Nick, Colby and Pete assess the Philadelphia Flyers’ hiring of Alain Vigneault, the Los Angeles Kings’ hiring of Todd McLellan, where does this leave the Buffalo Sabres in their search for a head coach, as well as some of the good (CBJ and NYI sweep), bad and ugly from the ongoing First Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The DTFR Duo talk a little college hockey, other stats from the week, the CWHL folding and NWHL expansion opportunities, as well as hand out more awards and a look at how things should sort out in the Atlantic Division for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The St. Louis Blues just keep on winning (11 straight, to be exact). Can they win it all? The Tampa Bay Lightning are not Stanley Cup favorites according to Nick– nobody is! Did the Edmonton Oilers win a trade? Cory Schneider won a game! and other milestones from the last week, as well as whatever happened in the Boston Bruins vs San Jose Sharks game on Monday.
Now that all the bye weeks are behind us, the next big event on the NHL calendar is the trade deadline at the end of the month. The activity leading up to that date will be majorly influenced by the next couple weeks’ games, including these tilts:
|NHL SCHEDULE: February 4-10|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
|Monday, February 4|
|7 p.m.||Los Angeles Kings||New York Rangers||4-3 (OT)|
|Tuesday, February 5|
|7 p.m.||New York Islanders||Boston Bruins||1-3|
|7 p.m.||Minnesota||Buffalo||4-5 (SO)|
|7 p.m.||St. Louis||Florida||3-2|
|7 p.m.||Los Angeles||New Jersey||5-1|
|7:30 p.m.||Vegas||Tampa Bay||3-2 (SO)|
|8 p.m.||San Jose||Winnipeg||3-2 (OT)|
|Wednesday, February 6|
|8 p.m.||Boston Bruins||New York Rangers||3-4 (SO)|
|Thursday, February 7|
|7 p.m.||New York Islanders||New Jersey Devils|
|7 p.m.||Los Angeles||Philadelphia|
|7:30 p.m.||Winnipeg||Montréal||RDS, TSN2|
|7:30 p.m.||St. Louis||Tampa Bay|
|9 p.m.||San Jose||Calgary||ESPN+, SN1|
|Friday, February 8|
|8 p.m.||Carolina Hurricanes||New York Rangers||NHLN, SN|
|Saturday, February 9|
|1 p.m.||Los Angeles||Boston|
|1 p.m.||Minnesota||New Jersey|
|1 p.m.||Colorado Avalanche||New York Islanders|
|2 p.m.||Nashville||St. Louis|
|2 p.m.||Winnipeg Jets||Ottawa Senators||CBC, SN, SN1, TVAS|
|7 p.m.||San Jose||Edmonton||SN, SN360|
|7 p.m.||Toronto Maple Leafs||Montréal Canadiens||CBC, CITY, SN1, TVAS|
|7 p.m.||Pittsburgh||Tampa Bay||NHLN|
|10 p.m.||Calgary Flames||Vancouver Canucks||CBC, CITY, SN, SN1, SN360|
|Sunday, February 10|
|12:30 p.m.||St. Louis||Nashville||NBC, TVAS|
|3 p.m.||Colorado||Boston||SN1, TVAS|
|3 p.m.||Carolina||New Jersey|
|3 p.m.||Minnesota Wild||New York Islanders|
|6 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Florida|
|7 p.m.||Toronto Maple Leafs||New York Rangers||NBCSN, SN, TVAS|
This week has more than its fair share of derbies with seven on the schedule spread across four days. First up are both of Wednesday’s tilts (the Battle of Ontario and an Original Six tilt between the Bruins and Rangers), followed this evening by Vancouver visiting Chicago (once a rivalry, always a rivalry). Toronto keeps the Original Six fever going into the weekend when it visits Montréal, then continues the trend into Sunday by visiting the Rangers. Joining the Leafs and Blueshirts in rivalry action to close the week will be Tampa Bay and Florida contesting another round of the Governor’s Cup.
In the player homecoming category, there was none bigger than F Jay Beagle‘s trip back to the District of Columbia on Tuesday. Beagle spent 10 seasons with the Caps, departing for the Pacific Northwest after winning the Stanley Cup last summer.
Also making major returns are G Philipp Grubauer and F Nick Bjugstad, both of whom spent six seasons with the Capitals and Panthers, respectively. These homecomings are especially significant for both, as Grubauer will be collecting his Stanley Cup ring and Bjugstad will probably be snagging some more clothes and household items for his new apartment in the Steel City after being traded there Friday.
However, to keep with tradition, let’s totally disregard those tilts and focus on a totally different fixture – specifically, the one featuring F Jeff Skinner taking on his former team.
Boasting a 4-1-1 record in their past six games (including a dominant 4-0 shutout win in Pittsburgh on Tuesday), the 26-21-6 Carolina Hurricanes have pulled within three points of the East’s second wild card with 29 games to play.
After more than half the season has gone by, there’s no surprises any more in the Canes’ style: they play an upbeat style of offense that stresses shots on goal, hoping to wear down opposing goaltenders simply by the mass volume of stops they have to make.
