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New York Islanders 2017-’18 Season Preview

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New York Islanders

41-29-12, 94 points, 5th in the Metropolitan Division

Additions: RW Jordan Eberle, G Kristers Gudlevskis, D Seth Helgeson

Subtractions: LW Eric Boulton, LW Justin Florek, C Ben Holmstrom, C Ryan Strome, C Carter Verhaeghe

Offseason Analysis: Just as I was starting to think that Jordan Eberle trade rumors, much like the Loch Ness Monster and the state of North Dakota, were nothing but myths and stories, Garth Snow just waltzes right in and ruins all the fun.

The ever-entertaining (probably more-so for those of us without vested interest in the team) Isles GM can usually be counted on to make headlines somehow, so when he pulled the trigger on one of the offseason’s bigger moves just over a week before free agency, it raised quite a few hands in the peanut gallery. On top of the sheer rarity of a true 1-for-1 straight-up trade, a few questioned the move based on the Isles’ lack of quality depth at the center position and Strome’s potentially yet-untouched ceiling. But Snow seemed confident enough in young Brock Nelson‘s ability to anchor his second line to go ahead and finally try to acquire the extra firepower of Eberle to accompany world-class John Tavares on the top line.

Captain ‘Johnny T’ has been one of the best centers in the league for quite some time, and at just shy of 27 years of age, he certainly shouldn’t be slowing down any time soon. But year after year seemingly everyone around the league asks “When will they find him a legitimate top-flight winger?”. Well, I think it’s safe to say they’re as close now as they’ve ever been. Eberle brings serious skill and consistent 25-30 goal, 60-70 point production from a situation where he didn’t often play on a quality hockey team. Should the two find solid chemistry, they could easily be plastering opposing defenders on the receiving end of highlight-reel plays on a nightly basis.

The rest of the Isles forward corps is solid, if not spectacular.

A solid ’16-’17 season showed they should now be able to comfortably rely upon man-child Anders Lee to complete the top line and chip in ballpark 30 goals and 50 points. The 6’3″ 228lb Notre Dame grad adds a helpful heaping of size and physicality to the group, and should create plenty of time, space, and netfront havoc to give his ultra-talented linemates ample opportunity to set things up.

Things get a bit convoluted from there.

Brock Nelson will almost certainly center the second line, and while veteran Andrew Ladd would be a logical choice to fill the left wing position, young Anthony Beauvillier will be given every chance to supplement Ladd after a quiet but solid debut season in ’16-’17. The former Shawinigan Cataractes superstar chipped in 9 goals and 24 points in 66 games last year playing limited minutes and getting adjusted to the pro game. Now with a firm idea of the competition he’ll face, and a summer of NHL-caliber weightroom training, Beauvillier should make a strong case for an expanded role in ’17-’18.

The right side could very well go the way of another youngster in Joshua Ho-Sang. After impressing with 10 points in his first 21 NHL games last season, some immature behavior landed the former OHL standout in Bridgeport for the remainder of the year. As long as he can keep his head on straight, Ho-Sang could fill out a sneaky-dangerous second unit for the Islanders.

If we go ahead and slot Beauvillier into the 2nd line LW position (and we are, because this is my article and I get to do what I want) then that leaves a likely 3rd line of Ladd, Casey Cizikas, and Josh Bailey, all of whom can play in just about any situation, while the latter two are both natural centers, giving the line extra flexibility in the faceoff department.

The fourth line also seems a fairly sure thing, with fleet-footed Jason Chimera accompanying the versatile Alan Quine and human battering ram Cal Clutterbuck. I have Nikolai Kulemin and Stephen Gionta as the extra forwards, giving the Isles a bit of extra veteran versatility to inject when needed. The forward prospect pool isn’t terrifically deep, but does feature the likes of respective 2014 & 2015 1st round picks Michael Dal Colle and Mathew Barzal. I expect Barzal to be left in Bridgeport to get a year of pro hockey under his belt, but a strong camp from 6’3″ 200lb Dal Colle could potentially earn him a spot in the opening night lineup.

Moving back to the blueline, the unit looks to be completely unchanged from the ’16-’17 campaign. Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk are set to anchor the top pairing once again, while Adam Pelech and Calvin de Haan, both fresh off of shiny new contracts, will likely fill the 3-4 slots. After impressing the Islanders’ brass enough in the World Cup to be offered a contract last year, German defender Dennis Seidenberg did not let them down and was given an extension through the upcoming season, once again looking to accompany Thomas Hickey on the 3rd pairing.

Ryan Pulock should nab the 7th defenseman slot, with the potential to supplement one of the top 6 should he have a solid camp (his right-handed shot benefits him on a New York depth chart littered with lefties) but will face plenty of competition from guys like bruising Scott Mayfield and former OHL offensive dynamo and Memorial Cup Champion Mitchell Vande Sompel (who I promise is not on this list simply because his name is fun to say).

In goal, we reach the bulk of the questions surrounding the Islanders chances this year. After a quite literally up-and-down season that saw him placed on waivers and eventually sent to AHL Bridgeport, Halak returned to the Isles after going 17-7-3 and rode that confidence to a solid 12-9-5 record in the NHL. Now, at age 32 and in the final year of his contract, the Slovakian goaltender must reclaim his previous form to both help his team and, likely, extend his career as a starter. The Islanders do have the luxury of career-backup turned solid performer Thomas Greiss, who stepped in and filled Halak’s duties admirably with a 26-18-5 record accompanying a 2.69 GAA and .913 SV% last year. Behind Greiss are solid AHLers Kristers Gudlevskis and Christopher Gibson, though neither currently projects as an NHL regular.

