All of the (good) RFAs have been re-signed, the Carolina Hurricanes keep making moves, 2020 Winter Classic logos have been revealed and DTFR’s season previews conclude with the Central Division.
As the entire hockey world awaits training camp action next month, let’s make some (un)educated guesses about the upcoming season that will totally pan out because everything always goes as expected. (It doesn’t.)
The projected standings below are only a forecast.
They are based on recent indications– as well as the last few seasons of stats– and cannot account for variations in roster construction (a.k.a. trades and free agency moves).
There’s a lot of variables that will turn the tables upside down, including transactions, injuries and otherwise. Anything can happen.
As always, it’s more important to remember 1) the spread and 2) the positioning.
Just how many points separate the projected division winner from the last wild card spot (the spread) and where a team is supposed to finish in the division standings (the position) can imply that things aren’t always what they seem.
A team that’s projected to win it all still has to play an 82-game regular season, qualify for the playoffs and go on to amass 16 wins in the postseason.
Projected Standings After ZERO Months
- z-Nashville Predators, 103 points
- x-St. Louis Blues, 100 points
- x-Winnipeg Jets, 97 points
- wc2-Minnesota Wild, 93 points
- Chicago Blackhawks, 92 points
- Dallas Stars, 92 points
- Colorado Avalanche, 86 points
Nashville Predators: Pros and Cons
Before you continue reading, it’s important to remember that this is the most unpredictable division in the league currently. Seriously.
Nashville is more than likely going to take the division in the regular season thanks to their minor moves in the offseason and major gains in the long haul, but everything else?
That’s to be determined.
Matt Duchene’s cap hit ($8,000,000) costs the Preds a million dollars less than P.K. Subban ($9,000,000), but there’s 10 pending UFAs on the roster after this season. If a legitimate one-two duo down the middle can’t get the Predators a Cup, then this window may be closing– and fast.
Pekka Rinne isn’t getting any young and the crease will soon be Juuse Saros’ before you know it.
The good news?
The Preds are still one of the most impressive teams on the blue line with Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis and Dante Fabbro.
How would the Predators fail?
Somehow 30 points in a season gets you a seven-year contract (*ahem* Colton Sissons), but kudos to General Manager David Poile on doing so at a $2.857 cap hit though. That being said, this is dangerous logic that’s tempting fate at the hands of the Hockey Gods, which might only further weaken Nashville’s goaltending when it counts in the postseason.
St. Louis Blues: Pros and Cons
Glue guys score important goals in the playoffs and glue guys come in all shapes and sizes– including dadbod, a la Pat Maroon.
But there’s just one problem, the hometown hero that lifted St. Louis over Dallas into the Western Conference Final has left the Blues for the Tampa Bay Lightning– a product of the salary cap era, a big postseason performance and a… wait, he’s not making a huge salary?
Why did Maroon leave? Because Ivan Barbashev– the younger, better, faster, stronger more long-term approach player– is still an unsigned RFA and the Blues have less than $2.000 million in cap space currently.
St. Louis still has its core, however, and will now find out if Jordan Binnington is truly “The One” or a one hit wonder over the course of a full season of having Binnington as their starter.
When all is said and done, the defending champs have a great chance to continue to make noise in the regular season and, well, we’ve never experienced the Blues winning the Cup before, so… can it happen again? Is that a thing?
How would the Blues fail?
The cliché Stanley Cup hangover. It’s a long, grueling, season that takes its toll– even with all sorts of proper training and nutrition.
Winnipeg Jets: Pros and Cons
The Jets are in trouble. Sure, they might have a decent season and finish in a divisional spot heading into the playoffs, but they’ve got about $16.150 million in cap space and currently unsigned RFAs in Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor and Eric Comrie right now.
Not to mention the fact that they traded Jacob Trouba to the New York Rangers in the offseason for Neal Pionk, but at least Winnipeg got back their 2019 1st round pick in the transaction (previously dealt to New York in the Kevin Hayes trade).
Yes, a team that should see a bounce-back season in the crease from Connor Hellebuyck leading the way to a potential deep postseason run, might not even make it past the First Round if two of their prominent players (Laine and Connor) are still unsigned by the start of the regular season.
Other than that, Dustin Byfuglien is aiming for a strong run without any more injuries and the rest of Winnipeg is looking to quietly do their thing under the tremendous leadership of their captain, Blake Wheeler.
How would the Jets fail?
If Laine and/or Connor miss any part of the regular season, the Jets aren’t going to be soaring all that far without the fuel to get them to the Stanley Cup Final.
Minnesota Wild: Pros and Cons
What an offseason for the Wild and their fans, right? I mean, things are really wild in Minnesota.
First, Mats Zuccarello lands a five-year, $30.000 million contract in the State of Hockey, then (now former) General Manager Paul Fenton is fired and now Bill Guerin has his first job as an NHL GM.
Welcome to the club, Mr. Guerin, now undo all of this mess that was done by the last guy and the guy before him dating back to July 4, 2012.
At least a full season of Ryan Donato in a Wild sweater should be exciting.
Joel Eriksson Ek signed a two-year extension and Ryan Suter’s play wasn’t too terrible last season, but the wheels fell off in the crease because of how bad puck possession was in front of Devan Dubnyk and Alex Stalock.
Though they’re forecasted as a wild card berth (the forecast formula accounts for more than just last season), Minnesota’s not looking like they’re really going to be much better than they were last season– if at all.
Unless Guerin has any big plans up his sleeve and can get to work patching the holes left and right.
How would the Wild fail?
If they add another player over the age of 30 to their roster, then you know it’s a full-on rebuild (which might actually be for the better at this point).
