Nine games are on today’s schedule, so let’s jump right in!
Like most nights, the action finds its start at 7 p.m. with a quartet of games (Detroit at Boston [NBCSN/SN/TVAS], Montréal at New Jersey [RDS/TSN2], Winnipeg at the New York Rangers and Vegas at Columbus), followed half an hour later by the Governor’s Cup featuring Florida at Tampa Bay. A pair of tilts drop the puck at 8 p.m. (Dallas at Nashville and Carolina at Minnesota), with Colorado at Chicago waiting 30 minutes before getting underway. Finally, Washington at Anaheim (NBCSN) closes out the evening’s schedule at 10 p.m. All times Eastern.
Some of the games I circled before the start of the season include…
- Detroit at Boston: Original Six matchup, anyone?
- Vegas at Columbus: Remember that C William Karlsson guy the Blue Jackets left exposed for the expansion draft? Turns out he’s pretty good at hockey.
- Florida at Tampa Bay: Given the Panthers’ recent surge, this season’s Governor’s Cup is turning out to be a big deal.
Of those three, the game in Ohio looks like it will be the most competitive. Off to Nationwide Arena!
Though selected by the Ducks in the second round of the 2011 Entry Draft, Karlsson played only 18 NHL games with Anaheim before it shipped him, RW Rene Bourque and a 2015 second round pick to Columbus (the Jackets used to select C Kevin Stenlund, if you’re wondering) at the 2015 trade deadline for D James Wisniewski and Detroit’s 2015 third round pick (the Ducks chose F Brent Gates, for those keeping score at home).
Though it seems hard to believe in light of this season, Wild Bill was far from the main attraction in this transaction. The Ducks were rolling as the Western Conference’s top seed, and they brought in the experienced 30-year-old Wisniewski to shore up their defensive end. Ultimately, Anaheim fell in the Western Finals in seven games to Chicago, even though it rolled through the first two rounds by suffering only one loss.
But this isn’t about those Ducks. It’s about Karlsson.
After only one offseason in the Columbus system, Karlsson earned a permanent spot on the NHL roster for the 2015-’16 season. He improved nominally on his 3-2-5 totals in 21 games during the 2014-’15 season, managing 9-11-20 marks in 81 games played in what was technically his rookie campaign. Of note, Karlsson also earned 10 votes for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy that season, finishing 32nd behind award-winner and former rival C Anze Kopitar.
We started to get glimpses of Karlsson’s new normal last season, as he improved his season marks to 6-19-25 in 81 regular season games played. Though far from exemplary, Karlsson was still showing growth and reason for optimism.
Then the postseason started, and Karlsson officially earned his “Wild Bill” nickname.
The Blue Jackets lasted only five games in last season’s playoffs against the Penguins, but boy was the Swede impressive. He posted dominant 2-1-3 totals (tying RW Cam Atkinson and F Boone Jenner for most goals and forcing a four-way tie for most points [W Brandon Saad]) in his five showings, while also tying W Matt Calvert for a team-leading +4 goal-differential.
This is the return General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen was hoping for when he traded Wisniewski!
Well… maybe not.
Not only was Karlsson left exposed to the Golden Knights for the expansion draft, but Kekalainen also traded a 2017 first round pick (Vegas flipped that pick to Winnipeg, who selected W Kristian Vesalainen) and a 2019 second round pick to General Manager George McPhee to ensure Karlsson was the Jacket selected to relocate to Sin City.
There’s no telling if McPhee and Head Coach Gerard Gallant always had their eye on Karlsson or if they considered him at Kekalainen’s request, but considering how everything has gone their way this season, I wouldn’t doubt it. I’m sure they saw Wild Bill’s coming out party in April and dreamed of playing him on their top line with much success.
Of course, even with his playoff performance, who could have expected this explosion? Karlsson has played in every game this season for the Golden Knights, posting 35-24-59 totals in 65 showings. His 35 goals are (t)fourth-most in the league, and he’s only five short of Richard Trophy-leader W Alex Ovechkin. Additionally, his +39 goal differential on the season is far and away the best in the NHL, as he has a +5 advantage on linemate W Reilly Smith.
Karlsson is slated to become a restricted free agent this summer, but I have an inkling he’ll be a Golden Knight for the considerable future considering Vegas has almost $28.5 million in cap space next season.
Even though they’re still leading the Pacific Division by 10 points, the 42-18-5 Golden Knights don’t necessarily come to Columbus in top form. A win against the Devils Sunday snapped a three-game losing skid that saw Vegas earn only one point.
Vegas’ biggest struggle right now seems to be on the defensive end. Since February 26, the Knights have allowed 36.75 shots against per game, the fourth-most of any team in the league in that time. That mark is well off the 30.6 shots the Golden Knights have allowed per game all season, which is sixth-best in the NHL.
However, unlike a couple teams in the Metropolitan Division, Vegas’ defense isn’t poor due to a lack of effort. D Brayden McNabb in particular has been leaving everything on the ice lately, as his five hits-per-game and 2.5 blocks per game over the past week are both the best marks on the team in that time.
Of course, additional shots have made life a bit more difficult for 22-8-3 G Marc-Andre Fleury. Though he’s managed a decent enough .914 save percentage in his last three starts, the added shots mean that he’s posted a rather unattractive 3.31 GAA. For the season, Fleury has now earned a .928 save percentage and 2.24 GAA.
Tonight’s tilt will be 33-28-5 Columbus’ first since getting back from a three-game Californian road trip that saw the Jackets earn only two points (a 4-2 win in San Jose).
While away from home, the Jackets’ usually solid defense failed them miserably. With 28-21-5 G Sergei Bobrovsky accustomed to facing only 31.3 shots per game (the [t]eighth-best mark in the league), Columbus’ defense has allowed 34.67 in its past three games – the ninth-worst mark in the NHL since March 1.
Just like McNabb has been doing all he can to keep the Knights’ defense together, D Jack Johnson has been doing the same for the Ohioans. Johnson’s 2.7 hits per game and two blocks per game since March 1 are both tied for the team leads (F Brandon Dubinsky and D Ian Cole, respectively) as he is making his presence known all over the ice.
If you’ve reached this paragraph expecting talk about Bobrovsky, you have another think coming as the Russian will be unavailable tonight due to illness. Instead, that forces 5-7-0 G Joonas Korpisalo into the spotlight with his .899 season save percentage and corresponding 3.3 GAA, as he’ll be tonight’s starter. Korpisalo’s last showing was in Los Angeles on March 1, where he saved 29-of-34 shots faced (.853 save percentage) for five goals against.
When the Blue Jackets made their inaugural trip to Vegas on January 23, they joined the long list of teams that have suffered at the hands of the Golden Knights. With a two-goal night from none other than Karlsson, Vegas dominated Columbus to a 6-3 victory.
As for which of these teams needs the points in the standings more, the answer has to be Columbus. Currently occupying the Eastern Conference’s second wild card, the Jackets are in a dog fight with at least three other teams for two playoff spots, meaning every point is important. In fact, if Columbus does not win tonight, it runs the risk of dropping behind the Panthers if they can best the Lightning.
Playoff qualification is all but assured for the Golden Knights at this point, and the same might be able to be said for a Pacific Division banner soon enough. However, they’ve fallen behind the Predators for the conference’s top seed, meaning a potential Game 7 in the Western Finals is currently slated to be played at Bridgestone Arena. Trailing by four points with the same number of games played, this will be a very tight race to keep an eye on.
With two defenses struggling, there’s a big chance this game can turn into a barn burner. If that proves to be the case, there’s no doubt the Golden Knights will earn the victory, as their offense easily outclasses that of the Blue Jackets and should definitely be able to take care of Korpisalo.
The Calgary Flames had an answer for almost everything the Pittsburgh Penguins could throw at them, but it was the hosts that won 4-3 in overtime in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at PPG Paints Arena.
