Tag Archives: Buffalo

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

Pre-Draft Grab Bag

We’re just a few hours away from the NHL Draft, so I thought I would put together a few quick hits to tide you over before Gary Bettman gets up to say “we have a trade to announce” for the first time and every NHL GM talks about how wonderful Dallas is as a city.

At the beginning of the junior hockey season, I highlighted four draft-eligible players from the WHL–Ty Smith, Jett Woo, Riley Sutter and Alexander Alexeyev.  So, how did there season go and where might you see them go tonight?  Smith, the left-handed defenseman from Spokane, finished the year with 73 points in 69 games and another 7 points in 7 playoff games.  Central Scouting had him ranked 14th among North American Skaters and that is also where he finished the season.  ISS had him ranked at 19th at the end of the season.  Some rankings have him as high as #8 and others in the mid-late 20’s.  That is the nature of this year’s draft though–there is some depth in the draft and a wide variance in rankings outside of the top 2-3 picks.

Jett Woo really fell off the radar as the year went on.  Missing 28 games with an upper-body injury in your draft year will do that.  Some early rankings had him as a mid-late first round pick, but Central Scouting had him as the 28th best North American skater and ISS didn’t have him ranked in the first round.  His 25 points in 44 games wasn’t particularly remarkable and his playoff performance–3 points in 14 games–certainly didn’t help things.  Based on how the season went, I’d say Woo projects more as a dependable, second pairing defenseman who is good all around, but not stellar in the offensive zone.  There are enough positives that he will probably go in the first half of the second round.

Riley Sutter finished the season with a solid, but not spectacular, 53 points in 68 games.  He had a very good stint in the playoffs with 19 points in 21 games.  Sutter will probably still be on the board after the second round.  A solid two-way player, who plays the center position, has size, pedigree and plays his best hockey in the playoffs…some GM could get bold and take him in the second round.  In all likelihood, he projects as a very good third line center that can occasionally slot in on the second line.

Alexander Alexeyev put up 37 points in 45 games this season and followed it up with 5 points in 3 playoff games.  Like Woo, he’s had injury issues, but, when healthy, he’s been looked to contribute more than Woo, routinely logging 20 plus minutes a night.  Like Woo, he’s a solid, two-way defenseman, but, to this point, he’s had more offensive upside.  So, it shouldn’t be too surprising that Alexeyev has been ranked higher than Woo, showing up at 24th on the final ISS rankings and 22nd on Central Scouting’s North American skater list.  There is a lot of risk in picking Alexeyev in the first round, but given the importance of defense, it wouldn’t be shocking to see a team take him with one of the last ten picks in the first round.

If somehow Ty Smith was still on the board at 18, I’d be stoked to see the Jackets get him, though they are more likely to prioritize a forward and the odds of Smith slipping that far seem low given the number of teams in need of a defenseman picking ahead of Columbus.

Quick Hits

  • It wouldn’t be the offseason without some sort of contract drama for the Jackets.  Last year we saw Josh Anderson‘s contract negotiations draft out until the fall.  This year, drama regarding the extension of Artemi Panarin has come a year early after the 2019 UFA-to-be stated he was not yet ready to sign an extension come July 1.  Jarmo Kekalainen was, predictably, calm about the situation, but he’s also going to spend the weekend seeing what the market is for the dynamic wing, which is the smart thing to do.  Despite the gloom and doom from certain local beat writers, Panarin isn’t going anywhere unless someone wants to overpay the Jackets.
  • Interestingly, Kekaleinen made a comment that what went for Panarin, also went for Sergei Bobrovsky, which was largely ignored as people focused on the Panarin rumors.  The Jackets didn’t have an easy go the last time they had to negotiate an extension with Bobrovsky, but their internal options to replace Bobrovsky next year are uncertain at best given the season Joonas Korpisalo had and the fact that Elvis Merzlikins has yet to play in North America.  The fact that Bobrovsky will likely be looking for a raise and a long-term deal when he is already making over $7 million/season is a concern for the Jackets going forward.  Something to watch.
  • As always, there are a lot of rumors out there about potential trade bait.  Ryan O’Reilly is a player Buffalo would like to move before his bonus payment on July 1, but doing so may require them accepting a lesser haul than they would get after July 1.  After the second pick in the draft, it wouldn’t be a shock to see any team move down.  Carolina is looking to move Jeff Skinner and, potentially, Elias LindholmCraig Anderson and, perhaps, Erik Karlsson could be on the move for Ottawa, which begs the question whether Matt Duchene might also be on the move again with only 1 year left on his deal on yet another team that doesn’t seem to be a contender.  The Habs are looking to move Max Pacioretty, and also to finally get a second line center.  So, could be a lot of busy real estate agents this weekend.
  • Get ready for the annual Ilya Kovalchuk tease.  Los Angeles and Vegas seem to be the leaders, but you should probably expect him to sign with a Russian team when it is all said and done because that’s how he rolls.

2018 Offseason Preview: Buffalo Sabres

With the most coveted trophy in sports being handed out Thursday night in Sin City, the 2017-18 season came to a bittersweet end. However, before the Washington Capitals had even finished taking their victory laps around T-Mobile Arena, Down the Frozen River was already taking a look ahead at all the exciting possibilities this summer.

Welcome to the 2018 NHL offseason.

Stay tuned to DtFR for the next 10 days, as we’ll be breaking down each and every team’s needs, wants, holes and excesses and how they might address them before training camps commence in September.

We’ll be tackling this series in the same order as the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, so that means the Buffalo Sabres are first up!

2018 NHL Entry Draft

Forgive me for making too many assumptions, but I think this might be the most clear-cut decision of the offseason for any of the 31 clubs in the NHL. The first round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft is scheduled for June 22, and it might as well start with D Rasmus Dahlin standing next to Commissioner Gary Bettman already wearing blue and gold.

