Tag Archives: Connor Hellebuyck

DTFR Podcast #153- Solo Cup Picks

Nick reacts to coaching changes, the draft lottery and the First Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs already in progress while providing an update.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show onPatreon.

2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round Preview: Western Conference

In continuation with Monday’s Eastern Conference preview, here’s the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round preview many of you have been waiting for.

In the past, Down the Frozen River has covered every game of every series. This year, DtFR is changing things up a bit with a preview of every round and continued excellence in analysis on the DTFR Podcast as well as some Instagram Live sporadic thoughts throughout the playoffs.

P1 Calgary Flames (50-25-7, 107 points) vs WWC2 Colorado Avalanche (38-30-14, 90 points)

The Calgary Flames reached the 50-win plateau for the first time since the 1988-89 season (and just the second time in franchise history). For those of you who might be younger than 30-years-old, that’s also the last time the Flames won the Stanley Cup.

Yes, the Flames won a Cup. Also, it’s been 15 years since Calgary’s appearance in the 2004 Stanley Cup Final or as it’s known to Johnny Gaudreau, “ten years before [his] birth.”

Only kidding.

Scotiabank Saddledome is ready to rock again as the Flames are fiery hot this season. So hot, they’re going to wear their throwback sweaters at home to rekindle the 1989 Cup run flame that burns deep inside the heart and soul of the C of Red.

Anyway, puns aside, Calgary is good. Very good.

Head coach, Bill Peters, has gotten the most out of his goaltenders, Mike Smith (23-16-2 record, 2.73 goals against average, .898 save percentage in 42 games played) and David Rittich (27-9-5, 2.61 GAA, .911 SV% in 45 GP), as they’ve racked up the wins.

Led by Gaudreau (36-63–99 totals in 82 games played), Sean Monahan (34-48–82 totals in 78 GP), Elias Lindholm (78 points), Matt Tkachuk (77 points) and potential 2018-19 Norris Trophy finalist, Mark Giordano (74 points), the Flames rose to the top and stayed there, laying claim to home ice all the way through the Western Conference Final– if not Stanley Cup Final, should the Tampa Bay Lightning be eliminated prior to then.

For Jared Bednar and the Colorado Avalanche, the Avs head coach rode the rollercoaster of injuries, out-of-this-world performances and pedestrian play as Colorado reached the top of the Central Division, fell to 6th place and resurfaced to playoff contention, snagging the 2nd wild card spot in the Western Conference.

Nathan MacKinnon finished one-point shy of the 100-point plateau with 41 goals and 58 assists (99 points) in 82 games this season, centering captain, Gabriel Landeskog (34-41–75 totals in 73 GP), and Mikko Rantanen (31-56–78 totals in 74 GP) on one of the best lines in hockey throughout the year.

Rantanen, of course, has been out of commission since March 22nd with an upper body injury, and remains a question mark for Game 1 against Calgary.

Back to MacKinnon for a moment, the 23-year-old sensation became the third 40-goal scorer since the Quebec Nordiques relocated to Colorado, joining current General Manager, Joe Sakic, and Milan Hejduk as the only players to do so.

Tyson Barrie led the Avs defenders with 59 points from the blue line.

In net, Semyon Varlamov (20-19-9, 2.87 GAA, .909 SV% in 49 GP) stole most of the games this season from Philipp Grubauer (18-9-5, 2.64 GAA, .917 SV% in 37 GP), who– despite getting off to a slow start– has really turned his play around as of late, notching three wins in his last five appearances.

Calgary swept the season series, 3-0-0, but the Avalanche kept every game close.

Both teams have hot hands and solid defenses, but there’s one common theme for each club– goaltending. Who’s going to get the starts? Who will rise above? And who’s going to flounder in the First Round?

Because of this, Calgary will likely get stretched to taking the series in six games, with or without a return of Rantanen to Colorado’s lineup.

Regular season outcomes:

5-3 CGY at Scotiabank Saddledome on Jan. 9th, 6-5 CGY at Scotiabank Saddledome on Nov. 1st, 3-2 F/OT CGY at Pepsi Center on Oct. 13th

Schedule:

4/11- Game 1 COL @ CGY 10 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

4/13- Game 2 COL @ CGY 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

4/15- Game 3 CGY @ COL 10 PM ET on CNBC, CBC, TVAS2

4/17- Game 4 CGY @ COL 10 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS

4/19- Game 5 COL @ CGY*

4/21- Game 6 CGY @ COL*

4/23- Game 7 COL @ CGY*

*If necessary

P2 San Jose Sharks (46-27-9, 101 points) vs P3 Vegas Golden Knights (43-32-7, 93 points)

The San Jose Sharks quietly lurked the waters working their way diligently to 2nd place in the Pacific Division this season after acquiring Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators and not destroying teams out of the gate as everyone expected.

Still, San Jose was led by Brent Burns (83 points) in what was yet another Norris Trophy worthy performance this season. The Sharks leading scorer among forwards was 25-year-old Tomas Hertl (35-39–74 totals in 77 GP), while Logan Couture (27-43–70 totals in 81 GP) continued to be a presence in the lineup.

There’s no question surrounding San Jose’s explosive offense and their world class defense. Rather, the Sharks goaltending seems to be the club’s only weakness.

Martin Jones (36-19-5, 2.94 GAA, .896 SV% in 62 GP) posted career-worsts in goals against average and save percentage, while backup goaltender, Aaron Dell (10-8-4, 3.17 GAA, .886 SV% in 25 GP) didn’t look so hot either.

For the Vegas Golden Knights, a slow start and a lot of injuries almost decimated their inaugural season success, but in true Golden Knights fashion, the comeback got rolling and Vegas stormed into a divisional spot for the postseason.

