Tag Archives: Bernier

Preds survive Colorado comeback; win away from Second Round

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avs score three in first period, take Game 3

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 7 – Day 178 – Win and you’re in

Get ready hockey fans. Today has the chance to get wild.

With the exception of Pittsburgh, each and every team will be in action today, and most of those clubs (all but Boston and Florida) are playing their final game of the regular season.

The action starts with a 3 p.m. matinee featuring the New York Rangers at Philadelphia (NBC), a fun warm-up setting up the seven games (Chicago at Winnipeg [SN], Ottawa at Boston [CITY/TVAS], Montréal at Toronto [CBC/TVAS], the New York Islanders at Detroit, Buffalo at Florida, New Jersey at Washington [NHLN] and Tampa Bay at Carolina) at 7 p.m. Columbus at Nashville is the only puck drop scheduled for 8 p.m., with two tilts (Anaheim at Arizona and St. Louis at Colorado [NHLN]) waiting an hour before getting underway. Another couple fixtures (Vegas at Calgary and Vancouver at Edmonton [CBC]) find their start at 10 p.m., while the final pair (Dallas at Los Angeles [NHLN] and Minnesota at San Jose) wait half an hour before closing out this busy Saturday. All times Eastern.

With all those points on the line, any playoff spot not locked down has the chance to change hands. Today’s most important matchups include:

  • New York at Philadelphia: As long as the Flyers do anything better than lose in regulation, they eliminate Florida and clinch a spot in the postseason for the second time in three seasons. What spot that’d be is anyone’s guess, as Philly could do as well as third in the Metropolitan Division or remain the Eastern Conference’s second wild card.
  • Ottawa at Boston: Even with a game in hand, the Bruins are not in control of their own seeding. They need a win today and tomorrow – neither of which may come in a shootout – before they can even think about challenging for first place in the East.
  • Buffalo at Florida: This game hinges on the Flyers’ result. A Philly regulation loss keeps the Panthers’ playoff hopes alive, but they still have to win today and tomorrow’s games – with at least one of those not requiring the shootout.
  • New Jersey at Washington: A win ensures the Devils a minimum of the East’s top wild card, but they can climb into third place in the Metro if Columbus doesn’t earn two points or requires a shootout to beat Nashville.
  • Tampa Bay at Carolina: As long as they avoid a shootout, two points for the Bolts clinches them the top seed in the East.
  • Columbus at Nashville: Having already won their season series against the Devils, all the Blue Jackets need to clinch third place in the Metropolitan Division is a victory that doesn’t necessitate a shootout.
  • Anaheim at Arizona: A win of any variety ensures the Ducks no worse than third place in the Pacific Division, but two points paired with a Sharks regulation loss propels Anaheim into second.
  • St. Louis at Colorado: The second wild card is the only spot left in the Western Conference playoffs, and both the Avalanche and Blues are eligible.
  • Dallas at Los Angeles: The Kings can do no worse than their current position as the West’s first wild card, but it’s still possible for them to jump all the way into second place in the Pacific.
  • Minnesota at San Jose: With as little as a point, the Sharks will clinch second place in the Pacific – good enough for home ice in the first round.

No arena is going to be buzzing quite like Pepsi Center tonight, so it looks like we’re headed to Denver for an extremely important Central showdown!

The nice thing about this game is it’s totally independent of the rest of today’s action. Simply put, the winner of this contest is all but ensured a season that extends beyond 82 games.

However, on the last day of the year in the Western Conference, “all but ensured” just isn’t precise enough, is it?

Currently sitting in the second wildcard spot with a one-point advantage, 44-31-6 St. Louis has the inside track towards qualifying for its seventh-consecutive postseason. A win of any variety – or even a loss in extra time (more on that in a moment) – for the Blues this evening earns them a date with the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Nashville Predators.

The reason the Blues are in that second wildcard spot is due to beating Chicago 4-1 last night to snap their four-game losing skid. Having posted a 1-3-1 record since March 30, St. Louis is very fortunate to still be in playoff consideration.

As would be expected from a five-game run like that, issues abound with this Blues squad. For starters, the offense is struggling, managing only 2.4 goals per game since March 30 to rank eighth-worst in the NHL in that time.

The biggest reason for St. Louis’ sputtering attack is that both D Colton Parayko (6-29-35 totals) and F Vladimir Sobotka (11-20-31) are in significant scoring ruts right now. Even though both players have provided at least 31 points so far this season, neither have found the scorecard during this five-game run. Additionally, D Alex Pietrangelo (15-38-53) and F Alex Steen (15-31-46) have also had their scoring issues, as neither have played anywhere near their season .6 points-per-game form during this skid, having posted only a point apiece.

However, those skaters’ struggles pale in comparison to the horrid effort 27-24-3 G Jake Allen has put forth lately, and really for his entire season as a whole. Allen has posted an abysmal .869 save percentage and 3.85 GAA in his last four starts – well off the pace of his lackluster .905 save percentage and 2.74 GAA for the season.

For those wondering if the Blues’ defense is to blame, you’d be surprised to learn that St. Louis has allowed only 27.8 shots against per game in its last four showings – the third-best average in the NHL in that time. Even with the incredible play of F Kyle Brodziak (seven takeaways in his past five games), D Joel Edmundson (2.6 blocks per game since March 30) and W Dmitrij Jaskin (3.4 hits per game over this skid) in front of him, Allen continues to let pucks by at an alarming rate that would earn most goalies a demotion to backup.

The beauty of a hockey club always keeping two goaltenders on the active roster is the ability to turn to one when the other is struggling. Why Head Coach Mike Yeo hasn’t given starts to 17-7-3 G Carter Hutton more often is truly baffling. After all, Hutton’s .931 season save percentage and 2.09 GAA are both best in the league among qualified goaltenders, not to mention the fact that he earned the only win in St. Louis’ last five outings – last night’s 4-1 victory against Chiacgo.

I must admit, as a sided supporter of this club, I would have much preferred to see Allen play last night’s game against the Blackhawks – a game that ultimately didn’t matter considering the Blues could still qualify for the playoffs with a win tonight – and have Hutton ready to go today.

Unfortunately for Yeo and the Blues, they’ve made their bed and now they must lay in it – no matter the result.

As for the 42-30-9 Avalanche, they need something a little bit more than just any old victory tonight to qualify for the playoffs: they have to win this game in regulation. Neither overtime nor a shootout is acceptable for Colorado as, even though it’d be tied with the Blues at 95 points if it won, it would lose either the regulation+overtime wins tiebreaker (in the case of a shootout victory) or the season series tiebreaker (St. Louis has earned six points at the hand of the Avalanche, yielding only two).

As luck would have it, Colorado enters tonight’s game riding a similar 1-2-1 record since March 30. However, the similarities end there, as the Avs have been recording losses for far different reasons.

While the defensive skaters have not played exactly well lately – allowing an average of 34 shots against per game since March 30 to rank (t)sixth-worst in the league in that time – they’ve been more than bailed out by the excellent play of 18-13-3 G Jonathan Bernier. Having assumed starting duties since 24-16-6 G Semyon Varlamov went down with a knee injury, Bernier has managed a .905 save percentage and 3.26 GAA in his last four appearances – marks roughly in line with his .912 save percentage and 2.87 GAA for the entire season, especially when we factor in that the Avs have allowed only 2.75 goals per game since March 30 ([t]10th-best in the NHL in that time).

Instead, the biggest problem for Colorado lately has been its sputtering offense, which has scored only 2.75 goals per game in its past four outings to rank (t)12th-worst in the NHL since March 30.

It’s never a good sign when a potential Hart Trophy candidate gets held goalless for multiple games in a row, so one can only imagine the frustration F Nathan MacKinnon (38-57-95 totals) is experiencing right now during his nine-game goalless skid – his longest rut of the season. Further accenting MacKinnon’s scoring troubles, linemate LW Gabriel Landeskog (24-35-59) has also been held to only two assists during this four-game run.

A few more players that have had their issues lately include F Carl Soderberg (16-19-35 totals) and F J.T. Compher (13-10-23), not to mention a fractured patella that will keep D Erik Johnson (9-16-25) off the ice for the next six weeks. Compher and Soderberg are both riding six-game scoreless skids in their bottom-six roles, putting even more pressure on MacKinnon’s line to come alive and carry the team.

As mentioned before, Colorado has certainly had its struggles this season against St. Louis, as the Blues have posted a 3-1-0 record in their first four meetings.

The first matchup occurred way back on October 19, a little over two weeks before the F Matt Duchene trade that allowed the Avalanche to assume their winning form. With that in mind, it only makes sense that the Blues won that game at Pepsi Center 4-3 (D Robert Bortuzzo‘s first goal of the season proved to be the game-winner).

The last three games have occurred a bit more recently. Game 2 was scheduled for January 25 at Scottrade Center, where St. Louis earned a 3-1 victory (Steen earned First Star honors with his one-goal, two-point night). The Avs were back in Missouri exactly two weeks later, suffering an embarrassing 6-1 loss at the hands of the Notes (D Vince Dunn led the way with a three-assist effort).