Chicago Blackhawks: Pros and Cons
Patrick Kane had a tremendous season in 2018-19, amassing 44-66–110 totals in 81 games while the Blackhawks failed to make the postseason for the second straight year.
In the meantime, those that remain from Chicago’s three Cups in five years core are another year older. Jonathan Toews is 31, Kane is 30, Brent Seabrook is 34, Duncan Keith is 36 and starting goaltender, Corey Crawford, is 34.
While incredibly talented, time is not on the Hawks’ side.
That’s why General Manager Stan Bowman has been working to make the team younger with Dylan Strome, Alex DeBrincat and newcomer Olli Maatta (acquired in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins this summer) taking on larger roles on the Original Six squad.
Even better, 28-year-old defender in his prime, Calvin de Haan, bolsters Chicago’s blue line and provides some much needed time on ice relief for Seabrook and/or Keith as second-year head coach, Jeremy Colliton, sees fit.
Winning the 3rd overall pick in the draft in June, brought Kirby Dach into the equation– whether he’ll be ready for NHL stardom behind Toews and Strome immediately or not.
Though the Blackhawks are forecasted to narrowly miss the postseason for the third straight season, they aren’t going to miss out on the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs by much and will be the team to knock out one of the teams higher up in this outlook (*ahem* Minnesota).
How would the Blackhawks fail?
Age continues to chip away at the memories of yesteryear. That, or injuries, probably.
Dallas Stars: Pros and Cons
The Stars weren’t happy with the production from their best players despite the fact that they were– in fact– their best players. Who would’ve thought?
But now Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are joined by veterans Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry among Dallas’ forwards, while Andrej Sekera has taken a supporting role on the defense in place of the current unrestricted free agent Marc Methot (who may retire altogether).
On the bright side, Dallas’ defense contains Miro Heiskanen, Esa Lindell, John Klingberg and one of the most underrated aspects in the league– itself.
The Stars defense– combined with the superb duo of Ben Bishop as the starting goaltender and Anton Khudobin as their backup– is really solid.
Unfortunately, the team with the most goals at the end of the game always wins and sometimes Dallas just couldn’t score.
That’s where General Manager Jim Nill has looked to Pavelski’s prowess and Perry’s ability– should he rebound– to try to fill the cracks in their offensive game and start winning games even if they only give up a goal or two when it matters most (the playoffs).
Should the Stars beat the aging curve, they’ll make it back to the playoffs. But don’t think it’s easy– they coasted into the postseason last season and shouldn’t make a habit out of that if they’re looking to play their best hockey deep into June.
How would the Stars fail?
Somehow bringing in Pavelski (35-years-old), Perry (34), Sekera (33)– thereby increasing your overall average age– and expanding your list of no-trade and/or no-movement clauses to seven players on your roster just doesn’t always seem to payout. But at least Perry and Sekera are on one-year, $1.500 million contracts.
Colorado Avalanche: Pros and Cons
Pro: This forecast doesn’t take into account how much of an outlier the 2016-17 season was for the Avs.
Con: Unfortunately, the 2016-17 season has to be included in the dataset to “accurately” predict the upcoming season’s outcome until the 2026-27 season or so.
Pro: Colorado has one of the best first lines in the NHL.
Con: Mikko Rantanen is still an unsigned RFA (and he’s a vital part of the first line).
Pro: Joonas Donskoi, Nazem Kadri, Calle Rosen and Andre Burakovsky are all newcomers to the Avalanche with something to prove. GM Joe Sakic was busy on the phone(s)!
Con: If the team doesn’t gel by January, it’s going to be a long season.
Pro: Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar.
Con: The number of games Gabriel Landeskog will be suspended for at some point in the season.
Pro: This is a very exciting team to watch and a surefire dark-horse to make the Stanley Cup Final.
Con: Now I’ve jinxed them.
How would the Avalanche fail?
By proving this forecast right and inexplicably regressing to their 2016-17 season ways. Otherwise, they’re definitely not actually finishing last in the Central Division… right?
In continuation with Monday’s Eastern Conference preview, here’s the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round preview many of you have been waiting for.
In the past, Down the Frozen River has covered every game of every series. This year, DtFR is changing things up a bit with a preview of every round and continued excellence in analysis on the DTFR Podcast as well as some Instagram Live sporadic thoughts throughout the playoffs.
P1 Calgary Flames (50-25-7, 107 points) vs WWC2 Colorado Avalanche (38-30-14, 90 points)
The Calgary Flames reached the 50-win plateau for the first time since the 1988-89 season (and just the second time in franchise history). For those of you who might be younger than 30-years-old, that’s also the last time the Flames won the Stanley Cup.
Yes, the Flames won a Cup. Also, it’s been 15 years since Calgary’s appearance in the 2004 Stanley Cup Final or as it’s known to Johnny Gaudreau, “ten years before [his] birth.”
Scotiabank Saddledome is ready to rock again as the Flames are fiery hot this season. So hot, they’re going to wear their throwback sweaters at home to rekindle the 1989 Cup run flame that burns deep inside the heart and soul of the C of Red.
Anyway, puns aside, Calgary is good. Very good.
Head coach, Bill Peters, has gotten the most out of his goaltenders, Mike Smith (23-16-2 record, 2.73 goals against average, .898 save percentage in 42 games played) and David Rittich (27-9-5, 2.61 GAA, .911 SV% in 45 GP), as they’ve racked up the wins.
Led by Gaudreau (36-63–99 totals in 82 games played), Sean Monahan (34-48–82 totals in 78 GP), Elias Lindholm (78 points), Matt Tkachuk (77 points) and potential 2018-19 Norris Trophy finalist, Mark Giordano (74 points), the Flames rose to the top and stayed there, laying claim to home ice all the way through the Western Conference Final– if not Stanley Cup Final, should the Tampa Bay Lightning be eliminated prior to then.