Granted, it doesn’t come with home ice, but still.

Vegas didn’t have a 40-goal scorer like last season, but Jonathan Marchessault still led the way with 59 points (25 goals, 34 assists), while his teammate, William Karlsson amassed 24-32–56 totals in 82 GP.

Reilly Smith put up 53 points in a “down” season, but Alex Tuch (20-32–52 totals) had a breakout year, so everything evens out in the end.

In the crease, Marc-Andre Fleury (35-21-5, 2.51 GAA, .913 SV% in 61 GP) remained in control of the Golden Knights starting job, but fell victim to the increased scoring around the league– notching his worst GAA and SV% in a season where he was the starting goaltender since his 2.65 GAA and .905 SV% in 67 games played with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009-10.

For Malcolm Subban (8-10-2, 2.93 GAA, .902 SV% in 21 GP) it was a season to forget for the backup goalie. The sophomore slump is real.

The Sharks lost to the Golden Knights in the Second Round last year and it’s not hard to imagine Vegas pulling out another improbable postseason run.

But this time around feels different.

San Jose split the season series, 2-2-0, but was outscored by Vegas, 18-10, in that span. Though the Sharks should be able to batten down the hatches and outlast the Golden Knights in what’s sure to be quite the entertaining matchup in the First Round, there’s no way it won’t go seven games.

Regular season outcomes:

4-3 F/OT SJS at SAP Center on March 30th, 7-3 VGK at SAP Center on March 18th, 3-2 SJS at T-Mobile Arena on Jan. 10th, 6-0 VGK at T-Mobile Arena on Nov. 24th

Schedule:

4/10- Game 1 VGK @ SJS 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS2

4/12- Game 2 VGK @ SJS 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS2

4/14- Game 3 SJS @ VGK 10 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, SN360, TVAS

4/16- Game 4 SJS @ VGK 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS2

4/18- Game 5 VGK @ SJS*

4/21- Game 6 SJS @ VGK*

4/23- Game 7 VGK @ SJS*

*If necessary

C1 Nashville Predators (47-29-6, 100 points) vs WWC1 Dallas Stars (43-32-7, 93 points)

A year removed from winning the President’s Trophy, the Nashville Predators entered the final day of the regular season with the chance to grab the 1st seed in the Central Division. The Preds did just that, of course, and will promptly hold a banner ceremony worthy of AFC Finalists.

It’s fine for the local fan base to take pride in their team. It’s also fine for others in the league to poke a little fun at other organization’s unique quirks.

For Nashville, it’s catfish (see, this classic moment from Puck Soup animated— fair warning, language) and banners (see, “Regular Season Western Conference Champions 2017-18”).

Anyway, real talk, the Preds are a legitimate team.

Their defense is still a colossal stronghold with Roman Josi (2nd in points on the roster, 15-41–56 totals in 82 GP), Mattias Ekholm (44 points and a team leading, plus-27 rating), Ryan Ellis and P.K. Subban.

Their offense was led by Ryan Johansen (14-50–64 totals in 80 GP) this season with Filip Forsberg chipping in 50 points and Viktor Arvidsson reaching the 30-goal plateau (he finished with 34).

Their goaltending… oh. Is this when Juuse Saros (17-10-2, 2.62 GAA, .915 SV% in 31 GP) takes over for Pekka Rinne (30-19-4, 2.42 GAA, .918 SV% in 56 GP) as the regular starter?

Oh. Again. Never mind.

While Rinne has had the better year, statistically speaking, his goals against average and save percentage rank 10th and 13th, respectively, among goaltenders who played at least 20 games this season.

In the same respect, there were only eight goaltenders with a goals against average below 2.40.

Saros ranked 21st in GAA (among goalies with 20 GP) and 20th in SV%.

This is only relevant in the head-to-head aspect with the Dallas Stars, which, let’s take a look at their organizational depth this season, shall we?

Dallas’s forwards went from being “f—ing horse—-” to… well, at least Tyler Seguin reached the 80-point plateau this season with 33 goals and 47 assists. Alexander Radulov still had 72 points and Jamie Benn ranked third on the team with 27-26–53 totals.

On the blue line, John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen made a case for Sergei Zubov to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and reached 10-35–45 and 12-21–33 totals, respectively as Klingberg continued to emerge as a veteran and Heiskanen made quite an impression in his rookie season.

Not to be outdone, Esa Lindell notched 32 points from the backend this season.

But in the crease, the Stars had two quality stars.

Starting goaltender, Ben Bishop (27-15-2, 1.98 GAA, .934 SV% in 46 GP) put up a career-best season while fighting a lower body injury at times and backup goaltender, Anton Khudobin (16-17-5, 2.57 GAA, .923 SV% in 41 GP) split time with Bishop– taking on more time while the starter was injured– and had almost a mirror image in wins (16) and goals against average from last season.

As long as Bishop (1st in the league in SV% and 2nd in GAA among goaltenders who played at least 20 games) is healthy, yeah, the Stars take home that advantage. Big time.

Nashville has never won the Cup. Dallas won it 20 years ago.

Both franchises have a thirst to quench for their respective markets. Both clubs split the series with two wins and two losses– never winning or losing by more than two goals.

It’s anybody’s guess, but the Stars should upset the Predators in a seven-game stunner.

