Some firsts, 100s, broken fingers and pointing fingers– who should be concerned about their job security behind the bench? Plus Cap’n and Pete are back.
47-29-6, 100 points, 1st in the Central Division
Eliminated in the First Round by Dallas
Additions: F Daniel Carr, F Matt Duchene, D Jeremy Davies (acquired from NJD), D Steven Santini (acquired from NJD), G Connor Ingram (acquired from TBL)
Subtractions: F Phillip Di Giuseppe (signed with NYR), F Tyler Gaudet (signed with TOR), F Adam Helewka (traded to NJD), F Justin Kirkland (signed with CGY), F Cody McLeod (signed with Iowa, AHL), F Zac Rinaldo (signed to a PTO with CGY), F Cole Schneider (signed with Milwaukee, AHL), F Wayne Simmonds (signed with NJD), D Taylor Aronson (DEL), D P.K. Subban (traded to NJD), G Tom McCollum (signed with Hartford, AHL)
Still Unsigned: F Brian Boyle
Re-signed: F Rocco Grimaldi, F Colton Sissons
Offseason Analysis: The longest currently active general manager in the National Hockey League remained active this offseason as the Nashville Predators’ only GM in franchise history, David Poile, was wheeling and dealing.
At this year’s draft, Poile traded veteran defender, P.K. Subban, to the New Jersey Devils for a small package in Steven Santini, Jeremy Davies, a 2019 2nd round pick and a 2020 2nd round pick.
The trade cleared the Preds of Subban’s $9.000 million cap hit and remained in true Poile transaction fashion, whereby the Nashville GM flipped a defender in his prime for more, younger, assets.
With more cap room to work with heading into free agency, Poile set his sights on securing a second line center to help give the Predators stability down the middle.
Matt Duchene fit the bill perfectly for Nashville– both in his seven-year contract worth $56 million ($8.000 million per season) and due to the fact that he’s a big country music fan and was already building a house in the Music City.
In a way, it was Duchene’s dream to play for the Predators (even if that dream of playing hockey for Nashville is second to living year-round in Nashville– it’s a win-win).
Duchene emerged as a prominent player for the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs and the Preds are hoping he’ll do just the same for them in their quest for another Stanley Cup Final run for the first time since their only appearance in the Final in 2017, when they lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games.
On top of identifying and filling a need, Poile also acquired goaltending prospect Connor Ingram from the Tampa Bay Lightning in June, giving Nashville a future outlook in the crease that may very well be a dynamic duo of Juuse Saros and Ingram.
For now, Pekka Rinne remains the starter for the foreseeable future as both Rinne and Saros have two years remaining on their current contracts.
Offseason Grade: B+
Adding Duchene boosts Nashville’s presence as a playoff contender that could emerge as a deep postseason run performer. He wasn’t the best player available in the free agent market, but he was the best fit available for Poile’s roster.
It very well might be Nashville’s last chance at a Cup with their current roster as 10 players are pending-unrestricted free agents at season’s end– ranging from core members to key depth contributors. It’s now or never for these Predators.
Nick and Colby recap the headlines from the last month as well as take a look at all of the New York market teams and try to figure out if any of them are actually any good as Season Six of the podcast begins.
Happy Meteorological Spring (and when the time comes, actual Spring too as the Spring Equinox falls on… well, it’s written on the calendar in your office somewhere).
Of course, the only day that really matters in March is the 18th (you thought I was going to say the 17th, but we can’t all pretend to be Irish now, can we?).
If you’re new to the sport, that’s the day the Lord Stanley of Preston first presented the idea of the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup back in 1892 and thus the Stanley Cup was first played for and awarded in 1893.
The original Cup resides in an old bank vault at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Ontario and was purchased for ten guineas, which was $48.67 at the time or almost $1,400 in contemporary times.
Anyway, March is a pretty important month.
Teams have added or subtracted to their rosters from the trade deadline and are looking to go down the stretch without any additional injuries or worries heading into the postseason (or for some, the offseason).
Feeling lucky? Is this the year your bracket won’t be busted in the First Round? Let the madness begin with a look at the latest standings forecast* across the league based on all 31 NHL teams’ performances through February 28, 2019.
