Tag Archives: Chicago Blackhawks

DTFR Overtime: Fixing the Winter Classic

We’ve all had some time to digest the spectacle that was the 2018 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, now let’s reflect on the experience as a whole for a minute and discuss ways to make it more interesting, considering ratings fell for the third year in a row.

This is DTFR Overtime and I’ve been neglecting you all through the holidays.


The Winter Classic is great.

You heard that right. I love an outdoor NHL game. Not for the most commonly stated reason why NBC loves the game. No, I couldn’t care less about how much a player feels like they’re a kid again playing outdoors on their backyard rink, local pond, river or lake.

I love the Winter Classic because it’s different.

Different jerseys, different atmosphere, different venue and usually a different game winner.

The Buffalo Sabres-New York Rangers matchup actually turned out to be a good one. Just when all hope was thought to be lost after trailing 2-0 early, the Sabres showed up on the scoreboard.

In the end, the Rangers won and that was fitting, since they were closer to their home ice than the technically speaking “home” team in this year’s Winter Classic due to a clause in New York’s contract with Madison Square Garden that states the Rangers cannot play a home game outside MSG.

Overtime outdoors with flames in the end seemed like a perfect ending to a largely under-produced, under-promoted, sporting event.

The Winter Classic has always shown potential. Why not tap into it?

Let’s address the obvious elephant in the room from this year’s matchup– the matchup itself. Sure, letting Jack Eichel run around outside is a great idea and all, but against the New York Rangers at Citi Field? None of that makes sense, considering 1) if you’re going to go with the 10th anniversary narrative, at least invite the Pittsburgh Penguins alumni team and Sabres alumni team to skate around the mini rink during intermission or something and 2) it should have been you, New York Islanders.

Not a Sabres-Islanders matchup, but rather a Battle for New York (City). Rangers-Islanders at Citi Field would’ve made a lot more sense, because, you know. The Islanders are the New York Mets of the NHL. Jimmy Fallon loves the Rangers, Jon Stewart loves… well, the Mets. At least the Islanders have that whole color scheme going for them (oh and a new arena coming soon to Belmont Park).

NBC didn’t have a problem calling up archival footage of Sidney Crosby scoring the shootout winning goal from the first Winter Classic at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, NY.

Like Colby Kephart said on the podcast two weeks ago, Crosby’s path to glory at the NHL level started with that game winning shootout goal. He rose to stardom, but didn’t win a Cup immediately. Prior to appearing in the 2008 Stanley Cup Final (and 2009, 2016 and 2017 as well), Crosby’s biggest stage was his Winter Classic moment (again, until he lifted the Cup over his head in 2009, 2016 and 2017).

Eichel could’ve been played up as the American version of Crosby– still one of the greatest players in the league, though sometimes overlooked as if he had to prove himself some more.

Don’t like a Pittsburgh-Buffalo rematch 10 years in the making? That’s fine.

A Rangers-Islanders matchup would’ve made more sense on New Year’s Day if you really want to play the rivalry card. It also would’ve actually meant something in the ultra-competitive Metropolitan Division.

As much as people hate on NBC for taking away divisional or actual rivalry games from local media broadcasting crews, sometimes it must be done. Nationally displaced local fans want to be able to watch their teams with ease– having some of their biggest matchups on national television isn’t a bad thing when it’s done right.

Give us the standings– give us the storylines of recent hatred among the clubs and national audiences might eat it up more than hearing over and over again where somebody is from or how one goaltending coach taught the two goalies at opposite ends of the ice everything they know.

If the league could schedule one or two matchups between rivals within a week or two before they take things outside, imagine what a perfect storm of potential chaos that would be on the ice.

Of course, timing is everything when it comes to touting a rivalry as a premiere event to be seen by all.

Remember how the 2016 Winter Classic was a 5-1 blowout by the Montreal Canadiens on road ice at Gillette Stadium? The Boston Bruins missed the playoffs in 2015 and they went on to miss them again in 2016.

They were in a lull in talent on the ice. Their longest rivalry with Montreal had crescendoed when Bruins exorcised their demons in 2011 en route to the Cup, but not much of the championship roster from 2011 remained in 2016– except for core players in Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask.

Then the rivalry went dormant as Boston fell asleep at the wheel in the Second Round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs when the Canadiens ousted the President’s Trophy winning Bruins in seven games.

And 2017’s Winter Classic matchup of the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks at Busch Stadium didn’t go as hoped for a 50-year old rivalry– the Blues defeated the Blackhawks 4-1.

If you’re looking ahead to the 2019 Winter Classic between Boston and Chicago from Notre Dame Stadium, well, you better hope both teams are as lively as they’ve been at times this season on January 1, 2019.

Timing is everything.

If you’re worried about making adidas Winter Classic merchandise and getting it out to the consumers in time for the big game, let alone scheduling the right venue, teams and ticket sales, then why not have all 31 teams prepare something. Let every NHL franchise draw up a set of potential home and road Winter Classic sweaters.

Instead of announcing the following year’s Winter Classic a year and a half ahead of when it’s going to be played, just keep the fans in suspense– let rumors swirl about every team’s potential outdoor look and/or venue for just long enough until the league says “surprise, it’s going to be the Vegas Golden Knights against the Nashville Predators from Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee”. Trust me, people would want to go see that.

Worried about having jerseys made in time for fans to purchase? Make the Winter Classic announcement in July or August, then make the Winter Classic jerseys go on sale in pro shops in December.

Boost your holiday sales while not having to give in to the demands of consumers who want to get everything done and out of the way in October or November leading up to the December holidays and Happy Honda Days.

I know it’s hard, but actually keep some things secret.

The Winter Classic should be around through 2021 at least (pending NBC broadcasting rights and negotiations regarding an extension or who knows, maybe ESPN will want to cover hockey again in three years?), but we shouldn’t find out– through the league or anonymous sources– that the Blackhawks will be hosting the Penguins in a first ever home-and-home matchup in 2020 whereby Chicago hosts the Winter Classic and Pittsburgh hosts the Stadium Series until, say, before the start of the 2019-20 season.

The 2019 Winter Classic shouldn’t have been unveiled by a report from Barstool Sports in November 2017. Calendar-year-wise that’s a difference of two years.

That’s at least a year and six months of potential suspense that could’ve been building over where the local market cash grab outdoor game would be venturing off to– it’s Chicago again, isn’t it? Dammit.

At the very least, a league that’s pulling in $4.5 billion in revenue that also doesn’t want to share more money with the players (hello forthcoming lockout anytime between 2020 and 2022) should shell out $1 million to get someone like Lady Gaga or yes, even Coldplay (because hockey is played in the cold), or literally anyone other than Goo Goo Dolls, Nate Ruess or someone NBC wants on TV because they’re a winner or runner up from The Voice.

