direct result of Draisaitl’s play, though they’ve all been apples. Half of those assists have gone to Mark Letestu and the other half to Milan Lucic, both of whom join Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with two power play goals apiece to headline the Oil‘s extra-man attack of late.

Maybe the most impressive part of Edmonton‘s game during this impressive run is its effort on the penalty kill. Only two tallies have resulted due to an Oilers penalty for a 91.3% kill rate, the second-best in the league in that time frame.

While 39-21-8 Cam Talbot has been good over the stretch, the real reason for Edmonton‘s success is McLellan’s leadership. The best way to succeed at the penalty kill is to avoid it, and the Oilers have been shorthanded only 23 times in their past nine games, which ties for sixth-fewest in the NHL.

The last time these squads met was only 10 days ago on March 22 at The Pond. Both Ryan Getzlaf and Lindholm added three points to their season totals to lead Anaheim to a narrow 4-3 victory over the visiting Oilers.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Anaheim‘s Getzlaf (52 assists [fifth-most in the NHL]) and Gibson (five shutouts [tied for sixth-most in the league] and a 2.28 GAA [seventh-best in the NHL] on a .921 save percentage [10th-best in the league]) & Edmonton‘s Draisaitl (72 points [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]), McDavid (63 assists for 91 points [both lead the league] for a +26 [tied for eighth-best in the NHL]) and Talbot (seven shutouts [tied for second-most in the league] among 39 wins [third-most in the NHL]).

Vegas has marked the Oilers a -125 favorite to win tonight’s game. I’m going to side with the odds-makers this evening, as I trust Talbot and Edmonton‘s defense more than the Ducks‘ offense. That being said, this should be an absolutely thrilling matchup.

Hockey Birthday

  • Ken Reardon (1921-2008) – This Winnipeg-born defenseman played all of his seven-year NHL career in Montréal. Though a short career, the Hall of Famer played in three All-Star Games and hoisted the 1946 Stanley Cup.
  • Guy Trottier (1941-2014) – This right wing played only three season in the NHL, and another three in the WHA. His longest tenured NHL team was Toronto, with whom he notched 45 points in 113 games.
  • Darren McCarty (1972-) – Detroit selected this right wing 46th-overall in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he spent all but two of his 15 seasons in the NHL. As you’d expect from a tenured Wing, McCarty is the proud owner of four Stanley Cup Champion rings.
  • J.P. Dumont (1978-) – Selected third-overall by the Islanders in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing played most of his 12 seasons in Nashville. He found his game with the Predators, as he provided a defensive presence and focused his offensive efforts on assists, earning 174.

Scoring three goals in a period is usually a formula for success. That’s the strategy Calgary employed in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day to beat the Sharks 5-2 at the Saddledome.

Third Star of the Game Johnny Gaudreau (Second Star Sam Bennett) provided a sample of what was to come after the intermission by scoring a tip-in with 7:34 remaining in the first period. That was the lone goal of the frame, giving Calgary a 1-0 lead with 40 minutes remaining.

Sean Monahan (Matthew Tkachuk and Kris Versteeg) provided Calgary‘s first tally of the second with a power play wrist shot. That goal was answered 4:46 later by Marc-Edouard Vlasic (Michael Haley and Marcus Sorensen), but there was no Sharks response for what the Flames did next. Matt Stajan (Michael Stone) scored what came to be a game-winning snap shot with 7:22 remaining in the period, followed 5:31 later by an Alex Chiasson (Versteeg and T.J. Brodie) backhander. After having a one-goal lead for much of the game, Calgary entered the second intermission with a 4-1 advantage.

Melker Karlsson (Joe Pavelski and Paul Martin) pulled San Jose back within two tallies with 6:54 remaining in regulation, but even that tally was erased by Bennett’s (Chiasson and Brodie) wrister on an empty net with 34 seconds remaining in the game.

First Star Brian Elliott saved 36-of-38 shots faced (94.7%) to earn the victory. That left the loss to Martin Jones, who saved 18-of-22 (81.8%) before being pulled after Chiasson’s tally. Aaron Dell saved all 12 shots he faced for no decision.

Currently riding a two-game winning streak, home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series now have an 83-58-25 record, which is two points better than the visitors.

March 31 – Day 163 – Keeping it in Alberta

Welcome to the penultimate Friday in the NHL’s regular season. Unless you’re a fan of one of the 16 teams heading for the playoffs, there’s not much hockey left to be watched so make sure to catch the rest of this season’s games!

Tonight’s festivities start with Pittsburgh at the New York Rangers (SN) at 7 p.m., followed half an hour later by New Jersey at the New York Islanders. 8:30 p.m. marks the puck drop of Columbus at Chicago,  with two more (St. Louis at Colorado and San Jose at Calgary) getting underway at the top of the hour. Two contests – Los Angeles at Vancouver (SN360) and Washington at Arizona – share the role of nightcap and get started at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Pittsburgh at New York: Not only is it a rematch of last year’s Eastern Quarterfinals, but the Blueshirts could pull within four points of third place in the Metropolitan Division.
  • Columbus at Chicago: Two of the three best teams in the league? Yes please.
  • San Jose at Calgary: Thanks to the Sharks‘ loss last night, the Flames are only three points out of third place in the Pacific Division.

I’d love to watch the Hawks and Jackets square off, but it doesn’t have major playoff implications – and that’s what we’re all about this time of year. As much as I dislike repeating teams on back-to-back nights, it looks like we have to catch the Sharks‘ plane to Calgary for another important Pacific tilt.

 

If the Sharks can be happy about anything right now, it’s that today is the final day in what has been a dreadful March for them. Their 6-9-0 mark is tied with Arizona for the sixth-worst record in the month, and being compared to Coyotes in anything is usually a sign of trouble.

What makes the recent struggles an even harder pill to swallow is that it is spoiling an overall solid regular season. When the final game in February was played, San Jose was not only leading the Pacific Division by five points, but also trailed Minnesota by only seven points for the top seed in the Western Conference.

Thirty days later, the 43-27-7 Sharks sit alone in third place in the division, and four teams separate them from home ice throughout the conference playoffs. It leaves a club and fan base that entered the season on a quest to hoist its first Stanley Cup wondering if they can even escape what will be a very trying quarterfinals matchup against the Ducks, Flames, Oilers or possibly even the Blackhawks.

As I mentioned yesterday, it’s been an nearly all-inclusive collapse (defense notwithstanding) by the Sharks that has resulted in their horrendous run over the past 15 games.

Since 33-32-6 Martin Jones was in net last night, I’d assume 10-6-1 Aaron Dell will start in goal tonight (of course, I tabbed Dell to start yesterday and I was wrong, so who knows?). Dell has actually been a solid backup all season, as his .928 save percentage and 2.09 GAA are not only better than Jones’ effort, but also rank (t)third and fourth-best in the league among the 56 netminders with at least 16 appearances.

Whether we get that Dell or the Dell that has seen his save percentage drop to .915 in March remains to be seen, but you can plan on Justin Braun and San Jose‘s defense playing as strong as ever.

All season the goal has been to keep pucks off Dell and Jones’ crease as much as possible, and they’ve done an excellent job in achieving just that. All year, they’ve allowed only 27.5 shots-against per game – the third-best rate in the league – and they’ve actually been slightly better of late, allowing only 27.1 per game in March.

