Tag Archives: Bill Peters

DTFR Podcast #149- SnapFace with Zach Boychuk

We’re less than a month away from the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, so let’s take a gander at how things should shape up for the Central Division.

The Tampa Bay Lightning clinched the first postseason berth this season, Quinn Hughes signed his entry-level contract with the Vancouver Canucks, Shane Wright was granted exceptional status and the DTFR Duo presented the first few individual season awards.

*Zach Boychuk wasn’t actually on… …this time around, anyway.*

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DTFR Podcast #148- Regrets-ing

The DTFR Duo honors Ted Lindsay, addresses a potential outdoor game hosted by the Carolina Hurricanes, talk John Tavares’ “welcome” back to Long Island, can’t figure out the Ottawa Senators coaching change circus and more.

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DTFR Podcast #145- We Plan To Be Good In 2021-25

Evgeni Malkin did a bad thing, the 2019 NWHL All-Star Game broke attendance records and more trades happened in the NHL. Patrice Bergeron reached 1,000 games and David Pastrnak is injured for the Boston Bruins leaving Nick in a glass case of emotion.

Plus, Eugene Melnyk plans to spend money, the Tampa Bay Lightning have a new alternate sweater, Randy Carlyle was fired and Scott Niedermayer will have his number retired (again) this week. Finally, Connor has a new segment.

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DTFR Podcast #144- (The Other) Auston City Limits

Auston Matthews signed an extension with the Toronto Maple Leafs. What does this mean for the Leafs? Alex Stalock, Jordan Martinook and Pheonix Copley all signed extensions with their clubs, as Tuukka Rask became the winningest goaltender in Boston Bruins history, Alex Ovechkin became the highest scoring Russian-born NHL player and Paul Maurice reached 1,500 games behind the bench as a head coach.

The DTFR Duo also reviewed all 31 NHL teams as buyers and/or sellers at the 2019 trade deadline.

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Game of the week: January 28-February 3

With 21 clubs enjoying their byes as a continuation of the All-Star Break, this week’s schedule was fairly light until tonight when the entire league got back into action. However, that’s not to say there wasn’t any big matchups – take a look for yourself:

NHL SCHEDULE: January 28-February 3
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, January 28
7 p.m. Winnipeg Philadelphia 1-3
7 p.m. New Jersey Pittsburgh 6-3
Tuesday, January 29
7 p.m. Winnipeg Boston 4-3 (SO)
7 p.m. Buffalo Columbus 5-4
7:30 p.m. Philadelphia Flyers New York Rangers 1-0
Wednesday, January 30
8 p.m. Tampa Bay Pittsburgh 2-4
8:30 p.m. Buffalo Dallas 0-1
Thursday, January 31
7 p.m. Philadelphia Boston 3-2 (OT)
7 p.m. New York Rangers New Jersey Devils 4-3
8 p.m. Columbus Winnipeg 3-4
Friday, February 1
7 p.m. Chicago Buffalo TVAS
7 p.m. Nashville Florida
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Lightning New York Islanders
7 p.m. Ottawa Pittsburgh RDS
7 p.m. Calgary Washington
7:30 p.m. Toronto Detroit
7:30 p.m. Vegas Carolina
8 p.m. Minnesota Dallas
Saturday, February 2
1 p.m. Edmonton Philadelphia NHLN, SN
2 p.m. New Jersey Montréal RDS, TSN2
7 p.m. Anaheim Winnipeg SN360
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Toronto CBC, SN1
7 p.m. Detroit Ottawa CITY, TVAS
7 p.m. Vegas Florida
7 p.m. Los Angeles Kings New York Islanders
7 p.m. St. Louis Columbus
8 p.m. Dallas Nashville
8 p.m. Chicago Minnesota NBC
8 p.m. Tampa Bay New York Rangers NBC
10 p.m. Vancouver Canucks Colorado Avalanche CBC, CITY, SN, SN1, SN360
10:30 p.m. Arizona San Jose
Sunday, February 3
12:30 p.m. Boston Washington NBC
2 p.m. Edmonton Montréal RDS, SN
2 p.m. Calgary Carolina SN360

With many of the week’s early games involving a majority of Eastern Conference teams, rivalries abound in this week’s schedule – starting with the Flyers’ tilt against the Rangers on Tuesday. After squaring off at Madison Square Garden, both clubs departed for another derby matchup, with New York taking on New Jersey and Philadelphia heading to Boston on Thursday. Tonight’s rivalry features Toronto in Detroit (more on that game in a moment), with Chicago taking on Minnesota tomorrow.