Only 3:05 into the first period, the Penguins had already earned a two-goal advantage. D Chad Ruhwedel (RW Phil Kessel) provided Pittsburgh’s first tally at the 2:10 mark, followed only 55 seconds later by an unassisted wrist shot by F Evgeni Malkin. However, Calgary wasn’t going to let this game get away that easily, as D Mark Giordano (Third Star of the Game W Troy Brouwer and C Matt Stajan) buried a wrister at the 6:14 mark, followed by a C Mikael Backlund (F Michael Frolik and D Travis Hamonic) backhanded shot to level the game at 2-2 – the score that would hold into the first intermission.
The second period would also end with a tied score, but not without a flurry of goals in the final three minutes. Second Star D Kris Letang (Malkin and LW Carl Hagelin) returned a one-goal advantage to Pittsburgh with 2:59 remaining in the frame, but Brouwer (D T.J. Brodie and LW Johnny Gaudreau) buried a wrister with only three seconds remaining before the break to pull the Flames back even at three goals apiece.
With no goals being struck in the third period, that set up a five minute three-on-three overtime period, but First Star D Justin Schultz (Kessel and Malkin) needed only 2:36 of that to provide the Pens’ game-winner.
By removing four players from action, there’s a lot of free space on the ice to execute some deadly passes. That’s exactly what happened in this situation, as Kessel drove towards G Jon Gillies‘ net from the right face-off circle to draw the netminder’s attention – as well as that of Backlund and Frolik. That left Schultz with exactly zero people paying attention to him, leaving the defenseman with more than enough time to bury his snap shot into the gaping cage.
G Tristan Jarry earned the victory after saving 35-of-38 shots faced (.921 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Gillies, who saved 28-of-32 (.875).
Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have been unstoppable this week, as they’re currently riding a six-game winning streak. With that success, the 80-47-19 hosts have earned a 29-point advantage over the series’ roadies.
Settle in and watch all 14 of today’s games. You owe it to yourself.
As I write, the Czech Republic and Canada are playing for the bronze medal at the Olympics. That game started at 7:10 a.m. Eastern time.
Back in North America, the NHL has scheduled a dozen tilts this fine Saturday, starting with Philadelphia at Ottawa (NHLN/TVAS) at 2 p.m. At 4 p.m., Colorado at Calgary is the next matinee scheduled, followed by the New York Islanders at New Jersey to clean up the day slate. The usual starting time of 7 p.m. brings seven puck drops (Winnipeg at Dallas [SN1/SN360], Boston at Toronto [SN], Tampa Bay at Montréal [CITY/TVAS], Carolina at Detroit, Pittsburgh at Florida, Buffalo at Washington and Chicago at Columbus [NHLN]), followed by Anaheim at Arizona an hour later. Finally, tonight’s nightcap – Edmonton at Los Angeles (CITY/SN/SN360) – is slated for 10 p.m. All times Eastern.
Last but not least, Olympic gold is up for grabs between the OAR and Germany at 11:10 Eastern time at Gangneung Hockey Centre.
Of quite a list of games, there’s more than a few that are worthy of our attention.
- Czech Republic vs. Canada: For a Canadian team without its NHL players, bronze has to be considered a success.
- New York at New Jersey: Patrik Elias was an excellent Devil for 20 years. Tonight, his 26 sweater will be lifted to the Prudential Center rafters alongside Martin Brodeur‘s 30, Ken Daneyko‘s 3, Scott Niedermayer‘s 27 and Scott Stevens‘ 4.
- Boston at Toronto: Original Six action between teams separated by only one point in the standings? Sign me up.
- Chicago at Columbus: Brandon Saad makes his return to Nationwide Arena tonight after being traded back to the Windy City this offseason.
- Edmonton at Los Angeles: Old rivalries die hard, right?
- OAR vs. Germany: It’s the favorites against what could be one of the best Cinderella stories of all time. Who wins the medal they want tonight?
Almost all of the games listed above have the potential to be excellent, but there’s obviously only one clear choice for today’s featured matchup.
I said something similar in my OAR vs. the Czech Republic semifinal preview, but it bears repeating: no team has been as impressive at the 4-0-0-1 Olympics than the Olympic Athletes from Russia.
Of course, what should we expect from a team consisting of players from three of the best teams in the world’s second-best league?
Красная Машина – The Red Machine – so dominant is its imposing offense. The OAR are managing a ridiculous 4.6 goals per game through their first five games, well above Finland’s second-best effort of 3.2 goals per game.
While almost every skater on the OAR’s roster is capable of finding the scorecard, four in particular have stood out above the rest. F Nikita Gusev leads the way with 2-6-8 totals in five showings, followed by F Ilya Kovalchuk (5-2-7), F Pavel Datsyuk (0-5-5) and F Kirill Kaprizov (4-1-5). All four players are distributed through the Machine’s top two lines.
Of course, one of the bonuses of having such an impressive attack is that it limits the opponent’s opportunities. In addition to averaging the most goals, the OAR are also limiting opponents shots on goal to only 21.6 – the second-fewest of any team in South Korea.
Not that he needs all that much help, that keeps the workload off G Vasili Koshechkin. Having allowed only five goals all tournament, he’s posted an impressive .951 save percentage and 1.08 GAA.
While almost everyone had predicted the OAR to qualify for tonight’s gold medal game, no one expected the 1-3-0-2 Germans to advance this far. Germany has never won either a silver or gold at the Olympics, meaning this will easily be its best performance at the tournament regardless of this game unfolds.
Unfortunately for Träger der Adler – The Eagle Carriers – the odds are not stacked in their favor. Not only is the OAR going to be the most imposing team Germany has faced, but the Germans’ stats simply don’t stack up in comparison.
Let’s start on offense, where Germany’s 2.33 goals per game is sixth-worst of any team in the tournament. No German skater has been more impressive than F Patrick Hager, who’s 3-3-6 totals through six games are easily the best marks of any player on the team.
Meanwhile, considering the Eagle Carriers have allowed a fifth-worst 26.83 shots on goal per game, the defensive end has totally relied on the efforts of G Danny aus den Birken.
If an MVP award is distributed at the Olympics, aus den Birken is certainly the most deserving German considering his .904 save percentage and 2.54 GAA. Though those numbers pale in comparison to Koshechkin’s marks, he’s been able to provide the biggest, most important saves for Germany to keep it alive in this tournament.
Germany’s unprecedented run to the top of this Olympic tournament has been fun to watch, and I’m certainly pulling for the Eagle Carriers in tonight’s game. However, I don’t see them pulling off the massive upset against the OAR.
Midnight has yet to strike in PyeongChang, as Germany – the Olympics’ Cinderella story – advanced to the gold medal game by beating Canada 4-3 at Gangneung Hockey Centre in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
Though hockey is a game divided into thirds, this semifinal was a tale of two halves. Germany dominated the first half, as they had a 3-0 advantage through the first 28 minutes.
Only one goal was struck in the first period, and it was a result of some very undisciplined play by the Canadians. With 6:41 remaining in the frame, F Linden Vey earned himself a seat in the penalty box for high sticking, and that infraction was compounded by the Canadian bench also being assessed a delay of game penalty (served by F Rene Bourque). As a result, Germany earned itself a 50-second five-on-three power play once F Felix Schutz was released from the penalty box (boarding). F Brooks Macek (F Dominik Kahun) needed only 14 seconds of that advantage to beat G Kevin Poulin, setting the score at 1-0.
Where Germany really turned on the jets was in the second period, as they posted an imposing three goals in the frame. First up was F Matthias Plachta (F Patrick Hager), scoring only 3:21 into the period to give the Germans a two-goal advantage. That tally was followed only 3:28 later by F Frank Mauer (F Marcel Goc and F David Wolf), setting the score at 3-0. Canada finally got on the scoreboard at the 8:17 mark of the period courtesy of a F Gilbert Brule (D Chris Lee and D Maxim Noreau) power play goal, but the Germans answered right back only 4:14 later when Hager (Plachta and Schutz) registered a power play goal of his own.
Though Hager’s goal was the last of the second period, there was one final major event in the frame. Only 28 seconds after Hager set the score at 4-1, Brule was ejected from the game for checking to the head and neck area.