You can either praise Sidney Crosby all day during a game in which Crosby isn’t involved or you can give me a reality TV singing contestant that nobody’s heard of but you can’t have both in one day, NBC! *That sounded better in John Oliver’s voice in my head than it did when I wrote it, but the point still stands.*

Think of it this way, Mr. Bettman.

If you cast aside one or two outdoor games a year– because we all know three or four of them a year is too many– then you should have enough money to attract someone better than this year’s Super Bowl Pepsi Halftime Show performer, Justin Timberlake, and assert your dominance over the NFL in intermission/halftime entertainment at your very own “super bowl” (ahem, the Winter Classic) months before the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

I’ll even take more of whatever this year’s Road to the Winter Classic was actually about (I think it was a Honda ad) if you’d just entertain us all for once during intermission instead of putting us to sleep before the Blackhawks come back out of the locker room for their 82nd outdoor game of the season.

And if it’s supposed to have a winter carnival vibe, maybe don’t bring the same stuff every year to each venue.

Bubble hockey is great and all, but giant inflatable snow globes and inflatable jerseys have gotten old. NASCAR’s Fanatics merchandise tent is more exciting than your free FanFest or whatever.

And please, bring back the Winter Classic Alumni Game. Beg NBCSN to show that instead of whatever Mecum Auto Auction they’re rerunning on New Year’s Eve or whatever.

I just don’t want to go a day without hockey, especially when I’m starting a new calendar year.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #88- The Undesirables

The Original Trio reunite for a very fun-filled podcast. The Carolina Hurricanes were sold, Jaromir Jagr is soon to be unsigned, All-Star Rosters were scrutinized, US and Canada men’s national teams were analyzed and more in this action packed episode. #HealthBeforeHockey

Listen to this week’s podcast on our Libsyn page (and/or on your favorite podcast listening app that snags our RSS Feed).

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

January 10 – Day 95 – There’s no place like home

There’s only two games on the schedule today, but for once I’m not complaining about either failing to live up to NBC’s promotion of “Wednesday Night Rivalry.”

The action starts in Toronto when Ottawa pays the Maple Leafs a visit at 7:30 p.m. (SN/TVAS) and Minnesota at Chicago (NBCSN) cleans up the evening’s festivities half an hour later. All times Eastern.

Teams on the bye: Anaheim, Arizona, Boston, Colorado, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Montréal, Nashville, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Jose, St. Louis and Vegas.

Is there any question of which game we’re featuring tonight? The winner of the Wild-Blackhawks game will be the eighth seed in the Western Conference! It’s off to the Windy City with us!

 

Tonight’s tilt is Game 4 in a five-game series between these clubs. Chicago owns a 2-1-0 record against the Wild so far this season, and another win tonight would clinch the season series – an important note considering it is the second tiebreaker at the end of the season and both of these clubs are currently competing for the last wild card.

Obviously, the 23-17-4 Wild, who currently sit in 10th place in the Western Conference due to losing a games-played tiebreaker with both Chicago and Calgary, will have high hopes of leveling the series this evening. But do they have much of a chance of pulling it off?

I’m worried for them the answer is no. Minnesota has lost five of its last six road games (including one at United Center less than a month ago), including an active skid of four-straight. That run since December 17 makes the Wild the fourth-worst road team in the league, and it’s all because their defense simply doesn’t travel well.

Given, it’s not like Minnesota’s defense is all that spectacular in and of itself. The Wild allow 2.91 goals against per game for the season as a whole, the 14th-worst mark in the league.

However, in their six road games since December 17, the Wild have allowed a league-worst 25 goals against, or a second-worst 4.17 per game (the Wild would like to take this opportunity to thank the Islanders for allowing 16 goals in only three road games).

A major problem is Minnesota, even with LW Marcus Foligno throwing three hits per game, D Jared Spurgeon blocking 2.67 shots per game and W Jason Zucker averaging a takeaway-per-game, has allowed an average of 35 shots in each contest away from Xcel Energy Center since mid-December, a mark that is sixth-worst in the NHL in that time.

While Foligno’s, Spurgeon’s and Zucker’s efforts are impressive on their own, it seems to me to be a lack of commitment by the rest of the team on the defensive end – especially in terms of physicality. Foligno has not been afraid to rough up the opposition along the boards, but Matt Dumba has averaged the second-most hits-per-game during this section of games with only 1.67 to his credit. While physicality is only one aspect of playing defense, it seems to be lacking from Head Coach Bruce Boudreau‘s squad.

The icing… err, frosting, since icing is a penalty… on the cake though is the fact that the Wild’s defense has allowed all these shots of late against 7-8-2 G Alex Stalock. Most of this run came while 15-9-2 G Devan Dubnyk was recovering from his lower-body injury. Given how much he was getting peppered while filling in, I’d say Stalock did pretty well in his five most recent road starts. He posted a .914 save percentage and 2.93 GAA.

Dubnyk will be in goal tonight in only his second road game since returning to action. His first was that drubbing at the hands of the Avalanche where, due in large part to posing a .813 save percentage and 7.61 GAA, he lost his cool and tried to smash F Alexander Kerfoot‘s face into the ice. Perhaps the former Masterton Trophy-winner can keep his cool tonight, because his team desperately needs him to cover up for its defensive inefficiencies.

If last night’s 8-2 performance in Ottawa is any indication, it seems the 21-15-6 Blackhawks are starting to figure things out. Having won four of their past six games and earned a point in one of those losses, Chicago has surged into the second wild card and has pulled within three points of first wild card Dallas.

Since December 29, no offense has scored more goals than Chicago. The Hawks have managed an impressive 28 goals in six games, which averages into a second-best 4.67 per game behind Boston’s unbelievable 5.5 (for those that care, three of the top-five teams in goals-per-game since December 29 are in the Central Division).

While the usual suspects of C Jonathan Toews and F Patrick Kane have been impressive over this run, posting respective 5-4-9 and 3-6-9 totals, the Blackhawk that truly takes the cake is sophomore C Nick Schmaltz, who’s currently riding a four-game goal streak. He’s done it all for the Hawks lately, posting 5-5-10 totals to elevate his season marks to 12-19-31. Having already surpassed last year’s numbers, Schmaltz is poised to join the ranks of recent dominant Chicago forwards. How does one club get W Alex DeBrincat, Kane, LW Artemi Panarin (well, last season), Schmaltz and Toews all on the same team?

Just like Minnesota saved its top goaltender for the Hawks, 2-1-1 G Jeff Glass will probably be in net tonight for Chicago after 3-5-3 G Anton Forsberg played yesterday against the Sens. Playing his rookie season at 32-years-old, Glass has posted a .908 save percentage and 3.51 GAA in his first four NHL starts.

The United Center hasn’t been the imposing threat to road teams as it was only a year or two ago, but with an 11-6-2 record at home this season, I think the Blackhawks can find a way to pull this one out.


Though the Carolina Hurricanes gave them all they had, First Star of the Game F Tyler Johnson and the Tampa Bay Lightning was able to win yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day 5-4 at Amalie Arena.