*Standard disclaimer: This forecast is not an exact science, but rather an educated guess among recent and season long trends, with a foundation steeped in recent records over the last few seasons.
In simple terms, just focus on the standing within the division and less on the point spread. A team isn’t eliminated from postseason contention until they are mathematically eliminated.
Anything can still happen (relatively, of course).
Projected Standings After Five Months
- p-Tampa Bay Lightning, 121 points (65 games played entering March 1st)
- x-Boston Bruins, 115 points (64 GP)
- x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 105 points (64 GP)
- wc1-Montreal Canadiens, 103 points (64 GP)
- wc2-Buffalo Sabres, 90 points (63 GP)
- Florida Panthers, 82 points (63 GP)
- Ottawa Senators, 61 points (64 GP)
- Detroit Red Wings, 60 points (64 GP)
In the Atlantic Division, the Tampa Bay Lightning are still on pace for what could almost be the best regular season in league history. Their franchise record ten-game winning streak was halted by the re-hot Boston Bruins on Feb. 28th.
Tampa should still lock up the division (if not the President’s Trophy) with ease, though they are beatable– as proven by the Bruins recent win (ignoring the back-to-back games), as well as the St. Louis Blues’ 1-0 overtime victory on Feb. 7th (more on the Blues later).
Boston, meanwhile, is surging at the right time. After going 7-7-0 in December and 6-3-3 in January, the B’s went without a regulation loss in the month of February, finishing with an 11-0-2 record.
It was the 9th time in franchise history and first time since November 2011, that the Bruins went without a regulation loss in an entire calendar month.
Not to be outdone, the Toronto Maple Leafs are still very alive and well in a divisional spot and for the second straight season appear destined to battle the Bruins in a First Round rematch from last season.
At least one of the Eastern Conference wild card spots in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs will be filled by an Atlantic Division team– the first of which being the Montreal Canadiens.
The Habs are in the hunt and could knock the Maple Leafs out of the last divisional spot with a good run down the stretch, while the second wild card spot is a little harder to project.
It could be the Buffalo Sabres or it could very well be a team that’s surging in the Metropolitan Division.
- y-New York Islanders, 113 points (63 GP)
- x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 101 points (63 GP)
- x-Washington Capitals, 92 points (64 GP)
- Carolina Hurricanes, 89 points (63 GP)
- Pittsburgh Penguins, 87 points (63 GP)
- New York Rangers, 77 points (63 GP)
- Philadelphia Flyers, 74 points (64 GP)
- New Jersey Devils, 61 points (64 GP)
John Tavares wasn’t well-received in his first trip back to Long Island since leaving the New York Islanders for the Leafs in free agency last July, however, Barry Trotz has been adored by Isles fans as the coach of the Metropolitan Division’s best team.
Despite adding a lot of firepower leading up to the trade deadline, the Columbus Blue Jackets aren’t quite a surefire powerhouse in the division, but they should be good enough for home ice advantage in the First Round and a rematch with the defending Stanley Cup champion, Washington Capitals.
It’s a wide-open race for two or three potential playoff spots in the Metropolitan Division, as the Capitals, Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins all have their sights set on one of two remaining divisional spots or at least one wild card spot in the postseason.
Despite the Capitals edging the Hurricanes and Penguins in this forecast, gut feeling indicates there’s sure to be an upset before the brackets are even finalized.
Carolina is playing really well lately and as those bunch of jerks have shown all season long– you can’t count them out. They also reached 70 points in 61 games played for just the second time in franchise history this season.
The last time they did that was in the 2005-06 season– you know, the one they went on to beat the Edmonton Oilers in the 2006 Stanley Cup Final.
As for the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers, well, there’s always a chance things go south for some of the teams ahead of them– except the Rangers are rebuilding and the Flyers have gone zero weeks without an injury to one of the eight goaltenders they’ve used this season.