There’s a difference between winning a period and dominating a period. Germany won the first two periods, but – even with three goals – I wouldn’t say it dominated either frame.
On the other hand, Canada absolutely dominated the third period. Not only did they fire 15 shots on goal – the most of either team in any period – but the Canadians also limited Germany to only one shot against Poulin.
With that in mind, perhaps its no surprise Team Canada fought its way back into this game, starting with M Robinson’s (C Thomas and M Raymond) tally 2:42 into the frame. The next scoring opportunity of the frame belonged to Germany, as Kahun was tripped by C Goloubef while attempting a shot 39 seconds after the horn stopped blaring for Robinson. Fortunately for Canada, Poulin stood tall to keep the score at 4-2, meaning F Derek Roy‘s (Lee and Noreau) power play goal at the 9:42 mark of the game pulled it back within a goal.
But the remaining 10:18 belonged to G Danny aus den Birken. No matter how many shots the Canadians fired, he would not yield the game-tying goal to earn the victory for Germany.
Aus den Birken earned the victory after saving 28-of-31 shots faced (.903 save percentage), leaving the loss to Poulin, who saved 11-of-15 (.733).
With that victory, Germany has already clinched its best finish at any Olympic tournament, as the Eagle Carriers are ensured at least silver by qualifying for the gold medal game. As stated above, they play for the Olympic title tonight at 11:10 p.m. Eastern time against the Olympic Athletes from Russia.
Additionally, the 73-46-17 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have recaptured a 21-point advantage over the road teams.
1. Nashville Predators– 34-12-9 (77 points, 55 GP)
The Nashville Predators are amazing. They’re pulling off their spectacular season on the heels of last year’s Stanley Cup Final run with almost $3.000 million in salary tied up in buyouts.
They don’t need to add, but general manager David Poile still might work a little magic by adding without subtracting if he can. Mike Fisher, 37, is trying to come back from retirement because he believes Nashville’s time is now. Only time will tell if he can go from his current PTO to a one-year deal that just might get him his first taste from the Stanley Cup.
If Poile wants to add anything, he’s going to have to do so with about $3.200 million in cap space currently.
Potential assets to trade: Honestly, don’t.
2. Winnipeg Jets– 33-15-9 (75 points, 57 GP)
Injuries are beginning to mount for the Winnipeg Jets and it’ll be interesting to see what the GM Kevin Cheveldayoff does by February 26th considering his team’s current backup goaltender is 22-year-old, Eric Comrie. Their starter is 24-year-old, Connor Hellebuyck, who’s emerged as clear-cut starting goaltender this season (aside from his All-Star appearance back in January).
Winnipeg has about $5.400 million in cap space to play with as of this writing.
They are what should be a destination for rental players looking to take a team that’s on the verge of breaking out in the postseason deeper than they could ever imagine.
And the Jets have just enough to offer other teams to bring in the right pieces to the puzzle.
Potential assets to acquire: F Boone Jenner (CBJ), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Nick Holden (NYR), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Josh Leivo (TOR), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), F David Perron (VGK)
3. St. Louis Blues– 34-21-4 (72 points, 59 GP)
There’s almost $125,000 in cap space for the St. Louis Blues right now. While it’d be great for the Blues to add one or two of their missing pieces that’d send them right over the edge of victory (once-and-for-all), the better time to readjust appears to be this summer.
Besides, Joel Edmundson, Robby Fabbri and Carter Hutton will all need new contracts. Not that they’re going to cost St. Louis tens of millions of dollars, but it’ll likely mean that someone will have to get traded either at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft or later this summer.
Jay Bouwmeester is 34-years-old and has a $5.400 million cap hit through next season. He also has a no-trade-clause that could make things difficult for the foreseeable future, given that when the Blues are on their “A” game they can really make a claim for Cup contender status this season.
It’d be unwise to part with Bouwmeester now, but it only makes sense to do it later.
Just don’t get behind the eight ball is the best advice for St. Louis looking past the end of this month. Otherwise, salary cap hell isn’t all that fun.
Potential assets to trade: D Jay Bouwmeester
4. Dallas Stars– 33-20-4 (70 points, 57 GP)
The Dallas Stars currently cling to the first wild card spot in the Western Conference, though they trail the St. Louis Blues by two points for 3rd in the Central Division in what’s shaping up to be the tighter points battle in the West compared to the lackluster Pacific Division.
Yes, I’m fully aware Los Angeles did something to their defense Tuesday night, why do you ask?
The Central is all about racking up points while the Pacific bangs bodies off of each other in hopes of amounting to something more than your standard pylon.
So where do the Stars fit into the playoff picture? They should be in the running for at least a wild card spot coming down the stretch– and with almost $889,000 in cap space right now it’s going to be hard to add what they really need to push them over the hill.
While other teams in the league are searching for the right rental forward, the Stars should be looking for the right rental defenseman. Whether that’s a Mike Green or a Cody Franson, well, only Stars GM Jim Nill will know, based on what he must give up.
5. Minnesota Wild– 31-19-6 (68 points, 56 GP)
There’s good news and bad news for the Minnesota Wild as the trade deadline nears. The good news is that the Chicago Blackhawks are more than likely taking a pass on this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. The bad news is the Wild might do that too (oh, and Minnesota only has about $129,000 in cap room– with Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba as pending-RFAs this July).
For all of the talk regarding trading Jonas Brodin, there sure hasn’t been any radio chatter this time around as the deadline nears this month.
Though the Wild hold on to the second wild card spot in the Western Conference, there’s at least two California based teams (Los Angeles and Anaheim) that should be in the playoff picture coming down the wire.
If it’s make or break, then Minnesota has all the time in the world to wait and see what’s to come this summer.
But if they’re on the fence about determining whether to buy or sell, well, they could do a bit of both. If they’re looking for a quick retool, it’s within their means, but if they’re content with sinking before they swim, there’s always the reset (rebuild) button.
Potential assets to acquire: D Cody Franson (CHI), F Jordan Kyrou (STL), D Ben Hutton (VAN)
6. Colorado Avalanche– 31-21-4 (66 points, 56 GP)
In theory, the Colorado Avalanche could be buyers at this year’s trade deadline.
They’re in great shape cap-wise, with about $8.400 million to spend currently, but Avalanche general manager, Joe Sakic, knows it by now– the best thing to do for Colorado is let their youth gain experience, make minor moves until the offseason, then address specific needs.
Colorado has expendable components, but cannot touch its core.
With Matt Duchene out of the picture, the focus has turned to making the Avs– in every way– Nathan MacKinnon‘s team. Gabriel Landeskog‘s just along for the ride at this point. If he’s patient, many rewards may find their way to the Mile-High City. If he’s sick of waiting, Sakic might be forced to reap another surplus of players, picks and prospects like he did in the three-way Duchene deal.
After Francois Beauchemin‘s $4.500 million buyout penalty comes off the books at season’s end, the Avalanche will have at least $13 million to spend on giving backup-turned-potential-starting goaltender, Jonathan Bernier, a fair raise while also making decisions on several pending-RFAs.
Potential assets to acquire: Literally anyone, F Jeff Skinner (CAR), F Boone Jenner (CBJ), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), G Petr Mrazek (DET), F Gustav Nyqvist (DET), F Tomas Plekanec (MTL), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Rick Nash (NYR), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Josh Leivo (TOR), F Nikita Soshnikov (TOR), D Ben Hutton (VAN), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK), F Nic Petan (WPG)
7. Chicago Blackhawks– 24-25-8 (56 points, 57 GP)
Reward contracts have killed the Chicago Blackhawks dynasty. This is what drives parity in a salary cap league (see “Detroit Red Wings downfall since 1998, thanks to 2004-05”), so once again, welcome to the Salary Cap Era.
Depending on your methods of calculation, the Blackhawks will either have $0 to spend at the deadline or maybe up to about $3.100 million in wiggle room.