That loss in particular surely stung, as Colorado made sure its last visit of the season to St. Louis didn’t end in a similar fashion. As such, the Avs won March 15’s showdown by a decisive 4-1 score (Varlamov earned First Star honors with his 44-save performance).

With this game boiling down to whether St. Louis’ goaltending or Colorado’s offense can return to form fastest, I’m going to bet on the home team with a day’s rest every time. Mix in the fact that I’ve trusted MacKinnon to bounce back far more than Allen all season, and the Avalanche look like as good a lock as any for the postseason.


With a 5-3 victory over the Dallas Stars at Honda Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Anaheim Ducks have jumped back into third place in the Pacific Division with only only one day of play remaining in the Western Conference.

If it weren’t for a disastrous first period for the Stars defensively, the score would have better reflected just how competitive this game was. Even though both teams managed only a goal apiece in both the second and third frames, Anaheim earned its victory by notching three markers in the opening 20 minutes.

Second Star of the Game W Jakob Silfverberg (First Star D Josh Manson and F Andrew Cogliano) got the scoring started early, burying a tip-in only 2:28 into the game to give Anaheim an early lead, and that advantage doubled to two only 4:05 later when F Rickard Rakell (C Ryan Getzlaf and C Adam Henrique) scored a power play tip-in with RW Alexander Radulov in the penalty box for slashing Getzlaf. Though D Marc Methot (Radulov and LW Jamie Benn) was able to score his first goal of the season to pull Dallas back within a goal with 8:47 remaining in the period, C Derek Grant (Silfverberg and D Hampus Lindholm) sneaked a tip-in past G Mike McKenna with only 20 ticks remaining on the opening frame’s clock to set the score at 3-1 going into the first intermission.

Scoring started to slow down in the second period, but that’s not to say there weren’t any important goals scored. In fact, the most important tally – the game-winner – was struck 4:36 into the frame courtesy of Manson (Getzlaf and W Corey Perry).

Perry deserves a lot of the credit for this goal, as it was him that intercepted Radulov’s pass along the blue line to spring a breakaway opportunity for Anaheim. Once Perry reached the right face-off dot in his attacking zone, he dropped a pass to Getzlaf who one-timed a wrist shot toward McKenna’s far post. The netminder completed the save with his right shoulder, but he left a juicy rebound that Manson converted into an easy backhanded goal considering McKenna had drifted beyond his crease.

Facing a three-goal deficit, the Stars got to work on the offensive end with C Radek Faksa (D Greg Pateryn and F Tyler Pitlick) potting a wrister at the 7:49 mark, setting the 4-2 score that held into the second intermission.

Whatever Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said in the dressing room, it obviously inspired Benn (D John Klingberg), who buried a wrister 2:52 into the third period to pull Dallas back within a goal of tying the game. However, the Stars’ inability to find that leveling goal paired with Cogliano’s (Silfverberg and F Ryan Kesler) wrister with 5:25 remaining in regulation ensured Anaheim two more points in the standings.

G Ryan Miller earned the victory after saving 23-of-26 shots faced (.885 save percentage), leaving the loss to McKenna, who saved 28-of-33 (.848).

The 102-54-22 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are now riding a five-game point streak – a run that has expanded their advantage over the roadies in the series to 51 points.

April 2 – Day 173 – King of the mountain

Today marks the final Monday of regular season NHL action. Do with it what you will, but I’d strongly recommend watching hockey.

Buffalo at Toronto gets the evening underway at 7 p.m., followed half an hour later by a pair of tilts (Winnipeg at Ottawa [RDS] and Carolina at Florida). Two more puck drops (Washington at St. Louis [NHLN/TVAS] and Edmonton at Minnesota) are scheduled for 8 p.m., while tonight’s nightcap – Colorado at Los Angeles (SN/SN1) – waits until 10:30 before getting started. All times Eastern.

I’d originally marked today’s DtFR Game of the Day as the Battle of the QEW, but Buffalo extending its streak of missing the postseason to a seventh season puts a damper on that option. Instead, let’s make the trip to Hollywood to see if Colorado can keep its playoff hopes alive.

 

 

 

 

 

There were major concerns surrounding 42-28-9 Colorado’s playoff chances when 24-16-6 G Semyon Varlamov was shut down with a lower-body injury, but 18-11-3 G Jonathan Bernier put a damper on that last night with a 38-save performance against the Ducks.

Bernier’s performance in Anaheim, albeit an overtime loss, shouldn’t have really been all that much of a surprise. After all, Varlamov missed the entire month of January due to injury, and Bernier posted a 9-2-1 record in his stead with a .936 save percentage and 2.17 GAA – both marks that are even better than the solid .913 save percentage and 2.86 GAA that he has to show for the entire season.

Bernier seems to relish at the opportunity to be the starter, and he’ll be relied upon this week to once again prove his worth and complete Colorado’s playoff push.

However, since he was in action last night, it remains to be seen if he’ll man the pipes this evening or if 0-1-0 G Andrew Hammond – yes, the Hamburglar from the Senators’ 2015 playoff push – will be called into action for only his second NHL start of the season. Hammond commanded the Avalanche’s crease on March 28, posting a .939 save percentage in a 2-1 home loss to the Flyers.

Of course, part of what makes the Avs so great is not even what they have to offer on the defensive end, but instead their solid attack. Colorado has averaged four goals per game in its last two games, with seven different players averaging at least a point per game in that span.

Of those seven, no player has shone quite as bright as F Tyson Jost. People that don’t regularly watch Colorado might think I misspelled F Nathan MacKinnon (MacKinnon does, after all, rank fifth in the NHL in points and 10th in goals and assists), but Jost has scored three goals in these last two games to improve the second-liner’s season totals to 12-10-22.

Joining Jost in posting at least a point per game in Colorado’s last two outings include D Tyson Barrie (1-2-3 totals since March 30, 13-42-55 overall), F Alexander Kerfoot (1-2-3 since March 30, 18-24-42 overall), W Sven Andrighetto (2-0-2 since March 30, 8-13-21 overall), RW Mikko Rantanen (1-1-2 since March 30, 28-54-82 overall), MacKinnon (0-2-2 since March 30, 38-56-94 overall) and LW Gabriel Landeskog (0-2-2 since March 30, 24-35-59 overall).

The 43-28-8 Kings enter tonight’s tilt as the Western Conference’s first wild card and riding a three-game point streak. As has been a characteristic of Los Angeles and the three California teams for years now, the Kings have found that success by playing some spectacular and physical defense.

Since March 26, Los Angeles has allowed only 26 shots against per game. That’s the second-best mark in the NHL in that time, bested only by Edmonton allowing one fewer shot in its last three games. D Derek Forbort (3.3 blocks per game since March 26) and C Anze Kopitar (five takeaways in his last three games) have led that defensive charge, but the Kings have also had the luxury of four players (LW Kyle Clifford, Forbort, F Trevor Lewis and LW Tanner Pearson) imposing their wills along the boards and averaging two hits per game during this run.

This defensive success has kept 31-27-3 G Jonathan Quick‘s workload light, and that’s just fine by him as he’s managed a .964 save percentage and .96 GAA in his last two starts to lead the Kings to allowing only 1.33 goals against per game since March 26 – the lowest mark in the league in that time.

Quick, the (t)ninth-most winningest goaltender on the season, has a .923 save percentage and a 10th-best 2.37 GAA for this campaign, not to mention a (t)fourth-best five shutouts.

The Kings have certainly had the upper hand in their last two meetings with the Avs, as they’ve earned four points in comparison to Colorado’s one. Just like tonight’s tilt, December 21’s contest took place at Staples Center, where Los Angeles earned a 2-1 overtime victory (W Dustin Brown provided the game-winner). Meanwhile, the March 22 matchup in Denver was a much more lopsided affair, as the Kings posted a dominating 7-1 score (Kopitar earned First Star honors with his four-goal performance).

Should that winning trend continue tonight, the Kings will jump back into third place in the Pacific Division, but they’ll be giving a game-in-hand to Anaheim in the process that – should it convert it into a win of its own – could return the table to how it currently stands.

Meanwhile, as the Western Conference’s second wild card, Colorado has much to gain by pulling off the road upset tonight. A regulation win would propel the Avalanche over Los Angeles into the first wildcard spot, a much more certain position that also has the luxury of avoiding the dreaded Predators in the first round of the playoffs.

However, similar to Los Angeles’ situation with Anaheim, the Blues still have a game-in-hand on Colorado even though they’re also in action tonight at home against the Capitals. If the Avs are lucky, they can expand their lead on St. Louis to three points with a win and a Notes regulation loss, but it’s possible that Colorado could end the night further from playoff qualification than it started – that happens if the Avs lose in regulation and St. Louis earns at least one point, as the Blues would jump into the second wildcard in that situation due to the aforementioned game in hand.

With the top two lines playing remarkably well for Colorado, the Avs are going to be a tough out tonight regardless of who they have in net. However, Los Angeles’ success against against the Avalanche so far this season has me thinking it will be the Kings that come away with two points tonight.