Johnson was an unstoppable force throughout the entire game, as he registered a goal in each frame. However, before he struck his tally for the first period, three others found the net. First was LW Brock McGinn (RW Justin Williams and D Jaccob Slavin), who gave Carolina the advantage 3:23 into play with a power play wrist shot. Tampa pulled the game back even 6:39 later courtesy of a wrister from D Victor Hedman (RW Nikita Kucherov and C Steven Stamkos). The exchange of goals continued with 7:50 remaining in the period when W Sebastian Aho bagged an unassisted wrister, but Johnson (D Anton Stralman and Second Star F Brayden Point) set the score at 2-2 on a tip-in 4:16 later.

In terms of playing time, Johnson didn’t have to wait too long to find his second goal of the night. Only 1:58 into the second period, he (Third Star D Jake Dotchin and Point) gave Tampa its first lead of the night with a backhanded shot. However, Carolina continued to show its resilience when D Justin Faulk (F Teuvo Teravainen and F Jordan Staal) scored a power play wrister 8:38 later, leveling the game at three-all.

The 3-3 tie held for a considerable time, even though both clubs combined to fire 26 shots in the second period. However, the draw was finally broken when Dotchin (Point and W Ondrej Palat) tickled the twine with a snap shot. 5:27 later, the Bolts went up what proved to be an insurmountable two goals when Johnson (Hedman) completed the hat trick with a wrister.

Johnson’s final goal was simply a pure spectacle of his superior speed to that of D Noah Hanifin. Hedman dumped the puck towards center ice from his defensive zone to enact a line change, but Johnson decided to race Hanifin to ensure there was no chance for icing. Once he realized he could take possession, Johnson squeezed past the defenseman, upending him in the process, to set up a one-on-one battle with G Cam Ward. The netminder fended off the first backhander from within his crease, but he couldn’t stop an immediate second try by Johnson: a wrister over his left blocker.

That’s not to say the Canes gave up on the remaining five minutes of regulation. In fact, the exact opposite is true, as F Elias Lindholm (Faulk and Teravainen) pulled Carolina back within a one-goal deficit with 1:18 remaining in the frame, but even with six attackers the Hurricanes couldn’t find a leveling marker.

G Andrei Vasilevskiy saved 28-of-32 shots faced (.875 save percentage) to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Ward, who saved 29-of-34 (.853).

It’s no surprise, but the 52-29-12 home teams are absolutely dominating the DtFR Game of the Day series. The hosts’ record in the series is 26 points better the roadies’, the same advantage Tampa Bay has on the Oilers for the Presidents’ Trophy.

NHL Power Rankings: “I’m Already Halfway There” Edition

Well hockey fans, we’re at the midway point of the NHL season. This is the time when teams either get geared up for a playoff run, prepare for an early exit, or get really nervous because they are somewhere in-between. There is plenty of hockey left to be played and a lot can happen. As for now, here is the current edition of Down the Frozen River’s NHL Power Rankings:

1. Boston Bruins (55)Unknown-7

Current Record – 23-10-7

Last Ten Games – 8-0-2; Streak – OT1

The B’s are really heating up, winning eight of their last ten. As a matter of fact, they haven’t lost a game in regulation since the middle of December. The offense is finally firing on all cylinders, with Patrice Bergeron leading the charge. They currently only trail the Tampa Bay Lighting (shocker… pun intended) in the Atlantic Division. They don’t play again until January 13th, when they take on Montreal.

2. Colorado Avalanche (55)

Current Record – 22-16-3

Last Ten Games – 7-2-1; Streak – W5Unknown-1

How does trading away a quality player make you better? Hard to understand, but since sending Matt Duchene to the Ottawa Senators, the Avalanche have looked like a completely different team. Their young players are finally taking leadership roles and producing great numbers. Semyon Varlamov and the defensive corps are getting on the same page, shutting down their opponents. They are on a five-game winning streak and are looking to solidify a playoff position in the second half of the season.

3. Vegas Golden Knights (40)

Current Record – 29-10-2vegas_golden_knights_logo

Last Ten Games – 9-1-0; Streak – W2

Not much to say here. The Golden Knights have lost one game in their last ten, which was a great effort against the St. Louis Blues. Head Coach Gerard Gallant will lead the Pacific Division in the 2018 All-Star Game, yet another honor to add to this team’s resume. Speaking of leading the Pacific Division, Vegas is now seven points above the L.A. Kings and an astounding 12 points above the San Jose Sharks. This team is making the playoffs and their fantastic play has them more than halfway there.

4. Washington Capitals (31)

Current Record – 26-13-3

Last Ten Games – 7-1-2; Streak – W4Washington Capitals Logo

Don’t look now, but the Capitals could be gearing up for another Presidents’ Trophy run. Alex Ovechkin is proving why you should never doubt Alex Ovechkin, while the rest of the team is chipping in their share. Although Washington seemed a little slow out of the gate, this team has shaken off the rust and currently sits atop the stacked Metropolitan Division.

5. Dallas Stars (30)

Current Record – 24-16-3CJhyiLmK

Last Ten Games – 6-2-2; Streak – W2

The Stars are looking solid entering the next stretch of the season. Ben Bishop is among the top goalies in the league, winning 19 games on the season. If he can continue being a brick wall, while the offense remains productive, there is no reason to think they won’t be able to move up and grab the final spot in the Central Division. They will have a tough test, playing three games in four nights once they return to action.

6. Philadelphia Flyers (26)

Current Record – 19-15-8

Last Ten Games – 5-4-1; Streak – W3Philadelphia Flyers Logo

The Flyers continue to make up for their winless blunder earlier in the season, as they ride through a three-game winning streak. With the up-and-down play of the Penguins, Islanders and Hurricanes, Philadelphia somewhat controls their own fate in the second half of the season. If they play well, they are more than capable of clinching a Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. They still have some work to do, but they are currently playing well enough to get the job done.

7. Calgary Flames (20)

Current Record – 21-16-4Calgary Flames Logo

Last Ten Games – 5-4-1; Streak – W3

The biggest story out of Calgary is their relationship with Jaromir Jagr. There are many eyes glued to this situation, curious to see if Jagr has played his last game in the National Hockey League. The team has played well despite the drama, winning their last three games. Somewhat of a “dark horse” situation, the Flames are in a good position to make a run at a playoff spot.

8. Winnipeg Jets (18)

Current Record – 25-11-7jetslogo

Last Ten Games – 7-1-2; Streak – W2

The Jets are quietly taking care of their business as they move past the midway point on the season. They haven’t done anything too flashy as of late, but are skating well on both ends of the ice. Although quality opponents still lurk below, Winnipeg is leading the Central Division and looks to keep it that way.

9. Chicago Blackhawks (16)

Current Record – 20-15-6

Last Ten Games – 5-4-1; Streak – W1Unknown-2

The Blackhawks are in an unusual position this season. They are used to dominating the field and skating into a playoff spot without much opposition, but the “Dynasty” could be in a bit of trouble this season. Just 5-4-1 in their last ten games, they are currently dead last in the Central Division. Although not ideal, there is plenty of hockey to be played and this is not a team to ever count out.