Regardless, they’re not buying this year. They’re buying for the future– so draft picks and prospects. One thing that might get in their way (other than the salary cap) is what they have to offer.
Large reward contracts were handed out to Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews while Duncan Keith took a discount. Marian Hossa is on the books at a cap hit of $5.275 million through the end of the 2020-21 season, whether he plays or not.
If Hossa never plays again, Chicago can always place him on the long-term injured reserve (eh, just paperwork), buyout his contract (yikes) or trade him to a team like the Arizona Coyotes (preferable) who took on the large salary of Pavel Datsyuk in his final NHL-contract year just to meet the cap floor, knowing he had jettisoned for the KHL.
The bottom line is Chicago’s cash-strapped. Someone important is going to have to be dealt in order to protect the organization’s future endeavors.
With Toews and Kane at a combined $21.000 million cap hit through the 2022-23 season, unless the cap rises significantly, this just might keep the Blackhawks down in the dumps for a while.
Potential assets to acquire: Draft picks, prospects and cap room
Peter’s vacation continues, so you are stuck with me once more for the recap of last week’s NHL action.
Player of the Week: Artemi Panarin
You didn’t really think I’d get through two straight columns without talking about the Blue Jackets, did you? The Breadman had been having a solid if unspectacular year as the calendar turned to December. Despite his talent (or because of it), it had taken some time for the Jackets to find line mates that paired well with the Russian winger. The initial thought was to put him with Alexander Wennberg and Cam Atkinson. On paper, that line made all of the sense in the world—two high scoring wingers paired with a player who showed his acumen for setting the table last season. On the ice was a different story. While Atkinson and Panarin clicked at points, Wennberg was too conservative, often playing in no man’s land beyond the offensive zone face-off circles.
This lead to weeks of John Tortorella running the blender to try and find lines that worked. In the meantime, Wennberg’s injury also forced Tortorella to get more creative at center, a position the Jackets had been looking to upgrade during the offseason. Enter rookie, Pierre-Luc Dubois. While the Jackets wanted Dubois to be their center of the future, the team had been hesitant to play him at the position, preferring to try and ease him in. But Torts took the advice of Dubois’ father who had found that when he was struggling with his game, he actually improved when forced into the rigors of playing center. After a bit of a cold spell for Dubois, Tortorella decided to give it a try and Dubois slowly moved his way up the lineup, taking advantage of the opportunity presented by Wennberg’s absence, and finding himself on the top line with Panarin and Josh Anderson. If the Jackets make noise in the postseason, the decision to unite the three unlikely line mates may be looked back as the moment that set the table for their success.
So, in recent weeks, the line which has affectionately become known as PB&J (Pierre, Breadman and Josh) has started to click, but Panarin had yet to really have a performance where he went off. That changed on Friday night in New Jersey. After a poor performance in Columbus on Tuesday against the Devils (notwithstanding excellent possession performances from the PB&J line), the Jackets’ backs were to the wall. They really needed the win against their divisional opponent given how tight the race is in the Metropolitan. The game didn’t start well for the Jackets with the team entering intermission down 2-0 and likely facing an unhappy LukasTortorella in the locker room. But the tide would turn in the second period largely due to the efforts of Panarin.
Panarin caused a turnover which found its way to Dubois’ stick for his first assist of the night. Another turnover created by Panarin lead to a goal by Lukas Sedlak in the middle of a line change to even up the score. Panarin’s third assist of the night may have been the most impressive. As four Devils watched Panarin, he saw the trailer, Scott Harrington, and made a perfect cross ice pass to get Harrington the goal. After the Devils tied it before the second period ended, the Jackets got a rare power play goal when Panarin made a backhanded pass to Wennberg who, in a rarer aggressive play, went to the net and buried the puck. Panarin would add a fifth first assist of the night when he found an open Zach Werenski for the fifth and final goal of the night. And that summary of the game doesn’t even fully encapsulate how well Panarin played. He was consistently finding his way through traffic and the puck seemed to be magnetically attracted to the tape on his stick blade.
While Saturday’s game was not nearly as exciting, Panarin still managed a Corsi For percentage of 58%. The Jackets would strike early as Panarin found Anderson behind the net and he would bury it top shelf. When you have Sergei Bobrovsky in net, sometimes one goal is enough, and it would prove to be the case. Panarin now has 6 straight primary assists for Columbus, but when you look back at Panarin’s performance this week, the thing that stands out that is underrated about him and is the big difference from Brandon Saad, is his play away from the puck. His work in creating two turnovers that set up those first two goals against New Jersey during a crucial time in the game on Friday prevented the game from getting out of control and righted the ship for a team that had a couple poor performances against divisional opponents before that game.
Game of the Week: Winnipeg Jets 3 at Tampa Bay Lightning 4 (OT), December 9, 2017.
We’ve covered this game extensively this week, and with good reason. One of the top teams in the Western, versus one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. A classic matchup between the immovable object and the unstoppable force. Even with the Jets coming off of two losses entering the game, you knew they would play up for this one. Yes, I’m talking about Winnipeg for the second time in my two weeks doing this column and no it isn’t because there is a social media account that retweets anything you tweet featuring the word Winnipeg, positive or negative (yes, that really was a thing).
The game got off to a quick start as you’d expect from two offensive powerhouses. Adam Lowry showed some great patience with two Lightning players defending him to find Andrew Copp in the slot for the first goal of the game. The Lightning continued their streak of nine straight games with a power play goal (that’s possible, eh?) when Brayden Point made a beautiful feed to give Yanni Gourde a goal that Connor Hellebuyck had no hope to stop.
A Cedric Paquette goal was overturned for goaltender interference by Chris Kunitz, so the score would stay 1-1, but Mikhail Sergachev would finally put the Lightning ahead with a beautiful shot after losing his defender with a quick change of directions. The Jets would not go away though. Former Youngstown Phantom, Kyle Connor, would redirect a rising shot from Josh Morrissey to even the game at 2 and that is how the second period would end.
Winnipeg retook the lead near the midway point of the third period when Nikolaj Ehlers somehow found Andrei Vasilevskiy’s five hole before the goaltender could even react to the shot. After Vasilevskiy would stop another attempt by Ehlers, Nikita Kucherov’s shot through traffic somehow found the net and the score was again tied at three. Note—the sequence I just described happened in all of about 2 minutes of game time. Both teams then settled down and got the game to overtime to salt away a point for their troubles.
Overtime wouldn’t last long though as Point would elude Bryan Little and get his backhand over Hellebuyck.
The Lightning continue to be in a class by themselves in the early part of the season, but the Jets gave it their all.
News, Notes, & Nonsense:
A busy week in NHL and other hockey news. On Tuesday the news came down that Russia would be banned from the Winter Olympics as punishment for their concerted efforts to violate anti-doping rules during the Sochi games in 2014. Clean Russian athletes will still be permitted to play at the games, but not under the Russian flag. If they are looking for a team name, I suggest “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Russia, Steroid Free!” There was concern that the KHL might prevent its players from playing in the Olympics, which would have thrown a monkey wrench in Team Canada’s plans for the games. However, cooler heads prevailed as the KHL probably realized there was value to having its athletes compete on the world’s highest international stage…unlike the NHL.
Backing up slightly, last Monday the City of Seattle approved the memorandum of understanding with the Oak View Group to remodel the ancient KeyArena at a cost of around $600 million (most of it comes from private funds) so that it could be suitable to host one or more professional sports franchises. This will likely be the death knell for a competing project which would have seen a new arena built closer where the existing stadiums are, in SoDo. The NHL owners, who conveniently had a Board of Governor’s meeting, couldn’t wait to let Seattle know that they would be willing to take their money consider their application for expansion. Fee for expansion? $650 million, exceeding the $500 million that Vegas just paid. I think Seattle is a great market for hockey in an underserved part of the country, but I also think the economics of a team with startup costs of over one billion dollars are a bit shaky. For comparison, the Blue Jackets paid a franchise fee of $80 million and built an arena at a cost of $175 million…and still eventually needed a bailout from local government. From the league’s side, it is understandable why they prefer Seattle to, say, Quebec City, because of the geographic balance adding the market will create.