Regular season outcomes:

5-3 NSH at American Airlines Center on Feb. 19th, 3-2 F/OT NSH at Bridgestone Arena on Feb. 7th, 3-1 DAL at Bridgestone Arena on Feb. 2nd, 2-0 DAL at Bridgestone Arena on Dec. 27th

Schedule:

4/10- Game 1 DAL @ NSH 9:30 PM ET on USA, SN1, TVAS

4/13- Game 2 DAL @ NSH 6 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS2

4/15- Game 3 NSH @ DAL 9:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS

4/17- Game 4 NSH @ DAL 8 PM ET on USA, SN, TVAS2

4/20- Game 5 DAL @ NSH*

4/22- Game 6 NSH @ DAL*

4/24- Game 7 DAL @ NSH*

*If necessary

C2 Winnipeg Jets (47-30-5, 99 points) vs C3 St. Louis Blues (45-28-9, 99 points)

After a surprising run to the Western Conference Final last season, the Winnipeg Jets struggled at times to find scoring from their top-six forwards, as well as the mythical runway that let their goaltending soar beyond expectations.

This season, the Jets had their ups and downs, while coming back to Earth in other areas.

Blake Wheeler (20-71–91 totals) led Winnipeg in scoring and established a franchise record– dating back to their days as the Atlanta Thrashers– for most assists in a season, while Mark Scheifele (84 points) and Kyle Connor (66 points) rounded out the top-three scorers.

Despite a stretch of games without a goal, Patrik Laine still reached the 30-goal plateau and had 50 points on the season in 82 games played.

On defense, Jacob Trouba picked up the slack with 8-42–50 totals from the blue line while Dustin Byfuglien was limited to 42 games and 31 points due to injury.

In goal, Connor Hellebuyck (34-23-3, 2.90 GAA, .913 SV% in 63 GP) posted a career-worst goals against average (2.90) topping his previous worst 2.89 GAA in 2016-17 (56 GP).

Hellebuyck had his 2nd worst save percentage since his .907 SV% in 2016-17 as well.

Laurent Brossoit (13-6-2, 2.52 GAA, .925 SV% in 21 GP) posted decent numbers as a backup goaltender in his first season with the Jets, since joining the organization in free agency last July.

Winnipeg missed a major part of their defense for most of the season in Byfuglien and to some respects, that’s hampered their goaltending as a result. Tending the net is never solely about one person tending the crease, but rather a team keeping the puck out of their own zone.

However, Hellebuyck has shown signs of a “good year, bad year, good year, bad year” pattern in the past and might have just been victim to a bad year– statistically speaking.

The St. Louis Blues missed the playoffs last year, losing the final game of the regular season to the Colorado Avalanche and the last wild card spot in the process.

This year, the Blues redeemed themselves after almost completely embarrassing themselves. St. Louis was last in the Central Division, then they fired Mike Yeo and hired Craig Berube as interim head coach.

Berube began to right the ship, then Jordan Binnington (24-5-1, 1.89 GAA, .927 SV% in 32 GP) came along.

Binnington lifted the Blues to a franchise record 12-game winning streak and established the franchise record for most wins by a rookie goaltender (24)– surpassing the previous mark (22 wins) set by teammate and presumably the backup goaltender in the postseason, Jake Allen (19-17-8, 2.83 GAA, .905 SV% in 46 GP).

Don’t try to mess with what’s working.

Ryan O’Reilly led St. Louis in scoring with 28-49–77 totals in 82 games played. Meanwhile, Vladimir Tarasenko (68 points) and Brayden Schenn (54 points) compiled respectable totals in 76 and 72 games played, respectively.

Captain, Alex Pietrangelo, provided more than just leadership from the defensive zone. He added 13 goals and 28 assists (41 points) from the point to help guide St. Louis to a divisional playoff berth.

For the first time in franchise history, Winnipeg is making consecutive playoff appearances. Though they tied in points (99) in the standings, the Jets had the advantage in the regulation-plus-overtime wins tiebreaker, leading the Blues, 45-42, in that department.

Winnipeg won the season series 3-1-0, but is facing a Blues team that has completely shifted gears in the second half of the season. For that reason alone, it’s not impossible to predict St. Louis will be the series winner in five games as Binnington cements his status as a goaltender in the NHL– if not a Calder Memorial Trophy candidate at least.

Regular season outcomes:

1-0 STL at Bell MTS Place on Dec. 7th, 8-4 WPG at Enterprise Center on Nov. 24th, 5-4 F/OT WPG at Bell MTS Place on Oct. 22nd, 5-1 WPG at Enterprise Center on Oct. 4th

Schedule:

4/10- Game 1 STL @ WPG 8 PM ET on NHL Network, SN, TVAS3

4/12- Game 2 STL @ WPG 9:30 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS

4/14- Game 3 WPG @ STL 7:30 PM ET on CNBC, CBC, SN, TVAS2

4/16- Game 4 WPG @ STL 9:30 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS

4/18- Game 5 STL @ WPG*

4/20- Game 6 WPG @ STL*

4/22- Game 7 STL @ WPG*

*If necessary

Jets soar over Bruins, 4-3

After going on a 19-game point streak, the Boston Bruins have followed that up with a three-game (and counting) losing streak with their 4-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets at Bell MTS Place on Thursday.

For the first time since Dec. 1 to Dec. 6, 2018, the Bruins have lost three straight games in regulation.

Connor Hellebuyck (29-20-2, 3.01 goals against average, .909 save percentage in 53 games played) made 36 saves on 39 shots against for a .923 SV% in the win for the Jets.

Boston goaltender, Tuukka Rask (24-10-5, 2.45 GAA, .916 SV% in 40 GP) stopped 20 out of 24 shots against for an .833 SV% in the loss.

The B’s fell to 15-13-6 on the road this season and 4-3-0 in the month of March, while maintaining 2nd place in the Atlantic Division with a 42-20-9 record and 93 points on the season.

The Jets improved to 41-25-4 (86 points) on the season and remain on top of the Central Division.