While that strategy has had varied levels of success throughout the campaign, Head Coach Rod Brind’Amour‘s crew has certainly been making magic lately, as they’ve been led by their offense averaging 4.33 goals per game during this run – the second-best in the entire NHL since January 20.
Leading that charge is none other than the 35th-overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, F Sebastian Aho. With 3-6-9 totals in his last six appearances, he’s continued his insane scoring pace to elevate his season marks to 24-36-60 in 53 appearances, putting him only five points away from matching last season’s career-highs in goals and points.
Joining Aho in averaging at least a point per game during this six-game run are F Teuvo Teravainen (2-5-7), D Jaccob Slavin (0-7-7) and new addition W Nino Niederreiter (5-1-6). With Niederreiter’s goal-scoring showing up in Raleigh on January 18, perhaps it’s no mere coincidence the offense has taken off and the Hurricanes are enjoying more of their patented “Carolina Surge” celebrations. Of course, the Canes might be just as surprised with Niederreiter’s success as he is – after all, he only scored nine goals in 46 games with the Wild this season. Since donning Carolina red, he’s already lit the lamp five times in only seven appearances.
But the Hurricanes haven’t been just another pretty offense during this winning run. They’ve also played incredibly well on the defensive end too.
Thanks to the excellent play of late by D Justin Faulk (two blocks per game since January 20) and W Micheal Ferland (3.5 hits per game in his last four outings), the Canes have also boasted the league’s third-best defense as measured by shots against per game, as they’ve allowed only 25.33 per game during this six-game span.
And not surprisingly, that solid defensive work has translated incredibly to the scoreboard. Carolina has allowed only 2.5 goals against per game during this run, the (t)10th-best in the league since January 20. While 11-11-3 G Petr Mrazek‘s (.894 save percentage and 2.83 GAA on the season) stats have been far from incredible during this stretch – he’s actually performed below his already below-average season marks, managing an .874 save percentage and 3.28 GAA behind this defense – the fact that he’s earned five of a possible eight points in his last four appearances indicates he’s doing enough to help the Canes win.
With Carolina heading to Manhattan tomorrow to take on a less offensively-talented Rangers team, it seems likely Mrazek will be in net tonight. Should Brind’Amour instead give 12-6-1 G Curtis McElhinney the nod, he’ll hope to improve on his .918 season save percentage and corresponding 2.37 GAA.
Speaking of New York-based teams, the 26-20-6 Buffalo Sabres also find themselves trailing eighth-place Columbus by three points, but they currently lead the Hurricanes in the standings by virtue of playing one fewer game so far this campaign.
Unfortunately for the Sabres, that is where the positive marks end for a moment, as they’ve had the misfortune of stumbling into a 3-6-0 rut over their past nine games.
The biggest reason for this slump? Struggling goaltending.
Due in large part to an offense that is providing only three goals per game (tied for 13th-fewest in the NHL since January 11) and a defense yielding 31.11 shots against per game (15th-worst in the league in their past nine outings) during this stretch, 11-5-3 G Linus Ullmark has been forced to shoulder the brunt of the Sabres’ mistakes for the past few weeks and has struggled mightily under the pressure.
Despite owning a solid .914 save percentage and 2.93 GAA for the season, Ullmark’s stats in his last seven appearances (of which only five were starts, meaning 15-15-3 G Carter Hutton is struggling even more than Ullmark) have showcased just how much Buffalo has been struggling in the middle of the season. Ullmark has only an .882 save percentage and 3.53 GAA in these games, a far cry from the performance Head Coach Phil Housley has come to expect.
Hutton has an even worse .832 save percentage and 5.59 GAA in his last four starts (of which he’s only won one), so I’d be surprised if the 33-year-old is in net tonight against the Canes’ rolling offense.
Regardless of who’s in net, I have a hard time seeing the Sabres breaking out of their funk against the red-hot Hurricanes. With everything coming up Carolina’s way in it’s last few outings, the Canes should escape the Queen City with two more points in their possession.
The Boston Bruins didn’t lead Saturday night at KeyBank Center until the game was over at 3:44 of the overtime period– after Sean Kuraly pocketed the game-winning goal, 3-2, over the Buffalo Sabres.
Tuukka Rask (9-8-2 record, 2.67 goals against average, .912 save percentage in 19 games played) made 26 saves on 28 shots against for a .929 SV% in the win for Boston, while Carter Hutton (13-11-3, 2.65 GAA, .916 SV% in 27 GP) turned aside 38 out of 42 shots faced for a .929 SV% in the loss for the Sabres.
Rask improved his career record in the month of December to 44-20-9 and tied Tiny Thompson for the most games played by a goaltender in Bruins franchise history, having appeared in his 468th career game.
Hutton entered Saturday night 7-1-1 in his last nine home games and 9-3-1 on home ice this season. As a result of the loss, Hutton has fallen to 9-3-2 at KeyBank Center this season– his first season in Buffalo.
