Fridays are the bomb.com. This one is no exception, as the league has eight games on the schedule.
Like most nights, the action finds its start at 7 p.m. when three games drop the puck (Detroit at the New York Islanders, Calgary at the New York Rangers and Columbus at Washington), followed half an hour later by two more (Los Angeles at Florida and Vancouver at Carolina). Next up is St. Louis at Winnipeg at 8 p.m., while Pittsburgh at Dallas (SN1) waits 30 minutes before getting underway. Finally, Edmonton at Anaheim closes out the evening at 10 p.m. All times Eastern.
In addition to those NHL tilts, the women’s hockey tournament at the Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang is also getting underway, as Japan is taking on Sweden in Group B play at 2:40 a.m. Eastern time Saturday morning.
Among the games that stick out, here’s a few I selected…
Pittsburgh at Dallas: Drafted in 2011, D Jamie Oleksiak spent six seasons within the Stars organization. Tonight marks his first return to American Airlines Center since being traded in December.
Edmonton at Anaheim: It’s a rematch of last year’s Western Semifinals! One team looks capable of making a return to that round, one… doesn’t.
Japan vs. Sweden: I mean, this is hockey’s opening act of the 2018 Olympics we’re talking about here. How can this not be an important game?
However, there’s one more NHL game that sticks out above the rest, so it looks like we won’t be headed to Pyeongchang today. Maybe tomorrow!
In all honesty, if the Blues’ offense had performed yesterday like it did against Minnesota on Tuesday, we very well might be focusing on the Japan vs. Sweden game.
And that’s coming from somebody who will be wearing the Note at work this evening.
Instead, Head Coach Mike Yeo worked some magic with his line blender to lead his Notes to an explosive 6-1 victory against the Avs, the most goals they’ve scored in a game since another six-marker performance on December 9 in Detroit.
Don’t let C Paul Stastny‘s two points in last night’s game fool you: St. Louis’ top line is still a work in progress. In both instances when he found the scoresheet, he was the only forward listed, as he and D Vince Dunn assisted D Alex Pietrangelo to the captain’s second period goal and D Jay Bouwmeester and D Carl Gunnarsson assisted Stastny to his third period insurance tally.
Instead, it would seem that these new look Blues’ most dominant line might be its second, as F Patrik Berglund and F Brayden Schenn seemed to show some chemistry on the former Flyer’s second period goal. That line was completed by F Jaden Schwartz, whose +24 is (t)seventh-best in the league.
It will be interesting to see if Yeo lets his current lines play another game as they currently are (I’d put my chips in that pile) or if he’ll shake things up again tonight.
Though offense has certainly been a struggle of late for St. Louis, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been finding wins. In fact, the Blues have won seven of their past 10 games to hold on to third place in the Central Division and keep the surging Stars at bay.
Logic would lead us to believe the Notes have been one of the best defensive teams in the league during that run, but that’s only half true. The defensive skaters have been nothing worth writing home about considering their 30.9 shots against-per-game since January 16 is only 13th best in the league in that time, but 15-5-1 G Carter Hutton has been incredible in spite of that considerable workload.
Few goaltenders in the NHL have been as dominant as Hutton since January 16. He’s posted a 7-2-0 record in his past nine starts with an outstanding .95 save percentage and 1.47, improving his season numbers to a .944 save percentage and 1.7 GAA – both of which are best in the league. In fact, with the exception of G Tuukka Rask‘s 1.43 GAA since mid-January, no goaltender with more than six starts in that time even comes close to Hutton’s performance.
In other words, Hutton has been the Blues’ biggest weapon for the past two weeks – if not longer.
Of note, Hutton was in net last night in St. Louis for the Blues’ victory over the Avalanche. That leads me to believe the likely starter this evening will be 18-15-2 G Jake Allen, who has lost five consecutive decisions since December 27 with a combined .892 save percentage. If he does in fact draw the start, the Blues’ offense had better be prepared to keep pace with the Jets’ otherworldly firepower (aka RW Blake Wheeler, who’s 44 assists are sixth-most in the league).
Whichever netminder is in the crease, he has the unenviable job of trying to slow down 32-13-9 Winnipeg, who has posted a dominant 6-0-2 record over its past eight games to keep pace with the Central Division-leading Predators (the Jets are tied in points, but have one more game played than Nashville).
Of course, the Jets simply haven’t looked the same since C Mark Scheifele went down with an upper-body injury on December 27. In his absence, they’ve become a bit of a defensive team, allowing only 1.88 goals per game since January 20, the third-best mark in the NHL in that time.
While 28-6-8 G Connor Hellebuyck has looked extremely solid over this stretch (more on him in a moment), I’ve been most impressed with the efforts of his defense. Led by the efforts of D Josh Morrissey (2.9 blocks per game over this run), D Dustin Byfuglien and F Mathieu Perreault (both with seven takeaways since January 20, and Perreault with 2.1 hits per game in that time), Winnipeg has allowed only 29.5 shots against per game over this streak, the fifth-fewest in the NHL in that time.
With a workload that light, it’s hard for the league’s second-best goaltender in terms of wins to do much besides succeed. He’s started all but one of the Jets’ past eight games, earning a 5-0-2 record with a solid .934 save percentage and 1.94 GAA to improve his season numbers to .924 and 2.32, both of which are eighth-best in the NHL this season.
Halfway through the four-game series between these two clubs, we’re knotted at one game apiece with both teams winning their first home game against the other. St. Louis was the first to don its home colors, and Hutton shutout the Jets’ potent offense to a 2-0 victory on December 16 (Hutton’s three shutouts on the season are [t]seventh-most in the NHL). However, Hellebuyck and Winnipeg matched the Blues’ shutout with one of its own the next day (one of a [t]second-best five on the season), as the Jets won 4-0 at Bell MTS Centre.
In what looked like a battle of the offenses when the season started, this game will be decided by which offense can simply manage to muster up a goal against these two stellar defensive efforts. Since the Jets are playing at home this evening and they didn’t have to travel overnight like St. Louis, I’m leaning towards them earning two points tonight to surpass Nashville for the division lead (at least for a night) and pull within a point of Vegas for the Western Conference lead.
An explosive three-goal second period is all the Calgary Flames needed to beat the New Jersey Devils 3-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Prudential Center.