For Jared Bednar and the Colorado Avalanche, the Avs head coach rode the rollercoaster of injuries, out-of-this-world performances and pedestrian play as Colorado reached the top of the Central Division, fell to 6th place and resurfaced to playoff contention, snagging the 2nd wild card spot in the Western Conference.
Nathan MacKinnon finished one-point shy of the 100-point plateau with 41 goals and 58 assists (99 points) in 82 games this season, centering captain, Gabriel Landeskog (34-41–75 totals in 73 GP), and Mikko Rantanen (31-56–78 totals in 74 GP) on one of the best lines in hockey throughout the year.
Rantanen, of course, has been out of commission since March 22nd with an upper body injury, and remains a question mark for Game 1 against Calgary.
Back to MacKinnon for a moment, the 23-year-old sensation became the third 40-goal scorer since the Quebec Nordiques relocated to Colorado, joining current General Manager, Joe Sakic, and Milan Hejduk as the only players to do so.
Tyson Barrie led the Avs defenders with 59 points from the blue line.
In net, Semyon Varlamov (20-19-9, 2.87 GAA, .909 SV% in 49 GP) stole most of the games this season from Philipp Grubauer (18-9-5, 2.64 GAA, .917 SV% in 37 GP), who– despite getting off to a slow start– has really turned his play around as of late, notching three wins in his last five appearances.
Calgary swept the season series, 3-0-0, but the Avalanche kept every game close.
Both teams have hot hands and solid defenses, but there’s one common theme for each club– goaltending. Who’s going to get the starts? Who will rise above? And who’s going to flounder in the First Round?
Because of this, Calgary will likely get stretched to taking the series in six games, with or without a return of Rantanen to Colorado’s lineup.
Regular season outcomes:
5-3 CGY at Scotiabank Saddledome on Jan. 9th, 6-5 CGY at Scotiabank Saddledome on Nov. 1st, 3-2 F/OT CGY at Pepsi Center on Oct. 13th
4/11- Game 1 COL @ CGY 10 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
4/13- Game 2 COL @ CGY 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
4/15- Game 3 CGY @ COL 10 PM ET on CNBC, CBC, TVAS2
4/17- Game 4 CGY @ COL 10 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS
4/19- Game 5 COL @ CGY*
4/21- Game 6 CGY @ COL*
4/23- Game 7 COL @ CGY*
P2 San Jose Sharks (46-27-9, 101 points) vs P3 Vegas Golden Knights (43-32-7, 93 points)
The San Jose Sharks quietly lurked the waters working their way diligently to 2nd place in the Pacific Division this season after acquiring Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators and not destroying teams out of the gate as everyone expected.
Still, San Jose was led by Brent Burns (83 points) in what was yet another Norris Trophy worthy performance this season. The Sharks leading scorer among forwards was 25-year-old Tomas Hertl (35-39–74 totals in 77 GP), while Logan Couture (27-43–70 totals in 81 GP) continued to be a presence in the lineup.
There’s no question surrounding San Jose’s explosive offense and their world class defense. Rather, the Sharks goaltending seems to be the club’s only weakness.
Martin Jones (36-19-5, 2.94 GAA, .896 SV% in 62 GP) posted career-worsts in goals against average and save percentage, while backup goaltender, Aaron Dell (10-8-4, 3.17 GAA, .886 SV% in 25 GP) didn’t look so hot either.
For the Vegas Golden Knights, a slow start and a lot of injuries almost decimated their inaugural season success, but in true Golden Knights fashion, the comeback got rolling and Vegas stormed into a divisional spot for the postseason.
Granted, it doesn’t come with home ice, but still.
Vegas didn’t have a 40-goal scorer like last season, but Jonathan Marchessault still led the way with 59 points (25 goals, 34 assists), while his teammate, William Karlsson amassed 24-32–56 totals in 82 GP.
In the crease, Marc-Andre Fleury (35-21-5, 2.51 GAA, .913 SV% in 61 GP) remained in control of the Golden Knights starting job, but fell victim to the increased scoring around the league– notching his worst GAA and SV% in a season where he was the starting goaltender since his 2.65 GAA and .905 SV% in 67 games played with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009-10.
For Malcolm Subban (8-10-2, 2.93 GAA, .902 SV% in 21 GP) it was a season to forget for the backup goalie. The sophomore slump is real.
The Sharks lost to the Golden Knights in the Second Round last year and it’s not hard to imagine Vegas pulling out another improbable postseason run.
But this time around feels different.
San Jose split the season series, 2-2-0, but was outscored by Vegas, 18-10, in that span. Though the Sharks should be able to batten down the hatches and outlast the Golden Knights in what’s sure to be quite the entertaining matchup in the First Round, there’s no way it won’t go seven games.
Regular season outcomes:
4-3 F/OT SJS at SAP Center on March 30th, 7-3 VGK at SAP Center on March 18th, 3-2 SJS at T-Mobile Arena on Jan. 10th, 6-0 VGK at T-Mobile Arena on Nov. 24th
4/10- Game 1 VGK @ SJS 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS2
4/12- Game 2 VGK @ SJS 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS2
4/14- Game 3 SJS @ VGK 10 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, SN360, TVAS
4/16- Game 4 SJS @ VGK 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS2
4/18- Game 5 VGK @ SJS*
4/21- Game 6 SJS @ VGK*
4/23- Game 7 VGK @ SJS*
C1 Nashville Predators (47-29-6, 100 points) vs WWC1 Dallas Stars (43-32-7, 93 points)
A year removed from winning the President’s Trophy, the Nashville Predators entered the final day of the regular season with the chance to grab the 1st seed in the Central Division. The Preds did just that, of course, and will promptly hold a banner ceremony worthy of AFC Finalists.