If player returns are your jam, there’s no bigger tilt this weekend than the Flames’ trip to Raleigh. Taking advantage of the systemic overhaul of the Hurricanes’ system, Calgary traded for F Elias Lindholm and D Noah Hanifin, who spent five and three seasons, respectively, with Carolina. The Flames also signed former three-year Cane C Derek Ryan out of free agency on July 1.

Of course, all of these moves were likely suggested by the Flames’ new Head Coach, Bill Peters. He spent four seasons in Carolina before getting the ax following the 2017-18 campaign.

Finally, we return to tonight’s previously mentioned Original Six showdown between the Maple Leafs and Red Wings. This is usually an exciting game to see on its own, but this game is even more special than usual since Red Kelly is getting his No. 4 retired beforehand.

Heck, you know what? Kelly was pretty cool (after all, he did win four Stanley Cups while also serving as a Canadian Member of Parliament), so let’s head to Motown.

If any team entered the All-Star Break and its bye week on a high note, it certainly wasn’t the 30-17-2 Toronto Maple Leafs.

Though they’ve managed to hold on to their second-place position in the Atlantic Division while sitting dormant for eight total days, the Leafs were surely disappointed to end the first half of their season on a 2-4-0 skid – even if those two wins did come against the division-leading Lightning and the reigning Stanley Cup champions.

To the surprise of none, Toronto’s biggest struggle during that skid was surely its defense. While the 32.6 shots against per game the Maple Leafs have allowed all season is far from impressive (in fact, it’s tied with Buffalo for eighth-worst in the league), they slacked-off even more in their last six games leading up to the All-Star Break to yield 34.83 shots against per game.

That’s the sixth-worst mark in the NHL since January 12, but General Manager Kyle Dubas is working to fix that issue.

Enter D Jake Muzzin: a player with a +10 rating through 50 games with the Los Angeles Kings, the second-worst team in the NHL with a league-worst -36 goal differential on the season.

While plus/minus is far from the best statistic in sports, the fact that we can pair it with his pedestrian offensive production (he’s managed only 4-17-21 totals so far this season) shows he’s doing at least something right on the defensive end (in other words, the stat is an effect, not a cause). In fact, if defensive point shares are your cup of tea, his defense provided four of the Kings’ 44 points in the standings.

Muzzin gets his work done by making his presence known. He’s just eight blocks short of averaging two per game on the season, and he’s made up for that along the boards by throwing 111 hits so far this campaign.

To put that in relation to his new teammates, Muzzin’s 1.84 blocks per game and 2.22 hits per game rank second and first, respectively, among the 18 Leafs that have at least 28 games played.

Talk about bulking up the defense.

One person hoping Muzzin’s defensive success makes the 4.5 hour trip from Tinseltown to T-dot is 6-3-1 G Garret Sparks, tonight’s presumed starter with the Penguins rolling into Toronto tomorrow. Sparks boasts a .907 save percentage and 2.91 GAA on the season, but has lost his last two appearances.

Should Sparks get the start tonight, it will be his fourth career outing against the Red Wings. He’s managed a 1-1-1 record against Detroit in his first three tries, winning his most recent matchup on December 23 despite allowing four goals. He brings a career .864 save percentage and corresponding 4.01 GAA against the Wings into tonight’s tilt.

Of course, the Maple Leafs’ defensive concerns are nothing when compared to the 19-25-7 Detroit Red Wings, as they’ve struggled in effectively every facet of the game this season – made evident by their position in second-to-last place in the Eastern Conference.

