Tag Archives: Boyle

March 23 – Day 163 – A Devil of an opportunity

Loverboy says everybody’s “Working for the Weekend,” but is it truly work playing hockey?

In anticipation of said weekend, only five games are on this Friday’s schedule. The action gets started at 7 p.m. with two tilts (Montréal at Buffalo [RDS/TSN2] and New Jersey at Pittsburgh [NHLN/TVAS]), followed by another pair (Vancouver at St. Louis and Anaheim at Winnipeg) an hour later. Finally, Boston at Dallas completes the evening’s festivities with their 8:30 p.m. matchup. All times Eastern.

The Devils caught a break with Florida losing yesterday, but they’re still far from clinching a berth into the postseason. Let’s see how they fare tonight against Pittsburgh.

 

Tonight’s fixture is the finale of a six-game road trip for the 37-28-8 Devils. While the jaunt – which took them all the way to California and back in the span of 10 days – was an overall success (they’ve gone 3-2-0 so far, with victories over Nashville, Vegas and Los Angeles), a win tonight would certainly earn the trip a stamp of approval from Head Coach John Hynes.

There’s been little flashy about New Jersey during this road swing, but sometimes that’s all a team needs to find six points while clad in white.

Take, for example, the Devils’ offense. Averaging 3.4 goals over their last five games, the attack has certainly been the backbone of the Devils’ game lately, but it ranks only (t)12th-best in the league since March 10.

Far and away, my favorite Devil during this road trip has been LW Patrick Maroon, who’s posted 1-3-4 totals over his last four showings (he missed March 17’s game in Los Angeles with a lower body injury) to improve his season marks to 16-22-38 and be the only Jersey player to average a point per game since March 10. Even though he plays on the fourth line, the fact that he has F Brian Boyle (13-10-23 season totals) and F Blake Coleman (10-10-20) as linemates has given the Devils a potent attack regardless of which trio is on the ice.

As for New Jersey’s defense, we need look no further than tonight’s starter, 19-10-2 G Keith Kinkaid. Though he began the season as the Devils’ clear backup, 17-15-6 G Cory Schneider‘s struggles since returning from injury have given Kinkaid the opportunity to shine.

And shine he has. In his last four starts, Kinkaid has posted an impressive .932 save percentage and 2.42 GAA, even though he’s playing behind a defense that has allowed an eighth-worst 35.4 shots against per game since March 10. This recent run of success has improved his season marks to a .908 save percentage and 2.9 GAA.

Meanwhile, the 42-27-5 Penguins have fallen into a bit of a slump lately. Since March 7, Pittsburgh has posted only a 4-2-1 record that looks better than the club has actually played, as the Pens have alternated wins with losses over their last seven games.

If that trend continues tonight, the Pens should be concerned considering they beat the Habs Wednesday… But I digress.

The blame for the inconsistent play definitely does not lie on the shoulders of the Penguins’ skaters. Pittsburgh is averaging an impressive 3.43 goals per game since March 7 (ninth-best in the league in that time), due in large part to the stellar play of the two-headed monster known as F Evgeni Malkin (4-5-9 totals since March 7, 41-50-91 overall) and C Sidney Crosby (2-7-9 since March 7, 24-55-79 overall).

Similarly, the defense has also been solid lately, as Pittsburgh has allowed only 27.86 shots against per game over its last seven showings – the fourth-best mark in the NHL since March 7. D Olli Maatta (2.1 blocks per game since March 7) and D Jamie Oleksiak (3.3 hits per game over the past seven games) have played major roles in that success.

Instead the biggest issue for the Pens has been their goaltending. 5-4-1 G Casey DeSmith has earned most of the starts during this run, posting a .911 save percentage and 2.39 GAA in his four showings.

However, that situation got a major face lift Tuesday when 23-14-2 G Matt Murray resumed his starting duties after a month-long hiatus. Though he lost that game against the Islanders 4-1, his playoff experience and .909 season save percentage and 2.83 GAA is an immediate improvement over anything DeSmith can offer.

Trailing Washington by only four points, Pittsburgh is still eyeing the top spot in the Metropolitan Division, but more pressing issues have arisen following Columbus’ dominating 4-0 victory over the Panthers last night. With those two points, the Blue Jackets are now tied with the Penguins at 89 points, but the Pens still have tonight’s game in hand to pull back ahead. If Pittsburgh wants to stave off the streaking Jackets for home ice in the first round, it desperately needs to win tonight’s game.

As for the Devils, they’re also facing some serious pressure in the standings, though last night’s win by Columbus was also a win for them. New Jersey is clinging to a one-point advantage over Florida for the second wild card, but the ninth-place Panthers still have a game in hand that will double to two following tonight’s festivities. Any type of loss – even one that sees the Devils earn a point – by Jersey tonight puts a major damper on its playoff aspirations.

Through the first two meetings in the four-game series between these sides, the Devils have had a clear advantage over tonight’s hosts. They first squared off on February 3 at Prudential Center, where New Jersey earned a 3-1 victory (C Travis Zajac scored two goals, including the game-winner, in a three-point night). 24 days later, the Devils won again – this time with a 3-2 score at PPG Paints Arena (RW Stefan Noesen provided the lone tally in the third period to win the game).

This is a tough game to predict, but I’m leaning towards the Devils earning two points tonight. They seem to have had the Penguins’ number so far this season, and I think they’re champing at the bit to capitalize on Florida’s loss last night.


I expected a competitive back-and-forth matchup in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Nationwide Arena, but the Columbus Blue Jackets instead elected to dismantle the Florida Panthers 4-0 for their 10th-straight victory.

With a perfect 33-save performance, G Sergei Bobrovsky earned First Star of the Game honors as well as his 34th win of the season.

Unfortunately for G Roberto Luongo, he was not so lucky as he managed only 29 saves on 32 shots faced (.906 save percentage). Though he escaped from the first period without allowing a goal, Second Star RW Cam Atkinson (LW Artemi Panarin) needed only 59 seconds after the first intermission to score what proved to be the game-winning goal.

Turnovers have a way of being especially deadly during the second period when the long change is in effect. That point was no more apparent than when Panarin intercepted C Aleksander Barkov‘s lazy tap pass towards center ice. After ensuring he could get the puck back into his offensive zone without going offside, the Breadman drove towards Luongo’s crease before sliding a pass to Atkinson when they were even with the face-off dots, allowing him to beat the leaning netminder to the left post with a snap shot.

2:21 after the horn stopped blaring for Atkinson, F Sonny Milano (LW Matt Calvert and Third Star F Pierre-Luc Dubois) doubled the Jackets’ lead with a snapper, followed by D Seth Jones (Atkinson and Dubois) burying a power play slap shot at the 5:42 mark to give Columbus a swift three-goal advantage.

W Thomas Vanek completed the game’s scoring with an unassisted wrist shot on an empty net with 2:25 remaining in regulation, setting the 4-0 final score.