10. Anaheim Ducks (14)

Current Record – 19-15-9Unknown-1

Last Ten Games – 5-4-1; Streak – L1

The Ducks need to make up some ground, but they might be able to do so with a healthy roster. Their last game was a 3-2 loss to Calgary, but prior to that, they earned points in four straight games. Anaheim always seems to be that bubble team in the Pacific Division. They are currently just one point out of the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, so look for a big battle in the second half of the season. They face a difficult stretch of games, with two against the L.A. Kings, one with the upbeat Avalanche, and a bout with the Penguins.

Hey, why isn’t (insert NHL team here) playing?

Still trying to figure out why your favorite team has games all next week, but your rival gets to take five-straight days off? Or maybe you’re most concerned about your fantasy hockey team? Either way, *NSYNC has the answer:

The NHL is in Year 2 of its experiment with bye weeks. Some things – like the average length of each team’s break – stayed the same. 19 of the 31 clubs are taking the minimum five days off, while 11 others get an extra sixth before returning to action. Of course, the winners of the bye week lottery are the Ottawa Senators, who get a whopping seven days to rest, regroup and rediscover the art of ice hockey before hosting St. Louis.

But there are a few differences from last year, most notably where these breaks occur within the league schedule. Last season when the bye weeks debuted, the Islanders and Penguins had already started and finished their breaks by now, while others wouldn’t see the gap in their schedule until well beyond the All-Star Break or even the trade deadline. In fact, the Ducks didn’t take their week off until the beginning of March.

It was probably because Anaheim is on Pacific Time. That’s how time zones work, right?

Anyways, all 31 bye weeks this season – whether five, six or seven days – will start and end in the span of the 18 days between today and January 19.

Though initial thoughts were that the bye weeks were consolidated in anticipation of the NHL potentially releasing its players to their respective national federations for the XXIII Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, it instead will simply be an opportunity for the league’s scheduler to determine which format is better for business.

But we’re not worried about attendance, advertising dollars or TV ratings here at Down the Frozen River (actually, that’s a lie: we love to talk about that stuff during podcasts). Let’s talk about who’s going to be off when. Teams are presented in order of the league table as it stands entering play January 7, and you might find some notes from myself and @nlanciani53.

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

29-9-3, 61 points, leading Presidents’ Trophy race

Final game before the bye: Hosts Calgary on January 11

Bye week: January 12-17 (six days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Vegas on January 18

Nick’s Notes: A hot team must cool off a bit and then play the Vegas Golden Knights on their first night back to action? Talk about a prison sentence. At least they’ve still got the Presidents’ Trophy (lead) as consolation.

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS

28-10-2, 58 points, leading the Western Conference

Final game before the bye: Hosts the NY Rangers on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Edmonton on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Son, where the Golden Knights are from, they don’t need no breaks. Polar opposites of the Tampa Bay Lightning bye week, Vegas plays a good team before taking time off. Then they play Edmonton. Next!

Connor’s Notes: That may be true, but there’s surely some concern among Gerard Gallant and his staff that the Knights just might lose some of this positive energy over the break. They’ve posted a 9-1-0 record over their last 10, and it’d be a shame if the only reason this club drops from Cloud 9 to Cloud 8 is just five little days off.

WINNIPEG JETS

24-11-7, 55 points, leading the Central Division

Final game before the bye: At Minnesota on January 13

Bye week: January 14-19 (six days)

First game out of the bye: At Calgary on January 20

Nick’s Notes: The Winnipeg Jets are vying for first place in the Central Division this season after missing the playoffs last year. Their second best point-scorer (that’s right, point-scorer, not goal-scorer, Patrik Laine), Mark Scheifele‘s been nursing an upper body injury and this break won’t hurt the team for a week while he remains out of the lineup.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

24-11-6, 54 points, second in the Central Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Edmonton on January 9

Bye week: January 10-15

First game out of the bye: Hosts Vegas on January 16

Nick’s Notes: Most people think the party never stops in Vegas, but they’re wrong. The party never stops in Smashville and let’s just hope none of the Predators players get carried away on Broadway in their week off.

ST. LOUIS BLUES

26-16-2, 54 points, third in the Central Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Florida on January 9

Bye week: January 10-15 (six days)

First game out of the bye: At Toronto on January 16

Connor’s Notes: Any way to avoid playing games while Jaden Schwartz‘ ankle is still healing is a good thing. While he won’t be ready to go until the end of the month, the Blues will hope to get out of a rut that has led to them posting a 4-6-0 record over their last 10 games entering Sunday.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS

25-13-3, 53 points, leading the Metropolitan Division

Final game before the bye: At Carolina on January 12

Bye week: January 13-17 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At New Jersey on January 18

Nick’s Notes: It’s not that Braden Holtby‘s been bad, but he’s having his worst season since 2013-14, so like, maybe send him to a remote mountain top or whatever it takes for Holtby to regain his form and focus (a water bottle usually does the trick). Seriously though, his 2.68 GAA and .917 save percentage is not great, Bob.

LOS ANGELES KINGS

24-13-5, 53 points, second in the Pacific Division

Final game before the bye: Hosted Nashville on January 6, lost 4-3

Bye week: January 7-12 (six days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Anaheim on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Best of luck to the Los Angeles Kings who will smash bodies against the boards with Nashville leading into their bye week and then smash bodies all over again with the Anaheim Ducks fresh off their vacations. It’s a grueling game. Ice those bruises.

BOSTON BRUINS

23-10-6, 52 points, second in the Atlantic Division

Final game before the bye: At Pittsburgh on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At Montréal on January 13

Connor’s Notes: Similar to Vegas’ current run of success, with an 8-0-2 record over their last 10 games played entering Sunday, the Bruins arguably have the most positive energy to lose by going on break of any team in the Eastern Conference. Fortunately for them, they’ll play in what I expect to be a rivalry game that’s even more heated than usual given the Habs’ position in the standings to get right back into the swing of things.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

25-16-2, 52 points, third in the Atlantic Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Ottawa on January 10

Bye week: January 11-15 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts St. Louis on January 16

Connor’s Notes: While the Leafs aren’t currently certain he’ll be ready to go by then, the original hope was that sophomore defenseman Nikita Zaitsev‘s lower-body injury would be healed by the time Toronto returned to action against the Notes. If St. Louis’ offense is ticking that day, his presence in the defensive zone will be a big help to Frederik Andersen

NEW JERSEY DEVILS

22-11-7, 51 points, second in the Metropolitan Division

Final game before the bye: At the NY Islanders on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Philadelphia January 13

Nick’s Notes: The New Jersey Devils have been quietly good as of late. They’re this year’s biggest surprise outside of the Golden Knights. Nico Hischier just turned 19, so unless he’s going outside of the United States for his break, he can’t (legally) party hard.