It’s fine for the local fan base to take pride in their team. It’s also fine for others in the league to poke a little fun at other organization’s unique quirks.
For Nashville, it’s catfish (see, this classic moment from Puck Soup animated— fair warning, language) and banners (see, “Regular Season Western Conference Champions 2017-18”).
Anyway, real talk, the Preds are a legitimate team.
Their defense is still a colossal stronghold with Roman Josi (2nd in points on the roster, 15-41–56 totals in 82 GP), Mattias Ekholm (44 points and a team leading, plus-27 rating), Ryan Ellis and P.K. Subban.
Oh. Again. Never mind.
While Rinne has had the better year, statistically speaking, his goals against average and save percentage rank 10th and 13th, respectively, among goaltenders who played at least 20 games this season.
In the same respect, there were only eight goaltenders with a goals against average below 2.40.
Saros ranked 21st in GAA (among goalies with 20 GP) and 20th in SV%.
This is only relevant in the head-to-head aspect with the Dallas Stars, which, let’s take a look at their organizational depth this season, shall we?
Dallas’s forwards went from being “f—ing horse—-” to… well, at least Tyler Seguin reached the 80-point plateau this season with 33 goals and 47 assists. Alexander Radulov still had 72 points and Jamie Benn ranked third on the team with 27-26–53 totals.
On the blue line, John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen made a case for Sergei Zubov to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and reached 10-35–45 and 12-21–33 totals, respectively as Klingberg continued to emerge as a veteran and Heiskanen made quite an impression in his rookie season.
Not to be outdone, Esa Lindell notched 32 points from the backend this season.
But in the crease, the Stars had two quality stars.
Starting goaltender, Ben Bishop (27-15-2, 1.98 GAA, .934 SV% in 46 GP) put up a career-best season while fighting a lower body injury at times and backup goaltender, Anton Khudobin (16-17-5, 2.57 GAA, .923 SV% in 41 GP) split time with Bishop– taking on more time while the starter was injured– and had almost a mirror image in wins (16) and goals against average from last season.
As long as Bishop (1st in the league in SV% and 2nd in GAA among goaltenders who played at least 20 games) is healthy, yeah, the Stars take home that advantage. Big time.
Nashville has never won the Cup. Dallas won it 20 years ago.
Both franchises have a thirst to quench for their respective markets. Both clubs split the series with two wins and two losses– never winning or losing by more than two goals.
It’s anybody’s guess, but the Stars should upset the Predators in a seven-game stunner.
Regular season outcomes:
5-3 NSH at American Airlines Center on Feb. 19th, 3-2 F/OT NSH at Bridgestone Arena on Feb. 7th, 3-1 DAL at Bridgestone Arena on Feb. 2nd, 2-0 DAL at Bridgestone Arena on Dec. 27th
4/10- Game 1 DAL @ NSH 9:30 PM ET on USA, SN1, TVAS
4/13- Game 2 DAL @ NSH 6 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS2
4/15- Game 3 NSH @ DAL 9:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS
4/17- Game 4 NSH @ DAL 8 PM ET on USA, SN, TVAS2
4/20- Game 5 DAL @ NSH*
4/22- Game 6 NSH @ DAL*
4/24- Game 7 DAL @ NSH*
C2 Winnipeg Jets (47-30-5, 99 points) vs C3 St. Louis Blues (45-28-9, 99 points)
After a surprising run to the Western Conference Final last season, the Winnipeg Jets struggled at times to find scoring from their top-six forwards, as well as the mythical runway that let their goaltending soar beyond expectations.
This season, the Jets had their ups and downs, while coming back to Earth in other areas.
Blake Wheeler (20-71–91 totals) led Winnipeg in scoring and established a franchise record– dating back to their days as the Atlanta Thrashers– for most assists in a season, while Mark Scheifele (84 points) and Kyle Connor (66 points) rounded out the top-three scorers.
Despite a stretch of games without a goal, Patrik Laine still reached the 30-goal plateau and had 50 points on the season in 82 games played.
In goal, Connor Hellebuyck (34-23-3, 2.90 GAA, .913 SV% in 63 GP) posted a career-worst goals against average (2.90) topping his previous worst 2.89 GAA in 2016-17 (56 GP).
Hellebuyck had his 2nd worst save percentage since his .907 SV% in 2016-17 as well.
Laurent Brossoit (13-6-2, 2.52 GAA, .925 SV% in 21 GP) posted decent numbers as a backup goaltender in his first season with the Jets, since joining the organization in free agency last July.
Winnipeg missed a major part of their defense for most of the season in Byfuglien and to some respects, that’s hampered their goaltending as a result. Tending the net is never solely about one person tending the crease, but rather a team keeping the puck out of their own zone.
However, Hellebuyck has shown signs of a “good year, bad year, good year, bad year” pattern in the past and might have just been victim to a bad year– statistically speaking.
The St. Louis Blues missed the playoffs last year, losing the final game of the regular season to the Colorado Avalanche and the last wild card spot in the process.
This year, the Blues redeemed themselves after almost completely embarrassing themselves. St. Louis was last in the Central Division, then they fired Mike Yeo and hired Craig Berube as interim head coach.
Berube began to right the ship, then Jordan Binnington (24-5-1, 1.89 GAA, .927 SV% in 32 GP) came along.
Binnington lifted the Blues to a franchise record 12-game winning streak and established the franchise record for most wins by a rookie goaltender (24)– surpassing the previous mark (22 wins) set by teammate and presumably the backup goaltender in the postseason, Jake Allen (19-17-8, 2.83 GAA, .905 SV% in 46 GP).
Don’t try to mess with what’s working.