With the Blue Jackets’ home victory, the 90-53-20 hosts in the DtFR Game of the Day series have earned their 200th point of the season, a mark that is superior to the visitors’ mark by 35 points.

March 18 – Day 158 – This might be one of those weird games…

With eight games on the schedule this Sunday, surely it’s possible to find a game for everybody to watch.

The day’s action finds its start at 3 p.m. with Detroit at Colorado, followed an hour later by Calgary at Vegas (SN360). 5 p.m. is a major starting time today, as three tilts (Edmonton at Tampa Bay, Carolina at the New York Islanders and Washington at Philadelphia [NHLN]) will get underway then. Another pair of matchups (St. Louis at Chicago [NBCSN] and Dallas at Winnipeg [SN/TVAS]) drop the puck at 7:30 p.m., with New Jersey at Anaheim closing the night out 90 minutes later. All times Eastern.

There’s a few rivalries on tap today, and the return of a former player as well.

  • Detroit at Colorado: Man, the Avs and Wings played some serious games in the late 90s, didn’t they?
  • Washington at Philadelphia: Both of these teams are in desperate need of two points, but only one is going to come away from this contest happy.
  • St. Louis at Chicago: Somehow, today is only the Blues’ first visit to Chicago all season. A win is a must to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
  • New Jersey at Anaheim: After joining the Ducks’ organization since being drafted 106th-overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, D Sami Vatanen was shipped to the Devils in late November.

In addition to the Vatanen story, both the Devils and Ducks are in brutal fistfights to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs.  That alone is reason enough to take in that game!

 

Though they’ve certainly experienced their ups and downs this season, the 37-26-8 Devils are playing some solid hockey right now (look no further than yesterday’s 3-0 shutout victory at Staples Center).

In fact, New Jersey has posted an impressive 4-1-0 record over its last five games, and it’s all because of some stellar play on the offensive end.

The Devils have featured some of my favorite rookies this season, and it’s been their play paired with the equally stellar contributions of some of the league’s most respected veterans that have been behind an offense that has averaged a second-best 4.2 goals per game since March 6.

Over the past five games, no Devil has played quite like reigning number one-overall pick C Nico Hischier, who’s managed 3-2-5 totals to inflate his season marks to 16-30-46 – the second-best on a team that also features a fellow by the name of F Taylor Hall (31-45-76).

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have veterans like F Brian Boyle (2-3-5 totals over his last five games) and C Travis Zajac (3-1-4 since March 6) – not to mention fellow rookie phenom D Will Butcher (averaging an assist-per-game for his last five showings) – helping to share the load. After hitting a bit of a slump in January, this offense has rediscovered its form lately in anticipation of a playoff surge.

Another vital component to these winning ways has been the stellar play of 19-9-2 G Keith Kinkaid. Taking responsibility for all of the Devils’ last four wins (despite a defense that has allowed an 11th-worst 34.6 shots against since March 6), he’s posted an impressive .94 save percentage and 2.21 GAA in those starts to increase his season marks to a .909 save percentage and 2.85 GAA.

However, since Kinkaid earned yesterday’s shutout victory over the Kings, it would seem likely Head Coach John Hynes will give usual starter 17-14-6 G Cory Schneider the nod tonight (it is his birthday, after all) on the tail end of the back-to-back, especially considering the only reason the backup has been getting the starts lately is because he’s been the hot hand. Schneider has earned a .912 save percentage and 2.81 GAA on the season, but has posted an abysmal 0-8-2 record in his last 10 starts going back to December 29 having allowed no fewer than three goals in any of those games.

Between Kinkaid and Schneider, the Devils have allowed only 2.4 goals against per game since March 6, the seventh-best mark in the NHL in that time.

So we can compare apples to apples, let’s see how 36-24-12 Anaheim has performed over its last five games. Though the Ducks are currently riding a two-game winning streak, they were riding a three-game losing skid beforehand, meaning Anaheim is 2-3-0 in its last five showings.

Just like offense is the reason the Devils are winning lately, offense – or the lack thereof – is the reason the Ducks have not been as successful lately as they would like. Even with C Ryan Getzlaf averaging a point per game during this run with 1-4-5 totals (10-42-52 on the season), Anaheim is averaging only 2.4 goals per game since March 8, the (t)sixth-fewest in the NHL in that time.

What makes those offensive struggles even more frustrating is the fact that Anaheim’s defense and goaltending gives it a chance to win every night. Led by D Cam Fowler (1.8 blocks per game since March 8), W Ondrej Kase (averaging a takeaway per game in his last five showings) and LW Nick Ritchie (three hits per game over this run), the Ducks’ defense has allowed only 30 shots against per game since March 8 – the 12th-best mark in the NHL. With that lighter workload, 27-17-6 G John Gibson has sparkled, posting a .911 save percentage and 2.54 GAA in his last four starts for a .926 save percentage and 2.47 GAA on the season as a whole.

Mix those things together, and you get a Ducks team that has allowed only 2.4 goals against per game since March 8 – the (t)sixth-lowest mark in the NHL in that time.

With New Jersey currently in a playoff spot, this game has to mean more for the Ducks, right? With the Kings being inactive tonight, anything better than a regulation loss propels Anaheim into third place in the Pacific Division. However, the very fact that the Kings are not playing tonight is also to the Ducks’ detriment, as Los Angeles will have a game on hand on Anaheim coming out of the weekend (that game in hand is the Kings’ tilt in Minnesota tomorrow).

With a five-point edge on the ninth-place Panthers, the potential to fall out of the playoffs has relaxed ever so slightly for second wildcard New Jersey (but remember, the Panthers still have two games in hand). However, there’s still more than enough time for Jersey to climb the table, as a win tonight would propel it into at least the first wild card, with the chance for third place in the Metropolitan Division should the Flyers fall to Washington.

The Ducks made their yearly trip to New Jersey way back on December 18, but it wasn’t exactly an enjoyable trip to the Garden State as they were treated to a 5-3 loss. RW Stefan Noesen led the way for the Devils in that contest, as he scored two third period goals – including the game-winner – to earn First Star of the Game honors.

This has the potential to be one of those weird games. We have an excellent offense in the Devils going up against a solid defense and goaltender, while Anaheim’s struggling attack gets the benefit of squaring off against slumping competition in Jersey’s defensive zone. Considering the Devils just played yesterday, I suppose Anaheim has the upper hand tonight, but this game might just boil down to which team scores last.


Behind a shutout from First Star of the Game G Tuukka Rask, the Boston Bruins beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-0 at Amalie Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Rask was obviously solid in this game considering he saved all 23 shots that came his way, but I would argue the most impressive part about that statistic is his defense limiting the Bolts to so few attempts.

After all, Tampa was trailing for 56:53 of this game, as that’s when Third Star RW David Pastrnak (Second Star D Torey Krug and D Adam McQuaid) scored the game-winning goal. After ending up with the puck following a scrum along the boards between F Tommy Wingels and two Bolts, McQuaid tapped a pass along the blue line to Krug. The Michigander proceeded to center a pass to Pastrnak, who drove towards G Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s right post before backhanding a shot into the back of the net.

