Tag Archives: Claude Julien

Boston Bruins 2017-2018 Season Preview

Unknown-7Boston Bruins

44-31-7, 95 points, 3rd in the Atlantic Division

Eliminated in the First Round by Ottawa

Additions: F Kenny Agostino, D Paul Postma, F Teddy Purcell (PTO), F Jordan Szwarz

Subtractions: D Linus Arnesson (signed with Örebro HK, SHL),  D Chris Casto (signed with VGK), F Colton Hargrove (signed with Providence Bruins, AHL), F Jimmy Hayes (signed a PTO with NJ after being bought out by BOS), F Brian Ferlin (signed with EDM), D Alex Grant (signed with MIN), D Colin Miller (claimed by VGK at the Expansion Draft), F Dominic Moore (signed with TOR), D Joe Morrow (signed with MTL), F Tyler Randell (signed with OTT), F Zac Rinaldo (signed with ARI), F Drew Stafford (signed with NJ)

Still Unsigned: D John-Michael Liles

Offseason Analysis: The last branches of the Tyler Seguin trade wilted this offseason for the Boston Bruins after defenseman, Joe Morrow, was not tendered a qualifying offer, therefore making him an unrestricted free agent (who ended up signing with the enemy, the Montreal Canadiens– reuniting with head coach, Claude Julien), and forward, Jimmy Hayes, was the victim of a buyout entering the final year of his contract (and now has a PTO with the New Jersey Devils).

Morrow, of course, was part of the original acquisition for Seguin, while Hayes came along after the Bruins flipped Reilly Smith (along with the contract of Marc Savard) to the Florida Panthers in the 2015 offseason.

But none of that matters now. The Seguin deal was done and over with the moment it happened.

Regardless of the debate surrounding whether it was the worst move or not by the organization, one thing is clear– the current rendition of the Boston Bruins are Don Sweeney‘s Boston Bruins. Let’s move on from the Peter Chiarelli Era highs and lows.

These Bruins have something to prove and are ready to show it.

Whether things go their way all comes down to the way the puck bounces.

Forwards Austin Czarnik and Tim Schaller were re-signed this offseason. Czarnik’s transition to the NHL proved helpful to the organization in times of automatic depth necessity (injury) and Schaller surpassed all previous expectations in a breakout season (seven goals, seven assists in 59 games played).

Alas, the words “breakout season” are intrinsically connected to the words “sample size”, as Schaller had only played 35 career games in two seasons with the Buffalo Sabres (amassing 2-3-5 totals from 2014-2016) as a bottom-six forward.

With Sean Kuraly‘s postseason emergence as the double overtime hero in Game 5 of the Bruins First Round Atlantic Division matchup with the Ottawa Senators in Boston’s short-lived 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs run, Czarnik’s got some competition for a spot on the fourth line.

But enough about the “glue guys” for a moment. Let’s turn our attention to David Pastrnak, shall we?

The 70-point scorer last season reached the end of his entry-level contract on July 1st and became a restricted free agent without arbitration rights.

After watching fellow young and talented scorers, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl receive massive pay raises, the 21-year-old winger from the Czech Republic was left wondering just how high his stock could go.

Agent, J.P. Barry, kept the hockey world on edge, as Pastrnak was reported to have considered a venture to the KHL if no common ground with the Bruins could be found, after NHL Network analyst, Brian Lawton, had already scared diehard Boston fans by surmising that Pastrnak would likely be traded.

Fans around the league thought they’d seen this before with Boston (remember Phil Kessel or Dougie Hamilton? Yeah, those guys were also represented by Barry during their tumultuous fallouts with the Bruins).

But analysts and fans league-wide were wrong. Kind of.

They had seen something just like this before– except it was with Torey Krug and Reilly Smith.

Krug and Smith had held out all summer long in 2014, coming off of their then-best career seasons, on the heels of a President’s Trophy winning 2013-2014 Bruins squad. They were RFAs, they were young and they were looking to get paid.

Deals sometimes take time and their extension negotiations caused them to miss the first day of training camp in September 2014.

Enter David Pastrnak and the 2017 offseason.

Boston’s best scorer on the same line as Boston’s other best scorer (Brad Marchand), together encompassing Boston’s best two-way forward (Patrice Bergeron) was due his lion’s share.

Tweets came from all sources and reporters drew the lines. Pastrnak and Sweeney were engaged in a standoff.

Except it was all just a numbers game.

McDavid’s 8-year, $100 million contract extension ($12.500 million cap hit) and Draisaitl’s  8-year, $68 million extension ($8.500 million cap hit) with Edmonton were worth aiming for, but when Bo Horvat struck a 6-year, $33 million deal ($5.500 million cap hit), Pastrnak’s amazing technicolor dreamcoat salary demands faltered a bit.

There was never any question as to whether Pastrnak was worth upwards of $7.000 almost $8.000 million a season, but trends in the market ultimately dictate one way or another how internal negotiations go.

So Sweeney pulled off an extremely club friendly $6.667 million cap hit on a 6-year, $40 million contract extension for Pastrnak. This, one season after extending Marchand for another eight years at only $6.125 million AAV, is some serious cap management at its best, almost impossible dream.

Especially when one considers that McDavid and Draisaitl are a costly $21 million-a-season for the next eight seasons in Edmonton (which is about 28% of the Oilers total player’s payroll).

Marchand and Pastrnak will cost the Bruins a combined $12.792 million-a-season for the next six years. Add Bergeron’s $6.875 million cap hit to that total and they’re still $1.333 million under 2/3’s of Edmonton’s best line ($19.667 million a year for Boston’s first line for the next six seasons, compared to the $21 million for McDavid and Draisaitl alone– Milan Lucic’s current cap hit is $6.000 million, if you were wondering).

Sweeney’s commitment to the core in Boston and letting his prospects develop may pan out this season with a longer run than last season’s First Round exit.

Adding Anders Bjork to the mix and a full season of Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, as well as Charlie McAvoy, is sure to make this year’s Bruins team a fun one to watch.

It’s not about the main additions of Kenny Agostino and Paul Postma to the black and gold, but rather how far will the kids go?

They’re not the young, talented, and once-in-a-generation skillful Toronto Maple Leafs, per se, but Bruce Cassidy’s Bruins might be able to skate with them this season.

Offseason Grade: B

Grading the 2017 offseason for the Bruins wasn’t contingent upon re-signing David Pastrnak or adding a top-notch *cough cough overpaid because of a lack of available good free agents* free agent– it involved a thoughtfully calculated formula of “did they do anything stupid?” and “did they continue to make a commitment to their youth infused core, moving forward?” (the answers, of course, are “no” and “yes”– don’t be a dummy, trust Don Sweeney on this one, for once).

Extra credit for not shelling out $6 million on an over 30-year-old forward for the next five or six years (maybe David Backes will rebound this season– hopefully). Don’t stray from the formula (they didn’t).

2017 Mock Draft: The First Round

2017_NHL_Entry_Draft_logo
NHL Entry Draft logos via NHL

The time has come for my annual prediction of how the first round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft will go. This year’s draft class is overall weaker than years past, but comes with a difficult choice for the New Jersey Devils, as they hold the 1st overall pick. The talk surrounding Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier is reminiscent of the Taylor Hall vs. Tyler Seguin days leading up to the 2010 NHL Entry Draft in Los Angeles.

With that in mind, let’s see how many picks I get wrong (it’s an annual tradition!)– this year’s draft is being held in Chicago.

New Jersey Devils Logo1) New Jersey Devils –> C Nolan Patrick, Brandon (WHL)

A gifted center, Nolan Patrick’s status as the long-time coming predicted 1st overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft should not be affected by his injury shortened season with the Brandon Wheat Kings. Patrick is a 6’2″, 199-pound gifted two-way player that can not only contribute in goals and assists, but brings some size down the middle for the Devils.

Philadelphia Flyers Logo2) Philadelphia Flyers –> C Nico Hischier, Halifax (QMJHL)

If New Jersey doesn’t take Nolan Patrick 1st overall, then the Flyers shouldn’t really have any complaints, because either Nico Hischier or Patrick is quite the impressive steal for the 2.4% longshots at the 2nd overall pick in this year’s draft. Hischier stands tall at 6’2″, 179 pounds, and had 38-48-86 totals with the Halifax Mooseheads in 57 games this season en route to being named the CHL’s Rookie of the Year.

Unknown-23) Dallas Stars –> C Gabriel Vilardi, Windsor (OHL)                

Gabriel Vilardi was part of this year’s Memorial Cup champion, the Windsor Spitfires, and amassed 29-32-61 totals in 49 games played this season. He’s a two-way center that remains composed in all situations while utilizing unparalleled hands and finesse in this year’s draft. Vilardi would be quite the addition to Dallas’s prospect pool at 6’3″, 203 pounds and only 17-years-old (until August 16th, that is).

Unknown-14) Colorado Avalanche –> D Miro Heiskanen, HIFK (Finland)

One can assume that the Avalanche are bound to be trading a bunch of forwards for forwards this offseason (at least), but more important than having an offense is having a defense and an offense (which Colorado has had one in recent years and I’ll give you a hint– it hasn’t been a defense). Miro Heiskanen is a 6’1″, 172-pound two-way defenseman that had five goals and five assists (10 points) in 37 games with HIFK this season and is just part one of many moves towards turning things around at Pepsi Center.

imgres-25) Vancouver Canucks –> C Casey Mittelstadt, Eden Prairie (HS-MN)

The Vancouver Canucks can begin to start thinking about their long term approach to the end of the Sedin era by assuring themselves of a strong presence down the middle. Casey Mittelstadt brings that strong presence at center by virtue of his 6’1″, 201-pound frame and tremendous skill. There’s a reason why he was named this year’s Mr. Hockey in the state of Minnesota. Mittelstadt had 21-43-64 totals in 25 games with Eden Prairie and 13-17-30 totals in 24 games with the Green Bay Gamblers (USHL) this season.

vegas_golden_knights_logo6) Vegas Golden Knights –> C Cody Glass, Portland (WHL)

For their first draft selection in franchise history, the Vegas Golden Knights are bound to select perhaps the most tactically smart playmaker of the draft in Cody Glass. The 6’2″, 178-pound, right-handed center had 32 goals and 62 assists (94 points– T-7th in the WHL) and is sure to fit right in with the Golden Knights roster and longterm plans. Vegas would be wise to let him play coming out of the draft, since Glass is perhaps the most NHL ready player besides Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier.

Unknown-37) Arizona Coyotes –> D Cale Makar, Brooks (AJHL)

The Arizona Coyotes have been stockpiling forwards (if you can believe it) in recent drafts, so this year seems to be the right time to snag a puck moving defenseman that’s committed to the University of Massachusetts-Amherst next season. Cale Makar had 24 goals and 51 assists (75 points) in 54 games with the Brooks Bandits in the Alberta Junior Hockey League this season– a 20-point improvement in as many games compared to last season.

Unknown-28) Buffalo Sabres –> C Michael Rasmussen, Tri-City (WHL)

At 6’6″, 215 pounds, Michael Rasmussen is exactly what the Sabres need to compliment the already sized up centers of Jack Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly. Sheer intimidation could be one thing Buffalo banks on in the near future, thanks to their Goliath centers, but don’t let that be the only thing. Rasmussen has silky hands and had 32-23-55 totals with the Tri-City Americans this season in the Western Hockey League.

Unknown9) Detroit Red Wings –> RW Owen Tippett, Mississauga (OHL)

Owen Tippett has been drawing comparisons to Phil Kessel (no, not necessarily because he’s a hot dogs and hamburgers guy– though we haven’t asked him– but rather, because Mike Morreale of NHL.com says so). The 6’0″, 200-pound, right winger had 44 goals and 31 assists (75 points) in 60 games with the Mississauga Steelheads and is a natural sniper.