Finally, let’s take a moment to remember 11 years ago when Anson Carter and his Columbus Blue Jackets teammates released a Christmas album. Amazingly I see no trace of this masterpiece on YouTube, so, if you are looking for a Christmas gift for me, there you go.
Welcome to another Saturday in the NHL. With everybody else watching the college football conference championships, that leaves more hockey for you and me.
Oh, that’s not how television works?
While I get that figured out, the first Saturday of December brings with it a big bag of presents from the NHL, as there’s a dozen games on today’s schedule. The action starts at 1 p.m. with Boston at Philadelphia (SN), followed by the only other matinee of the day: St. Louis at Minnesota at 6 p.m. The usual 7 p.m. starting time is chock-full of action with six games (Toronto at Vancouver [CBC/CITY], Detroit at Montréal [SN/TVAS], San Jose at Tampa Bay, Buffalo at Pittsburgh [NHLN], Columbus at Washington and Florida at Carolina) slated to drop the puck, with two more (New Jersey at Arizona and Anaheim at Nashville) in tow an hour later. 9 p.m. marks the start of Chicago at Dallas, while tonight’s nightcap – Edmonton at Calgary – will get underway 60 minutes after. All times Eastern.
What a collection of games! All but two matchups are between teams separated by eight points or less in the standings. As for our Game of the Day, I had a few picked out at the start of season…
- Boston at Philadelphia: Ever since the Flyers beat the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals to become the first expansion team to win a title, these clubs have not gotten along.
- St. Louis at Minnesota: Speaking of playoff rematches, this one was far more recent – as in, last year’s Western Conference Quarterfinals, recent.
- Detroit at Montréal: To keep the Stanley Cup theme going, no clubs have hoisted the trophy more than these two Original Six teams.
- Anaheim at Nashville: The Ducks and Predators squared off in a gritty, nasty seven-game series for the right to represent the Western Conference in last year’s Stanley Cup Finals.
- Chicago at Dallas: F Patrick Sharp‘s two tenures with the Blackhawks was divided by two seasons spent with the Stars. Tonight marks his first trip back to Texas since moving back to the Windy City.
- Edmonton at Calgary: In this rivalry, the teams don’t only represent only themselves, but also a stark feud between two Albertan cities.
Let me say it again for everybody in the back: What. A slate. Of games.
This is a tough pick today, because I don’t like featuring the same teams all the time (*cough* take a hint NBC and NHL *cough*). That being said, the contest that attracts my attention the most is taking place in the Lone Star State.
For those concerned, I’m not drawn to this game simply because of the Sharp story, though I suppose it is one worth noting.
After being a third-round pick by Philadelphia in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, Sharp was traded to the Blackhawks during the 2005-’06. He would proceed to play 10 seasons in Chicago, scoring 511 points – including 239 goals – over 679 games en route to three Stanley Cup championships.
As seems to be the case following many championship seasons nowadays, Chicago faced some serious salary cap issues after the 2014-’15 season, which led to Sharp and D Stephen Johns getting shipped to Dallas in exchange for D Trevor Daley and C Ryan Garbutt.
Sharp spent the last two seasons with the Stars, but they only really got one good season out of him. During the 2015-’16 campaign, the forward provided 20-35-55 totals to help get Dallas back to the playoffs for only the second time since the 2007-’08 season when the Stars were Western Conference finalists.
Unfortunately, Sharp’s second season with the club was nowhere near as good as his first. Limited to a measly 48 games, he provided Dallas only 18 points and a -22 rating as the Stars failed to earn a postseason berth. Though I’m not going to argue that Sharp is the reason the Stars struggled last year (*cough* G Kari Lehtonen and G Antti Niemi *cough*), he was not renewed for this season, allowing him to return to his beloved Blackhawks on a one-year contract.
So far, Sharp has been rather uninspiring from Chicago’s third line, as he’s managed only 3-4-7 totals playing alongside young studs F Alex DeBrincat (11-8-19) and F Ryan Hartman (4-9-13). Considering he’ll turn 36-years-old before you hang up your 2018 calendar, his recent bodies of work might force him to consider the dreaded “R” word once this campaign is through.
In the meantime, he’ll try to help his 12-9-4 Hawks get back into the Western Conference playoff picture.
Figuring out why Chicago is on the outside looking in is a difficult task. After all, they back up a ninth-ranked offense (3.16 goals-per-game) with an even better defense (2.68 goals against-per-game) that’s ranked fifth-best in the NHL.
One of my biggest complaints with the Blackhawks is their incredibly unsuccessful power play. Converting only 17.1 percent of their man-advantage opportunities, the Hawks are tied with San Jose for the eighth-worst extra-man attack in the NHL.
This struggle has led Head Coach Joel Quenneville to try some crazy units to resolve his club’s problem. As of Friday’s practice, DeBrincat, D Gustav Forsling, D Duncan Keith, RW Richard Panik and C Jonathan Toews made up Chicago’s top power play team, with F Artem Anisimov, D Cody Franson, F Patrick Kane, W Brandon Saad and F Nick Schmaltz taking second-team duties.
Let’s see, what’s weird about Chicago’s first unit? Oh, maybe that there’s a rookie earning solid power play minutes alongside two defensemen… or maybe that Kane isn’t on the unit…
Like I said, crazy things.
One thing I really like about putting Anisimov, Kane and Schmaltz on the same unit is that it puts Kane in what I’m considering the “joker” position. Take into account that all seven of Anisimov’s power play points are goals (the most on the team), while all five of Schmaltz’ are assists – that makes them a logical pair.
Meanwhile, Showtime has earned a team-leading nine points this season with the man-advantage, but only two of them have been goals. Of course, with 295 career regular season goals to his name, Kane is far from a “pass first” player. Putting Kane with Anisimov and Schmaltz, he’s able to take on the role of goal-scorer or join Schmaltz as another play-maker.
If I’m an opposing goaltender, in this case G Ben Bishop, that versatility is a very scary threat.
Meanwhile, things seem like they’re going 14-10-1 Dallas’ way. They’re currently riding a three-game winning streak, including a 4-3 overtime victory over these Blackhawks Thursday night (more on that later).
We came into the season celebrating what the Stars’ offense could be capable of with LW Jamie Benn, RW Alexander Radulov and F Tyler Seguin combining to form an ultimate super-line. Instead, the story of late has been Dallas’ defense, which has allowed only seven goals since November 24, the (t)second-fewest in that time span.
12-7-0 Bishop has been solid over this run – he’s managed a .925 save percentage in these last three games – but I’ve been much more impressed with the defensive corps playing in front of him.
Behind the unexpected leadership of D Greg Pateryn – who’s thrown eight hits and blocked seven shots during this run – from the second defensive pair, Dallas’ D- corps has allowed only 94 shots to reach Bishop in the past week, the third-fewest in the NHL.
What makes this game especially fun – you know, beyond the Blackhawks trying to get past Dallas for fourth place in the Central Division – is that it’s a rematch of Thursday’s matchup. In that game, F Mattias Janmark scored two goals – including the game-winner – to earn the Stars a 4-3 overtime victory against the Hawks at the United Center. Something tells me Chicago would like to return the favor of sending the home fans at the American Airlines Center away unhappy.
That being said, I’m leaning towards the Stars taking this contest with their excellent defense.
The Los Angeles Kings showed no mercy in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they beat the St. Louis Blues 4-1 at Scottrade Center.
In fact, the Kings were so on top of their game that they registered their game-winning goal before a full seven minutes had ticked off the clock. First Star of the Game F Tyler Toffoli (C Nick Shore and LW Tanner Pearson) opened the scoring with a wrist shot 1:43 after the opening puck drop, followed 4:29 later by Third Star C Anze Kopitar‘s (F Alex Iafallo and D Jake Muzzin) fourth game-clincher of the year.
