Tag Archives: Buffalo Sabres

Bergeron’s 4th career hat trick lifts Boston, 6-3, over Sens

Patrice Bergeron was part of the Hart Trophy conversation last season until he was sidelined by injuries late in the year, but he’s making himself an early Hart Trophy favorite this season with his 4th career hat trick on the tails of a four-point afternoon for the Boston Bruins in Monday’s 6-3 win over the Ottawa Senators.

It’s only October, of course.

In the calendar year, 2018, Bergeron has three hat tricks alone– including two last season (January 6th vs. Carolina– he had four goals that night, actually– and January 18th at N.Y. Islanders) and Monday afternoon’s matinee matchup. It was also his first hat trick against the Senators since January 11, 2011.

Bergeron wasn’t the only storyline for the Bruins against Ottawa, as David Pastrnak also had a four-point game, notching two goals and two assists. Brad Marchand had three assists in the effort as Boston’s first line led the offensive effort for the Bruins.

The two players with four-points in the game (Bergeron and Pastrnak) marked the first time in franchise history that multiple players recorded at least four points in Boston’s home opener.

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Tuukka Rask had 28 saves on 31 shots faced for a .903 save percentage in the win, while Ottawa netminder, Mike Condon, had 24 saves on 29 shots against for an .828 SV% in the loss.

Condon made his first career start at TD Garden for the Senators. His previous start “in Boston” was actually in Foxborough, Massachusetts at Gillette Stadium for the Montreal Canadiens in the 2016 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.

Walpole, Massachusetts native, Chris Wagner, made his home debut with his new club in Boston, as did defender John Moore. Joakim Nordstrom was a healthy scratch for the Bruins and Jaroslav Halak served as the backup on the bench.

One more debut Monday afternoon was made by Senators forward– and 4th overall pick in the 2018 Draft– Brady Tkachuk in his NHL debut. Tkachuk played college hockey at Boston University and is the son of former NHLer and Melrose, Massachusetts native, Keith Tkachuk. Despite being born in Scottsdale, Arizona, the younger Tkachuk spent plenty of time growing up in and around Boston (as well as St. Louis, Missouri).

Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy juggled the lines a bit between last Thursday’s shutout victory in Buffalo and Monday’s matinee, putting David Backes at center on the third line in place of Nordstrom and moving Anders Bjork up a line into Backes’s right wing slot.

Additionally, Wagner slid in on the left side of Sean Kuraly and Noel Acciari on the fourth line. There were no changes to the defensive pairings.

It didn’t take long for Boston’s offense to strike as Bergeron (2) found a rebound and slid it under Condon while falling to the ice 30 seconds into the action to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead. Pastrnak (1) and Charlie McAvoy (2) had the assists on the goal.

Danton Heinen was guilty of an interference minor against Ottawa’s Mikkel Boedker shortly thereafter and was sent to the penalty box at 2:21 of the first period.

The Senators failed to convert on the ensuing power play as Boston continued to do a better job of controlling the overall game flow, even through chaos at times where Backes was left to make a desperation save on a shot block midway through the period.

Mark Borowiecki tripped Brandon Carlo at 11:21 of the first period and gave the Bruins their first power play of the afternoon. Boston did not convert on their first skater advantage, but would connect on the power play the second time around when Colin White took a hooking penalty against Acciari at 15:31.

Standing from his stereotypical bumper position in the low slot, Marchand sent a pass to Bergeron (3) for the one-timer power play goal past Condon for a 2-0 lead. Marchand (5) and Pastrnak (2) notched the assists on Bergeron’s second goal of the day at 17:12 of the first period.

After 20 minutes, the Bruins led 2-0 and led in shots on goal, 15-9. Ottawa dominated in blocked shots (8-3) and takeaways (4-3), while Boston also held the advantage in giveaways (4-3) and face-off win percentage (55-45). Through one period, hits were even, 5-5, and the Senators were 0/1 on the power play, while the B’s were 1/2.

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Ryan Dzingel (1) opened scoring in the second period and got the Sens on the scoreboard, cutting Boston’s lead in half to make it 2-1. Mark Stone (1) and Zack Smith (3) had the assists on Dzingel’s goal as Stone found Dzingel creeping down the middle to find a loose puck in the slot and beat Rask at 2:21 of the second period.

Ottawa came out of the first intermission with a lot of moxie, spending more time in the offensive zone than they did in their own end and in the first period. In fact, the Senators wound up outshooting the Bruins, 12-6, in the second period as part of their offensive display.

Moments after Dzingel made it a one-goal game, Charlie McAvoy fired a shot that was redirected by Chris Wagner (1) for his first goal of the season and his first with his hometown team since joining the Bruins via free agency in July after splitting last season with the Anaheim Ducks and New York Islanders.

McAvoy (3) and Kuraly (1) were credited with the assists at 7:08 and Boston led, 3-1.

Matt Grzelcyk and Chris Wideman were charged with roughing minors after a stoppage in play at 8:18 of the second period and left both teams with two minutes of 4-on-4 action.

Nearly four minutes later, while McAvoy fumbled a wrap around the boards in his own end, Dzingel (2) pounced on the loose puck and threw it on goal from halfway between the point and the face-off circle along the wall, squeaking one past Rask– as Zdeno Chara partially screened his own goaltender– and again pulling Ottawa within one to make it, 3-2.

Dylan DeMelo (1) and Thomas Chabot (3) notched the assists on Dzingel’s second goal of the afternoon at 12:13.

Through two periods, Boston led, 3-2, and shots on goal were tied, 21-21. The Senators domination of the second period pulled them to within a goal and gave them the advantage in blocked shots (11-6), takeaways (8-6) and face-off win% (60-40). Both teams had six giveaways through 40 minutes and hits were even, 14-14.

Bergeron (4) opened scoring in the third period with his hat trick goal at 4:38. His third goal of the afternoon deflected off of Sens defender Cody Ceci and past Condon after Bergeron initially tried to send the puck to Pastrnak in the slot.

Marchand (6) and McAvoy (4) picked up the assists on Bergeron’s third goal of the day that made it 4-2 Boston.

A couple minutes later, Alex Formenton crashed the net and ran into the Bruins goaltender as Rask aggressively played the puck outside his crease and tripped up Formenton– sending the Ottawa forward airborne over Rask.

Bruins defender, John Moore, didn’t take too kindly to his own teammate’s antics and received a minor penalty for roughing Formenton at 6:42 of the third period.

While on the penalty kill, Bergeron attempted to clear the puck down the frozen river and instead sent the rubber biscuit over the glass and out of the playing surface. He was given a delay of game minor penalty and Ottawa went on a 5-on-3 advantage at 7:26 of the third.

The Bruins killed off both minor penalties.

David Pastrnak (2) added his second goal of the season late in the third period and made it a three-goal game for Boston. Bergeron (2) and Zdeno Chara (1) had the assists and the Bruins had a 5-2 lead at 16:31.

Less than a minute later, Bobby Ryan (1) deflected a shot from DeMelo through traffic and past Rask to bring the Senators to within two goals and make it 5-3 at 17:03 of the third period.

DeMelo (2) and Chris Tierney (3) recorded the assists on Ryan’s first goal of the season and Ottawa can thank the Erik Karlsson trade for the pair of former San Jose Sharks members that led to Ryan’s goal.

With 1:50 remaining in regulation, Sens head coach Guy Boucher pulled Condon for an extra attacker, but it was to no avail as 28 seconds later Pastrnak (3) added an empty net goal to make it, 6-3, Boston.

Marchand (7) recorded his third assist of the afternoon on Pastrnak’s second goal of the game and the Bruins went on to walk away from their home opener with a 6-3 victory.

Ottawa finished Monday afternoon leading in shots on goal (31-30), blocked shots (14-8), giveaways (8-6) and face-off win% (57-43). Boston finished the afternoon with the win and leading in hits (18-17). The Senators were 0/3 on the power play, while the Bruins went 1/2.

Among some other stats from the matinee game…

Moore led all Bruins with four hits on the afternoon, while Boston’s fourth line combined for seven hits in the game with Wagner and Acciari each leading the Bruins forwards with three hits apiece (Kuraly had one hit).

Boston’s second line of David Krejci, Ryan Donato and Jake DeBrusk were all a minus-2, while Pastrnak led the Bruins in shots on goal with six. Bergeron had four.

Speaking of Bergeron, his first goal of the day marked the third fastest to begin a home-opening game in franchise history. Bergeron’s goal 30 seconds into the game trails Brad Boyes (18 seconds on October 19, 2006) and Terry O’Reilly (23 seconds on October 8, 1981).

98.5 The Sports Hub Bruins beat reporter, Ty Anderson, noted Bergeron’s hat trick was the first home opener hat trick since Cam Neely‘s 1995 home opener hat trick and The Boston Globe‘s Matt Porter followed that up with all of the home opener hat tricks for Boston since 1967, including Phil Esposito (October 10, 1973), Rick Middleton (October 7, 1976), Neely (October 7, 1995) and Bergeron (October 8, 2018).

Middleton’s No. 16 will be retired this November, joining Esposito’s No. 7 and Neely’s No. 8 (among others) in the rafters of TD Garden, so surely this means Bergeron’s No. 37 is a shoe-in to be retired someday.

The Bruins improved to 2-1-0 on the season and are currently tied for 1st place in the Atlantic Division with the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs. Each team has four points on the season.

Boston takes on the visiting Edmonton Oilers Thursday night at TD Garden.