Boston’s lead expanded to two goals with 9:06 remaining in the first period when F David Backes (Krug and LW Brad Marchand) buried a power play wrist shot.

With D Mikhail Sergachev getting sent to the penalty box for hi-sticking RW Brian Gionta with 7:37 remaining in the second period, F Riley Nash (W Rick Nash and Krug) completed the game’s scoring with a power play wrister only 10 seconds later, setting the 3-0 final score.

Vasilevskiy takes the loss after saving 24-of-27 shots faced (.889 save percentage).

There’s no stopping road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series lately, as they’ve posted eight-straight games where they earned at least a point. As such, the 87-52-19 hosts’ advantage in the series has been trimmed to 32 points.

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.

December 30 – Day 84 – Seeing red

In preparation for New Year’s Eve tomorrow, the NHL has elected to schedule a light slate of games this Saturday.

Only half a dozen contests will be played this evening, starting with three (Boston at Ottawa [SN], Montréal at Florida [CBC/CITY/TVAS] and New Jersey at Washington) at 7 p.m. Two more games (Carolina at St. Louis and Minnesota at Nashville) drop the puck an hour later, while Los Angeles at Vancouver (CBC/SN) – tonight’s nightcap – waits until 10 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

Two of today’s contests have caught my eye…

  • Boston at Ottawa: It’s a rematch of one of last year’s Eastern Conference First Round matchups. The Sens won the series in six games.
  • New Jersey at Washington: Not only is this an important Metropolitan matchup, but F Marcus Johansson is also making his first return to the American capital after seven seasons with the Caps.

Considering the Senators have been a bit of a disappointment (that’s probably putting things lightly) this year, I think we have to make the trip to D.C.

 

Johansson’s presence in the NHL began during the 2009 Entry Draft when the Capitals selected him with the 24th-overall pick on the heels of a 3-2-5 performance in the 2008 IIHF World U18 Championships.

Though he didn’t immediately join the Caps, instead playing one more season with Färjestad BK in Sweden’s top league and posting 10-10-20 totals in 42 games played, he did eventually carve out a spot for himself on Washington’s roster during the 2010-’11 season, his first in North America.

Johansson posted rather unimpressive 13-14-27 totals during that rookie season, but it’s safe to say he’s improved with every season he spent in a Capitals sweater. With the exception of the lockout-shortened 2012-’13 season, Johansson earned a minimum of 44 points in each of the next six seasons he spent in Washington. No campaign was better than last year’s, as he established new career-highs in goals (24) and points (58). He also earned valuable playoff experience, playing in 69 postseason games for 9-21-30 totals.

Unfortunately for the Capitals, they faced some well-documented salary cap issues this offseason, and that forced them to make at least one move that would probably hurt their hockey team. Johansson proved to be one of those tough decisions, as General Manager Brian MacLellan opted to dump the forward’s remaining two-year, $4.58 million-per contract within the division in exchange for two 2018 draft picks.

So far, Johansson has not yielded the return New Jersey General Manager Ray Shero was expecting when he traded for him. He’s managed only 5-3-8 totals so far this season, but he’s been limited to only 19 games played. That puts his points-per-game at .42, which is barely better than his .39 points-per-game rookie season. After spending four mid-December games in the press box nursing an ankle injury, he’s regained his spot on the second line (and second power play unit, for that matter) and will be expected to begin converting more opportunities with linemates W Kyle Palmieri (5-7-12) and C Travis Zajac (2-0-2) sooner than later.

Of course, even though they’d prefer more production out of him, it’s not like the 22-9-6 Devils are really hurting for offense. The Metropolitan Division leaders have managed an impressive 3.14 goals-per-game to rank (t)seventh-best in the NHL this season, and they’ve been even better since December 12, scoring 29 goals (second-most) during their eight-game point streak (3.63 per game).

During this dominating run Jersey is on, no two players have been a more dominating force than F Brian Boyle (5-4-9 since December 12; 10-6-16 overall) and F Taylor Hall (3-4-7; 12-24-36 overall), both of whom are averaging more than a point-per-game since mid-December. Boyle’s success is especially exciting given not only his health concerns coming into the season, but also his position as the third line center.

One of the major reasons for the Devils’ stellar attack is they don’t miss on too many power play opportunities. Over their past eight games, the Devils have converted 28.6 percent of their man-advantages – the (t)third-best rate in the NHL – which is even better than their (t)eighth-ranked 21.4 percent conversion rate on the season.

If 23-13-3 Washington, the second place team in the Metro, wants a chance of beating the Devils, it’ll need to successfully employ a solid penalty kill or try its hardest to stay out of the penalty box. The latter will probably be the better game plan, because the Caps’ 80.1 percent kill rate is the 11th-worst in the NHL.

But don’t read that as the Caps being a bad team defensively, because that’s erroneously far from the truth. On the season, Washington has allowed a 14th-best 2.82 goals against-per-game, but that number has dropped to 2.38 since December 12 while the Capitals have earned points in seven of eight games.

Though the Capitals employ the reigning William M. Jennings Trophy winner, I’d argue that Washington’s defensive success has less to do with 21-8-0 G Braden Holtby (even though he has the second-most wins in the league) and more to do with the impeccable efforts of late by RW Alex Chiasson, D Dmitry Orlov and D Brooks Orpik, who’ve respectively posted eight takeaways, 15 blocks and 26 hits since December 12.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have W Alex Ovechkin playing on the same team either. Sometimes the best defense is stellar offense, and Ovi has provided that throughout his career. This season is no exception, as his 24 goals are tied for the most in the league.

Of note, Jersey did play last night to a 4-3 overtime loss against the Sabres at The Rock. That loss snapped a five-game winning streak for both the club and 17-6-5 G Cory Schneider (his 17 wins are the [t]eighth-most in the NHL). Since he was in net last night, I’d expect 5-3-1 G Keith Kinkaid, who’s lost his last two games, to assume starting duties this evening.

Another important note is that these teams have already met once this season, and that game went the Capitals’ way. On October 13, Washington descended upon New Jersey and dominated the Devils to a 5-2 win, thanks in large part to a four-point night by C Nicklas Backstrom.

But who takes the two points tonight? I’m leaning towards the Devils. Even though they’re playing on the road, I’m concerned that Washington’s inability to stay out of the penalty box (the Caps’ 136 times shorthanded is eighth-most in the league) will bite it in the butt. Look for Jersey to exact revenge for October 13’s home defeat.


In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Anaheim Ducks beat the Calgary Flames 2-1 at the Honda Center.

Though the score doesn’t indicate it, Anaheim absolutely dominated this game, as it out-shot the Flames 41-23. That was especially true in the first period, as the Ducks managed to fire a whopping 20 shots on goal compared to Calgary’s five. Third Star of the Game G Mike Smith was up for the task for most of that onslaught, but First Star D Cam Fowler (Second Star C Ryan Getzlaf and F Rickard Rakell) was able to sneak a backhanded shot past him at the 3:48 mark to give Anaheim an early lead.