No Shark deserves more credit for that than Braun. He’s been the defensive stalwart of the club all year, and it shows in his team-leading 154 shot blocks. Another that has done well defensively is Joe Thornton, but he does his work before the opposition even thinks about firing at the net. He leads the squad in takeaways with 64 (tied for eighth-most in the league), including 13 this month.

The goaltending issues have proven to be especially detrimental to San Jose‘s penalty kill. Since it has been only an average effort on the season as a whole (80.8% kill rate is 15th-worst in the NHL), taking away the luxury of a usually-reliable backstop has dropped the Sharks to ninth-worst in March, neutralizing only 78% of their infractions. Dell has saved only 85% of the power play shots that have come his way this month, the 14th-worst effort among the 38 goalies with at least six March appearances.

Special teams seem to be a struggle for Peter DeBoer’s squad this year, as his power play has actually been worse than his penalty kill. The Sharks rank seventh-worst on the season with their 17.1% success rate with the man-advantage.

It’s surprising that San Jose has been so poor, mostly because they have one weapon few can match: Brent Burns. The offensive-minded blueliner has notched 24 points on the power play this campaign, which ties for 16th-most in the NHL.

Perhaps the Sharks‘ mojo has relocated itself to Cowtown. Currently in possession of a 43-30-4 record and the West’s first wild card, the Flames have earned a 15-4-1 record since February 15. That ties Columbus for the best mark in that time, though I’d argue the Flames have been better with one fewer game played.

I may actually be on to something regarding San Jose‘s mojo, as Brian Elliott has been fantastic during this run. After a rocky start to the season, he’s reclaimed the starting job in Calgary and made it his own. Since mid-February, he’s earned a .933 save percentage and a 1.97 GAA, the fourth and fifth-best marks in the league, respectively, among the 33 goalies with at least nine appearances in that time.

Tonight is the fourth of five games between these clubs this season, and the Flames have the opportunity to clinch the series victory with a win tonight. They’ve gone 2-1-0 so far against San Jose, including the last time they met on January 11. It was a closely contested affair, but Dougie Hamilton scored with 2:19 remaining in regulation to earn a 3-2 win for the Flames in the Saddledome.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Calgary‘s Johnny Gaudreau (42 assists for 59 points [both lead the team]) and Mark Giordano (176 blocks for a+22 [both lead the team]) & San Jose‘s Burns (73 points [eighth-most in the league]) and Jones (33 wins [seventh-most in the NHL]).

It’s hard to argue with recent success. Vegas has marked the Flames a -130 favorite to win tonight. Just like I said yesterday, the Sharks‘ rebound has to start in the crease. While Calgary certainly doesn’t pose the offensive threat the Oilers did a night ago, the Flames‘ confidence should be enough to get past whichever goaltender DeBoer decides to go with.

Hockey Birthday

  • Bud MacPherson (1927-1988) – For seven seasons MacPherson roamed along Montréal‘s blueline, and he was rewarded with one All-Star Game and the 1953 Stanley Cup.
  • Gordie Howe (1928-2016) – There’s no discussion: this right wing is one of the greatest players the world has ever seen. Named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972 – seven years before his last season in the league – he played in 23 All-Star Games over 26 NHL seasons (all but one with Detroit) and won both the Hart Memorial and Art Ross Trophies six times apiece, not to mention his four Stanley Cups.
  • Bob Pulford (1936-) – Another Hall of Famer, this left wing played all but two seasons of his 16-year career in Toronto. He won four Stanley Cups in the process, including three-straight from 1962-’64.
  • Bill Hicke (1938-2005) – Spending most of his time in Montréal, this right wing played 13 seasons in the NHL. The three-time All-Star was good for almost as many penalty minutes as points contributed, but that didn’t stop him from being a two-time Stanley Cup champion.
  • Gilles Gilbert (1949-) – Selected by the North Stars 25th-overall in the 1969 NHL Amateur Draft, this goaltender played 416 games over his 14-year career. Spending most of his time in Boston, he earned a 192-143-60 record before hanging up his pads.
  • Tom Barrasso (1965-) – Buffalo selected this goaltender fifth-overall in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft, but he played a majority of his career for the Penguins. He played well for both clubs, as he earned the 1984 Calder Memorial and Vezina Trophies and the 1985 William M. Jennings Trophy with the Sabres and back-to-back Stanley Cups in Pittsburgh.
  • Pavel Bure (1971-) – Though only selected in the sixth round of the 1989 NHL Entry Draft by Vancouver (his longest-tenured club), this right wing had a highly successful career. In addition to six All-Star Game appearances, he won two Maurice Richard Trophies and the 1992 Calder. All of that added up to a Hall of Fame induction in 2012.
  • Michael Ryder (1980-) – Montréal selected this right wing in the eighth round of the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he played most of his 11 seasons. That being said, he was wearing the crest of the arch-rival Bruins when he hoisted his lone Stanley Cup.
  • David Clarkson (1984-) – A longtime right wing for the Devils, this Toronto-native played 10 seasons in the NHL. He could’ve been playing his 11th this year with Columbus, but he was denied the opportunity to practice with the club due to failing his physical.
  • Steve Bernier (1985-) – The 16th-overall selection in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft by San Jose, this right wing has played 633 games over 11 seasons in the league. His longest -tenured club is New Jersey, with whom he scored 28 goals for 65 points.
  • Jakob Chychrun (1998-) – This rookie defenseman was the 16th-overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft by Arizona. He shows promise on the offensive end of the ice, as he’s provided 19 points already this year, the third-most among Coyotes blueliners.

Thanks to Second Star of the Game Cam Talbot‘s 38-save effort, Edmonton was able to best the Sharks 3-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day to improve into second place in the Pacific Division.

Though Talbot had a strong night, it didn’t start off the best way. He allowed Jannik Hansen (Paul Martin) to score only his eighth goal of the season 1:01 into play to allow the Sharks to take an early lead. Fortunately for him, Third Star Patrick Maroon (First Star Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl) provided a game-tying goal 9:21 later. Though Zack Kassian was sent off the ice for hooking birthday boy Marc-Edouard Vlasic with 3:24 remaining in the period, McDavid (Oscar Klefbom and Drake Caggiula) was able to score a shorthanded backhander only 52 seconds later to give the Oil a 2-1 lead it would not yield.

Maroon (Kris Russell) provided what proved to be the game-winning goal 7:51 into the third period with a tip-in. It became the winner with 6:01 remaining in regulation when Joe Pavelski (Vlasic and Hansen) scored a tip-in of his own, but the Sharks were unable to find another tally before the final horn.

Talbot earned the victory after saving 38-of-40 shots faced (95%), leaving the loss to Jones, who saved 19-of-22 (86.4%).

We’re all squared up once again in the DtFR Game of the Day series, as both home and away teams in the series have an identical 189 points. Road sides still have more wins with their 83-59-23 record.

March 26 – Day 158 – Mats point

There’s only one more day before you have to go back to work. Make it worth it.