DALLAS STARS

24-16-3, 51 points, fourth in the Central Division – first wild card

Final game before the bye: Hosted Edmonton on January 6, won 5-1

Bye week: January 7-12 (six days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Colorado on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Wouldn’t it be mean if nobody tells Kari Lehtonen when the break is so he just drives up to the practice rink on the first day like “where’d everybody go”? Just a thought.

NEW YORK RANGERS

22-14-5, 49 points, third in the Metropolitan Division

Final game before the bye: At Vegas on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts the NY Islanders on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Great, another week off means Henrik Lundqvist has to wait even longer for a Stanley Cup.

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

23-16-3, 49 points, fourth in the Metropolitan Division – first wild card

Final game before the bye: Hosts Vancouver on January 12

Bye week: January 13-17 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Dallas on January 18

Nick’s Notes: The Columbus Blue Jackets have been the St. Louis Blues of the Eastern Conference this season. One week they’re amazing, the next week they’re losing. A lot.

Connor’s Notes: Nick is right, and the Jackets are in one of their losing funks right now. Entering Sunday, they’ve posted a 3-5-2 record over their last 10 games played. They won’t regain any of their four injured players during the break, but perhaps John Tortorella can find a way to regroup his troops before they lose any more ground in the Metro.

SAN JOSE SHARKS

21-12-6, 48 points, third in the Pacific Division

Final game before the bye: At Winnipeg on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Arizona on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Joe Thornton should use this break to regrow that part of his beard that got torn off his face by Nazem Kadri in Toronto.

COLORADO AVALANCHE

22-16-3, 47 points, fifth in the Central Division – second wild card

Final game before the bye: Hosted Minnesota on January 6, won 7-2

Bye week: January 7-12 (six days)

First game out of the bye: At Dallas on January 13

Connor’s Notes: Goaltender Semyon Varlamov should be prepared to return to action following the bye week after suffering a lower body injury on January 2, and there’s a possibility J.T. Compher get back into the lineup too. However, considering the Avs’ unbelievable position in the standings, does Jared Bednar even think about pulling Jonathan Bernier?

MINNESOTA WILD

22-17-3, 47 points, sixth in the Central Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Vancouver on January 14

Bye week: January 15-19

First game out of the bye: Hosts Tampa Bay on January 20

Nick’s Notes: Oft-injured and finally healthy, the Minnesota Wild should place everyone in bubblewrap for their bye week. Just a suggestion.

ANAHEIM DUCKS

19-15-9, 47 points, fourth in the Pacific Division

Final game before the bye: At Calgary on January 6, lost 3-2

Bye week: January 7-12

First game out of the bye: At Los Angeles on January 13

Connor’s Notes: With Corey Perry returning to action last night against the Flames, Anaheim is effectively at 100 percent once again after losing basically every star at one point or another this season. After seeing what an injured Ducks team was capable of, the Pacific Division should get ready, because a rested and healthy Ducks team just might wreck havoc against weak competition.

CALGARY FLAMES

21-16-4, 46 points, fifth in the Pacific Division

Final game before the bye: At Carolina on January 14

Bye week: January 15-19 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Winnipeg on January 20

Nick’s Notes: Whoever’s running the airport gates in Calgary should make sure that wherever the player’s are going doesn’t actually say “Seattle” on their ticket. Unless the gate agent is originally from Seattle. *dramatic Twin Peaks music plays in the background*

CAROLINA HURRICANES

19-14-8, 46 points, fifth in the Metropolitan Division – second wild card

Final game before the bye: Hosts Calgary on January 14

Bye week: January 15-19 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At Detroit on January 20

Nick’s Notes: One thing’s for sure, even with their potential new majority owner, none of the Carolina Hurricanes players are going back to Hartford for their break. What a shame.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

21-19-3, 45 points, sixth in the Metropolitan Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Boston on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Detroit on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Phil Kessel doesn’t like time off (remember the 2016 World Cup of Hockey?) and Matthew Murray should probably go to the same place as Braden Holtby for a week. Murray’s goals-against average is almost a 3.0.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

19-15-6, 44 points, last in the Central Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Detroit on January 14

Bye week: January 15-19 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts the NY Islanders on January 20

Nick’s Notes: Jeff Glass is the feel good story of 2018 so far, so why would anyone want to see him take five nights off? *Checks standings* Oh, right, this team isn’t in playoff worthy right now.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

18-15-8, 44 points, seventh in the Metropolitan Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Buffalo on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At New Jersey on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Someone make sure the Philadelphia Flyers don’t try to move to the Atlantic Division over their bye week. They’ll do anything to make the playoffs this season.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS

20-18-4, 44 points, last in the Metropolitan Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts New Jersey on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At the NY Rangers on January 13

Connor’s Notes: The reason the Islanders have been making by with their horrendous defense, which was made worse by Calvin de Haan requiring a season-ending shoulder surgery, has been their explosive offense. Josh Bailey should be back at 100 percent following New York’s bye to reunite the BLT Line, allowing the Isles to get back to their version of Russian Roulette: finding out which goaltender is going to allow just one more goal than the other.

DETROIT RED WINGS

17-16-7, 41 points, fourth in the Atlantic Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Tampa Bay on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At Pittsburgh on January 13

Nick’s Notes: If the Detroit Red Wings were a young, rebuilding, team I’d recommend a five-day long pizza party at The Pizza Box (Little Caesar’s Arena). Maybe they can figure out the right way to tank during their time off instead of winning a lot before the break.

FLORIDA PANTHERS

17-18-5, 39 points, fifth in the Atlantic Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Calgary on January 12

Bye week: January 13-18 (six days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Vegas on January 19

Connor’s Notes: Just as James Reimer is beginning to run out of steam, Roberto Luongo is expected to return to the Panthers’ crease with his club seven points outside playoff position. Whether he resumes his starting job before or after the bye, the break allows both of them to be fully rested.

EDMONTON OILERS

18-21-3, 39 points, sixth in the Pacific Division

Final game before the bye: At Vegas on January 13

Bye week: January 14-19 (six days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Vancouver on January 20

Nick’s Notes: Peter Chiarelli can’t possibly figure out how he’s going to save his team in six days when he spent $21 million on Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in about that amount of time over the summer.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

16-19-6, 38 points, seventh in the Pacific Division

Final game before the bye: At Minnesota on January 14

Bye week: January 15-19 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At Edmonton on January 20

Nick’s Notes: Like Mark Scheifele and the Winnipeg Jets, Bo Horvat and the Vancouver Canucks haven’t seen each other in a little while due to injury. Take some time and rest up.

MONTRÉAL CANADIENS

17-20-4, 38 points, sixth in the Atlantic Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Vancouver on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Boston on January 13

Nick’s Notes: I’m pretty sure you can’t trade players during your bye week, so don’t try to move Max Pacioretty while nobody’s paying attention, Montreal.