DTFR Podcast #126- Participation Trophies After One Game (Part III)

The 2018-19 regular season has started, so let’s overreact and hand out the regular season awards already! It’s our 3rd Annual Participation Trophies After One Game presented by Nick and Connor.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

Bruins Bounce Back in Buffalo, 4-0

Noted playmaking forward Brad Marchand had four assists en route to the Boston Bruins 4-0 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on the road at KeyBank Center. 2018 1st overall pick, Rasmus Dahlin, finished the night as a minus-1 and recorded two hits in his NHL debut.Unknown-2

Jeff Skinner, Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel each finished the night with a minus-2 for the Sabres as Carter Hutton made 22 saves on 25 shots faced for an .880 save percentage in the loss.

Jaroslav Halak picked up his first shutout of the season in his first start and his first win as a Bruin, amassing 32 saves on 32 shots against in the victory.

Boston improved to 1-1-0 (two points) on the season and currently sits in 2nd in the Atlantic Division to the Toronto Maple Leafs with all but the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning having formally kicked off their 2018-19 regular season action.

Thursday night’s start was much better for the Bruins than Wednesday night’s 7-0 loss to the Washington Capitals.

Unknown-7Bruins captain, Zdeno Chara (1) kicked off 2018-19 regular season scoring for the B’s at 6:33 of the first period on a rush into the offensive zone, whereby the 41-year-old defender snuck in from the point and received a pass from Brad Marchand in the high slot that Chara wired past Hutton with a snap shot.

Marchand (1) and Charlie McAvoy (1) notched the assists on Chara’s goal. The 6-foot-9 defender has scored at least once in 20 of his 21 NHL seasons, joining seven other defensemen in NHL history to do so– Ray Bourque (22), Scott Stevens (22), Al MacInnis (21), Chris Chelios (21), Harry Howell (21), Larry Murphy (21) and current Sabres head coach, Phil Housley (21).

Chara (41-years, 200 days) also passed Jaromir Jagr as the third-oldest player in franchise history to score a regular season goal for Boston. Mark Recchi (13 goals) and Johnny Bucyk (one goal) are the only other Bruins to have scored at an older age.

Both Bucyk and Recchi played until they were 43-years-old, with Bucyk retiring in 1978 and Recchi doing so after winning the Cup with Chara and Boston in 2011.

Former Bruin (2007-10), Vladimir Sobotka slashed David Pastrnak at 13:58 of the first period and sent Boston on the power play for the first time of the night. The Bruins were 0/2 on the skater advantage Wednesday night in Washington, but they wouldn’t remain scoreless on the power play for long.

At 15:34 of the first period, Ryan Donato (1) one-timed a shot past Hutton to score Boston’s first power play goal of the year and make it a 2-0 game for the Bruins. Donato originally sent the puck to Patrice Bergeron, who in turn sent it along to Brad Marchand in transition, then Marchand dished it back to Donato to complete the scoring opportunity.

Marchand (2) and Bergeron (1) picked up their first power play points of the season in the form of assists on the first power play unit.

Unlike Wednesday night, Boston had offensive zone time and more control of the game in its overall flow– at both ends of the ice, as the fourth line of Danton Heinen, Sean Kuraly and Anders Bjork worked effectively at clearing the puck from their own zone and transitioning it up the ice.

Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy juggled the lines a bit from Wednesday to Thursday, inserting Bjork in the lineup in place of Chris Wagner alongside Kuraly and Heinen, while placing Donato on the second line and Noel Acciari centering the third line surrounded by David Backes and Joakim Nordstrom at the wings.

After 20 minutes, Boston led, 2-0 on the scoreboard and in shots on goal (11-6). Buffalo had an advantage in blocked shots (2-1), giveaways (6-4) and face-off win% (57-44). The Bruins were 1/1 on the power play and the Sabres had yet to see time on the skater advantage.

Heinen slashed Casey Nelson and was sent to the penalty box at 2:47 of the second period, but Buffalo was not able to convert on the ensuing skater advantage.

Despite a heavy offensive effort by Boston, the Sabres were able to remain in a tight, 2-0 battle until late in the middle frame.

Marchand worked to keep the puck in the zone for the Bruins, while Krejci forced a pass through the low slot for an easy one-timed redirection from Pastrnak (1) into the twine as Hutton was diving across the crease to catch up with the quick puck movement. Pastrnak’s goal gave Boston a commanding, 3-0, lead at 16:16 of the second period and was assisted by Krejci (1) and Marchand (3).

With less than two minutes left in the period, McAvoy took a shot off the inside of the leg and required assistance skating off the ice and heading to the dressing room, but he would return to action in time for the third period.

After two periods of play, Boston led by three (3-0) and outshot the Sabres (21-17), while Buffalo led in blocked shots (6-5), giveaways (9-6) and was 0/1 on the power play.

The third period saw a heavy presence in Boston’s defensive zone, but Halak stood tall as did his defenders, who did a much better job of pressuring their opponent and taking away the puck Thursday night than they did on Wednesday.

Housley pulled his goaltender with 4:30 remaining in regulation for an extra skater, but the Sabres couldn’t muster a goal, while the Bruins kept icing the puck.

After taking a hit from Sobotka behind the net in the final minute of regulation, McAvoy was looking to stand up for himself and eventually dropped the gloves with the Sabres forward in the corner to the right side of Halak.

This, of course, all after Chara tried getting to Sobotka first and received a roughing minor as play was stopped for the fisticuffs that ensued.

Buffalo would finish the game on a 6-on-4 advantage, but the Bruins scored an empty net, shorthanded goal, thanks to Patrice Bergeron (1) with the sole assist on the goal from Marchand (4), completing No. 63’s four-point night.

The Sabres finished the night outshooting Boston (32-26) and outhitting the Bruins (25-13), but Boston led the scoreboard, 4-0, after 60 minutes. The B’s also finished with more blocked shots than Buffalo (13-8) and trailed in the face-off dot (57%-43%).

After opening the season on the road for two games at .500, Boston heads home for an Opening Day matinee matchup against the Ottawa Senators on Monday from TD Garden.

Analysis: It’s Only The First Game

Shouldn’t have to write this, really, but Bruins fans, calm down.

It’s not unlike Bruce Cassidy‘s Bruins to get off on a sour note out of the gate, though Boston has never seen quite a blowout game like this to start a regular season in their 95-year franchise history dating back to 1924.

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Boston dropped Wednesday night’s game against the Washington Capitals, 7-0, on the road at Capital One Arena– much to the pleasure of the Caps fans cheering their team on louder than ever for becoming “defending Stanley Cup champions” for the first time in franchise history as the night was marked by Washington’s banner raising ceremony.

Braden Holtby had a 25 save shutout for the Capitals, who won their 13th straight regular season matchup against Boston. The Bruins are now 0-10-3 against Washington since last defeating the Capitals in a 4-2 victory on March 29, 2014.

Meanwhile, Tuukka Rask stopped 14 out of 19 shots faced for a .737 save percentage before being pulled in the second period (27:28 time on ice). Jaroslav Halak made his Bruins debut and turned aside 16 of the 18 shots he faced in the remaining 32:32 of the game for an .889 SV%.

No, this does not mean there’s a goaltending controversy in Boston. It was one game. The first one. Relax. Even the San Jose Sharks lost Wednesday night, 5-2, to the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose has Martin Jones— in addition to Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic on defense, in case you haven’t already heard that enough in the offseason.

Patrice Bergeron made his regular season debut despite not participating in a preseason game, but nothing else made waves for Boston in the headlines.

Boston’s effort in the first period dominated the face-off dot, winning 82% of the faceoffs drawn, but their penalty kill suffered.

Washington Capitals Logo

It only took 24 seconds for the Capitals Cup winning hangover to wear off as T.J. Oshie (1) floated one past Rask. Oshie’s goal was assisted by Nicklas Backstrom (1) and Matt Niskanen (1).

A little over a minute later, Sean Kuraly tripped up Lars Eller in Boston’s defensive zone, putting Washington on the power play for the first time on the night at 1:45 of the first period. Two seconds was all it took for Evgeny Kuznetsov (1) to win the faceoff and fire a shot past the Bruins netminder to give Washington a 2-0 lead less than two minutes into the 2018-19 regular season.

Jakub Vrana tripped Ryan Donato at 8:26 of the period and gave the Bruins their first man advantage of the night, but it was to no avail as Boston’s power play unit could not establish zone time in the offensive end.

After 20 minutes of play, the Capitals looked as though they hadn’t been diving in fountains around D.C. all offseason, while the Bruins looked like a team that was jet-lagged.

Perhaps from their trip to China as part of the NHL China Games this preseason. Not that it goes without saying that the lack of effort in the first period got even worse in the second and third period to the extent that upon Rask’s replacement with Halak, the Bruins backup goaltender was making every other save in desperation.

Entering the first intermission, Washington was outshooting Boston, 13-9.

Brad Marchand tripped Vrana early in the second period and the Bruins would be shorthanded once again.

Just 1:16 into the power play, Backstrom faked a shot then slid a pass over to Alex Ovechkin (1) in his stereotypical spot on the power play unit, slapping one past Rask from the faceoff circle and giving the Capitals a commanding 3-0 lead at 4:17 of the 2nd period. Backstrom (2) and Oshie (1) had the assists on the goal.

Ovechkin’s first goal of the season sparked a run of three goals on three shots in a span of 3:11 for Washington as Nic Dowd (1) and Kuznetsov (2) added a pair of goals to make it 4-0 and 5-0, respectively for the Capitals.

