Tag Archives: Buffalo Sabres

Bruins at Blue Jackets Preview: 4/2/2019

As the Boston Bruins (47-23-9, 103 points, 2nd in the Atlantic Division) continue their three-game road trip (0-1-0) with a visit to Nationwide Arena on Tuesday against the Columbus Blue Jackets (45-30-4, 94 points, 4th in the Metropolitan Division), they will do so without the services of Danton Heinen in the lineup.

Heinen is out Tuesday with an illness and will be replaced by Chris Wagner on the third line with Marcus Johnansson at left wing and Charlie Coyle at center.

Boston enters Columbus 18-15-6 on the road this season– coming off a, 6-3, loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday– tied in the season series, 1-1-0, with the Blue Jackets after suffering a, 7-4, loss on March 12th last time in Columbus and winning, 2-1, in overtime at TD Garden on March 16th.

The Bruins finished the month of March, 9-6-0, while the Blue Jackets– winners of their last five games– went 9-6-1 last month.

Columbus returns home Tuesday night after a, 4-0, shutout victory– Sergei Bobrovsky‘s league-leading 9th shutout of the season– over the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center on Sunday.

The B’s have lost nine games in regulation since Jan. 1st and are looking to clinch home ice in their First Round matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs with a win against Columbus and a loss for Toronto in any fashion against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday or an overtime/shootout loss to the Blue Jackets and the Maple Leafs lose in regulation on Tuesday.

If Boston doesn’t clinch home ice on Tuesday, their next chance to do so would be Thursday night. More on that as it develops.

With the exception of Wagner in for Heinen, Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, isn’t expected to make any other lineup changes despite the current two-game losing streak Boston is on.

Connor Clifton and Steven Kampfer remain healthy scratches, while John Moore (upper body) and Sean Kuraly (right hand fracture) are still out due to injury.

Tuukka Rask (26-12-5 record, 2.43 goals against average, .914 save percentage in 44 games played) will get the start in the crease for Boston against Columbus.

The Blue Jackets can clinch a playoff berth with a win Tuesday night in their final home game of the regular season and a Montreal Canadiens loss in regulation against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Columbus has the tiebreaker in regulation-plus-overtime wins over the Canadiens and Hurricanes with 44 ROWs to Carolina’s 41 and Montreal’s 40 this season.

Former Bruin, Adam McQuaid (day-to-day), remains out of the lineup for the Blue Jackets since being injured on an interference penalty by Canadiens forward, Andrew Shaw, on March 28th.

Markus Hannikainen, Lukas Sedlak, Eric Robinson, Adam Clendening, Andrew Peeke, Keith Kinkaid and Elvis Merzlikins are all expected to be scratches as well for Columbus against Boston.

Blue Jackets head coach, John Tortorella, will go with Bobrovsky (36-23-1, 2.55 GAA, .914 SV% in 60 GP) in net as the two clubs close out their regular season series.

Numbers Game: 2018-19 League Forecast Entering April

There’s only one week remaining in the 2018-19 regular season, so let’s make this quick. The 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin on April 10th.

The stretch run is almost complete. If you’re mathematically alive, you still have a chance. Already clinched a playoff berth? Isn’t a great feeling to be ahead of things for once?

If you’re not, then there’s a good chance you’re looking forward to the 2019 NHL Draft lottery (unless you’re the Ottawa Senators– you see, they traded their 2019 1st round pick last season to the Colorado Avalanche after opting to keep their 2018 1st round pick instead– it’s a long story).

Without further ado, here’s the latest standings forecast through the end of March 31, 2019– keeping in mind this is not an exact science.

Given recent and season long trends, as well as records from the last few seasons, the forecasted standings that appear below are only an educated guess.

Anything can happen (for teams that aren’t otherwise already elimination from postseason contention and/or division, conference of President’s Trophy winners).

Projected Standings After Six Months

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

  1. p-Tampa Bay Lightning, 126 points (78 games played entering April 1st)
  2. x-Boston Bruins, 110 points (79 GP)
  3. x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 100 points (78 GP)
  4. Montreal Canadiens, 95 points (79 GP)
  5. Florida Panthers, 87 points (79 GP)
  6. Buffalo Sabres, 75 points (79 GP)
  7. Detroit Red Wings, 74 points (79 GP)
  8. Ottawa Senators, 65 points (78 GP)

To no surprise, the Tampa Bay Lightning have already clinched the President’s Trophy in real life and come close to a 130-point season. Though the Bolts didn’t set an NHL record for “best regular season ever”, they did become the third team in league history to amass 60-plus wins in a season.

Also, sorry Nikita Kucherov, but you can’t spread out your 120-plus points over the course of the playoffs. Everything is reset to “zero” as if it’s a new season within a season altogether.

Is this the year Steven Stamkos records a point in a Game 7?

Meanwhile, the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs keep running into each other as Toronto is looking to avenge last postseason’s seven-game series loss to the Bruins.

Unless David Pastrnak has anything to say about that on the scoreboard.

