Did you think I’d forgotten? We still need a Game of the Week! Let’s take a look at this edition’s options:
|NHL SCHEDULE: February 11-17|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
|Monday, February 11|
|7 p.m.||Los Angeles||Washington||4-6|
|10 p.m.||San Jose||Vancouver||7-2|
|Tuesday, February 12|
|7 p.m.||New York Islanders||Buffalo Sabres||1-3|
|7:30 p.m.||Calgary||Tampa Bay||3-6|
|8 p.m.||New Jersey||St. Louis||3-8|
|8 p.m.||New York Rangers||Winnipeg Jets||3-4|
|Wednesday, February 13|
|Thursday, February 14|
|7 p.m.||Calgary||Florida||2-3 (SO)|
|7 p.m.||New York Islanders||Columbus Blue Jackets||3-0|
|7:30 p.m.||Dallas||Tampa Bay||0-6|
|8:30 p.m.||New Jersey||Chicago||2-5|
|9 p.m.||St. Louis||Arizona||4-0|
|10:30 p.m.||Vancouver||Los Angeles||4-3 (SO)|
|10:30 p.m.||Washington||San Jose||5-1|
|Friday, February 15|
|7 p.m.||New York Rangers||Buffalo Sabres||6-2|
|8:30 p.m.||New Jersey||Minnesota||5-4 (OT)|
|Saturday, February 16|
|1 p.m.||Detroit||Philadelphia||5-6 (OT)|
|3 p.m.||St. Louis||Colorado||3-0|
|7 p.m.||Ottawa||Winnipeg||4-3 (OT)|
|7 p.m.||Montréal||Tampa Bay||0-3|
|7 p.m.||Edmonton Oilers||New York Islanders||2-5|
|10 p.m.||Vancouver||San Jose||2-3|
|10:30 p.m.||Boston||Los Angeles||4-2|
|Sunday, February 17|
|12:30 p.m.||New York Rangers||Pittsburgh Penguins||NBC, SN, TVAS|
|3 p.m.||St. Louis||Minnesota||NBC, SN|
|6 p.m.||Buffalo||New Jersey|
|7 p.m.||Montréal||Florida||RDS, SN|
With the trade deadline looming just around the corner, it’s been another exciting week in the NHL. After all, another edition of the Battle of the Keystone State was waged on Monday, followed the next day by two more rivalries featuring Arizona, Boston, Chicago and Vegas.
Tuesday also saw the Blue Jackets and Capitals reignite last season’s First Round playoff bout, with Columbus winning 3-0 in what just might be a preview of another playoff series to come this April.
As for the biggest player homecoming on this week’s calendar, that title belongs to F Chris Wagner of the Boston Bruins. Wagner spent four seasons with the Ducks (2014-18), appearing in 133 games and registering 12-12-24 totals. He was shipped to the Islanders at last season’s trade deadline before signing with the Atlantic Division’s current second-best team – not to mention his hometown club – this offseason. His Bruins beat Anaheim 3-0 on Friday.
Today is Hockey Day in America, but DtFR is holding off on the celebration until this evening before the Capitals-Ducks game to take in D Scott Niedermayer‘s jersey retirement ceremony.
Niedermayer may have only spent five seasons in Anaheim, but there’s no doubt he plays an integral role in the Ducks’ history. He joined the then Mighty Ducks in 2005-06 after 13 seasons and three Stanley Cups in New Jersey, signing as an unrestricted free agent to a four-year, $27 million contract to join forces with RW Teemu Selanne, F Andy McDonald and brother F Rob Niedermayer and serve as their captain.
Named a First Team All-Star for the second consecutive season and finishing second in Norris Trophy voting behind D Nicklas Lidstrom, Niedermayer and his 13-50-63 totals was just the addition the Mighty Ducks needed on their blue line to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2003’s trip to the Stanley Cup Final – you know, the one where Niedermayer’s Devils beat Anaheim in Game 7. Despite qualifying as the six seed, the Mighty Ducks took advantage of a wildly unpredictable Western Conference playoff to advance all the way to the Conference Finals before falling in five games to Edmonton.
For a champion like Niedermayer, falling short in the Conference Finals was unacceptable, as he elevated his game to even better 15-54-69 totals during the 2006-07 season to notch career-highs in all three statistics as well as propel the Ducks (the new and less-mighty edition) all the way to the West’s second seed.