Dowd scored his first in a Washington sweater at 6:13 of the second period after the Bruins failed to clear the puck out of the zone and Washington got a shot off that was blocked by Boston defender, Matt Grzelcyk.

Finding the loose puck, while going through with a backhand shot on a spin-o-rama through Kevan Miller‘s legs and behind Rask, Dowd scored his first of the year with assists from Nathan Walker (1) and Devante Smith-Pelly (1).

Between Dowd’s goal and Kuznetsov’s second of the night, Kuraly dropped the gloves with young Capitals blue liner, Madison Bowey, resulting in five-minute major penalties for fighting at 6:45 of the 2nd period.

Kuznetsov pocketed his second goal of the game less than a minute later with John Carlson (1) and Braden Holtby (1) notching their first assists of the season. His soft goal on the short side of Rask was more than enough to convince Cassidy to replace the struggling netminder with Halak.

Miller cross-checked Andre Burakovsky at 13:54 and David Backes slashed Eller at 15:27 of the middle frame, leading to a short 5-on-3 power play for Washington.

Carlson (1) took full advantage of a slap-pass from Ovechkin across the ice to the point and wired a clapper high-left side past Halak to make it 6-0 for the Capitals. Ovechkin (1) and Backstrom (3) picked up the assists on the Washington number one defender’s goal.

Through 40 minutes, Boston trailed 6-0 and in shots on goal 25-15 (including a 12-6 advantage for Washington in the 2nd period). The Bruins, however, were leading the night in physical play with a 25-12 advantage in hits (as is often the case of a losing team trying to pry the puck away from the other team in control of the scoreboard).

Washington was 4/5 on the power play through two periods and the B’s were 0/1.

Bowey opened the action in the 3rd period with a cross-check to Marchand at 8:25, giving Boston their second opportunity on the skater advantage for the night. They did not convert on ensuing the power play.

Instead, shortly after killing off Bowey’s minor, Lars Eller (1) found a way to sneak past Brandon Carlo and Noel Acciari— rushing back to bail out his defender– and into a one-on-one with Jaroslav Halak.

Eller fired the puck behind the Boston netminder for the point-after-touchdown goal giving Washington a 7-0 lead at 10:52 of the 3rd period. Eller’s ensuing celebration would irk the Bruins brass as he proceeded to wave his hand in a motion that seemed to signal for Boston to leave the rink.

Needless to say, some weren’t pleased– like Brad Marchand, who would drop the gloves with Eller moments later– but before that, a quick note on Eller’s goal as Chandler Stephenson (1) and Brooks Orpik (1) were credited with the assists on the quick transition that led to a breakaway conversion.

Marchand got a few good punches on Eller, leaving the Capitals third-line center bloodied, and picked up two minutes for instigating, as well as a 10-minute misconduct. The Bruins winger ended his night with a 2+5=10 effort at 13:54 of the 3rd period.

Eller received a five-minute major for fighting, as well, and got some attention to stop the bleeding before heading for the penalty box.

Washington finished off Boston as time expired, 7-0, and ended the night with a 37-25 shots on goal advantage. The Capitals also led in blocked shots (15-12) and giveaways (10-3), while the Bruins led in hits (28-16) and faceoff win% (68-32).

The Caps finished the night 4/6 on the power play, while Boston went 0/2.

To summarize, the Bruins effort was non-existent past the first line, especially after the first 20 minutes of the game. Kuraly led the way with four hits, while Chris Wagner and David Backes each had three apiece and Acciari had two. Fourth line winger, Joakim Nordstrom debuted in a Bruins uniform with one hit on the night and a largely forgettable appearance on the ice.

While Boston turns their attention to the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night at KeyBank Center, expert eyes of the fans, TV analysts and coaches will be paying attention to what kind of changes Cassidy makes to shake up his bottom-six depth and lackadaisical efforts on the blue line, while hopefully generating more offense– let alone a goal.

Except for Jake DeBrusk ringing the post in the first period, Boston’s effort was largely quiet.

It’s only one game, but it was not the game that set the tone for this 2018-19 Bruins team yet.

2018-19 NHL Mascot Power Rankings: 10th-1st

I never thought I’d be doing this again, yet here we are. It’s time to begin the continuation of a now annual tradition around here at DTFR. It’s time to rank the NHL mascots.

For the first time since January 2017, here’s the latest look at things. Be sure to check out the last couple of days ranking’s (31st-21st and 20th-11th).

10) Youppi! (Montreal Canadiens) Last year’s ranking 6th

Youppi! is slipping as the Expos become even more of a distant memory with the passing of time. Adopted by the Canadiens after Montreal’s MLB team went to Washington, D.C. and rebranded as the Washington Nationals, Youppi! is still receiving pity votes because he doesn’t belong at an ice rink. He belongs in a field of dreams. Plus his distant cousin (we’re pretty sure), Gritty is way hotter. Step your game up, Youppi!

9) Chance (Vegas Golden Knights) Last year’s ranking 31st (despite not having a mascot at the time)

It took a little time for everyone to give chance a Chance, but he’s here to stay like the Golden Knights– and they mean business. Chance is just lovable enough to see himself bolt into the top-10 in this year’s power rankings, but a continued effort in the community could see him in the top-5 next year. Or maybe just more mean tweet videos. That was pretty good last season, you have to admit.

8) Blades the Bruin (Boston Bruins) Last year’s ranking 5th

Boston is bringing back a little more brown to their color palette this season with their 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic sweater, which will undoubtedly really bring out Blades’ fur and eyes. Until then, he’s only slipping a little because the Bruins don’t have an alternate sweater this season and the competition got tougher.

7) Fin (Vancouver Canucks) Last year’s ranking 10th

Fin is slowly working his way up towards the top of this list– fittingly at a time when it appears he’ll soon have a neighboring rival in Seattle. We’ll see if he can take a bite out of the competition like how killer whales eat penguins. Wait!?! That should actually deduct some points. At least Vancouver has this whole “turn your logo into a three-dimensional costumed character” down-pat.

6) Sabretooth (Buffalo Sabres) Last year’s ranking 8th

Did you see how Buffalo’s 2018 Winter Classic sweater looked on this tiger? No? Well, you need to get out more, because Sabretooth certainly did. He strut his stuff all over the community looking fashionable in royal blue and it’s a shame the Sabres don’t resort to that color full-time.

5) Slapshot (Washington Capitals) Last year’s ranking 4th

Slapshot won the Cup last season with the Capitals, but didn’t surface on the Internet anywhere in any fountains around D.C. What a shame. Washington did bring back their original sweater as an alternate once again and we all know Slapshot looks better in that than he does in their current red, white and blue threads.

4) Gritty (Philadelphia Flyers) Last year’s ranking 29th (even though Philly didn’t have a mascot since 1976)

What do you mean you didn’t know about Gritty? Have you even been on the Internet, seen TV or anything this week? Gritty is all the rage. Gritty is here and now. Gritty is here to stay. Like him or not– he’s got (gr)it. And googly eyes (bonus points!).

3) Bailey (Los Angeles Kings) Last year’s ranking 1st

Last year’s winner of our mascot power rankings is this year’s second-runner up. It’s through no fault of his own, really, just time to pass the Kings (get it?) crown on to someone else. Fear not though, Bailey can crawl into the arms of Ilya Kovalchuk this season and be just fine.

2) S.J. Sharkie (San Jose Sharks) Last year’s ranking 2nd

What’s not to love about a lovable loser? Not that I’m implying S.J. Sharkie is a loser, but he does live near the Charles M. Schultz Museum, so he’s got a little Charlie Brown in him. It just happens. But hey, Erik Karlsson’s on the Sharks now, so maybe this is their year!*

*He says, every year.

1) Iceburgh (Pittsburgh Penguins) Last year’s ranking 7th

What makes Iceburgh No. 1 this year? Just look at him. He’s always well-dressed, though that might have something to do with the built-in formal look of penguins, Iceburgh is one hot mascot. He ages like a fine wine. Unlike Sidney Crosby’s playoff beard, which has somehow gotten worse the older “Sid the Kid” gets (I’m joking, it’s actually improved too).

 


In all seriousness though, all of the league’s mascots do an amazing job cheering up kids in visits around their community, entertaining their fans and rooting for their respective teams, so hats off to the people living inside of the sweaty costumes (actually, some are air-conditioned, so let’s maybe not give them that much credit for having a cooler job than the rest of us. Get it?).

DTFR Podcast #125- 2018-19 Metropolitan Division Season Preview

Injuries, Stealth, Miles Wood, Brian Gionta’s retirement, Gritty, Ottawa, Shea Theodore and our 2018-19 Metropolitan Division Season Preview. Bring on the regular season already.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

Anaheim Ducks 2018-19 Season Preview

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Anaheim Ducks

44-25-13, 101 points, 2nd in the Pacific Division

Swept in the First Round by San Jose, 4-0

Additions: G Jared Coreau, F Chase De Leo (acquired from WPG), F Brian Gibbons, F Anton Rodin, F Carter Rowney, D Luke Schenn, F Ben Street, D Andrej Sustr

Subtractions: D Francois Beauchemin (retired), G Reto Berra (signed, Switzerland), F Jared Boll (retired), F J.T. Brown (signed with MIN), F Derek Grant (signed with PIT), F Chris Kelly (retired), F Nicolas Kerdiles (traded to WPG), F Mike Liambas (signed with MIN), F Andre Petersson (signed, KHL), F Corey Tropp (signed with San Diego Gulls, AHL)

Still Unsigned: D Kevin Bieksa, F Jason Chimera, F Nick Ritchie, F Scott Sabourin, F Antoine Vermette

Re-signed: F Ondrej Kase, F Kalle Kossila, D Brandon Montour, F Kevin Roy, D Andy Welinski

Offseason Analysis: Despite finishing one point ahead of the San Jose Sharks in the final standings at the end of the regular season, the Sharks took a bite out of the Anaheim Ducks in the First Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. So much of a bite, in fact, it swept the Ducks off their feet.