Kevan Miller (upper body), David Pastrnak (left thumb), Jake DeBrusk (lower body), Marcus Johansson (lung contusion), Matt Grzelcyk (upper body) and Torey Krug (upper body) were all out of the lineup for the Bruins due to injury.

As a result, Paul Carey was called up from the Providence Bruins (AHL) and Connor Clifton was recalled to fill in on the third defensive pairing with Steven Kampfer.

Carey took over Peter Cehlarik‘s spot on the second line left wing with David Krejci and Charlie Coyle as Cehlarik was reassigned to Providence.

John Moore was bumped up a pairing on the blue line to that of the second defensive pair alongside Brandon Carlo, while Bruce Cassidy did just about all he could do with the roster he was presented due to a lot of injuries.

Carey made his debut for the Bruins– his 5th different NHL team in six seasons– and wore No. 34 for Boston. He was acquired in a trade with the Ottawa Senators back in January that sent defender, Cody Goloubef, to the Sens.

Just over a minute into the action, Blake Wheeler (20) struck first for Winnipeg at 1:08 of the first period while batting the puck out of mid-air off a rebound generated by Patrik Laine.

Laine (18) and Mark Scheifele (44) had the assists on Wheeler’s goal and the Jets grabbed the lead, 1-0.

About two minutes later, Scheifele hooked Zdeno Chara and sent the Bruins on the power play for their first and only skater advantage of the night at 3:40 of the first period.

Boston did not convert on the power play.

Noel Acciari was penalized midway through the opening frame for holding Jacob Trouba at 10:30, resulting in Winnipeg’s first power play opportunity of the night.

Less than a minute into the skater advantage, Scheifele (33) worked his way behind the B’s defense and received a pass from Laine on a two-on-one from close range to redirect the puck past Rask at 11:24.

Winnipeg led, 2-0, thanks to Scheifele’s power play goal. Laine (19) and Wheeler (66) tallied the assists.

Late in the first period, Charlie McAvoy (6) took a feed from Krejci and slid into the slot before unloading a wrist shot past Hellebuyck’s blocker side to put Boston on the scoreboard and cut the lead in half, 2-1.

Krejci (42) had the only assist on McAvoy’s goal at 17:23.

Heading into the first intermission, the Jets led in shots on goal (12-11), blocked shots (8-1), takeaways (1-0) and face-off win percentage (72-28).

Boston held the advantage in giveaways (4-3) and hits (9-5) through the first 20 minutes of the action. Winnipeg was 1/1 on the power play, while the Bruins were 0/1.

The Bruins surged in the second period, tying the game, 2-2, at exactly halfway through the middle frame.

Joakim Nordstrom (6) put home the rebound for his first goal in 24 games after Acciari hacked away at the loose puck.

Nordstrom’s goal tied the game, 2-2, and was assisted by Acciari (6) and Sean Kuraly (12) at 10:00 of the second period.

Moments later, Brad Marchand slashed Tyler Myers at 13:41 and sent the Jets back on the power play. Boston’s penalty killing units successfully managed to disarm Winnipeg’s league-leading power play and escaped unharmed heading into the second intermission.

Boston flat-out dominated the shooting department, 30-19, after 40 minutes of play (including a, 19-7, advantage in the second period alone) and led in giveaways (7-4), as well as hits (14-12).

Winnipeg held onto the advantage in blocked shots (15-7), takeaways (5-1) and face-off win% (56-44) heading into the 3rd period.

There were no more penalties called in the final frame of regulation, meaning Winnipeg’s power play finished the night 1/2 on the skater advantage, while Boston’s power play unit went 0/1.

Trouba (6) powered his way to the net and buried the puck to give the Jets the lead, 3-2, at 7:38 of the third period. Scheifele (45) picked up the only assist on the goal and momentum swung heavily in Winnipeg’s favor.

Moments later, the Bruins turned over the puck in their own zone– right in the slot– whereby Nikolaj Ehlers (18) capitalized on the chance and made it, 4-2, at 13:02 of the third period.

Late in the final frame of regulation, Chara blasted a shot from the point that was tipped in by Coyle (11) for his first goal as a Bruin.

Coyle’s goal pulled Boston to within one, 4-3, and was assisted by Chara (7) and Krejci (43), but it wasn’t enough at 17:04.

Cassidy pulled his netminder for an extra attacker with almost 90 seconds left in regulation, but the Bruins couldn’t muster a miraculous comeback.

Though they could stave off an empty net goal from the Jets, the B’s could not force overtime.

At the sound of the final horn, Winnipeg had won, 4-3.

The Jets finished the night leading in blocked shots (19-8) and face-off win% (57-44), while the Bruins left Winnipeg leading in shots on goal (39-24), giveaways (12-11) and hits (24-21).

The Bruins finished 0-3-0 on their three-game road trip and return home to face the Blue Jackets on Saturday before hitting the road next Tuesday (March 19th) against the New York Islanders.

After the B’s take on the Isles, they swing through New Jersey on March 21st, Florida on March 23rd and Tampa on March 25th.

Bruins at Jets Preview: 3/14/2019

The Boston Bruins (42-19-9, 93 points, 2nd in the Atlantic Division) enter Thursday night on a two-game losing streak as they take on the Winnipeg Jets (40-25-4, 84 points, 1st in the Central Division) coming off a, 7-4, loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday.

Winnipeg visited Boston on Jan. 29th and won, 4-3, in a shootout, thereby leading the season series over the Bruins, 1-0-0.

The Jets also enter Thursday night on a two-game losing skid, as well as a 4-6-0 record in their last ten games, while the B’s enter Bell MTS Place with a 7-2-1 record in their last ten outings.