The Montreal Canadiens come up short of a playoff berth thanks to the current tiebreaker format, whereby both the Columbus Blue Jackets and Carolina Hurricanes had more regulation-plus-overtime wins. If anything, there’s more hope for next season than this time around last season in Montreal.

And if you’re a Florida Panthers, Buffalo Sabres or Detroit Red Wings fan, for some reason you still think your teams are on the cusp of playoff contention– especially now that you’ve already reset your focus on being tied with all 31-NHL teams for 2020 Stanley Cup Playoff action.

However, unless the Panthers make some serious moves in the offseason, the Sabres find a system (and goaltender) and stick with it and the Red Wings try to speed up their rebuild, it might be Groundhog Day for another season or two.

Finally, Ottawa Senators fans, you exist. You’re real fans.

Metropolitan Division

  1. y-Washington Capitals, 105 points (79 GP)
  2. x-New York Islanders, 102 points (79 GP)
  3. x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 99 points (79 GP)
  4. wc1-Columbus Blue Jackets, 95 points (79 GP)
  5. wc2-Carolina Hurricanes, 95 points (79 GP)
  6. Philadelphia Flyers, 83 points (79 GP)
  7. New York Rangers, 77 points (78 GP)
  8. New Jersey Devils, 70 points (79 GP)

In the Metropolitan Division, the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals found a way to once-again reign as the division winner heading into the postseason.

After the New York Islanders charged out of the gate on the heels of Barry Trotz’s defensive masterplan and stellar goaltending from Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss, things have started to slide in Long Island.

The good news? Trotz is their head coach and is the defending Stanley Cup champion head coach.

The bad news? They’ll suit up against the Pittsburgh Penguins– annual Stanley Cup contenders as long as Sidney Crosby is still playing and Mike Sullivan is within his five-year window of being the game’s best coach in the playoffs– and that’s just the First Round.

In the Eastern Conference wild card race, Columbus entered April with 44 regulation-plus-overtime wins, leading the Hurricanes (41) and Canadiens (40).

Given the forecasted tie and methods in which each team would need to reach 95 points on the season, it appears as though nothing is going to change over the last week of the season.

Nothing should change anyway.

Not to jinx them or anything, but Carolina is looking to end the longest postseason drought in the major four North American professional sports. The Canes haven’t appeared in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2009.

For the Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils, there’s 1) maybe a goaltender you can rely on, 2) a goaltender who still hasn’t won a Cup and is sticking with a team that’s rebuilding and 3) a goaltender that finally won a game this season (Cory Schneider) and a goaltender that should be your starter next season (Mackenzie Blackwood).

Western Conference

Central Division

  1. y-St. Louis Blues, 99 points (78 GP)
  2. x-Winnipeg Jets, 98 points (78 GP)
  3. x-Nashville Predators, 97 points (79 GP)
  4. wc1-Dallas Stars, 93 points (79 GP)
  5. wc2-Colorado Avalanche, 89 points (78 GP)
  6. Minnesota Wild, 85 points (79 GP)
  7. Chicago Blackhawks, 81 points (78 GP)

Ever hear of a team going from worst to first? Now have you ever heard of a team doing that in the same season? Because the St. Louis Blues are that team this season (at least in the Central Division alone).

However, the point spread in the expected forecast from 1st to 3rd in the Central is only a two-point difference, which means it’s still anybody’s guess as to who will come out with the top-seed in the division.

Should the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators end up in a First Round rematch of last season’s Second Round battle, then you can expect the Jets to take flight. Just a hunch.

Meanwhile, the Western Conference wild card race came down to the wire and– you guessed it– another tiebreaker.

While the Dallas Stars laid claim to the first wild card spot, the Colorado Avalanche came out on top of the Arizona Coyotes for the last playoff spot by virtue of having won their regular season series, 2-1-0.

Things didn’t go so well for the Minnesota Wild this season, both because of injuries and because of a lot of inconsistency (so… injuries?).

For the Chicago Blackhawks, the season started in October, not January.

Pacific Division

  1. z-Calgary Flames, 109 points (79 GP)
  2. x-San Jose Sharks, 101 points (79 GP)
  3. x-Vegas Golden Knights, 95 points (79 GP)
  4. Arizona Coyotes, 89 points (79 GP)
  5. Edmonton Oilers, 83 points (78 GP)
  6. Anaheim Ducks, 80 points (80 GP)
  7. Vancouver Canucks, 80 points (79 GP)
  8. Los Angeles Kings, 70 points (78 GP)

The Calgary Flames clinched the best record in the Western Conference for the first time in almost 30 years. Conveniently, the Flames last won the Cup 30 years ago.

Guess it’s about time for another repeat of 2004, even though goal line technology could surely keep that from ever happening again whether you believe it was in or not.

Things are looking like business as usual for the San Jose Sharks as they gear up for another taxing First Round battle– this time around in a rematch from last year’s Second Round matchup with the Vegas Golden Knights.