He also went into Saturday night 0-3-1 in his last four games with a 3.22 GAA and .899 SV%. He’s now 0-3-2 in his last five games.
The B’s improved to 21-14-4 (46 points) on the season and jumped ahead of the Montreal Canadiens for 4th place in the Atlantic Division standings.
Buffalo, in the meantime, fell to 21-12-6 (48 points) and remain in 3rd place in the Atlantic.
Prior to Saturday night’s matchup with the Sabres, Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, indicated that Brad Marchand and Charlie McAvoy would be out of the lineup on Saturday and may be possibilities to play in the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Tuesday at Notre Dame Stadium against the Chicago Blackhawks.
McAvoy was placed on the injured reserve Friday (retroactive to about a week ago) and will be eligible to return in time for Tuesday, while Marchand remains day-to-day with an upper body injury.
David Backes was suspended three-games by the NHL Department of Player Safety on Friday after violating Rule 48.1 in Thursday night’s matchup with the New Jersey Devils.
Backes caught New Jersey forward, Blake Coleman, with an illegal check to the head in the final two minutes of regulation and received a two-minute minor penalty on the play.
He sat out of Saturday night’s action and will miss the Winter Classic, as well as next Thursday night’s game at TD Garden against the Calgary Flames as a result of his suspension.
With no Marchand and no McAvoy, Cassidy juggled the lines a bit by placing Danton Heinen alongside Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, moving Joakim Nordstrom to the second line with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk and shuffling the bottom six forwards with each other.
DeBrusk and Grzelcyk both played in their 100th career NHL game on Saturday, with Steven Kampfer as the only healthy scratch for the Bruins.
Early in the first period, after making the initial diving save on Jeff Skinner, Rask let up a rebound that Marco Scandella (2) quickly scooped up and fired into the open twine with Rask in desperation.
Skinner (13) and Sam Reinhart (30) had the assist’s on Scandella’s goal at 4:40 of the first period and the Sabres jumped out to a quick, 1-0, lead.
About five minutes later, the Bruins responded.
Boston capitalized on a misstep by one of the Sabres skaters behind Buffalo’s own net, whereby the puck trickled freely into the low slot for Acciari (1) to bat it off a defender and past Hutton to tie the game, 1-1, on an unassisted goal at 9:30.
The goal was Acciari’s first in 33 games, dating back to the last weekend of the regular season, last season.
Less than a couple of minutes later, Zach Bogosian hooked DeBrusk and the B’s went on the power play for the first time of the night.
Boston did not convert on their first skater advantage of the evening.
Late in the first period, Cave hooked Skinner and sent the Sabres on the power play for their first time in the game at 16:48. The Bruins made the kill.
Both teams entered the dressing room tied, 1-1, heading into the first intermission. Boston led in shots on goal (14-7), blocked shots (7-4) and face-off win percentage (71-29) after 20 minutes of play, while Buffalo led in takeaways (4-1), giveaways (4-1) and hits (9-7).
Each club was 0/1 on the power play entering the second period.
Krug tripped Johan Larsson at 2:53 of the middle frame, but the resulting Sabres power play wouldn’t last long as Jack Eichel caught Chara with a high-stick and drew some blood, yielding a four-minute double-minor infraction at 3:11 of the second period.
As a result of Eichel’s penalty, both sides skated 4-on-4 for the next 1:52, then Boston had an abbreviated double-minor power play for the remainder.
The Bruins couldn’t generate a zone advantage on the ensuing power play and allowed Larsson (4) to gain entry on a 2-on-1 shorthanded bid for the Sabres and score.
Evan Rodrigues (9) and Scandella (5) notched the assists on Larsson’s goal at 5:43 of the middle frame and Boston allowed their eighth shorthanded goal against of the season as a result (tied for the most allowed this season with the Pittsburgh Penguins).
Larsson’s goal made it, 2-1, Buffalo and was the first shorthanded goal of the season for the team in blue-and-gold.
Through 40 minutes of play, the Sabres led the Bruins, 2-1, and shots on goal were even at, 21-21, with Buffalo having outshot Boston, 14-7, in the second period alone.
Late in the third period, Rasmus Ristolainen was penalized for kneeing Pastrnak at 16:17.
On the ensuing power play, the Bruins brass dominated possession in the attacking zone and worked the puck back to Krug. The Boston defender unloaded a shot from the point that was promptly tipped well by DeBrusk (11) and into the net behind Hutton to tie the game, 2-2, on the power play.
DeBrusk’s power play goal was his first goal since Nov. 24th and was assisted by Krug (19) and Pastrnak (25) at 17:31.
As time expired on regulation action, the B’s and Sabres were still tied, 2-2, and heading for overtime.
Boston led in shots on goal through 60 minutes of play, 39-26, with the Bruins holding a distinct, 18-5, advantage in the third period.
Blocked shots were even (12-12), but the Sabres led in takeaways (11-3), giveaways (13-5) and hits (20-19). The Bruins remained strong on the face-off dot, amassing a, 55-45, advantage in face-off win% through three periods.