In a penalty-riddled meeting that is just begging for a follow up in the postseason, the Washington Capitals clinched their third-consecutive Metropolitan Division title by downing the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 at PPG Paints Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

A whopping 38 combined penalty minutes were distributed in this game, with the hosts taking 10 more than Washington due in large part to F Evgeni Malkin and Assistant Coach Mark Recchi both getting called for misconducts with 61 seconds remaining in regulation. Surprisingly, neither side could capitalize on its five power play opportunities.

One player that went unaffected by all this commotion was First Star of the Game G Philipp Grubauer. Though a late goal by Third Star RW Patric Hornqvist (Malkin and LW Carl Hagelin) cut his dreams of a career-high fourth shutout 3:45 short, his 36-of-37 performance (.973 save percentage) was more than enough to earn the victory.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have an offense scoring a goal per period in support. Washington registered all three of its tallies before Hornqvist got the Penguins on the scoreboard, starting with F T.J. Oshie‘s (W Andre Burakovsky and D John Carlson) wrist shot 6:25 into the first period.

Second Star D Dmitry Orlov (F Evgeny Kuznetsov) provided the game-winner on a wrister with 6:14 remaining in the second period. After the Pens had dumped the puck into their offensive zone at the end of a power play to get an even-strength line on the ice, Orlov ended up with possession and began driving through the center of the ice towards G Matt Murray. With D Olli Maatta left to beat, Orlov decided to use him as a screen and fire his wrister through the Finn’s legs, beating Murray’s blocker.

While Orlov does get credit for his second game-winner of the season, the biggest goal in this contest just might have been RW Tom Wilson‘s (D Matt Niskanen) tip-in only 23 seconds into the third period. The Toronto native’s 14th marker of the season set the score at 3-0, meaning Pittsburgh needed far more than a relatively late goal from Hornqvist to seriously cast doubt into the hearts and minds of the Capitals.

Murray took his 16th regulation loss of the season after saving only 31-of-34 shots faced (.912 save percentage).

In addition to clinching their third-consecutive division title, the Capitals’ road win also snapped an eight-game winning streak and 10-game point streak by the home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The hosts in the series now have a 98-54-21 record that is 44 points superior to the roadies.

April 1 – Day 172 – Can the Caps clinch?

Make no April Fools jokes about it, all of us here at Down the Frozen River want to wish you a happy Easter or Passover.

Hopefully that covered all the holidays happening today.

Regardless of which of those apply to you, the NHL is staging a full-fledged celebration with five games on today’s schedule. The action begins at 12:30 p.m. with Boston at Philadelphia (NBC/TVAS), followed by Nashville at Tampa Bay at 6 p.m. The usual starting time of 7 p.m. features New Jersey at Montréal (RDS/SN), while Washington at Pittsburgh (NBCSN) waits 30 minutes before dropping the puck. Finally, the evening’s nightcap gets underway at 9 p.m. when Colorado visits Anaheim (SN/SN360). All times Eastern.

The three games that stuck out to me way at the beginning of the season include:

  • Boston at Philadelphia: With only one point separating the Flyers from the second wild card, this rivalry has the chance of getting pretty rowdy this afternoon.
  • Washington at Pittsburgh: Speaking of rowdy rivalries, both these teams are still duking it out for first place in the Metropolitan Division.
  • Colorado at Anaheim: This isn’t so much a rivalry, though both teams are still clawing for playoff positioning. This is more exciting because G Jonathan Bernier, who was a Duck last season, will be the Avs’ starting goaltender tonight with G Semyon Varlamov shutdown for the remainder of the season.

Of course, that list also neglects the Predators-Lightning showdown that should be absolutely entertaining and very well could be a Stanley Cup Final preview.

I very well may be biased, but the tilt I’m most excited for is taking place in Eastern Pennsylvania tonight.

 

The main reason I’m so excited for this game is because of all the 46-25-7 Capitals can accomplish today, as a regulation win would clinch them their third-consecutive Metropolitan Division title.

But more on that in a moment.

Almost all of Washington’s last six games have ended in its favor, as the Caps have posted a solid 5-1-0 record since March 20. A major reason for that success has been the solid efforts of both 14-9-3 G Philipp Grubauer and 32-16-4 G Braden Holtby, who have split the last three outings. Together, they’ve combined to backstop the Caps to allow only 2.5 goals per game since March 20, the (t)eighth-best mark in the NHL in that time span.

According to Tarik El-Bashir of NBC Sports Washington, Grubauer is slated to get the start this evening – and with good reason. Though Holtby’s .914 save percentage and 2.67 GAA in his last three starts has been decent, Grubauer’s .933 save percentage and 2.02 GAA since March 20 has been even better. Those numbers reflect Grubauer’s superior play for the entire season as well, as he currently has a .923 save percentage and 2.33 GAA on the season, both of which eclipse Holtby’s campaign of a .907 save percentage and 3.01 GAA.

The last six games have also treated the 45-28-6 Penguins fairly well too, as they’ve managed a 4-1-1 record to close out the month of March.

To the surprise of no one, Pittsburgh is finding its success lately on the back of its indomitable offense. Since March 21, the Pens have averaged a whopping four goals per game to claim the second-best mark in the NHL in that time.

Leading the way in that effort is none other than C Sidney Crosby who’s increased his season totals to 28-58-86 with a 5-4-9 effort his in last six showings.

However, he’s not the only Penguin to be averaging at least a point per game lately, as RW Phil Kessel (2-5-7 totals since March 21, 31-56-87 overall), RW Patric Hornqvist (4-2-6 since March 21, 26-19-45 overall), F Evgeni Malkin (2-4-6 since March 21, 42-53-95 overall) and F Jake Guentzel (1-5-6 since March 21, 21-26-47 overall) have all been making some excellent contributions on the offensive end lately.

One of the signs of a good rivalry is consistent competitiveness. That has been a staple of this matchup for years now, and that’s been no less true this year as Pittsburgh only has a 2-1-0 advantage in the season series.

Unlike some of the rivalries we’ve been featuring lately, this season series has been spaced out throughout the entire campaign. Game 1 took place way back on October 11 at Capital One Arena, and it ended as a Penguins 3-2 victory (W Conor Sheary provided the game-winning goal). Pittsburgh returned to DC on November 10, but was treated to a 4-1 Capitals victory (Holtby led the way with his 27-save performance).

Games 3 and 4 transitioned back to the Steel City, starting with the most recent meeting on February 2. Enjoying the amenities of home, the Penguins earned an imposing 7-4 victory (Malkin earned First Star honors with a two-goal, four-point night).

For those not so astute at noticing patterns, Pittsburgh and Washington have exchanged victories so far this season. With the Pens claiming the even-numbered tilts, does that mean the Caps are due for two points today?

If that’s the case, the Metropolitan Division could be locked up in the nation’s capital for the third-consecutive season. A Washington win in regulation this evening would increase its advantage on the Penguins to five points, an insurmountable lead considering Pittsburgh will have only two more games after tonight is complete and the fact that, even if Columbus and Philadelphia win out, they’re only capable of reaching 100 points in the standings.

Should the Pens find the victory, they’ll be no more than two points back of the Capitals, meaning this division race will come down to the bitter end. Even if Pittsburgh does earn a regulation win tonight to pull within one point, the fact that Washington still has a game in hand has most leaning towards the Caps raising a third division banner.

Similar to yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, this game features a streaking offense going up against a goaltender enjoying an impressive run of his own. Considering they’re playing at home today, I like the Pens to earn the victory today even though they were in action last night.


With a goal per frame, the Vegas Golden Knights beat the San Jose Sharks 3-2 at T-Mobile Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Even though the Golden Knights never trailed in this game, they never really took control of this game until the waning moments of regulation. That was due in large part to playing most of the game under tied conditions.

Take, for example, the first period. Even though the Knights were the first to find the scoreboard, courtesy of a D Shea Theodore (C William Karlsson and D Deryk Engelland) wrist shot 2:21 into play, they played only 4:53 before F Joe Pavelski (W Timo Meier and RW Joonas Donskoi) leveled the game at 1-1 with a wrister.

The second frame followed a similar script. F Oscar Lindberg (Theodore) gave Vegas another one-goal lead 3:03 into the period, but it lasted only 6:47 before D Marc-Edouard Vlasic (Pavelski and D Justin Braun) had the game knotted at two.

However, the Sharks didn’t have a third answer in the third period, as Karlsson scored an unassisted shorthanded wrister at the 8:35 mark to score what proved to be the game-winning goal.

Somebody needs to remind Karlsson that it’s supposed to be harder to score with a teammate in the penalty box, because – just like a Staples button would say – that was easy. With Jon Merrill in the sin bin for tripping Meier exactly a minute before, Karlsson intercepted a drop pass to D Brent Burns at the right point with only open ice, G Martin Jones and a net begging to be scored upon in front of him. Karlsson raced all the way into the slot in his offensive zone before readying a wrister to flip the puck over Jones’ right skate.

However, it would seem breakaway goals are just too easy for Karlsson. To up the ante, Wild Bill pulled his stick and the puck through his own legs while sliding across the slot, creating his own sort of reverse shot on a netminder that had already committed to defending the far post.

