Zdeno Chara surpassed 1,500 career games, Claude Julien reached 1,200 games behind the bench, the Toronto Maple Leafs are facing injuries and backup goaltender struggles, Taylor Hall reportedly won’t sign an extension with the New Jersey Devils, the 2019 NHL Global Series happened and the 2020 NHL Global Series was announced.
Nick and Colby recap the headlines from the last month as well as take a look at all of the New York market teams and try to figure out if any of them are actually any good as Season Six of the podcast begins.
As the entire hockey world awaits training camp action next month, let’s make some (un)educated guesses about the upcoming season that will totally pan out because everything always goes as expected. (It doesn’t.)
The projected standings below are only a forecast.
They are based on recent indications– as well as the last few seasons of stats– and cannot account for variations in roster construction (a.k.a. trades and free agency moves).
There’s a lot of variables that will turn the tables upside down, including transactions, injuries and otherwise. Anything can happen.
As always, it’s more important to remember 1) the spread and 2) the positioning.
Just how many points separate the projected division winner from the last wild card spot (the spread) and where a team is supposed to finish in the division standings (the position) can imply that things aren’t always what they seem.
A team that’s projected to win it all still has to play an 82-game regular season, qualify for the playoffs and go on to amass 16 wins in the postseason.
Projected Standings After ZERO Months
- p-Tampa Bay Lightning, 109 points
- x-Boston Bruins, 105 points
- x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 91 points
- Florida Panthers, 89 points
- Montreal Canadiens, 89 points
- Detroit Red Wings, 84 points
- Ottawa Senators, 78 points
- Buffalo Sabres, 71 points
Tampa Bay Lightning: Pros and Cons
The Lightning are annual favorites among the experts to win the Stanley Cup, so it’s no surprise, really, that they haven’t yet. There’s either too many expectations to live up to or there’s too much of a casual atmosphere from season-to-season.
You know what they say when you assume.
Just like the Washington Capitals and their 2018 Stanley Cup championship, it’s better for the Bolts if nobody is talking about them. Prior to the Caps winning in 2018, there was a “Cup or bust” mantra that just didn’t work.
Nothing is willed without hard work and humility.
That’s not to say Tampa doesn’t work hard or isn’t humble, but rather, they must lose on the big stage repetitively until everyone expects them to fail. That’s when they’ll go on a run.
They’ve managed to keep their roster together (granted, RFA center, Brayden Point, is still unsigned) while trimming the fat (gone are the days of Anton Stralman and Dan Girardi on the blue line) and are still Stanley Cup front-runners, but they likely won’t get back to the 60-win plateau in back-to-back seasons.
The Lightning will still get to 50 wins for the third season in-a-row, have Nikita Kucherov set the league on fire in scoring and yield out-of-this-world goaltending from Andrei Vasilevskiy before the real season starts– the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
How would the Lightning fail?
Everyone keeps talking about the Lightning as if they’re some godsend (too much hype, remember?). That, or General Manager Julien BriseBois blows up the roster and/or Jon Cooper is fired as head coach.
Boston Bruins: Pros and Cons
The Bruins core remains strong among their forwards and as long as they’re able to negotiate an extension with RFAs Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo without any bumps in the road, then their defense is pretty sound too.
Jaroslav Halak signed a two-year deal last summer, so the 1A/1B tandem of Tuukka Rask and Halak in the crease seems fine for another run in 2019-20.
Boston exceeded expectations in 2017-18 and went under the radar in 2018-19– though they managed to amass only 10 losses in regulation since Jan. 1st, which means they were actually pretty loud in the points percentage column.
Injuries come and go.
If the Bruins are able to stay healthy instead of dropping like flies to their 12th defenseman on the depth chart, they might actually pick up a few more points than they did last season.
With Bruce Cassidy as head coach, things should remain status quo in the regular season, but Boston still needs to address their top-six forward problem.
David Pastrnak can play on the first or second line, but on any given night that leaves one of their top two lines in need of a scoring winger.