Get it? Because they got swept in the postseason.

Despite winning the Cup with Randy Carlyle behind the bench in 2007, Anaheim needs to recognize just how much has changed in the last 11 years. The Ducks got back with their ex and fell into their old habits in a new-age game.

Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler aren’t the players they used to be. It’s not that Perry can’t score, it’s just that he’s not as effective. As for the Ryans (Getzlaf and Kesler), one’s still existent (Getzlaf) though he’d be much better on the second or third line– or at least flanked by youth on his wings– and the other (Kesler) has become irrelevant.

Rickard Rakell would be better at center and well… the key is Carlyle has to revamp the lines, given what General Manager Bob Murray‘s handed to him this offseason (not much).

Brian Gibbons and Carter Rowney are fourth liners, so depth down the bottom-six is covered, at least. Meanwhile Luke Schenn and Andrej Sustr provide excellent coverage as sixth defensemen fighting for the last spot on Anaheim’s blue line, which is one of two bright spots for the Ducks heading into 2018-19.

Anaheim’s defensive core is strong with Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson, Cam Fowler and Brandon Montour as their top-four defenders. As one of the most under-the-radar defensive core, they’ve kept John Gibson‘s workload to a manageable– wait, actually, Gibson faced 435 shots more in eight additional games last season than he did in 2016-17.

For the record, Gibson faced 1,437 shots against in 52 games (25-16-9 record) in 2016-17, while he faced 1,872 shots against in 60 games (31-18-7) last season. Though the workload increased, Gibson’s save percentage improved from a .924 to a .926. He also won over half the games he played in last season.

So Anaheim’s main strong point is the best American goaltender in the game, while having one of the better than average defenses in the game. Meanwhile, Nick Ritchie remains an unsigned RFA that Murray has to manage carefully.

Quintessential to the transition from the 2000s/2010s style Ducks to the 2020s era Ducks, the 22-year-old left winger is Anaheim’s biggest blue chip roster player outside of the crease. Ritchie is just waiting to emerge with a breakout year as Troy Terry joins the fold on offense.

The fact of the matter remains– play the kids more.

It can only help manage the workload of the physically worn out Ducks that have been around for the last decade. Perry might still produce, but it’s time to break him free from Getzlaf on the first line.

Ondrej Kase could move up a line, but Jakob Silfverberg isn’t actually the problem on the second line.

Anaheim’s in the middle of something– middle of the road, middle of a transition or middle of mediocrity. Whatever it is, they didn’t do much this offseason to fix it this season, but there’s still time to turn things around in the next few years– wait, Perry, Getzlaf and Kesler all have NMCs in their contracts that have three, three and four-years remaining respectively?

Oh boy.

Offseason Grade: D+

No you can’t get an “A” by default after having Francois Beauchemin, Jared Boll and Chris Kelly retire in one offseason from your roster.

John Gibson might be the closest thing to Dominik Hasek that we’ve seen since Dominik Hasek led the nonchalant 1999 Buffalo Sabres (seriously, look up the scoring leaders for that team, it trails off after Miroslav Satan— shouts Puck Soup) in the dead puck/trap era to the Stanley Cup Final– that’s if Gibson single handedly leads the Ducks to the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, mind you, and the mountain looks too steep.

DTFR Podcast #124- 2018-19 Pacific Division Season Preview

Erik Karlsson finally got traded, NHL 19 came out and our official 2018-19 Pacific Division Season Preview just so happened to be this week too. Nick and Connor place their bets on the San Jose Sharks and more.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

Los Angeles Kings 2018-19 Season Preview

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Los Angeles Kings

45-29-8, 98 points, 4th in the Pacific Division

1st Wild Card in the West, swept in the First Round by VGK 4-0

Additions: G Peter Budaj (acquired from TB), F Ilya Kovalchuk, F Zach Mitchell

Subtractions: F Andy Andreoff (traded to TB), F Andrew Crescenzi (signed, Austria), D Christian Folin (signed with PHI), D Kevin Gravel (signed with EDM), F Michael Mersch (signed with DAL), F Torrey Mitchell (signed, Switzerland), F Tobias Rieder (signed with EDM), D Jordan Subban (signed with TOR), G Scott Wedgewood (signed with BUF)

Still Unsigned: F Justin Auger

Re-signed: D Paul LaDue, D Alex Lintuniemi, D Kurtis MacDermid

Offseason Analysis: Cash-strapped in the era of the salary cap and nearing the end of their Stanley Cup contention window, the Los Angeles Kings went out and signed 35-year-old Ilya Kovalchuk to a three-year deal worth $6.250 million per season.

Normally, $6.250 million per season isn’t a terrible deal, especially on a three-year contract for a player that’s over 30. One of the problems with this deal, however, is that Kovalchuk is 35.

By the end of his current contract he’ll be 38.

With just over $2.100 million in cap space right now, the Kings have all but sealed their fate to a rebuild after Kovalchuk’s playing days are done– assuming he’s going to retire for the second time after the 2020-21 season.

Anze Kopitar (31) isn’t getting any younger, despite being under contract at $10.000 million through 2023-24. Dustin Brown (33) is signed for the next four-years and the same goes for Jeff Carter (33). Los Angeles’s core group of forwards is aging– and aging fast without anything screaming up the depth charts.

Half of their forwards are 31 or older.

On defense, Jake Muzzin‘s turning 30 in February, Dion Phaneuf (33) and Alec Martinez (31) lead the way among older blue liners. Oh yeah and Drew Doughty (28) is in the final year of his $7.000 million AAV contract.

Don’t worry, Kings fans, General Manager Rob Blake took care of any doubts about Doughty’s future by signing the star defender to an eight-year extension beginning in 2019-20 at $11.000 million per season.

That raise of $4.000 million? Yeah, that doesn’t help the cap situation. No amount of Norris Trophy’s or Selke Trophy’s can counteract rising salaries– in fact, they don’t help negotiations from a general manager’s perspective.

But why worry about the future when Los Angeles is trying to win one more Cup now?

After all, starting goaltender Jonathan Quick is 32-years-old and on a friendly $5.800 million per season through 2022-23. When things start to tumble, the Kings can flip Quick and retain some salary to… well, let’s not think about that– let’s assume Quick will be a King for life.

There’s no bright scenario on the horizon for Los Angeles. Time is ticking away.

While head coach John Stevens looks to improve from last season’s 45-29-8 record (98 points) on the season, he’s looking at doing so with an aging core and on the backs of a 32-year-old starting goalie and 36-year-old backup (Peter Budaj). Unless Jack Campbell, 26, is finally ready to emerge as an NHL backup.

Oh and Stevens is at the helm of a team in California (did anybody see the Erik Karlsson trade the other day? The San Jose Sharks got a lot better, like, as good as– if not better than– the Nashville Predators defense)– let alone the rest of the Pacific Division (hello Vegas Golden Knights).

But less about the worries for the Kings and more about just what will Kovalchuk do in his NHL return?

He last had a 31-point season (11 goals, 20 assists) for the New Jersey Devils in 37 games during the lockout shortened 48-game 2012-13 season. Prior to that Kovalchuk had 37-46–83 totals in 77 games with the Devils in 2011-12, which was, oh yeah that season New Jersey went on to face the Kings in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final (he had one point in that series).

Then came the summer of 2012 when “Kovy” retired. This, of course, came two-years into his 17-year (whoops, cap circumvention) 15-year, $100 million contract that he signed with New Jersey in 2010.

Devils fans felt cheated, not that Atlanta Thrashers fans had already felt betrayed by Kovalchuk leaving their team for New Jersey in the first place.

Kovalchuk returned to Russia, signing a four-year contract with SKA St. Petersburg (KHL), where he went on to have 16-24–40 totals in 45 games in 2013-14, then 55 points (54 games played) in 2014-15 , 49 points (50 GP) in 2015-16, 78 points (60 GP) in 2016-17 and 31-32–63 totals (53 GP) in 2017-18 with the club.

So he hasn’t lost his scoring touch.

At least, that’s what Stevens and Blake are hoping. A lot has changed in the NHL since his departure, namely speed and skill. It’s not a question of whether Kovalchuk can put pucks in the net, but rather, can he skate with the rest of the league’s teams zooming around on the ice?

Especially as the Kings continue to rely on a burly version of the game– one that still emphasized more physicality than other teams, despite Stevens’s refined approach last season.

Keeping a watchful eye on the stars in Los Angeles isn’t an uncommon thing. For Kovalchuk, it’s about to be part of his life again, but on a bigger scale than Atlanta or New Jersey.

Offseason Grade: B-

By default, landing one of 2018’s top unrestricted free agents not named John Tavares means the Los Angeles Kings improved and deserve an “above-average” rating for their offseason marks. But the Kings didn’t get any younger and let some expendable assets (Tobias Rieder, Kevin Gravel and Christian Folin) walk that helped spread a little depth down the lineup when necessary.