The Golden Knights, by the way, are the 7th team to reach the postseason in their first two seasons of existence.

It’s too bad the Arizona Coyotes couldn’t pull off an incredible run, despite losing their starting goaltender to injury for the season before American Thanksgiving.

The fact that they’re not in the Jack Hughes vs. Kaapo Kakko conversation is about as close as you can come to winning the Cup this season when you’ve relied on Darcy Kuemper for over 20-consecutive starts.

That’s not a shot at Kuemper. That’s just [heck-]ing incredible (pardon my French).

Back up north in Edmonton, the Oilers are gearing up for another rebuild? Is it that time already? Probably not, but if it’s what Connor McDavid wants… (it’s not).

Thanks to that good old ROW tiebreaker, the Anaheim Ducks managed to climb above the Vancouver Canucks in the standings. That’s not saying much.

Vancouver should be this season’s Arizona, next season (minus the injuries). If that makes sense.

Anaheim, on the other hand, should sell, sell, sell this summer.

Finally, the Los Angeles Kings were crowned 2014 Stanley Cup champions for the 5th year in-a-row and finished in the basement of the Pacific.

Mantha’s hat trick sinks Bruins, 6-3, in Detroit

Anthony Mantha scored his first career hat trick in the midst of a five-point night on Sunday as the Detroit Red Wings beat the Boston Bruins, 5-3, at Little Caesars Arena.

Mantha became the first Red Wings player to record at least five points in a game against Boston since Steve Yzerman did so on Jan. 14, 1989. Yzerman had two goals and three assists that night.

Taro Hirose, Filip Hronek and Dylan Larkin also had goals for Detroit, while Jake DeBrusk, Brad Marchand and David Backes scored for the Bruins.

Red Wings goaltender, Jimmy Howard (22-20-5 record, 3.02 goals against average, .909 save percentage in 52 games played) made 31 saves on 34 shots against for a .912 SV% in the win.

Meanwhile, B’s netminder, Jaroslav Halak (21-11-4, 2.40 GAA, .920 SV% in 39 GP) stopped 22 out of 27 shots faced (.815 SV%) in the loss.

Boston fell to 47-23-9 (103 points) on the season, but remained in control of 2nd place in the Atlantic Division. Detroit improved to 31-38-10 (72 points) and crept over the Buffalo Sabres for 6th in the Atlantic (Detroit leads in regulation-plus-overtime wins, 28-26).

The Red Wings finished the season series with the 2-1-1 advantage.

Kevan Miller returned to the lineup after missing the last 16 games with an upper body injury and was paired on the third defensive pair with Matt Grzelcyk.

Connor Clifton joined Steven Kampfer as the only healthy scratches, while Chris Wagner (undisclosed) did not take part in warmups and was replaced with Karson Kuhlman.

Kuhlman was placed on the second line right wing with DeBrusk and David Krejci, while Marcus Johansson slid down to the third line left wing alongside Charlie Coyle and Danton Heinen.

Sean Kuraly (fractured right hand) and John Moore (upper body) remain week-to-week while Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, juggles his lines.

Six seconds into Sunday night, Torey Krug was penalized for roughing Dylan McIlrath. Detroit did not convert on the ensuing power play, but they did kickstart momentum in their favor.

Midway through the first period, Mantha (20) fired a one-timer over Halak’s glove on the short side to give the Red Wings the lead, 1-0.

Larkin (38) and Tyler Bertuzzi (23) had the assists on Mantha’s first goal of the night at 10:26 of the first period.

A few minutes later, Andreas Athanasiou slashed Krejci and sent the Bruins on their first power play of the night at 13:38. It was unsuccessful and shortly followed by another Boston power play at 17:07 when Christoffer Ehn slashed Backes.

Grzelcyk cut the B’s skater advantage short when he slashed Athanasiou at 19:04 and the two clubs had three seconds of 4-on-4 action before an abbreviated power play for the Red Wings began.

As the seconds ticked away, it appeared as though the Bruins would be shorthanded to start the second period until Mantha (21) slapped another one-timer past Halak at 19:59 of the first period.

Niklas Kronwall (22) and Bertuzzi (24) tallied the assists on Mantha’s power play goal and Detroit led, 2-0, entering the first intermission.

After one period of play, the Red Wings led, 2-0, on the scoreboard and, 9-8, in shots on goal. Detroit also held the advantage in blocked shots (6-5), takeaways (2-1), giveaways (7-0) and hits (4-3), while Boston led in face-off win percentage (56-44).

The Red Wings were 1/2 on the power play entering the second period and the Bruins were 0/2.

Early in the middle frame, Charlie McAvoy sent Krejci up the ice with DeBrusk on a rush. Krejci sent a lead saucer pass to bring DeBrusk behind the Detroit defense and on his own towards the net, whereby DeBrusk (25) roofed a shot over Howard’s blocker to put the B’s on the scoreboard, 2-1.

Krejci (49) and McAvoy (20) had the assists on DeBrusk’s goal at 2:01 of the second period.