Whether or not the 18-year-old Swede will be able to play the high-level defense demanded of this league right out of the gate is irrelevant, as Dahlin is clearly the most talented option available in this year’s crop of prospects.

Assuming they select him like everyone believes they will, the Sabres are hoping Dahlin develops into the two-way defenseman of any coach’s dreams: one cut from the same mold as Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson, but potentially even better.

If the 2017-18 season in his domestic league is any indicator, Dahlin will only continue to impress. His 19:02 time on ice per game was third on his team (Frölunda HC in the SHL) behind two players at least nine years his senior, and his .49 points per game was 13th-best in the league among all defensemen that played at least 35 games (another group in which every other player was at least four years older than him).

Of course, what truly sets Dahlin apart is his scoring touch. In only 41 games played this season, the young blueliner buried seven goals for .17 goals per game. Among defensemen that played at least eight games, that was second-best in the SHL.

Seven goals may not sound like a lot, but the number grows much more impressive when we acknowledge that he managed one more marker than the Sabres’ current No. 1 defenseman, Rasmus Ristolainen, who had the benefit of 32 more games played this season.

In other words, Dahlin should slot in nicely as a bottom-four defenseman for Buffalo in his debut season.

Pending free agents

With a touch over $19 million in projected cap space, the Sabres – who finished the season with a league-worst 25-45-12 record – have only nine NHL contracts that expired when the campaign came to a close, split as evenly as possible among the three positions and between the restricted and unrestricted varieties.

F Jordan Nolan and LW Benoit Pouliot are Buffalo’s only forwards that could become UFAs come July 1, and it has rights to F Sam Reinhart and F Scott Wilson due to them being RFAs since they are under 27-years-old.

Of those, 22-year-old Reinhart is clearly the most valuable, as his (t)team-leading 25 goals and .61 points per game from the 2017-18 season easily dwarf the efforts of Wilson (six goals, .29 point per game), Pouliot (13 goals, .26 points per game) and Nolan (four goals, .12 points per game).

It would certainly not be unexpected for General Manager Jason Botterill and Reinhart to hammer out a four-year deal that saw the forward receive an increase in pay from the $3.5 million per year he’s been receiving from his entry-level contract, as a signing of that length would allow the player to test free agency at its completion. I’d estimate a pay increase to at least $4 million per year, likely more.

There is always the possibility that Buffalo could trade the natural center, who spent a lot of the season on the wing due to the Sabres’ plethora of talent at that position, but I’m led to believe the rumors that F Ryan O’Reilly could be on the move sooner than Reinhart, who has yet post a season worse than the one before it. That would free up $7.5 million and a center position for Reinhart, which would allow W Alexander Nylander to compete for a full-time roster spot of his own.

Defensively, D Victor Antipin is Buffalo’s only RFA, while both D Justin Falk and D Josh Gorges are slated to test free agency. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Falk in new colors come September, but the Sabres would be silly not to keep Antipin – who averaged .21 points per game in 47 showings this season, the fourth-best of any Buffalo defenseman with at least 38 appearances – in the organization.

Oh, he said he’s going to head back to the KHL next season? Dang… Well, the league’s (t)ninth-worst defense in terms of shots against just took another step back. All eyes are truly on you Dahlin, though D Brendan Guhle – Buffalo’s second-round pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft – will likely have intentions of earning a full-time role with the Sabres instead of the Rochester Americans.

Where things are undoubtedly going to look different in the 2018-19 season for Buffalo is its goaltending depth chart, as G Jonas Johansson and G Linus Ullmark are the only two netminders with contracts in the Sabres’ system. Botterill has indicated that Ullmark will be one of Buffalo’s two goalies, which doesn’t look good for 31-year-old UFA G Chad Johnson‘s chances of returning to Upstate New York.

Sporting a .908 save percentage in 50 starts this season, RFA G Robin Lehner is also unlikely to get much attention from the Sabres this offseason. Since he made $4 million this season, Buffalo would have to offer him another one-year contract at the same price unless it took him to arbitration, which would only bring the deal down to $3.4 million. Instead of the club going through all that, I think Botterill will try to attract the services of a free agent from outside the organization or package Lehner’s rights in a deal for a more established netminder.

If free agency is the route the Sabres elect to take, one of the most attractive free agent goaltenders this summer is going to be G Carter Hutton. Though he is 32-years-old, it’s hard to knock Hutton’s .931 save percentage and 17-7-3 record in a season that saw him take home only $1 million. Hutton will likely earn himself a pay raise on what should be his last major contract, but he will likely still fall within Botterill’s budget.

Snowed Under: Wild fall 2-0 to Jets, face 3-1 series defecit

 

In the midst of a Minnesota snowstorm, the hometown crowd watched their hopes all but buried as the Wild were simply unable to overcome their laundry list of injuries and a suffocating Winnipeg defense.

Already without Ryan Suter, the Wild took another hammering blow late in Game 3 when Zach Parise got sandwiched by Mark Scheifele and Ben Chiarot and suffered a fractured sternum (side note: ouch) that rules him out of the rest of the playoffs. Parise’s spot in the lineup would be filled by Tyler Ennis, seeing his first NHL playoff action since 2011 when the diminutive forward was a member of the Buffalo Sabres.

Winnipeg was not without their own injury problems, losing Tyler Myers after an awkward collision with Marcus Foligno in Game 3. Though not as key an element to his team as Parise is to the Wild, Myers still eats a lot of quality minutes on the Winnipeg blueline. Young Tucker Poolman would taste his first ever playoff action as he filled in for the towering Myers.

The game started much the same as it ended…and middle-d…you know what I mean.

Tight checking, excellent stick position, and a near-complete lack of offensive chances were a theme in this one. Not to say that there wasn’t action, as from the opening puck drop the two teams continued the series’ main theme: That is, both teams spent every shift actively trying to kill each other. Arguably 2018’s roughest series so far, it isn’t even so much the quantity of hits we’ve seen in this one, but moreso that every hit we do see is thrown with seemingly as much force as it can possibly be delivered with. No great wonder why so many players are nursing injuries.