Buffalo was 0/2 on the power play and Boston was 1/4 on the skater advantage entering overtime.
Just 46 seconds into the 3-on-3 OT action, Krejci interfered with Skinner and was sent to the penalty box. Buffalo went on the 4-on-3 power play with plenty of time to make something happen in the five-minute overtime period.
In fact, to try to craft the perfect plan for eviscerating Boston’s penalty kill and taking home the bonus point, Sabres head coach, Phil Housley, used his timeout to rally his players.
But the Bruins penalty kill stood tall and Rask made save after crucial save as the Sabres power play battered the B’s.
Late in the overtime, having killed off Krejci’s penalty and resumed 3-on-3 action thanks to the first whistle after Buffalo’s power play expired in overtime, Kuraly, Miller and Grzelcyk were on the ice to take the draw in their own zone.
Kuraly won the face-off back to Miller, who sent the puck along to Grzelcyk.
As Kuraly rushed up the neutral zone, Grzelcyk hit him with a lead pass and brought forward Boston’s attacking zone entry.
Kuraly (3) fired a quick shot on Hutton and generated a rebound, which he chased down and collected to muster an odd, elevated, backhanded tap-in while crashing the slot to beat Hutton and steal the victory on the road.
Grzelcyk (9) and Miller (3) were credited with the primary and secondary assists on Kuraly’s game-winning overtime goal at 3:44 and the Bruins defeated the Sabres, 3-2, in sudden death.
Boston finished the night leading in shots on goal (42-28), hits (21-20) and face-off win% (53-47), while Buffalo ended the night ahead in giveaways (13-5). Both teams had 12 blocked shots aside.
The Sabres went 0/3 on the power play and the B’s went 1/4.
The Bruins have now won their last four games that went into overtime this season and finished the month of December with a 7-7-0 record.
Boston improved to 4-4 in overtime this year, while the Sabres dropped to 5-5 in the extra frame.
Buffalo has now lost back-to-back games after the mandatory three-day league-wide Christmas break.
Having reached the end of the 2018 calendar, the Bruins will now gear up for New Year’s Day and the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium against the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday.
After all of the festivities die down, Boston travels back home to host the Flames next Thursday, the Sabres next Saturday, the Minnesota Wild on Jan. 8th and the Washington Capitals on Jan. 10th before hitting the road for a quick trip to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 12th.
Now that the holiday break has come and gone, it’s time to get back into some hockey. Let’s take a gander at all the tilts the NHL has crammed into four days this week.
|NHL SCHEDULE: December 24-30|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
|Monday, December 24|
|No Games Scheduled – Christmas Eve|
|Tuesday, December 25|
|No Games Scheduled – Christmas|
|Wednesday, December 26|
|No Games Scheduled – Boxing Day|
|Thursday, December 27|
|7 p.m.||New Jersey||Boston||5-2|
|7 p.m.||Columbus Blue Jackets||New York Rangers||4-3 (OT)|
|7:30 p.m.||Philadelphia||Tampa Bay||5-6 (OT)|
|8 p.m.||Buffalo||St. Louis||1-4|
|10:30 p.m.||Arizona||Los Angeles||1-2|
|10:30 p.m.||Anaheim||San Jose||2-4|
|Friday, December 28|
|7 p.m.||Montréal||Florida||RDS, TSN2|
|7 p.m.||Ottawa Senators||New York Islanders||RDS2|
|Saturday, December 29|
|1 p.m.||Carolina||New Jersey||SN|
|4 p.m.||Vegas||Los Angeles||SN1|
|4 p.m.||San Jose||Edmonton|
|7 p.m.||New York Islanders||Toronto Maple Leafs||CBC, ESPN+, SN1|
|7 p.m.||Washington||Ottawa||CITY, SN360|
|7 p.m.||Montréal||Tampa Bay||SN, TVAS|
|8 p.m.||Pittsburgh||St. Louis|
|8 p.m.||New York Rangers||Nashville Predators||ESPN+|
|10 p.m.||Vancouver Canucks||Calgary Flames||CBC, CITY, SN, SN1, SN360|
|Sunday, December 30|
|8 p.m.||Vegas||Arizona||ESPN+, SN, TVAS|
Rivalries on tap this week included Detroit at Pittsburgh, Calgary at Winnipeg, Minnesota at Chicago and Anaheim at San Jose on Thursday; Boston at Buffalo and Vancouver at Calgary today and Vegas at Arizona tomorrow.
We also got the pleasure of taking in a few playoff rematches from this spring, including the previously mentioned Anaheim at San Jose tilt Thursday night, as well as Minnesota at Winnipeg and Vegas at Los Angeles on this evening.
Finally, a few tilts involved players making homecoming trips to former longtime homes. Now a member of the Sabres after an offseason trade, F Vladimir Sobotka made his first trip back to St. Louis on Thursday, while F Leo Komarov returned to Toronto – his former home of five seasons – today.
Of all of those, the showdown I’m most interested in is taking place in the Queen City. The Bruins are the healthiest they’ve been all season, while the Sabres are looking to once again regain the form that earned them a 10-game winning streak through much of November.