I assume that doing so requires hockey, so you have five games to choose from. Today’s action starts at 12:30 p.m. with Minnesota at Detroit (NBC), followed by Dallas at New Jersey at 5 p.m. The usual starting time of 7 p.m. brings with it Philadelphia at Pittsburgh (NBCSN), followed an hour later by Vancouver at Winnipeg (SN). Finally, tonight’s nightcap drops the puck at 9 p.m. with the New York Rangers at AnaheimAll times eastern.

Short list:

  • Philadelphia at Pittsburgh: If anything can spark a late playoff push for the Flyers, it’d be a victory in the Battle for the Keystone State.
  • New York at Anaheim: Seeing as Brandon Pirri only played nine regular season games with the Ducks last year, it’s hardly a momentous return. Yet, this contest promises to be the best of the day.

Since the FlyersPenguins rivalry’s zest is diminishing outside the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, let’s feature the Big Apple for the third-straight day.

 

Games between Eastern and Western Conference opponents are always weird this time of year. Sometimes both teams can be fighting for their playoff lives or scrapping for a better seed, while other teams are simply playing one of the remaining fixtures on their increasingly unimportant schedule.

Of course, the weirdest situation of all is the one we have tonight, when one club has little to nothing to gain from an inter-conference matchup since they are effectively locked into their playoff position, while the other is still fighting for the best of four spots available.

Tonight, the 46-25-4 Rangers own the role of the “little to gain, little to lose” character. They trail Pittsburgh by seven points for third place in the Metropolitan Division, and a dozen points separate them from the second wildcard.

This may be a weird metaphor, but I imagine New York as a retired elderly gentleman, sitting in a rocker in his screened-in porch. He does not care if it is hot and the bugs are out – he has a fan and the screen keeps the bugs away. He does not care if it rains – he will stay dry and appreciate the ambiance of the rain shower. He does as he wishes and prepares for the next thing he knows he has on his to-do list.

If that doesn’t give away that I live in the South, I don’t know what does.

For those wondering, the next thing for the Rangers to do is gel in anticipation of the playoffs. Of course, they’ve shown they can do that already this year – especially on offense, as their 235 goals is tied with Minnesota for the third-highest total in the NHL.

Mats Zuccarello has been on an absolute tear of late. If it weren’t for his pointless effort at New Jersey on Tuesday, the wing would be riding a seven-game point streak, including two games with two points. In fact, he’s been so impressive that he’s taken over New York‘s clubhouse points lead from J.T. Miller.

Of course, it would be unwise to ignore Michael Grabner. Though he hasn’t buried a goal since March 13, he still leads the squad with his 27 tallies. His lead has certainly slimmed during his dry spell, as he has only one more marker than Chris Kreider.

Much of the reason for Zuccarello’s surge has been his success on the power play. Since his hot streak has began, the Rangers‘ 29.4% power play ranks third-best in the NHL, and he’s been at the forefront of it all. The wing has earned four of his points with the man-advantage in this run, including two goals (both are the highest totals on the team during this stretch).

The one thing the Blueshirts have not been able to figure out all season has been their penalty kill. No matter what Alain Vigneault does, he cannot get his club to do any better than its 79.6% season kill rate – the eighth-worst in the league, and second-worst among clubs currently in playoff position.

Meanwhile, any result from tonight’s game can drastically effect 40-23-11 Anaheim‘s postseason. Currently, the Ducks are in a three-way tie with both Edmonton and San Jose atop the Pacific Division, and the Ducks win the games-played tiebreaker with their game-in-hand.

Since the Oilers and Sharks are both inactive this evening, that un-played contest takes place tonight and provides the opportunity to either take a true lead or drop the Anaheim to second place in the Pacific behind San Jose (the Ducks lead the season series against Edmonton 2-1-1, but have fewer regulation+overtime victories than the Sharks).

Defense is the name of the game on The Pond, as the Ducks have allowed only 179 goals against, which ties for third-fewest in the league. Usually, the crease has belonged to 23-16-8 John Gibson, but he’s been fighting a lower body injury for two weeks.

Instead, it’s presumed the Ducks will turn to 17-7-3 Jonathan Bernier, who currently has them riding a three-game winning streak. Since Gibson went down, Bernier has been in net for all of Anaheim‘s games and has allowed only nine goals against – tied for the fewest in the league in that time among the 14 goaltenders with six or more appearances. In addition, his .947 save percentage and 1.48 GAA over that stretch is second-best and tops in the NHL, respectively, among those 14 aforementioned netminders.

Part of the reason Bernier has been able to find such success is because his defense has stepped up to make his job easier on him. While Anaheim‘s blueline has been good for the entire season (their 29.5 shots-against-average is ninth-best in the NHL), they’ve allowed only 169 total shots to reach Bernier since Gibson went down, the lowest mark in the league.

Hampus Lindholm is certainly deserving of much praise for those solid results, but he’s joined by an unlikely aide: center Ryan Getzlaf. Both skaters have blocked 13 shots apiece since Gibson’s injury, and they’re joined by six others that have blocked at least five or more shots in that time. The entire squad is buying in and sacrificing their bodies for the greater good of the club, and their efforts are paying off in the win column.

More on Getzlaf: he actually has blocked the most shots all season among Western Conference forwards, and the third-most overall. Add in the fact that he has 55 takeaways this year, and we just might have ourselves a Frank J. Selke Trophy candidate.

Making the defense’s performance even more impressive, it has been put under additional strain to perform by the Ducks‘ power play. Instead of taking advantage of teams when they’re shorthanded, Anaheim has scored only one power play goal in the past two weeks for a 4.8% success rate – the second-worst mark in the NHL.

Though he leads the club in power play goals (seven) and co-leads in power play points (18, tied with Corey Perry), Ryan Kesler has not buried a goal with the man-advantage since December 4. That’s almost four months ago! If the Ducks are not careful, this man-advantage slump will, not can, bite them in the butt.

The Ducks made their annual trip to Madison Square Garden on February 7, but it was a visit they’d sooner forget. Between Grabner’s two-goal third period performance and Henrik Lundqvist‘s 43-save effort, it was all Anaheim could to do avoid a four-goal shutout by notching only one tally.

Some players to keep an eye on during tonight’s game include Anaheim‘s Getzlaf (48 assists [tied for fourth-most in the league]) and New York‘s Lundqvist (30 wins [tied for eighth-most in the NHL]).

Anaheim is marked as a -140 favorite to win tonight, which is actually the narrowest line I’ve found in a quick search. The matchup tonight is simple: can the Ducks‘ defense shut down Zuccarello? If they can, they’re on their way to two points. If not, their remaining seven games just got even more important than they already were.

Hockey Birthday

  • Roger Leger (1919-1965) – A Quebec-native is never happier than when he’s playing for the Canadiens. That’s what this defenseman got to do for four of his five seasons in the league, though he must be one of the few Habs during the Original Six Era to retire without winning a Stanley Cup.
  • Ulf Samuelsson (1964-) – In comparison, this longtime Whalers defenseman played in the NHL for 16 seasons and twice hoisted the most coveted trophy in sports – though not with Hartford, of course. Instead, he was a member of both Penguins squads that etched their names into the Stanley Cup in the early 90s.
  • Michael Peca (1974-) – Selected by Vancouver 40th-overall in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft, this center is similar to Samuelsson in the sense that he won one trophy twice, but it was the Selke Trophy instead of the Stanley Cup. Playing most of his 14-year career with Buffalo, he notched 217 points while wearing the blue-and-gold.
  • Jimmy Howard (1984-) – This goaltender was selected by Detroit with the 64th-overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he’s played each and every one of his 396 career games in the league. In total, he’s earned a 197-121-54 record and made one All-Star Game appearance.

