Welcome to the best day of the hockey work week!
Like it usually does, the action begins at 7 p.m. this evening with three games (the New York Islanders at Buffalo [TVAS], Calgary at New Jersey and Montréal at Philadelphia [RDS/TSN2]), followed half an hour later by two more (Nashville at Ottawa [RDS2] and Vancouver at Tampa Bay). Another pair of fixtures (Colorado at St. Louis and Arizona at Minnesota) find their starts at 8 p.m., while Dallas at Chicago waits 30 minutes before getting underway. Finally, tonight’s nightcap – Vegas at San Jose (SN360) – drops the puck at 10:30 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.
Two games were circled on my calendar…
- Nashville at Ottawa: C Kyle Turris called Ottawa home for seven years, but that all changed in November when he was traded to Nashville.
- Vegas at San Jose: I circled this one to celebrate the return of F Ryan Carpenter to The Tank, but I think the standings will be a bigger deal in this contest.
We just featured the Predators yesterday, so we’re not going to follow them east. Additionally, we just featured the Golden Knights two days ago and we’re not going to hop on their flight west.
Instead, I say we head to Newark to check in on a Devils team that has been a bit streaky of late as they square off against the Kings of the Streak, the Calgary Flames.
The 27-17-8 Devils are holding on to third place in the Metropolitan Division, but they’re certainly not making life easy on themselves of late. Jersey is only 2-2-0 in its last four home games (including a loss to the Red Wings) and 3-5-0 overall in its last eight contests (including a loss in Ottawa).
However, it we just look at what has happened since the All-Star Break, it seems the Devils were just running a little bit low on steam. Before Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to the Senators, the Devils had won all three of their first games since resuming play.
The reason for Jersey’s return to form lies squarely on its defense, which has been playing incredibly over its last four games. Led by the efforts of F Blake Coleman (3.5 hits per game since January 30) and D Andy Greene (2.5 blocks per game during this run), the Devils have allowed only 25.25 shots against per game since the All-Star Break, the best mark in the league.
As a result, that stellar play has made 17-11-6 G Cory Schneider‘s groin injury far less noticeable. While he’s been gone, 10-5-2 G Keith Kinkaid has assumed starting duties. Though he’s only posted an .899 save percentage in his last four starts, the fact that his defense is playing so marvelously has kept his GAA at 2.59, good enough to earn him three victories.
Currently in 10th place in the Western Conference (well, technically a three-way tie for ninth, but the Flames’ 53 games played are one more than Colorado’s and two fewer than Anaheim’s), 27-18-8 Calgary has all but assumed the title of the NHL’s streakiest team. Since their well-documented seven-game winning streak, the Flames proceeded to lose six-straight games – albeit four required extra time.
However, it seems the Flames are back on the upswing, as they swept the Blackhawks in a home-and-home series. Even more in their favor, the Flames have traveled exceptionally well lately, posting a 5-0-1 record in their last six games away from the Saddledome.
But let’s keep our comparisons constant: How have the Flames fared since the All-Star Break?
Considering Calgary has only posted a 2-2-0 record since the break, I suppose the answer is simply “average,” if not arguably worse.
The most glaring hole in the Flames’ play since resuming play has been on the defensive end, where they’ve allowed a 12th-worst 32.5 shots against per game and (t)fourth-worst goals against per game in that time.
The defensive effort is basically a given at this point in the season. Calgary has averaged 32.1 shots against per game for its entire campaign, 22-15-6 G Mike Smith is seeing no more work lately than he’s seen all season.
However, that means that the biggest decline in the defensive end actually belongs to him. Having averaged a .922 save percentage and 2.5 GAA for the season, Smith has not been impressive in his last four starts, managing only an .888 save percentage and 3.7 GAA.
With that in mind and the fact that the Flames play in Madison Square Garden tomorrow night, Smith will take the night off this evening and cede his crease to 4-1-2 G David Rittich, who’s posted a .926 save percentage and 2.23 GAA in eight appearances this season.
Fortunately for Rittich, he has two things going for him in tonight’s game. The first is, thanks to Schneider being out, Jersey is pulling back to play stellar defensive hockey, meaning he may see fewer shots this evening.
The second is his own offense is pretty handy with the puck, able to score with regularity to earn him wins.