Calgary’s best frame was easily the second, as it out-shot the Ducks 11-8. As a result, W Micheal Ferland (D Matt Bartkowski and Smith) was able to level the game with a snap shot with 8:05 remaining in the period.

With that pesky long change out of the way, the Ducks resumed their command of the game in the third period, and that control was only heightened when LW Matthew Tkachuk made the mistake of sending a puck over the glass to earn himself a seat in the penalty box. However, he was held out of action for only seven seconds, as Rakell (Getzlaf and W Jakob Silfverberg) was able to use the man-advantage to score a game-winning power play wrist shot at the 2:17 mark.

If tic-tac-goals are among your favorite things, you’ll like this tally. After Getzlaf won the face-off at the right dot in his attacking zone, C Adam Henrique tapped the puck back to Fowler at the point. The defenseman sent the biscuit back towards the crease to Silfverberg, who tapped back towards the slot to Getzlaf in a centering attempt. However, instead of taking the obvious snapper, the captain instead elected to shove the puck towards the left face-off circle to the waiting Rakell, who one-timed a wrister over a diving Smith.

G John Gibson earned the victory after saving 22-of-23 shots faced (.957 save percentage), leaving the unfortunate loss to Smith, who saved 39-of-41 (.951).

Mark it down as another win for the home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The hosts now have a 47-27-10 record that is exactly 20 points better than the visitors’.

December 21 – Day 78 – Battle of the Hudson River

Hopefully your Christmas shopping is done, because there’s too much good hockey on tonight for you to miss.

As is normal for a weekday, the action finds its start at 7 p.m. when four games (Winnipeg at Boston, the New York Rangers at New Jersey, Anaheim at the New York Islanders and Columbus at Pittsburgh [SN/TVAS]) drop the puck, followed by Ottawa at Tampa Bay (RDS) half an hour later. The next game up is Carolina at Nashville at 8 p.m., while Chicago at Dallas finds its start 30 minutes after. St. Louis at Edmonton gets underway at 9 p.m., and tonight’s co-nightcaps – Colorado at Los Angeles and Vancouver at San Jose – will close things out at 10:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

Before the season had even started, I’d circled these games on my schedule:

  • New York at New Jersey: It’s the Battle of the Hudson River, not to mention positioning in the Metropolitan Division!
  • Columbus at Pittsburgh: Speaking of the Metro, this is the first time this season these rivals from the first round last year’s playoffs will meet up.

The Hawks-Stars contest will also be a stellar one, but we feature those teams an awful lot. I think we’re going to stay in the Metropolitan Division today and take in the action in the Garden State.

 

It’s not even 2018 yet, but the season series between these teams is already halfway done. These clubs split the two previous games played at Madison Square Garden, with the Devils winning the first 3-2 on October 14, and the Rangers exacting revenge December 9 to win 5-2.

19-13-3 New York enters this game the hotter of the two teams, as it is currently riding a three-game winning streak that includes a 4-2 victory over Los Angeles. That game took place on December 15, and since then the Blueshirts have been among the league’s best, scoring the (t)third-most goals (11) and allowing the (t)third-fewest (five) to climb into the top wildcard spot.

The defensive prowess is very easy to identify, because it’s the same man leading the charge as it’s been everyday since the 2005-’06 season. 17-8-2 G Henrik Lundqvist has looked like King Henrik circa 2011-’12 of late, as he’s posted a .955 save percentage and 1.64 GAA over his past three games. This incredible performance has elevated his season numbers to a .92 save percentage and 2.58 GAA, both of which are among the top-10 efforts among the 31 goaltenders with at least 16 starts this season.

On the offensive end, the Rangers have gotten back to spreading the puck around to make themselves one of the most versatile and unpredictable teams in the league, one of my favorite characteristics of this club. During this run, C David Desharnais (0-3-3), W Michael Grabner (2-1-3), F Kevin Hayes (2-1-3) and W Mats Zuccarello (1-2-3) have all averaged a point-per-game, with eight more players having two points to their credit. If that doesn’t frighten 14-6-4 G Cory Schneider, I don’t know what does.

Speaking of Schneider, his 19-9-5 Devils are also riding a four-game point streak that starts with a victory over the Kings. Starting with that game on December 12, Jersey has earned a 3-0-1 record to hold on to its second place spot in the Metro.

Just like their counterparts from Manhattan, the Devils have found a solid groove on both sides of the ice. Since the Kings game, Jersey has scored 16 goals ([t]fourth-most in the NHL) and allowed only eight ([t]fifth-fewest).

Schneider has been solid during this run with a .925 save percentage and 1.98 GAA, but I’ve been much more with his defense that has allowed only 107 shots against over the past four games, the fifth-fewest in the NHL in that time. D Andy Greene (eight blocks), F Taylor Hall (six takeaways) and D John Moore (11 hits) have been stellar of late, as they lead the team in their respective statistics over these four contests.

As for the offense, the story revolves around the awakening of the beast known as F Brian Boyle, a former Ranger of five years. Making me regret leaving him on my fantasy team’s bench, he’s exploded over his past four games to earn 3-4-7 totals from his bottom-six position. After starting the season on injured reserve after being diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia, the fact that Boyle, who just celebrated his 33rd birthday on Monday, is even on the ice is momentous and worthy of the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. If he can continue this success, he’d be on pace for the best year of his career – which I’d say would make him a lock for the award, not to mention put the Devils in contention for some other important pieces of hardware.

Unfortunately, one team has to lose this game; the question is which one? New York has struggled on the road this season, earning only a 5-7-0 record. Unless at least half of the 16,514 people packed into the Prudential Center this evening are wearing blue, I think the Devils will continue their winning streak.


Led in large part by Second Star of the Game G Joonas Korpisalo, the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-2 at Nationwide Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The Jackets took advantage of their familiar surroundings in the first period to jump out to a 2-0 lead. The first of those goals was scored by C Lukas Sedlak (LW Matt Calvert) with 7:03 remaining in the frame, followed 5:48 later by an unassisted wrist shot by First Star D Seth Jones.

D Jake Gardiner (F William Nylander) finally got the Maple Leafs on the board at the 4:26 mark of the second frame, but LW James van Riemsdyk made a mistake 4:42 later that proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back: he was caught tripping D Jack Johnson, which set up Columbus’ second power play opportunity of the contest. With 9:40 remaining in the frame, F Pierre-Luc Dubois (Third Star RW Cam Atkinson and Jones) did some gritty work in G Curtis McElhinney‘s crease to score what proved to be the Jackets’ game-winning goal.