Basically, the short version of the goaltending situation (and potentially the Islanders season as a whole) reads as ‘Halak or bust’.

Offseason Grade: C

Snow accomplished what he’s been trying to accomplish for quite a few years in giving Tavares a legitimate top-tier linemate, but Eberle’s pricey contract may have limited his ability to go out and solidify the rest of his lineup (*cough* Matt Duchene *cough*). The top line will likely rely upon the young second unit to take some defensive pressure away, and should the youngsters faulter, it could cause serious offensive problems for the top-loaded Isles. Throw in a good-not-great D corps, and a shaky goaltending situation, and the Islanders could struggle mightily to make the postseason in a deadly-good Metropolitan Division.

March 25 – Day 157 – Seeing circles

A dozen games are on the schedule today, so let’s hop right in with our list!

A pair of games (Vancouver at Minnesota and Philadelphia at Columbus [NHLN/SN1]) get the action underway at 2 p.m., followed by seven (Calgary at St. Louis [CITY], Toronto at Buffalo [CBC], Ottawa at Montréal [SN/TVAS], Chicago at Florida [NHLN], Carolina at New Jersey, Boston at the New York Islanders and Arizona at Washington) at the usual 7 p.m. starting time. San Jose at Nashville drops the puck an hour later, followed by Colorado at Edmonton (CBC/SN) at 10 p.m. Finally, the New York Rangers at Los Angeles – tonight’s nightcap – drops the puck at 10:30 p.m. to close out the day’s action. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Toronto at Buffalo: Only two more editions of the Battle of the QEW go down this season, and one is tonight.
  • Ottawa at Montréal: Speaking of rivalries, this one is kind of important since it could determine who raises an Atlantic Division banner.
  • Chicago at Florida: For five seasons, Brian Campbell was a member of the Panthers‘ blueline. This offseason, he decided to return to the Windy City.
  • Boston at New York: These clubs are currently tied for the second wildcard, but they won’t be after tonight.
  • San Jose at Nashville: Remember last year’s Western Semifinals? The Predators would probably like to exact some revenge tonight.

Since both the Canadiens and Senators are all but locks to for this year’s postseason, let’s head back to Brooklyn with the Islanders for their wildly important matchup with Boston.

 

The 38-30-6 Bruins have been in the playoff picture – or right outside it – for almost the entire season. A mistimed four-game losing skid (then again, when does a four-game losing skid ever come at an appropriate time?) has felled them to the second of those two categories.

Of course, this is not the first position Boston has lost in the last month. For a long while, the Bruins actually had command of third place in the Atlantic Division, but they ceded that too to a Maple Leafs team that has won seven of its last 10 games.

The main reason for this fall from grace? I’d argue sub-par play in net by 33-20-4 Tuukka Rask. He’s been in net for all four of these contests, and the Bruins have allowed an average of five goals against. In fact, his .842 save percentage and 4.53 GAA from March 16 through last night’s action is the fifth and second-worst efforts in the NHL, respectively, in that time span.

“But Rask is a great goaltender!” said Bruins fans.

And I agree; yes, he is great. He’s also no spring chicken anymore. Rask just celebrated his 30th birthday not too long ago, which makes him older than the average goaltender throughout the 2000s (per Quant Hockey), whether by mean (28.81) or median (28.3).

Whether you’re in the camp of believing Bruce Cassidy needs to play 5-5-1 Anton Khudobin more often or Don Sweeney needs to provide a better backup than a nearly 31-year-old Russian is inconsequential to the fact that Rask needs more breaks. With 59 starts, Rask has played the third-most games in a NHL crease this season, and the other two goalies with more starts are younger than him (though not by much in Cam Talbot‘s case).

Making the exhausted netminder’s demise even more troublesome is that the defense playing in front of him is one of the better – and improving – corps in the league. Over this sour stretch, they’ve allowed only 117 shots to reach his net (29.25 per game), which is barely worse than their 25.6 average allowed per game for the entire season that ranks second-best in the league.

He doesn’t wear the Bruins‘ “C” for nothing. Captain Zdeno Chara has been at the forefront of that effort with his team-leading 124 shot blocks, followed closely behind by Adam McQuaid‘s 122. Center Patrice Bergeron has also been very impressive on the defensive front, as his 59 takeaways are second-most on the club. Brad Marchand has one more for the squad lead, but he also tops (Or would it be bottoms?) the team in the opposite statistic with his 74 turnovers.

When looking at the season as a whole, Boston usually finds more than enough success on the penalty kill, as their 84.5% kill rate is sixth-best in the league. Of course, this rough patch hasn’t been so kind. The Bruins have allowed seven power play goals against (you guessed it, most in the league in this time-span) for a measly 63.1% kill rate.

One thing that has gone Boston‘s way over the past 10 days has been their power play. Co-led by Torey Krug and Ryan Spooner‘s three man-advantage points, as well as David Krejci and David Pastrnak‘s two man-advantage goals, the Bruins have scored on 35.7% of their opponents’ penalties – the best mark in the league in that span. That’s not exactly a surprise though. Boston has been successful on 21.2% of their power plays all year, the eighth-best rate in the league.