Since no goals were struck in the first period, First Star of the Game C Sean Monahan‘s (D Dougie Hamilton and D Mark Giordano) wrist shot 4:16 into the second frame gave the Flames a one-goal lead. Second Star F Taylor Hall provided an unassisted wrister only 3:07 later to level the game, but Calgary was just getting its scoring started. Third Star LW Johnny Gaudreau (W Micheal Ferland) reclaimed the lead with 5:27 in the frame, but it was Monahan’s (Gaudreau and D T.J. Brodie) second marker of the period that proved to be the game-winner.
Just like Flames play-by-play announcer Rick Ball said, “persistence pays off.” After receiving a pass from Gaudreau at the blue line, Monahan attacked up the boards and through the left face-off circle before trying to beat G Keith Kinkaid near side. His initial shot found the goal post, but Monahan’s momentum carried him behind the net to Kinkaid’s left, just in time for him to collect his own aerial rebound. He one-timed his own miss-turned-assist (I mean, it was intentional, right?) past Kinkaid’s glove, clipping the left goal post before finding the back of the net 1:55 before the end of the frame.
Is that what summer was like? No hockey for three days was terrible!
Let’s get back into the swing of things tonight with 11 games to watch. As it usually does on a weeknight, the action starts at 7 p.m. with five games (Ottawa at Boston [TVAS], Detroit at New Jersey, Buffalo at the New York Islanders, Columbus at Pittsburgh, Carolina at Montréal [RDS/TSN2]), followed by four more (Nashville at St. Louis, Dallas at Minnesota, Edmonton at Winnipeg [SN] and Washington at the New York Rangers [NBCSN]) an hour later. Arizona at Colorado drops the puck at 9 p.m., and tonight’s nightcap – Vegas at Anaheim – gets underway an hour after to close out the evening. All times Eastern.
As usual, I have a headline for more than a few of the games being played tonight.
Ottawa at Boston: Few things are more fun than a playoff rematch. The Sens won the first round matchup in six games.
Columbus at Pittsburgh: A rivalry and a first round rematch? Sign us up!
Nashville at St. Louis: Another playoff rematch, but this one took place in the Western Semifinals. The Predators won 4-2.
Washington at New York: Rivalries are all the rage tonight, because yet another one is taking place in the Big Apple.
Of all of these excellent matchups, only one can be our Game of the Day. Considering the Blues and Predators are playing for the Central Division lead, there’s no place I’d rather be than the Gateway City!
Let me know if we’ve come back from a holiday break with this matchup before…
Oh wait, this is exactly the game we came back to after the one-day break for American Thanksgiving. The Blues and Predators opened their four-game season series at Scottrade Center last month, but it was the visiting Preds that took two points after posting a two-goal shutout victory (way to go, G Pekka Rinne).
Since these teams are separated by only a point in the standings, I’d expect a similar contest today.
The biggest story line surrounding the 23-13-2 Blues is still F Jaden Schwartz‘ ankle injury, and that won’t change until he returns in mid- or late-January. With 14-21-35 totals before he went down with a right ankle injury, he still leads the team with a +23 that is second-best in the NHL.
Fortunately for St. Louis, it knows how to play on both ends of the ice. Allowing only 2.47 goals against-per-game, the Notes play the fourth-best defense in the league. Led by the efforts of D Joel Edmundson (87 blocks, [t]fourth-most in the league), W Dmitrij Jaskin (89 hits), D Colton Parayko and F Brayden Schenn (27 takeaways apiece), St. Louis allows an average of only 30.24 shots to reach 18-10-2 G Jake Allen, the sixth-fewest in the NHL.
Schenn in particular has been absolutely stellar, as he’s been able to turn his 27 takeaways into 17 goals ([t]seventh-most in the league) and 40 points([t]10th-most in the NHL) for a +21 rating (third-best in the league). It’s amazing that a player that joined the team only half a year ago has been such a dominant force, and I think it’s safe to say he’s been the Blues’ most valuable player so far.
Of course, it’s hard to look too bad with RW Vladimir Tarasenko as a linemate. The Russian has posted 15-21-36 totals this season alongside his new best friend to earn a +16 rating that is eighth-best in the NHL. Tarasenko immediately moved to the top line following Schwartz’ injury, but struggled to find much rhythm with C Paul Stastny(whose 32nd birthday is today). Perhaps it’s no surprise St. Louis beat Vancouver 3-1 before the holiday break by promoting Schenn to the top line to play with Tarasenko!
Anyways, back to the defensive zone. Anyone that is lucky enough to get by Schenn and the Blues’ defense still has to deal with Allen, whose 18 wins are the (t)fourth-most in the league. He’s posted a .913 save percentage and 2.55 GAA in 31 appearances, which are the (t)19th- and and 10th-best efforts, respectively, among the 32 goalies with at least 14 starts.
Of course, if we’re comparing goaltenders, 21-9-5 Nashville takes the cake with 18-6-3 Rinne. Though he’s one of the three other netminders tied with Allen at 18 wins, Rinne has earned his success in large part by his own accord. He’s posted a .923 save percentage and 2.49 GAA that are both among the top nine efforts in the NHL, and his three shutouts are (t)second-most as well.
Rinne’s excellent play is a major reason Head Coach Peter Laviolette‘s game plan works. Knowing their goaltender can stop basically everything that comes his way, Nashville’s defensive corps – led by Mattias Ekholm (6-15-21 totals), Roman Josi (7-14-21) and P.K. Subban (7-18-25) – is able to contribute extensively on the offensive end of the rink. In fact, the Predators’ defensive corps has combined for 87 points, which is only three points short of Tampa’s league-leading blue line.
They bolster an already impressive group of forwards – headlined by F Filip Forsberg (15-18-33 totals) and second-liner W Kevin Fiala (10-16-26) – that averages 3.23 goals-per-game, the sixth-most in the league.
Fiala in particular was on fire leading up to the holiday break. Before being held off the scorecard against Dallas on December 23, he had been riding a nine-game point streak that included eight goals. He has an unfortunate connection to tonight’s arena after breaking his femur and rupturing an artery in his left thigh during the playoffs last year, and after being held pointless in his first return to St. Louis last month, I’m sure he’d like to finally put the injury behind him by earning a point tonight.
As pointed out by Jim Thomas, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s new Blues reporter, the Notes are one of two teams to have already played their 38th game this season – two more than the median (thank your third grade teacher for knowing what that means!) 36 played by nine clubs. This three-day break was especially important for them, and we’ll probably see a well rested and much improved St. Louis team because of it. As such, I think the Blues can find a way to beat the Predators this evening.