This season and next offseason are crucial to the future direction of the organization, what with Adrian Kempe, 22, entering the final year of his entry-level contract this season and that salary cap thing again. Things cannot remain stagnant for too long.

Or else the Kings might be the next Chicago Blackhawks.

2018-19 NHL Schedule Analysis

It’s that time of year again – it’s time to analyze the NHL’s schedule for the upcoming season.

As mentioned in last year’s edition of this post, these sorts of columns aren’t usually associated with the NHL due in large part to the fact that every team plays every other team at least twice – once at home and once on the road – for a fairly even strength of schedule for each and every club. However, there’s more than a few benchmarks on the league’s calendar, as well as some important stretches in each organization’s individual schedule, that makes each team’s campaign unique.

In terms of how the schedule can be divided, the NHL’s offering for this upcoming season is very similar to the one we just completed in June in that it can be divided into fourths. One quarter of the season – approximately 21 games played for every team – is compacted between Opening Day (scheduled for October 3) and American Thanksgiving, the second of nine days this year without any regular season play.

American Thanksgiving is not an arbitrarily picked date, mind you. Longtime fans of DtFR know there’s more than a few stat-heads in residence around here, and one of our favorites is that teams in playoff position by American Thanksgiving qualify for the postseason over 75 percent of the time. For those wondering, last season was a bit wild in regards to that statistic, as only 11 (instead of the usual 12) of the teams in playoff position by the Thanksgiving Break punched tickets to the dance.

I’m not here to point fingers, but the St. Louis Blues were on top of the Western Conference when they sat down for their 2017 turkey feasts. Maybe the tryptophan stuck around for the remainder of the season?

Excuse this Blues fan’s digressions.

I usually consider the second and third quarters as one group (for those bad at math, that’s half the schedule), meaning Black Friday (November 23) to February 24 provides the main bulk of the season – approximately 41 games per team (funny how that works out to half an 82-game season, isn’t it?). Just like Thanksgiving, February 24 is not a date simply drawn out of a hat. Instead, that is the last day of play before February 25’s trade deadline.

It is in this chunk of the season that a team truly proves itself in the face of a grinding schedule, as clubs will be playing at least three games a week for 13 weeks with only two major breaks – the standard three-day Christmas holiday and the All-Star Break/bye week (more on that in a moment).

After the trade deadline, the NHL’s regular season schedule is hot and heavy until it comes to a close on April 6 (You hear that Boston? No extending the season this year!). With every club packing approximately 20 games into only 41 days, teams will effectively be in action every other day as they scramble to complete their playoff qualification or improve upon their seeding.

Of course, there’s always a few wildcards that try to mess with this system. Take, for example, the Florida Panthers, who for the second season in a row have a backlogged schedule. With only 19 games on their calendar before Thanksgiving, the Panthers will play a whopping 22 games after the deadline to close out the season, meaning they just might complete they playoff push they came so close to pulling off last season.

On the flip side, Nashville is a team that has potential to see a stellar position in the standings – say, possession of the Presidents’ Trophy like Tampa Bay had for much of the season – slip through its fingers at the bitter end. The Predators will lace up their skates only 18 times after the trade deadline for the fewest number of tilts in that time span of any club in the NHL.

In terms of spacing their games evenly across the season, the teams with the most-balanced schedules include the Avalanche, Blackhawks, Bruins, Canadiens, Flyers, Lightning, Rangers, Senators, Sharks, Stars and Wild.


This season marks the third season of bye weeks in the NHL, and the league is continuing to make adjustments on the breaks to maximize the benefits for players while minimizing the impact on its overall product.

Year 1 featured byes scattered throughout the schedule from New Year’s all the way into March, creating confusion among fans and, presumably, opposing coaching staffs alike as we tried to keep track of which organizations had taken their breaks already and which were still playing on tired legs.

To alleviate that concern, the NHL condensed all byes into the span of two weeks in January last season with relative success. Gone was the chance of catching a team that had played for four-straight months without much of a break, as well as the chance a team could enter the playoffs with any sniff of an edge due to enjoying their bye later in the season. However, what that design created was a month book-ended by the Christmas and All-Star Breaks that lacked much action, as it’s tough to have games taking place when literally half the league is resting.

In my opinion, the league just might have found a winning formula in its third try. This year’s schedule sees every team’s bye week attached to the All-Star Weekend in San Jose. 21 clubs will enjoy the majority of their breaks following the festivities on January 24-27, while the remaining 10 will take their byes before the weekend or have it split on either side of the break.

What results is a minimum of four days off for all players regardless of their participation in San Jose, plus the four days allocated to the All-Star events that only a handful of players will attend. In addition, by selecting a majority of the 10 teams that will take their byes before the All-Star Break from the Eastern Conference, the NHL can schedule those sides for enough games to fill the scheduling void since travel between those cities is far shorter than in the West.

The players get their breaks and the NHL keeps hockey in arenas and on TV: I’d say everybody wins.


My favorite days of the regular season are always when there’s 15 games on the schedule, leaving only one team inactive. I guess that means I’ll have to do my Christmas shopping on a different day, because the first of those dates is November 23 – right after American Thanksgiving.

Unfortunately for Kings fans, their favorite club will be left out in the cold that day (who am I kidding, is there ever a cold day in Los Angeles?), but they’ll get to participate in December 29’s loaded schedule at the expense of Columbus.

Finally, the last 15-game day of the calendar is on April 6 – the final day of the regular season. Just like the Kings were the first team to be absent on a slammed schedule, the Ducks will be the odd team out, as their 82nd and final game of the regular season will take place the day before against Los Angeles at Honda Center.

ANAHEIM DUCKS – eliminated in First Round, 101 points

It’s hard to tell: did the Ducks have the worst road record of any 2018 Pacific Division playoff team because of all their injuries, or because their style of play is on the verge of extinction in the NHL’s current era of speed and skill?

I have a sneaking suspicion we’ll know soon enough, as four of Anaheim’s first six games are away from Honda Center. Should the Ducks struggle in Glendale against the potentially up-and-coming Coyotes in Game 2 of the regular season on October 6, there just might be cause for concern in Orange County.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 13 days (December 15-27)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 14 days (December 29-January 11)

BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Colorado, vs. Florida, vs. Winnipeg, vs. San Jose, at Los Angeles, at Vancouver, at Calgary, at Edmonton, vs. Calgary, vs. Los Angeles

ARIZONA COYOTES – 29th, 70 points

Going 0-10-1 in your opening 11 games is going to have a majorly detrimental effect on more than your overall record, so it’s no surprise the Coyotes ended the season with the worst home and road records of any club in the Western Conference. However, Arizona posted an 11-7-2 record in its last 20 games to close the campaign, so perhaps the Yotes aren’t as far off the mark as they seem on the surface.

Just like last season, Arizona’s first 11 games could answer a lot of questions about this organization moving forward, as the Coyotes have drawn a balanced schedule to open their season. Six of their first 11 opponents qualified for the playoffs last season (including Winnipeg [Oct. 20] and the Lightning [Oct. 27]), but almost all of the other five were nowhere close to the playoff bubble (Dallas [Oct. 4] was closest, but still missed the postseason by three points). Now, the Coyotes don’t necessarily have to have a winning record by the time October is through, but at least a .500 record would be reason enough to begin believing in this squad.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 17 days (January 20-February 5)

BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 14 days (February 24-March 9)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Tampa Bay, at Florida, at New Jersey, at NY Islanders, vs. Chicago, at Colorado, vs. Minnesota, vs. Los Angeles, at Vegas, vs. Winnipeg

BOSTON BRUINS – eliminated in Second Round, 112 points

Known for its brutal winters and Nor’easters, few look forward to making the trip to Boston during the wintertime. Count hockey players in particular among the professionals unexcited about a visit to New England, as TD Garden was home to the best home team in the Atlantic Division.

The Bruins fell just one point short of claiming the Eastern Conference crown last regular season, but they’ll have a chance to take an early lead this year when they open the season with eight-straight games against teams that failed to miss the playoffs. After visiting Washington D.C. for the Capitals’ banner raising ceremony on October 3, Boston will head to Buffalo (Oct. 4) before returning home to host the Senators (Oct. 8), Oilers (Oct. 11) and Red Wings (Oct. 13). Then, they’re off to Canada, taking on Calgary (Oct. 17), Edmonton (Oct. 18), Vancouver (Oct. 20) and Ottawa (Oct. 23) before returning home.

BYE WEEK: January 20-28 (nine days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days (February 15-23)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 12 days (February 26-March 9)

LAST 10 GAMES: at NY Islanders, at New Jersey, at Florida, at Tampa Bay, vs. NY Rangers, vs. Florida, at Detroit, at Columbus, at Minnesota, vs. Tampa Bay

BUFFALO SABRES – 31st, 62 points

Is it a surprise that the worst home team of the NHL ended up being the worst team at the end of the season? KeyBank Center was not a friendly place for the Sabres last year, but that’s sure to change with first-overall draft pick D Rasmus Dahlin joining the club to excite the loyal Buffalo fans.