- y-Winnipeg Jets, 104 points (63 GP)
- x-St. Louis Blues, 100 points (63 GP)
- x-Nashville Predators, 93 points (66 GP)
- wc1-Colorado Avalanche, 92 points (64 GP)
- Minnesota Wild, 85 points (64 GP)
- Dallas Stars, 84 points (64 GP)
- Chicago Blackhawks, 75 points (64 GP)
The Western Conference as a whole has been weaker than the Eastern Conference this season, but no division has been quite as lively as the Central Division.
While the Winnipeg Jets soar into the postseason as the top-team in the Central, the St. Louis Blues are attempting to go from last to first– and then some.
St. Louis might not stop at potentially leading the Central Division by the time the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin– they could just very well go on to win the Cup. The Blues are that hot.
Meanwhile, the Nashville Predators added a lot of grit leading up to the trade deadline, acquiring Cody McLeod, Brian Boyle and Wayne Simmonds to bolster their crunch to go along with new addition, Mikael Granlund‘s scoring ability.
Anyway, they’ve been slipping as of late and appear destined to miss out on home ice advantage in what will likely be a First Round matchup with St. Louis.
Finally, one of the Western wild cards will surely come from the Central Division teams. Whether that’s the Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild or Dallas Stars will depend on how hot Colorado’s first line is and/or how injured the Wild and Stars are.
Kudos to the Chicago Blackhawks for setting the second half of the season ablaze, though not nearly as mightily as the Blues have, but they’ll still end up last in the Central, but about mid-pack league-wide.
- z-Calgary Flames, 111 points (64 GP)
- x-San Jose Sharks, 107 points (64 GP)
- x-Vegas Golden Knights, 100 points (65 GP)
- wc2-Arizona Coyotes, 91 points (64 GP)
- Vancouver Canucks, 88 points (65 GP)
- Edmonton Oilers, 84 points (64 GP)
- Anaheim Ducks, 75 points (64 GP)
- Los Angeles Kings, 68 points (64 GP)
In the most disappointing division of the season, the Calgary Flames have risen a cut above the rest in the West. Not only do they look to lead the conference, but they look to do so in style.
The Flames are a team that’s destined for a deeper run than just a First or Second Round exit in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but how much will recent playoff experience for the San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights play into Calgary’s chances of going far?
Vegas hasn’t been as dominant as they were in their inaugural season, however the Sharks have also had a few slip ups in the last month.
Both teams are looking like they’ll meet in the First Round– a round sooner than their Second Round matchup last postseason. It’s a rematch for the ages for the Golden Knights, as the young franchise looks to continue to add to the nearly 30 years of dismal playoff failure for San Jose.
One of the biggest– and most pleasant– surprises in the Western Conference? The Arizona Coyotes.
The team is destined for a wild card spot this season and just might spoil the party for more than just who they cut out of the playoff picture.
For the Vancouver Canucks, it’s a battle until the end. They might make it, they might not, but next season should be better– just stay the course.
And if you’re the Edmonton Oilers, Anaheim Ducks and/or the Los Angeles Kings, you’ve got a lot of work to do in the offseason.
Evgeni Malkin did a bad thing, the 2019 NWHL All-Star Game broke attendance records and more trades happened in the NHL. Patrice Bergeron reached 1,000 games and David Pastrnak is injured for the Boston Bruins leaving Nick in a glass case of emotion.
Plus, Eugene Melnyk plans to spend money, the Tampa Bay Lightning have a new alternate sweater, Randy Carlyle was fired and Scott Niedermayer will have his number retired (again) this week. Finally, Connor has a new segment.
This week’s episode is chock full of coffee infused, Seattle inspired, artisanal Seattle expansion discussion in addition to William Nylander’s new deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Plus, waivers and trades are rampant this time of year, Tom Wilson: The Bad and the Bad Things That Happened This Week, Chuck Fletcher was hired as General Manager of the Philadelphia Flyers and a 15-year first round draft pick look back of the Los Angeles Kings.
Tonight’s a great night for hockey fans who don’t mind a little B-list actor entertainment and dramatically overdone displays of #PleaseLikeMySport.
It’s also the same night the National Hockey League formally presents and hands out its 2017-18 season awards to its members.