First it was the Leafs taking advantage of the Bruins‘ fall from grace. Now it’s the 35-26-12 Islanders, a team riding a two-game winning streak.

This success is a far cry from where New York was before Doug Weight took command of the ship. Former head coach Jack Capuano had only managed a 17-17-8 record – the worst mark in the Eastern Conference. But since then, the Isles have gone on an 18-9-4 run to climb back into the eighth place in the East. In fact, that’s the fifth-best record in the league since Capuano’s firing, better even than teams like Columbus and Nashville.

The main reason for that improvement is New York‘s potent offense. The Islanders have buried 96 goals under Weight, which ties for the fourth-highest total in the league since January 17. Behind that effort is none other than John Tavares, who’s registered 32 of his 64 points on the campaign. Anders Lee also came alive, as he’s registered 13 goals to lead the team during the Weight-era.

Ready to be even more impressed by the Islanders‘ resurgent offense? They do it almost exclusively at even-strength. In fact, New York‘s power play is borderline atrocious, as they only convert 15.8% of their opportunities – the fifth-worst rate in the league.

If recent history is any indicator, it looks like the Bruins are on their way to their fifth-straight loss, as they have yet to beat New York this year in their previous two meetings. The last time these clubs ran into each other was January 16 in Boston. Between Nikolai Kulemin‘s two-goal night (one-sixth of his season total!) and Thomas Greiss‘ 32-save shutout, the Islanders walked out of the TD Garden with a 4-0 victory.

Ironically, that was Capuano’s last game as head coach of the Isles. My, how the story has come full circle.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Boston‘s Marchand (37 goals [third-most in the NHL] for 80 points [fourth-most in the league]) and Rask (six shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the NHL] among 33 wins [tied for fifth-most in the league]) & New York‘s Josh Bailey (38 assists [leads the team]) and Cal Clutterbuck (199 hits [leads the team]).

Though they might be a little tired from their shootout victory in Pittsburgh last night, I’m inclined to pick the Islanders right now. Something tells me that only one day off is not enough for Rask, and everything seems to be going New York‘s way right now.

Hockey Birthday

  • Ken Wregget (1964-) – Toronto selected this goaltender 45th-overall in the 1982 NHL Entry Draft, but he spent most of his career with the Penguins. By the time his career was through, he’d earned a 225-248-53 record and hoisted the 1992 Stanley Cup.
  • Ladislav Benysek (1975-) – This defensemen was selected in the 11th round by Edmonton in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft, but he spent most of his four-year career in the league with Minnesota. Over 161 games in the NHL, he accumulated only 15 points for a -28 rating.

With their 4-3 shootout victory against Pittsburgh in the DtFR Game of the Day, the Islanders have improved to the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.

With six goals in regulation, you’d figure there’d be two a period, right? Not last night. Instead, five were struck in the second frame, and another in the third.

The scoring started 1:54 after beginning the second period when Third Star of the Game Cameron Gaunce (Matt Cullen and Phil Kessel) buried a slap shot for the second goal of his career. 2:54 later, Second Star Brock Nelson (Joshua Ho-Sang and Alan Quine) tied the game at one-all, the score that held until Lee (Bailey and First Star Tavares) scored a wrist shot to give New York the lead 4:30 later. Now it was Pittsburgh‘s turn to pull even, and Sidney Crosby (Chad Ruhwedel and Conor Sheary) was up to the task with 6:19 remaining in the frame. With five seconds remaining before the second intermission, Casey Cizikas (Tavares) found the back of the net to send the Isles to the dressing room with a 3-2 lead.

After all that action, the final goal of regulation wasn’t struck until 6:10 remained in regulation. Cullen (Gaunce and Kessel) scored his wrister to tie the game at three-all, the score that held through the remainder of regulation and the five minute three-on-three overtime period.

Looks like this one will have to be decided in the shootout. The Pens elected to go second…

  1. …meaning Anthony Beauvillier was up first. He scored on Marc-Andre Fleury, giving New York an early shootout lead.
  2. Kessel had the chance to tie the shootout, but Jaroslav Halak was up to the task and made the save.
  3. Weight called Tavares’ number next as if he knew the captain would score him another goal. With a 2-0 shootout lead, the Pens were in a miss-and-lose situation.
  4. Speaking of captains, that’s exactly who took Pittsburgh‘s next shootout attempt. Crosby had better luck than Kessel and scored his shot to keep the Penguins alive.
  5. Andrew Ladd took what proved to be the Islanders‘ final shootout attempt, but was unable to beat Fleury to win the game.
  6. Instead, Halak provided the victory by saving Nick Bonino‘s shot.

Halak saved 37-of-40 shots faced (92.5%) for the victory, leaving the shootout loss to Fleury after he stopped 43-of-46 (93.5%).

It was the second-straight DtFR Game of the Day to be decided by shootout, but the fact that this one was decided by the 80-56-23 visitors gives them a one-point advantage over the road teams in the series.

March 24 – Day 156 – Isle have what he’s having

Just like you look forward to Friday to begin your two-day break, this is a lot of the league’s rest day before a weekend of excitement.

There’s only four games on the schedule tonight, starting with the New York Islanders at Pittsburgh (NHLN/SN/TVAS) at 7 p.m. and Tampa Bay at Detroit half an hour later. San Jose at Dallas drops the puck at 8:30 p.m., with Winnipeg at Anaheim – tonight’s nightcap – getting underway at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • New York at Pittsburgh: Not only is it rivalry night in the Steel City, but the Isles have a chance to move into the playoff bracket.
  • Tampa Bay at Detroit: It’s been almost a year now, but these clubs did meet up in one of last season’s Eastern Quarterfinals.