Every once in a while, a player refuses to lose a particular game. In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, that player was First Star of the Game Riley Nash, who scored both Bruins goals to lead them to a 2-1 victory over the Islanders.

What seemed to spur Nash was Third Star John Tavares‘ (Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson) snap shot with 9:55 remaining in the first period. It proved to be New York‘s lone goal of the game, but that was all the spark Nash needed. He buried an unassisted wrist shot only 36 seconds later to tie the game at one-all.

The draw held until the 4:12 mark of the third period when Nash (Dominic Moore) scored only his seventh tally of the season and sixth game-winner of his NHL career on a snapper.

Not all heroes wear capes, as Nash’s solid effort ended Boston‘s four-game losing skid and moved it into the second wildcard in the Eastern Conference.

Second Star Anton Khudobin earned the victory after saving 18-of-19 shots faced (94.7%), leaving the loss to Thomas Greiss, who saved 16-of-18 (88.9%).

It’s a perplexing situation, but road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series now have a combined 81-56-23 record, which is three points better than the series’ hosts.

March 22 – Day 154 – Wait, there’s other divisions?

There may only be three games being played this evening, but they are three good ones. The action starts at 7 p.m. with Toronto at Columbus (SN/TVAS), followed an hour later by the New York Islanders at the New York Rangers (NBCSN). Finally, Edmonton at Anaheim drops the puck at 10 p.m. to close out the night. All times eastern.

Like I said, a great lineup tonight.

While I would love to feature the city rivalry taking place in Manhattan this evening, there’s some serious business taking place in the Pacific Division that we simply must keep an eye on.

 

I can only assume that regular readers of the DtFR Game of the Day series forgot that divisions outside the Atlantic existed. That’s probably my fault since I chose rivalries from that group of teams for the last four days. Whoops.

I also assume that every SoCal sports fan that didn’t get tickets to the Team Puerto Rico vs Team USA World Baseball Classic championship game at Dodger Stadium tonight will be in attendance at the Honda Center this evening.

Of course, we all know what they say about assumptions.

Anyways, tonight’s game in Anaheim is absolutely huge. Both clubs are tied at 87 points for second place in the Pacific Division. They’re on track to face each other in the Western Quarterfinals (they trail San Jose by four points, but lead Calgary by only one), so earning the two-seed is of the utmost importance for home ice.

So who’s winning the games-played tiebreaker? After tonight’s game, they’ll both have played 73 games. Next?

Who has more regulation+overtime wins? What do you know, we’re tied again. Both teams have won 35 games without the shootout this season. Next?

The third tiebreaker involves the season series between the tied clubs. This is finally where we find our answer, as Edmonton has won two of three games against the Ducks this year, in comparison to the three points Anaheim has earned against the Oilers.

Although it was a while ago, the most recent game was the one the Ducks would like need back. The Oilers came to the Honda Center – the very surface they’ll play upon tonight – and destroyed the Ducks with a four-goal shutout performance by Cam Talbot.

This time around, the Oil comes to Anaheim winners of their past four games and with a 39-24-9 record, their most wins since their 2007-’08 campaign that ended at 41-35-6.

You might call me crazy, but I’d venture to say that what is truly propelling the Oilers this season is actually their defense and goaltending. Yes, I know Connor McDavid is on the team, but Edmonton has allowed only 181 goals against, the eighth-fewest in the league. That starts with 37-20-8 Talbot.

Since a goaltender isn’t in complete control of their own record (they can post a shutout every game, but if their skaters don’t score they don’t get wins), we’ll just have to approach this statistically. How good has Talbot been? His .922 save percentage and 2.32 GAA are seventh and ninth-best in the league, respectively, among the 36 goaltenders with at least 33 appearances.

Having a top-10 goaltender is made only better by Todd McLellan‘s defensive corps. Led by Kris Russell‘s team-leading 177 shot blocks (he also leads the league in blocks-per-game), Edmonton‘s blueline has allowed only 29.9 shots-per-game to reach Talbot’s crease, which ties for 10th-fewest in the league.

And you thought all the Oilers could do is score.

Well, you would be right to say the Oil‘s defense could still use work. That’s no more apparent than when they take to the penalty kill, as their 79.6% success rate is the ninth-worst in the league. The main culprit? A defense that allows 289 power play shots to reach Talbot’s crease (the highest total in the league). Russell has tried his hardest with his 30 shorthanded blocks, but the rest of the team needs to increase its effort. Andrej Sekera is the only other skater with more than 22 penalty kill blocks to his credit.

Fortunately for Edmonton, it’s more than capable of getting goals allowed on its opponent’s power play back when it earns a man-advantage of its own. With his 25 power play points, Leon Draisaitl has led his club to a 22.5% success rate with the extra man, the third-best effort in the league. Draisaitl has been extremely impressive on the power play, as he leads the team in not only points, but also goals. He has 10 to his credit, but hasn’t notched one since Valentine’s Day.

That hasn’t stopped him from making an impact though. He’s currently riding a four-game streak of notching at least two points. In addition to an even-strength assist in all those games, he’s also earned a power play helper in each of those contests too.

Playing host this evening are the 38-23-11 Ducks, another club that doesn’t like to yield many scores. Four three-straight games, Anaheim has allowed only one goal – win or lose – to set the season total at 175 tallies against, the fourth-fewest in the league.

Usually, 23-16-8 John Gibson is charged with that responsibility, but he’s still suffering from a lower body injury. Instead, it looks like 15-7-3 Jonathan Bernier will earn his fifth-straight start. A former first-rounder by rival Los Angeles, his .918 season save percentage and 2.49 GAA is (t)19th and (t)20th-best in the league, respectively, among the 60 netminders with at least 13 appearances.

Ducks fans: if it makes you feel any better, Bernier – in his limited time – has actually been better than 29-15-14 Frederik Andersen this season. You may not like it, but it seems like Bob Murray made the right move, because you’d rather get something out of him than wasting him in the AHL.

Of course, it’s not hard to be good when a goaltender has one of the better defenses in the NHL playing in front of him. Led by Cam Fowler‘s 122 shot blocks, Anaheim allows only 29.7 shots-per-game to reach their netminders’ crease, the ninth-best average in the NHL.

Experience matters in this league, and Anaheim shows it with their penalty kill that ties for third-best in the game. Fowler continues his impressive ways with 24 shorthanded shot blocks to lead the team to an 85% success rate when short a man.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Anaheim‘s Ryan Getzlaf (45 assists [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]) & Edmonton‘s McDavid (82 points [leads the league] on 57 assists [tied for most in the NHL]) and Talbot (37 wins, including seven shutouts [both tied for second-most in the league], on a .922 save percentage [eighth-best in the NHL] and a 2.32 GAA [10th-best in the league]).