OTTAWA SENATORS

14-17-9, 37 points, seventh in the Atlantic Division

Final game before the bye: At Toronto on January 10

Bye week: January 11-17 (seven days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts St. Louis on January 18

Nick’s Notes: The Ottawa Senators will find a way to lose games over their seven day break. Meanwhile, Eugene Melnyk will have just enough time to figure out an escape plan while nobody’s at Canadian Tire Centre.

BUFFALO SABRES

10-22-9, 29 points, last in the Eastern Conference

Final game before the bye: Hosts Columbus on January 11

Bye week: January 12-17 (six days)

First game out of the bye: At the NY Rangers on January 18

Nick’s Notes: The Sabres should hold an exhibition matchup with some bantam teams while on their break. You know, so they can get better.

ARIZONA COYOTES

10-27-6, 26 points, last in the NHL

Final game before the bye: Hosted the NY Rangers on January 6, won 2-1 in a shootout

Bye week: January 7-11 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Edmonton on January 12

Nick’s Notes: Wait, you mean Arizona hasn’t already been taking time off all season?


Final notes: I strongly dislike how the NHL is abandoning entire markets for a week at a time. This is most noticeable in the United States’ two biggest cities: New York and Los Angeles. All five teams that play in those markets will be dormant for the same five days (January 8-12). Why didn’t they stagger these byes so those important markets would still have at least one squad active at all times? After all, if there’s one thing Devils fans love to see as much as a Jersey win, it’s a Rangers loss. Whether they take in that loss at Madison Square Garden or from their couch doesn’t ultimately matter. The fact that those markets could turn their attention away from the NHL to either the Clippers, Knicks or Friends reruns on TBS does.

But this extends further. The entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will be shut off from NHL hockey from January 8-12 (The same days as New York and Los Angeles? Who is making these decisions?), as neither the Flyers nor Penguins will be in action. Boston and Montréal? Nope, they’re both on the bye at the same time too (you guessed it, January 8-12). The Blues and Predators can vacation together as well – though I doubt they’d want to – as they are both out of action from January 10-15.

I’m sure the league’s competition committee is going to claim that they’re trying to reduce the possibility of one particular team getting too much of an advantage, but this just seems silly from a business perspective. If that is truly the case, perhaps one day when the league reaches 32 teams it will simply shut down an entire conference for five days and then the other (the odd number of teams right now makes scheduling a little… interesting in that scenario), or – the more likely of these two options – perchance expand the distribution of byes over the course of three weeks instead of just two. Who knows?

Beyond this issue, while I don’t necessarily like where it is in the schedule, I do like that the NHL has condensed the time period for bye weeks in the season. Keeping track of which teams had and hadn’t taken their week off last season was a bother, and this system eliminates that. Of course, we’ll know how NBC and Sportsnet react based on how these byes are arranged next year.

As for my final complaint, the byes have the possibility of creating a very staggered January. We just got out of the three-day holiday break 12 days ago. Each team has played an average of only 5.4 games since then. Now we have these bye weeks of at least five days, and the four-day All-Star Break (January 26-29) is only 20 days out. If those sentences were confusing, I’m concerned that’s how the month of January is going to feel – scattered hockey thoughts until Groundhog’s Day.

The NHL Players’ Association demanded these bye weeks in return for the league turning the All-Star Game into the divisional three-on-three format we have had for the past two years. They’re not going anywhere: the players obviously like the idea of getting some time off, and putting it near the midway point of the season seems like a logical idea.

However, how this change is impacting the league’s product is still being understood. Unless we could see a plausible situation where bye weeks don’t happen until the end of February or March (remember, that’s likely after the trade deadline), the existence of the midway-point byes could be yet another reason the NHL could axe the All-Star Game, eliminating that break altogether.

Throw in the fact that the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement could expire as soon as 2020’s offseason – should either party opt out early – and no later than the summer of 2022 and we could be looking at a whole heap of changes  – or a whole heap of no hockey – within the next four years.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #87- 87s Galore (Crosby’s Favorite Episode)

The Original Trio discuss the 2018 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship and more in separately recorded sessions of the podcast. Also, we’re available for hire. In memoriam: Part of Joe Thornton’s beard that Nazem Kadri ripped off (2015-2018).

Listen to this week’s podcast on our Libsyn page (and/or on your favorite podcast listening app that snags our RSS Feed).

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

January 3 – Day 88 – Black and blue and red all over

It’s Wednesday in the NHL, and as usual it’s a light schedule.

The action begins at 7:30 p.m. when the Senators pay a visit to Detroit to take on the Red Wings (SN/TVAS), and Chicago at the New York Rangers (NBCSN) drops the puck half an hour later to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

While I run the risk of repeating things I said Monday, the contest that should draw everyone’s attention is taking place at Madison Square Garden.

 

For those that love Original Six matchups, you’re welcome. It’s been a while since we’ve featured such a game, as the last was Boston at Detroit three weeks ago.

Of course, it hasn’t been anywhere near that long since we last featured the 21-13-5 Rangers, as their 3-2 overtime victory in the Winter Classic at Citi Field – a road game a whopping 10 miles from home – was the NHL’s lone game on New Year’s Day.

The Rangers, who are currently the Eastern Conference’s top wildcard, are rolling right now, as they’ve earned a 5-1-2 record over their past eight showings, and that success has been largely because of the dominance on the defensive end. Of course, what should we expect from a team that has the luxury of having 18-9-4 G Henrik Lundqvist on its roster. Lundqvist has won the (t)eighth-most games this season, and his two shutouts are (t)10th-most in the NHL.

Lundqvist has been in net for all but one of the tilts over this eight-game run, and he’s found a lot of success. He’s posted a .943 save percentage and 2.07 GAA (both top-10 efforts among the 31 goalies with at least four starts since December 15).

If this game comes down to which goaltender is better, I’d put my money on New York because 16-9-2 G Corey Crawford is going to be unavailable to the 18-14-6 Blackhawks for the foreseeable future. He was placed on injured reserve last week with an upper body injury with no timetable of when he could return to the ice.

That wouldn’t be good news if Chicago was atop the Western Conference like it has been for most of the last decade, but it’s even worse since the Hawks are currently four points behind Anaheim for the second wild card.

The Hawks’ struggles aren’t Crawford’s fault – in fact, I’d argue that he’s the main reason they still have a shot at qualifying for the playoff for the 10th-consecutive season. Before going down with an injury, he’d posted a .929 save percentage and 2.27 GAA, the fourth- and seventh-best efforts, respectively, in the NHL.

Filling in for Crawford is already a tall task for 1-0-1 G Jeff Glass, but it doesn’t help that the Hawks are finishing an uncomfortable six-game road trip this evening. This has not been a fun jaunt from the United Center, as they’ve posted a miserable 1-3-1 record on the trip.