Since the All-Star Break, Calgary has posted a (t)12th-best 3.25 goals-per-game. That success is thanks in large part to LW Johnny Gaudreau (2-3-5 totals since the break, 17-45-62 overall), D T.J. Brodie (0-5-5, 3-22-25 overall), C Sean Monahan (3-1-4, 25-22-47 overall) and D Dougie Hamilton (1-3-4, 9-18-27 overall). All four have averaged at least a point per game in their last four showings, and they’ll need to continue their success tonight against a stingy Jersey defense for a chance to win their third-straight game.
The Flames have already hosted the Devils this season, and the fans in attendance at the Saddledome were treated to a heck of a game. The November 5 contest went back-and-forth before reaching the end of regulation with a 4-4 tie. That eventually forced a shootout that LW Matthew Tkachuk won in the final round, earning the Flames the bonus point.
For me, this game boils down to which goaltender can perform better. Can Rittich do his best Smith impression tonight, or will it be Kinkaid that makes the few saves his defense requires him to make? I’m leaning towards the Kinkaid option as being the more probable.
However, that pick does come with a caveat: if Calgary can force overtime, I think the Flames’ offense can earn the bonus point.
After a seven-round shootout, the Toronto Maple Leafs finally knocked off the Nashville Predators 3-2 at Air Canada Centre in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
Let me be the first to say that if we get a Stanley Cup Finals between these teams, we’ll all be glued to our televisions for every second. This game had everything: goals, solid defense, superb goaltending… all the things you want in the final round of a championship.
As for the goal scoring, that started with 3:54 remaining in the first period when Second Star of the Game LW James van Riemsdyk (RW Connor Brown and D Travis Dermott) buried a slap shot to give the Maple Leafs a one-goal lead.
Goal number 2 also belonged to Toronto, but this one was a shorthanded wrist shot struck by RW Kasperi Kapanen (F Dominic Moore and D Ron Hainsey) 9:38 into the second frame. Facing a 2-0 hole, the Predators finally found their scoring prowess with 1:50 remaining before the second period. C Colton Sissons (LW Pontus Aberg and D Ryan Ellis) took credit for the late period charge, burying a snap shot.
Whatever motivational speech Head Coach Peter Laviolette gave in the dressing room obviously worked, because the Predators leveled the game only 25 seconds after returning to the ice when W Viktor Arvidsson scored an unassisted wrister.
Arvidsson’s game-tying effort proved to be the final goal scored in regulation, and none were added to the total in five minutes of three-on-three overtime. That forced every hockey fan’s favorite thing: the shootout.
As home team, Toronto had the option of going first or second. Head Coach Mike Babcock elected to go first.
- C Auston Matthews usually seems like a good first choice in these shootout situations, but not when he’s squaring off against Third Star G Pekka Rinne. The Finn made the save.
- That provided Turris an opportunity to give the Preds an advantage, but he sent his shot wide of the net.
- F William Nylander apparently saw what Turris did and liked it, because he also didn’t force Rinne to make a save.
- Once again Nashville was provided with a major opportunity, but W Kevin Fiala‘s snap shot was saved by First Star G Frederik Andersen to keep the shootout tied at zero.
- Finally, someone found a goal! C Tyler Bozak scored in the third and final round, setting up a miss-and-lose situation for the visiting Preds.
- Ellis apparently likes these situations where his club is trailing, because he duplicated his success from regulation to even the shootout and force sudden death.
- F Mitch Marner was the fourth Leafs shooter to approach Rinne’s goal, but he found the same fate as Matthews: saved by the Finn.
- F Craig Smith tried to get a little too fancy for his own good, as Andersen was able to make the save on his backhanded shot.
- Get in line, F Patrick Marleau. You’re not the first to get stopped by Rinne today.
- Another Predators backhander – this one from D Roman Josi. Another Andersen save.
- Rinne just wasn’t a very nice house guest, was he? Brown’s snapper was also saved by the visiting netminder.
- In the same turn, Andersen wasn’t exactly a benevolent host. F Ryan Johansen tried to beat him with a backhander (Nashville’s third in a row), but the former Duck was more than up to the challenge.
- Apparently, van Riemsdyk saw that it was almost his bedtime, so he decided to do something about it. He beat Rinne to set up a miss-and-lose situation for the Preds.
- Though Arvidsson was the one that got this game into the shootout, he couldn’t extend it as his snapper was saved by Andersen.
Andersen earned the victory after saving 44-of-46 shots faced (.957 save percentage), leaving the shootout loss to Rinne, who saved 30-of-32 (.938).
The 67-38-15 home teams are flexing their muscles in the DtFR Game of the Day series, as they’ve now won seven of the past eight games. Toronto’s shootout victory gives the hosts a 28-point lead over the roadies in the series.