McAvoy later sent the puck over the glass and out of play at 8:12 of the second period and received an automatic delay of game penalty.

Nearing the end of the resulting penalty kill, Brandon Carlo worked the puck up to Marchand as the Bruins winger entered the zone on a two-on-one with Patrice Bergeron.

Marchand slid the puck over to Bergeron, awaiting a return pass while Bergeron dragged the rubber biscuit around Mantha as the Red Wings forward dove in a desperate attempt to breakup a passing lane.

Bergeron pulled the puck to his backhand and sent it across the slot for Marchand (35) to blast a one-timer past Howard as the Detroit goaltender slid across the crease.

The goal was Marchand’s 26th career shorthanded goal and put Marchand in sole possession of the Bruins franchise record for most career shorthanded goals with the club (Rick Middleton is now 2nd with 25).

Bergeron (46) and Carlo (7) notched the assists on Marchand’s shorthanded goal at 9:50 of the second period.

About five minutes later, Luke Witkowski skated across the ice and railed Joakim Nordstrom with a huge hit along the boards.

Noel Acciari took exception to the non-call as Witkowski charged an otherwise unsuspecting Nordstrom and exchanged fisticuffs with the Detroit skater.

Both players were assessed five-minute majors for fighting, while Acciari picked up an extra minor penalty for instigating and an automatic ten-minute misconduct as a result at 14:24.

Johansson served Acciari’s minor penalty while the Bruins were shorthanded, but Detroit’s ensuing power play wouldn’t last long as 20 seconds later, Athanasiou was called for interference at 14:44.

Neither team converted on the ensuing 4-on-4 action and abbreviated skater advantage for Boston thereafter.

With one minute remaining in the second period, Miller blasted a shot from the point that Backes (7) tipped behind Howard to give the Bruins their first lead of the night, 3-2.

Miller (7) and Krejci (50) had the assists on Backes’ goal at 19:00 of the second period.

Krejci reached the 50-assist plateau for the third time in his career (51 assists in 2008-09, 50 assists in 2013-14) with the secondary assist on the goal as Boston carried the, 3-2, lead into the second intermission.

Both teams were tied in shots on goal, 17-17, and takeaways, 2-2, after 40 minutes of play, while the Bruins led in blocked shots (15-8), hits (9-8) and face-off win% (53-47). The Red Wings led in giveaways (14-2) through two periods.

Detroit entered the third period 1/4 on the power play, while Boston was 0/3 on the skater advantage.

DeBrusk was penalized for interference 69 seconds into the third period and sent the Red Wings on the power play. Eight seconds later, Detroit tied the game.

Mantha (22) completed his first career hat trick on yet another one-timer– this time after Bertuzzi completed the pass through the low slot– and the Red Wings tied the game, 3-3, at 1:17 of the third period.

Bertuzzi (25) and Athanasiou (21) recorded the primary and secondary assists, respectively, on the goal as the hats were cleaned up off the ice at Little Caesars Arena.

On the ensuing face-off, Kronwall worked the puck up to Athanasiou through the neutral zone as Athanasiou sped into the attacking zone and dropped a pass back to Hirose (1) for the one-timer from the slot.

Hirose notched his first career NHL goal and the Red Wings led, 4-3, at 1:25 of the third period.

Athanasiou (22) and Kronwall (23) had the assists, but Detroit was not done scoring yet.

Midway through the third, Hronek (5) fired a one-timer from the face-off dot to the right of Halak past the Bruins goaltender and into the twine to make it, 5-3, Red Wings.

Mantha (22) notched his fourth point of the evening with the only assist on Hronek’s goal at 12:03 of the third period.

About a minute later, Hirose cut a rut to the penalty box for slashing Coyle at 13:17, but Boston’s power play didn’t capitalize on the skater advantage.

With less than four minutes remaining in regulation, Cassidy pulled Halak in favor of an extra attacker.

At 19:02 of the third period, Larkin (32) put Detroit in command of the, 6-3, victory with an empty net goal that was assisted by Mantha (23) and Hronek (15).

Upon the sound of the final horn, the Red Wings took home two points in a regulation win, despite trailing the Bruins in shots on goal (34-28), blocked shots (16-14) and face-off win% (52-48), but led in giveaways (16-4).

Detroit finished Sunday night 2/5 on the skater advantage, while the B’s went 0/4 on the power play.

Boston finishes the season swinging through Columbus on April 2nd, making a stop in Minnesota on April 4th and wrapping up the regular season on April 6th at home against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

DTFR Podcast #151- Gritty’s European Vacation

The DTFR Duo breaks down Jimmy Howard’s one-year extension with the Detroit Red Wings, Gritty’s allegiance in the 2019 NHL Global Series, the New York Islanders’ bottom-six dilemma, Ilya Kovalchuk’s relationship with the Los Angeles Kings, more awards and a look at how things should stack up in the Metropolitan Division for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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

DTFR Podcast #150- Improper Twelve

The DTFR Duo runs through some Tampa Bay Lightning franchise records, Conor McGregor reactions, hands out more awards, fixes the NHL and takes a look at how things are shaping up in the Pacific Division for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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

Game of the week: March 11-17

We’re definitely starting to get close to the Stanley Cup Playoffs now! As of the completion of last night’s games, three teams (Detroit, New Jersey and Ottawa) have already been eliminated from postseason contention, and even more will surely join that list by next week’s featured matchup.