Ryan O’Reilly led St. Louis in scoring with 28-49–77 totals in 82 games played. Meanwhile, Vladimir Tarasenko (68 points) and Brayden Schenn (54 points) compiled respectable totals in 76 and 72 games played, respectively.
Captain, Alex Pietrangelo, provided more than just leadership from the defensive zone. He added 13 goals and 28 assists (41 points) from the point to help guide St. Louis to a divisional playoff berth.
For the first time in franchise history, Winnipeg is making consecutive playoff appearances. Though they tied in points (99) in the standings, the Jets had the advantage in the regulation-plus-overtime wins tiebreaker, leading the Blues, 45-42, in that department.
Winnipeg won the season series 3-1-0, but is facing a Blues team that has completely shifted gears in the second half of the season. For that reason alone, it’s not impossible to predict St. Louis will be the series winner in five games as Binnington cements his status as a goaltender in the NHL– if not a Calder Memorial Trophy candidate at least.
Regular season outcomes:
1-0 STL at Bell MTS Place on Dec. 7th, 8-4 WPG at Enterprise Center on Nov. 24th, 5-4 F/OT WPG at Bell MTS Place on Oct. 22nd, 5-1 WPG at Enterprise Center on Oct. 4th
4/10- Game 1 STL @ WPG 8 PM ET on NHL Network, SN, TVAS3
4/12- Game 2 STL @ WPG 9:30 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS
4/14- Game 3 WPG @ STL 7:30 PM ET on CNBC, CBC, SN, TVAS2
4/16- Game 4 WPG @ STL 9:30 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS
4/18- Game 5 STL @ WPG*
4/20- Game 6 WPG @ STL*
4/22- Game 7 STL @ WPG*
The DTFR Duo runs through some Tampa Bay Lightning franchise records, Conor McGregor reactions, hands out more awards, fixes the NHL and takes a look at how things are shaping up in the Pacific Division for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
After going on a 19-game point streak, the Boston Bruins have followed that up with a three-game (and counting) losing streak with their 4-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets at Bell MTS Place on Thursday.
For the first time since Dec. 1 to Dec. 6, 2018, the Bruins have lost three straight games in regulation.
Connor Hellebuyck (29-20-2, 3.01 goals against average, .909 save percentage in 53 games played) made 36 saves on 39 shots against for a .923 SV% in the win for the Jets.
Boston goaltender, Tuukka Rask (24-10-5, 2.45 GAA, .916 SV% in 40 GP) stopped 20 out of 24 shots against for an .833 SV% in the loss.
The B’s fell to 15-13-6 on the road this season and 4-3-0 in the month of March, while maintaining 2nd place in the Atlantic Division with a 42-20-9 record and 93 points on the season.
The Jets improved to 41-25-4 (86 points) on the season and remain on top of the Central Division.
Kevan Miller (upper body), David Pastrnak (left thumb), Jake DeBrusk (lower body), Marcus Johansson (lung contusion), Matt Grzelcyk (upper body) and Torey Krug (upper body) were all out of the lineup for the Bruins due to injury.
John Moore was bumped up a pairing on the blue line to that of the second defensive pair alongside Brandon Carlo, while Bruce Cassidy did just about all he could do with the roster he was presented due to a lot of injuries.
Carey made his debut for the Bruins– his 5th different NHL team in six seasons– and wore No. 34 for Boston. He was acquired in a trade with the Ottawa Senators back in January that sent defender, Cody Goloubef, to the Sens.
Laine (18) and Mark Scheifele (44) had the assists on Wheeler’s goal and the Jets grabbed the lead, 1-0.
About two minutes later, Scheifele hooked Zdeno Chara and sent the Bruins on the power play for their first and only skater advantage of the night at 3:40 of the first period.
Boston did not convert on the power play.
Less than a minute into the skater advantage, Scheifele (33) worked his way behind the B’s defense and received a pass from Laine on a two-on-one from close range to redirect the puck past Rask at 11:24.
Winnipeg led, 2-0, thanks to Scheifele’s power play goal. Laine (19) and Wheeler (66) tallied the assists.
Late in the first period, Charlie McAvoy (6) took a feed from Krejci and slid into the slot before unloading a wrist shot past Hellebuyck’s blocker side to put Boston on the scoreboard and cut the lead in half, 2-1.
Krejci (42) had the only assist on McAvoy’s goal at 17:23.
Heading into the first intermission, the Jets led in shots on goal (12-11), blocked shots (8-1), takeaways (1-0) and face-off win percentage (72-28).
Boston held the advantage in giveaways (4-3) and hits (9-5) through the first 20 minutes of the action. Winnipeg was 1/1 on the power play, while the Bruins were 0/1.
The Bruins surged in the second period, tying the game, 2-2, at exactly halfway through the middle frame.
Joakim Nordstrom (6) put home the rebound for his first goal in 24 games after Acciari hacked away at the loose puck.
Nordstrom’s goal tied the game, 2-2, and was assisted by Acciari (6) and Sean Kuraly (12) at 10:00 of the second period.
Moments later, Brad Marchand slashed Tyler Myers at 13:41 and sent the Jets back on the power play. Boston’s penalty killing units successfully managed to disarm Winnipeg’s league-leading power play and escaped unharmed heading into the second intermission.
Boston flat-out dominated the shooting department, 30-19, after 40 minutes of play (including a, 19-7, advantage in the second period alone) and led in giveaways (7-4), as well as hits (14-12).
Winnipeg held onto the advantage in blocked shots (15-7), takeaways (5-1) and face-off win% (56-44) heading into the 3rd period.
There were no more penalties called in the final frame of regulation, meaning Winnipeg’s power play finished the night 1/2 on the skater advantage, while Boston’s power play unit went 0/1.