Florida_Panthers_logo_201610) Florida Panthers –> C Martin Necas, Brno (Czech Republic)

Martin Necas is a versatile center that can create space for the puck and generate offense with his playmaking mindset. The right-handed shot had seven goals and eight assists (15 points) in 41 games with Brno this season. Florida shouldn’t be too concerned with his 6’0″, 167-pound frame, considering they’ve got a good mix of forwards to balance things out while Necas works on adding some muscle to his game.

Unknown-311) Los Angeles Kings –> C Elias Pettersson, Timra (SWE-2)

After missing out on this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Los Angeles Kings fired their now former head coach (Darryl Sutter) and general manager (Dean Lombardi) and immediately replaced them with John Stevens behind the bench and Rob Blake as GM, so trying to predict who they’ll draft is difficult based on recent history. However, Elias Pettersson (19-22-41 totals in 43 games with Timra) might just happen to fall into their hands at 11th overall. He’ll need a year of seasoning before appearing in the Kings lineup.

download.png12) Carolina Hurricanes –> D Timothy Liljegren, Rogle (Sweden)

After a bout with mononucleosis in November, Timothy Liljegren wasn’t fully able to rebound this season with Rogle BK, however his skating remains unparalleled as one of the better defensemen of the draft. Liljegren can join the rush and pinch in from the point when needed in the offensive zone and scouts have yet to see the full potential impact of his style of play. Given the uncertainty surrounding Carolina’s money-puck strategy and how it will affect their blue line, drafting Liljegren might provide some security.

Unknown-413) Winnipeg Jets –> C/LW Klim Kostin, Dynamo Moscow (Russia)

Klim Kostin missed a lot of time thanks to a shoulder injury, but that shouldn’t stop the Winnipeg Jets from taking a chance on what might be the best Russian forward in the draft. Puck possession is Kostin’s middle name and his 6’3″, 196-pound frame certainly must have something to do with that. The Jets could use him down the middle or restructure their wingers around the Kostin model, albeit acknowledging Blake Wheeler‘s size and existence already in Winnipeg.

Unknown-314) Tampa Bay Lightning –> D Juuso Valimaki, Tri-City (WHL)       

Steve Yzerman may continue to be a master of the salary cap (in terms of carefully maneuvering around large contracts, drafting and developing talent on a consistent basis and the like), but he’s got some critical thinking to do this offseason, what with pending RFAs galore and the Vegas expansion draft. Juuso Valimaki might be just enough to help relieve some of that pressure, having been one of the best defensemen of the WHL this season and amassing 19-42-61 totals in 60 games played.
download.png15) New York Islanders –> C Nick Suzuki, Owen Sound (OHL)

Offensively skilled, Nick Suzuki isn’t the biggest player (5’11”, 183 pounds), but he is one of the best power play specialists in this year’s draft– notching 14 power play goals for the Owen Sound Attack this season. Suzuki had 96 points alone (45 goals, 51 assists) in 65 games and would be an upgrade for the Islanders in more ways than one.

Unknown-416) Calgary Flames –> LW/RW Kristian Vesalainen, Frolunda (Sweden)

Kristian Vesalainen is a 6’3″, 207-pound power forward that might be able to muster his way to a new arena for the Calgary Flames. Jokes aside, Vesalainen would be a solid draft pick by Calgary for his physical prowess and goal scoring ability. In the Battle of Alberta, the Flames could select their very own Milan Lucic, but with more of a two-way element to his game.

Unknown17) Toronto Maple Leafs –> D Nicolas Hague, Mississauga (OHL)

How could the Toronto Maple Leafs get any better than they already are with a lineup full of kids? Answer: they could draft Nicolas Hague. Toronto’s got a plethora of players waiting to insert themselves into their mix of forwards that it wouldn’t hurt them to give a little more attention to their blue line for a bit. Hague is a monstrous 6’6″, 215-pound, shutdown defenseman that can also contribute on the power play. He had 18-28-46 totals in 65 games with the Mississauga Steelheads this season.

Unknown-718) Boston Bruins –> C Ryan Poehling, St. Cloud State (NCHC)

It seems unusual to say, but the Boston Bruins have a little something on the horizon to start thinking about– what will the team look like after Patrice Bergeron (and David Krejci)? Boston GM Don Sweeney has a recent history of opting for college players and could select center Ryan Poehling with the future in mind. The 6’2″, 183-pound, playmaker has great vision and puck protection and had 7-6-13 totals in 35 games with St. Cloud State this season. Additionally, Poehling’s got intelligence (both on and off the ice) as he graduated a year early from high school and just tuned 18 on January 3rd.

Unknown19) San Jose Sharks –> D Callan Foote, Kelowna (WHL)

The San Jose Sharks have some big names to re-sign this offseason, including Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Naturally, while one might think the Sharks should use this draft to find their eventual replacements, San Jose is already in a good spot regarding forwards. Their blue line, however, could use someone like the 6’4″, 212-pound, likeness of Callan Foote. He had six goals and 51 assists (57 points) in 71 games this season and is sure to follow in the foot(e)steps of his father, Adam Foote.

imgres-120) St. Louis Blues –> LW Eeli Tolvanen, Sioux City (USHL)

A 30-goal-scorer in 52 games played with Sioux City this season, Eeli Tolvanen brings just about every offensive element the St. Louis Blues are looking for in a forward. He can shoot from just about anywhere on the ice– at any time too. Quick with his feet, Tolvanen can snipe an impressive shot. Don’t let his 5’10”, 170-pound setup fool you, this winger is ready to become even better at Boston College in the fall. After a couple of seasons of losing vital veteran forwards, the Blues get a chance for redemption by bringing in a goalscorer that could soon be skating on a line with Vladimir Tarasenko.

download.png21) New York Rangers –> LW Jason Robertson, Kingston (OHL)

In 68 games with the Kingston Frontenacs this season, Jason Robertson (6’2″, 192 pounds) had 42 goals and 39 assists for 81 points. He knows what to do with the puck and with the unwavering uncertainty of Rick Nash‘s longevity, along with the legitimacy of Jimmy Vesey and others as impact players when you need them the most (like in the playoffs, for example), Robertson is a risk worth taking. He’s only a risk because his skating game could use some improvement.

Unknown-522) Edmonton Oilers –> C Lias Andersson, HV71 (Sweden)

Lias Andersson is a mobile two-way forward that matches grit with nifty hands that generate scoring chances, as evidenced by his 9-10-19 totals in 42 games played with HV71 in the Swedish Hockey League this season. At 5’11”, 198 pounds, Andersson is the right fit for the Edmonton Oilers lineup, where he can increase his offensive skill by learning from Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, while taking a page or two from Milan Lucic in the physical game. Additionally, his father, Niklas Andersson, is currently a scout for the Los Angeles Kings and played in 164 career NHL games.

 

Unknown-323) Arizona Coyotes (from Minnesota Wild) –> C Shane Bowers, Waterloo (USHL)

The Coyotes have two 1st round picks in this year’s draft and they’d be smart to take a forward with their second pick. Luckily, Shane Bowers is just the player for Arizona. The Boston University-bound center scored 22 goals and had 29 assists (51 points) in 60 games for Waterloo this season. The 6’1″, 183-pound forward models his game after Jonathan Toews, which wouldn’t be a bad thing for the Coyotes to have in their prospect pool with a clear need for a stable, solid, two-way center.

Columbus Blue Jackets Logo24) Columbus Blue Jackets –> RW Kailer Yamamoto, Spokane (WHL)

At 5’8″ and 153 pounds, Kailer Yamamoto is not a player to overlook. Why? Because he scored 42 goals and had 57 assists for 99 points (6th in the WHL in scoring) in 65 games with Spokane this season. Yamamoto is relentless on the puck and has hands beyond his years, as well as speed and skill that make him quite the threat on the ice.

Unknown-125) Montreal Canadiens –> LW Maxime Comtois, Victoriaville (QMJHL)

After acquiring Jonathan Drouin from the Tampa Bay Lightning this offseason, the Montreal Canadiens have made great strides at improving their group of forwards. But with the uncertainty of everything panning out as planned, why not add to the plan? Maxime Comtois is versatile and ready to take the next step in his professional career with the right guidance (*ahem* Claude Julien‘s system). Best inserted on the wing, Comtois had 22-29-51 totals in 64 games with Victoriaville this season. The 6’2″, 200-pound forward could play center if the Canadiens see it fit.

 

imgres26) Chicago Blackhawks –> D Urho Vaakanainen, JYP (Finland)

Chicago is bound to have a tough offseason in a non-Cup year for the first time in a while, it seems, what with the Expansion Draft, as well as the salary cap working against their favor. While the Blackhawks may have to deal a top-4 defenseman or part of their core group of forwards (without getting too crazy, mind you, we’re not talking a trade involving Patrick Kane), Chicago can rest assured that Urho Vaakanainen is their defenseman of the future. The 6’1″, 185-pound blue liner is good at 1) getting the puck out of the zone and 2) playing his game– and a physical one at that.

 

imgres-127) St. Louis Blues (from Washington Capitals) –> D Conor Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)

An offensive-minded defenseman with a right-shot, Conor Timmins fits the bill for the St. Louis Blues. At 6’1″ and 185 pounds, Timmins can rush the ice as a two-way defenseman who contributed 61 points (seven goals, 54 assists) for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in 67 games this season. Think Colton Parayko, but not, because this guy’s name is Conor Timmins and he doesn’t already play for the Blues.

Unknown-628) Ottawa Senators –> C Josh Norris, USA U-18 (USNTDP)

A product of the United States National Team Development Program, Josh Norris had 23-28-51 totals in 52 games played this season. The 6’1″, 192-pound center could contribute to the Senators organization in a manner similar to how Colin White has been implemented into the roster. Who knows, he might be worth it, Ottawa.

Unknown-229) Dallas Stars (from Anaheim Ducks) –> RW Kole Lind, Kelowna (WHL)

Tremendous hockey sense and intelligence are part of Kole Lind’s game. A natural playmaker, Lind was also known to produce goals of his own for the Kelowna Rockets this season, amassing 30-57-87 totals in 70 games played. The 6’1″, 178-pound right winger could be a solid fit alongside the likes of Jamie Benn and Seguin in Dallas.

Unknown30) Nashville Predators –> C Robert Thomas, London (OHL)

Hey look it’s Rob Thomas from Matchbox Twenty! Again, I’m only kidding. This Robert Thomas of the London Knights had 16-50-66 totals in 66 games this season as a two-way forward. A noted playmaker, Thomas reads and reacts to the play before him beyond his years and will need some time to really come into his own at the NHL level. Yet, the Nashville Predators can afford to take their time carefully crafting the almost 6′, 188-pound, center in their system that’s produced the likes of Colton Sissons, Pontus Aberg and many more in recent years.

 

pittsburgh_penguins_logo31) Pittsburgh Penguins –> D Henri Jokiharju, Portland (WHL)

It took Henri Jokiharju a few months to really transition to the North American style of the game, but for this offensively focused defenseman, that wasn’t a big deal. He can get the puck out of his own zone with ease– not just with crisp passes, but also due to his incredible stride and speed in the transition department. Jokiharju (6’0″, 180 pounds) had nine goals and 39 assists (48 points) in 71 games for the Portland Winterhawks this season.

Other top potential 1st round prospects that should easily be 2nd round picks if they’re not taken in Round 1 of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft:

G Jake Oettinger, Boston University (Hockey East)

LW Isaac Ratcliffe, Guelph (OHL)

D Pierre-Olivier Joseph, Charlottetown (QMJHL)

D Erik Brannstrom, HV71 (Sweden)

LW Filip Chytil, Zlin (Czech Republic)

C Aleksei Heponiemi, Swift Current (WHL)

G Michael DiPietro, Windsor (OHL)

LW Matthew Strome, Hamilton (OHL)

C Antoine Morand, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL)

LW Tyler Steenbergen, Swift Current (WHL)

So there you have it. This is how I see the 1st round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft shaking out. Be sure to tune in next Friday night (that’s one week from now) to watch your favorite team pick a teenager and hope for the best. I’ll be at work that night, so no spoilers, please. Let me believe I got more than two picks right for once.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round– April 20

For at least the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writers are Connor Keith and Nick Lanciani.