Looking specifically at the Wings’ last eight games that saw them post a 3-5-0 record, the biggest struggle of late has been their offense – just like Toronto, no surprises here. Similar to its 2.8 goals per game for the entire season, Detroit’s 2.88 goals per game since January 6 ranks seventh-worst in the NHL.

Beyond the top-line pairing of F Dylan Larkin (3-5-8 totals in his last eight outings) and W Gustav Nyquist (1-7-8 since January 6), the Red Wings struggle to find much offensive. Those players’ respective season points totals of 48 and 43 headline the team, but third-best F Andreas Athanasiou has registered only 30. Despite the goal-scoring potential Athanasiou still shows at 24-years-old, the fact that 30 points in 45 games played is third-best on a team perfectly showcases just how little Detroit has at its disposal.

How much longer until W Filip Zadina is ready, again? Oh, he only has 22 points in 37 AHL games played… great. The odds of any sort of call up for the young Czech is sliding in LW Matt Puempel’s favor more and more – an experiment I’m surprised the Wings haven’t tried yet this season considering they have nothing to lose. After all Puempel’s 36 points in 44 AHL games played is second-best in Grand Rapids.

As for who’s going to win this game, I think the answer is obvious: after a well-deserved rest, the Maple Leafs’ offense should be ready to get back into form. And even if Toronto doesn’t hit the 3.55 goals per game it’s grown grown accustomed to this season, Detroit’s anemic offense shouldn’t pose much of a threat, even against the likes of Sparks. Toronto should take care of business easily tonight.

DTFR Podcast #141- The Midseasonies

Nick and Connor talk the latest trades, Torts drama (and latest record), Casey DeSmith’s extension with the Pittsburgh Penguins, as well as a tribute to the careers of Rick Nash and Josh Gorges who both announced their retirement this week.

Additionally, what’s up with the Edmonton Oilers and St. Louis Blues this season and why can’t they just pick a side? Plus, it’s time to hand out awards for being slightly more than halfway through the 2018-19 regular season. #FlamingNotToFlamingHot

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DTFR Podcast #140- All-Star Finnish Trivia

Thoughts on the conclusion and controversies of the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship, as well as a look at the schedule around the league as we near the All-Star Weekend festivities and bye week(s). Nick puts Connor on the spot and asks him some trivia questions that only went so well.

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B’s oust Flames, 6-4, on Thursday

Jake DeBrusk had the defacto game-winning goal in the third period for the Boston Bruins, as DeBrusk and Brad Marchand each scored two goals in Boston’s, 6-4, win over the Calgary Flames at TD Garden on Thursday.

Jaroslav Halak (13-6-2 record, 2.36 goals against average, .926 save percentage in 23 games played) made 33 saves on 37 shots against for an .892 SV% in the win for the Bruins.

Mike Smith (12-9-1, 3.09 GAA, .886 SV% in 23 GP) turned aside 21 shots on 26 shots faced for an .808 SV% in the loss for the Flames.

As a result of the win, Boston improved to 23-14-4 on the season (50 points) and remained 3rd in the Atlantic Division, while Calgary fell to 25-13-4 (54 points) on the season.

The Flames held onto 1st place in the Pacific Division despite the loss, but with a two-point lead over the Vegas Golden Knights.

Boston head coach, Bruce Cassidy, updated reporters earlier in the day on Thursday on the status of Charlie McAvoy and Joakim Nordstrom.

Cassidy ruled McAvoy out of the lineup for Thursday night and unlikely to play Saturday, while indicating the sophomore blue liner is aiming for a return to the lineup next week– either Tuesday or Thursday.

Nordstrom, in the meantime, will be out for at least three weeks with a non-displaced fibula fracture sustained in Tuesday’s Winter Classic against the Chicago Blackhawks. He will be re-evaluated at that time.

Cassidy also congratulated David Krejci and his wife, Naomi, on the birth of their son Thursday morning. The Krejci family welcomed their second child as they previously had a daughter in 2015.