Though the 20-14-4 Boston Bruins can currently lay claim to the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot, they are far from comfortable or safe in that position considering the New York Islanders are only two points behind them in the standings with two games in hand.
However, playing in the Bruins’ favor is their previously mentioned return to good health. With the exception of D Urho Vaakanainen, Boston’s 2017 first-round pick who has a whopping two NHL appearances to his credit, D Charlie McAvoy and LW Brad Marchand, the Bruins have almost achieved full health once again – albeit with F David Backes taking in tonight’s tilt and the next two as well from the press box after he was suspended for a high hit against New Jersey’s F Blake Coleman on Thursday.
Yes, Boston fans, you did the math correctly: Backes will be unavailable for New Year’s Day’s Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium, nor the tough matchup with the Flames on Thursday.
Of course, there’s always the question of just how much he’ll be missed. He’s been involved in all of the Bruins’ last seven games in which they’ve posted a 3-4-0 record, contributing only four assists and a -5 rating in those outings.
Now, it might sound like I’m piling on Backes and implying that he does more harm than good when he’s on the ice. While it would certainly be a stretch to say he’d be the best player in white this evening if he were dressing, there’s no doubting the former captain’s defensive contributions. He’s top eight among Bruins forwards since December 14 in hits per game, blocks per game and takeaways (for those wondering, the forwards leading those stats in that time frame are F Noel Acciari [3.8 hits per game], F Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson [1.3 blocks per game] and Marchand [eight takeaways]).
Instead, what has been letting Boston down during its last seven games is clearly some sub-par goaltending. Despite a defense that has yielded only 28.86 shots against in its last seven showings (a mark that’s sixth-best in the NHL in that time), neither 12-6-2 G Jaroslav Halak nor 8-8-2 G Tuukka Rask – tonight’s starter – has looked all that impressive.
It goes without saying that Rask is having the worst season of his career this year. His .911 season save percentage and 2.72 GAA are both on pace to be the worst marks of his professional career (barring, of course, his four-game 2007-08 campaign). Making matters even more dreadful for the Bruins’ faithful, Rask’s last two starts have been even more alarming, as he boasts only an .873 save percentage and 4.15 GAA in those outings.
It probably goes without saying, but he lost both of those games (4-2 against Buffalo and 5-3 at Carolina).
With a 21-12-5 record, the Buffalo Sabres have settled into third place in the Atlantic Division, though just like Boston, there’s not many points separating them from teams trying to chase them down. Montréal trails the Sabres by only two points, while the Bruins could pull within a point of Buffalo with a win tonight.
Much of the reason the Sabres are starting to fall back to Earth is their playing .500 hockey of late. Over Buffalo’s last eight games, it has managed only a 4-3-1 record, losing ground on the Maple Leafs in the division standings during Toronto’s five-game winning streak.
If anyone is to blame for Buffalo’s inconsistencies of late, it’s certainly not 8-1-3 G Linus Ullmark. He’s managed a solid .922 save percentage and 2.71 GAA for the entire season, but he’s been even better in his last three starts, winning all three and posting an impressive .953 save percentage and 1.65 GAA.
Making those numbers even more impressive, he hasn’t had the luxury of playing behind one of the league’s best defenses. In fact, it’s been quite the opposite. In the Sabres’ last eight games, they’ve allowed 32.75 shots against per game, the 10th-worst mark in the NHL since December 11.
It is unclear if Ullmark or 13-11-2 G Carter Hutton will be in net tonight, but I would argue that it is this decision that will ultimately determine the outcome of this tilt. Just like Rask, Hutton has not looked particularly good lately, as he has earned only three points in his last five starts due to an average .91 save percentage and 2.78 GAA in those showings (compared to his .916 save percentage and 2.64 GAA for the season).
Should Hutton get the start, I am confident the Bruins’ offense, which has averaged 3.29 goals per game in their past eight showings, should be strong enough to earn the road victory. However, if Head Coach Phil Housley gives the nod to Ullmark, he has proven to me that he is more than able to lead the Sabres to two points.
The Original Trio reunites to talk recent trades, recent coaching changes, the Buffalo Sabres current winning streak, a haphazard review of the Dallas Stars and Edmonton Oilers, as well as a look at the division standings as of American Thanksgiving.
Craig Berube is now in charge behind the bench of the St. Louis Blues and Ken Hitchcock is back from retirement to coach the Oilers after Mike Yeo and Todd McLellan were both fired respectively from their clubs.
Rasmus Dahlin continues to emerge as a star in Buffalo as the team rises in the standings– can the Sabres keep this up? Will Dahlin get some votes for the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year and does Phil Housley deserve credit for the team’s turnaround?
It’s time for another DtFR Game of the Week!