New York Rangers LogoUnknown-1

New York Rangers at Montreal Canadiens— Game 5

By: Connor Keith

With the Rangers’ 3-2 overtime victory against Montréal at the Bell Centre Thursday, they are only one victory away from advancing to the next round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Though the first frame didn’t end scoreless, the battle between two high-caliber goaltenders was immediately apparent. Montréal fired 15 shots at Third Star of the Game Henrik Lundqvist and Carey Price faced 10 from the Blueshirts, but only three got past: Montréal exited the first period leading 2-1 thanks to a Artturi Lehkonen (Nathan Beaulieu and Alex Galchenyuk) wrap-around and a power play wrist shot by Second Star Brendan Gallagher (Andrei Markov and Lehkonen).

The Rangers haven’t been able to convert a single man-advantage all series against Price, so it only makes sense that they then leveled the game at one-all with 4:04 remaining in the first period while short-handed courtesy of Jesper Fast (First Star Mika Zibanejad). The Swedish center advanced the puck along the far boards through the neutral zone and across the blue line before splitting Beaulieu and Jeff Petry with a centering pass to his countryman for a wrister from the slot. The tied game lasted only 25 seconds before Gallagher buried his wrister, but the fact that it was the Canadiens’ last tally of the game came to haunt them.

It seemed Fast’s shorthanded effort at the end of the period took all the energy out of the Rangers, as they played terribly for most of the second period. They played defense for most of the frame – including killing two penalties (Ryan McDonagh for slashing and Mats Zuccarello for hi-sticking) – and gave the puck away twice as often as the Habs. To top it off, they were also out-hit by a wide margin, led by Steve Ott’s game-total of eight blows.

That’s what makes it so unbelievable that they exited the frame tied two-all with Montréal. Alain Vigneault inspired his squad to give him three good minutes at the end of the second period, and it yielded Brady Skjei’s (Rick Nash and Jimmy Vesey) wrister from the slot, New York’s second game-tying goal of the contest.

A goal can do a lot for a club, made evident by the Rangers holding the Habs without a shot on goal until 9:49 remained in the third period. Only five shots per team could be managed in that back-and-forth frame, and Lundqvist and Price kept all of them from crossing their goal lines to force the second-straight overtime match at the Bell Centre.

If Claude Julien did nothing else during the intermission following regulation, he should have reminded his squad that the Rangers know how to play on the road. Away from Madison Square Garden, New York was an impressive 27-12-2 during the regular season and it notched another victory thanks to Zibanejad’s (Chris Kreider) wrister with 5:38 remaining in the first overtime period.

Kreider took control of the puck at the near point of his defensive zone and quickly advanced up the boards into the attacking third. He didn’t have to do anything special with his pass, but it ended up being one of the best centering passes of the series with just the right pace to allow Zibanejad to one-touch the puck past Price’s glove for the Blueshirts’ third victory of the playoffs.

The Rangers’ first chance to clinch a spot in the Eastern Semifinals will come about Saturday at 8 p.m. Eastern time on home ice at Madison Square Garden. United States residents can watch the game on NBC, while Canadians will be serviced by CBC and TVAS.

Columbus Blue Jackets Logopittsburgh_penguins_logo

Columbus Blue Jackets at Pittsburgh Penguins— Game 5

The Pittsburgh Penguins dominated the Columbus Blue Jackets with a 5-2 victory and eliminated Columbus on home ice at PPG Paints Arena in five games. Marc-Andre Fleury made 49 saves out of 51 shots against for a .961 save percentage in the win, while Blue Jackets goaltender, Sergei Bobrovsky stopped just 27 out of 32 shots faced for an .844 SV% in the loss.

Phil Kessel (2) kicked off scoring in Game 5 with a power play goal almost halfway into the 1st period to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead. Kessel’s spectacular wrist shot beat Bobrovsky high on the short side.

Bryan Rust (4) made it a 2-0 game just 67 seconds into the 2nd period scoring on a rebound with the backhand past Bobrovsky. Kessel (6) and Evgeni Malkin (9) picked up the assists on the goal.

Almost three minutes later, Rust (5) added his second goal of the night. Ron Hainsey (2) had the only assist on the goal at 3:50 of the 2nd period.

Just like that the Penguins were up 3-0 and it seemed like they were in the clear, until Columbus’s William Karlsson (2) put the Blue Jackets on the scoreboard and made the game just a little bit closer. Karlsson’s goal cut the lead to two and was assisted by Sam Gagner (2) at 9:30 of the 2nd period.

Boone Jenner (2) swatted the puck out of mid air and past Fleury on a power play to make it a one goal game at 12:24 of the 2nd period. Seth Jones (2) and Cam Atkinson (1) notched the assists on Jenner’s goal and Columbus trailed the Penguins 3-2 heading into the 2nd intermission.

After Alexander Wennberg was sent to the penalty box for goaltender interference, Pittsburgh’s superstar center, Sidney Crosby (2) made Columbus pay with a power play goal that made it 4-2 Pittsburgh at 5:31 of the 3rd period. Malkin (10) notched his 2nd assist of the night and Kessel (7) picked up his third point of the game (one goal, two assists) on Crosby’s insurance goal.

Scott Wilson (1) followed suit with a goal of his own to make it a three-goal game on a no look shot off a rebound about a minute after Crosby’s goal. Trevor Daley (1) and Conor Sheary (2) amassed the assists on Wilson’s first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal. Wilson’s goal made it 5-2 in favor of the Penguins at 6:22 of the 3rd.

As the seconds counted down in Pittsburgh, so did the lifespan of the ice in Columbus. With the 5-2 victory firmly sealed after the final horn, the Pittsburgh Penguins had eliminated the Columbus Blue Jackets in five games, winning the series 4-1.

The Penguins are the 2nd team to advance to the Second Round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs and will face the winner of the Washington Capitals vs. Toronto Maple Leafs series.

imgresUnknown

Chicago Blackhawks at Nashville Predators— Game 4

For the first time in franchise history, the Nashville Predators have swept a Stanley Cup Playoff series, having defeated the Chicago Blackhawks, 4-1, in Game 4 at Bridgestone Arena on Thursday night.

Chicago hadn’t been swept since their 1993 Western Conference Quarterfinal matchup with the St. Louis Blues, which, interestingly enough was also the last time a team with the best record in their conference was swept in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Predators goalie, Pekka Rinne stopped 30 out of the 31 shots he faced for a .968 save percentage in the win, while Blackhawks goaltender, Corey Crawford made 22 saves on 25 shots against for an .880 SV% in the loss.

Roman Josi (1) scored the game’s first goal (and his first of the postseason) 9:41 into the 2nd period. Ryan Ellis (2) and Ryan Johansen (5) were credited with the assists on the goal that made it 1-0 Nashville.

Colton Sissons (2) scored what would become the game winning goal almost halfway into the 3rd period. Viktor Arvidsson (2) and Ellis (3) tabbed the assists on the goal.

Less than two minutes later, Josi (2) scored his 2nd goal of the game on a pass from Sissons (1) and made it a 3-0 game for the Predators. Austin Watson (1) had the secondary assist on Josi’s goal.

The Blackhawks finally answered with a goal of their own on a power play as Jonathan Toews (1) collected his 40th career Stanley Cup Playoff goal and first of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Artemi Panarin (1) and Patrick Kane (1) were credited with the assists on the goal that cut the lead to 3-1. Yet it was too little, too late for Chicago.

With Crawford on the bench and an extra skater on the ice for the Blackhawks, P.K. Subban freed the puck from his own zone and sent it to Filip Forsberg. Forsberg found Arvidsson in the clear and with a direct shot at the empty net.

Arvidsson (2) tacked on the empty net goal for Nashville at 18:12 of the 3rd period. Forsberg (3) and Subban (2) collected the assists as the Predators went on to win 4-1.

Nashville advances to the Second Round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, where they await to face the winner of the Minnesota Wild vs. St. Louis Blues series. The Predators are just the third team to punch their ticket to Round Two (and second team to do so on Thursday night, as the Pittsburgh Penguins eliminated the Columbus Blue Jackets earlier in the evening).

UnknownUnknown-5

San Jose Sharks at Edmonton Oilers— Game 5

It only took almost a full overtime period and nearly 15 shots on goal within that time span, but David Desharnais found the back of the net for the Edmonton Oilers who completed a comeback and defeated the San Jose Sharks 4-3 on home ice at Rexall Place on Thursday night.

Oilers goaltender, Cam Talbot, made 27 saves on 30 shots faced for a .900 save percentage in the win, while San Jose goalie, Martin Jones stopped 44 out of 48 shots against for a .917 SV% in the loss.

Patrick Maroon (1) struck first for the Oilers on a rebound to make it 1-0 Edmonton 5:28 into the opening frame. Matt Benning (1) had the only assist on the goal.

Mikkel Boedker (1) fired a shot past Talbot just past halfway in the 1st period to tie the game, 1-1. Chris Tierney (1) and Marcus Sorensen (1) had the assists on the tic-tac-goal setup.

After Joe Thornton’s shot initially broke through Edmonton’s goaltender, Cam Talbot, Patrick Marleau (2) finished the job by crashing the net and sending the loose puck home to the back of the twine to give the Sharks a 2-1 lead. Thornton (2) and Brendan Dillon (1) were given the assists on Marleau’s 2nd of the series.

David Schlemko (2) found the back of the net for the second consecutive game in the series to put San Jose up 3-1 on a long range wrist shot. The assists went to Boedker (1) and Joel Ward (3) on Schlemko’s goal at 8:38 of the 2nd period.

Not to be outdone, Edmonton blue liner, Mark Letestu (1) snuck in from the point on a power play opportunity to receive a pass from Leon Draisaitl and buried the puck behind Jones. Letestu’s goal cut the lead to one at 18:33 of the 2nd period and was assisted by Draisaitl (1) and Connor McDavid (2).

Entering the 3rd period, 3-2, the Oilers were hungry for more, while the Sharks were hoping to hold on and steal another game on the road.

Oscar Klefbom (2) received a pass from Desharnais and wired a slap shot past Jones with 2:46 to go in regulation to tie the game, 3-3. Desharnais (1) and Benning (2) were credited with the assists on the game-tying goal.

After 60 minutes the Oilers were outshooting the Sharks 34-28, outhitting the Sharks 30-15 and were 1/3 on the power play, compared to San Jose’s 0/1 on the man advantage. But 60 minutes were not enough for there to be a regulation winner in Game 5, and thus sudden death overtime was necessary.

Three colossal saves on three separate rushes by the Oilers were made by Jones before the 10-minute mark in overtime. Jones denied excellent rushes from Edmonton’s best in Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and McDavid in a span of minutes.

While the action was tilted on one end of the ice, Thornton recorded the first shot on goal in overtime for San Jose with a wrist shot at 9:37 of the overtime period. Edmonton had already amassed 10 shots on net by then.

With less than two minutes to go in overtime, David Desharnais (1) tipped a shot past Jones to complete the comeback and for his first goal of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Draisaitl (2) and Andrej Sekera (1) had the assists on the game-winning overtime goal at 18:15.

The Edmonton Oilers took Game 5 by a score of 4-3 and now lead the series 3-2. Edmonton looks to close things out on the road in San Jose on Saturday in Game 6. American viewers can tune in to NBCSN at 10:30 p.m. ET and Canadian fans can watch on Sportsnet or TVA Sports.