The odds-makers in Vegas has marked Anaheim a -115 favorite to win tonight, but I’m not so convinced. Not only do the Oilers have the season series on their side, but they also have their starting goaltender and one of the better offenses in the league. It may not be another four-goal shutout, but I’m taking Edmonton in the upset.

Hockey Birthday

  • Dave Keon (1940-) – Wanna talk hardware? This seven-time All-Star center spent almost his entire 18-year NHL career with Toronto, where he won four Stanley Cups, two Lady Byng Memorial Trophies, the 1961 Calder and the 1967 Smythe. He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1986.
  • Todd Ewen (1966-2015) – Edmonton selected this right wing in the eighth round of the 1984 NHL Entry Draft, but he spent most of his 11-year career in Montréal (he actually never played a game for the Oilers). His biggest claim to fame is being a member of the Canadiens‘ 1993 Stanley Cup-winning club.
  • Tom Poti (1977-) – Another pick by the Oil, this defenseman was selected 59th-overall in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft. He actually played most of his 824 career games in Edmonton, but he spent more of his years with the Capitals organization. He made his lone All-Star Game appearance in 2003 in the midst of a 48-point season – a career best.

The Bruins‘ game in Toronto Monday night has now cost them twice, as they didn’t have enough in the tank to fend off the Senators at the TD Garden in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Tom Pyatt (Cody Ceci and Mike Hoffman) got the scoring started relatively quickly, as his tip-in gave the Sens a one-goal lead only 4:09 after the initial puck drop. That advantage lasted only 4:48 though, as David Krejci (Ryan Spooner and Third Star of the Game Torey Krug) leveled the score with a power play slap shot that proved to be the final tally of the period.

Only one goal was struck in the second frame, and it belonged to Second Star Kyle Turris (Erik Karlsson and Hoffman). It was another power play slap shot, this time only 1:34 after the teams returned from the dressing rooms.

Once again, the Bruins had an answer to to tie the game. Krug scored an unassisted power play wrist shot only 17 seconds into the third period to tie the game at two-all. Turris (Dion Phaneuf and Chris Wideman) was not going to be denied his sixth game-winning goal of the season though, so he scored on a tip-in 3:47 later to give Ottawa a 3-2 lead the Bruins could not surmount.

First Star Craig Anderson earned the victory after saving 34-of-36 shots faced (94.4%), leaving the loss to Tuukka Rask, who saved 19-of-22 (86.4%).

Not only does Ottawa‘s road win snap the two-game winning streak by home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, it improves the 79-55-22 visitors’ advantage over series hosts to three points.

March 17 – Day 149 – Killing two birds with one stone, even though there’s only one bird team here

In preparation for Saturday’s action there’s not too many games happening tonight – four, to be exact. Half of those contests drop the puck at 7 p.m. (Florida at the New York Rangers [NHLN/TVAS] and New Jersey at Pittsburgh [SN360]), followed two hours later by Dallas at Calgary. Finally, Buffalo visits Anaheim at 10 p.m. to complete the night’s festivities. All times eastern.

Unfortunately, the action this evening, in addition to not being high-volume, is not expected to be exceptionally noteworthy. Since it’s been a while since we’ve featured either Anaheim or Buffalo, let’s kill two birds with one stone and catch their matchup at the Honda Center.

 

This season has not treated the 28-31-12 Sabres how they would’ve liked. Many fans came into the campaign dreaming of making the playoffs, but with the club currently sitting in 14th-place in the Eastern Conference, it seems those dreams will be dashed for the sixth year in a row.

Much of the reason for that is an offense that has managed only 177 goals in 71 games, which ties for the seventh-worst rate in the league. Of course, much of that is due to Jack Eichel‘s lower body injury suffered in a practice only a day before Buffalo‘s season got underway. Even though he’s missed 22 games this year, he still leads the team in points with 48, but Buffalonians can only dream of what he could have done playing a full 82-game season.

Another players who’s missed considerable time but has still produced is Evander Kane. He’s had to sit out a dozen contests, but his 25 goals still top the squad.

Believe it or not, the season’s injury list actually continues. In total, the top four forwards (Eichel, Kane, Ryan O’Reilly and the currently injured Kyle Okposo) have all missed a combined 41 games. With Kane and O’Reilly both playing on the top line, it’s proven difficult for the Sabres to maintain consistency and build chemistry.

But when Buffalo fights through the injuries and manages to put a quality roster on the ice, it’s more than proven what it’s capable of. That’s no more apparent than when the Sabres take to the power play, as their 23.4% success rate is second-best in the league. Rasmus Ristolainen, coincidentally one of the big-names on the Sabres‘ roster that hasn’t missed a game yet this year, has been at the head of that attack with his 24 man-advantage points.

Ristolainen has made a hobby of setting up linemates, as most of those are assists. Instead, it’s Matt Moulson who has scored the most power play goals on the team, with 10 to his credit.

Unfortunately, special teams giveth, and special teams taketh away. As great as the Sabres have been on the power play, they’ve been equally terrible on the penalty kill. Buffalo defends only 76.4% of its penalties, the second-worst rate in the league even though Josh Gorges has done all he can with his 34 shorthanded shot blocks (11th-most in the NHL).

Even with that effort, 19-22-8 Robin Lehner has still faced 255 shots against when his club is shorthanded, the third-most in the league. He saves a more-than-respectable .886 of those, but has not been rewarded with improved defensive play in front of him. Until Buffalo can improve on that defensive effort, it will not be a true Cup-contender. We will have to wait and see what Tim Murray has planned for the offseason.

Hosting the Sabres this evening are the 37-23-10 Ducks, winners of their past two games that currently occupy second place in the Pacific Division. Defense is the name of the game in Anaheim, as the Ducks have allowed only 173 goals against this season, which ties for the sixth-lowest total in the league.

At the core of that defense is 23-16-8 John Gibson, Anaheim‘s first-year starter. He’s done admirably in his new position, but recently suffered a lower body injury. In his stead, the Ducks are expected to start 14-7-2 Jonathan Bernier, whose .913 season save percentage and 2.62 GAA rank 29th-best in the league among the 60 netminders with at least a dozen appearances.

Randy Carlyle and Bob Murray prescribe to a decent philosophy: an under-worked good goalie becomes a great goaltender. That’s where Cam Fowler‘s group comes into play. Thanks in part to Fowler’s team-leading 118 shot blocks, the Ducks allow only 29.6 shots to reach Gibson’s (now Bernier’s) crease per game, the ninth-lowest average in the league.

The solid defensive effort continues when Anaheim is forced to defend a penalty. 85.1% of the time the Ducks are forced into a shorthanded situation, they do not yield a goal, which ties for the third-best rate in the NHL. Just like he is at even-strength, Fowler is very responsible for the Ducks‘ penalty kill success as he has a team-leading 24 shorthanded blocks.

With only 24 days remaining on the NHL calendar for the regular season, it’s not a surprise that this is the last time the Ducks and Sabres will meet this year. The Ducks visited Buffalo on February 9 and exploded for a 5-2 victory.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Anaheim‘s Ryan Getzlaf (44 assists [tied for sixth-most in the league]) and Buffalo‘s Ristolainen (38 assists and 154 blocks [both lead the team]).