Surely to the surprise of many, the Sabres did not finish the 2017-18 season with the worst road record in the league (that belonged to division rival Montréal). 14-20-7 away from home is far from pretty, but is is certainly something to build off of as Buffalo tries to return to the postseason for the first time in eight years.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 17 days (January 14-30)

BYE WEEK: January 19-28 (10 days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 15 days (February 1-15)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Toronto, at Montréal, at New Jersey, at Ottawa, vs. Detroit, at NY Islanders, vs. Columbus, vs. Nashville, vs. Ottawa, at Detroit

CALGARY FLAMES – 20th, 84 points

Teams with outstanding road records in the regular season are usually pretty dangerous in the postseason – but only if they qualify. Enter the curious case of the Calgary Flames last season, as they tied St. Louis for the honor of Best Road Team among those that failed to qualify for the playoffs with a 20-15-6 mark away from the Saddledome.

If new Head Coach Bill Peters can maintain that success in white, he’ll need to make sure his troops are in tip-top shape at the start of the New Year when the Flames begin their longest home stand. During that extended stay in Alberta, Calgary will host tough competition of the likes of the Avalanche (Jan. 9) and Panthers (Jan. 11), as well as the improving Coyotes (Jan. 13) and Sabres (Jan. 16).

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 10 days (January 9-18)

BYE WEEK: January 23-31 (nine days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in eight days (February 9-16)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Columbus, vs. Ottawa, at Vancouver, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Dallas, vs. Anaheim, at San Jose, at Los Angeles, at Anaheim, vs. Edmonton

CAROLINA HURRICANES – 21st, 83 points

Upon first glance at their 36-35-11 record, you might think you would want the Hurricanes to be traveling to your favorite team’s arena in hopes of them earning two points. However, just the opposite was true, as the Canes tied Florida for the best road record of any Eastern Conference club to miss the postseason.

With that in mind, Metropolitan rivals Pittsburgh (Feb. 5) and New Jersey (Feb. 10) cannot afford to rest on their laurels when Carolina takes to its longest road trip of the season just after the bye week, as the Hurricanes are going to be more than eager to defend their Road Warrior title.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 14 days (November 10-23)

BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in eight days (February 5-12)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Minnesota, vs. Montréal, at Washington, vs. Washington, vs. Philadelphia, at Pittsburgh, at Toronto, vs. New Jersey, at Philadelphia

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS – 25th, 76 points

My, how the mighty have fallen. After winning its most recent Stanley Cup only three years ago, Chicago took a massive tumble last season to end up in last place in the Central Division, only six points removed from the bottom of the Western Conference. To add insult to injury, the Hawks’ 18-18-5 record at home and 15-21-5 record on the road qualified them for the division’s worst in both categories.

Playoff teams take care of business at home, so that is where the Blackhawks should focus most of their energy at the start of the season. It won’t take United Center very long to spring back to life if the Hawks can earn at least 10 points on home ice in October – an easy task considering four of their seven visiting opponents that month failed to qualify for the playoffs last season.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Four games in seven days (December 12-18)

BYE WEEK: January 23-31 (nine days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Three games in five days – 3x (February 1-5; February 27-March 3; March 26-30)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Philadelphia, at Colorado, vs. Colorado, at Arizona, at San Jose, at Los Angeles, vs. Winnipeg, vs. St. Louis, vs. Dallas, at Nashville

COLORADO AVALANCHE – eliminated in first round, 95 points

This might be intrinsic of any 16 seed, but the Avs had the worst home record of any Central Division playoff team and the worst road record of all playoff teams.

Excitement in Denver for the Avalanche is growing by the minute, so I think it’s a safe assumption that Colorado will improve on its 28-11-2 mark at Pepsi Center this season. However, it’s the Avs’ 15-19-7 away record that I’m most concerned with, and they’ll get a nice, balanced road trip in January to work out the kinks in their white sweaters. That road swing starts in Winnipeg with a tough match against the Jets (Jan. 8), followed by two softer tilts against the Flames (Jan. 9) and Canadiens (Jan. 12). The intensity gets ratcheted up again with a stop in Toronto (Jan. 14) before culminating with a visit to Ottawa (Jan. 16). If Colorado can come home with at least seven points from that Canadian swing, it will be more than set up for another playoff appearance.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days (January 8-16)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 18 days (January 19-February 5)

BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Minnesota, at Dallas, vs. Chicago, at Chicago, vs. Vegas, vs. Arizona, at St. Louis, vs. Edmonton, vs. Winnipeg, at San Jose

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS – eliminated in first round, 97 points

A 2-0 advantage heading back to Nationwide Arena wasn’t enough to get the Blue Jackets their first playoff series victory, so it’s back to the drawing board again this season.

Going off last year’s table, the toughest stretch in Columbus’ schedule is surely its six-game run leading up to the Christmas break. The Jackets host the Kings (Dec. 13), Ducks (Dec. 15), Golden Knights (Dec. 17) and Devils (Dec. 20) before heading east to take on Philadelphia (Dec. 22) and New Jersey (Dec. 23). Since those last three matchups are in the division, they’re obviously more important, but if Columbus is as good as I think it is, it should come away with at least eight points over that stretch.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 13 days (December 8-20)

BYE WEEK: January 20-28 (nine days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in nine days (March 16-24)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Calgary, at Edmonton, at Vancouver, vs. NY Islanders, vs. Montréal, at Nashville, at Buffalo, vs. Boston, at NY Rangers, at Ottawa

DALLAS STARS – 19th, 92 points

Dallas’ 26-12-3 home record tied with Columbus for the 13th-best home mark in the NHL last season, yet the Stars failed to qualify for the postseason (in fact, the Stars had the best home record of any Western Conference club to miss the playoffs).

That’s what draws me to the Stars’ Halloween road trip throughout the Eastern Conference. If American Airlines Center is going to maintain its status as one of the tougher places to play in this league, the Stars are going to need to expel some ghosts and improve on their road effort if they want to extend their season beyond 82 games.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 10 days (October 28-November 6)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 21 days (January 12-February 1)

BYE WEEK: January 20-29 (10 days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Florida, vs. Colorado, vs. Pittsburgh, at Winnipeg, at Calgary, at Edmonton, at Vancouver, vs. Philadelphia, at Chicago, vs. Minnesota

DETROIT RED WINGS – 27th, 73 points

How nice is it that the league is letting the W Filip Zadina Era officially get underway with his NHL debut taking place at home? That game might be against a solid Blue Jackets team, but there shouldn’t be an empty seat in Little Caesars Arena on October 4 in anticipation of seeing what this kid is capable of.

Unfortunately for the rebuilding Red Wings, there’s 81 more games remaining on their schedule that might not be met with quite the same fanfare. Even if Detroit is still in contention late in the season, it’ll be hard pressed to make up any ground in the standings as six of its last 10 games – including five straight – are on the road.

BYE WEEK: January 23-31 (nine days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 10 days (February 17-26)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 10 days (March 19-28)

LAST 10 GAMES: at NY Rangers, at St. Louis, at Vegas, at San Jose, at Buffalo, vs. New Jersey, vs. Boston, vs. Pittsburgh, at Pittsburgh, vs. Buffalo

EDMONTON OILERS – 23rd, 78 points

With one of, if not the best player in the game in C Connor McDavid on their team, the Oilers surely have to be better than last season, right? If that is the case, Edmonton’s comeback story will find an interesting start when it squares off against New Jersey at Sweden’s Scandinavium – the home nation of LW Pontus Aberg, D Oscar Klefbom, D Adam Larsson and RW Jesse Puljujarvi – on October 6.

However, the point of the Oilers’ schedule I’m most interested in is the seven games leading up to their bye week. All seven of those tilts will be against clubs that missed the playoffs last year, with all but one taking place at Rogers Place where the Oil were the best home team in the Pacific Division that failed to qualify for the postseason. If Edmonton can’t capitalize on a juicy stretch like that, this team is beyond hope.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 14 days (December 18-31)

BYE WEEK: January 23-February 1 (10 days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in eight days (February 25-March 4)

LAST 10 GAMES: at St. Louis, vs. Columbus, vs. Ottawa, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Dallas, vs. Anaheim, at Vegas, at Colorado, vs. San Jose, at Calgary

FLORIDA PANTHERS – 16th, 96 points

Though finishing in ninth place in the Eastern Conference in 2017-18 is usually reason enough to predict the Panthers could qualify for the playoffs this season, there’s even more evidence for those willing to dig a little bit deeper.

The Devils (Nov. 26), Ducks (Nov. 28), Lightning (Dec. 1), Bruins (Dec. 4) and Avalanche (Dec. 6) may be coming to Sunrise during Florida’s longest home stand, but the fact that the Panthers were the NHL’s best home team to miss the playoffs will surely play in their favor. Similarly, there will be no fear in the Cats’ eyes when they travel to Philadelphia (Nov. 13), Columbus (Nov. 15) or Tampa Bay (Nov. 21) during their longest sabbatical from BB&T Center, as Florida also boasts (along with Carolina) the best road record of any Eastern Conference team to fail to qualify for the 2018 postseason.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 11 days (November 13-23)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Eight games in 15 days (November 24-December 8)

BYE WEEK: January 22-31 (10 days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Dallas, vs. Arizona, vs. Boston, at Toronto, at Montréal, at Ottawa, at Boston, vs. Washington, vs. NY Islanders, vs. New Jersey

LOS ANGELES KINGS – eliminated in First Round, 98 points

This year’s winner of the 2018-19 Bye Lottery is none other than the Kings of Tinseltown, who’ll get a whopping 11 days off the ice to rest and recuperate for the final 32 games of their regular season.