With the Bruins on a four-game losing skid, they’ve opened the door for the Islanders to once again enter the playoff picture. Pair that with one of my favorite rivalries in the Metropolitan Division (at least), and we’ve got a surefire featured matchup!

 

The rivalry between these two clubs is well documented in multiple places around the web, though I would recommend the YouTube videos I included on November 18 when these teams met for the second time this season. In gist, previous meetings between these clubs have been… scrappy.

As mentioned before, 34-26-12 New York is licking its chops in anticipation for tonight’s game, because a win over a rival is made only sweeter by moving into the second wild card spot that is currently occupied by 38-30-6 Boston.

For the ninth-place Isles (fifth in the Metropolitan) to actually secure that win, they’ll need to shore up a defensive end that has been a little more than leaky this season. They’ve allowed 216 goals against already this year, the #fifth-most in the NHL.

Of course, that starts with the goaltender. Enter 25-16-5 Thomas Greiss, who was officially declared New York‘s starting goaltender after 6-8-5 Jaroslav Halak was sent to Bridgeport on New Year’s Eve. Greiss has tried to make solid use of his time, but his .914 season save percentage and 2.67 GAA rank only #(t)24th and #28th-best among the 46 goalies with at least 23 appearances.

While those are below-average numbers, it’s not as if he’s the only hole on that end of the Islanders‘ ice. The defense playing in front of him is not much better, as they allow 32.1 shots-per-game to reach Greiss’ net – the #fifth-highest average in the NHL. The main reason New York isn’t worse is the incredible play of Calvin de Haan, who has 170 shot blocks to his credit to not only lead the team, but also rank #fifth-best in the league.

I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but another issue in New York has been a power play that is successful on only 15.8% of attempts – the #fifth-worst effort in the league. Just like he does on the even-strength attack, Captain John Tavares has been the star of the man-advantage with his team-leading 17 power play points. He’s joined at the top of the Isles‘ extra-man scorers list by Anders Lee, as both have buried seven tallies.

Though their injury list is nearly as long as this preview, the 46-17-10 Penguins are the second-best team in the Metropolitan, Eastern Conference and the NHL. Having already locked up their spot in the playoffs, Pittsburgh will try to continue their impressive offensive performance that has returned 250 goals – the #most in the NHL.

As you’d probably guess, the man behind that charge is none other than Captain Sidney Crosby. He leads Pittsburgh‘s offensive juggernaut with 81 points, 41 of which are goals – another mark he paces the club in. His season goal total is already the second-highest of his career, but it doesn’t seem he’ll match or succeed his 2009-’10 personal best of 51 tallies in a campaign.

One of the Pens‘ favorite ways to score the puck is via the power play, as they are #tied for third-best in the league with their 22.3% success rate. Second-year Penguin Phil Kessel has been instrumental in that effort with his team-leading 28 power play points, but Crosby still manages to get his beak wet, as 13 of his goals have come with the extra-man – the most on the squad.

So far this year, the Penguins have had the upper-hand when squaring off against the Islanders, as they’ve won two of the previous three matchups. Of course, the most recent meeting on November 30 was the one the Isles won 5-3.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include New York‘s Josh Bailey (37 assists [leads the team]), Cal Clutterbuck (193 hits [leads the team]), Dennis Seidenberg (+23 [leads the team]) and Tavares (62 points [leads the team]) & Pittsburgh‘s Ian Cole (+28 [seventh-best in the league]), Crosby (41 goals [leads the NHL] for 81 points [tied for second-most in the league]), Matthew Murray (.925 save percentage [sixth-best in the NHL] for a 2.34 GAA [10th-best in the league]) and Justin Schultz (+32 [tied for best in the NHL]).

I haven’t seen Vegas’ line for tonight’s game yet, but I can only assume it favors the home Penguins. None are better than Pittsburgh at scoring the puck, and the Islanders can’t help but allow goals. All signs point toward the Isles fighting for a playoff spot on a different night.

Hockey Birthday

  • Doug Jarvis (1955-) – Toronto selected this center 24th-overall in the 1975 NHL Amateur Draft, but he never played a game for the Leafs. Instead, he played most of his 13 seasons in Montréal, where he hoisted four-straight Stanley Cups. His hardware collection also includes the 1984 Frank J. Selke and the 1987 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophies.
  • Pat Price (1955-) – 13 picks before Jarvis was selected, the Islanders picked up this defenseman. He played 13 seasons in the NHL, and spent most of his time in Quebec. From 1976-’78, he registered an impressive +51 rating on only 37 points.
  • Philippe Boucher (1973-) – The 13th-overall selection in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft by Buffalo, this defenseman spent 16 seasons in the league, mostly in Los Angeles. During his sixth campaign with Dallas, he was traded to Pittsburgh to win the 2009 Stanley Cup and close out his career.
  • Maxim Kuznetsov (1977-) – Detroit selected this defenseman 26th-overall in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he spent most of his NHL career. Unfortunately for him, his tenure in the league was only 136 games and four seasons long.
  • Ron Hainsey (1981-) – A longtime member of the Thrashers/Jets organization, this defenseman was selected 13th-overall by Montréal in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. Similar to Boucher, Hainsey was traded to Pittsburgh at this season’s trade deadline in hopes of claiming his first Stanley Cup.
  • P.A. Parenteau (1983-) – Though selected by Anaheim in the ninth round of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, this left wing has been a career journeyman over his nine seasons in the league. Currently, he plays for the Predators after joining them at this season’s trade deadline.