April 7 – Day 170 – Selections are Slim, Vol. III

Here’s tonight’s listings.

  • Tampa Bay Lightning at Montréal Canadiens – 7:30 p.m. eastern – NBCSN
  • Hawaii Five-0 – 9 p.m. eastern – CBS
  • Blue Bloods – 10 p.m. eastern – CBS

Have you realized when I make this joke (not just today, but all season) just how many of those shows are on CBS? They crank out some good TV.

*This post not sponsored by Columbia Broadcasting System*

Unknown-3Unknown-1

 

This will be only Tampa Bay‘s fifth time being featured in the Game of the Day, while Montréal is making its 19th appearance. Within the DtFR series, the teams have 2-1-1 and 11-5-2 records, respectively.

By going on the road to the Air Canada Centre and beating current wild card Toronto 4-1 yesterday, the 40-30-10 Bolts amazingly still have playoff life. No matter the injuries and no matter the goaltending struggles, they’ve continued to find ways to get the job done.

If I asked you to name the best offense in the NHL since March 23, I’d assume you’d give me an answer like Washington or the Predators. While both are good guesses, one attack has been better: the Lightning‘s.

Tampa has struck 29 goals in the past 16 days for a 3.625 goals-per-game average. That impressive scoring ability has propelled the Bolts to a 6-1-1 record and within three points of eighth-place in the East. They may still need the Leafs to lose out, but the fact that there’s still a chance to dance is reason enough for the surge.

Regardless of how daunting or unpredictable a task playoff qualification is, Tampa doesn’t have to look far for inspiration. Only a season ago, Philadelphia climbed from fourth-worst in the Eastern Conference at the All-Star Break into the second wild card.

Though Nikita Kucherov has headed the Lightning‘s offense throughout this season during Steven Stamkos‘ absence, it has been Ondrej Palat and his league-leading 13 points leading the Bolts‘ attack in the past eight games. He closed March on a six-game point streak and already has two multi-point games this month.

Playing left wing on Tampa‘s top line, Palat is very adept at passing the puck. This has remained the case during his recent scoring spurt, as he’s set up fellow wing Kucherov for five tallies, the highest mark on the team since late-March.

Tampa has been especially deadly on the power play. as it has converted 38.1% of opponents’ penalties into tallies – the third-best mark in the NHL since March 23.

The man behind this surge is neither Kucherov nor Palat, but defenseman Victor Hedman – just as it’s been all year. Of his season-total 33 power play points, six have been struck in the past two weeks. All of those have been assists to a stellar first PP unit that includes Jonathan Drouin, Kucherov and Palat; each of whom has buried two man-advantage tallies since late-March.

Maybe the most significant improvement during this late-season run has been Tampa‘s penalty kill. On the season, the Bolts have only successfully defended 81% of their infractions, which is tied for 13th-best in the league. Lately, that kill rate is up to 85.7%, which ties for ninth-best in the NHL. 21-17-7 Andrei Vasilevskiy has been absolutely spectacular over this run, as his .935 shorthanded save percentage ties for third-best in the NHL since March 23 among netminders with at least five games played.

While one team is fighting for its playoff life, the other has been sitting around with nothing to play for since Monday night. That was when 46-25-9 Montréal beat the Panthers to clinch the Atlantic Division.

Montréal‘s overall defensive effort this season has been spectacular, and that’s been especially true since March 25. Over the past six games, the Habs have allowed only eight tallies, and that’s led them to a 5-1-0 record that ties for fifth-best in the league in that time.

Of course, that all starts with 37-19-5 Carey Price, who’s been in net for this entire run except for the division-clincher in Florida. He’s posted a .951 save percentage and 1.4 GAA over the past two weeks, which is the sixth and fifth-best marks, respectively, among the 42 goalies with at least three appearances since March 25.

Maybe even more impressive than Price’s effort has been that of his blueline. Co-led by Nathan Beaulieu and Andrei Markov and their 11 shot blocks apiece, the Canadiens‘ defense has allowed only 175 shots to reach its goaltender since late-March, the second-lowest total in the NHL.

If there’s three indicators to a strong defensive club, Montréal has them all. The goaltender? Solid. The defense? Excellent. The penalty kill? Unstoppable, at least of late. The Canadiens PK has not allowed a power play goal in its past six games, thanks in large part to Alexei Emelin‘s three shorthanded shot blocks.

That penalty kill will face a stiff test this evening, and may prove to be the deciding factor in this game. Of course, predicting anything about Montréal is difficult since it has nothing to play for. Head coach Claude Julien could take advantage of the fact that the Lightning are treating this like a playoff game to give his club a “playoff practice” of sorts, or he could keep his best players off the ice to keep them safe from a team willing to do anything for a win.

Tonight’s game is the final contest of the four-game regular season series between these clubs. They last met six days ago in Tampa, where Price led the Habs to a  2-1 overtime victory over the Bolts. That victory extended Montréal‘s record against the Lightning to 2-0-1 this year.

Some players to keep an eye on in tonight’s game include Montréal‘s Max Pacioretty (35 goals [tied for seventh-most in the league]) and Price (2.2 GAA [fifth-best in the NHL] on a .924 save percentage for 37 wins [both tied for fifth-best in the league]) & Tampa Bay‘s Peter Budaj (seven shutouts [tied for third-most in the NHL] and a 2.18 GAA [fourth-best in the league]), Hedman (55 assists [tied for third-most in the NHL]) and Kucherov (39 goals [tied for second-most in the league] for 82 points [sixth-most in the NHL]).

This is a tough game to predict since we have no idea what Julien will do. Due to that I offer my pick to win this way: if the Habs play this game to win, I believe they can do just that. If not, Tampa should have no trouble finding two points.

Hockey Birthday:

  • Pascal Dupuis (1979-) – The left winger enjoyed 871 games over 14 NHL seasons before being forced to retire last December due to blood clots. He was most known for his nine seasons with the Penguins, playing in 452 games and twice hoisting the Stanley Cup.

Between Second Star of the Game Oscar Klefbom‘s four-point night and First Star Milan Lucic‘s hat trick, the Oilers were able to best San Jose 4-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day to all but lock up home ice in the first round of the playoffs.

The Sharks were actually the first club to score, as Joel Ward (David Schlemko and Marc-Edouard Vlasic) scored off a deflection at the 6:08 mark of the first period. It was the lone tally of the frame.

Third Star Connor McDavid (Klefbom and Adam Larsson) pulled the Oil back even 4:40 into the second period, but Edmonton couldn’t maintain a tied game into the second intermission. Brent Burns (Tomas Hertl) was the cause of that, as he scored a wrist shot with 7:30 remaining in the period.

I assume you’ve quickly realized that Lucic dominated the third period. He was most imposing in the first half of the frame, as he’s scored two of his tallies before eight minutes had ticked off the clock. His first tally, assisted by Klefbom and McDavid, was a power play deflection 4:26 into the third period to tie the game. 3:31 later, Klefbom and Jordan Eberle assisted him to another goal, a wrister that proved to be the game-winner. He added on his own insurance marker with 3:29 remaining in regulation on a power play wrister.

Even more than the offense, what might have been most impressive about Edmonton‘s play is the fact that the blueline yielded exactly five shots per period to reach Cam Talbot. He saved 13 of them (86.7%) for the victory, leaving the loss to Martin Jones, who saved 28-of-32 (87.5%).

A road victory is important in the DtFR Game of the Day series, as it means the visitors have not lost the season series. The 87-60-25 home teams lead the visitors by five points with three days remaining on the schedule.

March 18 – Day 150 – The previewiest of playoff previews

Saturdays are known for being action-packed, and today does not disappoint with its 10 contests. The first two games (Colorado at Detroit and Columbus at the New York Islanders [NHLN]) are matinees and drop the puck at 1 p.m. They’re just a sampler of excitement to come, as five matchups (the New York Rangers at Minnesota [NHLN], Chicago at Toronto [CBC/CITY], Montréal at Ottawa [SN/TVAS], Washington at Tampa Bay and Nashville at Carolina) get underway at the usual 7 p.m. starting time. St. Louis at Arizona gets green-lit two hours later, followed by Vancouver at Edmonton (CBC/SN) at 10 p.m. and Anaheim at San Jose at 10:30 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Colorado at Detroit: It’s an old-school, former Western Conference rivalry between teams that have seen better days.
  • Chicago at Toronto: For the first time in a long while, the Blackhawks‘ lone visit to the Air Canada Centre should provide a thrilling contest.
  • Montréal at Ottawa: The Atlantic Division lead is on the line in this rivalry tonight, the first half of a home-and-home series this weekend.
  • Anaheim at San Jose: Another rivalry, this one takes place in another competitive division: the Pacific.

I tried to come up with a better reason for any other game, but this weekend’s home-and-home between the top two teams in the Atlantic Division is just too big to ignore. Off to the Canadian capital!

 

Talk about a playoff preview. Not only does tonight’s game offer a look into a potential second round meeting between these two clubs, but the fact that they square off again tomorrow night at the Bell Centre gives a full sense of how that series could play out.

Oh yeah, and these teams aren’t necessarily fond of each other to start with. As if this weekend’s games couldn’t get more exciting, they just found a way too.

Of course, the 39-23-8 Canadiens cast a large, imposing shadow in light of both what they’ve done in their history as well as what they’ve simply done this year. They’ve topped the Atlantic Division for effectively the entire season, and it’s all been on the back of their incredible goaltending which has allowed only 174 goals against, which ties for seventh-fewest in the NHL.

A major reason for that is the fact that 31-17-5 Carey Price calls Montréal home (shh, we’re not talking about how he’s originally from Canucks-country). Joint-winner of the 2015 William M. Jennings Trophy, he has a .922 season save percentage and 2.27 GAA, the seventh and eighth-best rates, respectively, among the 40 goaltenders with at least 27 appearances.

Price is excellent on his own, but it doesn’t hurt to have one of the better defensive corps in the league playing in front of him. Led by Shea Weber and his team-leading 143 shot blocks, that’s exactly what Cluade Julien has at his disposal, as the Habs‘ blueline has allowed only 29.8 shots against per game, which ties for the 10th-best effort in the league.

If you like goaltender matchups, this weekend’s series is the one for you. The 39-23-7 Senators have been stuck in Montréal‘s shadow for most of the season, even though they trail the Habs for first place in the Atlantic by only one point. They are another team that prefer to grind out a victory, as they’ve allowed only 176 goals against – the ninth-fewest in the NHL.

Although 21-8-1 Craig Anderson had resumed his starting responsibilities since rejoining the Sens, he’s been forced to miss the last two games with a lower body injury. With that in mind, I’d guess that 18-12-6 Mike Condon – a former Montréal goaltender – will once again be called into the fray. The second-year player is definitely the second-best netminder Guy Boucher has had at his disposal this season, but he hasn’t been abysmal. In fact, Condon’s .914 season save percentage and 2.49 GAA (those numbers include his short time with Pittsburgh earlier in the year) ranks 25th and 18th-best in the league, respectively, among the 50 other goalies with at least 18 appearances.

Beyond experience, what makes Condon’s task a little more difficult than counterpart Price’s is the fact that Ottawa‘s defense is not on par with that of Montréal‘s. Even with Erik Karlsson‘s league-leading 187 shot blocks, the Senators still allow 30.3 shots to reach their netminder’s crease per game, which is the 15th-highest average in the league.

Another facet of the game where the Sens definitely do not have an advantage over the Canadiens is in the power play. Though led by Karlsson’s 23 power play points, Ottawa has converted only 17.7% of its man-advantages into goals – the 10th-worst rate in the NHL. That being said, Mike Hoffman has been a shining star on the power play, as he has buried a dozen goals with the extra-man, which ties for fourth-most in the league.

It’s been all Ottawa so far this season when these two clubs have met, as the Senators have a three-point advantage in the two-game series. The last time they squared off was on November 22 in Montréal where, thanks to Karlsson’s game-winning third period goal, the Sens won 4-3.