And in other news, Kevan Miller played in his 300th career NHL game Thursday night.

David Backes served the third and final game of his three-game suspension from the penalty box, while Steven Kampfer was the only healthy scratch for Boston.

Michael Frolik tripped Krejci early in the first period at 5:39 and sent the Bruins on their first power play of the night, which quickly became a 5-on-3 advantage when Elias Lindholm caught Brad Marchand with a high-stick at 5:44.

As Frolik was fresh out of the box, Mark Jankowski found the Flames forward for a shorthanded opportunity.

Frolik (9) made no mistake and capitalized on the lack of a defensive effort from the Bruins with Calgary’– league-leading– 13th shorthanded goal this season to give the Flames a 1-0 lead at 7:46 of the opening frame.

Jankowski (11) had the only assist on the ninth shorthanded goal allowed by Boston this season (which also is league-leading in all the wrong ways).

Late in the power play, the Bruins worked the puck back to John Moore (2) as he blasted one past Smith to tie the game, 1-1, at 9:02.

Matt Grzelcyk (11) and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson (3) notched the assists on Moore’s goal as the two teams scored 1:16 apart from each other.

Late in the first period, Jake DeBrusk (12) tipped in a shot from the point by Krejci to make it, 2-1, Boston at 14:19. Krejci (25) and Ryan Donato (3) had the assists on DeBrusk’s goal.

After one period of play, the B’s led the Flames, 2-1, on the scoreboard and trailed Calgary, 11-9, in shots on goal. The Flames also led in blocked shots (10-6), giveaways (8-4) and face-off win percentage (63-38) through 20 minutes, while the Bruins led in takeaways (5-3) and hits (11-10).

Calgary had yet to see time on the power play, while Boston was 1/3 entering the first intermission.

Just over a minute into the second period, Lindholm (20) tied the game, 2-2, having followed up on a rebound generated by Johnny Gaudreau.

Boston used their coach’s challenge on the basis that there was goaltender interference, but after review, the call on the ice still stood as Lindholm had tapped the puck in with his stick without any contact with Halak after Gaudreau’s initial shot.

Gaudreau (38) and Noah Hanifin (17) had the assists at 1:05 of the second period.

Less than a minute later, while in the attacking zone, Patrice Bergeron sent a pass back to the point where Torey Krug one-timed a slap pass to Marchand (14) in front of the goal for the redirection from point blank.

Marchand’s goal put Boston ahead, 3-2, at 1:41 of the second frame and was assisted by Krug (21) and Bergeron (21).

Zdeno Chara took a minor penalty for cross checking Austin Czarnik at 7:09, which the Bruins killed off, then followed up with a high-sticking infraction from DeBrusk at 10:13.

While on the penalty kill, the Bruins allowed a 3-on-0 opportunity for the Flames and were penalized for too many men on the ice at 11:31.

Boston killed off the ensuing 5-on-3 disadvantage.

Late in the period, the two clubs swapped minor penalties as Marchand went to the box for cross checking at 18:39 and Lindholm was sent to the visiting sin bin for interference at 19:53.

Both teams went into the dressing room tied, 2-2, after two periods, with the Flames leading in shots on goal, 21-20.

Calgary also led in takeaways (9-7), giveaways (14-12) and face-off win% (58-42) through 40 minutes with Boston leading in hits (20-16). Both teams had 11 blocked shots aside, while the Flames were 0/4 on the power play and the B’s were 1/3.

Less than a minute into the third period, Pastrnak chased down a puck that Krug had indirectly slap passed off the end boards from about 160 feet away.

No. 88 in black-and-gold then deked and beat Smith to make it, 4-2, for Boston just 54 seconds into the final frame. Krug (22) and Halak (3) had the assists on the goal.

Halak’s three assists this season are the most by a Bruins goaltender since Tim Thomas had three assists in the 2010-11 season.

About midway through the third period, Gaudreau (23) scored from below the goal line– banking the puck off of Halak and in to bring the Flames to within one and make it, 4-3, at 9:27 of the third.