The play that led to Kopitar’s goal stretched the entire length of the rink. Muzzin started with the puck in his own defensive zone and fed a quick pass to Kopitar at the red line. Once he established the offensive zone, Kopitar dished to Iafallo along the right boards, who fired a snap shot towards G Carter Hutton. Hutts made the save with his pads, but the rebound bounced right to the Slovenian, who deftly pocketed his wrister in the back of the net.
St. Louis finally got on its shiny new scoreboard with 4:43 remaining in the second period courtesy of a power play deflection from F Patrik Berglund (D Colton Parayko and D Vince Dunn), his first goal of the season. Unfortunately for the Notes, that positive momentum was erased 3:39 later when F Adrian Kempe (D Alec Martinez and D Drew Doughty) set the score at 3-1 going into the second intermission.
Only one goal was struck in the third period, but it was enough to signal defeat to the home fans. Toffoli (Pearson and Muzzin) scored his second goal of the game with a deflection 9:06 before the end of regulation, setting the 4-1 final score.
Second Star G Darcy Kuemper earned the victory after saving 39-of-40 shots faced (.975 save percentage), leaving the loss to Hutton, who saved 18-of-21 (.857) before being pulled in favor of G Jake Allen for the third period. Allen saved six-of-seven (857) for no decision.
Los Angeles’ road victory snaps a six-game winning streak by home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, but the visitors still trail the 33-20-6 hosts by 15 points.
If you’re a hockey fan and don’t look forward to Tuesdays, I don’t know what’s wrong with you. This is one of the busiest and most exciting days of the week!
The final Tuesday of November is no exception, as the NHL as scheduled 10 games to take place today. Like it usually does on a weeknight, the action starts at 7 p.m. with five contests (Tampa Bay at Buffalo, Vancouver at the New York Islanders, Florida at the New York Rangers [TVAS], San Jose at Philadelphia and Carolina at Columbus), trailed half an hour later by Los Angeles at Detroit. Chicago at Nashville (NBCSN) drops the puck at 8 p.m., with two more tilts (Toronto at Calgary and Arizona at Edmonton) in tow an hour after. Finally, tonight’s nightcap finds its start at 10 p.m. when Dallas visits Vegas (SN1). All times Eastern.
Like every busy day, I have already circled a few games on my personal calendar (it’s actually an Excel spreadsheet, if we want to get really technical).
- Chicago at Nashville: This rematch of a Western Quarterfinal has already occurred twice this season, but it’s yielded two stellar games.
- Dallas at Vegas: D Marc Methot was a Vegas Golden Knight for five days this offseason before being traded to Dallas. But what a Knight he was!
Since the Chicago-Nashville series has already yielded two stellar games this season, I see no reason why we shouldn’t expect a third.
Somehow, 14-6-3 Nashville having only a four-point advantage over the 12-8-3 Blackhawks in the Central Division still undersells how competitive the games between these teams have been.
As hinted at before, these clubs are already well into their season series, having already played two of their four games this year. Game 1 at the United Center went the way of Chicago thanks to an overtime goal by W Brandon Saad, but home ice didn’t work in the Blackhawks’ favor 13 days later when the Predators beat them 2-1 on G Pekka Rinne‘s almost-perfect night. Those results mean Nashville has a 1-0-1 advantage against the Hawks so far this year.
Exactly one month has passed since the Predators made their second trip to the Windy City, but not much has changed in either team’s style. Nashville still plays stellar defense backed by Rinne – though the Preds’ offense has climbed to 11th-best in the NHL – while the Hawks continue to rely on the incredible play of G Corey Crawford to find wins.
Let’s jump into that for a minute, starting with tonight’s hosts, who currently occupy third place in the Central Division.
Averaging only 31.3 shots against-per-game to rank 11th-best in the NHL, the Predators play an above average defense that isn’t enough to write home about.
That being said, above-average is all Head Coach Peter Laviolette really needs when he has 13-3-2 Rinne in goal. It seems the Finn has finally bucked the trend of the past five seasons where he alternated yearly between success and misery, as he has followed up last season’s .918 save percentage and 2.42 GAA with superior .926 and 2.31 marks this campaign. Under Rinne’s leadership, the Predators have allowed only 2.78 goals against-per-game to rank ninth-best in the NHL.
Knowing Rinne can effectively dominate the defensive end on his own means the Preds’ blueliners can turn their attention to contributing on the offensive end. As such, defensemen Mattias Ekholm (6-9-15 totals), Roman Josi (5-10-15) and P.K. Subban (4-14-18) have all earned at least 15 points to rank among Nashville’s top-six point-earners. Mix in the incredible F Filip Forsberg (11-13-24 totals), and you have an offense that averages an 11th-best 3.09 goals-per-game.
No discussion about the Preds’ offense is complete without mentioning their special teams, as Nashville is home to the third-best power play in the NHL and best in the Western Conference. Of the players listed above, Forsberg and Subban are the brightest when the Predators have the man-advantage as both have at least nine power play points. The forward deserves special recognition for his seven power play goals, as he’s tied with the likes of C Sean Monahan, F T.J. Oshie and C Steven Stamkos for most in the NHL.
Facing the tall task of taking down a very complete team are the Blackhawks, who could use two points to hold off three teams trying to move into the top wild card position Chicago currently occupies.
When Chicago is at the top of its game, it’s the toughest team to score against in the division, as the Hawks allow only 2.61 goals against-per-game to rank fourth-best in the NHL. A major reason for that success has been the brilliant play of 11-7-1 Crawford, who has managed a .933 save percentage and 2.21 GAA (both second-best among goaltenders with at least 18 starts) behind a defense that allows a fourth-worst 34.1 shots against-per-game.
Unfortunately for Chicago, it seems unlikely that Crawford will see the ice tonight, as he played to 7-2 victory against the Anaheim Ducks last night at the United Center. Instead, the start will probably go to 1-1-2 G Anton Forsberg, who has earned only a .904 save percentage and 3.81 GAA.
I was surprised to see Crawford given last night’s start, considering the injury-riddled Ducks sport an offense vastly inferior to Nashville’s. Forsberg will need to put up a performance similar to his 40-for-42 (.952 save percentage) showing against the Oilers on October 19 to give the Hawks a chance in this game.
Since the odds of that aren’t exactly likely, the onus falls on Chicago’s eighth-ranked offense to find a way to earn a victory.
Usually this is when most would start talking about F Patrick Kane and C Jonathan Toews – and with good reason. Kane has managed 9-16-25 totals to lead the team, followed by Toews’ 6-10-16 effort for third-most points on the team.
However, it would be highly irresponsible to not highlight rookie F Alex DeBrincat. Having yet to celebrate his 20th birthday, DeBrincat has earned the second-most points for the Blackhawks this season with his 10-7-17 totals and is coming off the game of his life. Yesterday against Anaheim, the youngster had a four-point night that included the first hat trick of his career. Whether or not he can duplicate at least half of that effort tonight could determine the result of this contest.
If Vegas (the bettors, not the Golden Knights) is right, the Predators should be in line for a win tonight, as they’re favored at a -160 money line by most bookies. I’m siding with the bookies on this one since I believe Head Coach Joel Quenneville made a mistake in playing Crawford last night against the Ducks. The Predators’ offense should feast on A. Forsberg tonight.
In a game chock-full of momentum swings, the Pittsburgh Penguins emerged from overtime at PPG Paints Arena victorious over the Philadelphia Flyers 5-4 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
All in all, the game started calmly enough with only one goal struck in the first period. First Star of the Game F Jake Guentzel (D Justin Schultz and G Matthew Murray) is the guilty party, as his snap shot with 3:57 remaining before the first intermission gave Pittsburgh the lead.
It was in the second period when all heck broke loose, which played right into the hands of the Flyers. For starters, both D Brian Dumoulin and D Olli Maatta earned seats in the penalty box to allow D Shayne Gostisbehere (F Nolan Patrick and F Claude Giroux) to score a five-on-three power play slap shot 3:40 into the frame. Philadelphia then took the lead with 4:55 remaining in the second period courtesy of a F Travis Konecny (D Brandon Manning and Third Star W Michael Raffl) tip-in.