Though that impressive effort was good enough to earn Niedermayer his third-consecutive First Team All-Star selection, he still had his eye on a fourth Stanley Cup. Despite registering only 3-8-11 marks in the Ducks’ 21 postseason games (second-best among Ducks defensemen despite playing two more games than D Chris Pronger), Niedermayer’s two game-winners (one was the series-clincher against Vancouver in double-overtime, the other the overtime winner in Game 1 of the Western Finals) and his power play goal to force overtime against the Red Wings in Game 5 of the Conference Finals was enough to win him the Conn Smythe Trophy and Anaheim’s first title in any sport since the Angels’ 2002 World Series win. The Ducks’ lone Stanley Cup is still the city’s most recent title.
The remaining three years of Niedermayer’s tenure in Anaheim paled in comparison to his first two. The Ducks didn’t make it past the Conference Semifinals in 2008 or 2009 (in fact, they lost in the first round the season after winning the Stanley Cup) and failed to qualify for the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs; Niedermayer didn’t win anymore hardware, nor did he reach the 60-point plateau again.
However, Niedermayer’s mission when he signed with Anaheim had been accomplished. He’d won his fourth title without the help of his dominant Devils teammates, and he’d helped his brother earn his first ring. He’d helped the Ducks to a then franchise-record 48 wins
And it is for that championship and his career-defining seasons that the Hall of Famer is being honored tonight. Having already seen his No. 27 hoisted to the Prudential Center rafters, he’ll receive that same recognition tonight at Honda Center.
Unfortunately for the Ducks faithful, The Pond’s good vibes might find a quick end after Niedermayer’s ceremony. After all, the 22-27-9 Anaheim Ducks are riding an infamous 3-16-4 skid that dates all the way back to December 18. This torrid run has seen the Ducks drop all the way from a playoff position to fourth-to-last in the NHL, earning Randy Carlyle an early offseason.
It comes as no surprise that a squad that has struggled as much as the Ducks is finding almost no success in any phase of the game. Anaheim’s offense has ranked dead last in the NHL since December 18, accounting for only 1.52 goals per game in that time – a full six-tenths of a goal worse than Dallas.
Of course, even when the Ducks were having success earlier in the season, offense was in no way their game. They were averaging only 2.57 goals per game through their first 35 outings – a mark that would rank 29th among teams’ current season averages.
Instead, the biggest reason for this decline is the breakdown on the defensive end. In their past 23 games, the Ducks have allowed an average of 3.7 goals per game, the second-worst mark in the NHL in that time (fellow Pacific Division member Edmonton’s 3.92 goals against per game takes credit for worst in the league since December 18). However, only one facet of the defense is truly at fault.
Whether it is 1-1-0 G Kevin Boyle or 4-2-1 G Ryan Miller that receives the nod tonight (17-19-8 G John Gibson and 0-5-0 G Chad Johnson are both on injured reserve with respective back and head injuries) is still unknown.
Despite his rookie status behind a porous defense (more on that in a moment), Boyle has been far from the problem for the Ducks lately, as he boasts a .955 save percentage and 1.51 GAA for his short, three-game NHL career. Meanwhile, Miller has only recently been cleared to resume action. If he were to take to the crease tonight, it would be his first appearance since December 9 – a 6-5 shootout home victory over the New Jersey Devils that he did not finish.
For what it’s worth, Miller is riding a personal two-game win streak and three-game point streak.
As mentioned before, what makes the youngster’s solid stats even more impressive is he’s getting absolutely no help from his skaters. Since December 18, Anaheim has allowed a whopping 32.91 shots against per game – the seventh-worst mark in the league in that time.
Making the trip to Orange County are the 32-19-7 Washington Capitals, the Metropolitan Division’s second-best team.
In their last six games, the Caps have managed a solid record of 4-1-1 – more than good enough to hold on to their current position in the standings against the middling Metro teams. In particular, this surge has been spearheaded by Washington’s dominant offense, which has been rattling off 3.67 goals per game since February 5 – the (t)seventh-best mark in the league in that time.
Leading this attack has been none other than Evgeny Kuznetsov, the Capitals’ top-line center. In his past six outings, Kuznetsov has registered dominant 5-6-11 totals, including an amazing 2-2-4 performance against the Ducks’ arch-rivals in D.C. on Monday. On the season, Kuznetsov now has 15-39-54 marks in 52 appearances.
Washington has also boasted a decent effort on the defensive end, allowing only three goals per game during this six-game run – the (t)12th-best mark in the NHL in that time. Despite managing only a .908 save percentage and 2.99 GAA for the season, 20-14-4 G Braden Holtby has been on a tear lately, boasting a .917 save percentage and 2.51 GAA for his last four starts.
It’s hard to see a way the Ducks escape with a win tonight. Washington has been rolling lately, and the Ducks offense in particular simply do not have an answer for the Caps’ attack. Unless C Ryan Getzlaf can add at least four points to his total tonight, Washington should pull back within three points of New York for the Metro lead.