Other than a brief flurry by Winnipeg that Devan Dubnyk answered with three or four quality stops about 8:30 into the frame, the opening 10 minutes had little to speak of in terms of scoring opportunities.

Finally it was Minnesota who started to find some traction, first coming from an unlikely source in their fourth line of Foligno – Joel Eriksson EkDaniel Winnik, who deployed an effective dump and chase strategy, sending two forecheckers in hard and fast to get the Winnipeg defense in deep, then working the puck free to a second wave usually of the third forward and a pinching defenseman. All Minnesota lines adopted the strategy for a solid few minutes in the late first, and all had decent chances, including Nino Niederreiter feeding Eric Staal right in the goal mouth, only to have an excellent backhand chance waffled away by Connor Hellebuyck. Shortly after, Minnesota’s sustained pressure forced the Jets into a penalty, and on the resulting power play Josh Morrissey got away with an egregious cross-check to the face/neck of Staal, who lay on the ice for a few seconds before slowly making his was to the bench all while play continued around him. The Minnesota crowd was…less than pleased.

To continue their displeasure, shortly after the penalty concluded, it would be Morrissey starting a breakout to Scheifele, who played a give-and-go with Kyle Connor beautifully, taking Connor’s drop pass in the low slot and ripping a snapshot through traffic and over Dubnyk with just 28 seconds left to play, sending the Minnesota crowd into a symphony of boos so loud I think P.K. Subban actually might have heard them.

Minnesota ended the period leading 10-7 in shots, but down on the board. Shot blocking was a major theme of the first period, and the game, really. It also contributed to the growing list of banged up players, as both Mathew Dumba and Dustin Byfuglien left the ice at different points in the first because of shot blocks.

The second started with a bang, as on the opening shift the Wild jumped on a turnover by Jacob Trouba and flew up the ice on a three-on-one lead by Mikael Granlund. #64 in green showed Hellebucyk shot all the way, but with just inches to spare sent a pass across the crease to Dumba who looked to have a sure goal, before the glove of Hellebucyk robbed him blind. A few minutes later Jonas Brodin sprung Niederreiter on a breakaway with an unbelievable stretch pass (that frankly I have no idea how Nino even managed to corral on his stick) but just before he could get the shot off a desperate Morrissey poked the puck off of his stick and clear of danger.

Dubnyk would see little action of serious consequence in the middle frame, a few whacks at a centered puck in the blue paint by Adam Lowry the only real threat of the second 20 minutes. The Wild did, however, lose Granlund for a few minutes in the middle of the frame, but he would return to finish the game. Also of note was Dumba taking a run at Byfuglien, which worked out about as well as you’d expect.

Late in the period Brodin nearly played hero himself, absolutely dancing a Winnipeg defender at the blueline and walking in to label a wrist shot for the high blocker side of Hellebucyk, but the newly-elected Vezina candidate had the answer, as was the case all night.

By the end of the second the Wild lead 20-19 on the shot clock, but struggled to find room to construct any serious chances.

The Jets took the attack to Minnesota for stretches of the third, attempting to prevent them from even having the chance to tie the game. An early chance by Joe Morrow found a goal post, and later Scheifele found one of his own, which created some chaos around the Wild goal that Dubnyk had to tidy up. Laine then got a breakaway opportunity in the dying minutes of the third that was harassed just enough by Spurgeon to allow Dubnyk to poke the puck away before any harm could come.

It took Minnesota until just under two minutes remaining to gain enough solid puck possession to get Dubnyk off, but the extra attacker still couldn’t help them solve the labyrinth that was Winnipeg’s defensive scheme, and Scheifele buried the 2-0 dagger with 10 seconds remaining to seal Minnesota’s fate.

Outshot 30-28, the Jets took the first road victory of the series, giving them the chance to win the first playoff series in franchise history in front of what will surely be a raucous Winnipeg Whiteout crowd on Friday night (DTFR coverage brought to you again by yours truly).

How Minnesota finds a way to extend this series is beyond me. The injuries to key players just seem to be too much for them to overcome. They’ll need nothing short of a miracle to make it back to Xcel Energy Center for Game 6.

Sharks Move On From Past; Ducks Mired in It

 

Game 3 was a must-win for the Anaheim Ducks after losing two games at home to the San Jose Sharks.  The embarrassing 8-1 lost showed a tale of two California teams–one finally moving beyond the team helmed by Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton for the past decade and the other desperate to relive their past glory from 2007.  The team that has moved on from its past appears to be the team that will move on to Round 2, while the team trying to relive its past is learning a hard lesson–the NHL is not the same as it was in 2007.

When the Ducks brought back Randy Carlyle, the thought was that his discipline was what was needed to get the team to the next level.  If this is what discipline looks like, I’d hate to see what anarchy would look like for this team.  10 penalties, including four from Captain Ryan Getzlaf (including a misconduct), who should know better.

The Sharks breakaway speed has been a problem for the Ducks the entire series, and it was again in Game 3.  The Sharks started to break it open in the second period when two quick goals gave them a 3-1 lead.  The first of those two goals was scored by Joonas Donskoi on a nice feed from, who else, Evander Kane and the second saw Donskoi setting up Marcus Sorensen on another breakaway. It went downhill from there as John Gibson couldn’t bail out the Ducks and the score was 5-1 by the time the third period began, leading to the Ducks going to Ryan Miller in desperation.  It didn’t matter, despite a solid season, Miller would give up 3 goals in the third period.

I don’t know if the Sharks are good enough for Buffalo to get that first round pick from the Kane deal, but it is clear that Kane fits right in on the team.  The Sharks don’t appear to be missing either Marleau or Thornton.  Without Jumbo out there, they are able to take advantage of their speed against a team like the Ducks.  This is the way hockey is played in 2018.