The next major play took place only 34 seconds after Konecny’s goal, but it won’t show up on the score sheet. RW Jakub Voracek blew an edge and crashed into Murray with, according to Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, his skates directed towards the netminder’s midsection. Whatever the injury was, it forced G Tristan Jarry to enter the game, who proceed to allow C Sean Couturier (D Ivan Provorov and Giroux) to set the score at 3-1 with 32 seconds remaining before the second intermission.
It seems power play goals are the way to steal momentum, because that’s exactly how RW Patric Hornqvist (Guentzel and Second Star C Sidney Crosby) pulled Pittsburgh back within a goal 67 seconds into the third period. The Penguins completed their comeback 39 seconds later courtesy of a W Bryan Rust wrist shot.
Courtesy of an unassisted backhanded shot by Raffl, Philly reclaimed a one-goal lead with 3:41 remaining in regulation to put the pressure on the hosts, but the Pens were up to the task. Guentzel (Schultz and Crosby) leveled the game at four-all with 64 seconds remaining before the final horn to force three-on-three overtime.
The overtime period lasted only 1:48 before Crosby (D Kris Letang and RW Phil Kessel) top-shelfed a redirection to win the game. Following Kessel returning the puck to the point while the Penguins were still on a four-on-three power play, Letang blasted a clapper intentionally wide of the goal to Crosby, who was waiting near the right post, at the same time the door opened to allow Voracek back onto the ice. The captain angled his stick just right to elevate the shot over G Brian Elliott and into the top of the netting.
Jarry earned the victory after saving eight-of-10 shots faced (.8 save percentage) in place of Murray, who saved 20-of-22 (.909) before exiting the game. Elliott, DtFR’s honorary Fourth Star, takes the overtime loss after saving 47-of-52 (.904).
Don’t all look at once, but home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are now riding a three-game winning streak. That elevates the hosts’ record to 30-19-6, which is 11 points better than the visitors’.
We’re halfway through the month of November and only a week away from American Thanksgiving, an important benchmark in the NHL for separating the men from the boys in terms of probable playoff teams. Though it wouldn’t seem it with over four months of play remaining, this is a pivotal week.
Calgary makes its yearly visit to Detroit (SN/TVAS) to get this stretch started at 7:30 p.m., followed half an hour later by the New York Rangers at Chicago (NBCSN). Finally, this evening’s nightcap of Boston at Anaheim (SN360) will drop the puck at 10 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.
All three games should be very competitive, as they are being contested by opponents separated by only two points or less in the league table. That being said, there’s going to be no game more exciting than the one between Original Six clubs taking place in the Windy City.
I apparently really like these Central vs. Metropolitan matchups, because this is the fourth game we’ve featured between these two divisions in the last five days.
9-7-2 New York’s wild ride through the month of November continues since the last time it was featured in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Starting with Halloween night against the Golden Knights, the Rangers have yet to drop a point in any of their past six contests, including tilts against Tampa Bay (you know, the best team in the NHL) and Columbus.
In fact, the Blueshirts have played so well they’ve converted their goal-differential, which was once an ugly -10 on October 23, into a positive number for the first time this season. And with that success, the Rangers find themselves in a tie with their crosstown rivals for eighth-place in the Eastern Conference.
This may seem elementary, but the best way to improve a goal differential – and by default, win – usually involves burying some goals. Offense has been all the rage at Madison Square Garden lately, as the Rangers have scored a league-high 26 goals since October 31, averaging 4.33 per game.
In the league-wide list of top-10 point earners since Halloween, there is only one defenseman listed: Kevin Shattenkirk. Managing 3-5-8 totals in his past six games, the New Rochelle, N.Y. native and first-year Ranger has been a major driver in this surge. Of note, half his points – both for the season and during this run – have come on the power play (an effort the Rangers rank third-best for the season with a 25.8 percent conversion rate), indicating his impact in all situations.
Not to be overshadowed too much, top-line C Mika Zibanejad has also earned eight points over this stretch, but he’s been earning his pay more as a play-maker than a goalscorer, as he’s buried only one goal in this stretch. His favorite player to assist of late has been sophomore W Pavel Buchnevich, who has scored four goals in six games – an effort eclipsed only by fourth-liner W Michael Grabner.
It’s also been a tale of two months for the 8-8-2 Blackhawks, but they’re not exactly as happy with the change as the Blueshirts. Going back to October 24’s 4-2 loss in Vegas, Chicago is an uninspiring 3-6-0. That includes losses to the Avalanche, Canadiens and Flyers, who among them have a combined 24-24-5 record and a -15 goal-differential.
What should be truly concerning for the Blackhawks is their record in meaningful games since April 1 of last season. They went 0-2-2 to finish out the 2016-’17 regular season campaign, followed by an 0-3-1 performance in the playoffs. Add that in with this year’s record and Chicago has gone 8-13-5 in its last 26 competitive matches.
If this is an April Fools’ Day joke, it should go down in the Guinness World Records as the longest and most convoluted, because this Hawks team should be in much better position than 11th in the Western Conference.
After all, the Hawks boast players such as F Patrick Kane (winner of 2016’s Hart, Lindsay and Ross Trophies), D Duncan Keith (a two-time Norris Trophy winner) and C Jonathan Toews (the 2013 Selke Trophy winner), all of whom have thrice hoisted the Stanley Cup.
What’s most frustrating is that the Hawks aren’t really doing anything wrong statistically. Sure, the offense’s 2.94 goals-per-game for the season could technically be better (it’s only [t]13th-best in the league, after all), but allowing a (t)ninth-fewest 2.72 goals against-per-game should be more than enough to keep Chicago competitive.
Of course, season averages have a way of camouflaging recent momentum – or lack thereof. Since October 24, the Blackhawks have scored only 21 goals, tying Detroit for sixth-fewest in that stretch.
Perhaps the most telling point about this squad during this nine-game stretch is that W Alex DeBrincat, a rookie on the third line, is leading the attack with his 5-2-7 totals (6-5-11 for the season), followed close behind by F Artem Anisimov‘s – a player that’s never scored more than 45 points in a season – 5-1-6 effort. Not Kane; not Toews; heck, not even W Brandon Saad.
DeBrincat and Anisimov.
Head Coach Joel Quenneville will never complain about depth scoring. Depth scoring is one of the top things that separates the best teams in this league from pretenders. But you can’t have depth scorers without stars like Kane and Toews doing their jobs as the primary forwards. Until they rediscover their groove, Chicago will continue to struggle.
It’s with that in mind that I’m forced to favor the Rangers in this contest. Though I’m sure G Corey Crawford – who’s having a Vezina-caliber season so far – will prove a solid test against New York’s red-hot offense, I don’t think the Blackhawks’ offense will be able to break through G Henrik Lundqvist and his defense.
A combined seven goals were struck in the second period of yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, but the Nashville Predators weathered the storm to beat the Washington Capitals 6-3 at Bridgestone Arena.
Though the middle act of this three-ring circus was the wildest, the first period still provided some excitement for the home fans when F Craig Smith (First Star of the Game LW Kevin Fiala and D Anthony Bitetto) scored a tip-in with 8:12 remaining before the first intermission. 5:55 later, Third Star C Nick Bonino (D Roman Josi and F Calle Jarnkrok) doubled the Preds’ advantage to 2-0.
It took only 6:28 of play in the second period for the Caps to level the game. Aided by Jarnkrok earning a seat in the penalty box for hooking him 45 seconds earlier, F T.J. Oshie (D John Carlson and F Evgeny Kuznetsov) scored Washington’s first goal of the night at the 4:29 mark with a power play tip-in. 1:59 later, RW Alex Chiasson (W Brett Connolly and Carlson) tied the game at two-all with a slap shot. That tie lasted exactly 17 seconds before F Filip Forsberg buried an unassisted wrist shot to reclaim a lead for Nashville.