Speaking of byes, keep an eye on the Kings in the days following American Thanksgiving. From November 24-December 4, they’ll play seven games, all of which are against competition who’s 2017-18 campaigns ended after 82 games last season. Making that slice of their schedule even sweeter, six of those sides are from within Los Angeles’ own division, meaning the Kings could start staking a real claim for the Pacific before Christmas if they take care of business – something they didn’t exactly do a good job of last season (the Kings had the worst home record of any playoff team last season).

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 17 days (October 28-November 13)

BYE WEEK: January 22-February 1 (11 days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 10 days (February 2-11)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. San Jose, vs. Anaheim, at Calgary, at Edmonton, at Vancouver, vs. Chicago, vs. Calgary, at Arizona, at Anaheim, vs. Vegas

MINNESOTA WILD – eliminated in First Round, 101 points

Every team looks forward to its bye week, but none will need it as much as the Wild. The toughest stretch of Minnesota’s schedule is the six games leading up to the festivities in San Jose, as all of those matchups are against clubs that qualified for the playoffs a season ago.

Minnesota starts that run in Philadelphia on January 14, followed only a day later by a visit to Xcel Energy Center by the Kings. After that, the Ducks (Jan. 17) and Blue Jackets (Jan. 19) both make trips north before the Wild head west to take on Vegas (Jan. 21) and Colorado (Jan. 23). It’s a tough run (especially the game against the Avs, against whom the Wild lost three of four games last season by a combined 19-4 score), but this Minnesota club is a veteran group that should rise to the occasion.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Seven games in 14 games (October 29-November 11)

BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in nine days (March 11-19)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. NY Islanders, vs. Colorado, at Washington, at Carolina, vs. Nashville, at Vegas, at Arizona, vs. Winnipeg, vs. Boston, at Dallas

MONTRÉAL CANADIENS – 28th, 71 points

The start of the season has a decent chance of being painful for the Habs (they open their campaign at Toronto [Oct. 3] and Pittsburgh [Oct. 6] before returning home to host the Kings [Oct. 11] and Penguins [Oct. 13]), but they’ll then have five-straight tilts against teams that missed the playoffs last season to warm up in anticipation of their first meeting of the year against arch-rival Boston (Oct. 27).

If the Canadiens are going to improve this campaign, they’re going to need to figure out their road woes from a season ago. Finishing the season with a league-worst 11-26-4 record away from Bell Centre is simply not going to cut it – unless Montréal is planning on drafting D Bowen Byram, F Cole Caufield or C Jack Hughes with another lottery pick next summer.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 13 days (December 19-31)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 22 days (January 19-February 9)

BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Philadelphia, vs. NY Islanders, vs. Buffalo, at Carolina, vs. Florida, at Columbus, at Winnipeg, vs. Tampa Bay, at Washington, vs. Toronto

NASHVILLE PREDATORS – Presidents’ Trophy winner, 117 points

The Predators had their sights on something a little bit bigger than the Presidents’ Trophy last season (the Capitals know all about that plight), but their championship window is still wide open – just as long as they figure out when they want to hand the crease over to G Juuse Saros.

Of the many games and series I’m looking forward to this season, few shine as bright as the Preds’ four showdowns with Winnipeg. Fortunately for us, the first of those is scheduled for October 11 – only nine days into the 2018-19 season – but the series will really heat up in March when the final two meetings take place in the span of 23 days. Though Winnipeg is known for its home-ice advantage, Nashville has full intentions of improving on a NHL-best of its own: a 25-9-7 road record.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in nine days (November 25-December 3)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 10 days (January 4-13)

BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at San Jose, vs. Toronto, vs. Pittsburgh, at Winnipeg, at Minnesota, at Pittsburgh, vs. Columbus, at Buffalo, vs. Vancouver, vs. Chicago

NEW JERSEY DEVILS – eliminated in First Round, 97 points

Like a top-flight college football team, the Devils are playing a neutral-site game to open their regular season. However, what sets New Jersey apart from Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State, Oklahoma, USC and the likes is that its tilt against the Oilers will not take place in North America, but instead at Scandinavium in Gothenburg, Sweden (homeland of W Jesper Bratt and F Marcus Johansson).

Talk about a truly impartial crowd.

Few teams are going to be looking forward to the Christmas break quite like Jersey. Starting with a showdown in Washington on November 30, the Devils will begin a series of 10-straight games against teams that were in the playoffs last season – none more anticipated than a home rematch against the Lightning on December 3.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Four games in eight days (October 11-18)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Seven games in 13 days (October 30-November 11)

BYE WEEK: January 20-27 (eight days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Colorado, vs. Washington, vs. Boston, vs. Arizona, vs. Buffalo, at Detroit, vs. St. Louis, vs. NY Rangers, at Carolina, at Florida

NEW YORK ISLANDERS – 22nd, 80 points

As someone who’s never visited either Barclays Center or Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, I do not know if the Isles’ three homecoming games are going to be awesome because (a) the team returns to the building where they won four-straight Stanley Cups or (b) they’re playing in a building actually built for hockey, but I do know they’ll be awesome nonetheless.

Another thing I know is that the Islanders’ longest home stand (five games, all of which will be contested in Brooklyn) will likely not be a fun one, as C Mathew Barzal‘s side will be hosting the Maple Leafs on February 28 (complete with former captain C John Tavares), Capitals (Mar. 1) and Flyers (Mar. 3) in the span of four days, all of which were playoff teams only a few months ago. That tough stretch will do the Islanders no favors as they try to shed the label of the Metropolitan Division’s worst home team.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in eight days (October 13-20)

BYE WEEK: January 23-31 (nine days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in eight days (February 26-March 5)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Boston, at Montréal, at Philadelphia, vs. Arizona, at Columbus, at Winnipeg, vs. Buffalo, vs. Toronto, at Florida, at Washington

NEW YORK RANGERS – 24th, 77 points

There’s a few fans and analysts out there that think the Rangers can complete their rebuild and get right back into the playoffs this season. That remains to be seen, but we’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect from these Blueshirts by the end of November.

No, I’m not talking about the American Thanksgiving thing that was mentioned earlier – though that is mathematically backed. Instead, I offer this note: good teams can beat other good teams, but great teams almost always defeat the clubs they’re supposed to. In that strain, eight of New York’s last nine tilts before Thanksgiving are against sides that failed to make the playoffs last year, with a majority of those tilts taking place in the Big Apple. If the Rangers can earn at least 12 points during that run, I’ll buy in that this team is for real. For them to do that, they’ll need to improve on a Metropolitan Division-worst 13-23-5 record away from Madison Square Garden.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in eight days – 2x (October 25-November 1; February 12-19)

BYE WEEK: January 20-28 (nine days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in nine days (February 2-10)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Detroit, at Toronto, vs. Pittsburgh, at Boston, vs. St. Louis, at Philadelphia, at New Jersey, vs. Ottawa, vs. Columbus, at Pittsburgh

OTTAWA SENATORS – 30th, 62 points

We shared our hot-like-a-Canadian-Tire-fire takes in the season previews earlier this summer, but I always have my concerns about a team enjoying its longest home stand before October even comes to a close. That means much of the Senators’ travels will be condensed into six months without the opportunity for an extended series of nights sleeping in their own homes.

If Ottawa can, by some unpredictable act of God, manage to get back on track this season, it has a very favorable schedule to close the campaign. Seven of its last 10 opponents failed to qualify for the playoffs last season, and the three that did all have to come to Canadian Tire Centre. If the Sens are within six points of a playoff spot by mid-March, they could be just the team to squeak into a fifth postseason berth in the last eight seasons.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 14 days (October 10-23)

BYE WEEK: January 23-31 (nine days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in eight days (February 14-21)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Vancouver, at Calgary, at Edmonton, vs. Buffalo, vs. Florida, vs. Toronto, vs. Tampa Bay, at NY Rangers, at Buffalo, vs. Columbus

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS – eliminated in First Round, 98 points

To all Flyers season ticket holders: consider grabbing a holiday ticket package to the 76ers this December, because you’re going to be hard pressed to watch much hockey at Wells Fargo Center that month. Of the 14 games Philadelphia will play in the final month of the year, a whopping 10 will be away from Broad Street.

Making matters even more difficult, eight of those December games will be against clubs that qualified for the postseason last year, including two contests against division rival Columbus. By midnight of January 2 (the Flyers are in Nashville on New Year’s Day), we will surely know if this season’s Philadelphia club can build upon last year’s success. If last year’s campaign is any indication, these Flyers should return to the City of Brotherly Love in good shape, as they had the best road record of any team in the Metropolitan Division last season.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 10 days – 2x (November 8-17; February 2-11)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 10 days (December 23-January 1)

BYE WEEK: January 20-27 (eight days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Montréal, at Chicago, vs. NY Islanders, at Washington, vs. Toronto, at Carolina, vs. NY Rangers, at Dallas, at St. Louis, vs. Carolina

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS – eliminated in Second Round, 100 points

Last season, Penguins fans bemoaned the number of back-to-back games on their favorite club’s schedule. The NHL must have heard those complaints, because there’s only 11 instances of that occurring this season, the first of which isn’t until November 23 (at Boston) and 24 (vs. Columbus) – the weekend following American Thanksgiving when every team but Minnesota and Ottawa plays two games in three days.