Given what day this is of the season and the number of games on today’s schedule, there’s only one thing that can be said:
You know what, I’ll let you figure it out.
Anyways, there’s nine contests on the slate for today, beginning with five (Ottawa at Buffalo [RDS], Los Angeles at New Jersey, Toronto at Philadelphia [TVAS], Colorado at Washington and Edmonton at Columbus) at the usual 7 p.m. start time. Next up are the two 8 p.m. games (Tampa Bay at St. Louis [NBCSN] and Calgary at Minnesota), followed by Florida at Chicago (SN) half an hour later. Finally, Carolina makes its first annual trip to Vegas at 10 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.
There were two games I had circled at the beginning of the season…
Ottawa at Buffalo: It’s rivalry night in the Queen City between the Eastern Conference’s two worst teams! Get excited Upstate!
There’s no denying how dominant the Bolts have been through their first 29 games, and that’s especially apparent when they have the puck on their own sticks. Tampa averages 3.75 goals-per-game to lead the league, thanks in large part to the incredible efforts of its top line. RW Nikita Kucherov (20-21-41 totals), F Vladislav Namestnikov (12-15-27) and C Steven Stamkos (12-30-42) have been nothing short of incredible, and it doesn’t hurt that they have F Brayden Point (12-14-26) and company backing them on the second line.
As I pointed out this weekend, this offense is also acting as the Lightning’s best defense, because it’s keeping pucks off 19-4-1 G Andrei Vasilevskiy – not that he needs much help, as his .93 season save percentage and 2.24 GAA are both among the top four performances of any goaltender in the league with at least nine starts.
But we discussed all this this weekend. Let’s talk about Tampa’s special teams, which – as you would probably guess – are among the best in the NHL.
The Lightning are the league’s deadliest when they have the man-advantage, as they convert a 28.44 percent of opposing penalties into goals, a mark that is over two percent better than Nashville’s second-best effort.
Just as they do at even strength, Kucherov, Namestnikov and Stamkos have led the charge on the power play with their combined 46 extra-man points. Makhail Sergachev has also made his presence known on the Bolts’ second unit, as he’s managed 2-8-10 totals – the fourth-best effort on the team.
Perhaps one of Tampa’s biggest weaknesses is when it is on the penalty kill. If that is the case the rest of the league should be alarmed, because the Lightning successfully defend 82.6 percent of their infractions to rank eighth-best in the NHL. Vasilevskiy in particular has performed spectacularly when his club is shorthanded, managing a .924 save percentage against the power play to rank (t)fourth-best among the 32 goaltenders with at least 14 starts.
Before we jump into talking about the 21-8-2 Blues, it needs to be noted that they’ll be without three players this evening. In addition to D Jay Bouwmeester missing tonight’s game to rest an injury, F Jaden Schwartz and D Alex Pietrangelo are both on injured reserve with respective ankle and lower body injuries suffered blocking shots.
It certainly wouldn’t be without reason if the Notes’ offense struggles with these injuries, as they average a 3.29 goals-per-game average that ranks sixth-best in the league.
On that end, the biggest injury is certainly to Schwartz, who is posting career-best 12-21-35 totals. In his place, RW Vladimir Tarasenko moves up onto the top line with F Vladimir Sobotka and Vladimir C Paul Stastny. While Schwartz is a tough act to follow, there’s little reason to believe Tarasenko won’t thrive in that role, as his 14-19-33 performance from playing on the second line is already the third-best on the team. Instead, I’ll be interested to see if F Brayden Schenn, St. Louis’ leading scorer with a 16-37-37 effort, can turn W Dmitrij Jaskin (4-7-11) into a real scoring threat while filling in for Tarasenko.
Of course, this offense is not simply reliant on spectacular play from its forwards. Pietrangelo is also very active in the attacking zone, as his 7-16-23 totals are not only the most among St. Louis blueliners, but also the fourth-best marks on the entire team. In fact, Pietrangelo ranks fifth in defensive scoring across the league, behind only the likes of Drew Doughty, John Klingberg, Kris Letang and Nick Leddy (for what its worth, the Blue Notes’ captain has scored more goals than any of those players).
Fortunately for St. Louis, it has just the player to slide into his role as the top two-way defenseman on the team: D Colton Parayko. Currently owning 3-14-17 marks, the third-year player has put his arguable sophomore slump behind him and is well on his way to surpassing his solid 9-24-33 rookie performance. Should he continue on his current pace, Parayko is on track to post 8-37-45 totals that would exceed Pietrangelo’s effort in his third year in the league (yes, that was the lockout season – we’re going off points-per-game in this instance).
As far as defense, not much should change for the team that features the reigning Second Star of the Week in 17-6-2 G Jake Allen. Allen is riding a four-game winning streak and has not lost in regulation since December 1 against the Kings, posting a .939 save percentage over the five games since then. As long as the Blues don’t see a significant drop in its defense that has allowed an average of only 29.45 shots against-per-game (the third-fewest in the NHL), Allen should be able to keep his end of the ice under control.
Now, what makes this contest extremely exciting is that the winner will take the lead in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy. Both are tied at 44 points currently, but the Bolts do own a “games played” tiebreaker, having laced up their skates two fewer times than St. Louis. Considering the Lightning already beat the Blues 2-1 on October 14, St. Louis will no doubt want to exact revenge on home ice.
As for if that actually happens, I’m having a tough time making that prediction. With their injuries, I’m concerned the Blues’ lackluster special teams will take too much of a hit this evening, so I think Tampa Bay will come away with the road victory.
The New York Islanders exploded out of the gates to beat the Washington Capitals 3-1 at the Barclays Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
That advantage doubled to two goals 36 seconds into the second period when Second Star LW Andrew Ladd (D Calvin de Haan and RW Jordan Eberle) scored what proved to be a game-winning wrister.
When facing a goaltender of the likes of G Braden Holtby, quick passes become a necessity. That’s exactly what provided Ladd the opportunity for his eighth goal of the season. de Haan collected a drop pass from Eberle at the blue line and began crashing towards the goal line. But, instead of throwing a wrist shot on Holtby from an angle with low odds of success, he instead slid a centering pass across the crease to Ladd, who was camping out near the left goal post. Before the netminder could slide across his crease, Ladd had already buried his wrister.