A -210 line is never a good sign for the road team, and it’s definitely discouraging me from picking against the Ducks. Not only are they on The Pond, where they’ve won all but 11 of their contests, but they also have a defense that can cover for an injured goaltender (Exhibits A and B: the last two games). Anaheim should have another two points after tonight’s game is complete.

Hockey Birthday

  • Craig Ramsay (1951-) – This longtime Sabres left wing saved his best for the last season of his career. Selected by Buffalo 19th-overall in the 1971 NHL Amateur Draft, he retired immediately after winning the 1985 Frank J. Selke Trophy.
  • Andrew Ference (1979-) – Pittsburgh may have selected this defenseman in the eighth round of the 1997 NHL Entry Draft, but he’s spent most of his career with Boston. He was a member of the Bruins‘ 2011 Stanley Cup-winning team, and also earned the 2014 King Clancy Memorial Trophy.
  • Ryan Parent (1987-) – It simply never panned out for this defenseman, the 18th-overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by Nashville. He played 106 career games in the league – 102 with Philadelphia – and only had three points to show for it.
  • Bobby Ryan (1987-) – Anaheim selected this left wing second-overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he spent the first six years of his career. Since 2013, he’s called Ottawa home, where he’s registered 182 points.
  • Ryan White (1988-) – This center was selected 66th-overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft by Montréal, and that’s where he’s spent a majority of his eight-year career. That being said, he currently plays for the Wild after being traded from the Coyotes at this season’s deadline.

If I had to guess, the best way to break the resolve of a team is by by scoring four unanswered goals in a period. The Maple Leafs did just that to best Tampa Bay with a five-goal shutout in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Since Third Star of the Game Roman Polak (Tyler Bozak) was the first Leaf to score a goal – a slap shot 9:19 into the game – he gets to take credit for the game-winning tally. It’s a special statistic for a defenseman, as this is only the sixth of his 11-year career, and his first of the season.

Where Toronto truly won the game was in the second period. In the span of 13:17, Second Star Morgan Rielly (Nazem Kadri and Alexey Marchenko), Matt Martin (Matt Hunwick and Nikita Soshnikov), Connor Brown (Leo Komarov and William Nylander) and James van Riemsdyk (Rielly and Mitch Marner) all scored to set the score at the 5-0 final.

Frederik Andersen earned his First Star award in the final 40 minutes of the game. The Lightning fired a total of 26 shots in the second and third frames, but Andersen did not let a single one by to earn his fourth shutout of the season.

In all, Andersen saved all 33 shots he faced for the victory, while Andrei Vasilevskiy takes the loss after saving 11-of-15 (73.3%) shots faced. He was replaced following Brown’s power play goal (the score read 4-0 then) by Peter Budaj, who saved five-of-six (83.3%) for no decision.

For two days in a row now, the 76-53-22 road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have scored five goals en route to a victory. Those offensive explosions has given the visitors in the series a three-point advantage on the hosts.

November 9 – Day 28 – Quackin’ Jackets, or not so much?

Let’s watch ourselves some hockey tonight. While the selection is small at only three games, there’s some quality matchups being contested, starting with Anaheim at Columbus at 7 p.m. Half an hour later, Ottawa visits Buffalo (SN/TVAS), followed by Chicago at St. Louis (NBCSN), this evening’s nightcap.

Short list:

  • Anaheim at Columbus: Jared Boll was a Blue Jacket for the last nine seasons, but he now finds himself sitting on the opposite bench.
  • Ottawa at Buffalo: It seems like every game for Buffalo has been a rivalry, of late. Tonight’s contest against Ottawa is another one.
  • Chicago at St. Louis: Another rivalry only magnified by last season’s playoff meeting.

Oh… That’s all the games going on this evening. Like I said, you can’t go wrong with whichever game you choose to watch tonight.

As far as the game DtFR will focus on, I’m leaning towards the AnaheimColumbus game since Boll will only play in Nationwide Arena once this year, and we’re a little partial to him for sharing Charlotte, N.C. as our hometown.

Unknown-1Columbus Blue Jackets Logo

 

Columbus selected the right wing 101st in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. He notched 40+ points in three of his four junior seasons, but Boll turned out to not be quite the striker in the pros. Like many before him who have suffered the same fate, he turned to his physical play to continue to earn a spot on the Jackets‘ roster and a paycheck.

Over his nine seasons in Columbus, Boll threw 967 hits – 107.4 per season and 1.9 per game. That translated into 1195 minutes in the penalty box – 132.8 minutes per season and 2.31 minutes per game. For those of you that don’t like stats and numbers, this set – especially the penalty minutes – screams an enforcer position.

This offseason, Boll signed with Anaheim, who currently sits at 6-5-2. What has been most-impressive about the Ducks this season has been their defense, which has allowed only 30 goals against.

John Gibson has started in net for all but three of the Ducks‘ games, and has earned a 5-4-0 record on a .914 save percentage and 2.43 GAA.

Not very good numbers.

It has been the blue line that has stood strong. Anaheim has allowed only 378 shots to reach Gibson and co. in 13 games. Limiting opposing offenses to only 29.1 shots per game is an impressive move, given that the average team in the league allow 30.2 per game. Sami Vatanen has led the charge with 29 blocks to his credit, but he is the only Duck with more than 20. I’ve said it every time I’ve featured Anaheim, but the remainder of the blue line needs to protect their young goaltender if they want to find success.

What has kept Anaheim alive offensively has been their strong power play. Successful on 27.9% of attempts, the Ducks have the third-best man-advantage in the league and should be feared. Ryan Kesler has led the special teams with four power play goals to his credit.

Columbus enters the night with a 5-3-2 record. Just like Anaheim, the Blue Jackets have been finding success on the defensive end by allowing only 21 goals.

Sergei Bobrovsky has been playing out of his mind so far this season, earning a 5-3-1 record in his nine starts. His three losses haven’t entirely been his fault though, as he owns a season .947 save percentage and 1.79 GAA – both ranking top-six in the league among goaltenders that have played three or more games. Even more impressive is the fact that he faces an average of 33.3 shots per game, well above the league average.

It will be interesting to see if Bobrovsky can continue his stellar play as the season progresses and if the Jackets could by buyers at the deadline – but hey, that’s still four months away!

One place the Jackets don’t need to improve at right now is their power play. The Ducks‘ is good, but Columbus‘ 39.3% success rate is way better. In fact, it’s best in the league, beating second-best Philly by 11%. Cam Atkinson has lead the charge for the Blue Jackets on the power play, notching four extra-man goals.

The penalty kill has also been extremely good for the Jackets. Columbus has found themselves in the penalty box 32 times this season, but they’ve refused to yield a goal on 90.6% of those attempts for the second-best rate in the league.

Some players to keep an eye on tonight include Anaheim‘s Jonathan Bernier (.939 save percentage [sixth-best in the NHL] for a 2.03 GAA [ninth-best in the league]) and Ryan Getzlaf (11 assists [tied for second-most in the NHL]) & Columbus‘ Bobrovsky (three shutouts [tied for most in the league] on a .947 save percentage [fourth-best in the NHL] for a 1.79 GAA [fifth-best in the league]) and Alexander Wennberg (11 assists [tied for second-most in the NHL]).