Sean Monahan (29) and Hanifin (18) had the assists on Gaudreau’s goal.

Keeping with the trend of the night, the teams kept swapping goals as DeBrusk (13) added his second goal of the game on a backhand from close range after rushing into the attacking zone with the puck.

Krejci (26) had the assist on DeBrusk’s goal at 13:46 of the third period and the Bruins led, 5-3.

Moments later, Mikael Backlund (9) made it a one-goal game again with a backhand shot of his own that sailed over the glove side of Halak and into the twine to make it, 5-4.

Mark Giordano (33) and Rasmus Andersson (3) notched the assists at 16:27.

Flames head coach, Bill Peters, pulled Smith for an extra attacker with about 1:54 remaining in regulation. Shortly thereafter, Marchand (15) put the game away with an empty net goal to make it, 6-4, for the Bruins at 18:10.

Pastrnak (27) and Bergeron (22) had the assists on Marchand’s second goal of the game as the B’s scored six or more goals for just the fourth time this season.

At the final horn, Boston secured the win, despite trailing in shots on goal, 37-27, to the Flames.

The Bruins finished the night leading in blocked shots (16-13) and hits (27-22), while Calgary wrapped up Thursday night’s action with the lead in giveaways (20-16) and face-off win% (60-40).

The Flames finished the night 0/4 on the skater advantage, while the B’s went 2/4 on the power play.

Pastrnak now has 6-16–22 totals in his last 14 games and was the only Bruin named to the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Game in San Jose for the Atlantic Division.

Bruins fans can vote for a “Last Man In” representative in each division, with Boston’s “Last Man In” candidate being Bergeron.

The B’s take on the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday before staying at home for the Minnesota Wild next Tuesday (Jan. 8th) and the defending Stanley Cup champion, Washington Capitals, next Thursday (Jan. 10th).

Upon the conclusion of the current four-game homestand, Boston travels to Scotiabank Arena for a matchup with the Toronto Maple Leafs next Saturday (Jan. 12th).

DTFR Podcast #136- We’ve Got The Future Blues

More on the Arizona Coyotes latest debacle with Seattle expansion looming, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith did something never done before, the Calgary Flames rise in the Western Conference and the St. Louis Blues dismal season. Bob Murray and the Anaheim Ducks made a few moves– signing Murray to an extension, claiming Chad Johnson off waivers and a minor trade.

Plus, Nick and Connor review the last 15 years of first round picks by the Pittsburgh Penguins and do a deep dive on their future and what it might look like.

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Game of the week: December 3-9

It’s time once again for DtFR’s weekly featured matchup! Let’s take a gander at the NHL’s offerings for this edition, shall we?