Trouba (6) powered his way to the net and buried the puck to give the Jets the lead, 3-2, at 7:38 of the third period. Scheifele (45) picked up the only assist on the goal and momentum swung heavily in Winnipeg’s favor.
Moments later, the Bruins turned over the puck in their own zone– right in the slot– whereby Nikolaj Ehlers (18) capitalized on the chance and made it, 4-2, at 13:02 of the third period.
Late in the final frame of regulation, Chara blasted a shot from the point that was tipped in by Coyle (11) for his first goal as a Bruin.
Coyle’s goal pulled Boston to within one, 4-3, and was assisted by Chara (7) and Krejci (43), but it wasn’t enough at 17:04.
Cassidy pulled his netminder for an extra attacker with almost 90 seconds left in regulation, but the Bruins couldn’t muster a miraculous comeback.
Though they could stave off an empty net goal from the Jets, the B’s could not force overtime.
At the sound of the final horn, Winnipeg had won, 4-3.
The Jets finished the night leading in blocked shots (19-8) and face-off win% (57-44), while the Bruins left Winnipeg leading in shots on goal (39-24), giveaways (12-11) and hits (24-21).
The Bruins finished 0-3-0 on their three-game road trip and return home to face the Blue Jackets on Saturday before hitting the road next Tuesday (March 19th) against the New York Islanders.
After the B’s take on the Isles, they swing through New Jersey on March 21st, Florida on March 23rd and Tampa on March 25th.
Kyle Connor scored two goals in the third period to give the Winnipeg Jets their first lead of the night before Patrice Bergeron added his second goal of the game, but the Boston Bruins were defeated, 4-3, in a shootout on Tuesday after Connor converted on the only goal in the best-of-three round shootout post regulation-plus-overtime.
In simple terms, the Bruins lost on home ice in their first game back from the All-Star break.
Winnipeg accrued the victory in their second night of back-to-back games, having lost to the Philadelphia Flyers, 6-3, on Monday in the City of Brotherly Love.
Connor Hellebuyck (22-14-7 record, 2.85 goals against average, .880 save percentage in 38 games played) made 36 saves on 39 shots against for a .923 SV% in the shootout win for the Jets, while Jaroslav Halak (13-9-3, 2.49 GAA, .918 SV% in 27 GP) made 24 saves on 27 shots against for an .889 SV% in the shootout loss for Boston.
The B’s fell to 27-17-6 (60 points) on the season and remain in 4th place in the Atlantic Division. Meanwhile, the Central Division leading Jets improved to 32-16-2 (66 points) so far this season.
As a result of the loss, Boston is now 17-4-4 when scoring first this season and 18-1-1 when leading after two periods. Winnipeg improved to 5-13-0 when trailing after 40 minutes of action.
Prior to Tuesday night’s matchup, Boston placed Tuukka Rask on the injured reserve– retroactive to January 19th– and indicated their starting goaltender would at least miss the matchup with Winnipeg.
The Bruins recalled Trent Frederic, Peter Cehlarik and Zane McIntyre (on emergency basis) from their AHL affiliate, the Providence Bruins, and assigned Ryan Donato and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson to the P-Bruins on Monday.
Cehlarik resumed play alongside David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk, while Frederic (10-7–17 totals in 37 games with Providence this season) would make his NHL debut as the third line center– replacing Forsbacka Karlsson and lining up with Danton Heinen on his left and childhood idol, David Backes, to his right.
Other than that, Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, kept the lines the same with Joakim Nordstrom (non-displaced fibula fracture) and Rask (concussion) as the only skaters out of the lineup due to injury and John Moore and Steven Kampfer as Boston’s healthy scratches.
Boston did not convert on the ensuing power play, but generated some momentum with some substantial zone time.
Moments later, Bergeron (15) opened the game’s scoring with his trademark bumper one-timer from between the hashmark and the face-off dot to Hellebuyck’s left side, giving the B’s a 1-0 lead at 9:49.
Scheifele (35) had the only assist on Morrisey’s goal at 13:53 of the first period and the Jets had tied the game, 1-1.
Zdeno Chara slashed Scheifele less than a minute later to suppress an otherwise surefire high-quality scoring chance that likely would’ve led to a goal against, sending Winnipeg back on the power play at 14:33.
Blake Wheeler tripped up Pastrnak shortly after the Bruins killed off Chara’s minor, resulting in a power play for Boston at 17:01 of the opening frame.
While on the ensuing power play, the B’s kept on the attack, pressuring the Jets penalty killers with every chance they got– keeping the puck down in the offensive zone for the eventual one-timed blast from Pastrnak.
Pastrnak (28) rocketed a shot past Hellebuyck to give the Bruins the lead, 2-1, on the power play at 18:33, with Marchand (36) and Torey Krug (28) tallying the primary and secondary assists.
After 20 minutes of play, the Bruins were outshooting the Jets, 20-8.
Winnipeg led in blocked shots (5-3), takeaways (3-2), giveaways (4-2), hits (11-6) and face-off win percentage (52-48) entering the first intermission, however, as both teams went 1/2 on the power play.
Boston would finish the night 1/3 on the power play after the Bruins couldn’t capitalize on Jacob Trouba‘s slashing minor at 6:50 of the second period, while the Jets did not see another second of power play time for the rest of the night.
Late in the second period, tempers began to flare.
Then, after Tyler Myers held Frederic in a chokehold after a stoppage in play, the rookie center for Boston making his NHL debut found the nearest skater in a road sweater to exchange pleasantries with and introduce himself to the league.
Frederic picked a fight with Winnipeg’s Brandon Tanev at 16:16, landing some major right hooks and drawing the loudest applause of the night from the crowd.