First and foremost, let’s take a look at all the games I neglected earlier this week:
|NHL SCHEDULE: OCTOBER 15-21|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
|Monday, October 15|
|7:30 p.m.||Los Angeles||Toronto||1-4|
|Tuesday, October 16|
|7 p.m.||Dallas||New Jersey||0-3|
|7 p.m.||Colorado||New York Rangers||2-3 (SO)|
|7 p.m.||Florida||Philadelphia||5-6 (SO)|
|7 p.m.||Vancouver||Pittsburgh||3-2 (OT)|
|7:30 p.m.||Carolina||Tampa Bay||2-4|
|8 p.m.||Edmonton||Winnipeg||5-4 (OT)|
|Wednesday, October 17|
|7 p.m.||St. Louis||Montréal||2-3|
|7 p.m.||New York Rangers||Washington||3-4 (OT)|
|10 p.m.||New York Islanders||Anaheim||1-4|
|Thursday, October 18|
|7 p.m.||Colorado||New Jersey||5-3|
|7:30 p.m.||Detroit||Tampa Bay||1-3|
|9 p.m.||Boston||Edmonton||2-3 (OT)|
|10:30 p.m.||New York Islanders||Los Angeles||7-2|
|10:30 p.m.||Buffalo||San Jose||1-5|
|Friday, October 19|
|7 p.m.||Florida||Washington||6-5 (SO)|
|saturday, October 20|
|1 p.m.||New Jersey||Philadelphia||2-5|
|3:30 p.m.||Buffalo||Los Angeles||5-1|
|7 p.m.||St. Louis||Toronto||4-1|
|7 p.m.||Montréal||Ottawa||3-4 (OT)|
|7 p.m.||Detroit||Florida||4-3 (OT)|
|8 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Minnesota||4-5 (OT)|
|10 p.m.||Boston||Vancouver||1-2 (OT)|
|10:30 p.m.||New York Islanders||San Jose||1-4|
|SunDay, October 21|
|7 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Chicago||NHLN, TVAS|
|7 p.m.||Calgary||New York Rangers||SN1|
This schedule was a little bit fuller than last week’s offerings, as there’s a solid 44 games I had to choose from as compared to last week’s 42.
While there were certainly some worthy candidates in terms of rivalries (Detroit at Montréal, Edmonton at Winnipeg, New York at Washington, New Jersey at Philadelphia and Montréal at Ottawa all took place this week) and player returns (D Marc Methot made his first trip back to Ottawa since being selected during the Vegas expansion draft and later traded to the Stars, four former Blackhawks – five if you include RW Marian Hossa – returned to the Madhouse on Madison as members of the Coyotes and C Tyler Bozak wore white in Toronto for the first time in his career playing for St. Louis), one game sticks out above all the rest even though I’m more concerned about what will be hanging above the ice than what will be taking place on it.
Without a doubt, the Ducks are having one of the better and more unexpected starts to the season. Meanwhile, the Sabres are trying their hardest to keep pace with the rest of the white-hot Atlantic Division that enters the day with five teams in playoff position (an extremely important accolade in October, to be sure).
But what really drew me to tonight’s tilt is the pregame festivities involving LW Paul Kariya, as his No. 9 is going to be retired and sent where it belongs – hanging above the Honda Center ice opposite RW Teemu Selanne‘s No. 8.
The fourth-overall pick in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, Kariya joined the then Mighty Ducks of Anaheim just in time for the 1994-95 season (well, if it had started on time, that is), signing a three-year deal on August 31, 1994.
Though the Mighty Ducks struggled before Selanne was brought on board via trade during the 1995-96 season, that’s not to say Kariya – who just celebrated his 44th birthday on Tuesday – was playing poorly. He posted 18-21-39 totals his 47-game debut season, earning a spot on the All-Rookie Team and finishing third in Calder voting behind Quebec’s C Peter Forsberg and Washington’s G Jim Carey.
Oh yeah, speaking of that 1995-96 campaign, Kariya’s second season ended with him boasting career-best numbers in goals (50, three of which were overtime game-winners – an Anaheim single-season record) and points (108) after a full 82-game schedule. That dominant performance earned him his first of three First All-Star Team accolades, his first of back-to-back Lady Byng Trophies and his first of seven appearances at the All-Star Game.
I guess he never heard of the sophomore slump.
Named the Mighty Ducks’ third captain in franchise history during the offseason (a title he held for a franchise-record eight years), Kariya barely missed a second-straight season hitting the 100-point plateau in 1996-97 as a result of missing 13 games with an upper-body injury and unrelated concussion, but a 44-55-99 performance in 69 games played qualifies as the best season of his career on a points-per-game standpoint. The 1.43 points per game he managed narrowly beats out his 1.41 in 1997-98 – another season hampered by concussion, as well as a contract dispute that lasted into December, limiting him to only 22 games played. Additionally, his +36 for the 1996-97 campaign is still an Anaheim single-season record.
Of course, the most important mark about the 1996-97 season for Kariya is not only his dazzling performance, but also the fact that Anaheim qualified for the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. The Mighty Ducks fought past the Phoenix Coyotes in seven games before getting swept by the eventual champion Red Wings in the second round of their postseason debut. Kariya posted 7-6-13 marks in those 11 games, including the overtime game-winning goal in Game 6 against Phoenix that forced Game 7.