The Ducks, on the other hand, are playing with a team built literally and figuratively for 2007.  Francois Beauchemin. Jason ChimeraRyan Kesler.  Miller. This doesn’t even include some of the guys not currently playing for the Ducks such as Kevin Bieksa, Antoine Vermette, Jared Boll and Chris Kelly.  Beauchemin played nearly 20 minutes, so its not as if he was a rarely-used third pairing defenseman.

Some of that was certainly the result of injuries.  But the Ducks, in general, need to do what San Jose has done this year and start moving on from the past.  This isn’t Getzlaf and Corey Perry‘s team any more than the 2007 Ducks were Teemu Selanne‘s team–its Rickard Rakell‘s team.  Its Jakob Silfverberg‘s team.  Its Ondrej Kase‘s team.   Yes, Perry and Getzlaf will continue to be important, but their role should be a supporting role the way Selanne’s role was when he returned to Anaheim.  This is a young man’s league and you can’t build a team in this league around a core of 30-somethings.

You also can’t build the team the Ducks need to build with Carlyle at the helm.  Bob Murray needs to learn from the mistakes of his mentor, Brian Burke.  When Burke got nostalgic and brought in Todd Bertuzzi, he messed with the chemistry he had created in Anaheim.  Murray needs to abandon nostalgia and build around youth and speed with Perry and Getzlaf there to provide just enough grit and physicality to balance things.

The Ducks will have at least one more game in 2017-18.  Hopefully it is the end of an era and the beginning of a bright future.  They have the young players and prospects to do it, but they need to have faith to hand the team over to them.

As for the Sharks, it is going to be fun to see what this team can do in the rest of the post-season, particularly as the next round is shaping up to be against the team with the Midas Touch, the Vegas Golden Knights.

March 21 – Day 161 – Fallin’ for Dahlin

It’s a Wednesday, so the NHL doesn’t have too many games on today’s schedule.

Like most nights, this evening’s action finds its start at 7 p.m. with two tilts (Arizona at Buffalo and Montréal at Pittsburgh [RDS/SN]), followed an hour later by Boston at St. Louis (NBCSN/TVAS). Finally, Anaheim at Calgary (SN360) closes the night out with their fixture at 9:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

Throughout the season, I’ve jotted down some notes about a couple of tonight’s games.

  • Montréal at Pittsburgh: It’s rare that a player can be so remembered in only three games with a club, but every Pens fan can tell you about G Antti Niemi‘s short three-game tenure with the squad to start the season.
  • Anaheim at Calgary: Playoff rematches from a year ago aren’t so important at this point in the season, but this is the Flames’ last chance to exact any revenge against the Ducks this campaign.

Now, there’s certainly important games in terms of playoff implications being played tonight (looking at you St. Louis and, to a lesser extent, Calgary). However, for the last few days, my eyes have been drawn to the bottom of the league standings to what should be a better game between the Coyotes and Sabres than meets the eye, even if both clubs have a good chance at snagging the first-overall draft pick.

 

While the 24-37-11 Coyotes are still a ways off of challenging Vegas for the top of the Pacific Division, they have not been playing as poorly as their position as second-to-last in the Western Conference would indicate. In fact, Arizona has posted a 6-3-1 record in its 10 games this March.

The biggest reason for the Yotes’ most recent success goes by the name 16-16-6 G Antti Raanta. Even in the face of a defense that has allowed 31.3 shots against per game this calendar month (the 14th-fewest in the league in that time), Raanta has posted an impressive .941 save percentage and 2.01 GAA. This solid run has improved his season marks to a .925 save percentage and 2.41 GAA.

Even with the Coyotes traveling to Raleigh after tonight’s game for a tilt against the Hurricanes tomorrow, it appears Raanta will man the pipes tonight as Joe Yerdon reported he was in the starter’s crease at this morning’s skate.

Similar to Arizona, 23-37-12 Buffalo also hasn’t been as bad as last in the league would indicate lately. Not only have the Sabres posted a 3-4-1 record since March 2, but they’ve done it in light of facing a tough schedule (at Florida, vs. Toronto, vs. Calgary, vs. Vegas, vs. Toronto and vs. Nashville) that even the best of teams would struggle with.

That being said, the biggest reason Buffalo still has a losing record over this eight-game run has to be its struggling defense. Even with F Ryan O’Reilly (10 takeaways in his last eight games) and D Rasmus Ristolainen (three hits per game and 1.8 blocks per game since March 2) pouring their hearts out on the defensive end, the Sabres are still allowing 36.75 shots against per game since March 2, the third-worst mark in the NHL in that time.

As would be expected when faced with that kind of assault, the Sabres’ goaltenders have struggled to keep up. In his last three starts, 8-11-3 G Chad Johnson – tonight’s starter – has managed only a .9 save percentage and 4.11 GAA. While that save percentage is slightly better than the .897 he’s managed for the entire season, the sheer quantity of shots faced means his recent GAA is well over his 3.27 season mark.

It’s at this point where we turn this preview on its head. I’m almost always of the opinion that players have little to no interest in tanking or improving draft odds, hence my struggle with the idea of tanking. Unless they’ve given up on their teammates, players and coaches are always going to put 100 percent effort into their play.

However, I’m very certain General Managers Jason Botterill and John Chayka are keeping a close eye on this game and hoping that things go their clubs’ way… by things not going their clubs’ way. With that in mind, let’s discuss how much winning this game can do to impair either team’s chance at drafting first overall.

As things currently stand, the Sabres are 31st in the league and have the best shot at the first overall pick (in other words, they have an 18 percent chance of drafting Rasmus Dahlin, Andrei Svechnikov or Brady Tkachuk whomever they think is the best fit for their organization). However, it’s still a tight race at the bottom of the NHL, as the last three teams are separated by only one point. Should Buffalo win this game, it will vault Arizona and Vancouver into 29th in the league. Third-to-last has a 10.5 percent chance of drafting first overall.