I predicted a defensive matchup, and that’s exactly what we got in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as Washington needed a shootout to knock off the Blue Jackets at the Verizon Center.

Although a combined total of 48 shots were fired over the course of the first 40 minutes, the first goal of the game wasn’t struck until the 41 second mark of the third period. That tally belonged to Seth Jones (Brandon Dubinsky and Boone Jenner) and the Jackets, but the Capitals were more than prepared to deal with that obstacle. 5:58 after Jones’ marker, Third Star of the Game Dmitry Orlov (Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams) buried his sixth goal of the season to tie the game at one-all, the score that held through the remainder of regulation and the five-minute three-on-three overtime period.

Who knew that even a shootout could be a defensive affair?

  1. The only person that didn’t apply to was T.J. Oshie, who scored the first shootout attempt to give the Caps an early lead.
  2. Cam Atkinson was charged with leveling the shootout for Columbus, but First Star Braden Holtby was having none of that. He saved Atkinson’s shot to keep Washington‘s 1-0 shootout lead.
  3. Evgeny Kuznetsov tried to improve on the Capitals‘ advantage, but Second Star Sergei Bobrovsky would not yield.
  4. Sam Gagner tried to reward Bobrovsky’s work, but he met a worse fate than Atkinson – he completely missed.
  5. Nicklas Backstrom had a chance to end the shootout with a goal, but Bobrovsky earned one more shot for his club after saving the center’s attempt.
  6. It’s not often a team gets three tries to tie a shootout, but Alexander Wennberg did not take advantage of that opportunity. Holtby made the save to earn the extra point in the standings.

Holtby saved 29-of-20 shots faced (96.7%) to earn the victory, leaving the shootout loss to Bobrovsky, who saved 44-of-45 (97.8%).

That victory is the second-straight by a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series, which is now tied at 79-56-23.

April 10 – Day 178 – …but those snow days happened

T.J. Oshie may not have scored in his first return to St. Louis, but he did get a point en route to the Washington Capitals winning 5-1.

St. Louis‘ lone goal was struck only 1:15 into the game by Vladimir Tarasenko (his 40th tally of the season), assisted by Alex Pietrangelo and Paul Stastny, but the good vibes associated with the quick start began to fade 2:49 later when First Star of the Game Alex Ovechkin began his hat trick on a wrister, assisted by John Carlson (his 31st helper of the season) and Third Star Nicklas Backstrom.  Ovechkin lit the lamp again for the game winner at the 6:49 mark on another wrister, again assisted by Backstrom (his 49th helper of the season).  The 2-1 score held to the end of the period.

Carlson’s second point of the night was a goal at the 5:21 mark, a backhander assisted by Tom Wilson (his 16th helper of the season) and Brook Orpik.  Jason Chimera got on the board 56 seconds after the midway point of the game with a tip-in, assisted by Evgeny Kuznetsov (his 57th helper of the season) and Dmitry Orlov.  The Caps‘ 4-1 lead held into the second intermission.

Ovi completed the hat trick with a slap shot with 9:25 remaining in the game (his league leading 50th tally of the season), assisted by Backstrom and Oshie.

Second Star Braden Holtby earns the win after saving 19 of the 20 shots he faced (95%), while Brian Elliott takes the loss after saving 22 of 26 (84.6%).  He was replaced after the second intermission by Anders Nilsson, who saved nine of 10 (90%).

Washington‘s win is the second straight for the road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, setting the season record at 82-47-19, with the home teams leading the roadies by 38 points.

There’s only two games on the docket this evening, and both of them were supposed to be played earlier in the year.  Philadelphia visits the New York Islanders at 7 p.m. eastern and can be viewed on NBCSN, SN and SN360.  Half an hour after that puck drop, Anaheim at Washington gets its start, and can be watched on NHLN, SN and SN360.

I know, there can’t be two different games on the same channels.  Sorry Canada, I don’t have an answer, but if I had to guess, it’s regional.  You’re on your own in figuring this one out.

All four of these teams have already punched their tickets to the playoffs starting this week, but two of them still have some positioning to finalize.  With a win, the Islanders move ahead of the Rangers for third spot for a first round meeting with Pittsburgh, while anything less than two points leaves them in their current matchup with Florida.  Similarly, a win of any variety gives Anaheim the Pacific Division title and a date with Nashville, while anything less leaves them in their matchup with in-state rival San Jose.

I’m more attracted to the PhiladelphiaNew York game, mostly because I think New York has more to gain, or potentially lose, depending on the outcome of this game.

Philadelphia Flyers LogoNew York Islanders Logo

 

Tonight’s game will be Philadelphia‘s ninth in the DtFR Game of the Day series, which stands at 6-2-0.  When they were last featured, Philly won 2-1 on a shootout over the visiting Capitals on March 30.  New York has been featured 10 times before tonight, and own a 3-6-1 record in such games.  Last time, they won 5-2 over the visiting Lightning on Monday.

Usually, I go into a big statistical breakdown, but frankly, I don’t think that’s what this game boils down to.