Of course, the only way to figure out which teams those are is by playing out the schedule. Here’s this week’s NHL offerings:

NHL SCHEDULE: March 11-17
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, March 11
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Toronto 6-2
7 p.m. Columbus Blue Jackets New York Islanders 0-2
7 p.m. Ottawa Philadelphia 2-3
8 p.m. San Jose Minnesota 3-0
8:30 p.m. Arizona Chicago 1-7
9 p.m. Carolina Colorado 3-0
9 p.m. New York Rangers Edmonton Oilers 2-3 (OT)
Tuesday, March 12
7 p.m. Dallas Buffalo 2-0
7 p.m. Washington Pittsburgh 3-5
7 p.m. Boston Columbus 4-7
7:30 p.m. Detroit Montréal 1-3
8 p.m. Arizona St. Louis 3-1
8 p.m. San Jose Winnipeg 5-4
9 p.m. New Jersey Calgary 4-9
10 p.m. Nashville Anaheim 2-3
Wednesday, March 13
7 p.m. Chicago Toronto 5-4
9:30 p.m. New Jersey Edmonton 6-3
10 p.m. New York Rangers Vancouver Canucks 1-4
Thursday, March 14
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Buffalo 5-0
7 p.m. Montréal Canadiens New York Islanders 1-2
7 p.m. Washington Philadelphia 5-2
7:30 p.m. St. Louis Ottawa 0-2
7:30 p.m. Tampa Bay Detroit 5-4
8 p.m. Dallas Minnesota 4-1
8 p.m. Boston Winnipeg 3-4
10 p.m. Anaheim Arizona 1-6
10:30 p.m. Nashville Los Angeles 3-1
10:30 p.m. Florida San Jose 4-2
Friday, March 15
7 p.m. Philadelphia Toronto 6-7
7 p.m. Carolina Columbus 0-3
8 p.m. Vegas Dallas 2-1
9 p.m. Anaheim Colorado 5-3
9 p.m. New York Rangers Calgary Flames 1-5
10 p.m. New Jersey Vancouver 3-2 (SO)
Saturday, March 16
1 p.m. St. Louis Pittsburgh NHLN, TVAS
1 p.m. New York Islanders Detroit Red Wings  
4 p.m. Florida Los Angeles  
7 p.m. Calgary Winnipeg ESPN+
7 p.m. Columbus Boston ESPN+
7 p.m. Chicago Montréal CITY, TVAS
7 p.m. Toronto Ottawa CBC, SN1, TVAS2
7 p.m. Washington Tampa Bay NHLN
7 p.m. Buffalo Carolina  
8 p.m. New York Rangers Minnesota Wild  
10 p.m. Edmonton Oilers Arizona Coyotes CBC, CITY, SN, SN1
10:30 p.m. Nashville San Jose ESPN+
Sunday, March 17
3 p.m. New Jersey Colorado SN1
5 p.m. St. Louis Buffalo NHLN
6 p.m. New York Islanders Minnesota Wild ESPN+
7 p.m. Vancouver Dallas SN
7:30 p.m. Philadelphia Pittsburgh NBCSN, TVAS
9 p.m. Florida Anaheim  
10 p.m. Edmonton Vegas NBCSN

Another fun week of NHL action, no?

After all, we’ve been treated to a little bit of rivalry action already when the Capitals visited Pittsburgh and the Red Wings headed to Montréal on Tuesday, not to mention Wednesday’s Original Six contest featuring Chicago at Toronto.

The hatred continued Thursday when the Caps headed to the City of Brotherly Love and will resume today with the Hawks in Montréal and the Battle of Ontario. Finally, the Battle of the Keystone State will clean up this week’s derby action tomorrow night.

We were also treated to more than a few playoff rematches from last season, though it must be asked if they’re all that exciting anymore since we’re so close to this year’s postseason.

It’s all about the Capitals and Penguins in that department this week, starting with their Tuesday night tilt in a rematch of the Eastern Semifinals. Washington then heads to Tampa tonight in a rematch of the Eastern Finals, while the Pens host Philly tomorrow in a rematch of the First Round.

Finally, this week’s homecoming king is none other than LW Antoine Roussel, who spent the first six seasons of his NHL career in Dallas before signing with the Canucks this offseason. He’ll play his first-ever road game at American Airlines Center tomorrow.

Players also making important returns this week include F Jacob de La Rose (he was a second-round pick by the Habs in 2013) and C Ryan O’Reilly (he spent three seasons with the Sabres before being traded to St. Louis this offseason).