C Alexander Wennberg (Atkinson and F Boone Jenner) tacked on an insurance goal with 8:09 remaining in regulation to set the score at 4-1. It was actually a fairly important tally, as F Mitch Marner (Gardiner and C Tyler Bozak) managed to pull Toronto back within a two goal deficit with 2:57 remaining on the clock. Had the Leafs only trailed by one, who knows what could have happened with McElhinney pulled.

As mentioned before, Korpisalo was an absolute stud in this contest. He saved 39-of-41 shots faced (.951 save percentage) to earn the victory, leaving the loss to McElhinney, who saved a more than respectable 33-of-37 (.892).

It’s been the week of the home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series, as the 44-25-9 hosts have won five of the last six contests. Last night’s win gave them a perfect 20-point advantage over the roadies in the series.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 7

Player of the Week: William Karlsson

The kid the Jackets bribed Vegas to take in the expansion draft is making Jarmo Kekalainen and John Davidson sweat, and CBJ fans like myself weep.

Karlsson’s 13 goals in 22 games this season already far surpass his previous best effort of 9 in 81 games with Columbus 2 years ago, and he is only 3 points off of a career high of 25 last year with the Jackets. Those eye-catching stats are due in large part to his current scorching stretch of 5 consecutive multi-point games (and 6 multi-point games in his last 7 contests), as the young Swede has really found his offensive game in an increased role with the expansion Golden Knights.

This week’s 3-game stretch saw ‘Wild Bill’ tally 4 goals and 6 points, including just his 2nd power play goal of the year (Karlsson has as many shorthanded tallies as he does PP markers), and he’s a major reason that Vegas is riding a 5-game winning streak and have found themselves suddenly propelled to 4th place in the entire league.

Team of the Week: New York Islanders

…what? Oh, right, sorry, I was still watching that John Tavares setup on Josh Bailey‘s OT goal.

A pair of exciting games capped with OT wins against the Flyers and a 2-1 victory over the Senators took the suddenly-streaking Islanders to a 3-0-0 week and 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division. The Isles are starting to show signs of the balanced attack I hinted at in the season preview I wrote a few months ago, with 14 different players tallying at least 1 point this week, led by Josh Bailey’s 5 points (1 goal, 4 assists). Bailey’s lone goal was an overtime game-winner, which was made possible by John Tavares absolutely ruining Sean Couturier‘s reputation as a defensive stud with the prettiest bit of 1-on-1 puck protection you’re likely to see by anyone not named Pavel Datsyuk.

Questions loom over the legitimacy of the Isles as contenders, but for now they’re as hot as their arena is terrible.

Game of the Week: Nashville Predators 3 @ Carolina Hurricanes 4 (SO), Sunday November 26, 2017

This week had a helluva lot of potential choices for this award, but I’m giving the nod to Preds/Canes on the basis that it’s not a traditional matchup that you’d expect to see produce a fantastic game, but that’s exactly what it did.

Two teams that don’t see much of each other certainly didn’t play like strange bedfellows, with a combined 71 hits. Tack on 71 shots for good measure, and you’ve got all the makings of a spectacular Sunday matinee.

Josh Jooris would kick things off just 3:37 into the 1st period, receiving a stretch pass from Marcus Kruger and using his speed to create just enough separation from Mattias Ekholm (boo for my fantasy team) to sneak a backhander through the legs of Juuse Saros that would just squeak across the goal line to give the Canes the early lead. Both netminders were extremely solid for the bulk of the first (and the entire game for that matter), but with just over 4 minutes remaining Ekholm (yay for my fantasy team) would find Viktor Arvidsson with a stretch pass of his own, and Arvy would go to work from there. Gliding across the blueline on the left wing side, Arvidsson gave Noah Hanifin the old howdoyado with a gorgeous toe-drag, before collecting the puck on his forehand and burying a quick wrister bar-down over the glove of Scott Darling to knot the game at 1.

The first half of the 2nd period saw a goaltending duel, before finally just past the 10 minute mark Ekholm (yay for my fantasy team) would blast home a power play goal to give the Preds their first lead of the game. But just 1:04 later Victor Rask would collect a bouncing puck at the side of the Nashville net and bury the equalizer.

The two netminders again duked it out until Mr. Game 7 Justin Williams would collect the rebound of Mr. Jersey Number 7 Derek Ryan and give the Canes the lead once again at 5:49 of the 3rd period on a power play goal. Then just over 5 minutes later it would be Craig Smith once again tying the game, capitalizing on a netmouth scramble after a hectic odd-man rush and tallying the goal that would eventually send the game to extra time.

A relatively tame 3-on-3 period was highlighted by a heroic penalty kill shot block by Joakim Nordstrom on P.K. Subban, but the game was eventually settled in the shootout by a pair of Finns, as Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen would both score on countryman Saros to send the Raleigh crowd home happy.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Hockey Fights Cancer month continues to destroy everyone’s ability to be negative, as this week we saw Brian Boyle score the night the Devils had their HFC promotional game, as well as Alex Ovechkin tripling the wish of cancer survivor and new best friend Alex Luey, who asked for a goal from his buddy and was rewarded with 3.

Carey Price returned to the Montreal lineup, and promptly reminded the Sabres that they’re still worse than the Habs, with a 36-save blanking in a 3-0 win. Oh, and in case you thought you were done reading this article through tear-blurried eyes, he did so on a night where he was joined for the anthems by 11-year-old Charlotte Richard, a cancer patient who was attending her first ever Canadiens game and meeting her hero in the process. Break the tissues back out, no shame in it.

In a complete 180 from heartwarming stories like those, the Anaheim Ducks posted (then promptly deleted and apologized for) a video of a naked Ryan Kesler strolling through their offices, apparently celebrating the NHL’s 100th birthday in his birthday suit. I’m not sure who’s idea this one was, but I wouldn’t be shocked to find out they were no longer gainfully employed.

Apparently Andy Andreoff has never been on the internet, because he seemed to think challenging Kevin Bieksa to a fight was a solid strategy. Much like Radko Gudas, Andreoff waded in to the deep end without his water wings, and found himself on the receiving end of Bieksa’s 2nd superman punch KO of the season. Andy tried to pop right back to his feet and look tough, but we all saw those Bambi legs, bud. You’re not fooling us.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 5

Player of the Week: Nikita Kucherov

Tampa is kind of making these choices too easy every week.

The hottest team in the league continued to roll, and the hottest line in the league followed suit. Linemates Vladislav Namestnikov (4 goals, 1 assist) and Steven Stamkos (1 goal, 5 assists) were certainly no slouches, but Kucherov’s 2 goals and 7 points in 3 games were easily the most impressive output of the week, especially considering both goals and 6 of those points were in the first 2 games of the week.

Kucherov is even being talked about as having a shot at 50 goals in 50 games. While it’s certainly still quite a ways away, it will definitely be interesting to see if he can reach the fabled mark.

Team of the Week: Toronto Maple Leafs

Fans of Steve Dangle’s LFR series will know that this was a week chock full of victory puppies.