To put that in perspective, the Flyers have absolutely nothing to play for, maybe except for confidence going into the playoffs.  Haha, right, like they need any.  They just fought themselves into a playoff position that many had written them out of contention for a month or two ago.  In fact, I think they’ll use this as an opportunity to rest guys that have been playing their tails off during this span.

They already know they’ll be meeting Washington later this week, so they’ll want to prepare as much as possible for the pressure the Capitals bring at literally every section of the ice.

The real game tonight is being played between the ears of Jack Capuano, and you’d figure he went to bed last night already knowing how this game will end.  He has a couple things to determine going into this game, including health and positioning.

Health is a big concern for New York right now, and Capuano has already said that this is the No. 1 priority.  Eight men are currently listed on the injury report, including G Jean-Francois Berube, RW Cal Clutterbuck (best shooting percentage and a top five goal scorer in Brooklyn), C Mikhail Grabovski, G Jaroslav Halak (18-13-4, .919 save percentage and 2.3 GAA), D Travis Hamonic (top-three shot blocker), LW Anders Lee (a top-five goal scorer, including top power play totals, and assister for the Isles), LW Matt Martin (leads team in hits) and D Brian Strait.

That being said, this line item, although listed second, may come first in his game plan this evening: New York‘s position in the standings, specifically their first and possible second round matchup.  As it stands right now, the Isles will be making the trip to Florida for a first round matchup with the Atlantic Champion Panthers, with the potential to face either the Lightning or Red Wings in the Conference Semifinals.  Should they win tonight, they swap spots with their in-town rivals and head instead to Pittsburgh, with the potential to meet either Philadelphia or Washington in the Semis.

Frankly, one of those situations sounds way better to me, and that’s their current fate of going to Florida.  Yes, the Panthers play an interesting, unpredictable and beautiful game, but I’d rather play them right now than the Penguins, who had an eight game winning streak before losing to Philly yesterday without Sidney Crosby (you know, the guy that scores the goals).  Looking even further ahead, anything is better than playing Washington, and I think New York would have a good chance of beating either Detroit or Tampa, regardless of who they meet.

But Connor, are you implying that the Isles would toss a game?

Uh, yeah.  Seriously, did you not see the beat-down the Caps put on the Blues last night, the fourth best defense in the league?  I’m staying away from them as long as possible, maybe somebody else will do the dirty work of beating them, or at least wearing 50 goal scorer Ovi out.  On top of that, you get to rest players with that game plan, which is a great spot to be in.  Heck, if New York is really committed to losing, they could just not dress a goalie and go 60 minutes with an empty net.  You know the league office would absolutely love that one, but I’d bet there’d be a few Islanders fans in the arena cheering the choice.

Philadelphia leads the season series 2-1-1, as well as won the last meeting 4-1 on March 21.  If I had to pick the better team, I would certainly lean towards New York, but as I’ve already stated, I don’t know if both teams will be fully exerting themselves.

Some players to keep an eye on in tonight’s game, should they play, include New York‘s Thomas Greiss (.926 save percentage [tied for second best in the league]) and John Tavares (33 goals [10th most in the league]) & Philadelphia‘s Michal Neuvirth (.925 save percentage [fourth best in the league] and 2.28 GAA [ninth best in the league]).

I have no idea how this one will end.  As I’ve hinted, I think this might be the weirdest game of chess played this season, but we shall see.  Under normal circumstances I would have the Isles winning, but I think, if New York is wise, that the game will end in Philadelphia‘s favor.

February 18 – Day 126 – Islander Wars, Episode II: Return of the Caps

New York beat Chicago in the first game of the season.  Chicago finally got the opportunity to return the favor, and capitalized on it, winning 5-3.

It didn’t take long before Chicago had their first goal, courtesy of Andrew Desjardins at the 3:30 mark.  His tip-in was assisted by Second Star of the Game Teuvo Teravainen and Niklas Hjalmarsson (his 16th helper of the season).  That goal was the only one of the period, so the Hawks took their lead into the dressing room.

At the 10:05 mark of the second, Chicago struck again with a power play wrister from First Star Artemi Panarin (his 20th tally of the season), assisted by Erik Gustafsson and Michal Rozsival.  New York finally got on the board 3:40 later with a wrister from Third Star Kevin Hayes, assisted by Oscar Lindberg’s 12th helper of the season.  The Hawks‘ 2-1 lead held into the second intermission.

The Blueshirts leveled the score only 24 seconds after resuming play, courtesy of a Derick Brassard power play snapper, assisted by Keith Yandle (his 28th helper of the season) and Chris Kreider.  They followed that goal 1:53 later with a Dan Boyle slap shot, assisted by Hayes (his 17th helper of the season) and J.T. Miller.  The Blackhawks took offense to New York‘s goal streak, so they went on one of their own, thanks in large part to two Rangers penalties.  The first of those two power play goals occurred at the 9:53 mark, courtesy of an Andrew Shaw slap shot, who was assisted by Teravainen and Jonathan Toews (his 21st helper of the season) to level the game at three-all.  The Hawks broke the tie with only three minutes remaining in regulation on another power play.  Panarin scored his second of the night, assisted by Patrick Kane (his 49th helper of the season) and Brent Seabrook.  The final goal of the game came 1:49 later when Duncan Keith earned his 30th helper of the season with the assist on Panarin’s first professional hat trick-completing tally, which set the score at the 5-3 final.