Some players to keep an eye on tonight include Montréal‘s Max Pacioretty (33 goals [tied for fourth-most in the NHL]) and Price (31 wins on a .922 save percentage [both seventh-best in the league] and a 2.27 GAA [eighth-best in the NHL]) & Ottawa‘s Condon (five shutouts [tied for fifth-most in the league]) and Karlsson (50 assists [tied for second-most in the NHL]).

Vegas is favoring a lot of road teams this evening, and Montréal is one of them – Ottawa‘s line reads +100. In light of the previous two meetings between these clubs, it would seem tough to favor the Habs, but the fact that Condon was not involved in those games is enough for me to go with the club wearing white.

Hockey Birthday

  • Stanley Cup (1892-) – You might have heard of this. It’s only the most desired trophy in the sport of hockey, if not all sports. You know, nothing major.
  • Guy Lapointe (1948-) – Speaking of the Stanley Cup, this defenseman hoisted it six times, all with the club he played a majority of his career with: Montréal. The four-time All Star was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1993.
  • Guy Carbonneau (1960-) – The Canadiens certainly have an affinity for Guys, as they drafted this center 44th-overall in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft. He played in Montréal for most of his 19-year career, and won two of his three Stanley Cups with the club. He also won three Frank J. Selke Trophies.
  • Kimmo Timonen (1975-) – Although selected by Los Angeles in the 10th-round of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, this defenseman ended up being a four-time All Star. He spent most of his career in Nashville, but was a member of Chicago‘s 2015 Stanley Cup winning team.
  • Zdeno Chara (1977-) – Although now known most for his 11 seasons with the Bruins, this defenseman was actually selected by the Islanders 56th-overall in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft. He’s a six-time All Star and hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2011 to go with his 2009 James Norris Memorial Trophy.

A 10-round shootout, decided by Zemgus Girgensons, earned the Sabres the bonus point in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they beat Anaheim 2-1.

The first goal of the game was struck by Rickard Rakell (Third Star of the Game Cam Fowler and Brandon Montour), a backhanded shot with 8:12 remaining in the first period. It is Rakell’s 31st goal of the year, an total made even more impressive since he missed 11 games this season.

Ryan O’Reilly (Jake McCabe and Second Star Jack Eichel) is the man responsible for leveling the game at one-all. He buried a slap shot with 4:25 remaining in the second period after Eichel’s 29th assist of the season.

Since I’ve already spoiled the surprise of the shootout, let’s jump right there, as none of the 30 combined shots in the third period or overtime found the back of the net.

  1. As the home team, the Ducks had the opportunity to go first in the shootout. They sent out Jakob Silfverberg, who’s shot was saved by Anders Nilsson.
  2. Speaking of saves, that’s exactly what First Star Jonathan Bernier did to Tyler Ennis. The shootout score stayed at 0-0.
  3. Next up was Ryan Getzlaf, who buried his shot for Anaheim.
  4. O’Reilly was quick to hold serve for the Sabres, once again tying the shootout at one-all.
  5. Rakell: saved by Nilsson.
  6. Eichel: saved by Bernier. Shootout still tied at 1-1.
  7. Corey Perry missed the net.
  8. Sam Reinhart: saved by Bernier. Still tied at 1-1.
  9. Patrick Eaves: saved by Nilsson.
  10. Evander Kane missed the net. 1-1 still.
  11. Fowler: saved by Nilsson.
  12. Matt Moulson missed the net. Yup, still 1-1.
  13. Antoine Vermette: saved by Nilsson.
  14. Brian Gionta: saved by Bernier. You know the shootout score by now.
  15. Ryan Kesler: saved by Nilsson.
  16. Evan Rodrigues: saved by Bernier. Still tied at 1-1.
  17. Brandon Montour broke the monotony by beating Nilsson, forcing a miss-and-lose situation for the Sabres.
  18. Under that pressure, Dan Bylsma sent out Rasmus Ristolainen, which proved to be the right choice. The defenseman continued the shootout by tying it at 2-2.
  19. Nick Ritchie: saved by Nilsson.
  20. Girgensons found the game-winner on his stick, pulling the Sabres within eight points of the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.

Nilsson earned the victory after saving 39-of-40 (97.5%) shots faced in regulation and overtime, leaving the shootout loss to Bernier, who saved 30-of-31 (96.8%).

After all that, the 77-52-22 road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series now have a four-point advantage on home teams, due in part to their three-game winning streak.

March 6- Day 138- Battle Br[uin] in Ottawa

Four games are on the docket for Monday night and if you’re a fan of split screen viewing, then this night is for you. The puck drops in three cities at 7:30 p.m. with the fourth game getting underway at 8 p.m. If you’re a remote, brace yourself for some serious channel flipping.

The action starts simultaneously at 7:30 p.m. with the New York Rangers at the Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins at Ottawa Senators and Dallas Stars at Washington Capitals (NBCSN/CSN-DC). Half an hour later, things kick off at MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba for the San Jose Sharks and the Winnipeg Jets. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Boston at Ottawa: With a win in regulation the Bruins can tie the Senators for 2nd place in the Atlantic Division in perhaps the closest battle for a playoff spot in the shootout era of the NHL. Also, I’ll be working, so there’s that.
  • Dallas at Washington: The visiting Capitals beat the Stars 4-3 in overtime on January 21st in an entertaining matchup. Dallas makes their annual visit to Washington this time around.

For the second day in a row, I’m in charge of today’s DTFR Game of the Day Matchup and as such, I can pick whoever I want without repercussion since Connor isn’t coming back until Tuesday (that’s tomorrow, for those of you that didn’t already know).

So let’s take a trip to Kanata, Ontario just outside of Canada’s capital city where the Boston Bruins are in town to take on the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre.

Unknown-7The visiting Bruins are 4-1-0 in their last five games having outscored their opponents 18-9 in that span. Since naming Bruce Cassidy as their interim head coach on February 7th, Boston is 8-2-0. Currently third in the Atlantic Division with 74 points on the season, the Bruins are 34-25-6 after 65 games played.

Boston has had a bit of a turnaround to say the least since relieving Claude Julien from his duties as head coach. Whether or not that was the spark that ignited the team as of late remains to be seen over the course of the next month, however, the Bruins have improved in several areas of the ice.

Under Cassidy’s reign, the Bruins have generated a lot of offense, improving their power play to a 19.8% completion rate (good enough for 13th in the league) while improving their goal differential to a +10. The B’s penalty kill (86.0%), by the way, is 2nd best in the league behind the Florida Panthers (86.1%).

Veteran winger Brad Marchand (29-38-67 totals in 65 GP) is tied for 4th in league scoring with San Jose’s Brent Burns. Marchand’s name, as well as Burns and others, are certainly worthy of consideration for Hart Trophy talk.

David Pastrnak is tied for 26th in the league alongside Columbus Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson. Pastrnak is in the midst of a breakout season in just his third year in the league and has 26 goals and 28 assists, good enough for 54 points in 58 games played this season.

On defense, the Bruins have relied on the likes of Zdeno Chara, Brandon Carlo, Torey Krug and the gang for added depth scoring and shutdown play from time to time. Krug is two points shy (6-36-42 totals in 2016-2017) from tying a career high in points set last season (4-40-44 totals in 2015-2016). For the record, Krug has appeared in all 65 games so far this season, compared to 81 games last season.

Bruins goaltender, Tuukka Rask is tied for 5th in wins with Martin Jones. Both goalies have 30 wins in 51 and 52 games played, respectively. Rask has a .913 SV% in that time and a 2.26 goal against average, good enough for 8th in the league among active goalies with 25 or more games played.

Unknown-6The hometown Ottawa Senators roll into Monday night 3-2-0 in their last five games having been outscored 12-8 by their opponents in that span. The Sens are currently 2nd place in the Atlantic Division after 63 games played with a 35-22-6 record and 76 points on the season.

Their power play ranks 24th in the league with a success rate of 16.8% and their penalty kill is operating at 11th in the league, having successfully killed off 82.1% of penalties against this season.

Unlike their opponent, Ottawa is not much of an offensive powerhouse as they’ve only amassed a +1 goal differential, having scored 166 goals for and let in 165 goals against. Additionally, the Senators are 6-4-0 in their last ten games, showing some signs of slowing down, thanks in part, due to injuries.

Defenseman Erik Karlsson is tied for 17th in scoring with 11 goals and 45 assists for 56 points. The only other Senator in the top-50 is right winger Mark Stone (tied for 37th overall) with 48 points on the season.

Ottawa’s goaltending duo of Craig Anderson (18-8-1 in 27 games played) and Mike Condon (17-11-5 in 35 games played with PIT and OTT) has proven to be good enough to keep the Senators in the quest for the top of the Atlantic Division. Anderson’s 2.25 GAA is 7th among goalies with 25 or more games played this year, while his .930 SV% ranks 4th, in the midst of his incredible run in the face of his wife, Nicholle’s courageous battle with cancer.

Condon, by the way is tied for 15th in goals against average with a 2.54 and tied for 26th in save percentage with a.911 among goalies who have played at least 25 games this season.

The addition of Alex Burrows from the Vancouver Canucks prior to the trade deadline will anger most Bruins fans who recall Burrows as the infamous biter of Patrice Bergeron’s finger in Game 1 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. Besides the obvious battle in the standings, an interesting aside for this game will be how receptive Boston is to having to see Burrows more often in their own division.

Ottawa defeated Boston, 3-1, on November 24, 2016 on home ice. Monday night is just the 2nd of four meetings this season between the clubs. Whatever the outcome tonight, the Senators will have to face the Bruins in Boston on the 21st of this month and on April 6th.

In light of their recent run, the Bruins should be a much more competitive team against the Senators this time around. Then again, Ottawa is a team that played a huge role in keeping Boston out of the playoffs in 2015 and could make life nearly as difficult this season. Despite everything, Boston is retooled and ready to go this time around.

Again, ignore whatever Vegas is saying– your pal, Nick, is here to tell you who will win. I’m picking Boston in a close one that’ll come down to a “stand on his head” performance from Rask and a strong game from one of Boston’s leading scorers (either Marchand or Pastrnak, flip a coin– I’m just covering my bases here). Then again, Ryan Spooner is an Ottawa native and always seems to play well for the Bruins in front of his friends and family…

Hockey Birthday

Daniel Winnik (3/6/1985-)– Winnik seems as though he’s been everywhere in the league, although there is one team that’s certain to be keeping an eye on him as a low cost, high reward variety player this June– the Vegas Golden Knights. Since he is the head of his class of current and former NHL players born on March 6th, I decided to give him this special little feature.

The gritty glue guy has played in 699 career NHL games to date, amassing 72 goals and 150 assists for 222 points. Winnik’s career began in the 2007-2008 season with the team formerly known as the Phoenix Coyotes (now Arizona Coyotes) where he had 11-15-26 totals in 79 games played. Over the years, Winnik has played for the Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche, San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, Toronto Maple Leafs, Pittsburgh Penguins and currently, the Washington Capitals.

Joe Matte (1893-1961), George Redding (1903-1974), Andy Aitkenhead (1904- 1968), Buzz Boll (1911-1990), Paul Gauthier (1915-), Bill Shill (1923-1998), Reg Sinclair (1925-2013), Pete Goegan (1934-2008), Vic Venasky (1951-), Fred Arthur (1961-), Darrell May (1962-), Dan Bourbonnais (1962-), Peter Allen (1970-), Patrick Labrecque (1971-), Chris Taylor (1972-), Lubomir Vaic (1977-), Allan Rourke (1980-), Steve Wagner (1984-), Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (1985-), Chris Mueller (1986-), Mario Bliznak (1987-), Rhett Rakhshani (1988-), Eric Wellwood (1990-), Kevin Gravel (1992-), Louis Domingue (1992-), Nicklas Jensen (1993-)


Sunday’s DTFR Game of the Day Matchup featured the San Jose Sharks at the Minnesota Wild and first place was on the line for one team at Xcel Energy Center. A win would move the Wild past the Chicago Blackhawks for first place in the Central Division and a win is just what Minnesota got.