After a very shaky stretch that saw the Leafs nearly fall all the way back to a .500 record after a scorching start, things looked increasingly bleak as they learned they’d be without superstar Auston Matthews heading into this week’s 4-game schedule. But the loss of #34 seemed to light a spark under his teammates’ collective tails.

Toronto opened the week hosting the Golden Knights and whoever they could find willing to throw on some goalie pads (we love ya, Max) and the two squads treated us to an extremely fun night that ended in a 4-3 Leafs victory on the strength of a silky shootout goal from Mitch Marner. They would follow that effort up with a 4-2 victory over Minnesota, heading into a back-to-back home-and-home with arch rival Boston.

Now, the Bruins are more Providence than Boston right now as they deal with a slew of injuries, particularly in the forward group, but credit them for putting up one heck of a fight at the ACC on Friday night as they came just 60 seconds from victory before James van Hockey (who notably had 4 points in the 2 games against the Bruins) tied the game and sent it to overtime. In overtime, Patrick Marleau touched the ice, so the team he played for won the game. (If you’re not familiar with Marleau’s ridiculous GWG stats, go have a look. Legitimately about 1/5th of his career goals have won a game.)

Saturday night the Leafs would wrap up a Matthews-less week 4-0 after a 4-1 victory over the Bruins in Boston, with backup goalie Curtis McElhinney shining in net. The Leafs now get 4 days of rest, riding a boatload of momentum, and likely will see the return of Matthews the next time they hit the ice. Maybe hope your team doesn’t play them anytime soon.

Game of the Week: Los Angeles Kings 4 @ Anaheim Ducks 3 (OT), Tuesday November 7th

The NHL likes to think of Wednesday as rivalry night, but boy were they a day late this week.

What was easily the most entertaining game of the year to this point (in this humble writer’s opinion) saw some fantastic stat lines. 7 goals, 79 shots, 54 hits, 51 penalty minutes, and 12 power plays should tell you what sort of game you missed if you didn’t happen to catch this barn-burner.

To put the insanity of this game into simple terms, Jared Boll opened the scoring. Yeah, that Jared Boll! Isn’t that spectacular?! Like, okay, Brandon Montour did 99% of the work and just had his wrap-around attempt bounce onto Boll’s stick so he could hack it into an open net, but who really cares? Somebody get that man a cookie.

Sami Vatanen would send the Ducks up 2-0 later in the 1st just as their power play opportunity expired, and for most of the 1st period the Ducks looked like they had the game by the throat. If not for some simply spectacular goaltending (see also: strategical flailing) by Jonathan Quick, this game could have gotten out of hand early. But after watching their goaltender perform miracles for most of the opening frame, the Kings decided maybe they should help him or something, so Anze Kopitar figured he’d go ahead and score a goal with just over 3 minutes remaining to send the teams to the locker rooms with Anaheim leading 2-1.

The second period saw less offense and more punches in the face. Jonathan Quick attempted to help Derek Forbort ruin Corey Perry‘s day, but the referees felt that someone with a full cage getting into fisticuffs with someone who isn’t wearing a full cage isn’t decidedly fair, so Andy Andreoff (great name, btw) had to go to the penalty box and feel Quick’s shame for him. Jared Boll would later fight Andreoff, I would assume feeling that Andy should earn his own time in the penalty box and not just bum it off of others. Oh, also Rickard Rakell and Adrian Kempe scored goals, so that was kinda neat.

The Kings absolutely mugged the Ducks in the 3rd, racking up 17 shots on John Gibson to just 6 mustered against them, but only Dustin Brown managed to get one past the Anaheim netminder, so off to bonus hockey we would go, knotted at 3. It would take nearly 4 minutes of 4-on-4 madness to decide the game, but finally Nick Shore would complete the Kings’ comeback and end a terrific night of hockey and shenanigans.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Jarome Iginla is still unsigned (podcast listeners will appreciate that), but he says he’s not ready to retire. I think he should play on a line with Jagr in Calgary, and we can nickname the line the Geri-hat-tricks or something like that.

Roberto Luongo picked up career win number 455 this week, passing Curtis Joseph for 4th all-time in that category. I’m pretty sure nobody above him is better at self-deprecating Twitter humor, though, so really he’s probably the greatest of all time.

Brian Boyle scored his first goal since returning to the Devils lineup, and his celebration was pretty much the most sincere display of happiness that doesn’t include a dog that you’ll ever see.

The Hockey Hall of Fame inductee class of Danielle Goyette, Clare Drake, Jeremy Jacobs, Dave Andreychuk, Mark Recchi, Teemu Selanne, and Paul Kariya was one for the ages, and if you need a solid laugh, check out the back-and-forth between longtime friends Selanne and Kariya, some of the finest chirping you will ever find.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 4

Player of the Week: Josh Bailey

This award almost went to Bailey’s captain John Tavares, who himself had a 3-goal 5-point week, but his output couldn’t quite match that of Bailey, who tallied 7 points (all of them assists) during the Islanders’ 3-game stretch. The versatile Islanders forward started off the week with a trio of apples against Vegas on Monday night, before adding 2 apiece Thursday in Washington and Sunday against the Avs.

But, quite more impressively, Bailey’s scoring stretch goes beyond this week’s 3 games. In fact, it triples that.

Yes, to find the last time Josh Bailey was held off of a scoresheet, you have to travel all the way back to October 14th against the Sharks. 10 games ago. Registering 2 goals and 14 assists in the 9 games since, once could argue that Bailey is possibly the hottest player in the league that doesn’t play for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Team of the Week: New York Rangers

This was another tight vote, as the San Jose Sharks almost got the nod here. But I’m going to give it to the Rangers based on the fact that they needed this hot streak more than fish need water. After a mostly-miserable October where nothing seemed to go right, the Rangers rolled into MSG to face Vegas on All-Hallows Eve, looking to banish the ghouls that were haunting them. (It physically pained me to write that.)

Fresh off a loss in the ‘Battle to Decide Who is the Least Worst’ in Montreal, the Blueshirts battled their way to a 6-4 victory over the Golden Knights and get their feet back under them, at least for the time being. Faced with the daunting task of taking on the scorching hot Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night (in Tampa’s barn), the Rangers pulled off the upset, allowing just 1 goal against the hottest offense in the league, and vanquished the home team on the strength of a J.T. Miller goal just 1:19 into overtime. Two nights later it would be Kevin Shattenkirk spoiling another Florida foe’s party, as his OT goal would lift the Rangers to their 3rd consecutive win, and directly into this prestigious award.

Now, doubling your season victory total in one week isn’t necessarily something to brag about, but the Rangers desperately needed a week like this to at least drag them back into something resembling contention. We’ve still got a lot of season to go, but digging yourself too big a hole early on can prove fatal when the season reaches crunch time.

Game of the Week: Tampa Bay Lightning 8 @ Florida Panthers 5, Monday October 30th

How could it not be? Seriously. Look at the score. That’s silly. Plus the intrastate rivalry, there was a fight, Andrei Vasilevskiy tied a league record for wins in October, it was just dumb and that’s what made it great.