However, what Pittsburgh got in fewer back-to-backs, it gave up in home stands. The most consecutive home games the Pens will play this season is three, which they do a whopping six times in a 41-game home schedule at the toughest arena in the Eastern Conference (at least according to the Pens’ home record last season). That’ll lead to a lot of plane rides and hotel stays, which could wear on the squad as the season progresses.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Three games in eight days (October 4-11)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days (January 11-19)

BYE WEEK: January 20-27 (eight days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Philadelphia, at Carolina, at Nashville, at Dallas, at NY Rangers, vs. Nashville, vs. Carolina, at Detroit, vs. Detroit, vs. NY Rangers

SAN JOSE SHARKS – eliminated in Second Round, 100 points

Good luck finding a more balanced schedule in the Pacific Division, if not the entire NHL. The Sharks have two five-game road trips to go with their six-game home stand, and it’s rare that they have only a one-off stay at SAP Center. That means the Sharks should spend more nights in their own beds than other clubs, which will surely pay dividends later in the season when other teams are getting tired after a full season of play.

Based on last year’s standings, one of the toughest stretches of San Jose’s schedule looks like it will occur in mid-March, as the Sharks will host the Predators (Mar. 16) and Golden Knights (Mar. 18) before heading south to take on their California brethren on back-to-back days (Mar. 21 and 22). With that in mind, I’d expect San Jose to be in the mix for its seventh Pacific Division title and maybe, just maybe, a shot at the top seed in the Western Conference.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 10 days (October 5-14)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 13 days (November 11-23)

BYE WEEK: January 23-February 1 (10 days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Vegas, at Los Angeles, at Anaheim, vs. Detroit, vs. Chicago, vs. Vegas, vs. Calgary, at Vancouver, at Edmonton, vs. Colorado

ST. LOUIS BLUES – 18th, 94 points

One of the most striking things about the Blues’ schedule is that, of the five times they play Chicago all season, three of those showdowns are scheduled in October. If that doesn’t get F Ryan O’Reilly excited to play for the Notes, I don’t know what will.

Undoubtedly, one of the most important six-game stretches in St. Louis’ schedule occurs around American Thanksgiving, as the Blues will square off with five of last season’s Western Conference playoff teams, including a home-and-home series with the Predators on Thanksgiving Eve and Black Friday. For the Blues’ sake, hopefully G Jake Allen will choose any other time of the season for his annual month-long meltdown.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 18 days (October 25-November 11)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 18 days (January 21-February 7)

BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Edmonton, vs. Detroit, vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Vegas, at NY Rangers, at New Jersey, vs. Colorado, at Chicago, vs. Philadelphia, vs. Vancouver

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING – Prince of Wales Trophy runner-up, 113 points

There’s no way to start a campaign quite like an extended home stand, and that’s just what the Lightning have the privilege of this season. However, the Bolts can’t afford to get too comfortable (even if the toughest competition they’ll face during that home stay is Columbus on Oct. 13), as they’ll immediately embark on their longest road trip (a tour of the Western Conference) after a division tilt against the Red Wings (Oct. 18). Fortunately, they boasted the Eastern Conference’s best road record last season, so that surely won’t be a problem for them.

Coincidentally, we can combine a Californian road trip and the Blue Jackets to find the toughest stretch of Tampa Bay’s schedule – at least in terms of last season’s standings. The Bolts will head to Orange County for a New Year’s Eve showdown against the Ducks, followed three days later by a Tinseltown tilt and a jaunt up to San Jose on January 5. When C Steven Stamkos and co. return to the friendly confines of Amalie Arena on January 8, Columbus will be waiting for them to cap a four-game streak against playoff teams from a season ago – the longest such run on Tampa’s schedule.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 13 days (October 6-18)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in eight days (October 20-27)

BYE WEEK: January 20-29 (10 days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Arizona, at Washington, at Carolina, at St. Louis, vs. Boston, vs. Washington, at Ottawa, at Montréal, at Toronto, at Boston

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS – eliminated in First Round, 105 points

The Maple Leafs were good before Tavares showed up, but now Torontonians have Stanley Cups dancing in their dreams. We’ll have a discussion about the Leafs’ chances in their season preview later this summer (spoiler: that defense still hasn’t been fixed), but first it’ll be worth mentioning that they seem to have a balanced schedule in front of them.

Toronto gets a nice and easy initiation into its 2018-19 campaign by playing its first five games against clubs that failed to qualify for the 2018 postseason, but the pedal hits the metal on October 13 when five of the Maple Leafs’ next six opponents finished in the NHL’s Sweet 16. In fact, from Opening Day until American Thanksgiving, just under 60 percent of Toronto’s first 22 games will be against 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff teams, meaning the Leafs will need to be ready right out of the gate if they want to avoid playing catch-up in the standings for the remainder of the regular season.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Four games in 10 days (December 29-January 7)

BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 11 days (February 9-19)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Nashville, at Buffalo, vs. NY Rangers, vs. Florida, at Philadelphia, at Ottawa, at NY Islanders, vs. Carolina, vs. Tampa Bay, at Montréal

VANCOUVER CANUCKS – 26th, 73 points

With RW Brock Boeser and C Bo Horvat already in Vancouver and F Elias Pettersson champing at the bit to fulfill the Canucks’ Swedish quota, it’s hard to believe British Columbia’s NHL representative can remain at the bottom of the table for many more seasons.

Pretending, if only for a moment, that this is the year the Canucks start their upward climb, their seven-game home stand that effectively closes the season (Games 81 and 82 are in Nashville [Apr. 4] and St. Louis [Apr. 6]) will play a major role in determining their postseason fate. That series starts slow with visits from the Senators (Mar. 20) and Flames (Mar. 23), but picks up some real steam when Columbus (Mar. 24), Anaheim (Mar. 26), Los Angeles (Mar. 28), Dallas (Mar. 30) and San Jose (Apr. 2) roll into town. Every point is precious that time of year, so the blue-and-green’s extended time in their own beds could provide just the edge they need to qualify for the playoffs for the second time in six seasons.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 13 days (October 6-18)

BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 14 days (March 20-April 2)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Chicago, vs. Ottawa, vs. Calgary, vs. Columbus, vs. Anaheim, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Dallas, vs. San Jose, at Nashville, at St. Louis

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS – Stanley Cup runner-up, 109 points

In their inaugural season, the Golden Knights got blessed with an unbelievable seven-game home stand to open T-Mobile Arena (the venue that proved to be the best home-ice advantage in the Pacific Division). It looks like it’s time for the NHL to cash that $500 million check, as Vegas will embark on a five-game road trip only three days into the season after hosting the Flyers on October 4 (much to the chagrin of the rest of the league, Vegas finished last season tied with Los Angeles for the honor of “Best Visitor in the Pacific Division,” as they both had matching 22-14-5 records away from home).

Speaking of five-game runs, an important one for Vegas will get underway on Valentine’s Day. The Golden Knights host Toronto that night, followed by a visit from the Predators two days later. Then Vegas is off to Colorado (Feb. 18) before returning home to host the Bruins (Feb. 20) and Jets (Feb. 22). That is Vegas’ longest stretch of consecutive games against 2018 playoff teams, and the fact that three of those clubs are Western Conference foes means postseason seeding could be on the line.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in eight days (October 6-13)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 13 days (October 16-28)

BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at San Jose, vs. Winnipeg, vs. Detroit, at St. Louis, at Colorado, vs. Minnesota, at San Jose, vs. Edmonton, vs. Arizona, at Los Angeles

WASHINGTON CAPITALS – Stanley Cup champion, 105 points

Winning a championship is hard, but successfully defending that title can be even harder. That’s the next challenge facing W Alex Ovechkin‘s crew, and we’ll see if they’re up to it after their first five games – all of which are against clubs that qualified for the playoffs last season, including rival Pittsburgh (Oct. 4) and the reigning Western Champion Golden Knights (Oct. 10).

Even if the Caps don’t come out with a solid record after that series, they’ll still have more than enough time to whip their play under new Head Coach Todd Reirden into shape, as their next eight opponents all failed to extend their seasons beyond 82 tilts.

BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 11 days (February 1-11)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 12 days (February 12-23)

LAST 10 GAMES: at New Jersey, vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Minnesota, vs. Philadelphia, vs. Carolina, at Carolina, at Tampa Bay, at Florida, vs. Montréal, vs. NY Islanders

WINNIPEG JETS – Campbell Bowl runner-up, 114 points

RW Blake Wheeler and the Jets took a major step forward last season to advance all the way to the Western Conference Finals before falling in five games to Vegas. Expectations in Manitoba are going to be extremely high this campaign, but it’ll be interesting to see if this young roster can perform with a large target on its back.

A good indication of how Winnipeg will perform under that pressure will come in the first month of play. After a nice, long home stand that ends with a major matchup against the Maple Leafs (Oct. 24) at the league’s most intimidating home arena, the Jets will take to the road for a back-to-back in Detroit (Oct. 26) and Toronto (Oct. 27), then fly to Finland (RW Patrik Laine‘s homeland) for another back-to-back against the up-and-coming Panthers (Nov. 1 and 2). If G Connor Hellebuyck and co. can come away with a winning record after that extended, 9328-mile (that’s 15 megameters, Canadians) road trip, I have no doubt these Jets will be challenging for their first division title since 2006-07’s Southeastern title as the Atlanta Thrashers.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 11 days (October 14-24)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in 13 days (January 17-29)

BYE WEEK: January 20-27 (eight days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Anaheim, at Vegas, vs. Nashville, vs. Dallas, vs. NY Islanders, vs. Montréal, at Chicago, at Minnesota, at Colorado, at Arizona