Only 58 seconds after the Isles’ goal horn had been quieted, C John Tavares (F Josh Bailey and F Anders Lee) brought it back to life with a wrister to chase Holtby and set the score at 3-0.
The Capitals finally got on the scoreboard at the 8:23 mark of the third period courtesy of D Dmitry Orlov (F Chandler Stephenson and F Jay Beagle), but they couldn’t claw any further back into the game before the end of regulation.
First Star G Jaroslav Halak earned the victory after saving 31-of-32 shots faced (.969 save percentage), leaving the loss to Holtby, who saved nine-of-12 (.75) before being pulled following Tavares’ tally. G Philipp Grubauer saved all 17 shots he faced for no decision.
New York’s regulation win is the first in six games in the DtFR Game of the Day series, snapping a five-game run of contests requiring more than 60 minutes. Hosts in the series now own a 39-22-8 record that is 17 points better than the roadies’ efforts.
While I’m sure yesterday’s break was enjoyed by hockey players and fans alike, I think I’m safe in assuming that we’ve been looking forward to resuming play today since the end of Wednesday’s games in Southern California.
Making up for yesterday’s lost time, the NHL has scheduled a whopping 14 games scheduled over the course of eight hours. The action starts at 1 p.m. when Pittsburgh visits Boston (NBC), followed three hours later by a trio of contests (Winnipeg at Anaheim, Colorado at Minnesota and the New York Islanders at Philadelphia [SN]). Tampa Bay at Washington (NHLN) drops the puck at 5 p.m. and San Jose at Vegas finishes up the matinee slate an hour after. The normal starting time of 7 p.m. brings with it a four-game set (Edmonton at Buffalo, Vancouver at New Jersey, Detroit at the New York Rangers and Ottawa at Columbus [RDS]), with Toronto at Carolina waiting half an hour before dropping the puck. Nashville visits St. Louis (TVAS) at 8 p.m., with tonight’s co-nightcaps – Los Angeles at Arizona and Calgary at Dallas – cleaning up the festivities 60 minutes later. All times Eastern.
Let’s see what games I had circled on my calendar…
Detroit at New York: Nothing gets me in the holiday spirit like a nasty, old-fashioned Original Six rivalry.
Toronto at Carolina: The man, the myth, the legend D Ron Hainsey is back in Raleigh for the first time since being shipped to Pittsburgh at last season’s trade deadline, taking on a Hurricanes team he played with for four seasons.
Nashville at St. Louis: If last year’s Western Semifinals matchup is any indicator, this game has a chance of getting nasty.
Calgary at Dallas: While this game should be exciting in and of itself, the real treat is happening pregame when RW Jere Lehtinen‘s 26 is retired to the American Airline Center’s rafters.
It’s been a while since we’ve featured either the Blues or Predators. What better way to kick start the second third of the season than a contest between two of the top three teams in the Western Conference?
For those that can’t remember all the way back to the last week of April and the first week of May, this was a physical playoff series between these two clubs. In six games, both squads combined to throw 365 total hits, or 60.8 hits-per-game. While I wouldn’t argue that it’s the reason the Predators were able to win the series 4-2, they did technically out-hit the Blues 184-181.
Of course, one of the major motives for the violence – beyond being Central Division rivals, of course – was W Kevin Fiala breaking his leg as a result of one of those hits, a check from D Robert Bortuzzo in Game 1 at Scottrade Center.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that, given the extra motivation to avenge their fallen comrade, the Preds were able to claim the only road victory of the series in that game. Though the next five games never had goal-differentials of more than two goals (barring F Calle Jarnkrok‘s empty-netter with a minute remaining in Game 6), Nashville’s imposing home advantage at Bridgestone Arena was enough to earn it a ticket to the Western Conference Finals and, ultimately, the Stanley Cup Finals.
Big hits like those during last year’s playoff series usually imply an active and effective defense. While I have no doubt in the of this year’s blue line, the 13-6-2 Predators of the 2017-’18 season seem to have a much better handle of the game when they are controlling things offensively.
That has been made no more evident than during the three-game winning streak they’re currently riding, as the Predators’ 12 goals are the (t)second-most in the NHL since November 18. While that’s a problem in-and-of itself for the Blues, figuring out who is scoring the goals is another issue entirely.
During this three-game winning streak, the only staple in Nashville’s production has been D P.K. Subban, who has provided five assists since November 18 to lead the team in points. As for who he’s assisting, your guess is as good as 12-5-1 G Jake Allen‘s. 10 different skaters have scored goals in this trio of contests, with only D Mattias Ekholm and F Filip Forsberg scoring more than one.
If St. Louis is going to pick only one forward to stop tonight, they’d probably be best off eliminating Forsberg. Not only has he scored a team-high 11 goals on the season, but he’s also tacked on another dozen assists for a club-leading 23 points.
Unfortunately for the Notes, Forsberg is a tough man to keep under wraps, because he does most of his work while Nashville has the man-advantage. Seven of his goals and 12 of his points have come on the power play, and as such the Preds’ 25.3 percent success rate with the extra man is the third best in the NHL. With St. Louis managing a below-average penalty kill (its 78.6 percent kill rate is [t]11th-worst in the NHL) Forsberg could be well on his way to adding to his season totals tonight if F Brayden Schenn and F Vladimir Sobotka can’t stay out of the penalty box.
Of course, Forsberg and the Predators aren’t going to show up in St. Louis and simply be handed two points, as they are going up against a team that is riding a three-game winning streak of its own: the Western Conference-leading 16-5-1 Blues.
As you’d expect from a squad in their position in the table, it’s hard to find too many issues with the Blues game (ok, beyond the penalty kill). After all, they rank fifth best in the NHL in both goals-for (3.45 per game) and goals-against (2.64 per game) on the season.
That being said – and with no disrespect to Allen’s .909 save percentage and 2.74 GAA for the season – offense has been the name of the game during this little winning streak the Notes have going. In the past three games, the Blues have managed an impressive 16 goals that is (t)second-most in the league since November 16. In fact, considering most teams have played four games in that span, St. Louis’ 5.33 goals-per-game effort has actually been the best performance in the league for the second half of the month.
Now, before we go any further, it should probably be mentioned that two of the Blues’ last three games were played against a struggling 8-12-2 Oilers team that was never known for their defense even in last year’s return to the postseason. St. Louis won both games by a combined score of 12-4, but the biggest takeaways from those games (beyond four points, obviously) was the positive momentum, rhythm and confidence built by seeing what this team is truly capable of.