NHL SCHEDULE: December 3-9
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, December 3
7 p.m. Tampa Bay New Jersey 5-1
8 p.m. Buffalo Nashville 1-2
8:30 p.m. Edmonton Dallas 1-4
Tuesday, December 4
7 p.m. Boston Florida 0-5
7 p.m. Winnipeg Jets New York Islanders 3-1
7 p.m. Colorado Pittsburgh 3-6
7 p.m. Calgary Columbus 9-6
7:30 p.m. Toronto Buffalo 4-3 (OT)
7:30 p.m. Ottawa Montréal 2-5
7:30 p.m. Tampa Bay Detroit 6-5 (SO)
10 p.m. Minnesota Vancouver 3-2
10 p.m. Washington Vegas 3-5
10:30 p.m. Arizona Los Angeles 2-1
Wednesday, December 5
8 p.m. Edmonton St. Louis 3-2 (SO)
10:30 p.m. Chicago Anaheim 2-4
10:30 p.m. Carolina San Jose 1-5
Thursday, December 6
7 p.m. Detroit Toronto 5-4 (OT)
7 p.m. Colorado Florida 5-2
7 p.m. Columbus Philadelphia 4-3 (OT)
7 p.m. New York Islanders Pittsburgh Penguins 2-6
7:30 p.m. Montréal Ottawa 5-2
7:30 p.m. Boston Tampa Bay 2-3
9 p.m. Minnesota Calgary 0-2
9 p.m. Washington Arizona 4-2
10 p.m. Nashville Vancouver 3-5
10 p.m. Chicago Vegas 3-4
10:30 p.m. New Jersey Los Angeles 6-3
Friday, December 7
8 p.m. San Jose Dallas 2-3
8 p.m. St. Louis Winnipeg 1-0
9 p.m. Minnesota Edmonton 2-7
10 p.m. Carolina Anaheim 4-1
Saturday, December 8
1 p.m. Philadelphia Buffalo 6-2
4 p.m. Vegas Los Angeles 1-5
7 p.m. Toronto Boston 3-6
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Ottawa 1-2 (OT)
7 p.m. New York Islanders Detroit Red Wings 3-2
7 p.m. Colorado Tampa Bay 1-7
7 p.m. New York Rangers Florida Panthers 5-4 (SO)
7 p.m. Washington Columbus 4-0
8 p.m. San Jose Arizona 5-3
10 p.m. Nashville Calgary 2-5
Sunday, December 9
3 p.m. Vancouver St. Louis
3 p.m. Philadelphia Winnipeg TVAS
5 p.m. Boston Ottawa RDS2
6 p.m. Montréal Canadiens Chicago Blackhawks NHLN, RDS, SN, SN1
8 p.m. New Jersey Anaheim
9 p.m. Dallas Vegas
9 p.m. Calgary Edmonton SN, SN1

This week’s rivalries included the Battle of the QEW (Toronto at Buffalo), Ottawa at Montréal, Detroit at Toronto, the Islanders at Pittsburgh, Montréal at Ottawa, Toronto at Boston, Montréal at Chicago and the Battle of Alberta (Calgary at Edmonton).

In a similar strain, there were also more than a few rematches of playoff fixtures from last spring. Tampa Bay continued its beat down of New Jersey on Monday, while Vegas exacted some revenge against Washington on Tuesday. The Bolts then headed home to host Boston on Wednesday, winning 3-2. Vegas is heading to Los Angeles this afternoon looking for its fifth-straight victory against the Kings, followed by tonight’s tilt between the Capitals and Blue Jackets.

Finally, in the “player returns” department, only two really stuck out among this week’s tilts. Now a member of the Avalanche, D Ian Cole made his first trip back to Pittsburgh Tuesday to take on the club he was a member of for the past four seasons. Then, Wednesday night, C Kyle Brodziak made his first return to St. Louis as a member of a visiting team, having spent three seasons with the Blues.

Of all those, the one I’m most interested in is the Battle of Alberta, so pack your coat and start heading to the City of Champions!

Don’t everyone look all at once (it’ll make the team self-conscious), but with last night’s 5-2 win over Nashville, the 19-9-2 Calgary Flames have claimed a one-point lead for first place in the Western Conference.

Not the Pacific Division, mind you. The Flames have been running that show for about a month now. We’re talking about the entire conference.

I guess Head Coach Bill Peters knows a bit more than we give him credit for around here.

A major reason Calgary is in the position it’s in right now is due to the impressive 9-1-1 record it’s riding right now – a stretch that started with a 4-2 victory over the Oilers on November 17.

A solid argument could be made that no team in the NHL has been better than the Flames in the past three weeks, as they are among the top-three in the league in goals per game, goals against per game and shots against per game.

Starting with the offense (a stat in which Calgary ranks sixth on the entire season, averaging 3.47 goals per game), the Flames have been the class of the conference since November 17, as their 4.45 goals per game in their past 11 outings tops the West and ranks second in the NHL, trailing only Tampa Bay’s 4.58 goals per game.

Leading the charge with 6-14-20 totals in those 11 games is exactly who you expected: LW Johnny Gaudreau. Only RW Nikita Kucherov (5-18-23) has registered more points in the past 22 days than Johnny HockeyTM , but he’s also had the benefit of one extra game played.