To be certain, the most productive years of Kariya’s career were his first seven campaigns. In all, he played 442 regular season games for the Mighty Ducks from 1995-2001, managing 243-288-531 totals to average 1.2 points per game – not to mention his 8-9-17 marks in 14 career playoff games to that point.
However, that’s not to say the captain still wasn’t a guiding hand on his team. Kariya managed 57-81-138 totals in his final two seasons with the Mighty Ducks, and he led Anaheim all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in 2002-03 where his squad lost a hard-fought, seven-game series to the New Jersey Devils.
That Game 7 proved to be Kariya’s last with Anaheim, as he and Selanne both headed for the supposedly greener pastures of Denver (the Avs, of course, fell in the second round in Kariya and Selanne’s only season with the club) for the 2003-04 season. Kariya played five more seasons after that – two with Nashville and three with St. Louis – before retiring during the 2011 offseason as a result of the six concussions he sustained over the course of his 16-year, 15-season professional career.
Having been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame last summer, there are few awards left to be bestowed upon Karyia (provided he doesn’t get involved in coaching or management). However, this one will surely elicit quite the response from one of the greatest to have ever worn the eggplant and jade.
Of course, once the ceremony is complete, there’s still a hockey game to be played. Both of tonight’s squads were in action last night, with Buffalo besting Los Angeles 5-1 at Staples Center and Anaheim falling in Vegas 3-1.
The 4-4-0 Sabres entered today’s action in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, but only one point behind Ottawa for fifth place in the Atlantic Division and the second wild card.
Gotta love early season standings.
Perhaps the brightest spot for Buffalo so far this season has been the outstanding play of 2-0-0 G Linus Ullmark, who has allowed only one goal in his two starts and boasts a .982 save percentage and .5 GAA that is best in the league among netminders with at least 33 minutes played.
While his emergence as a potential star is an encouraging sign for a franchise that has missed the playoffs for seven-straight seasons, the fact that he was the goalie in net for Buffalo yesterday up the road in Tinseltown has all signs pointing towards 2-4-0 G Carter Hutton manning the posts this evening.
Whether he’s being compared to Ullmark or his performance last season, Hutton is already drawing the ire of Upstate New Yorkers. Having signed a three-year, $2.75 million AAV contract this summer after posting a dominating .931 save percentage and 2.09 GAA with the St. Louis Blues last season, Hutton has managed only a .906 save percentage and 3.27 GAA so far this year.
Considering his offense has averaged only 2.25 goals per game thus far into the season (the fifth-worst mark in the NHL despite F Jeff Skinner‘s hat trick yesterday), Hutton is going to need to improve in a hurry if the Sabres want to stay in playoff contention much longer.
That being said, it should be acknowledged that Buffalo hasn’t exactly played incredible defense in front of Hutton. The Sabres’ 32.63 shots against-per-game is 12th-worst in the league, and that number climbs to 33.67 when Hutton is in net.
Considering former defenseman Phil Housley is the team’s head coach and the fact that the organization took D Rasmus Dahlin with the first overall pick, surely that number has to improve sooner or later? Right?
Consider me a doubter of Housley’s until it does.
One final note I have about the Sabres is in regard to their special teams. It was only a few seasons ago that Buffalo’s power play – led by C Jack Eichel – was among the most dangerous in the league. However, that has not been the case this season, as the Sabres’ 13.3 percent success rate with the man-advantage has been eighth-worst in the league through the first few weeks of the season. The penalty kill has also struggled, as Buffalo’s 69.2 kill percentage is third-worst in the NHL.
The Sabres have a lot of problems to figure out, but the best way to fix the special teams while they’re still on the road just might be to avoid the penalty box all together.
Did you hear that, RW Kyle Okposo? Stay out of trouble!
As for tonight’s hosts, the 5-2-1 Ducks have yet to see too many troubles so far this season, as they’re leading the division despite many fans and pundits pegging San Jose and Vegas as the Pacific’s powerhouses.
But how are they doing it?
Just like Buffalo, Anaheim’s best player to start the season has been none other than its goaltender, 4-2-1 G John Gibson. The 2016 Jennings Trophy winner (o.k., he shared it with G Frederik Andersen, now of the Toronto Maple Leafs) has been dynamite right out of the gates this season, as he has a solid .949 save percentage and 1.91 GAA to show for his first seven starts of the season.
However, to continue the comparisons to Buffalo, Gibson was also in net last night against the Golden Knights, so it looks like it could be none other than 1-0-0 G Ryan Miller, the winner of the 2010 Vezina Trophy, manning the crease this evening against his former club.
Though he is clearly the backup in Anaheim, Miller is in no way any easier to score upon than Gibson. With two appearances so far this year, Miller has a .946 save percentage and 1.51 GAA – all this despite a Ducks defense that allows an average of 37 shots against per game, the worst in the NHL.