Speaking of 29th-place, that is exactly where the Coyotes currently reside since they’re winning (or losing, depending on how you look at it) a games-played tiebreaker with Vancouver. Should Arizona win tonight’s tilt, it will pull within two points of 28th-place Ottawa, the team that has a 9.5 percent chance of drafting first overall.

The last time these teams squared off was November 2 at Gila River Arena, and it was an incredibly entertaining affair. Even though First Star LW Benoit Pouliot had scored two goals and tacked on another assist to give Buffalo a comfortable 5-1 lead, the Sabres allowed Arizona to score three third period goals. Buffalo was saved by the final horn and escaped the Grand Canyon State with a 5-4 victory.

Based simply on defense, it looks like the Coyotes have the upper hand in this game. Mix in the fact that their offense has averaged 2.6 goals per game in March to Buffalo’s 2.25, and it becomes a no-brainer.


In desperate need of two points, the Dallas Stars still sit on the outside of the playoff picture after losing yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day against the Washington Capitals 4-3 at Capital One Arena.

The game started exactly how the Stars would have liked, as they entered the first intermission with a 1-0 advantage. With 3:56 remaining in the first frame, F Tyler Seguin (RW Alexander Radulov and Third Star of the Game D John Klingberg) took advantage of C Nicklas Backstrom getting thrown into the penalty box for tripping Klingberg to score a power play snap shot.

However, it didn’t take long after the start of the second period for the Capitals to take a lead of their own. F T.J. Oshie (C Lars Eller and Second Star W Alex Ovechkin) got Washington on the scoreboard at the 4:07 mark of the frame with a wrist shot, and D Matt Niskanen followed him with an unassisted wrister only 1:25 later to give the Caps a 2-1 lead.

Scoring subsided until 8:12 remained in the period when Radulov (Klingberg and LW Jamie Benn) leveled the game with a snapper, but Ovechkin (First Star D John Carlson and Oshie) regained a one-goal advantage for the Caps on a power play slap shot only 1:53 later. Benn completed the period’s scoring with a wrister, tying the score at 3-3 1:45 before the second intermission.

As would be expected from a a tie entering the final 20 minutes of regulation, there was tons of action at both ends of the ice. In total, 21 shots on goal were registered between the two teams in the third frame – split as evenly as possible. Unfortunately for Dallas, the Capitals take credit for the remaining shot on goal, and it proved to be the game-winner.

With 4:59 remaining in regulation and the teams playing under four-on-four conditions (C Radek Faksa and D Brooks Orpik were in the penalty box for respective slashing and roughing infractions against one another), Ovechkin collected a centering pass to nobody by Eller in the left corner. After advancing towards the trapezoid, the captain returned the puck to Eller waiting in the opposite corner, who saw Carlson wide open above the right face-off circle and delivered him a perfect setup pass. The defenseman one-timed a nasty clapper over G Kari Lehtonen‘s glove shoulder to set the 4-3 final score.

G Braden Holtby earned the victory after saving 24-of-27 shots faced (.889 save percentage), leaving the loss to Lehtonen, who saved 28-of-32 (.875).

Home teams are trying to reclaim their dominance in the DtFR Game of the Day series, as they’ve now earned points in three-consecutive games. As such, the 89-52-20 hosts now have a 35-point advantage over the roadies.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 23

Skater of the Week: Alex Pietrangelo

How about the defenseman getting some love, huh?

In all honesty, this wasn’t even a case of picking him out for having a stellar week ‘as a defenseman’, he lead the entire league in scoring last week full-stop.

The 6-foot-3 210 pound King City, Ont. native racked up three goals and six assists in four games this past week, including a goal and two helpers on the power play. He also averaged nearly 26 minutes of ice time per game in that stretch, remaining a key cog on the St. Louis blueline with his all-around strong play.

Starting the week with a pair of assists against Anaheim on Monday, he had a forgettable outing against Colorado on Thursday with no points and a -3 rating. But after that he closed the week with a pair of stellar games, recording two goals (one on the power play) and an assist against the Rangers on Saturday, then followed up the next day with a four-point outing against Chicago, where he’d tally a goal and three assists, with two of the helpers coming on the man-advantage.

Just one point shy of tying his career-high of 51 points after just 68 games played, and having already bested his previous goal-scoring mark (he’s now at 15, having posted a prior-best 14 last season), the 28 year-old looks set to be one of the NHL’s best defenders over the next few years. His Blues team may be in a bit of a reset right now after an up-and-down campaign, but with Pietrangelo as one of their key pieces moving forward, it’s easy to think they’ll be right back at the top of the league in very short order. Plus, it’s still not at all impossible for them to sneak into the playoffs if they can finish the season strong.

Tendy of the Week: Curtis McElhinney

I tell ya, that McElhinney, he’s a pretty good backup, ain’t he?

There were more than a few terrific stretches by goaltenders this week, but I’m giving the nod to the guy you’d never expect to have a week like this. Plus, he’s a professional athlete that drives a, like, 15-year-old Volvo. He’s just the best.

C-Mac made only two starts this week, but tallied three wins (because reasons), and posted a .955 save percentage and 1.57 GAA for the week. He started the week being brought in in relief of an injured Frederik Andersen on Wednesday night against Dallas (more on that game in a minute), playing just over 30 minutes and surrendering two goals on 15 shots. Not a great stat night, but he collected the W, anyway. Then, with Andersen out the rest of the week, McElhinney got the call the next night against Buffalo, turning aside 38-of-40, and again on Saturday against Montreal where he’d blank the Habs with a 33-save shutout.