“Oh, but what about…”

No! You’re wrong! My article, my rules, silliness wins.

News, Notes, and Nonsense:

I’m officially done making jokes about the Vegas goaltending situation, because at this point I might actually be like 3rd or 4th on their depth chart.

Habs goaltender Charlie Lindgren has been a rare bright spot for the team this year, as he has now gone 4-0 as an NHL starter and racked up his 1st career shutout with a 38-save effort to blank the Blackhawks in the United Center. Not bad, kid. Not bad.

Brian Boyle returned to game action this week, promptly telling cancer where it can shove it.

A bunch of guys squirted each other with water bottles and the league fined them for it, which can be filed under both the news and nonsense parts of this section.

Alright, let me just check and see if I missed anything as I was putting this together on Sunday evening and *opens Twitter* OH DEAR LORD WHAT HAPPENED?!?

So…apparently Matt Duchene is a Senator…and, Kyle Turris is a Pred…and both of those teams’ futures now belong to Joe Sakic. Huh…

November 1 – Day 29 – Brian Boyle’s debut?

Halloween is great, but it’s the first couple of weeks in November that are truly great because you get to eat your candy. What better way to watch a hockey game?

Speaking of which, you’ll have a few more contests to choose from while experiencing your sugar high than your typical Wednesday. The action starts at 8 p.m. when Philadelphia visits Chicago (NBCSN), followed half an hour later by Pittsburgh at Edmonton (SN1/TVAS). The real meat of tonight’s schedule occurs on the West Coast, as two matchups (New Jersey at Vancouver [SN360] and Toronto at Anaheim) are slated for 10 p.m., 30 minutes before tonight’s nightcap: Nashville at San Jose (NBCSN).

The Predators-Sharks game should be nothing short of excellent considering they’re tied for eighth place in the Western Conference, but we just featured San Jose Monday. With that in mind and the fact that F Brian Boyle could make his season debut tonight, let’s take a look at the Devils’ yearly trip to British Columbia.

 

These two clubs have been some of the best stories to start the season. Though I think it’s still too early to be adjusting playoff predictions for either of them, the fact that they are both among the top four in their respective conferences a month into their campaigns is certainly an admirable feat.

If either of these teams are to hold on to their position in the standings, I’d put my money on the 8-2-0 Devils that are currently leading the Metropolitan Division.

Few were better in the month of October with the puck on their sticks, as Jersey has laid claim to the third-best scoring offense in the league through 28 days of action. Led by the incomparable F Taylor Hall and his 3-10-13 totals in his second season with the team, New Jersey has scored an impressive 3.8 goals-per-game.

Though Hall is certainly deserving of any and all praise he receives, one of my favorite players for New Jersey is rookie D Will Butcher. Not only are his 11 assists most on the team (not to mention the second-highest point-total), but he’s also been heavily involved in a Devils power play that has already scored 11 man-advantage goals in 10 games played for a 27.5 percent conversion rate that is fifth-best in the NHL.

Maybe you didn’t hear me: Fifth-best in the league. We’re talking better than the high-flying Maple Leafs, better than W Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals, and even better than the Sabres who ended last season with the top special teams in the NHL.

Anyways, back to Butcher. Seven of his 11 assists have been struck while the Devils have a man-advantage, which makes him the strongest contributor to Jersey’s power play by a mile (rookie W Jesper Bratt and Hall tie for second with five power play points).

What has made New Jersey’s man-advantage so spectacular is Butcher has had more than his fair share of options to pass to. Playing on the Devils’ top power play unit, he’s been able to pass to Bratt, Hall or C Adam Henrique – all of whom have scored two goals on the man-advantage. Tack on W Drew Stafford‘s two power play goals from the second unit, and you have a squad that G Jacob Markstrom can’t wait to see leave Rogers Arena.

Speaking of Markstrom, Vancouver has found most of its wins this season by playing some stellar defensive hockey. Having allowed only 2.36 goals-per-game through 11 showings, the Canucks are the third-best defense in the NHL.

It’s pretty tough to allow goals when not too many shots are reaching your goaltender. That’s the exact approach being taken by Head Coach Travis Green. Even though he was a center during his playing days with the Islanders (what does he know about defense?), his team has allowed only 29 shots against-per-game, the third-fewest in the league.

The Canucks have been so good defensively, it’s hard to decide where to start. We could discuss D Ben Hutton‘s 11 takeaways in as many games played, or we could talk about RW Derek Dorsett‘s more physical approach to forcing a change in possession, as he leads the team with 2.3 hits-per-game. And even if those methods don’t work, D Michael Del Zotto has been there to block loads of shots, averaging 2.5 per game.

Regardless of how they’re doing it, Markstrom is not complaining one bit that his defense is keeping lots of pucks out of his crease. And much to the delight of Vancouverites, Markstrom has been no slouch in his own right when the occasional shot comes his way. So far this season, he’s managed a solid .911 save percentage and 2.4 GAA, both of which rank inside the top-15 among goaltenders with at least five starts.

It’s a game of strength-on-strength, which usually leads me to predicting how things will go on the opposite end of the ice to help me make my pick. Go figure that Vancouver’s offense and New Jersey’s defense both rank 11th-worst in goals for or against.

Therefore, I’m leaning towards the Canucks winning this game and snapping the Devils’ two-game winning streak on the simple basis of being the home team. This should be a very competitive and exciting game that could require more than 60 minutes to determine a winner.


In what proved to be a very defensive game, the Winnipeg Jets were able to beat the Minnesota 2-1 at the Xcel Energy Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Only one goal was struck in the first two periods, and it belonged to LW Kyle Connor (C Mark Scheifele and D Tyler Myers) 7:10 into the first period. His wrist shot remained alone on the scoreboard for the next 33:33 of play, much to the delight of the Jets.

In the time between goals, First Star of the Game G Connor Hellebuyck played like an absolute stud. He faced a total of 17 shots in the first period and second period, and saved them all. For the entire evening, he saved 28-of-29 shots faced for an impressive .966 save percentage.

Only 43 seconds after returning from the second intermission, Second Star W Nikolaj Ehlers decided that it was time Winnipeg had an insurance goal. Ehlers came in possession of the puck after a terrible decision by D Matt Dumba to perform a no-look backwards pass in his own defensive zone. Ehlers took advantage of the unattended puck, maneuvered around F Mikael Granlund and buried a backhanded shot after deking G Alex Stalock.

Though Third Star F Luke Kunin (W Nino Niederreiter and C Eric Staal) was able to pull the Wild back within a goal at the 5:36 mark of the third period, Minnesota could not find a second goal in the remaining time to force overtime.

In the home loss, Stalock saved only 17-of-19 shots faced for an. 895 save percentage.

Speaking of home losses, that’s the first in the past three days in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Home teams now have a 16-9-4 record that is only eight points better than the visitors’.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 2

Player of the Week: Jaden Schwartz

Calm down, Lightning fans, you’ll get your turn.