Despite the backups being the logical starters tonight, this game has all the makings of a goaltending duel considering the struggles of both offenses and defenses. If that is the case, I’ll certainly take the Ducks to successfully honor Kariya and earn two points tonight. Miller is undoubtedly better than Hutton this year, and he has the benefit of special teams that will easily dominate the Sabres.
44-32-6, 94 points, fifth in the Central Division
Subtractions: RW Beau Bennett (signed with Dinamo Minsk, KHL), F Patrik Berglund (traded to BUF), C Kyle Brodziak (signed with EDM), G Carter Hutton (signed with BUF), D Petteri Lindbohm (signed with Lausanne, NL), C Wade Megan (signed with DET), F Vladimir Sobotka (traded to BUF), F Tage Thompson (traded to BUF)
Offseason Analysis: The best metaphor for the Blues’ offseason just might be a fishing analogy.
While there was certainly a big fish to be caught (for those still in the dark, Toronto signing C John Tavares is by far the catch of the summer), General Manager Doug Armstrong won the volume competition, as he cast a wide net and brought in at least four offensive additions that should see significant playing time this season.
And that’s not to say Armstrong simply acquired anyone willing to move to the Gateway to the West. To continue our fishing analogy, Armstrong’s nets had large holes to grab only the biggest of names available this summer.
Bozak and Perron represent St. Louis’ primary signings from the summer’s free agency frenzy. Bozak, a player coming off posting 11-32-43 totals in Toronto last season, and Perron, who scored 16-50-66 marks (by far a career-high in assists) with the Western Conference champion Vegas Golden Knights, were both signed on July 1 and would have represented an excellent offseason simply between themselves.
Maroon, who has posted more than 40 points in both of his last two seasons, was signed nine days later to a one-year deal, but it was really the July 1 trade with the Sabres for O’Reilly that set the Blues apart and set such high expectations. For the price of two bottom-nine forwards, a prospect, and two draft picks (a first in 2019 and a second in 2021), the Blues added a legitimate top-six center that has posted at least 55 points in six of his last seven seasons (an injury limited his action to only 29 games in 2012-13).
Fifty-five points, with his best being a 64-point effort in 2013-14? Aren’t expectations a little high that he’ll be the one to propel the Notes back into the playoffs?
We need to remember that O’Reilly has only played for Colorado (2009-2015) and Buffalo (2015-2018) during his career – neither of which I would say were exactly abounding in talent during his tenures. Should he earn the role of starting center (as many expect he will) over F Brayden Schenn, he’ll be playing alongside one of the best right wings in the league in Vladimir Tarasenko and up-and-coming 26-year-old F Jaden Schwartz, who posted 14-21-35 totals in 30 games to open the season before suffering a lower-body injury that sidelined him for more than a month.
If we’re looking for something that smells fishy, I’d sooner look to St. Louis’ goaltending situation. Far and away, the Notes’ best netminder last season was Hutton with his 17-7-3 record on a .931 save percentage and 2.09 GAA. Instead of resigning him, Armstrong allowed him to take his talents to the Queen City, leading to former Sabres goalie Johnson making his way to the Gateway City.
With no new starter in sight (23-year-old G Ville Husso still needs more time in the AHL to develop), that means G Jake Allen (who just yesterday was reported to be struggling with back spasms that will keep him off the ice for much of training camp) will regain his starting job even though he managed only a 27-25-3 record on an abysmal .906 save percentage and 2.75 GAA last season.
For at least the last two campaigns, Allen has made a horrendous habit of falling into cold streaks that extend longer than a month. In 19 appearances between December 12 and March 8 last season, Allen managed a terrible 2-14-0 record on a .897 save percentage and 3.17 GAA.
For a team with aspirations as high as the Blues’, I’m surprised this issue was not given more attention to result in a better acquisition than Johnson. While the goalie free agent market was fairly lean, Armstrong showed he was willing to make a blockbuster trade when he made the O’Reilly deal. Instead, this entire season rests firmly on Allen’s shoulders, as his incredible defense (the Blues’ 29.7 shots allowed last season was best in the Western Conference) can do only so much before he has to make a save.
Offseason Grade: B+
There’s no doubt the Blues were unhappy missing the playoffs last season. However, while they certainly did more than enough to improve an attack that already boasted three 20-goal scorers (Tarasenko, Schenn and Schwartz), I have major concerns with Allen getting handed the reins after being arguably the biggest problem last season. If he can’t rise to the challenge and return to his 2015-2016 form that led the Notes to second in the Central Division (remember, G Brian Elliott was in net when that team went all the way to the Western Finals), all this offseason work was for naught.
As a bonus interesting note, Perron has never signed a contract with any club other than the St. Louis Blues, even though he’s worn four other crests in his career and is embarking upon his third stint with the organization.
I don’t know how important that is, but now you’ll have an answer if you’re ever posed with that trivia question at your local watering hole.
Nick, Colby and Connor talk the Max Pacioretty trade, Eugene Melnyk’s latest antics, John Tortorella’s extension, Adam McQuaid and Steve Yzerman stepping down in Tampa. Also in this episode– DTFR’s official 2018-19 Atlantic Division preview.