Through 40 minutes of play, the Bruins still led, 2-1, on the scoreboard and in shots on goal, 25-17 (despite trailing the Jets, 9-5, in shots on goal in the second period alone).
Winnipeg held onto their advantage in blocked shots (12-8), giveaways (6-4), as well as hits (21-16), while the Bruins led in face-off win% (52-48).
Both sides recorded six takeaways each through two periods.
Early in the third period, Connor (20) snapped a shot under Halak’s glove while catching the B’s in the midst of a line change to tie the game, 2-2, at 4:27.
Myers (10) and Ben Chiarot (5) notched the assists on Connor’s first goal. He followed up with his second goal of the night just 34 seconds later.
For the first time in the game, Winnipeg led, 3-2, on Connor’s (21) goal from close range at 5:01 of the third period. Scheifele (36) and Wheeler (53) collected the assists as momentum swung defiantly in the Jets’ favor.
Past the midpoint of the third frame, Marchand sent a pass into the low slot intended for Bergeron, but Connor got his stick on the pass.
There was just one problem for the Winnipeg forward– he didn’t get enough of the puck.
Instead, the rubber biscuit deflected off of his composite materials into the perfect placing for Bergeron (16) to recalculate and squib an elevated shot over Hellebuyck as the Jets goaltender made a last ditch effort to stop the puck.
Marchand (37) and Pastrnak (31) had the assists on Bergeron’s goal as the Bruins tied the game, 3-3, at 11:39 of the final frame.
Despite another shift in momentum, neither team was able to put the game away in regulation.
Five minutes of 3-on-3 overtime wasn’t good enough either, as the Jets recorded two shots on goal in the overtime period, while the Bruins failed to challenge Hellebuyck past regulation.
Through 65 minutes of play, the score remained, 3-3, with the Bruins leading in shots on goal (38-27), giveaways (9-7) and face-off win% (55-45). Meanwhile, Winnipeg led in blocked shots (21-15), takeaways (12-11) and hits (31-23).
DeBrusk’s shot in the shootout was denied by Hellebuyck, but Connor’s backhand shot coming out of a nifty dangle was enough to get past Halak and give the Jets a, 1-0, advantage through one round of the shootout.
Pastrnak almost slid the puck past the Winnipeg netminder, but Hellebuyck spread his legs just enough to rob Boston’s All-Star winger– keeping his team ahead of the B’s in the shootout with the chance to win it if Patrik Laine could hit the twine.
Laine did not. Halak made the save.
Boston had one last chance with Marchand entering the attacking zone for his shootout attempt. His backhand shot was turned aside and the Jets players on the road bench poured over the boards to celebrate with their goaltender.
Winnipeg had won, 4-3, in a shootout.
Boston takes on the Flyers at home this Thursday night at TD Garden before heading into February.
And one more thing…
David Pastrnak recorded two assists in his first career All-Star Game appearance last Saturday and was the Accuracy Shooting winner at the NHL All-Star Skills last Friday night in San Jose, hitting all five targets in 11.309 seconds.
A bunch of minor trades were made in the last week, the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Game rosters were released, as well as the 2019-20 outdoor game schedule. Nick and Connor also discuss the legacy that was the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic and the 2019 IIHF World Junior Quarterfinal upsets.
*Editor’s Note: Of course, after recording this week’s episode, the Philadelphia Flyers claimed G Mike McKenna off waivers from the Vancouver Canucks.
The holiday break is so close we can almost taste it, but there’s still a little more work to be done before the NHL begins its three-day break on Monday. Without further ado, this week’s offerings include:
|NHL SCHEDULE: December 17-23|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
|Monday, December 17|
|7:30 p.m.||Nashville||Ottawa||3-4 (OT)|
|9 p.m.||New York Islanders||Colorado Avalanche||4-1|
|Tuesday, December 18|
|7 p.m.||Toronto||New Jersey||7-2|
|7 p.m.||Anaheim Ducks||New York Rangers||1-3|
|8 p.m.||San Jose||Minnesota||4-0|
|9 p.m.||St. Louis||Edmonton||4-1|
|9 p.m.||New York Islanders||Arizona Coyotes||3-1|
|10 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Vancouver||5-2|
|10:30 p.m.||Winnipeg||Los Angeles||1-4|
|Wednesday, December 19|
|Thursday, December 20|
|7 p.m.||New Jersey||Columbus|
|9 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Calgary|
|9 p.m.||Montréal||Arizona||RDS, TSN2|
|10 p.m.||St. Louis||Vancouver||ESPN+|
|10 p.m.||New York Islanders||Vegas Golden Knights||SN360|
|10:30 p.m.||Winnipeg||San Jose|
|Friday, December 21|
|7 p.m.||Ottawa||New Jersey||RDS|
|7 p.m.||Buffalo||Washington||NBCSN, SN, TVAS|
|9 p.m.||Chicago||Colorado||ESPN+, SN360|
|Saturday, December 22|
|1 p.m.||Nashville||Boston||NHLN, SN, SN1|
|4 p.m.||Montréal||Vegas||RDS, TSN2|
|4 p.m.||Los Angeles||San Jose||NBCSN, SN1|
|4 p.m.||St. Louis||Calgary|
|7 p.m.||New York Rangers||Toronto Maple Leafs||CBC, NHLN, SN, SN1|
|7 p.m.||Washington||Ottawa||CITY, SN360, TVAS|
|10 p.m.||Winnipeg||Vancouver||CBC, SN360|
|10 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Edmonton||CITY, ESPN+, SN1|
|Sunday, December 23|
|12:30 p.m.||Columbus||New Jersey||SN|
|7 p.m.||Philadelphia Flyers||New York Rangers||NHLN|
|7:30 p.m.||Detroit||Toronto||SN, SN360, TVAS|
|8 p.m.||Los Angeles||Vegas|
|8 p.m.||Arizona||San Jose|
|8 p.m.||New York Islanders||Dallas Stars|
For those that didn’t keep count, that’s a healthy 55 tilts to keep us entertained while family members you simply adore ask a multitude of questions you’d rather they not.