Torey Krug (upper body injury) is day-to-day and will be out of the action against the Jets. As a result, Connor Clifton was recalled from the Providence Bruins (AHL) and will likely pair up with Steven Kampfer on the third defensive pairing.

Bruce Cassidy is expected to bump up John Moore to the second defensive pairing in Krug’s place alongside Brandon Carlo, while Cassidy will also utilize Paul Carey– making his Bruins debut– on the second line with David Krejci and Charlie Coyle.

Carey was called up from Providence in place of Jake DeBrusk (lower body) who will remain out of the lineup against Winnipeg, but resumed skating on Thursday back at Warrior Ice Arena in Boston.

The 30-year-old forward has 14-6–20 totals in 21 games with Providence this season and was acquired in a trade with the Ottawa Senators in January in exchange for Cody Goloubef.

He will wear No. 34 for the black-and-gold.

To fit Carey on the current roster, Peter Cehlarik was reassigned to Providence. Cassidy indicated the decision to send down Cehlarik was primarily a playing-time based decision, with Cehlarik having appeared in a season-low 8:15 time on ice in Tuesday’s loss to Columbus.

Instead of another low ice-time outing, Cehlarik will rejoin the minor-league Bruins for a matchup on Friday and Saturday, whereas Boston is getting back to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts late on Friday before a game on Saturday and another off day on Sunday.

Cassidy also provided updates to reporters on Thursday, indicating the team would have an update on Marcus Johansson (lung contusion) next week, Matt Grzelcyk (upper body) is nearing a return (likely on the next road trip) and Kevan Miller (upper body) is still week-to-week.

David Pastrnak (left thumb) remains skating on his own at practice, but was not given an update to his return.

In goal for the Bruins on Thursday, Tuukka Rask (24-9-5 record, 2.41 goals against average, .918 save percentage in 39 games played) looks to avenge his early dismissal against the Blue Jackets on Tuesday, in which he stopped 19 out of 24 shots faced in 28:09 TOI.

Connor Hellebuyck (28-20-2, 3.01 GAA, .909 SV% in 52 GP) was the first goalie off the ice at morning skate for the Jets on Thursday and is likely to be Paul Maurice’s starter against Boston for the 2nd time this season.

Hellebuyck notched the shootout win for Winnipeg in January.

The Jets are still without the services of Dustin Byfuglien, Josh Morrissey and Joe Morrow against the Bruins.

Winnipeg is 3-3-0 in the month of March so far and 18-16-0 at home this season. Boston is 4-2-0 this month and 15-12-6 on the road this season.

Game of the week: February 18-24

Red alert: the NHL trade deadline is two days away! Take a look at this week’s games that likely shaped every GM’s “buyer or seller” debate.

NHL SCHEDULE: February 18-24
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, February 18
4 p.m. Arizona Calgary 2-5
7:30 p.m. Tampa Bay Columbus 5-1
8:30 p.m. Ottawa Chicago 7-8
9 p.m. Vegas Colorado 0-3
10 p.m. Boston San Jose 6-5 (OT)
10:30 p.m. Washington Los Angeles 3-2
Tuesday, February 19
7 p.m. Buffalo Florida 2-4
7 p.m. Pittsburgh New Jersey 4-3
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Philadelphia 5-2
7 p.m. New York Rangers Carolina Hurricanes 2-1
7:30 p.m. Columbus Montréal 2-3
8 p.m. Toronto St. Louis 2-3 (OT)
8 p.m. Anaheim Minnesota 4-0
8:30 p.m. Nashville Dallas 5-3
9 p.m. Arizona Edmonton 3-2 (SO)
Wednesday, February 20
7:30 p.m. Chicago Detroit 5-4 (OT)
8:30 p.m. Winnipeg Colorado 1-7
9:30 p.m. New York Islanders Calgary Flames 2-4
10 p.m. Boston Vegas 3-2 (SO)
Thursday, February 21
7 p.m. Washington Toronto 3-2
7 p.m. Carolina Florida 4-3
7 p.m. Ottawa New Jersey 0-4
7 p.m. Minnesota Wild New York Rangers 4-1
7 p.m. San Jose Pittsburgh 4-0
7:30 p.m. Philadelphia Montréal 1-5
7:30 p.m. Buffalo Tampa Bay 1-2 (SO)
8 p.m. Los Angeles Nashville 1-2
8:30 p.m. St. Louis Dallas 2-5
9 p.m. New York Islanders Edmonton Oilers 3-4 (OT)
10 p.m. Arizona Vancouver 3-2 (OT)
Friday, February 22
7 p.m. Columbus Ottawa 3-0
7:30 p.m. Colorado Chicago 5-3
7:30 p.m. Minnesota Detroit 3-2
9 p.m. Anaheim Calgary 1-2
10 p.m. Winnipeg Vegas 6-3
Saturday, February 23
1 p.m. Washington Buffalo 2-5
1 p.m. New Jersey Devils New York Rangers 2-5
4 p.m. Boston St. Louis 1-2 (SO)
5 p.m. Carolina Dallas 3-0
5 p.m. Los Angeles Florida 1-6
5 p.m. San Jose Columbus 0-4
5:30 p.m. Colorado Nashville 5-0
7 p.m. Montréal Toronto 3-6
8 p.m. Pittsburgh Philadelphia 3-4 (OT)
10 p.m. New York Islanders Vancouver Canucks 4-0
10 p.m. Anaheim Edmonton 1-2
Sunday, February 24
12:30 p.m. New York Rangers Washington Capitals NHLN, SN
3 p.m. Dallas Chicago ESPN+
3 p.m. San Jose Detroit  
7 p.m. St. Louis Minnesota NBCSN
7 p.m. Calgary Ottawa SN, TVAS
9 p.m. Winnipeg Arizona  

As usual, there was more than a few exciting games this week that were certainly worthy of our attention.