Vegas has marked Columbus as a -119 favorite coming into tonight’s game. Going back to last season, I don’t know if I’ve ever favored the Jackets before in this series, but I agree with the odds-makers. Columbus is a hot team right now, being opportunistic and refusing to yield opposing tallies. It will be interesting to see if this is just a hot streak or a real threat in the Eastern Conference.

Hockey Birthday:

  • Bill Guerin (1970-) – Over 18 seasons, Guerin played 1263 games at right wing, most of which – 30.1%, in fact – were with the Devils, the team that drafted him fifth overall in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft. He’s hoisted the Stanley Cup three times, most recent of which was last season as Assistant General Manager for Pittsburgh.
  • Carl Gunnarsson (1986) – The Swedish defender of the St. Louis Blues, the team he’s playing his third season with. Tonight will be his 447th career game, and he’ll be looking for his second point of the season this evening against Chicago.

A late Canadiens goal was the difference in yesterday’s Game of the Day, leading them to a 3-2 victory over the arch-rival Bruins.

After no goals were struck in the first frame, the Habs broke the draw with a power play slap shot from Shea Weber (Andrei Markov and Tomas Plekanec) 3:58 after resuming play. That lead lasted only 50 seconds before Colin Miller scored an unassisted wrister to level the score for Boston. The third-and-final goal of the second frame was struck at the 5:08 mark, 20 seconds after Miller’s, when Alex Galchenyuk‘s (Alexander Radulov and Second Star of the Game Paul Byron) backhand found the back of the net to give the Canadiens a 2-1 lead they would take into the second intermission.

The score was tied once again 6:38 into the final frame when Third Star David Pastrnak (John-Michael Liles and Brad Marchand) scored a power play slap shot. The Bruins nearly forced overtime, but Byron’s (Galchenyuk and Radulov) backhander with 62 seconds remaining earned Montréal two more points in the standings to further cement their spot at the top of the league.

First Star Carey Price earned the victory after saving 41-of-43 shots faced (95.3%), while Zane McIntyre saved only 20-of-23 (87%) in the loss.

Montréal‘s Game of the Day victory is their fourth out of four appearances and the second-straight for the home team in the series. It improves the home squads’ record to 17-10-3 and expands their lead over the roadies to eight points.

November 2 – Day 21 – Birds of Prey

As is usual for a Wednesday, we have a light schedule this evening. The action gets started at 7:30 p.m. when Vancouver heads to Montréal (RDS/SN), followed half an hour later by Detroit at Philadelphia (NBCSN/TVAS). Tonight’s nightcap, Pittsburgh at Anaheim (SN1), drops the puck at 10:30 p.m. All times eastern.

In addition to being separate by only three points in the league standings, a specific left wing returns to the Honda Center, where he made a quick pit stop last season before joining his current team.

pittsburgh_penguins_logoUnknown-1

 

Carl Hagelin started last season playing for Anaheim. He was drafted in the sixth round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft by the Rangers, the team for whom he played for four seasons. Following the 2014-’15 season, the Swedish restricted free agent was traded to Anaheim for Emerson Etem and the draft pick that became Ryan Gropp.

It was a trade that simply did not work out for the Ducks. After scoring 130 points over four seasons with New York (.489 per game), he yielded only 12 points in 43 games played (.279 per game) with Anaheim.

Even though the Ducks had signed Hagelin to a four-year contract, he was dealt to Pittsburgh in exchange for Adam Clendening and David Perron, who are now with the Rangers and Blues, respectively.

Hagelin has since shined in Pittsburgh‘s system. In 46 regular season games with the club, he’s already notched 28 points – more than doubling his total in Anaheim with only a few more games played.

And that’s not to mention his efforts during the Penguins‘ Stanley Cup run. He notched 16 points during last season’s playoffs, including the eventual game-winner in Game 3 against Washington in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

So far this season, the 6-2-1 Pens continue their trend of being an offensive-minded team. Led by Evgeni Malkin‘s 10 points, they’ve scored 24 goals this season. Malkin deserves a lot of credit for stepping up – as he always does – while Sidney Crosby was sidelined, as his five goals lead the team.

Pittsburgh‘s true strength is that special subset of the offense: the power play. They’ve been successful on 26.5% of their attempts, the fourth-best rate in the league.

They visit a 4-4-2 Ducks squad that, for the second season in a row, is taking more time than they would like getting their skates under them. And just like last year, their goaltending is playing well to give the offense time to gel.

Before last night’s game in Los Angeles, John Gibson had a 3-3-2 record by virtue of saving 90.7% of the shots he faced for a 2.55 GAA.

Those numbers are far from incredible, but part of his problem is his skaters in front of him. He’s faced 205 shots in eight games, only 52 shots fewer than the average club has allowed to reach net. That sounds like the defense is doing a good job, but that doesn’t account for the 89 minutes that Gibson hasn’t had his mask on, and Jonathan Bernier and Dustin Tokarski have been just as peppered in their limited time. More blue-liners than Sami Vatanen will need to step up if the Ducks want to find success this season.

Some players to keep an eye on in tonight’s game include Anaheim‘s Ryan Getzlaf (eight points [leads the team]) and Pittsburgh‘s Marc-Andre Fleury (six wins [tied for second-most in the league]).

It looks like bets are off again this evening, so Vegas expects tonight’s game to be a good one. I think Pittsburgh‘s offense will be too much for the Ducks to handle to give the Pens a two-goal win.

Hockey Birthday

  • Bill Mosienko (1921-1994) – 21 seconds is all this right wing needed to notch a hat trick, and he owns the NHL record for fastest to three goals. He played 14 seasons for Chicago, scoring 258 goals.
  • Luke Schenn (1989-) – After four seasons in Philadelphia, Schenn joined Los Angeles last season at the deadline before signing with the Coyotes during this offseason. He notched his first assist of the season last night.

Mikkel Boedker‘s return to Gila River Arena was spoiled by the Coyotes, who won yesterday’s Game of the Day 3-2.

It was the Sharks who scored the lone goal in the first period, compliments of a Patrick Marleau (Melker Karlsson and Tomas Hertl) wrister. 5:53 later, they took their 1-0 lead into the first intermission.

3:42 after returning to the ice, Arizona drew even when Second Star of the Game Brad Richardson (Tobias Rieder and Luke Schenn) buried a backhander. 1:08 later, the Coyotes took the lead with Third Star Lawson Crouse‘s (Kevin Connauton and Ryan White) first goal of the season, a tip-in past Kevin Miller. The eventual game-winner was struck with 8:01 remaining in the second frame when Jamie McGinn (Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Alex Goligoski) pocketed a wrister. That goal set the score at 3-1 heading into the dressing room, favoring the Coyotes.

San Jose did too little too late. They waited to score until 12 seconds remained on the clock. After pulling Miller, Boedker (Joonas Donskoi and Hertl) scored a tip-in to set the score at 3-2, but the Sharks could not complete the comeback in the remaining time.

First Star Louis Domingue saved 39-of-41 shots faced (95.1%) to earn the victory, while Jones takes the loss after saving 27-of-30 (90%).

Arizona‘s win is the second-straight for the home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, setting the homers’ record at 13-7-3 with a six-point advantage over the visitors.