In the rivalries department, the NHL loaded us up with six showdowns this week, including Boston at Montréal, Pittsburgh at Washington, Los Angeles at San Jose, the Rangers at Toronto, Philadelphia at the Rangers and Detroit at Toronto.
Two rematches from this spring’s edition of the Stanley Cup Playoffs will also take place: the previously mentioned Pens-Caps game and Los Angeles’ trip to Sin City Sunday night.
Finally, the biggest player return of the week will take place tonight when F Max Domi makes his first trip back to Glendale to take on the Coyotes, the club that drafted him 12th overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.
However, of all those games highlighted, there’s still another tonight that will have my full attention. Both the Jets and Sharks entered this season with high expectations, but only one has truly flexed its muscles thus far this season. Perhaps that will be just the motivation San Jose needs to find its next gear.
Currently in a three-way tie for first place in the Western Conference, the 22-10-2 Winnipeg Jets are technically the top team by playing one fewer game than both the Calgary Flames and Nashville Predators.
Winnipeg’s last outing wasn’t exactly one to be proud of (the Jets fell 4-1 in Los Angeles to the lowly Kings on Tuesday), but it had been riding a five-game winning streak coming into that game. In fact, in their past 11 games, the Jets boast a 9-2-0 record that includes five overtime or shootout victories.
To the surprise of none, Winnipeg’s greatest strength is undoubtedly its offense. Having averaged 3.56 goals per game for the entire season (the fourth-best mark in the NHL), Head Coach Peter DeBoer will certainly have a plan for how he wants his team to slow down the impressive talents of C Mark Scheifele (21-25-46 points) and RW Blake Wheeler (5-39-44) on Winnipeg’s top line.
However, that will be a difficult task to pull off because the Jets’ attack has been even more potent than usual during this 11-game run. Since November 29, the Jets have averaged an outstanding four goals per game, which is tied with, coincidentally, San Jose for third best in the league in that time.
The previously mentioned Scheifele and Wheeler have certainly had their fingerprints all over that dynamic attack, as they’ve posted respective 8-12-20 and 1-14-15 totals in their last 11 outings. However, they’ve also been joined by LW Nikolaj Ehlers (7-5-12), D Josh Morrissey (3-8-11 in nine games) and D Dustin Byfuglien (1-8-9 in seven games) in averaging at least a point per game during this run, creating a defensive nightmare for most teams not as talented as the Sharks on the blue line.
The San Jose Sharks were supposed to already be atop the Western Conference – if not the entire NHL – according to many preseason reports, yet they find themselves stuck with a 19-11-5 record good enough for only second place in the Pacific Division.
But don’t read that as the Sharks being a bad team. They’re riding a five-game winning streak and have posted a 7-1-0 record in their past eight outings, so it seems like the team is finally starting to realize its potential. The next question, of course, is just how good can this team be, but that’s an answer the Jets would rather not answer tonight.
During this eight-game run, San Jose has been clicking on all cylinders; literally everything is gelling, and the numbers are showing just that.
Perhaps my favorite part of the Sharks’ game right now is their attack. Currently in a tie with Ottawa for eighth-best offense on the season by averaging 3.31 goals per game, the Sharks’ effort since December 2 has made all but Tampa Bay jealous. Led by F Logan Couture‘s impressive 5-6-11 totals in the last eight games, San Jose has managed a dominant 4.25 goals per game during this run.
That’s right, the same Karlsson that looked like he wasn’t panning out in Silicon Valley is on a bit of a hot streak of late. His goal scoring may be down from his Ottawa days (last season’s nine goals in 71 appearances was a poor season for him, and this year’s pace has him set to register only five markers), but the 10-year NHL veteran is still making his presence known on the scorecard.
In addition to scoring, this dynamic offense has also had some incredible influence on the defensive zone by maintaining elongated possessions. During this eight-game run, San Jose has allowed only 27.88 shots against per game, the fifth-best mark in the NHL since December 2 and only two shots worse than the Islanders’ league-leading pace set in that same time span.
Of course, D Justin Braun (2.3 blocks per game since December 2), D Brenden Dillon (2.8 hits per game during this run) and Karlsson (11 takeaways in his past eight outings) have certainly done their fair share on the defensive end as well.
If anyone is appreciative of that effort, it’s surely 14-7-3 G Martin Jones, tonight’s starter. Though he’s struggled for much of the season (made evident by his unusually low .901 save percentage and 2.81 GAA for the campaign), he’s shown signs of improvement lately. He’s earned five of the Sharks’ last seven wins, posting a much more familiar .936 save percentage and 1.94 GAA in his last seven starts.
If Jones has finally rounded into form for the year, this Sharks blue line will truly begin to influence play in the offensive zone, which should be a very scary proposition for the entire Western Conference.
When two high powered offenses are going at it, I usually side with the better of the two goaltenders to determine the game’s winner. In his past eight starts, 15-9-1 G Connor Hellebuyck has earned six wins on the back of a .91 save percentage and 2.72 GAA (both nominal improvements on his .908 season save percentage and associated 2.9 GAA).
Compare that to Jones’ numbers, and the answer is obvious: the Sharks should come away winners tonight and send the home fans happy.
Nick and Connor talk Alex Tuch’s extension with the Vegas Golden Knights, superstars Auston Matthews, Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid, as well as Charlie McAvoy extension options, the New York Rangers, Boston’s first line vs. Colorado’s top line and the week’s biggest matchup.