General Manager Don Sweeney managed to patch a hole at the third line center– acquiring Charlie Coyle as last season’s trade deadline loomed– and Coyle was one of their better players in their 2019 Stanley Cup Final postseason run.
But with a couple of depth signings for bottom six roles in the offseason (Par Lindholm and Brett Ritchie), everyone getting another year older and David Backes’ $6.000 million cap hit through 2020-21 still on the books, Boston’s hands are tied.
How would the Bruins fail?
There’s enough bark in the regular season, but not enough bite for a deep postseason run. It’s harder than ever before to make it back to the Stanley Cup Final in back-to-back seasons– and that’s before you consider age, injuries and regression.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Pros and Cons
Toronto has Auston Matthews as their second best center. Yes. Second best. Why? Because John Tavares enters the second year of his long-term seven-year deal that he signed last July.
That alone will continue to keep the Leafs afloat with a strong 1-2 duo down the middle.
Regardless of the Mitch Marner contract negotiations (or lack thereof), the Maple Leafs are just fine with their forwards– having traded Nazem Kadri to the Colorado Avalanche and acquiring Alex Kerfoot in the process (Calle Rosen and Tyson Barrie were also swapped in the deal).
Patrick Marleau is gone and it only cost Toronto a conditional 2020 1st round pick (top-10 lottery protected) and a 2020 7th round pick in the process, but an affordable Jason Spezza at league minimum salary ($700,000) on a one-year deal for fourth line minutes will do just fine.
By puck drop for the 2019-20 season, the Leafs will save $10.550 million in cap space thanks to David Clarkson (yes, his contract’s back after a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights that sent Garret Sparks the other way) and Nathan Horton’s placement on the long-term injured reserve.
The stars are aligning for Toronto to still need to get past the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2004.
With Kadri gone, however, perhaps they will be able to do so with or without Boston in the equation.
How would the Leafs fail?
They don’t sign Marner and they lose in another Game 7 because of it. There’s a lot of turbulence ahead for Toronto General Manager Kyle Dubas considering the Leafs have one defender under contract after 2019-20. If the team doesn’t breakout in the postseason, it’s really just status quo until proven otherwise.
Florida Panthers: Pros and Cons
The Panthers are beginning to ripen with a mix of youth and experience among their forwards, plus a defense that quietly does their job.
They also added Noel Acciari, Brett Connolly, Anton Stralman and (most importantly) Sergei Bobrovsky to the mix.
While Acciari’s $1.667 million cap hit through 2021-22 is a slight overpay for a fourth line center, at least it could be worse. Connolly’s making $3.500 million for the next four years and even Stralman has a cap hit of $5.500 million through 2021-22 when he’ll be turning 36 on August 1, 2022.
Ok, so it was an expensive offseason for Florida– and that’s before you add the $10.000 million price tag for the next seven years of Bobrovsky in the crease.
Yes, despite landing one of the better goaltenders in the league in free agency, General Manager Dale Tallon managed to make matters complicated after, say, the fourth year of Bobrovsky’s contract.
Bobrovsky will be roughly 37-years-old by the time his contract with the Panthers expires and not everyone can be like Dwayne Roloson in the net forever.
At least they drafted Spencer Knight (in the first round– a goaltending prospect curse).
Though they missed the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs by 12 points for an Eastern Conference wild card spot, the Panthers are in a position to gain more than a few wins with new head coach (and three-time Stanley Cup champion) Joel Quenneville behind the bench.
How would the Panthers fail?
Florida’s already landed the biggest prize in head coaching free agency with Quenneville reuniting with Tallon in Sunrise. What could possibly go wrong (besides Tallon being replaced by a clone of Stan Bowman and then the Panthers go on to win three Cups without Tallon in command)?
Montreal Canadiens: Pros and Cons
Montreal didn’t get Matt Duchene or Sebastian Aho in free agency, so they got the next best thing– not overspending on July 1st.