March 2 – Day 139 – The best versus, Laich, literally the worst

The Minnesota Wild took command of the third period with three goals to beat the Colorado Avalanche 6-3, replacing them as the second wildcard in the process.

It was the road Avalanche who scored the first goal, only 33 seconds into the game on a power play slap shot from Jarome Iginla, who was assisted by Tyson Barrie (his 32nd helper of the season) and Mikkel Boedker.  10:04 later, the Wild leveled the score with a wrister from First Star of the Game Nino Niederreiter (his 13th tally of the season), assisted by Second Star Jason Pominville.  That goal opened the floodgates for Minnesota, as Pominville scored only 1:01 later with a wrister of his own, assisted by Niederreiter (his 19th helper of the season).  The Wild ended the period with a 3-1 lead, as Erik Haula scored with 2:12 remaining, assisted by Matt Dumba and Marco Scandella.

Colorado‘s best period was the second, as they accounted for both goals scored in the frame.  The first of those tallies was Chris Bigras’ first of the season at the 3:25 mark, assisted by Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon (his 28th helper of the season).  The Avs leveled the game at three-all at the 12:33 mark with a Cody McLead wrister, assisted by Jack Skille and John Mitchell.

Minnesota‘s game-winner found the back of the net 5:34 after resuming play from the second intermission, courtesy of Charlie Coyle, whose wrister was asssited by Third Star Zach Parise.  Coyle accounted for his own insurance goal, scored with 1:27 remaining in regulation on an empty net.  He was assisted by Ryan Suter (his 35th helper of the season) and Parise.  Niederreiter accounted for the final goal of the game, also an empty netter, with only 44 seconds remaining on the clock, assisted by Pominville (his 22nd helper of the season).

Devan Dubnyk earns the win after saving 30 of 33 (90.9%), while Calvin Pickard takes the loss, saving  15 of 16 (93.8%).  He replaced Semyon Varlamov after a three-goal first period, saving only nine of 12 (75%).

With Minnesota‘s win, the DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 62-34-13, favoring the home squads by 32 points over the roadies.

There’s only three games on the schedule, with the action getting started at 7 p.m. eastern in Washington when Toronto pays the Capitals a visit.  8 p.m. eastern brings with it the Chicago at Detroit (NBCSN) puck drop, which is trailed by two hours by Montréal at Anaheim.

ChicagoDetroit is the only game between teams currently qualifying for the playoffs, but the game that attracts my attention the most is actually Toronto at Washington, due to the return of longtime Capital Brooks Laich.

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Washington Capitals LogoToronto has been featured in the Game of the Day series three times before tonight, with their most recent being a 2-1 overtime loss to the Red Wings on home ice on November 6 to set their series record at 0-2-1.  As you’d expect from the best team in the league, Washington has been featured a dozen times before tonight’s game, and own a 9-3-0 record in such games.  Their most recent in the series was February 18, a 3-2 overtime victory in Brooklyn.

Laich joined the Washington Capitals in a mid-season trade during the 2003-’04 season from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for Peter Bondra, himself another longtime member of the Caps‘ organization.  He received his first consistent time with the senior squad in the 2005-’06 season, scoring 21 points in 73 games.  His breakout offensive season came two years later in 2007-’08, when he began his streak of 16+ goals and 16+ assists (31+ points) for five straight seasons.

Although not the squad’s captain, Laich served as the team representative during the 2012 lockout.  This was due to his long career with the organization (in fact, his tenure was the longest active in all of Washington‘s sports teams), which ended up lasting 12 seasons before being traded to the Leafs before the trade deadline due to cap issues.

Laich’s 21-30-10 Toronto Maple Leafs currently rank worst in the NHL, much less the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference, and should already be preparing Auston Matthews’ locker for next season.  If you could say the team is being led by anything, it would have to be their defense, which ranks eighth worst in the league, as the offense is third worst.

Although the Maple Leafs haven’t played well overall this season, they have done a relatively decent job of keeping shots off the goalkeepers, as only 1871 pucks have found their way to 7-16-3 Jonathan Bernier and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 91% for 182 goals against, eighth most in the league.  In the grand scheme of things, Toronto‘s penalty kill hasn’t been too bad this season, as their 80.3% kill rate, allowing 40 power play goals against, ranks 13th worst in the league.

The real problem for the Leafs has been their offense.  Led by Nazem Kadri’s 209 shots, the Leafs have fired the puck a solid 1908 times, but only 7.4% have found the back of the net for 147 goals (led by Leo Komarov’s 18 tallies), third fewest in the league.  The Maple Leafs‘ power play almost perfectly reflects that, as their 14.43% success rate, good for only 28 power play goals (led by P.A. Parenteau’s six extra-man tallies), is worst in the league.

Toronto is currently riding a two-game losing skid, with their most recent being a 2-1 loss to the Lightning on Monday.  At this point in the season, the Leafs should not be concerned about what wins do for them, as they should be more worried about bettering their odds for the Matthews sweepstakes.

The 46-12-4 Washington Capitals not only lead the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference, but they even lead the league by 13 points.  They’ve made it to that position by playing the best defense in the league, paired with the second best offense.

Led by Karl Alzner’s 153 blocks, the Caps have allowed only 1760 shots to reach 39-7-3 Braden Holtby and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 92.3% for only 142 goals against, the fewest in the NHL.  That success has only slightly left them on the penalty kill, where their 83.94% kill rate, allowing only 31 power play goals, ranks fifth best.

The offense, led by none other than Captain Alex Ovechkin, is only steps behind the defense.  Led by his 312 shots on goal, the Caps have fired the puck 1869 times, of which a whopping 10.6% have found the back of the net for 202 goals (led by Ovechkin’s 40 tallies), second most in the NHL.  Washington‘s power play is beyond deadly, successful on 23.71% of attempts for 46 extra man tallies (led by Ovechkin’s 16 power play goals), tops in the league.

Washington played the Penguins last night, winning 3-2 on home ice.  With a win tonight, the Caps improve their lead in the division and conference to 18 points, and have the potential to improve their lead for the Presidents’ Trophy to 15 points.

Washington currently leads the season series 2-0-0, but the Leafs did take them to a shootout in their first meeting in early November.  These squads more recently met on November 28 in Toronto, where the Caps earned a 4-2 victory.

Some players to keep an eye on include Toronto‘s Kadri (22 assists and 209 shots [both lead the team]), Komarov (35 points,18 of which are goals, 13 at even strength and one short-handed, and 255 hits [all lead the team]), Parenteau (six power play goals and three game-winners [both lead the team]) and Morgan Rielly (17 even strength assists [leads the team]) & Washington‘s Nicklas Backstrom (41 assists [eighth most in the league]), Holtby (40 wins [leads the league], 2.22 GAA [tied for eighth best in the league] and .923 save percentage [10th best in the league]), Evgeny Kuznetsov (+30 [leads the league], 45 assists [tied for third most in the league] and 65 points [fifth most in the league]) and Ovechkin (40 goals [most in the league], +23 [tied for fifth best in the league] and 58 points [10th most in the league]).

It doesn’t take much to determine that Washington should win this game easily.  The real question is the size of the goal differential.