Scoring subsided for almost two-and-a-half minutes before Fiala (Second Star D Mattias Ekholm) decided to get things ramped back up with a tip-in that proved to be the game-winner at the 9:04 mark to set the score at 4-2, but his tally was quickly answered by Oshie’s (F Chandler Stephenson and C Nicklas Backstrom) wrister 17 seconds later to pull Washington back within a 4-3 deficit.
Now that we’ve reached the midway point of the frame, let’s take a second and recap: five goals have already been scored in this second period! There’s still 10 more minutes to play! Meanwhile, the last three teams to face Wild G Devan Dubnyk have not been able to score even one goal against him.
Hockey is a fickle game.
Anyways, only two more goals were struck in the period, and they both belonged to the Preds. W Miikka Salomaki (C Colton Sissons and D Matt Irwin) scored his second goal of the season with 5:54 remaining in the frame, and Ekholm (C Kyle Turris and Sissons) finished the period off with a power play clapper two minutes before the second intermission.
It seems both teams used up all their offense in the second period, because not a single goal was struck in the third period. That left G Pekka Rinne with the victory after saving 26-of-29 shots faced (.897 save percentage) and G Braden Holtby, who saved 19-of-25 (.76), with the loss. Holtby was lifted for G Philipp Grubauer at the start of the third period, and he saved all six shots he faced.
Nashville’s victory is the second-straight by the home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series. With their record now improved to 22-16-5, hosts now own a four-point advantage over the roadies.
Thank goodness that work is finally done for the week. Time to sit back and take in the weekend’s hockey!
The weekend starts early in Vegas, as a 3 p.m. local start time against Colorado (TVAS) means a 6 p.m. puck drop on the East Coast. The usual starting time of 7 p.m. brings with it two contests (Ottawa at New Jersey [RDS2] and Winnipeg at Columbus), followed by St. Louis at Carolina half an hour later. Nashville pays a visit to Chicago (NHLN/TVAS) at 8:30 p.m., with tonight’s nightcap – Dallas at Calgary (SN360) – waiting until 9 p.m. to get underway.
All times Eastern unless otherwise noted.
I was going to complain about featuring the second Nashville at Chicago matchup of a season that is not even a month old, but upon remembering how competitive and entertaining their first meeting was, there’s no other choice! To the Windy City we go!
Now, with this being the second time in two weeks that this matchup has been featured, I’m sure I don’t need to rehash how the Predators swept the Hawks in four games by a combined score of 13-3 that included two shutouts. I’m sure I also don’t need to go over how the eighth-seeded Preds went on to win the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl.
Oh, I guess I just did anyways. As a fan of one of Chicago’s rivals, I guess I simply couldn’t help myself.
Whether or not that playoff elimination still motivates the Blackhawks against Nashville (I’d bet the house it does), we have more current data to help us preview and predict this game.
For starters, we know that the Hawks needed overtime to secure a 2-1 victory at the United Center the last time these squads met on October 14. You can read a slightly more in-depth recap here, but the main thing to know is, with the help of LW Scott Hartnell and D P.K. Subban, F Filip Forsberg got Nashville on the board late in the second period before F Patrick Sharp (F John Hayden and D Cody Franson) leveled the game in the closing six minutes of regulation and W Brandon Saad (F Patrick Kane and D Duncan Keith) cleaned things up in overtime.
If only everything in life was as simple as a one-sentence game recap.
That low scoring affair proved to be a sign of things to come, as both teams have scored only a total of nine goals in four games played since departing the United Center that Saturday night, tying them for the fourth-lowest goal production in that time span.
For Chicago, the downturn in scoring has been no fault of Kane’s. Showtime has averaged a point-per-game in those four games, including three goals. The Predators have also had their own offensive standouts in Forsberg and D Roman Josi, as both have 2-3-5 totals since October 15.
Instead, Chicago and Nashville have continued their strong defensive efforts to find wins.
The Predators in particular have been studs at keeping opponents off the scoreboard of late. In the past two weeks, they’ve allowed only seven goals against in four games, an effort that’s overshadowed only by Tampa Bay’s 10 goals against in six games played in the same stretch of time.
It’s no secret how good Smashville’s defense is, but D Alexei Emelin has been playing at another level since his last visit to Chicago. He’s blocked two shots-per-game to lead the team while also averaging 3.3 hits-per-contest. Through his bold leadership while D Ryan Ellis is recovering from an offseason knee surgery, the Predators have allowed only 29.8 shots against-per-game for the entire season, the fourth-best mark in the NHL.
Meanwhile, Chicago’s (t)eighth-best 2.6 goals against-per-game is due to the play of only one man: G Corey Crawford. Never before has Crawford posted a season save percentage over .93 percent, but he’s currently in possession of a .936 save rate that is second only to G Jonathan Quick‘s unbelievable .944. Considering the Blackhawks’ defense allows a 35.6 shots against-per-game that is second-worst in the league, Crawford being at the top of his game may be an integral piece to the success of this team both tonight and for the remainder of the campaign.
Even though the Blackhawks have a decent 3-1-1 record at home this season – including their victory over Nashville – I’m actually leaning towards the Preds taking this game. Thanks to Emelin, Nashville looks like it’s finally clicking without Ellis and will be a tough out for a Chicago team struggling to score.
In yesterday’s preview, I predicted a barn-burner would go the Senators’ way. In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Ottawa Senators beat the Philadelphia Flyers 5-4 at the Canadian Tire Centre.
There’s no better way to start a game than with three unanswered goals in the first period. That’s exactly what Ottawa did, starting with D Dion Phaneuf‘s (C Filip Chlapik and F Chris DiDomenico) power play slap shot only 91 seconds into the game (what D Brandon Manning was doing slashing DiDomenico only 36 seconds into the game, I’ll never know). D Mark Borowiecki (F Mike Hoffman and First Star of the Game C Jean-Gabriel Pageau) scored his first goal of the season 8:19 later to give Ottawa a 2-0 lead, followed by Pageau (Third Star D Erik Karlsson) burying one of his patented shorthanded wrist shots with 6:32 remaining in the frame to further extend the Sens’ advantage.
Whatever Head Coach Dave Hakstol screamed during the intermission certainly worked, because the Flyers were able to respond with two goals of their own in the second period. RW Jakub Voracek (Second Star C Sean Couturier and D Ivan Provorov) finally stashed his first goal of the season with 5:30 remaining in the second period, followed by F Travis Konecny (D Radko Gudas) only 53 seconds later to pull Philly back within a 3-2 deficit. Much to the delight of the home fans, RW Mark Stone (F Ryan Dzingel and Karlsson) was able to bury a backhanded shot with 2:23 remaining in the period to reclaim a two-goal advantage for the Senators going into the second intermission.
With 9:27 remaining in regulation, F Tom Pyatt (C Nate Thompson and Pageau) scored what proved to be a very important goal. Though Pageau earned the hockey assist, this breakaway goal was almost entirely set up by Thompson. After receiving Pageau’s pass at his own blue line, Thompson immediately connected with Pyatt in the neutral zone, who was screaming up the far boards towards G Michal Neuvirth. With no help, D Shayne Gostisbehere was forced to eliminate the passing lane between Pyatt and Thompson, leaving the forward in a one-on-one situation with the netminder. Pyatt didn’t miss on that opportunity, beating Neuvirth with a pinger off the right post
Pyatt’s tally ended up converting from a brace into the game-winner due to the tremendous comeback effort by the Flyers. With 4:42 remaining in regulation, Provorov (Konecny and Couturier) buried a slapper on G Craig Anderson to pull Philadelphia back within a 5-3 deficit. The comeback became even more realistic when Couturier (Gostisbehere and Voracek) scored a deflection to set the score at 5-4 with 106 seconds remaining before the final horn. But, even with Neuvirth pulled for the extra attacker, the Flyers could not find a leveling goal.
Anderson earned the victory after saving 36-of-40 shots faced (.9 save percentage), leaving the loss to Neuvirth, who saved 23-of-28 (.821).
Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day are a win away from the business week streak, as they’ve won the last four games. That elevates their record to 14-6-4, which is a solid 10 points better than the visitors.