Not wanting to yield another lead, Vegas’ defense significantly clamped down in the third period. In total, the Sharks managed only seven shots on goal in that frame, the lowest attempts in any period by either team.

G Marc-Andre Fleury earned the victory after saving 29-of-31 shots faced (.935 save percentage), leaving the loss to Jones, who saved 35-of-38 (.921).

It’s a great time to be a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series, as all they’re doing lately is winning. In fact, the 98-53-21 featured hosts have now posted an eight-game winning streak that also includes a 10-day point streak – both impressive feats that have increased their lead in the series to 46 points.

January 22 – Day 107 – Bernier bridges

With the All-Star Break on the horizon, the NHL is loading up on games all week. This Monday, we have a half-dozen contests to choose from.

As it usually does, the action starts at 7 p.m. with two tilts (Colorado at Toronto [TVAS] and Detroit at New Jersey [SN]), followed an hour later by Ottawa at Minnesota (RDS). Tampa Bay at Chicago (NBCSN) gets underway at 8:30 p.m., while tonight’s co-nightcaps – Buffalo at Calgary and the New York Islanders at Arizona – wait until 9 p.m. before closing out the evening. All times Eastern.

I’d highlighted two of tonight’s games before the season started…

  • Colorado at Toronto: With 13-9-2 G Semyon Varlamov still on injured reserve, 13-7-1 G Jonathan Bernier is lined up for his first start in Toronto since April 4, 2016 when he was a member of the Maple Leafs.
  • Buffalo at Calgary: 1-8-3 G Chad Johnson is also returning to his former home stadium, but he’s more likely to draw the start tomorrow in Edmonton.

Adding in Bernier’s return to The Queen City, there’s no doubt that the Avs’ lone visit of the season to Air Canada Centre (barring a Stanley Cup Finals meeting) will be the best matchup of the day!

 

Amateur drafting is hard, and that’s made especially known when netminders are taken as early as Bernier. Since 2000, only 10 goalies have gone in the top 11 picks, and only two of those (Marc-Andre Fleury and Carey Price) are regular starters.

Enter Bernier, the 11th-overall pick by Los Angeles in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, and current starter – by default – for the Avs.

To say Bernier was a bust for the Kings is slightly unfair. After all, he didn’t start his first NHL game until the 2007-’08 season, the same year G Jonathan Quick made his NHL debut. A year later, Quick had already assumed starting duties for the Kings while Bernier was still spending his time as Manchester’s starter in the AHL.

Benier would eventually ascend to the role of Quick’s backup, but the American would further cement his position as Los Angeles’ starter with his Stanley Cup victory in 2012. Though Bernier’s name is also inscribed alongside the rest of those Kings, he must have known his time with the club was running out.

Following the 2012-’13 season, Bernier was traded to Toronto in exchange for RW Matt Frattin, G Ben Scrivens and a second-round pick in the 2015 draft that eventually ended up back in the hands of the Leafs after being involved in another trade between the Kings and Blue Jackets.

Draft season is fun that way.

Bernier brought with him a .912 save percentage and 2.36 GAA in 62 career NHL games and was thrown into a competition with G James Reimer for Toronto’s starting job for the 2013-’14 season. Bernier certainly won the gig, as he earned 49 starts (17 more than Reimer) and posted a superior .922 save percentage and 2.7 GAA. He ended up starting 55 games during the the following campaign, but watched his numbers drop to .912 and 2.87.

Of course, the 2013-’14, 2014-’15 and 2015-’16 Maple Leafs are never going to go down in history as the best teams Toronto has put on the ice (I mean, they got C Auston Matthews for a reason). Bernier was effectively the Leafs’ lone line of defense, and I would argue that he performed fairly well given the circumstances. In all, he posted a .915 save percentage and 2.81 GAA during his three seasons in Toronto even though he faced an average of 33.12 shots per start.

However, Bernier once again became expendable when the Leafs traded for G Frederik Andersen‘s rights. Andersen had enjoyed a .914 save percentage and 2.38 GAA in his lone season as the Ducks’ starter, but he was relegated to the backup role when G John Gibson assumed the starting position in 2015-’16.

In an odd twist of fate, Bernier was traded to Anaheim to fill Andersen’s vacated backup spot 18 days after the Maple Leafs traded for the former Duck. He started 33 games on the final year of his two-year, $8.3 million contract, earning a 21-7-4 record on a .915 save percentage and 2.5 GAA.

After not being offered another contract by Anaheim this offseason – not to mention G Ryan Miller signing with the squad – Bernier signed a one-year, $2.75 million deal with the Avalanche to backup Varlamov.

To put things bluntly, Bernier had been performing terribly in his limited time this season. Before the calendar turned to 2018, Bernier had posted a miserable .898 save percentage and 3.12 GAA in 14 starts for a 6-7-1 record.

But then Varlamov got injured in Colorado’s first game of the new year – a scary matchup against the mighty Winnipeg Jets. He strained his groin to land himself on injured reserve, where he’s likely to remain until February.

Considering how Bernier had performed all season, it seemed Colorado’s then-flailing season was likely headed even further down the tubes. Instead, the backup led the Avs to a victory over those Jets. And then shutout the Blue Jackets. And then he beat the Wild, Stars, Ducks, Sharks and Rangers too.

Instead of leading Colorado towards a top-five draft pick, he’s actually sparked a nine-game winning streak to propel the 26-16-3 Avs into the second wild card. During the eight games he’s responsible for, he’s managed an incredible .958 save percentage and 1.47 GAA.

Huh. Maybe he was worth the 11th-overall pick after all.

And just in case anyone would like to argue that F Nathan MacKinnon, who’s posted 8-11-19 totals during this run, has been the biggest reason for the Avs’ nine-game winning streak, I’d like to direct them to Colorado’s defense.

To call the Avalanche’s defensive corps Swiss cheese would be an insult to Roger Federer’s (who’s killing it at the Australian Open right now, by the way) home land. The Avs’ blue line has allowed a whopping 34.89 shots against-per-game during this run, the fifth-worst average in the NHL since December 29.

It’s that statistic that makes Bernier’s performance even more special. Nothing has been easy for him during this month-long hot streak, but he’s risen to the challenge exactly 300 times, allowing only 14 goals on 314 shots against.

Short of the Jets, Bernier may face his toughest task yet of his newfound starting role, as the 26-17-5 Maple Leafs – who sit in third place in the Atlantic Division – definitely know how to score the puck.

Or, at least they usually do. On the season, the Leafs have averaged a seventh-best 3.1 goals per game. That effort has been led by Matthews, who tops the Toronto charts in goals (20) and points (35).

However, that offense has dried up since January 4. Even though Toronto has posted a 3-1-3 record over its last seven tilts, it has averaged only 2.29 goals per game – the (t)fifth-worst mark in the league since then. Matthews is still posting goals (he’s scored three in his last seven games), but the rest of the squad simply cannot find the back of the net.

The Leafs have already made their annual trip to Pepsi Center, and they almost came away with two points. However, F J.T. Compher‘s overtime winner gave Colorado the 4-3 victory on December 29, the first in the Avs’ run of nine-straight.

Unless the Leafs can rediscover their offense, it’s hard to believe they have a shot at beating Colorado tonight.


The San Jose Sharks absolutely steamrolled the Anaheim Ducks in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, winning 6-2 at Honda Center.

A good strategy on the offensive end is to score as many goals as the period’s number. That’s exactly what the Sharks did, scoring one goal in the first period, two in the second and three in the finale.

As for the lone tally of the first, it was struck by Marc-Edouard Vlasic (Tomas Hertl and Justin Braun) on a wrist shot with 6:07 remaining in the frame.

The attack continued in the second, as San Jose found its eventual game-winning marker before the Ducks were even on the scoreboard. Kevin Labanc (Joe Thornton and Timo Meier) set the score at 2-0 on a snap shot 3:38 into the period, followed 10:18 later by Third Star of the Game Mikkel Boedker‘s (Vlasic and Chris Tierney) deciding power play snapper.

Brandon Montour was only four seconds away from completing his sentence for slashing Labanc, but Boedker decided to post his bail early. Taking advantage of Meier’s screening G John Gibson, Boedker scored his 100th NHL goal by sending his snapper from the right face-off circle past the netminder’s blocker to the far post.

Rickard Rakell (Ryan Getzlaf and Adam Henrique) provided Anaheim a spark of life with 27 seconds remaining in the second period. With both Joel Ward (for tripping Montour) and Joe Pavelski (for slashing Cam Fowler) in the penalty box, he scored a wrister to pull the Ducks back within a 3-1 deficit.

The comeback gained real life 1:47 into the third period when Getzlaf (Second Star Ondrej Kase and Rakell) buried a wrister to pull Anaheim back within a tally, but that hope was dashed only 60 seconds later when Thornton (Brent Burns and Logan Couture) scored a slap shot to return a two-goal advantage to San Jose. Boedker (Melker Karlsson) and Karlsson (Boedker and Tierney) both tacked on insurance goals in the remaining time to set the 6-2 final score.