The Blackhawks and Red Wings squared off in the Motor City Wednesday night, while three rivalries were contested yesterday (the Battle of the Hudson River, Montréal at Toronto and the Battle of Pennsylvania, played outdoors at Lincoln Financial Field in Philly). Of course, there’s one more derby going down this afternoon when the Rangers and Capitals square off at Capital One Arena.

As for playoff rematches, there were three on this week’s schedule. Winnipeg visited Vegas Friday night and replicated their 2018 Western Finals success against the Golden Knights, while both Colorado and Philadelphia exacted revenge against the teams that eliminated them in the First Round almost a year ago.

Finally, in the “homecoming” section, there was none bigger than F Matt Duchene‘s return to Ottawa in which he never departed Ottawa. Just like last season when he was shipped to Ontario from the Avs, Duchene’s first game with his new club, the Columbus Blue Jackets, was against his former employer and teammates.

For what it’s worth, Columbus easily dispatched the Sens with a three-goal shutout.

But instead of focusing on any of those tilts, we’re instead going to shift our attention to the desert where yet another legendary player is seeing his name receive one of, if not the highest honor any sporting organization can bestow when a particular No. 19 gets raised to the Gila River Arena rafters.

WShane Doan‘s career is one of devotion and loyalty that is hard to fathom in the current North American sporting environment.

Doan was selected seventh-overall in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft by the Winnipeg Jets, but despite the organization quitting on the Manitoban market and departing for the sandier pastures of Phoenix, he never quit on the franchise and played each and every one of his 1595 regular and playoff games for the same team
before hanging up his skates after the 2016-17 season.

There was no reason to question Doan’s loyalty in the beginning of his career, as he earned his first playoff experience in his rookie season – his only year in Winnipeg. The Jets won only two games before being eliminated by Detroit.

That was just about the only highlight of Doan’s rookie campaign. With 7-10-17 totals in 74 regular season games played, he didn’t even earn a single vote for the Calder Trophy. However, it did start a run of five-straight playoff appearances and six postseason berths in his first seven campaigns.

Despite the Coyotes maintaining that success and consistently finishing fourth or better in their division, Doan’s breakout season did not occur until his 1999-00 campaign that saw him register then career-highs in goals, assists and points when he posted 26-25-51 totals.

That success sparked a run of nine-consecutive seasons over 10-years’ time (that darned 2004-05 lockout strikes again) in which Doan scored at least 20 goals each campaign, as well as a streak of 12-straight seasons scoring at least 50 points.

Doan assumed captaincy of the Coyotes in 2003 (he ended up being the NHL’s longest-serving captain until his retirement), which surely played a large role in his loyalty to to the organization. That love put itself on full display on Valentine’s Day, 2007 when the pending UFA signed a five-year, $22.75 million extension to remain in Phoenix instead of risk being traded away at the impending deadline.

Doan signed the extension despite the Desert Dogs missing the last three Stanley Cup Playoffs, and he would not return to the postseason until 2010.

However, Doan did not let that lack of team success hold him back, as his greatest individual campaign occurred the season after signing his new contract. During the 2007-08 campaign, the captain posted 31-42-73 marks (career-highs in assists and points) despite playing for a club that finished fourth-to-last in the Western Conference.

Doan posted another 70-point season in 2008-09 (including a career-high 31 goals), but he didn’t get any national recognition until the 2009-10 campaign when he won his only league award: the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, awarded for the player that best exemplifies leadership.

Doan certainly deserved the award, as it was around this time that the now annual rumors about the Coyotes’ relocation started to begin due to the team declaring bankruptcy and being taken over by the league. Despite all of that, Doan captained his team to a franchise-best 107 points in the standings, finishing second in the Pacific Division to San Jose’s 113.

The Coyotes fought valiantly, but fell in Game 7 of the Western Quarterfinals to the Red Wings.

Phoenix qualified for the postseason for the next two seasons, but it is their run through the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs that is most memorable. Behind Doan’s 5-4-9 marks, the Yotes soared all the way to the Western Conference Finals, knocking off perennial favorites Chicago and the surging Predators.

What made this postseason even more significant is that Doan was once again entering free agency that summer. The captain would have been well within his rights to seek a team that was on more solid financial footing than the Coyotes, but he once again elected to remain with the organization that drafted him and signed a four-year, $21.2 million contract.

It was a decision that signaled the end of Doan’s playoff career. The Coyotes have not qualified for the postseason since 2012 (despite falling only two points short in 2013-14), but have a chance to change that fate this season in the lackluster Western Conference.

Doan signed his final contract – a one-year, $4.8 million deal with a no-movement clause – with the Coyotes on July 12, 2016. He finished his career with 402-570-972 totals in 1540 regular season games played, plus his 15-13-28 marks in 55 playoff appearances. Doan leads the Jets/Coyotes franchise in career points, goals, assists, games played, game-winners (69), power play goals (125) and shots on goal (3801), making him one of the best to ever wear the Coyotes or original Jets sweater.

Once the No. 19 has found its rightful place above the ice, there will still be a Coyotes game to be played against the current Jets franchise. Arizona enters tonight’s tilt with a 28-28-5 record that is good enough for 10th place in the Western Conference, trailing Colorado by four points for the second wild card.

Arizona has been playing well of late, posting a 5-2-0 record in its past seven games (including wins against the Stars, Golden Knights and Maple Leafs) due in large part to the outstanding play by 16-14-5 G Darcy Kuemper.