Unknown-2Eric Staal’s two-goal effort and Devan Dubnyk’s 20 saves on 21 shots against led the Wild to a 3-1 victory over San Jose on Sunday. Minnesota’s win snapped the Sharks’s three game winning streak and handed a loss to Martin Jones who made 25 saves on 28 shots faced.

Zach Parise returned to the lineup after missing three games due to the mumps and came in clutch on the power play, scoring a goal at 11:06 of the 1st period to kickstart the Wild with a 1-0 lead on home ice. Parise’s power play goal was Minnesota’s 16th goal on the power play in the last 16 games. Jason Pominville (29) and Ryan Suter (26) collected the assists on Parise’s 15th goal of the season.

Staal made it 2-0 with his 18th goal of the year, assisted by Matt Dumba (18) at 15:24 of the 1st period. Melker Karlsson put the Sharks on the board with a redirection and cut the lead in half prior to the first intermission, scoring his 9th goal of the year with less than two minutes to go in the opening period. Michael Haley (9) and Justin Braun (7) were credited with the assists on Karlsson’s goal.

Finally, Staal put the game away with his 19th of goal of the year, which gave the Wild a 3-1 lead at 18:11 of the 3rd period. Recent acquisition, Martin Hanzal (13) picked up the only assist on Staal’s second goal of the night.

March 5- Day 137- Sharks live in the Wild, not pools

For the second day in a row, somebody else has had to take the Game of the Day duties, since Connor Keith is out of town. Here goes nothing.

Sundays are perfect for sitting and watching hockey all day and if you don’t have anything to do from mid-afternoon through the rest of the night, then today’s schedule is just for you.

Sunday’s action begins in Calgary, Alberta as the New York Islanders pay their annual visit to the Calgary Flames at 4 p.m. Buffalo at Pittsburgh (NHLN/ROOT/MSG-B) kicks off at 5 p.m. As things get underway at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, newly acquired defenseman Kyle Quincey and the Columbus Blue Jackets face off against now former Blue Jacket defenseman Dalton Prout and the New Jersey Devils in New Jersey.

An hour later the Pacific Division leading San Jose Sharks visit the 2nd place in the Central Division Minnesota Wild. At 8 p.m. the Vancouver Canucks face former teammate Ryan Kesler and the Anaheim Ducks in southern California as the St. Louis Blues square off against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on NBCSN.

Half an hour later, the evening’s final game kicks off in Glendale, Arizona with the Carolina Hurricanes and the Arizona Coyotes. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Buffalo at Pittsburgh: In a rematch of the 2008 Winter Classic, the Sabres and head coach Dan Bylsma pay a visit to Bylsma’s former club as Buffalo looks to climb from being five points out of a wild card spot in the Atlantic Division.
  • Columbus at New Jersey: Kyle Quincey and Dalton Prout were traded for each other, so which team made the better move? Obviously we’ll find out after whoever wins this game.
  • San Jose at Minnesota: Two division leaders in the Western Conference do battle as the Wild look to compete with the Washington Capitals in this season’s President’s Trophy race. Okay, fine, Minnesota was on top of the Central Division until last night.
  • St. Louis at Colorado: Some professional team from St. Louis is playing some bantam team from Colorado (only kidding). Honestly, I’m just throwing this one on here in case your team’s not playing tonight and you want to watch out of market hockey on NBCSN.

Since I was informed I would be writing today’s Game of the Day matchup preview, the Minnesota Wild were on top of the Central Division as the San Jose Sharks continued to dominate the Pacific Division and everything seemed to be perfectly aligning for my Daily Matchup debut– that is until the Chicago Blackhawks decided to ruin the fun, surpassing the Wild for 1st in the Central Division with their 5-3 victory over the Nashville Predators Saturday night.

However! First place is still on the line for both teams in the San Jose Sharks at Minnesota Wild matchup (technically). Minnesota can reclaim the Central Division lead with a win at home and San Jose can do everything to keep the Wild out of first place in the Central while putting more separation between themselves and the Edmonton Oilers for first in the Pacific Division.

Stay with me here.

UnknownThe Sharks enter Xcel Energy Center on a three game winning streak with a 38-18-7 record through 63 games played (good enough for 83 points on the year), as the Wild enter Sunday night coming off of a 1-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets and a 41-15-6 record after 62 games played and 88 points on the season.

Despite losing in the Stanley Cup Final last year, San Jose is still a hot team on a run, similar to how the Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to shrug off their 2015 Stanley Cup Final loss to the Blackhawks. The Sharks aren’t in the hunt for the President’s Trophy– but the Wild are, more on that in a second– yet they’re quietly peaking at the right time.

Though quietly might not be the right term.

Winners of four out of their last five games, in which they’ve outscored their opponents 15-6 in that span, San Jose is witnessing quite the team effort in the midst of a Hart Trophy worthy season from defenseman Brent Burns (27-40-67 totals in 63 games). Only Sharks captain Joe Pavelski ranks in the top-50 in scoring in the NHL tied for 21st in the league with 55 points alongside Auston Matthews (TOR), Alex Ovechkin (WSH), Leon Draisaitl (EDM) and Victor Hedman (TB).

Despite trailing off in goals this season, Joe Thornton’s 35 assists contribute to the overall +29 goal differential for the team in teal.

Martin Jones (30-15-6 on the season in 52 GP) has stood tall in goal for the second straight year, notching 30 wins thus far (tied for 5th in the league with Boston’s Tuukka Rask). Jones’s .917 save percentage ranks 17th (tied with Florida’s Roberto Luongo) among active goalies with at least 25 games played this season, as his 2.28 goals against average is good enough to be tied for 9th in the league with Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray (same parameters as before, active goalies with at least 25 games played).

Unknown-2Minnesota enters Sunday with a 41-15-6 record through 62 games played (good enough for 88 points) and is 3-2-0 in their last five games, having outscored their opponents 19-17 during that time.

Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau has led his team within reach of the President’s Trophy as the team with the best record in the league at the end of the regular season, trailing one point behind the Blackhawks with three games in hand and seven points behind the Washington Capitals with two games in hand.

The State of Hockey’s leading scorer, center Mikael Granlund, ranks 12th in the league with 21-38-59 totals in 62 games played. Mikko Koivu (48 points), Nino Niederreiter (46 points) and Eric Staal (46 points) are also in the top-50 scorers in the league among active skaters.

Depth scoring has been a strong suit of an otherwise solely superstar-less driven scoring team as the Wild have racked up a +61 goal differential. Devan Dubnyk (34-12-3 on the season in 49 GP) ranks 1st in the league in save percentage with a .933 and 2nd in GAA with a 2.03 among active goalies with at least 25 games played this season. Dubnyk’s underrated play in net is sure to land him a Vezina Trophy this season.

The Sharks are 18-11-3 on the road, including their most recent 4-1 win in Vancouver against the Canucks on February 25th. Meanwhile, the Wild are 22-8-1 on home ice, including their 5-4 victory in overtime against the Los Angeles Kings on February 27th.

Minnesota topped San Jose in their previous meeting by a score of 5-4 on January 5th. The two teams will do battle once again on March 21st in what could be a season series tiebreaker.

Both teams are on a tear on offense in the last couple of weeks, however, Sunday night could be a different story with Dubnyk and Jones in net (so long as they’re the starters). Additionally, the Sharks have a slight edge in defense, having allowed one fewer goal than the Wild this season (147 goals against for SJ, compared to 148 GA for MIN).

I don’t know what the odds in Vegas are saying, but my money’s on San Jose pulling off a win with a slim margin of victory over Minnesota. The Wild beat the Sharks on road ice in January, so it’s only fair that San Jose wins one in Minnesota, right?

Hockey Birthday

Milt Schmidt (1918- January 4, 2017)– The Ultimate Bruin played all of his career (1936-1955) with Boston, coached in Boston (1954-1966) and was even the general manager (1967-1972) for the Bruins, winning two Stanley Cups as a player in 1939 and 1941, as well as two Stanley Cups as a GM in 1970 and 1972 for a total of four Cups in his life in hockey. Schmidt also coached the Washington Capitals in their first couple of seasons in existence (1974-1976), though they missed the playoffs both years.Hockey Birthday

Schmidt helped find Bobby Orr and pulled off the blockbuster trade of Pit Martin, Gilles Marotte and Jack Norris for Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield from the Chicago Black Hawks as a general manager and took three years off from his playing career (in its prime!) from 1942-1945 to serve in World War II for the Royal Canadian Air Force alongside his Kraut Line teammates Woody Dumart and Bobby Bauer.

Sadly, the Kitchner, Ontario native passed away in January at 98-years-old as the last member of the inaugural (1936-1937) American Hockey League (AHL) season.

He passed on the reigns of the oldest living former NHL player to John “Chick” Webster, 96, who made his NHL debut in the 1949-1950 season with the New York Rangers, appearing in 14 games and racking up four penalty minutes in his short NHL career.

Other Birthdays

Bill Thoms (1910-1964), Harry Pidhirny (1928-2010), Ken Yackel (1932-1991), Dale Anderson (1932-2015), Pat Hannigan (1936-2007), Bob Richer (1951-), Paul Gardner (1956-), Tim Friday (1961-), Anatoli Semenov (1962-), Bob Halkidis (1966-), Matt DelGuidice (1967-), Shjon Podein (1968-), Bryan Berard (1977-), Paul Martin (1981-), Barret Jackman (1981-), Michel Ouellet (1982-)


Saturday night’s DTFR Game of the Day matchup between the host New York Rangers and visiting Montreal Canadiens witnessed a 4-1 victory for the Habs on road ice as Montreal improved to 6-2-0 in the Claude Julien (Part Deux).

Unknown-1Carey Price made 26 saves on 27 shots faced en route to picking up the win at Madison Square Garden, while Henrik Lundqvist stopped 31 shots against on 35 shots faced in the loss.

Shea Weber opened the scoring for the Canadiens at 12:51 of the first period for his fifteenth goal of the season. Max Pacioretty (26) and Steve Ott (4) picked up assists on Weber’s goal. Montreal went into the first intermission with a 1-0 lead in what looked like it would be a goalie battle after all (as Colby wrote about yesterday), as Lundqvist made 10 saves on 11 shots faced and Price turned aside all six shots from the Rangers in the first period.

Despite trailing in shots on goal by five in the first period, New York only trailed in SOG 14-10 in the 2nd period and led in the category 11-10 in the 3rd period.

Artturi Lehkonen (12) scored what would become the game winning goal 8:48 into the 2nd period on a one-timer from one knee on a pass from Phillip Danault (21). Pacioretty (27) picked up the seconday assist.

The Canadiens went up 3-0 nearly ten minutes later in the 2nd period on a goal from Andrew Shaw (10). Shaw’s wraparound goal was assisted by Alex Galchenyuk (21) and Andrei Markov (24).

The lone goal from the Rangers came on a shot from Chris Kreider who notched his 24th goal of the season. Derek Stepan (32) and Mats Zuccarello (33) assisted on Kreider’s goal at 1:44 of the 3rd period. New York cut the lead to two goals, but could not muster enough to do anything further.

New addition to the lineup for Montreal, defenseman Jordie Benn fired home his 3rd goal of the season (and first as a Hab) at 6:58 of the 3rd period. Nathan Beaulieu (21) and Galchenyuk (22) assisted on Benn’s goal.

For more stats on Daily Matchup records, wait for Connor to get back (though I’m having a lot of fun writing this, maybe I’ll steal it from him more often).