Glass will be making his third career start in the NHL tonight behind a defense that has allowed an average of 33.2 shots against over its last five games. He’s been decent so far, as he’s posted a .917 season save percentage and 3.46 GAA, but going up against a Rangers team that is having the success it is right now can’t be a good omen.

These teams have already squared off once before this season, and it was the Blackhawks that came away with the 6-3 victory at home on November 15. Artem Anisimov was incredible in that game, scoring what is still the only hat trick of his 10-year career. I suppose he is still a bit salty about being traded by the Rangers to Columbus for Rick Nash in the 2011 offseason. Go figure, Anisimov is also on injured reserve with an upper body injury, so the Hawks will need to find a different hero if they want to earn two points tonight.

It’s tough to pick the Blackhawks in this one. In addition to the previously mentioned injuries, their offense hasn’t been in sync all season. All signs point towards an easy Rangers win this evening.


Behind the excellent work of First Star of the Game G Marc-Andre Fleury, the Vegas Golden Knights shutout the Nashville Predators to win yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at T-Mobile Arena 3-0.

Fleury performed incredibly to earn his second clean sheet of the season. Especially tested in the second and third period, he saved all 29 shots he faced to keep the Knights atop the Western Conference and within four points of the league-leading Lightning.

Of course, he couldn’t do everything – a la play offense – and that’s where Second Star W Reilly Smith (D Nate Schmidt and RW Alex Tuch) comes into play. With 7:50 remaining before the second intermission, Smith took advantage of the extra room caused by W Kevin Fiala serving a too many men on the ice penalty to attack G Pekka Rinne‘s crease and bank a wrist shot off his left pad to score what proved to be the game-winning goal.

Third Star D Shea Theodore (D Deryk Engelland and Tuch) tacked on Vegas’ first insurance goal 91 seconds after the goal horn stopped blaring, and F Jon Marchessault (W David Perron and F Erik Haula) cleaned up the evening’s scoring by burying a wrister on an empty net with 2:23 remaining in the game.

Rinne took the loss after saving 28-of-30 shots faced (.933 save percentage), his second consecutive loss and fourth in his last five appearances.

Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day are rolling since the holiday break, as they’ve won four of the last five featured games and earned points in five of the last six. As such, their 50-27-11 record in the series is 25 points superior to that of the roadies.

Numbers Game: Oh We’re Halfway There (Kind Of)

At the time of this writing it was January 1st, so first, Happy New Year everyone. Now, onto the more important manners, shall we?

Entering January, all 31 National Hockey League franchises have played at least 36 games. Only the Arizona Coyotes and St. Louis Blues have played at least half a season (41 games played) so far, while the San Jose Sharks have played the fewest games (36) through December. Everyone else falls somewhere in between– and that’s not including Monday’s 2018 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, which would bring both the Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers to 39 games played thus far.

Considering there’s no perfect way to slice it, we’ll consider this the midpoint of the 2017-18 regular season.

In the Western Conference, at least seven teams are destined to reach the 100-point plateau on the season, with the Los Angeles Kings (106 projected points) leading the charge followed by the Winnipeg Jets (102), Vegas Golden Knights (101), St. Louis Blues (101), Chicago Blackhawks (101), Sharks (101) and Nashville Predators (100).

Last season’s dominance of the Metropolitan Division alone– where four teams reached 100-points or more in 2016-17– has migrated west this season.

The Washington Capitals (118), Pittsburgh Penguins (111), Columbus Blue Jackets (108), Montreal Canadiens (103) and New York Rangers (102) tipped the balance of the 100-point plateau to the Eastern Conference last season, with five members of the NHL over 100-points compared to the Western Conference’s four teams over 100 members (Chicago, 109, Minnesota Wild, 106, Anaheim Ducks, 105 and Edmonton Oilers, 103).

This season, the West takes the reigns of the 100-point guild, with seven projected members while the Eastern Conference may only amount to four teams with over 100-points on the league table at the end of the regular season.

Everything seems to be going the Western Conference’s way, except for the fact that the Tampa Bay Lightning exist and they are here to make a claim to this season’s President’s Trophy with a projected 110 points on the regular season.

Meanwhile the Battle for Second in the Atlantic Division is hotly contested between the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs with the three divisional spots in the playoffs (TB, BOS and TOR, in no particular order) all but a sure lock at this rate.

Despite everyone’s fears that the Capitals might not be able to pull it together this season, they emerge on top of the Metropolitan Division once again in April with 103 points on the season– and a two-point lead over the biggest surprise of the season (Golden Knights aside), the New Jersey Devils.

Two-time defending Stanley Cup champion, Matthew Murray, and the Pittsburgh Penguins may be outside of the playoff picture right now, but they’ll slide their way into the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs with the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. An exciting rematch of the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals between the Penguins and the Lightning would be exactly what the league needs for a 2018 First Round matchup.

2017-2018 Projected Standings after Three Months

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

  1. p-Tampa Bay Lightning, 110 points (38 GP so far)
  2. x-Boston Bruins, 106 points (37 GP so far)
  3. x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 99 points (40 GP so far)
  4. Detroit Red Wings, 85 points (38 GP so far)
  5. Montreal Canadiens, 84 points (39 GP so far)
  6. Florida Panthers, 79 points (38 GP so far)
  7. Ottawa Senators, 78 points (37 GP so far)
  8. Buffalo Sabres, 67 points (38 GP so far)

It’s no surprise for the top-three teams in the Atlantic, then it’s all downhill from there. The Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Canadiens find that being average plagues them. Meanwhile the Florida Panthers and Ottawa Senators exist in mediocrity (‘sup Erik Karlsson free agency watch 2019). There’s not much to say for the Sabres other than, well… how early can you schedule a tee time?

Metropolitan Division

  1. z-Washington Capitals, 103 points (40 GP so far)
  2. x-New Jersey Devils, 101 points (38 GP so far)
  3. x-New York Rangers, 97 points (38 GP so far)
  4. x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 96 points (40 GP so far)
  5. x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 94 points (40 GP so far)
  6. New York Islanders, 93 points (39 GP so far)
  7. Carolina Hurricanes, 87 points (38 GP so far)
  8. Philadelphia Flyers, 86 points (38 GP so far)

The Metropolitan Division is stacked with teams on top of one another. Thankfully, by April, the division sorts itself out just enough with Washington, New Jersey and the Rangers rising as its leaders. Despite their ongoing struggles, there’s nothing to fear if you’re a Blue Jackets or Penguins fan and all you care about is making the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the first place.

Apologies to the New York Islanders, but it’s not their year in more ways than one *ahem, John Tavares free agency watch*.

Somehow the Carolina Hurricanes are making noise right now, but that should quiet down. And for the Philadelphia Flyers and their fans, at least you’re better than five of the Atlantic Division teams in these projections.