If you can’t tune in to the action, luckily we’re here for you as we’ll be updating the award winners as the night goes on. But if you can be in front of a TV, then tune to NBCSN (U.S. viewers) or Sportsnet (Canadian viewers) at 8 p.m. ET and follow along with the fun.
Ted Lindsay Award– Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
Other Finalists: Taylor Hall (NJ) and Nathan MacKinnon (COL)
(basically the “M.V.P.” as voted on by the NHLPA, a.k.a. the players)
James Norris Memorial Trophy– Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
Other Finalists: Drew Doughty (LA) and P.K. Subban (NSH)
King Clancy Memorial Trophy– Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks
Other Finalists: P.K. Subban (NSH) and Jason Zucker (MIN)
Calder Memorial Trophy– Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders
Other Finalists: Brock Boeser (VAN) and Clayton Keller (ARI)
(best rookie/rookie of the year)
Lady Byng Memorial Trophy– William Karlsson, Vegas Golden Knights
Other Finalists: Aleksander Barkov (FLA) and Ryan O’Reilly (BUF)
(sportsmanship and ability, a.k.a. this player didn’t take a lot of penalties)
Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy– Brian Boyle, New Jersey Devils
Other Finalists: Roberto Luongo (FLA) and Jordan Staal (CAR)
(perseverance and dedication to the sport)
EA SPORTS NHL 19® Cover Athlete– P.K. Subban, Nashville Predators
Other Finalists: None
(not actually a curse)
Frank J. Selke Trophy– Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
Other Finalists: Patrice Bergeron (BOS) and Sean Couturier (PHI)
(best defensive forward)
Jack Adams Award– Gerard Gallant, Vegas Golden Knights
Other Finalists: Jared Bednar (COL) and Bruce Cassidy (BOS)
(best head coach)
Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award– Deryk Engelland, Vegas Golden Knights
Other Finalists: Wayne Simmonds (PHI) and Blake Wheeler (WPG)
(something Mark Messier picks)
Vezina Trophy– Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators
Other Finalists: Connor Hellebuyck (WPG) and Andrei Vasilevskiy (TB)
NHL General Manager of the Year Award– George McPhee, Vegas Golden Knights
Other Finalists: Kevin Cheveldayoff (WPG) and Steve Yzerman (TB)
Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award– Darcy Haugan, Humboldt Broncos (SJHL)
Finalists: Debbie Bland (Etobicoke, Ontario, co-founder/builder of the Etobicoke Dolphins Girls Hockey League), Neal Henderson (Washington, founder of the Fort Dupont Hockey Club), Darcy Haugan (the late head coach of the Humboldt Broncos of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League)
(newest award, first time being handed out this year– presented to an “individual who– through the game of hockey– has positively impacted his or her community, culture or society[,]” as described by the NHL)
Hart Memorial Trophy– Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils
Other Finalists: Anze Kopitar (LA) and Nathan MacKinnon (COL)
2017-18 Individual Regular Season Awards
Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy– Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
(presented to the goal scorer who scored the most goals in the season, so this one was already technically awarded before Wednesday night)
William M. Jennings Trophy– Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
(presented to the goaltender(s) who allowed the fewest total goals against in the season, awarded prior to Wednesday night)
Art Ross Trophy– Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
(presented to the player that led the league in scoring at the end of the regular season, awarded prior to Wednesday night)
2017-18 Team and 2018 Postseason Awards
President’s Trophy– Nashville Predators
(best record in the regular season, 2017-18)
Prince of Wales Trophy– Washington Capitals
(2018 Eastern Conference Champions)
Clarence S. Campbell Bowl– Vegas Golden Knights
(2018 Western Conference Champions)
Conn Smythe Trophy– Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
(Stanley Cup Playoffs M.V.P. as determined by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association)
Stanley Cup– Washington Capitals
(league champion, winner of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final)
Nick and Connor rambled about the remaining weeks of the regular season, who will finish last in the NHL, if Boston can catch Tampa, Columbus’s hot streak and more. They also previewed and predicted eight of the NHL’s annual awards. Anze Kopitar has 86 points on the season– get it right, Nick.
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.
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.
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.