Corey Crawford earns the win, saving 31 of 34 (91.2%), while Henrik Lundqvist takes the loss after saving 15 of 19 (78.9%).

The Game of the Day series now stands at 56-29-11, favoring the home squad by 33 points over the roadies.

This Thursday, we have a busy schedule, with 11 games on the docket.  First up are the two games that start at 7 p.m. eastern (Washington at the New York Islanders and Detroit at Pittsburgh [NBCSN]), followed half an hour later by four more (the New York Rangers at Toronto, Carolina at Ottawa, Winnipeg at Tampa Bay and San Jose at Florida).  8 p.m. eastern brings with it a couple more games (Los Angeles at St. Louis and Boston at Nashville), followed 60 minutes later by another pair (Minnesota at Edmonton and Dallas at Arizona).  The final game of the night is Anaheim at Vancouver, which drops the puck at 10 p.m. eastern.

Washington at New York and Anaheim at Vancouver represent the only two divisional rivalries taking place this evening, and five are between teams currently qualifying for the playoffs (Washington at New York, Detroit at Pittsburgh, San Jose at Florida, Los Angeles at St. Louis and Boston at Nashville).  Washington at New York is also a rematch of one of last season’s Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

As usual, we try to go with games that qualify for most or all of those groups.  WashingtonNew York is in all three, and selfishly, it’s been awhile since we’ve featured either squad, so let’s hop on the B Train and head to the Barcalays Center!

Washington Capitals LogoNew York Islanders LogoTonight’s game will be Washington‘s 12th in the series, where they currently own a 8-3-0 record.  Their most recent showing under our focus was February 6, when they visited New Jersey and won 3-2 in the shootout.  New York hasn’t been featured since their February 4 trip to Washington, where they fell 3-2 in their fourth featured game, dropping their record in the series to 1-3-0.

The 41-10-4 Washington Capitals are currently the best team in the NHL by a five-point margin.  They’ve earned that position honestly, as they sport the best defense backed by only the second-best offense.

Thanks in part to Karl Alzner’s team-leading 143 blocks, the Caps‘ defense has allowed only 1598 shots to reach 35-6-3 Braden Holtby and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 92.6% for only 126 goals against, fewest in the league.  Although they don’t own the top penalty kill, Washington‘s special team is still a force to be reckoned with, as it’s killed 83.91% of penalties for only 28 power play goals against, fifth-best in the league.

Washington‘s offense is second-rate only in the literal sense that it is second-best in the league in goals scored (184, led by Alex Ovechkin’s 35 tallies).  Ovechkin, with his 276 shots, has also led his squad to 1675 attempts, of which a whopping 10.8% find the back of the net.  The success continues to the power play, where the Caps rank number one with their 23.7% success rate that has provided them 41 extra-man goals (led by Ovechkin’s 14).

At this point, Washington is most concerned with clinching the Presidents’ Trophy, as neither the Rangers nor Florida are providing much competition for either the division or conference, respectively.  With a victory tonight to begin a win-streak (they beat the  Kings 3-1 Tuesday), the Capitals expand their lead for home ice back to seven points over Chicago.

The 30-19-6 New York Islanders currently occupy third in the Metropolitan Division and sixth in the Eastern Conference.  They’ve made it to that position by playing the eighth-best offense and the ninth-best defense, so they are a very well-rounded team.

Led by John Tavares’ 170 shots, the Isles have fired 1680 attempts, of which 9.3% have found the back of the net for 161 tallies, eighth-most in the league.  That success hasn’t carried over to the power play as much, as their 20.37% success rate, good for 33 goals, ranks only 11th-best in the league.

The defense is right behind, and led by injured Calvin de Haan’s 139 blocks to allow only 1652 shots to reach 16-6-2 Thomas Greiss and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 92.1% for 141 goals against, ninth-fewest in the league.  That success draws almost directly from the second-best penalty kill in the league, as the Isles kill an incredible 86.96% of their penalties for only 21 extra-man goals against.  They also have taken advantage of opportunities well, as they have five short-handed goals to their credit (led by Cal Clutterbuck’s two shorties).

New York most recently played on Monday, beating the Red Wings 4-1.  Should the Islanders manage to turn that win into a streak, they have the opportunity to pull within two points of their Manhattan rivals, but that is also dependent on cooperation from Toronto.  More importantly than that though is avoiding falling out of a division spot, which is possible if they lose and Pittsburgh wins this evening.

Washington currently leads the season series 2-0-0, but the February 4 game was certainly an improvement for the Isles against the Caps, as they fell by only a lone goal instead of three.

These squads also met in last season’s playoffs, where the Caps won in seven games in the first round.  New York has not beaten Washington since Game Six on April 25, and certainly has aspirations of ending that skid.

Some players to keep an eye on in tonight’s game include New York‘s Greiss (.931 save percentage [second-best in the league] and 2.16 GAA [tied for sixth-best in the league]) & Washington‘s Alzner (+21 [tied for sixth-best in the league]), Nicklas Backstrom (53 points [tied for eighth-best in the league] and 36 assists [tied for ninth-most in the league]), Holtby (35 wins [most in the league], 2.16 GAA [tied for sixth-best in the league] and .926 [seventh-best in the league]), Evgeny Kuznetsov (+27 [leads the league], 41 assists [third-most in the league] and 57 points [tied for fifth-most in the league]) and Ovechkin (35 goals [leads the league] and +21 [tied for sixth-best in the league]).