First Star G Aaron Dell earned his second victory in as many days by saving 33-of-35 shots faced (.943 save percentage), leaving the loss to Gibson, who saved 17-of-22 (.773). With 7:52 remaining in the game, Gibson was lifted in favor of G Ryan Miller, who saved three-of-four (.75) for no-decision.

Road teams have earned points in four-consecutive contests in the DtFR Game of the Day series. However, the 59-35-13 hosts still have a dominating 21-point lead in our featured games.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 15

Skater of the Week: Brad Marchand

You may not (probably don’t) like him, but the Little Ball of Hate doesn’t give a damn about what you like. He’s gonna score on your team, and you’re gonna deal with it.

The league’s premiere super-pest tallied two goals and five assists in four contests this week, made arguably more impressive by the fact that he started the week being held scoreless against Dallas before recording three consecutive multi-point games to close the week. Burning arch-rival Montreal for a goal and assist in the first meeting, then adding two helpers in the rematch, together with a three-point night against the Islanders, the former unheralded third round pick continues to prove all the critics wrong, as he’s currently on pace to shatter his breakout 85-point performance from last season.

Marchand’s 48 points in 37 games is good for 16th in league scoring, having played no less than seven-fewer games than any player ahead of him, and his performance over the last seven days is good for this award.

Tendy of the Week: Jonathan Bernier

Yeah, I know, right? I couldn’t believe it either.

Bernier’s NHL career has been a well-documented roller coaster of epic proportions, and the former 11th-overall pick has often seen the ‘Bust’ label floating near his name. But he seems to have really found a home with the upstart Avs this season.

In three starts this week, Bernier faced a ridiculous 110 shots and turned aside 105 of them to pick up three victories. On Monday he stopped 33-of-34 to down the Ducks, on Saturday he stifled 27-of-28 against the Rangers, and even when he gave up three to the Sharks, he managed a .938 save percentage on 48 shots faced. Of the Avs’ strengths, the defense is not high on the list.

Bernier is still shaking off some shaky performances earlier in the year, but in 21 appearances his 13-7-1 record, 2.61 GAA and .919 save percentage are more than respectable behind the run-and-gun Avs. If he continues this sort of play, the Avs could potentially use Semyon Varlamov as trade bait to solidify their D-corps come the deadline.

Game of the Week: Washington Capitals 3 @ New Jersey Devils 4 (OT), Thursday January 18th, 2018

A showdown between the top 2 teams in the stacked Metropolitan Division lived up to the hype, delivering seven goals, 51 shots, 48 hits, and 36 penalty minutes.

Drew Stafford would get things rolling 8:01 into the game, taking advantage of a misplay at the blueline by Dmitry Orlov to flee the zone and receive a breakout pass courtesy of Marcus Johansson, fighting off the back-checking Devante Smith-Pelly and going forehand-backhand-roof on Braden Holtby to give the Devils the early lead. Brett Connolly, who was stifled on a golden opportunity just seconds after the Stafford goal, would get his revenge and even the score at the 12:10 mark, pouncing on a long wrister from T.J. Oshie that deflected off of the skate of Jersey d-man Will Butcher right to his tape and burying it past Keith Kinkaid to give us a 1-1 game after one.

The second saw both the scoring and intensity ramp up, started off by Devils captain Andy Greene (playing in his 750th game) scoring on an almost-identical play to the Connolly goal, this time a Taylor Hall effort from the left point deflecting off the stick of Matt Niskanen and coming right to Greene who was just able to squeeze the shot between the left arm and torso of a sliding Holtby to regain the Jersey lead 3:33 into the frame. Then at the 8:33 mark came some shenanigans. Tom Wilson laid a hammering hit on Brian Gibbons along the boards in the neutral zone, leading Brian Boyle to come to the defense of his teammate and earn himself a misconduct and extra minor for instigating. I could go on a tangent about clean hits leading to fights (Gibbons himself appeared to try to wave off Boyle as he approached Wilson), but I’ll save that for another day.

Further into the secnd we go, and the Devils capitalize (see what I did there?) on another breakout pass, this time with Miles Wood sneaking behind the Washington defense and receiving some airmail from Sami Vatanen before getting one through five-hole of Holtby to give New Jersey the 3-1 edge at the 10:55 mark. But just 14 seconds later Dmitry Orlov would collect a long rebound off the boards and spanked the ‘Made In Slovakia’ lettering right off of the puck as it screamed past Kinkaid into the back of the net, sending us into the final frame with a 3-2 Devils lead after some strong netminding by Holtby in the closing stages of the middle frame.

Kinkaid and the Devils would hold the fort for most of the third, but finally with just 3:48 remaining it would be Connolly (who had himself a very good game, I might add) who collected a terrific Evgeny Kuznetsov feed from below the goal line and slid the puck right underneath the left pad of Kinkaid to knot the score at three and send the game to overtime (though not before Kinkaid would shake off a ‘Nisk-cannon’ to the noggin that removed his mask in the dying seconds).

The crowd at ‘The Rock’ would have little to fret over, though, as just 34 seconds into the extra frame it would be Taylor Hall receiving a chip pass from Sami Vatanen, before giving himself a second chip pass to get around Kuznetsov and streaking in on Holtby, roofing a quick wrister over the glove hand and sending the Jersey-faithful into a frenzy.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

The Golden Knights are, at the time of this writing, the #1 team in the NHL. I don’t actually have anything clever prepared for this, I just wanted to say it out loud.

A couple of high-profile injuries struck this week, with Edmonton losing Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to a hand injury for at least a month, and the Rangers losing Kevin Shattenkirk to a meniscus tear, an injury that could sideline the defenseman for quite some time.

The Senators have supposedly made it their #1 organizational goal to re-sign Erik Karlsson. I’m not sure how much money it will take to keep him with a franchise that doesn’t appear to be set up for major success any time soon, but if anyone has any suggestions for convoluted schemes to marry into his family, I’m all ears.

Dustin Brown was fined (but not suspended) for brutally cross-checking a helpless Justin Schultz face-first into the boards, in a move the Department of Player Safety referred to as “We have no idea who this Andrew Cogliano person you speak of is, and we’re not sure what two-game suspension you could be referring to.”

The Colorado Avalanche have won nine consecutive games, which might be the only thing less people would have bet on at the beginning of the year than Vegas spending time at #1 in the league.

Rene Rancourt has announced that he will retire from his position as the Bruins’ longtime anthem singer. Personally, I never actually thought he was that good of a singer, but his showmanship has always been absolutely second-to-none, and anyone legendary enough to be referenced in a Dropkick Murphy’s song gets a pass in my book, so congrats to Rene on an incredible career and best of luck in retirement.

Finally, I’ll close on two sombering notes. First, I extend my sincerest condolences to Matthew Murray and his family, as the Pittsburgh goaltender has taken a leave of absence from the team to mourn the passing of his father, and I’ll repeat the sentiment to the family of USA Hockey executive and two-time Olympian Jim Johannson, who passed Sunday morning at just 53 years of age.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Weeks 12 & 13

With New Years and the GLI preventing me from posting last week (and being out of town this weekend pushing this yet another day back) I’ll be combining the past two weeks of action, because I make the rules here and you all just have to deal with it. So there.

Skater of the Week(s): Mikko Rantanen

Though the big Finn was overshadowed slightly by teammate Nathan MacKinnon by two points over this stretch, Rantanen’s 10 points in six games are still nothing to scoff at. An even split of five goals (one on the power play) and five assists (also one power play tally) to go with a ridiculous +9 rating over the six games put the 21-year old at 41 points in 41 games and dug him out of a -8 +/- hole to put him at a +1 on the season.

If Rantanen can continue producing at a point-a-game rate to go along with the incredible numbers MacKinnon is putting up, he may well lead the Avs (and my fantasy team) right into the playoffs.

Tendy of the Week(s): Tuukka Rask

(Special mentions to Jimmy Howard, Connor Hellebuyck, Jonathan Bernier and Ben Bishop, who all posted one more win than Rask over this span and all had terrific numbers of their own, as well.)

The Bruins are scorching hot right now and Rask is a huge part of that. The man with two Us and two Ks truly was too good over these past two weeks, posting wins in all three of his starts with a scarcely believable .974 save percentage and 0.67 GAA to his credit, along with a shutout (duh) for good measure.

Boston is never going to run down Tampa for the division’s top spot without some sort of extinction-level event befalling the Lightning, but with three games in hand over third place Toronto and the Grand Canyon between them and fourth place, the Bs look to be fairly comfortable in their push towards the playoffs. If Rask carries this play into the postseason, everyone should be scared.

Game of the Week(s): Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…………

Okay, so, admittedly I did not watch a lot of hockey over the past 14 or so days. I can tell you that Michigan vs Michigan State in the consolation game of the GLI was a lot of fun, and the Winter Classic looked like it was a barnburner. Also the Jackets and Panthers went eight rounds into the shootout Sunday night, a game that I was originally supposed to attend (you’re welcome, friend who I gave the tickets to), and all five goals scored were gross.