However, we can throw all of this information out of the window, as I’m instead choosing to feature the tilt fellow DtFR writer Colby Kephart and I are taking this evening featuring his beloved Sabres taking on the red-hot Carolina Hurricanes.

The growing pains for the 30-31-9 Buffalo Sabres have been all too real this season, but the fact that they’re having them should mean the club is growing, right?

Of course, we all remember the Sabres’ unbelievable 10-game winning streak they experienced throughout almost the entire month of November.

However, that winning run is certainly in the rear-view mirror nowadays, as Buffalo is currently riding a six-game losing skid (0-5-1) and boasts a lowly 2-10-2 record in its last 14 outings. Making matters even worse, the Sabres’ attack has been shutout for three-straight games, clocking in at 192:40 since their last non-shootout goal.

As might be indicated by a shutout streak of that magnitude, offense has been the Sabres’ biggest struggle of late. That’s not to say the 3.79 goals or 35.07 shots they’re allowing on average since February 15 is OK (those stats respectively rank third and fourth-worst in the NHL in that time), but the Sabres’ 2.07 goals per game in the past month ranks second-worst in the league and simply must improve to something closer to their 2.71 season average if they want to end their campaign on a positive note.

In the Sabres’ defense, they have been without their captain, C Jack Eichel, while he’s been suspended for the last two games for an illegal hit to F Carl Soderberg‘s head. That being said, even his 7-4-11 production in his past 12 outings is still slightly off his expected pace. On the season, he’s managed 25-47-72 points in 65 games and looks to be on pace for his first season averaging more than a point per game.

With his return to the ice, Head Coach Phil Housley will have high expectations that his club’s top line and first power play unit should rediscover its groove. If that proves to be the case, F Jeff Skinner (36-22-58 on the season, 2-5-7 since February 15) and RW Jason Pominville (15-13-28 on the season, 2-3-5 in his last 14 appearances) should see their numbers get back on pace as well.

You’re hard pressed to find a hotter team in the NHL right now than the 38-26-7 Carolina Hurricanes, the Eastern Conference’s current first wild card.

Despite losing last night in Columbus 3-0, Carolina has rattled off an impressive 16-5-2 record in its past 23 outings and is drawing ever nearer to ending its nine-year playoff drought by qualifying for the postseason for the sixth time in Hurricanes history (14th if the Hartford Whalers’ eight Stanley Cup Playoff appearances are included).

While the Canes are certainly finding success in almost every facet of the game during this run, their most impressive strength, at least in my opinion, has been that of their defense. A point of emphasis even before Rod Brind’Amour took over head coaching responsibilities, Carolina has allowed an average of only 28.61 shots against per game since January 20, the second-best mark in the Eastern Conference and third-best in the league in that time.

Leading the defensive charge for the Hurricanes during this run has been none other than D Calvin de Haan (2.5 hits per game in his last 20 appearances) and D Jaccob Slavin (1.7 blocks per game and 21 takeaways since January 20).

Unfortunately, de Haan suffered an eye injury in Colorado on Monday and will likely remain out of the lineup this evening. Taking up de Haan’s role as the rough-‘n’-tough blueliner has been Slavin’s linemate, D Dougie Hamilton, who’s averaged two hits per game since January 20.

Of course, the person in PNC Arena most appreciative of that incredible defensive effort is always 17-8-2 G Curtis McElhinney, who’s all but ensured of this evening’s start since 18-13-3 G Petr Mrazek was in net last night in Ohio. McElhinney boasts a .914 save percentage and 2.52 GAA for the season, and that’s almost the exact form he’s shown for his past nine starts to add his last six wins (his GAA is a 2.54 for his last nine outings, two-hundredths of a goal worse than his season mark).

Especially after last night’s poor outing, it’s hard to pick against the Hurricanes this evening. Having already won their first two meetings with the Sabres this season, Carolina will have its sights set on completing the season sweep and staying ahead of Columbus and Montréal in the playoff race.

That being said, just because the Canes have won the last two meetings doesn’t mean they were easy victories. Both tilts ended with only one goal separating the winner and loser, including their last meeting on February 7 in Buffalo that required overtime.

Being the better rested team that is regaining its captain, the Sabres will surely show their teeth this evening, but Carolina should still escape with two points.

DTFR Podcast #149- SnapFace with Zach Boychuk

We’re less than a month away from the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, so let’s take a gander at how things should shape up for the Central Division.

The Tampa Bay Lightning clinched the first postseason berth this season, Quinn Hughes signed his entry-level contract with the Vancouver Canucks, Shane Wright was granted exceptional status and the DTFR Duo presented the first few individual season awards.

*Zach Boychuk wasn’t actually on… …this time around, anyway.*

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Numbers Game: 2018-19 League Forecast Entering March

Happy Meteorological Spring (and when the time comes, actual Spring too as the Spring Equinox falls on… well, it’s written on the calendar in your office somewhere).

Of course, the only day that really matters in March is the 18th (you thought I was going to say the 17th, but we can’t all pretend to be Irish now, can we?).