I could have easily chosen either of the dynamic duo of Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov in Tampa, who have been going Harlem Globetrotters on every team they’ve come into contact with, but I think Schwartz deserves some props. The diminutive Blues winger has always been a very good under-the-radar guy, usually playing 2nd fiddle to his linemate Vladimir Tarasenko. But Schwartz made the headlines this week, with a hat trick against the Blackhawks on Wednesday, followed up the next night with another goal against Colorado, and finished off with an assist against Vegas Saturday night (more on that game later). All in all, a 4-goal, 5-point week in 3 games is more than enough to earn Schwartz this completely meaningless nomination.

Team of the Week: Tampa Bay Lightning

Alright, we good, Bolts fans? We square? Cool.

The Lightning have looked borderline immortal so far this season, with a 7-1-1 record bolstered by this week’s 3-0-1 stretch. But it’s not just that near-flawless week putting them here, it’s how they did it. Tampa’s 3 victories came by a combined score of 12-3 (granted, a big part of that percentage was the 7-1 sha-lacking they put on Pittsburgh), and if not for a sweet little backhand move by Kyle Palmieri in the 3rd round of the shootout in New Jersey (oh, more on that game later, too), the Bolts could have walked away with a perfect week.

Game(s) of the Week: Tampa Bay Lightning 4 @ New Jersey Devils 5 (SO), Tuesday October 17th & St. Louis Blues 2 @ Vegas Golden Knights 3 (OT), Saturday October 21st

It simply wasn’t possible to leave either of these games out.

First up, we had the current Team of the Week squaring off with the former Team of the Week, in a battle of two of the league’s hottest clubs. What we got was 72 total shots on goal, 35 hits, 9 power plays (resulting in 3 goals), and a whole mess of fun. The game started with Cory Schneider making a terrific paddle-down save on Brayden Point just moments into the action, and just a few minutes later Drew Stafford let a seemingly harmless wrister go from the right wing boards that eluded a rusty Peter Budaj (his first game action since the preseason) and gave the Devils the 1-0 lead. Budaj would settle down a bit in the next few minutes making a few quality stops, eventually leading to his team tying the game, and taking the lead just minutes later, on the strength of goals from Vladislav Namestnikov and Ondrej Palat. It would be short-lived, though, as just 4 minutes later a top shelf power play rocket from Palmieri would even the score, and Brian Gibbons would follow suit in the final minute of the period to send New Jersey to the room with the lead.

Things settled down on the scoreboard for most of the 2nd period, although both goaltenders were still busy. Finally with just under 6 minutes to play Kucherov would fire a rocket directly from Russia with love and even the score, before linemate Stamkos would give the Lightning the 4-3 lead in the closing minutes of the 2nd. Tampa did their best to lock the game down the rest of the way, but finally with just over 4 minutes remaining Stafford would bury his own rebound to cap off a gorgeous passing play, score his 2nd of the night, and send it to overtime. A relatively tame 3-on-3 period would send it to the shootout, where Palmieri’s nifty mitts would deposit the only biscuit of the frame and send the Jersey faithful home happy.

Now onto a Saturday night in Vegas, where the upstart Golden Knights would look to make history by being the first franchise to ever start its inaugural season with 6 wins in 7 games.

Things weren’t looking great for the Golden Knights early on, as the Blues peppered young Malcolm Subban mercilessly in the opening frame, St. Louis eventually holding an 18-4 shot advantage when the period came to a close. But Subban managed to limit the damage to only a lone Magnus Paajarvi tally and get his team into the dressing room only down 1-0. Vegas would feed off of the strong play of their goaltender, and reward him in the 2nd period with power play tallies from both Reilly Smith and Colin Miller, and they’d take a 2-1 lead into the 3rd period.

Unfortunately for Vegas, just past the midway point of the 3rd period Subban would appear to strain his groin kicking out his right pad for a save, and would have to be helped from the ice, leaving the task of surviving the continued St. Louis onslaught to another youngster, former Blue Jackets prospect Oscar Dansk. Unfortunately for the young Swede, the first shot he faced would be an Alex Pietrangelo one-time bomb from the high slot with just over 5 minutes to play, drawing the game even once again on a shot that no goaltender could be expected to do anything about. The Blues would do everything in their power to get the winning goal past Dansk in the closing minutes, including a Schwartz tip that got behind the Vegas netminder but went wide of the net with just 8 seconds on the clock, but the youngster held the fort and took the game to extra time.

Overtime brought another golden opportunity for Schwartz, who found himself with all alone in the slot with a clear lane to shoot, only to be bested by the right leg of Dansk. Then Brendan Leipsic would jump on a turnover to break in all alone, but Jake Allen met his backhand with a flash of the leather to keep the game going. But just over a minute later, and with less than 30 seconds left, Smith would jump on a loose puck, glide into the St. Louis zone, and float a beautiful pass to a streaking William ‘Wild Bill’ Karlsson who ripped a one-timer over the two-pad stack of Allen to send the building into bedlam and the Golden Knights into the history books.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Despite their apparent ability to win with anyone wearing goalie pads in net (I could see a Twitter campaign for this being a hit), Vegas’ injury situation is no laughing matter. Marc-Andre Fleury is still dealing with the effects of a concussion (which as we know really doesn’t have a set recovery time), and Subban is out for at least a month. The goaltending duties now fall on Dansk and Maxime Lagace for the foreseeable future. If there’s any consolation to be found in this for the Golden Knights, it’s that they’ve had tremendous success with injury replacements so far. Subban played very well in Fleury’s absence, and Alex Tuch (who was called up to replace the injured Jon Marchessault) has 2 goals and 3 points in his first 3 games with the club.

Roman Polak has signed a 1 year deal with the Maple Leafs, in what was almost certainly just a plot to further shorten the useful lifespan of Steve Dangle’s heart.

Potential big-money bet: Does Montreal fire Claude Julien and replace him with Michel Therrien?

Side bet: Does Therrien walk into that press conference to Eric Bischoff’s “I’m Back” entrance music?

Side-side bet: Over/under on amount of sticks Carey Price destroys before Montreal’s next victory.

If you haven’t seen/heard/read any of Ed Olczyk‘s comments from his return to broadcasting (both on Wednesday in St. Louis for the NBCSN broadcast or Thursday in Chicago to call the Hawks/Oilers game) while in between chemotherapy treatments for colon cancer, please do yourself a favor and go find them. Truly inspiring stuff from one of the best in the business, and the standing ovations he received at both games are enough to give anyone chills.

On a somewhat related topic, Brian Boyle also made his return to action, this time on ice in a full-contact practice on Sunday. Boyle has been battling a form of cancer that attacks bone marrow, but cleared the final ‘hurdle’ in his treatment regimen to be able to get back on the ice with his teammates. Once he and his coaches feel he is fully into game shape, we should see the big man out of Boston College going back to work.