But if I’m being honest, I simply haven’t watched enough to make a solid pick this time around. So, tell you what, the game of the week is whatever you want it to be! Yeah, how about that? That’s me giving back to you, the reader.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

David Savard was fined $5,000 for Paul Bunyon-ing Vincent Trocheck, a move that Cap’n Cornelius would probably deem the most solid defensive play he’s seen out of Savard all season.

Dan Girardi blocked a Martin Frk shot with his head, which is definitely not recommended, but luckily had all concussion tests come back negative and is only listed as day-to-day. In Girardi’s defense, at least half of the time Frk lets a shot go, even he doesn’t know exactly where it’s going (a point Red Wings’ color analyst Mickey Redmond made himself after the play occurred). For those unfamiliar with Frk, I can tell you that he almost certainly has one of the hardest shots you will ever witness. Living in northwest Ohio, I’ve had multiple opportunities to watch him in action over the past few years when he spent time with Toledo of the ECHL, and even his wrist shot hits the boards with a sound unlike anything you’ll hear from 99 percent of other players. Maybe work on keeping them down, Marty.

Patrice Bergeron had himself a four-goal game, which I assume was just to remind all of us that he’s still the best hockey player that no one ever remembers exists.

Glen Gulutzan had a meltdown for the ages at Flames practice, highlighted by heaving his stick into the stratosphere. No one has seen the stick land yet, and I assume it has simply joined Jose Bautista’s bat on its eternal journey through the cosmos.

Speaking of the Flames, the team is reportedly looking to release Jaromir Jagr, in a move that would likely put them on a level of heel heat that would rival Vince McMahon post-Montreal Screwjob (Bonus points to any reader that actually understands that reference).

Nazem Kadri fought Joe Thornton (bad idea) and apparently thought ripping some of Jumbo’s beard out would cause Joe to lose some of his strength (decent theory, story of Samson and whatnot). It did not cause him to lose his strength, though, so a bad day for Kadri there.

The Oilers nabbed goaltender Al Montoya from the Habs in exchange for a conditional 4th round pick, in a move that could be titled “Two dumpster fires exchange things in attempt to convince livid fanbases that improvements are being made.”

Hey, why isn’t (insert NHL team here) playing?

Still trying to figure out why your favorite team has games all next week, but your rival gets to take five-straight days off? Or maybe you’re most concerned about your fantasy hockey team? Either way, *NSYNC has the answer:

The NHL is in Year 2 of its experiment with bye weeks. Some things – like the average length of each team’s break – stayed the same. 19 of the 31 clubs are taking the minimum five days off, while 11 others get an extra sixth before returning to action. Of course, the winners of the bye week lottery are the Ottawa Senators, who get a whopping seven days to rest, regroup and rediscover the art of ice hockey before hosting St. Louis.

But there are a few differences from last year, most notably where these breaks occur within the league schedule. Last season when the bye weeks debuted, the Islanders and Penguins had already started and finished their breaks by now, while others wouldn’t see the gap in their schedule until well beyond the All-Star Break or even the trade deadline. In fact, the Ducks didn’t take their week off until the beginning of March.

It was probably because Anaheim is on Pacific Time. That’s how time zones work, right?

Anyways, all 31 bye weeks this season – whether five, six or seven days – will start and end in the span of the 18 days between today and January 19.

Though initial thoughts were that the bye weeks were consolidated in anticipation of the NHL potentially releasing its players to their respective national federations for the XXIII Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, it instead will simply be an opportunity for the league’s scheduler to determine which format is better for business.

But we’re not worried about attendance, advertising dollars or TV ratings here at Down the Frozen River (actually, that’s a lie: we love to talk about that stuff during podcasts). Let’s talk about who’s going to be off when. Teams are presented in order of the league table as it stands entering play January 7, and you might find some notes from myself and @nlanciani53.

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

29-9-3, 61 points, leading Presidents’ Trophy race

Final game before the bye: Hosts Calgary on January 11

Bye week: January 12-17 (six days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Vegas on January 18

Nick’s Notes: A hot team must cool off a bit and then play the Vegas Golden Knights on their first night back to action? Talk about a prison sentence. At least they’ve still got the Presidents’ Trophy (lead) as consolation.

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS

28-10-2, 58 points, leading the Western Conference

Final game before the bye: Hosts the NY Rangers on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Edmonton on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Son, where the Golden Knights are from, they don’t need no breaks. Polar opposites of the Tampa Bay Lightning bye week, Vegas plays a good team before taking time off. Then they play Edmonton. Next!

Connor’s Notes: That may be true, but there’s surely some concern among Gerard Gallant and his staff that the Knights just might lose some of this positive energy over the break. They’ve posted a 9-1-0 record over their last 10, and it’d be a shame if the only reason this club drops from Cloud 9 to Cloud 8 is just five little days off.

WINNIPEG JETS

24-11-7, 55 points, leading the Central Division

Final game before the bye: At Minnesota on January 13

Bye week: January 14-19 (six days)

First game out of the bye: At Calgary on January 20

Nick’s Notes: The Winnipeg Jets are vying for first place in the Central Division this season after missing the playoffs last year. Their second best point-scorer (that’s right, point-scorer, not goal-scorer, Patrik Laine), Mark Scheifele‘s been nursing an upper body injury and this break won’t hurt the team for a week while he remains out of the lineup.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

24-11-6, 54 points, second in the Central Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Edmonton on January 9

Bye week: January 10-15

First game out of the bye: Hosts Vegas on January 16

Nick’s Notes: Most people think the party never stops in Vegas, but they’re wrong. The party never stops in Smashville and let’s just hope none of the Predators players get carried away on Broadway in their week off.

ST. LOUIS BLUES

26-16-2, 54 points, third in the Central Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Florida on January 9

Bye week: January 10-15 (six days)

First game out of the bye: At Toronto on January 16

Connor’s Notes: Any way to avoid playing games while Jaden Schwartz‘ ankle is still healing is a good thing. While he won’t be ready to go until the end of the month, the Blues will hope to get out of a rut that has led to them posting a 4-6-0 record over their last 10 games entering Sunday.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS

25-13-3, 53 points, leading the Metropolitan Division

Final game before the bye: At Carolina on January 12

Bye week: January 13-17 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At New Jersey on January 18

Nick’s Notes: It’s not that Braden Holtby‘s been bad, but he’s having his worst season since 2013-14, so like, maybe send him to a remote mountain top or whatever it takes for Holtby to regain his form and focus (a water bottle usually does the trick). Seriously though, his 2.68 GAA and .917 save percentage is not great, Bob.

LOS ANGELES KINGS

24-13-5, 53 points, second in the Pacific Division

Final game before the bye: Hosted Nashville on January 6, lost 4-3

Bye week: January 7-12 (six days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Anaheim on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Best of luck to the Los Angeles Kings who will smash bodies against the boards with Nashville leading into their bye week and then smash bodies all over again with the Anaheim Ducks fresh off their vacations. It’s a grueling game. Ice those bruises.

BOSTON BRUINS

23-10-6, 52 points, second in the Atlantic Division

Final game before the bye: At Pittsburgh on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At Montréal on January 13

Connor’s Notes: Similar to Vegas’ current run of success, with an 8-0-2 record over their last 10 games played entering Sunday, the Bruins arguably have the most positive energy to lose by going on break of any team in the Eastern Conference. Fortunately for them, they’ll play in what I expect to be a rivalry game that’s even more heated than usual given the Habs’ position in the standings to get right back into the swing of things.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

25-16-2, 52 points, third in the Atlantic Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Ottawa on January 10

Bye week: January 11-15 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts St. Louis on January 16

Connor’s Notes: While the Leafs aren’t currently certain he’ll be ready to go by then, the original hope was that sophomore defenseman Nikita Zaitsev‘s lower-body injury would be healed by the time Toronto returned to action against the Notes. If St. Louis’ offense is ticking that day, his presence in the defensive zone will be a big help to Frederik Andersen

NEW JERSEY DEVILS

22-11-7, 51 points, second in the Metropolitan Division

Final game before the bye: At the NY Islanders on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Philadelphia January 13

Nick’s Notes: The New Jersey Devils have been quietly good as of late. They’re this year’s biggest surprise outside of the Golden Knights. Nico Hischier just turned 19, so unless he’s going outside of the United States for his break, he can’t (legally) party hard.

DALLAS STARS

24-16-3, 51 points, fourth in the Central Division – first wild card

Final game before the bye: Hosted Edmonton on January 6, won 5-1

Bye week: January 7-12 (six days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Colorado on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Wouldn’t it be mean if nobody tells Kari Lehtonen when the break is so he just drives up to the practice rink on the first day like “where’d everybody go”? Just a thought.

NEW YORK RANGERS

22-14-5, 49 points, third in the Metropolitan Division

Final game before the bye: At Vegas on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts the NY Islanders on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Great, another week off means Henrik Lundqvist has to wait even longer for a Stanley Cup.

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

23-16-3, 49 points, fourth in the Metropolitan Division – first wild card

Final game before the bye: Hosts Vancouver on January 12

Bye week: January 13-17 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Dallas on January 18

Nick’s Notes: The Columbus Blue Jackets have been the St. Louis Blues of the Eastern Conference this season. One week they’re amazing, the next week they’re losing. A lot.