Whether we’re looking at just this three-game run or the entire season, there’s few names on the Blues’ offense that shine like Schenn and F Jaden Schwartz. While Schwartz has been truly spectacular on the season as a whole with his 11-19-30 totals (he’s on pace for 41 goals and 112 points), first-year Note Schenn has been stealing most of the headlines of late. In only his past three games, the former Flyer has earned 5-3-8 totals to lead the team and bolster his season marks to 10-20-30. Schenn is currently riding an eight-game point streak that includes seven goals.
Of course, this all ignores that RW Vladimir Tarasenko – the third member of St. Louis’ first line – is also on this team, the man who effectively carried the Blues’ entire offense on his back only a season ago with his 39-36-75 totals.
It’s the very fact that he’s not the lone goal provider that is making this Blues team so dangerous. With his linemates scoring like there’s no tomorrow, a potent second line of Sobotka, Paul Stastny and Alex Steen backing them up and a defensive corps that includes the likes of Joel Edmundson (6-2-8 totals), Colton Parayko (2-8-10) and Alex Pietrangelo (7-13-20), Tarasenko is able to settle into his original role as the Notes’ goal-sniper extraordinaire. Considering his 12.1 shooting percentage is (t)second-best in the league among players with at least 85 shots on goal, I’d say he’s gotten back into the swing of things rather nicely.
And if there’s one thing 12-3-2 G Pekka Rinne doesn’t want to see tonight, it’s Tarasenko lining up one of his deadly wrist shots with the option to pass to an equally potent forward. In addition to his dozen goals on the season, Tarasenko has also assisted on 14 other St. Louis tallies, making that top line one of the most intimidating in the conference, if not the entire league.
With two extremely talented offenses going at it, it would seem likely that the better defense should be able to come out on top after everything is all said and done. If I’m right in that prediction, it should be the Blues that see their winning streak continue, as their 2.64 goals against-per-game is lower than Nashville’s 2.9.
Offseason Analysis: The Blues’ biggest struggle last season was finding offensive production from someone not named Vladimir Tarasenko, the right wing that led his team with 75 points – 20 more than second-best F Jaden Schwartz.
Enter Flyer-turned-Note Schenn.
The fifth-overall pick in the 2009 Entry Draft has improved almost every season of his career. Starting with his rookie campaign in 2011-’12, Schenn has averaged .58 points-per-game, including .72 points-per-game for the past two seasons even though he played for the ninth-worst offense in the NHL during that time.
For those wanting more moves, you’ll have your wish next offseason when eight NHL contracts will expire. Until then, St. Louis is putting almost the exact same product on the ice as it did at last season’s end. Since that’s the case, the Blues’ goal of a seventh-straight playoff appearance will require a return to form from a few offensive pieces that had down years last season – particularly C Paul Stastny (18-22-40 totals), who has yet to match his career .8 points-per-game in a Blues sweater.
Of course, the main reason Stastny struggled to post numbers similar to his 10-39-49 totals from 2015-’16 was a lower-body injury suffered in March that forced him out of action for the last 10 games of the regular season and most of the Minnesota series. And he wasn’t the only one to face extended time off the ice, as a February ACL injury landed F Robby Fabbri on injured reserve. It was a disappointing halt to an excellent season for Fabbri, who had posted 11-18-29 totals in 51 games before going down.
Of course, it is these injuries that provided 21-year-old Ivan Barbashev his opportunity to explode onto the scene. In only 30 games, Barbashev was able to notch 12 points and helped the Blues close the season on a 12-2-2 run. It seems a safe assumption that he’s earned his way onto the Blues’ starting roster – at least until December when Patrik Berglund should return from his shoulder surgery.
Another task facing the Blues is identifying their new two-way defenseman, a role Kevin Shattenkirk filled for the past seven seasons. In the 20 regular season games following Shattenkirk’s trade to Washington, Captain Alex Pietrangelo more than stepped into that role by notching 5-13-18 totals for .9 points-per-game, far superior to the .5 points-per-game rate he managed in his opening 60 games.
With four assists in 11 playoff contests, Pietrangelo didn’t necessarily disappear from the scoresheet during the postseason, but his offensive contributions from the blue line were dwarfed by those of Joel Edmundson (3-3-6 totals) and Colton Parayko (2-3-5 totals). Drafted in 2012, 24-year-old Parayko has long been tapped as Shattenkirk’s replacement – especially given that he’s posted two consecutive 33+ point NHL seasons – but the Blues are cautiously hoping last April was Edmundson’s (another 24-year-old) coming-out party.
Will that dream pan out? Probably not. Edmundson has only managed 31 total points in two years of regular and postseason NHL play. But, if it somehow proves to be true, it will be hard to argue that St. Louis’ Edmundson (who’s playing for a contract this year, by the way), Parayko and Pietrangelo form one of the most dynamic defensive corps in the league.
Another interesting transition for this club is employing Thorburn as their new enforcer. For seven seasons, Reaves was charged with protecting the likes of Pietrangelo, Alex Steen and Tarasenko, but he’s looking after Pittsburgh’s stars now. With the likes of Duncan Keith still roaming the division, Thorburn – himself a four-year Central veteran – will need to assert himself early to protect St. Louis’ elite players.
Offseason Grade: B-
For the room it had on its roster (read: not much), St. Louis made a great addition in Schenn that should make a noticeable improvement on the offensive end.
But are the Blues a playoff team? I feel pretty confident saying they are. Do they make it to the Western Finals for the second time in three years or – God save me – qualify for the Stanley Cup Finals? Many of the pieces are still there, but there are more than a few talented teams in the mix. Then again, this team has proven in the past that when it’s hot, it’s en fuego. If the Notes are riding one of those highs in April, there’s no telling how far they could go.
Offseason Analysis: Philadelphia Flyers general manager, Ron Hextall, didn’t play the Powerball, but may have won the lottery after all– considering the fact that the Flyers moved from 14th to 2nd overall at the 2017 NHL Entry Draft via the draft lottery and were then able to select Nolan Patrick from the Brandon Wheat Kings.
Landing Patrick over New Jersey’s 1st overall pick, Nico Hischier, might resemble the 2010 NHL Entry Draft in initial success. Edmonton Oilers 2010 1st overall pick, Taylor Hall didn’t have much of a team around him in Edmonton in his rookie season of 2010-2011, while Boston’s Tyler Seguin had the eventual 2011 Stanley Cup champions as his linemates.