If you’re new to the sport, that’s the day the Lord Stanley of Preston first presented the idea of the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup back in 1892 and thus the Stanley Cup was first played for and awarded in 1893.

The original Cup resides in an old bank vault at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Ontario and was purchased for ten guineas, which was $48.67 at the time or almost $1,400 in contemporary times.

Anyway, March is a pretty important month.

Teams have added or subtracted to their rosters from the trade deadline and are looking to go down the stretch without any additional injuries or worries heading into the postseason (or for some, the offseason).

Feeling lucky? Is this the year your bracket won’t be busted in the First Round? Let the madness begin with a look at the latest standings forecast* across the league based on all 31 NHL teams’ performances through February 28, 2019.

*Standard disclaimer: This forecast is not an exact science, but rather an educated guess among recent and season long trends, with a foundation steeped in recent records over the last few seasons.

In simple terms, just focus on the standing within the division and less on the point spread. A team isn’t eliminated from postseason contention until they are mathematically eliminated.

Anything can still happen (relatively, of course).

Projected Standings After Five Months

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

  1. p-Tampa Bay Lightning, 121 points (65 games played entering March 1st)
  2. x-Boston Bruins, 115 points (64 GP)
  3. x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 105 points (64 GP)
  4. wc1-Montreal Canadiens, 103 points (64 GP)
  5. wc2-Buffalo Sabres, 90 points (63 GP)
  6. Florida Panthers, 82 points (63 GP)
  7. Ottawa Senators, 61 points (64 GP)
  8. Detroit Red Wings, 60 points (64 GP)

In the Atlantic Division, the Tampa Bay Lightning are still on pace for what could almost be the best regular season in league history. Their franchise record ten-game winning streak was halted by the re-hot Boston Bruins on Feb. 28th.

Tampa should still lock up the division (if not the President’s Trophy) with ease, though they are beatable– as proven by the Bruins recent win (ignoring the back-to-back games), as well as the St. Louis Blues’ 1-0 overtime victory on Feb. 7th (more on the Blues later).

Boston, meanwhile, is surging at the right time. After going 7-7-0 in December and 6-3-3 in January, the B’s went without a regulation loss in the month of February, finishing with an 11-0-2 record.

It was the 9th time in franchise history and first time since November 2011, that the Bruins went without a regulation loss in an entire calendar month.

Not to be outdone, the Toronto Maple Leafs are still very alive and well in a divisional spot and for the second straight season appear destined to battle the Bruins in a First Round rematch from last season.

At least one of the Eastern Conference wild card spots in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs will be filled by an Atlantic Division team– the first of which being the Montreal Canadiens.

The Habs are in the hunt and could knock the Maple Leafs out of the last divisional spot with a good run down the stretch, while the second wild card spot is a little harder to project.

It could be the Buffalo Sabres or it could very well be a team that’s surging in the Metropolitan Division.

Metropolitan Division

  1. y-New York Islanders, 113 points (63 GP)
  2. x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 101 points (63 GP)
  3. x-Washington Capitals, 92 points (64 GP)
  4. Carolina Hurricanes, 89 points (63 GP)
  5. Pittsburgh Penguins, 87 points (63 GP)
  6. New York Rangers, 77 points (63 GP)
  7. Philadelphia Flyers, 74 points (64 GP)
  8. New Jersey Devils, 61 points (64 GP)

John Tavares wasn’t well-received in his first trip back to Long Island since leaving the New York Islanders for the Leafs in free agency last July, however, Barry Trotz has been adored by Isles fans as the coach of the Metropolitan Division’s best team.

Despite adding a lot of firepower leading up to the trade deadline, the Columbus Blue Jackets aren’t quite a surefire powerhouse in the division, but they should be good enough for home ice advantage in the First Round and a rematch with the defending Stanley Cup champion, Washington Capitals.

It’s a wide-open race for two or three potential playoff spots in the Metropolitan Division, as the Capitals, Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins all have their sights set on one of two remaining divisional spots or at least one wild card spot in the postseason.

Despite the Capitals edging the Hurricanes and Penguins in this forecast, gut feeling indicates there’s sure to be an upset before the brackets are even finalized.

Carolina is playing really well lately and as those bunch of jerks have shown all season long– you can’t count them out. They also reached 70 points in 61 games played for just the second time in franchise history this season.

The last time they did that was in the 2005-06 season– you know, the one they went on to beat the Edmonton Oilers in the 2006 Stanley Cup Final.

As for the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers, well, there’s always a chance things go south for some of the teams ahead of them– except the Rangers are rebuilding and the Flyers have gone zero weeks without an injury to one of the eight goaltenders they’ve used this season.

Western Conference

Central Division

  1. y-Winnipeg Jets, 104 points (63 GP)
  2. x-St. Louis Blues, 100 points (63 GP)
  3. x-Nashville Predators, 93 points (66 GP)
  4. wc1-Colorado Avalanche, 92 points (64 GP)
  5. Minnesota Wild, 85 points (64 GP)
  6. Dallas Stars, 84 points (64 GP)
  7. Chicago Blackhawks, 75 points (64 GP)

The Western Conference as a whole has been weaker than the Eastern Conference this season, but no division has been quite as lively as the Central Division.