Connor’s Notes: Nick is right, and the Jackets are in one of their losing funks right now. Entering Sunday, they’ve posted a 3-5-2 record over their last 10 games played. They won’t regain any of their four injured players during the break, but perhaps John Tortorella can find a way to regroup his troops before they lose any more ground in the Metro.

SAN JOSE SHARKS

21-12-6, 48 points, third in the Pacific Division

Final game before the bye: At Winnipeg on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Arizona on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Joe Thornton should use this break to regrow that part of his beard that got torn off his face by Nazem Kadri in Toronto.

COLORADO AVALANCHE

22-16-3, 47 points, fifth in the Central Division – second wild card

Final game before the bye: Hosted Minnesota on January 6, won 7-2

Bye week: January 7-12 (six days)

First game out of the bye: At Dallas on January 13

Connor’s Notes: Goaltender Semyon Varlamov should be prepared to return to action following the bye week after suffering a lower body injury on January 2, and there’s a possibility J.T. Compher get back into the lineup too. However, considering the Avs’ unbelievable position in the standings, does Jared Bednar even think about pulling Jonathan Bernier?

MINNESOTA WILD

22-17-3, 47 points, sixth in the Central Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Vancouver on January 14

Bye week: January 15-19

First game out of the bye: Hosts Tampa Bay on January 20

Nick’s Notes: Oft-injured and finally healthy, the Minnesota Wild should place everyone in bubblewrap for their bye week. Just a suggestion.

ANAHEIM DUCKS

19-15-9, 47 points, fourth in the Pacific Division

Final game before the bye: At Calgary on January 6, lost 3-2

Bye week: January 7-12

First game out of the bye: At Los Angeles on January 13

Connor’s Notes: With Corey Perry returning to action last night against the Flames, Anaheim is effectively at 100 percent once again after losing basically every star at one point or another this season. After seeing what an injured Ducks team was capable of, the Pacific Division should get ready, because a rested and healthy Ducks team just might wreck havoc against weak competition.

CALGARY FLAMES

21-16-4, 46 points, fifth in the Pacific Division

Final game before the bye: At Carolina on January 14

Bye week: January 15-19 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Winnipeg on January 20

Nick’s Notes: Whoever’s running the airport gates in Calgary should make sure that wherever the player’s are going doesn’t actually say “Seattle” on their ticket. Unless the gate agent is originally from Seattle. *dramatic Twin Peaks music plays in the background*

CAROLINA HURRICANES

19-14-8, 46 points, fifth in the Metropolitan Division – second wild card

Final game before the bye: Hosts Calgary on January 14

Bye week: January 15-19 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At Detroit on January 20

Nick’s Notes: One thing’s for sure, even with their potential new majority owner, none of the Carolina Hurricanes players are going back to Hartford for their break. What a shame.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

21-19-3, 45 points, sixth in the Metropolitan Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Boston on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Detroit on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Phil Kessel doesn’t like time off (remember the 2016 World Cup of Hockey?) and Matthew Murray should probably go to the same place as Braden Holtby for a week. Murray’s goals-against average is almost a 3.0.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

19-15-6, 44 points, last in the Central Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Detroit on January 14

Bye week: January 15-19 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts the NY Islanders on January 20

Nick’s Notes: Jeff Glass is the feel good story of 2018 so far, so why would anyone want to see him take five nights off? *Checks standings* Oh, right, this team isn’t in playoff worthy right now.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

18-15-8, 44 points, seventh in the Metropolitan Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Buffalo on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At New Jersey on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Someone make sure the Philadelphia Flyers don’t try to move to the Atlantic Division over their bye week. They’ll do anything to make the playoffs this season.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS

20-18-4, 44 points, last in the Metropolitan Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts New Jersey on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At the NY Rangers on January 13

Connor’s Notes: The reason the Islanders have been making by with their horrendous defense, which was made worse by Calvin de Haan requiring a season-ending shoulder surgery, has been their explosive offense. Josh Bailey should be back at 100 percent following New York’s bye to reunite the BLT Line, allowing the Isles to get back to their version of Russian Roulette: finding out which goaltender is going to allow just one more goal than the other.

DETROIT RED WINGS

17-16-7, 41 points, fourth in the Atlantic Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Tampa Bay on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At Pittsburgh on January 13

Nick’s Notes: If the Detroit Red Wings were a young, rebuilding, team I’d recommend a five-day long pizza party at The Pizza Box (Little Caesar’s Arena). Maybe they can figure out the right way to tank during their time off instead of winning a lot before the break.

FLORIDA PANTHERS

17-18-5, 39 points, fifth in the Atlantic Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Calgary on January 12

Bye week: January 13-18 (six days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Vegas on January 19

Connor’s Notes: Just as James Reimer is beginning to run out of steam, Roberto Luongo is expected to return to the Panthers’ crease with his club seven points outside playoff position. Whether he resumes his starting job before or after the bye, the break allows both of them to be fully rested.

EDMONTON OILERS

18-21-3, 39 points, sixth in the Pacific Division

Final game before the bye: At Vegas on January 13

Bye week: January 14-19 (six days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Vancouver on January 20

Nick’s Notes: Peter Chiarelli can’t possibly figure out how he’s going to save his team in six days when he spent $21 million on Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in about that amount of time over the summer.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

16-19-6, 38 points, seventh in the Pacific Division

Final game before the bye: At Minnesota on January 14

Bye week: January 15-19 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At Edmonton on January 20

Nick’s Notes: Like Mark Scheifele and the Winnipeg Jets, Bo Horvat and the Vancouver Canucks haven’t seen each other in a little while due to injury. Take some time and rest up.

MONTRÉAL CANADIENS

17-20-4, 38 points, sixth in the Atlantic Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Vancouver on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Boston on January 13

Nick’s Notes: I’m pretty sure you can’t trade players during your bye week, so don’t try to move Max Pacioretty while nobody’s paying attention, Montreal.

OTTAWA SENATORS

14-17-9, 37 points, seventh in the Atlantic Division

Final game before the bye: At Toronto on January 10

Bye week: January 11-17 (seven days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts St. Louis on January 18

Nick’s Notes: The Ottawa Senators will find a way to lose games over their seven day break. Meanwhile, Eugene Melnyk will have just enough time to figure out an escape plan while nobody’s at Canadian Tire Centre.

BUFFALO SABRES

10-22-9, 29 points, last in the Eastern Conference

Final game before the bye: Hosts Columbus on January 11

Bye week: January 12-17 (six days)

First game out of the bye: At the NY Rangers on January 18

Nick’s Notes: The Sabres should hold an exhibition matchup with some bantam teams while on their break. You know, so they can get better.

ARIZONA COYOTES

10-27-6, 26 points, last in the NHL

Final game before the bye: Hosted the NY Rangers on January 6, won 2-1 in a shootout

Bye week: January 7-11 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Edmonton on January 12

Nick’s Notes: Wait, you mean Arizona hasn’t already been taking time off all season?


Final notes: I strongly dislike how the NHL is abandoning entire markets for a week at a time. This is most noticeable in the United States’ two biggest cities: New York and Los Angeles. All five teams that play in those markets will be dormant for the same five days (January 8-12). Why didn’t they stagger these byes so those important markets would still have at least one squad active at all times? After all, if there’s one thing Devils fans love to see as much as a Jersey win, it’s a Rangers loss. Whether they take in that loss at Madison Square Garden or from their couch doesn’t ultimately matter. The fact that those markets could turn their attention away from the NHL to either the Clippers, Knicks or Friends reruns on TBS does.

But this extends further. The entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will be shut off from NHL hockey from January 8-12 (The same days as New York and Los Angeles? Who is making these decisions?), as neither the Flyers nor Penguins will be in action. Boston and Montréal? Nope, they’re both on the bye at the same time too (you guessed it, January 8-12). The Blues and Predators can vacation together as well – though I doubt they’d want to – as they are both out of action from January 10-15.

I’m sure the league’s competition committee is going to claim that they’re trying to reduce the possibility of one particular team getting too much of an advantage, but this just seems silly from a business perspective. If that is truly the case, perhaps one day when the league reaches 32 teams it will simply shut down an entire conference for five days and then the other (the odd number of teams right now makes scheduling a little… interesting in that scenario), or – the more likely of these two options – perchance expand the distribution of byes over the course of three weeks instead of just two. Who knows?

Beyond this issue, while I don’t necessarily like where it is in the schedule, I do like that the NHL has condensed the time period for bye weeks in the season. Keeping track of which teams had and hadn’t taken their week off last season was a bother, and this system eliminates that. Of course, we’ll know how NBC and Sportsnet react based on how these byes are arranged next year.

As for my final complaint, the byes have the possibility of creating a very staggered January. We just got out of the three-day holiday break 12 days ago. Each team has played an average of only 5.4 games since then. Now we have these bye weeks of at least five days, and the four-day All-Star Break (January 26-29) is only 20 days out. If those sentences were confusing, I’m concerned that’s how the month of January is going to feel – scattered hockey thoughts until Groundhog’s Day.