But don’t think Gaudreau has been doing it all on his own. C Sean Monahan (9-7-16), F Elias Lindholm (7-8-15), LW Matthew Tkachuk (4-8-12), suspended D Mark Giordano (1-10-11 in 10 games played) and even fourth-liner C Alan Quine (he scored a goal in his season debut last night) are all averaging a point per game or better over this run.

Defense has been a major strength of Calgary’s all season long (the Flames’ 28 shots against per game for the entire campaign ranks third-best in the NHL), and the same can be said for the Flames’ last 11 games. Led by D Rasmus Andersson and D Travis Hamonic (both averaging 1.5 blocks per game since November 17), RW Garnet Hathaway (2.6 hits per game in the past 22 days) and Monahan (his 16 takeaways in the past 11 games lead the club), the Flames have allowed only 27.18 shots against per game since November 17- the third-lowest mark in both the Western Conference and NHL in that time.

While Peters might say he appreciates that solid defensive play, no one is happier for the Flames’ success than 11-7-1 G Mike Smith. And even though the blue line is making his job easy, Smith is putting together one of the best runs of his season so far – especially in light of his season stats.

On the campaign as a whole, Smith boasts a lowly .894 save percentage and 2.88 GAA – both stats considerably worse than backup 8-2-1 G David Rittich’s .919 and 2.39, to the point that there were more than a few calling for the Czech to assume starting duties.

However, Smith’s past six appearances have been reminiscent of his incredible 2011-12 season with the Coyotes (he posted a .93 save percentage and 2.21 GAA and led the team to the Western Final), as he’s won six-straight games with a dominant .936 save percentage and 1.59 GAA in those showings.

Having been in net for last night’s home win over Nashville, Smith will likely ride the pine this evening with Rittich getting the start.

Though the 15-12-2 Edmonton Oilers currently sit in 10th place in the Western Conference, they only trail the second wild card Vegas Golden Knights by a point (with two games in hand, no less), so it is possible for tonight’s hosts to force themselves into the playoff picture with as little as an overtime or shootout loss.

Wait, I thought the Oilers were back to being bad again. I’m so confused.

Sometimes a change of voice from behind the bench is exactly what a team needs to get in shape, because the Oilers have been playing some solid hockey since hiring Head Coach Ken Hitchcock on November 20. Before Hitchcock arrived in Northern Alberta, the Oil boasted a record of 9-10-1, but they’ve gone on a solid 6-2-1 record since then to position themselves right on the playoffs’ doorstep.

Considering Hitchcock’s history, it wasn’t unexpected that his first goal upon taking over Edmonton was teaching his club how to play defense. Instead, the bigger surprise is that the team – one rarely known for its defensive play for its entire history – actually responded and is finding success.

Under Hitchcock, the Oilers have allowed only 29.11 shots against per game, the seventh-best mark in the NHL since November 20. Injured F Drake Caggiula (averaging 4.3 hits per game during this run), D Oscar Klefbom (averaging 2.6 blocks per game in the last 20 days) and C Connor McDavid (his 12 takeaways in his last eight appearances pace the team) have all been integral in leading this strategic shift, and the results are clearly showing in the standings.

Both G Mikko Koskinen and G Cam Talbot have shown considerable improvement playing behind this revamped defense, but Koskinen seems to have gained Hitchcock’s favor as the Oilers’ starting goaltender – at least for the time being. Though he has managed a decent .925 save percentage and 2.23 GAA for the entire season, Koskinen has posted a solid .934 save percentage and 1.82 GAA in his last six starts and will get the nod tonight.

For those wondering, Talbot’s .895 save percentage and 3.12 GAA for the season have been steadily improving under Hitch as well, as he’s managed a .925 save percentage and 2.29 GAA in his last three starts.

So, it’s time for that priceless question: who wins tonight?

With both defenses playing as well as they are right now, my immediate reaction is to pick the team with the superior offense. As that is not the style Hitchcock is having the Oilers play, that leads me to lean towards Calgary earning two points despite playing yesterday and having to travel last night/this morning.

However, with so much for Edmonton to play for and the fact that this is one of the better rivalries in the league, the only thing we can truly predict is unpredictability!