Although I think New York is better than their 9-7-1 record in their last 17 games, I don’t really think it matters.  Washington has already started building Donald Trump’s wall, and it’s name is Braden Holtby.  And, when you pair it with Ovechkin’s offense… New York will be lucky to take the Caps to overtime.

January 25 – Day 107 – I told you we need to watch Detroit soon…

Just like I predicted, the Chicago Blackhawks used their return to the United Center to regroup and beat the division-rival St. Louis Blues with a two-goal shutout.

The game-winning goal was not scored until 35:26 had ticked off the clock, as Third Star of the Game Artemi Panarin scored off assists from Second Star Patrick Kane (his 43rd helper of the season) and Michal Rozsival.  The one-goal lead held into the second intermission.

The lone insurance goal was scored on the power play, only 4:56 after resuming play.  Andrew Shaw was responsible, assisted by Marian Hossa (his 17th helper of the season) and Trevor van Riemsdyk.

First Star Corey Crawford improves his record to 28-11-2 after saving all 25 shots he faced, while Brian Elliott’s falls to 10-6-5 after saving 23 of 25 (92%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 48-20-9, favoring the home squad by 40 points over the roadies.

After only four games played yesterday, the NHL picks back up the action today with six games.  The action gets started at 7 p.m. eastern with three games (Detroit at the New York Islanders, Boston at Philadelphia [TVAS] and Montréal at Columbus [RDS]), followed half an hour later by Buffalo at the New York Rangers (NBCSN).  Finally, this evening’s co-nightcaps drop the puck at 8:30 p.m. eastern (Calgary at Dallas and Arizona at Minnesota).

None of tonight’s games  are between divisional rivals, but two are between teams currently qualifying for the playoffs (Detroit at New York and Arizona at Minnesota).

In addition to watching a Western Conference game yesterday, I think the WingsIsles game will be more competitive, so let’s focus in on the action in the Barclays Center.

Unknown-1New York Islanders Logo

 

 

 

 

 

Tonight’s game marks Detroit‘s fourth appearance in the Game of the Day series, where they own a 2-1-0 record.  Their most recent showing in the series was a 4-1 loss to the Stars on November 8.  New York has been featured twice before tonight’s game, and are 1-1-0 in such games.  Their most recent in the series was also a 4-1 loss at home, but this one was to the Capitals on January 7.

The 24-16-8 Detroit Red Wings currently occupy third place in the Atlantic Division and sixth in the Eastern Conference, and have used an above-average defense to get them there.

Even with Danny DeKeyser’s 65 blocks, the Red Wings have allowed 1444 shots to reach 17-9-4 Petr Mrazek and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 92.3% for only 122 goals against, 12th-least in the league.  Although the defense as a whole has been above-average, the penalty kill still has room to improve, killing 80.65% of opposing attempts for 30 power play goals against.  To make matters worse, the kill still has yet to score their first short-handed goal of the season.

Standout rookie Dylan Larkin may have 127 shots to his credit, but the Wings as a whole only have 1378 on the season, of which 8.5% have found the back of the net for 118 goals (led by Larkin’s 15 tallies), seventh-fewest in the NHL.  Part of the problem for the lack of offense has been the below-average power play, where the Wings have scored only 17.11% for 26 power play goals, led by Gustav Nyquist’s six extra-man tallies.

The Wings‘ most recent game played was a 4-3 loss to the Ducks on Saturday.  A Detroit win tonight propels them past Tampa Bay for second place in the division, while a loss runs the chance of them falling behind Boston and into a wildcard position.

The 25-15-6 New York Islanders currently occupy third place in the Metropolitan Division and fourth in the Eastern Conference, using a top-10 offense paired with an above-average defense.  The Isles are certainly a force to be reckoned with.

Led by Calvin de Haan’s 117 blocks, the Isles have allowed only 1389 shots to reach 12-8-4 Jaroslav Halak and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 92.5% for only 114 goals against, sixth-fewest in the league.  The strongest facet of the defense has been the penalty kill, which has killed 87.86% of opposing opportunities, allowing only 17 goals.  To make matters worse for Detroit, New York also has four shorties to their credit, led by Cal Clutterbuck’s two tallies.

Led by Captain John Tavares’ 136 shots, New York has fired a solid 1393 shots, with 9% finding the back of the net for 128 goals (led by Brock Nelson’s 18 tallies), 13th-most in the league.  The biggest deficiency has been the power play, where the Isles have only scored on 17.78% for 24 goals (led by Frans Nielsen’s four extra-man tallies).  To make matters worse, the power play has given up five short-handed goals, two more than the league average.

New York won their most recent game, 5-2 victory in Ottawa.  A win tonight increases their lead over fourth-place New Jersey to three points, and has the potential to propel them past the team from Manhattan in the division.

This will be the first of three meetings between these squads this season.  Last year, New York won the series 2-1-0.

Some players to keep an eye on in tonight’s game include Detroit‘s Larkin (+23 [fourth-best in the league]) and Mrazek (.932 save percentage [tied for third-best in the league] and 2.03 GAA [tied for fifth-best in the league]) & New York‘s Thomas Greiss (.927 save percentage [tied for eighth-best in the league]), should he play.

Detroit is a peculiar team to figure out, as they always seem to do just enough to win a lot of their games.  That being said, I think New York, especially in Brooklyn, will be too much to handle.