When 5-6-0 G Antti Raanta went down with a season-ending lower body injury in late November, it was expected that the Coyotes would immediately begin their drop to the bottom of the Western Conference. However, Kuemper has done fairly well after being thrust into the starting role, as his .915 season save percentage and 2.63 GAA are both top-eight in the league among goalies with at least 30 starts.

However, Kuemper has been even better of late, as he’s managed a dominant .938 save percentage and 1.96 GAA in his past six starts to take credit for all of the Coyotes’ past five wins.

Speaking of wins, Kuemper has a perfect 3-0-0 record against the Jets for his career, though this will be his first game going against Winnipeg as a member of the Coyotes. During his terms with the Kings and Wild, he’s taken on Winnipeg five times and owns a career .876 save percentage and 4.15 GAA against the franchise. He’ll obviously need to show improvement on those statistics if he wants to maintain his unblemished record against the Jets, but he’s been playing so well lately that I don’t think that’ll be a problem.

Paying a visit to the desert this evening are the 37-20-4 Winnipeg Jets, the West’s third-best team and the Central Division’s top dog.

Winnipeg got off the schneid in its last outing by beating the Golden Knights 6-3 on Friday, ending a three-game losing streak that saw the Jets earn only one point in the standings (an overtime loss against the lowly Senators).

The biggest reason for this momentary slide is easily the Jets’ lousy effort on the defensive end. On the season, Winnipeg allows 33.6 shots against per game. Admittedly, that’s the fifth-worst mark in the NHL on the year, but that number has climbed to 38.5 shots against in the Jets’ last four outings – the worst in the NHL since Valentine’s Day.

There are rumblings that both D Dustin Byfuglien (lower-body injury) and D Joseph Morrow (lower-body injury) could be ready to resume action in early March, but until then players like D Ben Chiarot (4.3 hits per game since February 14), F Adam Lowry (four blocks per game in his last four outings) and D Jacob Trouba (team-leading three takeaways in his last four games) will need to continue to lead by example to try and save this defense.

Other than Head Coach Paul Maurice, no one would be more appreciative of some improved defense than 27-17-2 G Connor Hellebuyck, who’s seen his season stats fall to a .909 save percentage and 2.98 GAA during this four-game run. Considering the quantity of shots faced, it’s hard to blame him for the .876 save percentage and 4.7 GAA he’s managed over his last three starts, but the fact that he was runner-up for the Vezina last season implies that he should be at least a little better than this.

The winner of this game is tough to pick, because neither side has shown consistent offense during their respective runs. That being said, the Jets’ outstanding six goals scored against Vegas shows some pent up frustration that might carry over into tonight’s tilt. Kuemper will surely perform valiantly, but he’s going to need help from his attack if he’s to earn his fourth win against the Jets tonight.

I’ll take the Jets to win 3-1.

DTFR Podcast #145- We Plan To Be Good In 2021-25

Evgeni Malkin did a bad thing, the 2019 NWHL All-Star Game broke attendance records and more trades happened in the NHL. Patrice Bergeron reached 1,000 games and David Pastrnak is injured for the Boston Bruins leaving Nick in a glass case of emotion.

Plus, Eugene Melnyk plans to spend money, the Tampa Bay Lightning have a new alternate sweater, Randy Carlyle was fired and Scott Niedermayer will have his number retired (again) this week. Finally, Connor has a new segment.

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Game of the week: December 17-23

The holiday break is so close we can almost taste it, but there’s still a little more work to be done before the NHL begins its three-day break on Monday. Without further ado, this week’s offerings include:

NHL SCHEDULE: December 17-23
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, December 17
7 p.m. Anaheim Pittsburgh 4-2
7 p.m. Vegas Columbus 0-1
7:30 p.m. Boston Montréal 4-0
7:30 p.m. Nashville Ottawa 3-4 (OT)
9 p.m. New York Islanders Colorado Avalanche 4-1
Tuesday, December 18
7 p.m. Florida Buffalo 5-2
7 p.m. Toronto New Jersey 7-2
7 p.m. Anaheim Ducks New York Rangers 1-3
7 p.m. Detroit Philadelphia 2-3
8 p.m. San Jose Minnesota 4-0
8:30 p.m. Nashville Chicago 1-2
8:30 p.m. Calgary Dallas 0-2
9 p.m. St. Louis Edmonton 4-1
9 p.m. New York Islanders Arizona Coyotes 3-1
10 p.m. Tampa Bay Vancouver 5-2
10:30 p.m. Winnipeg Los Angeles 1-4
Wednesday, December 19
8 p.m. Pittsburgh Washington 2-1
8:30 p.m. Montréal Colorado 1-2
Thursday, December 20
7 p.m. Anaheim Boston SN360
7 p.m. Florida Toronto TVAS
7 p.m. Nashville Philadelphia ESPN+
7 p.m. Minnesota Pittsburgh
7 p.m. Detroit Carolina
7 p.m. New Jersey Columbus
8:30 p.m. Chicago Dallas
9 p.m. Tampa Bay Calgary
9 p.m. Montréal Arizona RDS, TSN2
10 p.m. St. Louis Vancouver ESPN+
10 p.m. New York Islanders Vegas Golden Knights SN360
10:30 p.m. Winnipeg San Jose
Friday, December 21
7 p.m. Ottawa New Jersey RDS
7 p.m. Buffalo Washington NBCSN, SN, TVAS
9 p.m. Chicago Colorado ESPN+, SN360
Saturday, December 22
1 p.m. Nashville Boston NHLN, SN, SN1
1 p.m. Columbus Philadelphia ESPN+
2 p.m. Florida Detroit
4 p.m. Montréal Vegas RDS, TSN2
4 p.m. Los Angeles San Jose NBCSN, SN1
4 p.m. St. Louis Calgary
7 p.m. Colorado Arizona
7 p.m. Anaheim Buffalo
7 p.m. New York Rangers Toronto Maple Leafs CBC, NHLN, SN, SN1
7 p.m. Washington Ottawa CITY, SN360, TVAS
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Carolina
8 p.m. Dallas Minnesota
10 p.m. Winnipeg Vancouver CBC, SN360
10 p.m. Tampa Bay Edmonton CITY, ESPN+, SN1
Sunday, December 23
12:30 p.m. Columbus New Jersey SN
5 p.m. Boston Carolina SN1
7 p.m. Florida Chicago ESPN+
7 p.m. Philadelphia Flyers New York Rangers NHLN
7:30 p.m. Detroit Toronto SN, SN360, TVAS
8 p.m. Los Angeles Vegas
8 p.m. Arizona San Jose
8 p.m. New York Islanders Dallas Stars