Hischier joins the rebuilding Devils, while Patrick landed on the middle-of-the-road Flyers and if you’re a fan of either of those teams, you’re probably hoping that the first two picks of the 2017 draft aren’t a full repeat of the 2010 draft, where Hall was traded to New Jersey just last year and Seguin was dealt to Dallas in 2013.
The Flyers currently have five defensemen on their NHL roster and shouldn’t be too worried about how the sixth spot and depth spot will fill out– alas, this is the reason why training camp and the preseason exist.
But while Hextall had an easy offseason of minor tweaks to the roster, a couple of key components from last season’s team are no longer members of the franchise.
Brayden Schenn was dealt to St. Louis in exchange for Jori Lehtera, a 2017 1st round pick (Morgan Frost) and a conditional 2018 1st round pick. Nick Cousins was sent to Arizona in a trade that involved other, less important, components. More importantly, Steve Mason was not offered a contract and jettisoned for the Winnipeg Jets via free agency as Brian Elliott agreed to terms with Philadelphia on a 2-year, $2.750 million per year contract.
Entering his fourth NHL season, Lehtera is coming off of a career worst seven goals, 15 assists (22 points) performance in 64 games played last season (due to injuries and otherwise). Healthy and in need of a change of scenery, Lehtera appears to be reinvigorated and ready to slide in alongside the likes of Giroux, Voracek, Konecny, Wayne Simmonds, Michael Raffl and Jordan Weal.
Since the late 1990s, the Flyers have had about 3,000,000 million different starting goaltenders. Okay, the real number is somewhere around 30, but the point is this– Philly may have found a number one starter in Brian Elliott.
After being traded to the Calgary Flames from the St. Louis Blues, Elliott went on to appear in 49 games– the most he’s played since the 2009-2010 season (55 games with the Ottawa Senators). Last season, Elliott’s numbers (a 2.55 goals against average and a .910 save percentage) nearly reflected that of his 2009-2010 season (2.57 GAA with a .909 SV% in 6 more games than his 2016-2017 campaign).
Yes, Elliott was considerably worse in Calgary than in St. Louis. He never had a GAA above 2.28 with the Blues (and his 2.28 GAA came in 24 games during the lockout shortened 2012-2013 season). His final year with St. Louis (2015-2016) amassed a 2.07 GAA and a .930 SV% in 42 games played en route to a Western Conference Finals appearance (and loss to the San Jose Sharks).
Granted, St. Louis had a defense in front of him– and an offense, for that matter– all of his years in a blue note, while Elliott’s short stint with the Flames was largely unprotected. There was no 1A/1B scenario, unlike when Elliott played with Jake Allen in St. Louis and Calgary’s defense was not of the caliber of Colton Parayko and all who came before him on the Blues.
And if Elliott has a bad night or an off-week, then Michal Neuvirth is more than ready to step in and tame the crease, like how the Blues juggled Elliott and Allen for a few seasons.
Coming off a season with a -17 goal differential, the Flyers will need to replace a two-time 50-point scorer (Schenn) with more than what they brought in during the offseason. Hextall is opting for the build from within strategy, having witnessed an impressive rookie campaign from Konecny and since landing Patrick 2nd overall in June.
Inaction can work, as the old saying “don’t fix it if it ain’t broken” goes, but will it be enough to put Philadelphia back into Stanley Cup contention for the first time since 2010, let alone back into the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
Offseason Grade: C
Simply put, the Flyers could’ve gotten more up front in the Brayden Schenn deal, it seems, from either the Blues or literally any other team and that hampers their offseason success in finding a suitable replacement for Steve Mason as one of their goalies by signing Brian Elliott.
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.
1) 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.
2) 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.
3) 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).
4) 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.
5) 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.
6) 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.
7) 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.
8) 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.
9) 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.
10) 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.
11) 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.
12) 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.
13) 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.
14) 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.
15) 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.
16) 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.
17) 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.
18) 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.
19) 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.
20) 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.
21) 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.
22) 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.
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.
24) 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.
25) 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.
26) 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.
27) 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.
28) 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.
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.
30) 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.
31) 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.
Of course, for that plan to work means a painful beginning to the game. That was represented by Paul Stastny‘s (Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz) wrist shot only 2:04 into the contest. It was another scrappy, ugly playoff goal. Tarasenko ripped a wrist shot on net from the far face-off circle, but Third Star of the Game Pekka Rinne was more than able to make the save.
But there’s a big difference between simply making a save and containing a save. Rinne did only the former, leaving the puck exposed behind him in the crease. Stastny took notice and reached behind the goaltender to complete the play and give the Blues an early 1-0 lead.
Knowing St. Louis would have home ice for a deciding Game 7, the Preds clearly tightened up following Stastny’s marker. They managed only five shots in the first period due in large part to giving the puck away nine times before the first intermission.
Whether it was a message from Laviolette or Captain Mike Fisher, something got through to the club during the break because the score read 1-1 only 35 seconds after the beginning of the second period. Scoring his fourth goal of the playoffs, Roman Josi (Mattias Ekholm and First Star Ryan Johansen) scored a snap shot on Jake Allen‘s seventh shot faced of the game.
Both defenses yielded only seven shots in the second period to leave the score as it was for the remaining 19:25 before the second intermission. The physical play by both clubs had a big part in that effort, as St. Louis’ Colton Parayko and Smashville’s Colton Sissons both threw five hits during the game.
During the second intermission, it was the Notes’ opportunity to regroup and respond to the Predators’ second period. Instead, Johansen (Second Star Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg) scored what proved to be the game-winning goal 3:15 into the frame.
It was a beautiful breakaway goal befitting the title of series-clincher. Ekholm ripped the puck away from Tarasenko along the far boards in his defensive zone and passed to Forsberg near the far point. Upon seeing Ekholm’s takeaway, Arvidsson had been working his way towards the neutral zone and Forsberg dished across the blue line to him. The Swede raced up the ice into the offensive zone and passed from the far face-off dot to his trailing center to set up a one-on-one matchup with Allen. After making the netminder commit to the near post with a shot fake, he pulled the puck back across the crease and finished with a smooth backhander to give the Predators a lead they would not yield.
Allen departed his crease for the first time with 2:20 remaining in regulation. With the extra attacker, the Blues managed only two shots – neither of which required a save by Rinne. Instead, Calle Jarnkrok (Josi and Rinne) bolted down the ice to ensure Nashville its chance to fight for the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl by burying a wrister with 60 seconds remaining before the final horn.