The 34-year-old career-journeyman goaltender now has a scarcely-believable 10-4-1 record this year with a 2.09 GAA and .935 save percentage. His style could be described as ‘Dominik Hasek, without the grace’, and there’s no real reason to suspect this season is any more than an anomaly in the career of a .908/2.87 goaltender, particularly one in his mid-30s, but you can’t help but root for a guy like McElhinney.

Game of the Week: Dallas Stars 5 @ Toronto Maple Leafs 6 (SO), Wednesday March 14th, 2018

Hmm, a Stars-Leafs game ended in a shootout with 11 total goals. Who could have seen that coming?

68 shots, 59 hits, a James van Riemsdyk hat trick, and a comeback home team victory, what’s not to love?

Seriously, you’re still here? Why are you not watching the highlights and/or Steve Dangle’s LFR on the game? Get outta here! GO!

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

As a member of a fanbase that once had a literal fan rally in support of essentially tactical-nuking our team’s front office, I’m fully behind the #MelnykOut movement.

William Karlsson can’t stop scoring. Part of me believes this is yet another example of my team’s eternal curse of misusing a player and then trading him away to watch him become a star (read: Jakub Voracek), but the other part of me sees a .23 shooting percentage and can’t wait to watch everyone scream about how overpaid he is in a couple years when he’s putting up 15-25-40 seasons after the Knights sign him to a 100-year, eleventy-bazillion dollar contract.

The NHL GM meetings are underway in Florida, so expect very little in the way of productive changes to rules, and expect very much in the way of surprisingly tan general managers.

@jdettro and I touched the Stanley Cup last weekend, so don’t be surprised if it rusts now.

Happy 70th birthday to Bobby Orr. I have nothing clever for this, just a birthday message.

February 19 – Day 131 – Working for the next Czech

If there’s such thing as too much hockey in one Monday, I’d like to experience it so I may be the judge. Between the Olympic Games and the NHL, there’s nine games on today’s slate.

For the second week, we start our attention in PyeongChang as the second women’s semifinal between Canada and the OAR is scheduled to be played at 7:10 a.m. Eastern time.

Back on the east side of the Pacific, the NHL has scheduled games throughout the day to honor Family Day in Canada and Presidents Day in the United States. First up is Minnesota at the New York Islanders (SN) at 1 p.m., followed by Washington at Buffalo (SN1) at 3 p.m. and Boston at Calgary (NHLN) and hour later. The primetime games get started at 8 p.m. with Ottawa at Nashville (RDS), trailed half an hour later by Los Angeles at Chicago (NHLN/TVAS). Finally, Anaheim visits Vegas at 10 p.m. to close out the day’s festivities. All times Eastern.

Back in South Korea, the men’s knockout tournament is getting underway. First up is Team USA vs. Slovakia at 10:10 p.m., followed by Slovenia vs. Norway at 2:40 a.m. All times Eastern.

What games drew my attention when the schedule was released? I thought you’d never ask.

  • Canada vs. OAR: Medals are in sight for both teams, but what color could they be?
  • Los Angeles at Chicago: This rivalry was at its peak earlier in the decade. Will the nastiness resume tonight?
  • USA vs. Slovakia: Tomorrow is no longer ensured – a win is required to advance to the quarterfinals against the Czech Republic!
  • Slovenia vs. Norway: The same can be said for this game, but these competitors are eyeing a date with the OAR.

Without question, the best game in the NHL today is taking place in Brooklyn. However, it’s hard for me to take my attention off the Olympic playoffs. Let’s head over to Gangneung Hockey Centre for the Group B rematch!

 

For fans that don’t know much about this edition of Chlapci (The Boys), let’s just get this out of the way early: no, Miroslav Satan is no longer playing for the Slovaks. However, he is involved with this team in his role as general manager.

So, what kind of team did the 2009 Stanley Cup champion build?

Perhaps Slovakia’s best weapon is 30-year-old G Branislav Konrad. While he doesn’t have the luxury of an exemplary defense playing in front of him (Repre – a name for what seems to represent all Slovak men’s teams that, similar to the word yankee, does not have a direct translation – allowed a fourth-worst 27.67 shots against per game during the group stage), he’s still posted a decent .904 save percentage for a 2.4 GAA.

Those two efforts have combined for Chlapci, the 10-seed in this knockout tournament, allowing only 2.33 goals against through their first three showings – the (t)sixth-best effort of the group stage.

Perhaps the reason for the Slovaks’ struggles on the defensive end is because of their attacking style in the offensive zone. Only two Slovaks have averaged a point per game through the group stage, and they’re both defensemen: Peter Ceresnak (1-2-3 totals) and Dominik Granak (0-3-3). The Americans did well to keep both those players off the scorecard when they played Slovakia the first time (more on that in a moment), but a defensive pair’s ability to dominate the blue line and extend possessions – even if it doesn’t show up as goals or assists – is always a valuable assett.

It just so happens that the 10-seed gets lined up with a fixture against the seven-seed, hence the reason we get a Group B rematch between the Americans and Slovaks.

One of my favorite qualities about the Ice Yanks so far in this tournament has been their play in their own end. Allowing only 24.33 shots against per game, Team USA has ranked fifth-best at the 2018 Olympics. That effort has done much to simplify the game for G Ryan Zapolski as much as possible, as he’s been able to provide a .89 save percentage and 2.66 GAA.

Of particular note, Zapolski and the United States have yet to allow a power play goal, a good sign of great defensive play.

On the offensive end, there’s still a bit to be desired if you ask an American fan. Team USA has averaged only 1.33 goals per game, the (t)third-fewest of all 12 teams at the Olympics. F Ryan Donato – a hometown Bruins prospect from the 2014 NHL Entry Draft – has certainly been the team’s leader, as his 2-1-3 totals are the most goals and points on the team.

In fact, it was in the American’s last game against the Slovaks on February 15 that Donato assumed his scoring role on the team, as he scored both the goals in a nerve-wracking 2-1 victory. F Chris Bourque was also stellar in that game by assisting on both power play goals, helping the United States overcome F Andrej Kudrna’s first period goal.