 

February 25 – Day 129 – Bring a broom

If Saturdays are good for nothing else, they’re definitely fantastic for hockey.

Even better, we’re treated with a wide sample of matinee action today. Anaheim at Los Angeles (NHLN/SN1) gets things started at 4 p.m., followed an hour later by a trio of contests (Washington at Nashville [SN], the New York Islanders at Columbus and the New York Rangers at New Jersey). The usual starting time of 7 p.m. marks the puck drop of Montréal at Toronto (CBC/CITY/TVAS), followed 60 minutes later by Philadelphia at Pittsburgh (NBC/SN/TVAS2). Finally, today’s co-nightcaps (San Jose at Vancouver [CBC/SN1] and Buffalo at Colorado) drop the puck at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Anaheim at Los Angeles: The Freeway Face-Off resumes at 1 p.m. local time.
  • New York at New Jersey: The Battle of the Hudson River also rages on at the Prudential Center.
  • Montréal at Toronto: These rivals go way, way back.
  • Philadelphia at Pittsburgh: So do these enemies, but tonight’s game will not take place at PPG Paints Arena. Instead, it’s under the lights at Heinz Field.

I know the NHL loves its outdoor games, but the best game happening today is easily the one in Hogtown between two of the best teams the Atlantic Division has to offer.

Unknown-1Unknown

 

Nevermind the fact that these teams have been competing since 1917, how could a rivalry not emerge between the two largest cities in Canada, especially when they’re separated by only 337 miles 542 kilometers?

Montréal makes their second and final trip of the regular season to the Air Canada Centre with a 32-21-8 record, the best mark in the Atlantic Division. Defense and goaltending has definitely been the name of the game in the City of Saints this season, as the Habs have allowed only 156 goals in 61 games, which ties them for the eighth-best rate in the NHL.

Of course, that always starts with the goaltender, and the Canadiens have a good one in 25-16-6 Carey Price. His .918 save percentage and 2.43 GAA are not only the best of the two netminders Claude Julien has at his disposal, but they also tie for 11th and 12th-best in the league, respectively, among the 43 goalies with at least 23 appearances.

What makes Price special is the fact that the defense playing in front of him is, although above average, not one of the elite units in the league. They allow 29.8 shots-per-game to reach his crease, which ties them for only 11th-best in the NHL. Shea Weber has been at the forefront of that effort with his team-leading 127 shot blocks. At the rate Weber is on, he is on pace for a total of 171 blocks by the end of the regular season, the second-highest mark of his career.

Surprisingly, that effort does not carry over to the penalty kill at all, as the Canadiens rank ninth-worst in the league when down a man. Even with Weber’s 34 shorthanded blocks (which ties for third-most in the NHL), Montréal only stops 80.3% of opposing power plays.

Of course, if they’re allowed to, the Habs usually have a good chance of earning that goal back. Successful on 21% of attempts, Montréal ranks 10th-best in the league on the man-advantage. That effort has been headlined by Shea “Special-Teams-Mastermind” Weber, who has 19 power play points to lead the team. 11 of those points have been goals which tie for fourth-most in the NHL in addition to – you guessed it – leading the squad.

Hosting them this evening are the 28-20-12 Maple Leafs, the third-best team in the Atlantic. This team has certainly accumulated some offensive firepower, as they’ve taken credit for 186 goals so far this season, the fifth-most in the NHL.

The ringmaster of that attack is the next NHL stud, rookie Auston Matthews. He’s already accounted for 52 points this season and shows no sign of slowing down. One of his favorite things to do is shoot the puck, but Toronto isn’t complaining. Even though he leads his club in shot attempts, he has the fourth-highest shooting percentage  (13.3%) for 28 goals, the clubhouse lead.

When was the last time the Leafs could claim the best power play in the league? Regardless, it’s happening right now, as their 23.1% success rate is .3% better than Minnesota’s. While one rookie leads the even-strength effort, another has taken an interest in the five-on-four play. William Nylander has 19 power play points to his credit to lead the squad, but it’s actually Nazem Kadri he’ll need to keep an extra-close eye on. Kadri has potted 10 goals with the extra man this season, which leads the team.

The penalty kill has also played extremely well this season for Toronto. Led by Roman Polak‘s 29 shorthanded shot blocks, the Leafs have correctly battled 83.5% of opposing power plays, which ties for eighth-best in the NHL.

The Canadiens have already clinched the season series between these clubs this year with a perfect 3-0-0 record. The last time they met was January 7, when the Habs won 5-3 on this very surface thanks to Alexander Radulov‘s one-goal, two-point performance.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Montréal‘s Max Pacioretty (28 goals [tied for fourth-most in the league]) and Price (25 wins [ninth-most in the NHL]) & Toronto‘s Matthews (28 goals [tied for fourth-most in the league]).

It’s not a huge spread, but being favored is always a club’s preference. Vegas has marked the Maple Leafs as a -114 favorite to win this evening, and I believe they’ll be able to keep up their end of the bargaining. Regardless of how well their special teams will play or home ice advantage, this is big hurdle for this team. Toronto does not want to get swept by one of their biggest rivals this season, and they’re going to put everything on the line tonight to win.

Hockey Birthday

  • King Clancy (1903-1986) – This defenseman spent most of his 16-season NHL career with the original Senators franchise. Hoisting two of his three Stanley Cups with the club, the Hall of Famer is now memorialized in the NHL by having a leadership and humanitarian award named in his honor.
  • Anton Volchenkov (1982-) – Another defenseman that spent most of his career in Ottawa, this Russian was selected 21st-overall in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft by the Sens. Although he has not yet formally retired, he has not made an appearance in the NHL since the 2014-’15 season.
  • Justin Abdelkader (1987-) – This left wing was selected 42nd-overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by Detroit, and he’s been there ever since. His best season was in 2014-’15 when he accounted for 23 goals and 44 points, both career-highs.

With three-straight unanswered goals in the first frame, the Flames bested Florida 4-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

A whopping five goals were struck in the first period, starting with Nick Bjugstad‘s (Jussi Jokinen and Reilly Smith) power play slap shot for the Panthers only 4:54 into the game. That 1-0 lead is all the motivation the Flames needed to start their scoring stampede. Sam Bennett (Michael Stone and Second Star of the Game Troy Brouwer) pulled the game even 4:03 after Bjugstad’s tally, and Mikael Backlund (Matthew Tkachuk and Michael Frolik) gave the Flames a 2-1 lead with a wrist shot. The goal that proved to be the game-winner belonged to Deryk Engelland (Frolik and Tkachuk), the third Calgary goal in 4:54 of play. With 2:40 remaining in the period, Third Star Aleksander Barkov (Jonathan Huberdeau and Smith) pulled Florida back within a goal with a pure snap shot, setting the score at 3-2.

Brouwer (Matt Stajan and Lance Bouma) tacked on an additional insurance goal, the final of the game, in the second period to secure Calgary‘s 4-2 victory.

First Star Chad Johnson earned the victory after saving 36-of-38 shots faced (94.7%), leaving the loss to Roberto Luongo, who saved 24-of-28 (85.7%).

For the past seven days, all road teams featured in the DtFR Game of the Day series have done is win. That streak has improved the visitors’ record to 67-43-21, eight points better than home teams in the series.

February 18 – Day 122 – No, he’s your friend now!

The best day of the week – at least for hockey – is finally upon us! 11 games are taking place today, starting with St. Louis at Buffalo at 1 p.m. The final matinees of the day drop the puck an hour later (Washington at Detroit [NHLN] and Winnipeg at Montréal [CBC/SN/TVAS]), followed by three (Edmonton at Chicago [NHLN/SN], the New York Islanders at New Jersey and Ottawa at Toronto [CBC/TVAS]) at the usual 7 p.m. starting time. 8 p.m. marks the beginning of a trio of contests (San Jose at Arizona, Tampa Bay at Dallas and Nashville at Minnesota), with the co-nightcaps – Florida at Los Angeles and Calgary at Vancouver (CBC/SN) – dropping the puck at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Winnipeg at Montréal: Wait, wasn’t Claude Julien just coaching against the Canadiens on Sunday? Yes, yes he was.
  • New York at New Jersey: If he’s active tonight, this will be Stephen Gionta‘s first game in the Prudential Center wearing white after six seasons with the Devils.
  • Ottawa at Toronto: Have you checked the standings recently? This isn’t just a rivalry game, it’s a scrap for Atlantic Division positioning!
  • Calgary at Vancouver: Matt Bartkowski was a member of the rival-Canucks last season, but he could make his Flames debut tonight against them.

I’m very disappointed today is Julien’s first game back as the Habs‘ coach, as the Battle for Ontario should be spectacular. Nonetheless, we always feature a coach’s first game with his new squad after a mid-season change, so we’re off to the Bell Centre.

Unknown-4Unknown-1

 

Ah, the twists and turns of Julien’s career. 11 years removed from an uninspiring playing career from an NHL standpoint, Julien began his NHL coaching career with none other than the Montréal Canadiens. Hired midway through the 2002-’03 season to replace Michel Therrien (yes, seriously. Therrien) in the midst of a campaign that ended with a 30-35-8-9 record, he managed to qualify the Habs to the Eastern Conference Semifinals only a year later.

That apparently wasn’t enough to keep him his job, as he was released at the halfway point of the 2005-’06 season even though he laid the groundwork of a team that qualified for the playoffs in its second-straight campaign.

His next stop was with the Devils the following season, but it was a short one. Even though he led New Jersey to a 47-24-8 record, he was cut three games before the playoffs.

That was just fine for the Bruins, who signed Julien almost three months later. Of course,  that’s both his most noteworthy and longest-tenured assignment. He was Boston’s bench boss for over nine-and-a-half seasons, leading them to four division titles, a Presidents’ Trophy, two Stanley Cup Finals appearances and, of course, the franchise’s sixth Stanley Cup.

It seems to be in Julien’s best interest to not have a winning record, because after leading the Bruins to a 26-23-6 record, the league’s then-longest-tenured coach was released on February 7.

The irony of the whole situation is that not only was Julien hired once again by the Canadiens mid-season, but that he once again replaced Therrien. Even more bizarre, Therrien had the Habs rolling this season, notching a 31-19-8 record before being released this Valentine’s Day.

Of course, part of the reason for this change must be that Therrien was also in charge of last year’s Canadiens team that started their campaign 9-0-0 yet failed to end the season within 10 points of playoff position. That, and the Habs are currently riding a two-game losing skid and are 3-6-1 in their last 10 contests.

Regardless of the reason he’s back in The City of Saints, Julien takes over a club that plays sound defense with good great goaltending to boot, as the Habs have allowed only 148 goals against in 58 games, the eighth-best rate in the league.

Of course, the man that deserves the most credit is goaltender Carey Price, who has earned every bit of his 24-14-5 record. With a .917 season save percentage and 2.46 GAA, he is not only the best netminder in Montréal, but also the 14th and 13th-best in the NHL in those regards, respectively.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have an above-average defense playing in front of him. Led by Shea Weber and his 120 shot blocks, the Habs allow only 29.9 shots-per-game to reach Price’s crease, the 12th-best effort in the league.

Surprisingly, that overall effort does not carry over to the penalty kill, as the Canadiens are eighth-worst in the NHL at only a 79.4% success rate. With his 33 shorthanded shot blocks (tied for second-most in the league), Weber has kept up his spectacular play when a man down, but the rest of the squad needs to help limit the opposition’s scoring chances for Price, who has faced the fourth-most power play shots in the league.

Fortunately for the Canadiens, they’re able to earn back those goals allowed on the penalty kill with a powerful power play of their own. Successful on 21.4% of attempts, Montréal is eighth-best in the league with a man-advantage. The leader of that effort is special teams ace Weber, who has 18 power play points to his credit, including a team-high 10 extra-man tallies.