While the Winnipeg Jets soar into the postseason as the top-team in the Central, the St. Louis Blues are attempting to go from last to first– and then some.

St. Louis might not stop at potentially leading the Central Division by the time the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin– they could just very well go on to win the Cup. The Blues are that hot.

Meanwhile, the Nashville Predators added a lot of grit leading up to the trade deadline, acquiring Cody McLeod, Brian Boyle and Wayne Simmonds to bolster their crunch to go along with new addition, Mikael Granlund‘s scoring ability.

Anyway, they’ve been slipping as of late and appear destined to miss out on home ice advantage in what will likely be a First Round matchup with St. Louis.

Finally, one of the Western wild cards will surely come from the Central Division teams. Whether that’s the Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild or Dallas Stars will depend on how hot Colorado’s first line is and/or how injured the Wild and Stars are.

Kudos to the Chicago Blackhawks for setting the second half of the season ablaze, though not nearly as mightily as the Blues have, but they’ll still end up last in the Central, but about mid-pack league-wide.

Pacific Division

  1. z-Calgary Flames, 111 points (64 GP)
  2. x-San Jose Sharks, 107 points (64 GP)
  3. x-Vegas Golden Knights, 100 points (65 GP)
  4. wc2-Arizona Coyotes, 91 points (64 GP)
  5. Vancouver Canucks, 88 points (65 GP)
  6. Edmonton Oilers, 84 points (64 GP)
  7. Anaheim Ducks, 75 points (64 GP)
  8. Los Angeles Kings, 68 points (64 GP)

In the most disappointing division of the season, the Calgary Flames have risen a cut above the rest in the West. Not only do they look to lead the conference, but they look to do so in style.

The Flames are a team that’s destined for a deeper run than just a First or Second Round exit in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but how much will recent playoff experience for the San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights play into Calgary’s chances of going far?

Vegas hasn’t been as dominant as they were in their inaugural season, however the Sharks have also had a few slip ups in the last month.

Both teams are looking like they’ll meet in the First Round– a round sooner than their Second Round matchup last postseason. It’s a rematch for the ages for the Golden Knights, as the young franchise looks to continue to add to the nearly 30 years of dismal playoff failure for San Jose.

One of the biggest– and most pleasant– surprises in the Western Conference? The Arizona Coyotes.

The team is destined for a wild card spot this season and just might spoil the party for more than just who they cut out of the playoff picture.

For the Vancouver Canucks, it’s a battle until the end. They might make it, they might not, but next season should be better– just stay the course.

And if you’re the Edmonton Oilers, Anaheim Ducks and/or the Los Angeles Kings, you’ve got a lot of work to do in the offseason.

DTFR Podcast #147- Trade The Whole Team

It’s the DTFR 2019 Trade Deadline recap! Plus a few other notes from the last week around the NHL.

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Analysis: Jets net key center for 2nd year in-a-row at deadline

Last season, the Winnipeg Jets added Paul Stastny from the St. Louis Blues for their deep run into the 2018 Western Conference Finals.

Though things came up short in five games to the Vegas Golden Knights– who would go on to sign Stastny in free agency– the Jets are ready to go at it again and push further.

This season, Winnipeg has acquired Kevin Hayes from the New York Rangers in exchange for Brendan Lemieux, a 2019 1st round pick and a conditional 2022 4th round pick.

The Jets’ 2019 1st round pick in the trade is Top-3 lottery protected on the off chance Winnipeg skids off the runway to the postseason over the next month. If that happens, the Rangers will receive Winnipeg’s 2020 1st round pick instead.

If the Jets win the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, then New York will receive Winnipeg’s 2022 4th round pick.

Hayes, 26, is a native of Dorchester, Massachusetts and has 14 goals and 28 assists (42 points) in 51 games this season for the Rangers. Hs has 87-129–216 totals in 361 career games with New York and was originally drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1st round (24th overall) of the 2010 NHL Draft.

As with last season’s acquisition of Stastny, Hayes adds to the strength down the middle for Winnipeg’s top-six forwards, likely suiting up on the second line with Kyle Connor and Nikolaj Ehlers.

Hayes is a pending-UFA at season’s end with a cap hit of $5.175 million.

Lemieux, 22, has nine goals and two assists (11 points) in 44 games with the Jets this season and currently leads NHL rookies in penalty minutes with 64.

Originally drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2nd round (31st overall) of the 2014 NHL Draft, Lemieux made his NHL debut with the Jets on Oct. 20, 2017 after previously being dealt to Winnipeg on Feb. 11, 2015 as part of the Sabres/Jets Tyler MyersEvander Kane trade.

In 53 career games, Lemieux has 10-2–12 totals with a plus-12 rating and 85 penalty minutes. He is a pending-RFA at the end of the season.

New York currently has five picks in the first two rounds of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.