Of note in that game, Konrad was not in net for the Slovaks, as Head Coach Craig Ramsay – the former Sabre and winner of the 1985 Selke Trophy – elected to start G Jan Laco. Laco performed well to post a .936 save percentage and 2.02 GAA, but I’d guess that Konrad will earn the nod tonight.

Team USA may have beaten Slovakia once already this tournament, but it was far from a dominant victory that leaves me certain they can duplicate the performance. I first and foremost expect a tight game, but I think Repre can pull off the upset victory.

Regardless of who wins, the victor will advance to the quarterfinals and a matchup with the second-seeded Czech Republic, Group A’s champion. That game will be played tomorrow at 10:10 p.m. Eastern time.


With a two goals in the third period of yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Kwandong Hockey Centre, the Swedish men beat Finland 3-1 to clinch first place in Group C.

Sweden’s defense dominated this game. Entering the tilt, Finland had registered five goals apiece in its first two showings. In addition to limiting the Lions to only one goal in this fixture, Sweden allowed only 19 Finnish shots on goal, well below the 23 per game Finland had averaged entering the match.

Pair that with F Anton Lander‘s (F Linus Omark and G Viktor Fasth) breakaway five-hole goal with 5:07 remaining in the first period, and you have a game the Three Crowns never trailed. That being said, that was the lone tally of the opening 20 minutes due to F Par Lindholm’s nullified deflection with 9:16 remaining having been played with a high stick.

Just like in the first period, only only a lone goal was struck in the second – but this one belonged to Finland. It was scored by F Joonas Kemppainen (D Miika Koivisto and F Julius Junttila) at the 1:32 mark, his second of the tournament to tie the game at 1-1. Kemppainen is the only player to score against Sweden’s defense so far this Olympic tournament, and he did it with scrappy resilience in the crease.

As mentioned before, the third period was where Sweden really took control of this game, as it allowed the Lions to fire a game-high eight shots on goal – a testament to the Swedes’ defense. Meanwhile, the offensive end was also rolling, as F Patrik Zackrisson (D Johan Fransson) scored the game-winning goal at the 8:53 mark.

Trailing by only a goal but facing a Swedish man-advantage with D Sami Lepisto in the box for holding, Head Coach Lauri Marjamaki elected to pull G Mikko Koskinen with 69 seconds remaining in regulation to even the number of skaters at five apiece. That move worked for a while, but F Oscar Moller (Omark) was able to score a power play empty netter with five seconds remaining in the game to clinch three point for Sweden.

Fasth earned the victory after saving 18-of-19 shots faced (.947 save percentage), leaving the loss to Koskinen, who saved 20-of-22 (.909).

With Sweden listed as the road team, its win marks the third-consecutive by visitors in the DtFR Game of the Day. As such, the roadies have pulled within 20 points of the 70-44-17 hosts in the series.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 18

Skater of the Week: Connor McDavid

It feels sort of wrong that he hadn’t won this until now. Just doesn’t seem possible, right?

Likely a byproduct of the abysmal season Edmonton is having, McDavid has been enjoying a solid if less-than-stellar season (he’s still put up 64 points in 54 games, we’re just talking about the arguable best player in the world) and hadn’t made this esteemed list until now. But with eight points in four games this week (including a four-goal, five-point performance against the almighty Lightning), Edmonton’s lord and savior has claimed the throne.

McDavid saw a five-game point scoring streak (seven goals, 11 points) come to an end in Edmonton’s final game of the week, but managed to put up eight points in the week’s three prior contests, so he definitely is worthy of the nod.

Tendy of the Week: Devan Dubnyk

In a week of slim standout goaltending performances (apart from Andrei Vasilevskiy making what might actually be the greatest save in the history of hockey), Dubnyk’s 2-0-1 record manages to stand out, particularly paired with his .950 save percentage and 1.96 GAA.

Apart from giving up four goals in the overtime loss to Arizona (which came on 40 shots, allowing Dubnyk to still manage a .900 save percentage), Dubnyk backstopped two victories over division rivals to cap a stellar week, turning aside 35-of-37 shots faced against St. Louis, and posting a 44-save blanking of Chicago.

The lanky Saskatchawinian (I have no idea if that’s a real word, but it was fun to say) hasn’t quite matched his ridiculous numbers from last season to this point, but he’s still been more than solid and has the Wild poised for another playoff run.

*Editor’s note: It’s “Saskatchewanian,” Pete. But close enough.*

Game of the Week: Detroit Red Wings 6 @ New York Islanders 7 (OT), Friday February 9th, 2018

Someone pick up the damn phone, the 1980s are calling.

This was one of those games that just made you laugh, because nothing about it made any sense. Three goaltenders played in the game, none of them posting a save percentage higher than .857 (Petr Mrazek had a frankly disturbing .759 and played for the team that DIDN’T switch goaltenders). Nine, count them, nine skaters had multi-point games, including a hat trick for Brock Nelson, a four-point outing for Henrik Zetterberg, and Mathew Barzal‘s five-assist performance making him the first rookie in 100 years to post three five-point games in a season.

But perhaps the zaniest stat of all was the way the goals were posted.

Detroit was all over the Isles early, dominating the first period and taking a 3-0 lead into the locker room. New York could only answer one time in the second period, before drawing to within one early in the third, only to have the Wings score twice more in a 2:12 span to regain a three-goal lead. But with about six minutes to play, Tyler Bertuzzi would attempt to chop off the leg of Cal Clutterbuck, giving the Islanders a five-minute major power play opportunity. An opportunity they would capitalize upon thoroughly.