Allen would desert his net for the sixth attacker again with 51 seconds remaining in regulation, but to no avail. The Blues could not manage a tally, much less a second they would have needed to force overtime.
The NHL has yet to release a starting date or time for the Western Conference finals, but Game 7 in the other Western Semifinal will be played Wednesday.
Anaheim Ducks at Edmonton Oilers – Game 6
With five goals in the first period, Edmonton stomped the Ducks 7-1 Sunday at Rogers Place to force the first Game 7 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals.
With an opportunity to advance to the Western Conference Finals with a win, nothing went right for the Ducks in the first period. They managed only eight shots on goal compared to Edmonton’s 16.
Edmonton actually reached its sixth goal before the Ducks even fired their ninth shot of the contest. Anton Slepyshev (Patrick Maroon and Draisaitl) buried a wrister from the slot only 45 into the second period to truly break Anaheim’s spirit. Though Rickard Rakell (Corey Perry and Cam Fowler) did manage to get the Ducks on the board at the 8:56 mark of the period, Draisaitl (Lucic and Letestu) completed his hat trick with 4:33 remaining in the frame on a power play to neutralize his tally.
Allowing only one goal on 35 shots faced (97.1%), Third Star Cam Talbot also deserves much credit for Edmonton’s victory. He especially deserves credit for yielding a goal on any of the Ducks’ three power plays. Though Anaheim’s power play hasn’t been very potent this postseason at a 14.3% conversion rate, a man-advantage is still a man-advantage and requires extra focus from a netminder.
Though Game 7 is scheduled for Wednesday, the time of puck drop will be determined following the conclusion of Game 6 between the Capitals and Penguins.
For the first and second rounds 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 writer is Connor Keith.
Nashville Predators at St. Louis Blues – Game 5
Pekka Rinne stood tall, but not tall enough to prevent the Predators from falling 2-1 to St. Louis at the Scottrade Center in their Western Conference Semifinals matchup.
Instead, it was the Blues’ defense that played exceptionally well to earn the victory. Every single blueliner blocked two Predators shots, but the defensive corps was paced by Carl Gunnarsson‘s three. Add in the forwards’ rejections, and 25 total shots were blocked before reaching First Star of the Game Jake Allen, who saved all 22 shots faced except James Neal‘s (P.K. Subban and Roman Josi) five-on-three power play wrist shot with 6:10 remaining in the second period.
Speaking of Nashville’s special teams, they played incredibly. Not only did they convert the only extra-man opportunity of the combined eight in the contest, but the penalty kill also stood especially strong. In total, the Preds were shorthanded for 7:51, including 1:50 of five-on-three action late in the first period, but did not yield a tally.
But the Notes’ postseason success has not been due to their power play. Even though they played the eighth-best man-advantage during the regular season, they’ve managed an anemic 6.9% conversion rate in their 10 playoff games, the worst in the league since the end of the regular season.
Instead, it’s been grind-it-out goals like Second Star Dmitrij Jaskin‘s (Alex Pietrangelo and Vladimir Sobotka) wrister. Making his first appearance of the 2017 postseason, he took advantage of the rebound of Pietrangelo’s shot from the far point off Rinne’s right pad to beat the goaltender to the near post at the 5:43 mark of the second period.
With Jaskin and Neal both finding the back of the net in the middle frame, the score read 1-1 throughout the second intermission. That score remained for only 25 seconds in the third before Third Star Jaden Schwartz (Colton Parayko) buried St. Louis’ game-winner. Parayko intercepted an attempted clear by Josi at the far point and eventually fired a wrister on Rinne’s net. The netminder was more than able to make the save, but he couldn’t contain the rebound. Schwartz saw an opportunity, and he capitalized by lifting a wrister over Rinne’s right pad for his fourth goal of the postseason.
The Blues wanted a Game 6, and a Game 6 they’ll have. It’s scheduled for Sunday at 3 p.m. Eastern time and will be broadcast on NBC in the USA or SN and TVAS in Canada.
Edmonton Oilers at Anaheim Ducks – Game 5
With its 4-3 double-overtime victory over the Oilers at the Honda Center Friday, Anaheim has pulled within one game of the Western Conference Finals.
Gibson reclaimed his net for the face-off at center ice, but departed with 2:59 remaining before the final horn. Exactly 18 seconds later once again, Cam Fowler (Silfverberg and First Star Corey Perry) struck his first goal of the 2017 playoffs to pull Anaheim within a tally.
Of course, the first two goals wouldn’t matter without a third. Once again Randy Carlyle sent Gibson into his crease for the center ice face-off, but the netminder deserted his post with 72 seconds remaining in play.
Though they didn’t score after only 18 seconds with the extra man this time, all that matters to the Ducks is that they scored. It was a wild play that was almost overturned by replay. With 21 seconds remaining in regulation, Fowler fired a wrist shot from the far point that Talbot was able to deflect. However, he was unable to contain the rebound, which Perry tried to collect and force into the net.
Darnell Nurse shoved him to the ice before he could fire, leaving the puck exposed on the near side of the crease. Third Star Rickard Rakell found the loose biscuit with 17 seconds remaining to miraculously squeeze a backhanded shot between Patrick Maroon‘s legs, under Nurse’s stick, past Kesler’s stick and through Talbot’s five-hole.
To put it simply, Rakell wouldn’t be able to pull off the shot twice in a row.
But all those heroics did was force overtime. In all, 23 shots were recorded between the two clubs – including 14 by Anaheim – but none could find the back of the net in the first overtime period.
The second overtime period didn’t even last half as long as the first, as Perry (Getzlaf and Rakell) buried a wrist shot at the 86:57 mark to give the Ducks a 3-2 advantage in the series.
Though he was probably exhausted, Perry’s goal was a crash-course in patience. After receiving a pass from Getzlaf from the far boards, Perry crossed the slot from far to near waiting for Talbot to commit. Once he did, he was unable to seal his near post as quickly as he would have liked, and Perry took advantage for only his second tally of the 2017 playoffs.
Part of the reason Edmonton struggled so mightily in the late stages of the game was due to their injuries on the blue line. The Ducks came out of the gates flying, throwing hard hits on Matt Benning and Andrej Sekera that forced both from the game for a short while. Though Benning was able to return to action late in the opening frame, Sekera could not retake the ice, leaving the Oil with only five defensemen for most of the game.