26-29-5 Winnipeg just seems to have the worst luck of late. Thursday night they were in victim and fell prey to Sidney Crosby, a man intent on earning his 1000th point in front of his home crowd. Two days later, they have to go up against a coach making his debut with his new club – a circumstance in which four other men have found victory. If the Jets want to win this game, they’ll have to shore up their defense, which has allowed 190 goals this season – the most on the league.

As far as goaltending is concerned, 18-15-2 Connor Hellebuyck takes most of the fall for the Jets. Although he has a winning record and is the best Winnipeg netminder, he has a .91 season save percentage and 2.8 GAA to his credit – only the (t)29th and (t)34th-best efforts, respectively, among the 47 goalies with at least 19 appearances.

Unfortunately for the Jets, it gets worse before it gets better. Even with Dustin Byfuglien‘s team-leading 99 shot blocks, Winnipeg still allows 31 shots-per-game to reach Hellebuyck’s crease, which ties for the 10th-highest rate in the league.

Pair two deficiencies on the same end of the ice together, and you yield a poor special teams unit. That’s the situation the Jets face, as they’re third-worst in the NHL on the penalty kill, successful on only 76.7% of attempts. Even though he’s injured, Toby Enstrom still tops the team with his 23 shorthanded shot blocks. Instead, Jacob Trouba will be called upon to rally the troops to keep as many pucks as possible out of Hellebuyck’s crease, as his 18 shorthanded blocks are second-most on the team.

The Canadiens have already made their yearly trip to Winnipeg, and it was a successful one for them. Led by Artturi Lehkonen‘s two-goal, three-point performance, the Habs claimed a 7-4 victory on January 11.

Some players to keep an eye on this afternoon include Montréal‘s Max Pacioretty (28 goals [third-most in the league]) and Price (24 wins [ninth-most in the NHL]) & Winnipeg‘s Patrik Laine (27 goals [tied for fourth-most in the league]) and Mark Scheifele (58 points [tied for sixth-most in the NHL]).

It’s hard to argue with Vegas on this one: Montréal is favored to beat the Jets at -165. Although both teams struggle on the penalty kill, only the Habs can be counted on to take advantage. Pair that with their overall solid defense, and it should be a Julien winner. Hopefully Montrealers have a short memory are forgiving of him coaching their rivals.

Hockey Birthday

  • Andy Moog (1960-) – Just because you’re a seventh-rounder doesn’t mean you’re not a good player. Selected by Edmonton in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft, this goaltender proved just that, as he earned the 1990 Jennings Trophy to go with his four All-Star selections and three Stanley Cups.
  • Alexander Mogilny (1969-) – Buffalo selected this right wing 89th-overall in the 1988 NHL Entry Draft, so that’s the number he wore throughout his career. The Russian was named to four All-Star teams, and also won the 2003 Byng Trophy to go with his Stanley Cup in 2000.
  • Nik Antropov (1980-) – Another Russian, this center was the 10th-overall selection in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft by Toronto. He spent most of his 13 seasons with the Leafs and notched 465 points before hanging up his skates for good in 2013.
  • Cody Hodgson (1990-) – Another center selected 10th-overall pick, this Canadian was drafted by Vancouver in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. That being said, he’s spent a majority of his career in the Sabres‘ system.

With Second Star of the Game Brandon Dubinsky‘s overtime winner, Columbus retained it’s undefeated record when hosting the Penguins this season, winning yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day 2-1.

Both regulation goals were struck within five minutes of each other. Ryan Murray (William Karlsson and Josh Anderson) takes credit for the Jackets‘ tally, burying his backhand only 1:33 after resuming play after the first intermission. Ian Cole tied the contest 4:40 later, set up by Evgeni Malkin‘s face-off win.

Dubinsky (Cam Atkinson and Seth Jones) needed only 64 seconds of three-on-three overtime before registering the Jackets‘ only shot, a pure snap shot that found the back of Third Star Matthew Murray‘s net.

First Star Sergei Bobrovsky earns the victory after saving 38-of-39 shots faced (97.4%), leaving the overtime loss to Murray, who saved 37-of-39 (94.9%).

Columbus‘ victory is the second-straight by a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series and improves the hosts’ record to 64-42-18, five points better than the visitors.

February 9 – Day 113 – Back in the saddle again

The NHL is trying to make up for scheduling only one game yesterday with 11 today.

I think I accept it’s apology.

Like it usually does, the action starts tonight at 7 p.m. with six games (San Jose at Boston [SN360/TVAS], Anaheim at Buffalo, Nashville at the New York Rangers, the New York Islanders at Philadelphia [NBCSN], Detroit at Washington and Vancouver at Columbus), followed half an hour later by three more (St. Louis at Toronto, Dallas at Ottawa [RDS2] and Los Angeles at Florida). Only one more time-slot exists this evening, and it holds two games (Pittsburgh at Colorado and Montréal at Arizona [RDS]) as co-nightcaps at 9 p.m. All times eastern.

Whether he deserved it or not, Claude Julien was handed a pink slip Tuesday after 10 years of service to the Bruins organization. Tonight, it will be Bruce Cassidy making his first appearance as head man behind Boston‘s bench, although it’s not his first head coaching job in the NHL.

UnknownUnknown-7

 

419 victories. Four division titles. A Presidents’ Trophy and a Stanley Cup.

The club may get to keep the hardware and banners, but Julien was the one to lead them there.

That being said, he’s been under fire for almost this entire season, and part of last year as well. Even though he’s the winningest coach in Bruins history and got the team into the playoffs in all but two seasons (hint: the last two) under his command, it’s that very fact that became his downfall. Even with some great players on his roster, including Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and goaltender Tuukka Rask, the Bruins haven’t tasted the postseason since 2014 and are in danger of making it three years in a row should the standings remain as they currently are.

That’s what prompted Don Sweeney to make the change to Cassidy. The interim head coach is remembered most from his days behind the Capitals‘ bench, a job he held from 2002-’03. He was in command for the entire 2002-’03 campaign and led Washington to second place in the Southeastern Division. That success didn’t continue in the playoffs, as the Caps were eliminated in the Eastern Quarterfinals.

That elimination marked the beginning of the end of Cassidy’s tenure in the capital. Washington started the 2003-’04 season with an 8-16-1 record, which was not good enough for George McPhee and resulted in Cassidy being relieved of his duties.

He began his time with the Bruins‘ organization in 2008 as an assistant coach in Providence, but he was the man in charge by the 2011-’12 season. During his tenure as skipper, the Bruins went a combined 207-128-45, include a Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy-winning (effectively the Presidents’ Trophy, but in the AHL) 50-21-5 record in 2012-’13.

He was rewarded for that success this season with a promotion to assistant coach in Boston (Come to think of it, it seems Sweeney had this whole thing planned out, didn’t he?). A former defenseman, his addition has certainly been noticed on the ice. Last season, Boston allowed 30.4 shots to reach Rask’s crease per game. This season? That number is down to 26.4, an impressive improvement.

Cassidy takes command of a 26-23-6 Bruins team that is riding a two-game losing skid and currently occupies fourth place in the Atlantic Division and ninth in the Eastern Conference, missing out on a playoff position by one point technically two points to avoid losing a games-played tiebreaker to Philadelphia.

As stated before, the Bruins have certainly improved on the defensive end. Unfortunately, they didn’t plan for the offensive regression they’re experiencing this year. A season ago, Boston scored 236 goals – the fifth-most in the NHL. Nowadays, they’ve only managed 141 tallies in 55 games, the 10th-worst rate in the league.

That regression can’t be pinned on Marchand, though, as his 55 points are tops on the team. Making that number even more impressive is the fact that he personally takes credit for 23 goals, which is also the best in Beantown.

Fortunately for the Bruins, the penalty kill has been topnotch this year, stopping 86% of opposing power plays – the second-best rate in the league. The sick Zdeno Chara has been a major part of that success with his 27 shorthanded blocks, but is still unknown if he’ll play this evening. If he doesn’t, Adam McQuaid and his 24 penalty kill blocks will be called upon to fill the captain’s role when down a skater.

The Sharks make their annual visit to the TD Garden with a 33-17-4 record, more than good enough for the lead in the Pacific Division even if they have lost their last two games in overtime. The defense leads the way in San Jose, as the Sharks have allowed only 125 goals in 54 games this season, the second-best effort in the NHL.

Have you ever met someone who is really good at their job? Martin Jones is one of those people. His .917 season save percentage and 2.25 GAA are (t)12th and fifth-best in the league, respectively, among the 37 goalies with at least 23 appearances.

Of course, it’s easy to be good when you have a defense like Jones does. Led by Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s 100 shot blocks, San Jose allows only 27.3 shots to reach Jones’ crease per game, the third-best rate in the NHL.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Boston‘s Marchand (55 points [fourth-most in the league], including 23 goals [10-most in the NHL]) and Rask (five shutouts [tied for third-most in the league] among 25 wins [tied for sixth-most in the NHL] on a 2.31 GAA [tied for ninth-best in the league]) & San Jose‘s Brent Burns (57 points [third-most in the NHL], including 35 assists [tied for fifth-most in the league]) and Jones (27 wins [tied for third-most in the NHL] on a 2.25 GAA [sixth-best in the league]).

Boston has been marked with a -123 favorite by Vegas, and if I were a gambling man I’d bet lots of money on the Sharks spoiling that this evening. Not only are the Sharks exceptional at preventing something the Bruins have had little success doing (scoring), Boston is also not kind to the home team. The Bruins are only 12-13-0 on their home surface. San Jose should exploit that and take this contest easily.

Hockey Birthday

  • Chris Nilan (1958-) – He may have only been a 19th-rounder in the 1978 NHL Amateur Draft by Montréal, but this right wing enjoyed a 13-year career. The highlight of his career came in 1986 when he was a member of the Canadiens team that hoisted the Stanley Cup.
  • Andre Burakovsky (1995-) – Selected by Washington with the 23rd-overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, this left wing is certainly making a name for himself. His 11 tallies tie for seventh-most on the team.

It took overtime, but the Blackhawks don’t mind as they earned their first victory over Minnesota in the last nine tries in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Chicago came to play, and they proved it with a tally with 9:06 remaining in the first period, compliments of Ryan Hartman (Vinnie Hinostroza and Duncan Keith). It was the lone tally of the frame, giving the Hawks a one-goal lead going into the first intermission.

If you like scoring, the second period was easily the most exciting – at least in regulation. Four goals were scored, starting with Nick Schmaltz‘ (First Star of the Game Jonathan Toews and Third Star Richard Panik) only 1:09 after returning to the ice, but Second Star Jared Spurgeon (Eric Staal and Nino Niederreiter) apparently took exception to that and pulled the Wild back within a tally only 37 seconds later. With a wrister, Zach Parise (Charlie Coyle and Jason Pominville) leveled the game at two-all at the 7:15 mark, but a Panik (Niklas Hjalmarsson and Toews) wrister with 2:36 remaining in the frame returned a one-goal lead to the Blackhawks going into the second intermission.

Only one goal was scored in the third period, but it was one that blew the roof off the Xcel Energy Center. With 3:03 remaining in regulation, Erik Haula (Marco Scandella and Niederreiter) buried his wrister to level the game for Minnesota at three-all. Neither club could break the knot in the remaining time, forcing five minutes of three-on-three sudden-death overtime.

There is nothing more damning than committing an overtime penalty. Just ask Ryan Suter, who was caught holding Marian Hossa at the midway point of the frame. Only 39 seconds later, Toews (Patrick Kane and Keith) was able to capitalize on the man-advantage to seal the Hawks‘ victory.

Corey Crawford earns the victory after saving 35-of-38 shots faced (92.1%), forcing Darcy Kuemper to take the overtime loss, saving 28-of-32 (87.5%).

Chicago‘s victory is the fourth in the last five games by the road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series, pulling the visitors within eight points of the 60-37-18 hosts.