Brock Nelson. 5-3. Anders Lee. 5-4. Nick Leddy. Tie game. Josh Bailey. The Isles now somehow lead this game 6-5 with 1:49 to play after scoring four times on a single power play. Who could have predicted this? Who could even believe this? Who is writing the script for this movie? Who’s got Mike Green in the slot? Oh, nobody does, and with 29 seconds to play the Red Wings complete the circus act to tie the game at six and force overtime.

Nelson would complete his hat trick to finally end the chaos 3:15 into the extra frame, but if we’re honest, everyone who watched this game were the real winners*.

*Except my father, who is still questioning how his team could score six goals and lose a hockey game.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Sidney Crosby scored the 400th goal of his career on Sunday against the Blues. I can only speak positively of him for so long at any given time, so I’ll just end this right here.

Lars Eller got himself a five-year, $17.5M extension with the Capitals, making him probably the highest-paid person in the world named Lars that doesn’t play drums.

Alexandre Burrows decided not to appeal his 10-game suspension for being an absolute piece of…err…I mean kneeing Taylor Hall in the head…a lot. Personally, I was really hoping he would appeal the suspension, and the league would respond by making it an 11-game suspension, just because it’s Alex Burrows.

Mark Scheifele is back off of IR, adding even more firepower to a Jets squad that might just screw around and grab a Presidents’ Trophy.

The Rangers basically announced in a letter to their fans that they are dropping the franchise on a landmine and starting over, which is probably disheartening to the fanbase, but New York was only one point behind my Blue Jackets when the letter was published so, like, I’m definitely not thinking about that when I try to go to sleep or anything.

Jack Eichel is out for at least a month after suffering a high-ankle sprain. This is devastating news for the Sabres, as they lose a key piece in their pursuit of a playoff spot. (Nobody say anything and let’s see if any Buffalo fans know that was sarcasm)

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Weeks 12 & 13

With New Years and the GLI preventing me from posting last week (and being out of town this weekend pushing this yet another day back) I’ll be combining the past two weeks of action, because I make the rules here and you all just have to deal with it. So there.

Skater of the Week(s): Mikko Rantanen

Though the big Finn was overshadowed slightly by teammate Nathan MacKinnon by two points over this stretch, Rantanen’s 10 points in six games are still nothing to scoff at. An even split of five goals (one on the power play) and five assists (also one power play tally) to go with a ridiculous +9 rating over the six games put the 21-year old at 41 points in 41 games and dug him out of a -8 +/- hole to put him at a +1 on the season.

If Rantanen can continue producing at a point-a-game rate to go along with the incredible numbers MacKinnon is putting up, he may well lead the Avs (and my fantasy team) right into the playoffs.

Tendy of the Week(s): Tuukka Rask

(Special mentions to Jimmy Howard, Connor Hellebuyck, Jonathan Bernier and Ben Bishop, who all posted one more win than Rask over this span and all had terrific numbers of their own, as well.)

The Bruins are scorching hot right now and Rask is a huge part of that. The man with two Us and two Ks truly was too good over these past two weeks, posting wins in all three of his starts with a scarcely believable .974 save percentage and 0.67 GAA to his credit, along with a shutout (duh) for good measure.

Boston is never going to run down Tampa for the division’s top spot without some sort of extinction-level event befalling the Lightning, but with three games in hand over third place Toronto and the Grand Canyon between them and fourth place, the Bs look to be fairly comfortable in their push towards the playoffs. If Rask carries this play into the postseason, everyone should be scared.

Game of the Week(s): Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…………

Okay, so, admittedly I did not watch a lot of hockey over the past 14 or so days. I can tell you that Michigan vs Michigan State in the consolation game of the GLI was a lot of fun, and the Winter Classic looked like it was a barnburner. Also the Jackets and Panthers went eight rounds into the shootout Sunday night, a game that I was originally supposed to attend (you’re welcome, friend who I gave the tickets to), and all five goals scored were gross.

But if I’m being honest, I simply haven’t watched enough to make a solid pick this time around. So, tell you what, the game of the week is whatever you want it to be! Yeah, how about that? That’s me giving back to you, the reader.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

David Savard was fined $5,000 for Paul Bunyon-ing Vincent Trocheck, a move that Cap’n Cornelius would probably deem the most solid defensive play he’s seen out of Savard all season.

Dan Girardi blocked a Martin Frk shot with his head, which is definitely not recommended, but luckily had all concussion tests come back negative and is only listed as day-to-day. In Girardi’s defense, at least half of the time Frk lets a shot go, even he doesn’t know exactly where it’s going (a point Red Wings’ color analyst Mickey Redmond made himself after the play occurred). For those unfamiliar with Frk, I can tell you that he almost certainly has one of the hardest shots you will ever witness. Living in northwest Ohio, I’ve had multiple opportunities to watch him in action over the past few years when he spent time with Toledo of the ECHL, and even his wrist shot hits the boards with a sound unlike anything you’ll hear from 99 percent of other players. Maybe work on keeping them down, Marty.

Patrice Bergeron had himself a four-goal game, which I assume was just to remind all of us that he’s still the best hockey player that no one ever remembers exists.

Glen Gulutzan had a meltdown for the ages at Flames practice, highlighted by heaving his stick into the stratosphere. No one has seen the stick land yet, and I assume it has simply joined Jose Bautista’s bat on its eternal journey through the cosmos.

Speaking of the Flames, the team is reportedly looking to release Jaromir Jagr, in a move that would likely put them on a level of heel heat that would rival Vince McMahon post-Montreal Screwjob (Bonus points to any reader that actually understands that reference).

Nazem Kadri fought Joe Thornton (bad idea) and apparently thought ripping some of Jumbo’s beard out would cause Joe to lose some of his strength (decent theory, story of Samson and whatnot). It did not cause him to lose his strength, though, so a bad day for Kadri there.

The Oilers nabbed goaltender Al Montoya from the Habs in exchange for a conditional 4th round pick, in a move that could be titled “Two dumpster fires exchange things in attempt to convince livid fanbases that improvements are being made.”