Western Conference

Central Division

  1. y-Winnipeg Jets, 102 points (40 GP so far)
  2. x-St. Louis Blues, 101 points (41 GP so far)
  3. x-Chicago Blackhawks, 101 points (38 GP so far)
  4. x-Nashville Predators, 100 points (38 GP so far)
  5. Dallas Stars, 93 points (40 GP so far)
  6. Minnesota Wild, 91 points (39 GP so far)
  7. Colorado Avalanche, 83 points (38 GP so far)

If it’s any consolation to the Nashville Predators, being a wild card team isn’t always a bad thing– oh wait, they figured that out last season en route to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final? Okay, they should be fine.

Otherwise, look out for the Winnipeg Jets, ladies and gentlemen. They’ve been skyrocketing all season long and they look ready to control the skies of the league. It’s a shame the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks will have to play each other in the First Round in April– not like that series will have any excitement or anything.

Despite their recent success and uptick in game-play, the Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild lost too many times to recover earlier on in the season.

Pacific Division

  1. z-Los Angeles Kings, 106 points (39 GP so far)
  2. x-Vegas Golden Knights, 101 points (37 GP so far)
  3. x-San Jose Sharks, 100 points (36 GP so far)
  4. x-Anaheim Ducks, 96 points (40 GP so far)
  5. Calgary Flames, 84 points (39 GP so far)
  6. Vancouver Canucks, 84 points (39 GP so far)
  7. Edmonton Oilers, 78 points (39 GP so far)
  8. Arizona Coyotes, 56 points (41 GP so far)

All three California teams in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs? Consider me hooked.

The Vegas Golden Knights continue to write history as they knock off the San Jose Sharks in the First Round of the playoffs– in their first playoffs appearance which just so happens to come in their inaugural season. It’s pure insanity, but it’s bound to happen.

If you were worried about the Anaheim Ducks, worry not. The Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers know not what they are doing. Unfortunately for Calgary and Vancouver, they play in a division with the State of California and Vegas.

Unfortunately for the Oilers, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are eating $21 million in salary cap space next season. They’re not bad players, but that’s bad asset management when you consider other large contracts on the books (Milan Lucic, in particular).

Arizona, how does Seattle sound if the league is foolish to not take $650 million in expansion fees and run?

Down the Frozen River Podcast #86- Best Misnomers of 2017

Nick and Connor pick apart the Central Division, provide injury updates, preview the 2018 Winter Classic and discuss the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship so far.

Listen to this week’s podcast on our Libsyn page (and/or on your favorite podcast listening app that snags our RSS Feed).

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

Merkle’s Christmas Bumblings

I will now attempt to write a coherent article as I lay near-comatose full of grilled chicken, hamloaf, turkey, mashed potatoes, corn, biscuits, rolls and whatever else I might have eaten that my holiday-overloaded mind can’t recall. Thumbs up, let’s do this.

Skater of the Week: Mathew Barzal

I told myself I wouldn’t pick Josh Bailey again, so this time I picked his teammate. I promise you I’m not actually an Islanders fan.

The Isles continue to score at a torrid pace, and while John Tavares and Bailey both matched Barzal’s six-point output in this week’s three games, I’m giving the nod to the rookie. A bit of a dark horse to even make the squad at the beginning of the year, I did make note of Barzal in my preseason preview article about the Isles, and he’s making me look smarter than I actually am.

With 35 points in 36 games so far this season, the 20-year-old from Coquitlam, B.C. has really come into his own in recent weeks. Currently riding a four-game point streak, Barzal chipped in four goals and two assists in three contests this week, including a hat trick Saturday night at Winnipeg.

If guys like Barzal and Bailey (not to mention Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle) continue to produce the way they are, the Isles look to be very dangerous, as they finally possess the complimentary firepower to free up some space for Tavares.

Tendy of the Week: James Reimer

Chill, Bruins fans (looking at you, Lanciani), I know Tuukka Rask had a crazy good week himself. But, considering their major stats were nearly identical, I’m giving the nod to Reimer based on him grabbing a shutout when Rask didn’t, and the fact that he faced 23 more shots than the Boston netminder.

Smilin’ Reimer was truly on it this week. Winning all three games, he allowed just four total goals, scooping up a 1.33 GAA and a .964 save percentage across the contests. With Roberto Luongo still on the shelf, the Panthers desperately need Reimer to continue playing at a high level for them to have any real shot at keeping pace in the Atlantic. At least for the time being, he’s doing just that.

Game of the Week: Basically the entire night of Thursday, December 21st

10 games. Seven of them needed OT or the shootout to decide them. Even the three regulation games were at least weird if nothing else. The Hurricanes toppled the Predators, the Stars blanked the Blackhawks, and the Oilers upset the juggernaut Blues.

Among the games decided in extra time, you had everything from defensive struggles (Bruins over Jets 2-1 in the shootout, Kings over the Avs 2-1 in OT), offensive showcases (Ducks over Isles and Sharks over Canucks, both 5-4 contests), and a couple rivalry showcases (Devils take out the Rangers 4-3, and Penguins edge the Jackets 3-2 in an extremely heated affair, both in shootouts).

Just one of those strange nights where the hockey gods decide that everything gets an extra sprinkling of awesome.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Radko Gudas got suspended for about 137 games for a slash, because at this point he has to be doing stupid stuff on purpose.

Boone Jenner had a game misconduct penalty retroactively rescinded (because that’s apparently worth something) by the league after being kicked from the CBJ/PIT game by possibly the softest game misconduct ever issued.

Alexander Burmistrov has ‘retired’ from the NHL to return to his native Russia and play in the KHL. A once-promising prospect of the Atlanta/Winnipeg organization, Burmistrov left the NHL for the KHL back in 2013 before returning in 2015. His NHL career never really blossomed into what was hoped, and it sounds like the 26-year-old simply enjoys playing at home much more than playing in North America.

Zac Rinaldo again finds himself amid controversy, staring a likely-lengthy suspension in the face. After laying a hard (though seemingly clean) hit on Nathan MacKinnon, Rinaldo sucker punched Avs rookie Samuel Girard who had come over to confront him after the hit. Erik Johnson then stepped in and used the fact that he is the size of a Chevrolet Silverado to his advantage, but by this point things had already entered into the category of line brawl. Girard never dropped his gloves, or even looked as though he had any intention of actually fighting Rinaldo, so it’s easy to see where the impending punishment has grounds to stand on (particularly in the case of oft-suspended Rinaldo), but counter-points have been made by more than a few people, most notably former NHL tough guy Paul Bissonnette, most to the tune of ‘Girard probably shouldn’t have gone after someone he didn’t intend to fight’. Regardless, expect to see a lot less of Rinaldo over at least the next few games.

Ken Hitchcock reached the 800-win plateau as a head coach when his Dallas Stars beat the Blackhawks in the aforementioned Thursday night 4-0 blanking. Hitch is only the 3rd coach in NHL history to reach the milestone, with just that night’s opposing coach Joel Quenneville and Scotty Bowman ahead of him.

Editor’s note: The common thread between those coaches? All three have coached the St. Louis Blues, yet none could lead the Notes to the Stanley Cup.