That’s not to say Duchene and Aho aren’t quality players, but rather just an observation of cap concerns for the Habs with Max Domi as a pending-RFA in July 2020 and the rest of Montreal’s future core (Ryan Poehling, Nick Suzuki, Victor Mete, Cayden Primeau and Jesperi Kotkaniemi) to consider going down the road.
Granted, Aho could’ve sped the process up a bit if it weren’t for those pesky RFA rights and compensation in the CBA, right Montreal?
The Canadiens need a legitimate number one center, but General Manager Marc Bergevin has been preoccupied restructuring the defense in the meantime.
That’s not a bad thing.
Shea Weber is 34 and under contract through the 2025-26 season, though after 2021-22, his base salary drops to $3.000 million in 2022-23 and $1.000 million from 2023-26 (meaning he could be traded with ease in a few years, despite his $7.857 million cap hit).
But Karl Alzner and Jeff Petry are both over 30 and have no-trade and/or no-movement clauses in their contracts.
At least free agent addition, Ben Chiarot, is 28-years-old, but he also carries a no-trade clause as part of his three-year deal.
How would the Canadiens fail?
Claude Julien inexplicably reverts back to his old ways and doesn’t play the kids, Carey Price is injured for most of the season and/or Bergevin overcompensates in a trade because of his failure to secure a free agent center.
Detroit Red Wings: Pros and Cons
Steve Yzerman has come home and is rightfully the General Manager for the Red Wings, but as we’ve seen in Tampa, his masterplan takes a little time.
Detroit is four or five years out from being an annual Cup contender, but that doesn’t mean the Red Wings haven’t already sped things up in their rebuild.
Trading for Adam Erne isn’t a grand-slam, but it does make the average age of the roster a tad younger.
It also means that the Red Wings now have seven pending-RFAs on their NHL roster and roughly $37.000 million to work with in July 2020.
How would the Red Wings fail?
Having Yzerman in the front office at Little Caesars Arena is like adding all of the best toppings to a pizza. The only downside is that leftover pineapple is still on the pizza from all of the no-trade clauses delivered by the last guy.
Ottawa Senators: Pros and Cons
The Senators are looking to spend ba-by.
Just kidding, they don’t plan on being good until 2021, so does that mean starting with the 2020-21 season or the following year in 2021-22?
But they do have a ton of draft picks stockpiled including two in the 1st round in 2020, three in the 2nd round, one in the 3rd, 4th and 5th, a pair in the 6th and one in the 7th.
Plus they have roughly $15.600 million in cap space currently and eight players under contract for next season that aren’t on the injured reserve.
For some reason (Eugene Melnyk) current-RFA Colin White is still unsigned and 38-year-old, Ron Hainsey, was signed in free agency, but at least Cody Ceci is a Maple Leaf now.
Oh and former Leafs assistant coach D.J. Smith is Ottawa’s head coach now. That’ll show them!
How would the Senators fail?
More importantly, how would Ottawa succeed?
Buffalo Sabres: Pros and Cons
Pro: The Sabres will probably be better than last season.
Con: Ralph Krueger is Buffalo’s new head coach and nobody knows what to expect (he went 19-22-7 in the lockout shortened 48-game season with the Edmonton Oilers in 2012-13).
Pro: Only eight skaters are under contract next season.
Con: Only eight skaters are under contract next season, including Rasmus Ristolainen and nobody is sure whether or not the club is trying to trade him.
Pro: Marcus Johansson!
Con: Jimmy Vesey! (Only cost Buffalo two third round picks over three years to get him.)
Pro: The average age of the roster is about 26.
Con: Matt Hunwick is the oldest player at 34-years-old, followed by Carter Hutton at 33 and Vladimir Sobotka at 32.
Pro: Royal blue in 2020!
Con: It’s not until 2020.
How would the Sabres fail?
If Buffalo actually finishes last in the division, instead of any improvement whatsoever.
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.