The NHL Players’ Association demanded these bye weeks in return for the league turning the All-Star Game into the divisional three-on-three format we have had for the past two years. They’re not going anywhere: the players obviously like the idea of getting some time off, and putting it near the midway point of the season seems like a logical idea.

However, how this change is impacting the league’s product is still being understood. Unless we could see a plausible situation where bye weeks don’t happen until the end of February or March (remember, that’s likely after the trade deadline), the existence of the midway-point byes could be yet another reason the NHL could axe the All-Star Game, eliminating that break altogether.

Throw in the fact that the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement could expire as soon as 2020’s offseason – should either party opt out early – and no later than the summer of 2022 and we could be looking at a whole heap of changes  – or a whole heap of no hockey – within the next four years.

January 6 – Day 91 – Hej baby

With the NHL’s bye weeks starting up tomorrow, there’s lots of action for us to take in today!

Making today even more amazing, the league has scheduled two matinee games for our enjoyment. The first involves St. Louis at Philadelphia (SN) at 1 p.m., followed two hours later by Edmonton at Dallas. The usual starting time of 7 p.m. has three contests for us (Carolina at Boston, Vancouver at Toronto [CBC/NHLN/SN] and Tampa Bay at Ottawa [CITY/SN1/TVAS]), while the New York Rangers at Arizona waits until 8 p.m. to drop the puck. Minnesota visits Colorado at 9 p.m., with Anaheim at Calgary (CBC/SN) trailing an hour later and Nashville at Los Angeles closing the evening off at 10:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

Though there’s more than a few stellar matchups on tap today, three caught my eye before even the first puck was dropped on the season.

  • St. Louis at Philadelphia: The Blues and Flyers swapped C Jori Lehtera and F Brayden Schenn this summer. Considering Schenn has posted 17-25-42 totals this season compared to Lehtera’s 0-2-2, I’d say the winner of the trade is self-evident.
  • Minnesota at Colorado: Tonight at the Pepsi Center, RW Milan Hejduk‘s 23 is being lifted to the rafters to reside with five other Avalanche greats.
  • Anaheim at Calgary: There’s no love lost here: this is a rematch from the Western Conference’s first round that the Flames would rather forget.

It might surprise you, but one of the hottest teams in the NHL right now is actually the Colorado Avalanche. Let’s see if they can keep this positive energy rolling for Hejduk’s special night.

 

What an exciting day for the Avalanche franchise. There are few former members of the Avs more deserving of this honor, to the point that your favorite humble hockey blog predicted tonight’s festivities over two years ago.

Selected by Québec in the fourth round of the 1994 NHL Entry Draft from the Czech Republic, Hejduk made his NHL debut on opening day of the 1998-’99 season. It wasn’t an overly impressive rookie season for Hejduk (though he was named to the All-Rookie Team), posting only 14-34-48 totals and finishing a distant third behind teammate C Chris Drury in voting for the Calder Memorial Trophy, but Hejduk would have the last laugh of a far superior career.

Some players experience a sophomore slump, but Hejduk was quite the opposite. He started the 1999-’00 season with a bang by scoring the first goal in the history of the Pepsi Center, and that campaign ended up being the fourth-best of his career, as he posted 36-36-72 totals that became his baseline for almost every season until 2007-’08.

Hejduk’s third season is probably the one he remembers the fondest, as that’s the year Colorado hoisted the Stanley Cup. The Czech continued his growth at the professional level to reach the 40-goal plateau for the first time en route to his second-consecutive appearance at the All-Star Game (which the Avalanche hosted), and he earned 79 points to help the Avs to a 52-16-10-4 record good enough for the Presidents’ Trophy. He followed that effort up with a 7-16-23 performance in the postseason – second-best behind C Joe Sakic – that included the game-winning goal in Game 2 of the Western Quarterfinals in a 2-1 victory over the Canucks.

Short of the Stanley Cup, the biggest achievement of Hejduk’s career was winning the 2003 Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy after scoring a career-high 50 goals. He had a two-goal advantage on runner-up LW Markus Naslund, and a whopping 21 more that the Avs’ second-best goalscorer that season, C Peter Forsberg, with whom he shared the now discontinued NHL Plus-Minus Award that season after they both posted a franchise-best +52.

Hejduk is far and away the longest tenured player in the history of the Nordiques/Avalanche franchise, as he played 1020 regular season games over 14 seasons with the burgundy and blue, not to mention another 112 playoff contests. Over those 1020 games, he registered 375 goals and 805 points – both the fourth-most in in team history – and a fifth-most 430 assists.

Hejduk’s 23 will be Colorado’s first retired number since D Adam Foote‘s 52 was raised to the rafters on November 2, 2013. Hejduk joins D Ray Bourque, Foote, Forsberg, G Patrick Roy and Sakic – and I guess technically C Wayne Gretzky too, though the closest he came to playing in Denver was his 18 games with St. Louis in 1996.

For those that believe these types of trends can predict the future, Colorado has a 4-1-0 record and a +7 total goal differential in games when it retires a number, so Minnesota should be worried about its chances tonight.

Of course, this Avs team – which has a 21-16-3 record that is good enough for 10th in the Western Conference, two points behind Minnesota in the second wildcard spot – is nowhere near the caliber of those Hejduk played for in years past. However, that’s not to say this squad can’t find success. In fact, Colorado enters tonight’s game riding a four-game winning streak and having earned a 6-1-1 record over its past eight games, which is the third-best mark in the NHL since December 18.

How have the Avs been finding this success? Where to start?

Let’s start with the offense, which has scored 27 goals since December 18 to rank (t)fifth-best in the NHL in that time. The first line has been nigh unstoppable during this run, as both F Nathan MacKinnon (2-9-11 totals) and RW Mikko Rantanen (5-6-11) are headlining the teams scoring, and LW Gabriel Landeskog is only a step behind with his 3-4-7 effort.

But Colorado hasn’t only successful on the offensive end; the defense – even with G Semyon Varlamov nursing a lower-body injury – has played exceptionally, allowing only 15 goals against, the (t)fifth-fewest since December 18.

Varlamov was playing well before he went down on January 2, as he’d posted a .931 save percentage and 2.14 GAA in his six last starts. But G Jonathan Bernier has been even better, earning an incredible .965 save percentage and 1.2 GAA since starting New Year’s Eve’s game against the Islanders. Bernier is coming off a 34-save shutout against the Blue Jackets Thursday.

As for Minnesota, it is quietly in the second wildcard position with a 22-16-3 record. The Wild have also been playing well lately, as they’ve won four of their past five contests.

The Wild’s offense has come alive during this run, as they’ve scored 19 goals since December 27 to rank (t)second-best in the league since then. F Mikael Granlund is finally starting to look like he did last year when he posted career-high 26-43-69 totals. He started slow in 2017 to post only 11-16-27 totals, but he’s managed a 4-4-8 effort from the second line over his last five games to lead his team’s surge. D Jared Spurgeon has also performed well, posting 1-5-6 totals over this run.

Tonight’s meeting marks the second in the four-game series between the Avalanche and Wild. Game 1 took place in St. Paul on November 24, with Minnesota winning 3-2 on a shootout.

Considering the festivities of the evening and the fact that the Avs could surge into playoff position with a victory tonight (Anaheim would need to lose in regulation to Calgary for that to happen), this should should be an excellent game. Considering how well Colorado has played of late, I think it is capable of beating the Wild.


Only a day after being shutout 4-0, the Pittsburgh Penguins used their good luck in the DtFR Game of the Day series to beat the New York Islanders 4-0 at Barclays Center yesterday.

While it was an evenly contested first period between the Pens and Isles (they combined for 21 total shots on goal), Pittsburgh absolutely dominated the Brooklynites in the second by scoring three goals.

The first belonged to Third Star of the Game RW Daniel Sprong (First Star C Sidney Crosby and F Dominik Simon), scoring his first NHL goal since November 6, 2015 with a wrist shot 41 seconds into the frame for what proved to be the game-winner.

Crosby did most of the leg work on the goal, stealing the puck off LW Andrew Ladd‘s stick along the boards in the Islanders’ offensive zone. The Captain then screamed up the ice towards G Jaroslav Halak‘s crease with Sprong to his right, setting up a two-on-one play against D Nick Leddy. Once Halak committed to saving a shot from Crosby, he crossed a pass to Sprong, allowing him to easily bury his wrister into a gaping cage.

F Evgeni Malkin (Crosby and RW Phil Kessel) doubled Pittsburgh’s advantage with a power play snap shot 2:49 later, followed by Crosby (Sprong and Simon) setting the score at 3-0 with 4:10 remaining in the frame.

Sprong’s night wasn’t through with his game-winner. He tacked on his own insurance goal (D Justin Schultz and Crosby) with 6:32 remaining in regulation to set the 4-0 final score.

Second Star G Tristan Jarry saved all 31 shots he faced to earn the second shutout victory of his young NHL career, while Halak – who saved 34-of-38 (.895 save percentage) – was forced to take the loss.

Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are starting to find some mojo. They’ve earned points in three-consecutive games to pull within 22 points of the 51-29-11 hosts.