The Ducks will have their first opportunity to punch their ticket to the Western Conference Finals this Sunday at 7 p.m. Eastern time at Rogers Place. Viewers in America should tune their sets to NBCSN, while Canadian fans are advised to watch either SN or TVAS.
For the first and second rounds 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 writer is Connor Keith.
Nashville Predators at St. Louis Blues – Game 2
After dropping Game 1, St. Louis desperately needed a victory to salvage home ice at the start of the second round to level the series at 1-1. Thanks to First Star of the Game Vladimir Tarasenko‘s two goals, the Blues did just that by beating Nashville 3-2 Friday night at Scottrade Center.
Though the fourth-best (okay, tied for fourth-best) goalscorer of the 2016-17 regular season earned the spotlight, it was actually Nashville’s defense that performed the best all night. Spearheaded by Roman Josi‘s four blocks, St. Louis managed only 20 shots all game – led by Tarasenko’s six.
Making that effort even more impressive is the fact that the Predators served a whopping 23 penalty minutes. By comparison, St. Louis served only two and Patrik Berglund‘s interference corresponded with an embellishment penalty by Third Star Ryan Ellis, meaning Nashville did not earn a single man-advantage all game.
In all, the Preds faced five Blues power plays and yielded only one tally: a Tarasenko (Alex Pietrangelo and Alex Steen) wrist shot with 20 seconds remaining before the first intermission.
Most of those penalty minutes belonged to Vernon Fiddler, who was caught practicing questionable form when hitting Colton Parayko with 92 seconds remaining in the first period. The skaters made knee-to-knee contact as Fiddler hit the defenseman behind Jake Allen‘s net. It earned him a game misconduct and a major penalty, giving the Blues a five-minute unlimited power play that led to Tarasenko’s marker to tie the game at one-all.
All the shorthanded situations is also a major reason the Preds only managed 24 shots on goal of their own. It is difficult, even for the postseason’s third-best offense, to get any rhythm going when playing without a full fleet of weapons.
But even when faced with that self-imposed handicap, a defensive effort that impressive will eventually produce chances on the other end of the ice. That was no more apparent than when Ellis intercepted Vladimir Sobotka‘s attempted pass to Berglund at St. Louis’ blue line. Since both squads were advancing towards the Blues’ offensive zone, the defenseman had to steer his shot past only one possible defender to beat Allen’s glove 3:07 into the third period and set the score at 2-1.
James Neal (Colton Sissons and Ellis) accounted for Nashville’s other marker, a deflection scored on Ellis’ initial shot from the far point 7:49 into the game. It was only the Predators’ second shot on goal of the night.
Nashville’s lead lasted only 4:32 until Second Star Jori Lehtera (Berglund and Parayko) leveled the game once again for the Blues, but they had yet to lead in the contest.
Until, that is, Tarasenko (Joel Edmundson and Jaden Schwartz) buried his game-winning wrister with 3:51 remaining in regulation. Schwartz attacked up the far boards, traversing all three zones with the puck in his possession. Once he reached the face-off dot, he passed back towards the blue line to Edmundson, who kick-passed to St. Louis’ favorite right wing. Tarasenko dropped to a knee to get the proper contact on his shot to beat Pekka Rinne‘s right pad.
In a game dominated by defense, it’s only logical that a strong Blues stand at the end of the contest would be the reason they held on for victory. Even more fitting, the biggest play came from one of the biggest stars on the ice. With Rinne pulled for the sixth attacker, Ryan Johansen had a wrist shot cocked and ready to fire from the near face-off circle. But instead of sending a shot flying towards Allen, his stick met Tarasenko’s, who dove to knock the puck away from the center.
The now best-of-five series shifts a little over 300 miles southeast to Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. for Games 3 and 4. Speaking of Game 3, puck drop is set for Sunday at 3 p.m. Eastern time and will be broadcast on NBC in the United States of America or SN and TVAS in Canada.
Edmonton Oilers at Anaheim Ducks – Game 2
When the best player on the ice is the goaltender, the team attacking him faces an uphill battle. That’s exactly what happened to Anaheim Friday, as it fell 2-1 at the Honda Center to give the Oilers a two-game advantage in their Western Conference semifinal.
No matter what the Ducks threw at him, First Star of the Game Cam Talbot was absolutely electric in the crease. In all, he faced 40 shots in Game 2, and stopped all but one of them for a ..975 save percentage.
The opposite goaltender, John Gibson, played nowhere near Talbot’s level, but he didn’t necessarily need to be that often. He faced only 23 shots, but did let two by (91.3%).
Instead, Anaheim played an incredible defense to counter the Oil’s fantastic netminder, made evident by the few shots Gibson faced. Though Edmonton did give the puck away 13 times, the Ducks caused more than their fair share of turnovers by playing a very physical game. In total, Anaheim threw 32 hits, including five by Second Star Ryan Getzlaf to lead the club.
Whether by a corps of blue liners or goaltender, what resulted was a grind-it-out, tough contest typical of a playoff matchup featuring the top two teams of a division.
Then again, that doesn’t well explain the first goal of the game, as Andrej Sekera buried a quick unassisted slap shot only 65 seconds into the game to give Edmonton an early one-goal lead. Hampus Lindholm was trying to pass to Jakob Silfverberg at the goal line and set up a breakaway opportunity, but his dish was too strong and sneaked to Sekera at the near point. Seeing no better option, the defenseman banged home his first goal of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs and only his second career postseason marker (his first was scored way back in 2011 with the Sabres).
Similar to the Rangers-Senators game Thursday, hockey has a way of perfectly playing out the “what comes around, goes around” idiom. Only 8:34 after Maroon had scored the insurance goal, Darnell Nurse was sent to the sin bin for hi-sticking Jared Boll. Silfverberg (Third Star Cam Fowler and Ryan Kesler) didn’t wait long to capitalize on that mistake, waiting only 20 seconds before pulling the Ducks back within a goal.
Unfortunately for Anaheim, they could not manage to break through the might Talbot over the remaining 24:26 of regulation. The Ducks now face an intense uphill climb to the Western Finals, as they will need to win three of the next five games – and at least one in Canada – to simply force a deciding Game 7 on The Pond.
Their first chance to get back into the series will be this Sunday at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta. Puck drop is scheduled for at 7 p.m. Eastern time and the contest may be viewed on NBCSN in the USA and SN or TVAS in Canada.