For those that didn’t keep count, that’s a healthy 55 tilts to keep us entertained while family members you simply adore ask a multitude of questions you’d rather they not.

In the rivalries department, the NHL loaded us up with six showdowns this week, including Boston at Montréal, Pittsburgh at Washington, Los Angeles at San Jose, the Rangers at Toronto, Philadelphia at the Rangers and Detroit at Toronto.

Two rematches from this spring’s edition of the Stanley Cup Playoffs will also take place: the previously mentioned Pens-Caps game and Los Angeles’ trip to Sin City Sunday night.

Finally, the biggest player return of the week will take place tonight when F Max Domi makes his first trip back to Glendale to take on the Coyotes, the club that drafted him 12th overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.

However, of all those games highlighted, there’s still another tonight that will have my full attention. Both the Jets and Sharks entered this season with high expectations, but only one has truly flexed its muscles thus far this season. Perhaps that will be just the motivation San Jose needs to find its next gear.

Currently in a three-way tie for first place in the Western Conference, the 22-10-2 Winnipeg Jets are technically the top team by playing one fewer game than both the Calgary Flames and Nashville Predators.

Winnipeg’s last outing wasn’t exactly one to be proud of (the Jets fell 4-1 in Los Angeles to the lowly Kings on Tuesday), but it had been riding a five-game winning streak coming into that game. In fact, in their past 11 games, the Jets boast a 9-2-0 record that includes five overtime or shootout victories.

To the surprise of none, Winnipeg’s greatest strength is undoubtedly its offense. Having averaged 3.56 goals per game for the entire season (the fourth-best mark in the NHL), Head Coach Peter DeBoer will certainly have a plan for how he wants his team to slow down the impressive talents of C Mark Scheifele (21-25-46 points) and RW Blake Wheeler (5-39-44) on Winnipeg’s top line.

However, that will be a difficult task to pull off because the Jets’ attack has been even more potent than usual during this 11-game run. Since November 29, the Jets have averaged an outstanding four goals per game, which is tied with, coincidentally, San Jose for third best in the league in that time.

The previously mentioned Scheifele and Wheeler have certainly had their fingerprints all over that dynamic attack, as they’ve posted respective 8-12-20 and 1-14-15 totals in their last 11 outings. However, they’ve also been joined by LW Nikolaj Ehlers (7-5-12), D Josh Morrissey (3-8-11 in nine games) and D Dustin Byfuglien (1-8-9 in seven games) in averaging at least a point per game during this run, creating a defensive nightmare for most teams not as talented as the Sharks on the blue line.

The San Jose Sharks were supposed to already be atop the Western Conference – if not the entire NHL – according to many preseason reports, yet they find themselves stuck with a 19-11-5 record good enough for only second place in the Pacific Division.

But don’t read that as the Sharks being a bad team. They’re riding a five-game winning streak and have posted a 7-1-0 record in their past eight outings, so it seems like the team is finally starting to realize its potential. The next question, of course, is just how good can this team be, but that’s an answer the Jets would rather not answer tonight.

During this eight-game run, San Jose has been clicking on all cylinders; literally everything is gelling, and the numbers are showing just that.

Perhaps my favorite part of the Sharks’ game right now is their attack. Currently in a tie with Ottawa for eighth-best offense on the season by averaging 3.31 goals per game, the Sharks’ effort since December 2 has made all but Tampa Bay jealous. Led by F Logan Couture‘s impressive 5-6-11 totals in the last eight games, San Jose has managed a dominant 4.25 goals per game during this run.

Joining Couture in averaging at least a point per game since the beginning of the month are RW Timo Meier (5-5-10 in seven games played), F Tomas Hertl (4-5-9) and D Erik Karlsson (0-8-8).

That’s right, the same Karlsson that looked like he wasn’t panning out in Silicon Valley is on a bit of a hot streak of late. His goal scoring may be down from his Ottawa days (last season’s nine goals in 71 appearances was a poor season for him, and this year’s pace has him set to register only five markers), but the 10-year NHL veteran is still making his presence known on the scorecard.

In addition to scoring, this dynamic offense has also had some incredible influence on the defensive zone by maintaining elongated possessions. During this eight-game run, San Jose has allowed only 27.88 shots against per game, the fifth-best mark in the NHL since December 2 and only two shots worse than the Islanders’ league-leading pace set in that same time span.

Of course, D Justin Braun (2.3 blocks per game since December 2), D Brenden Dillon (2.8 hits per game during this run) and Karlsson (11 takeaways in his past eight outings) have certainly done their fair share on the defensive end as well.

If anyone is appreciative of that effort, it’s surely 14-7-3 G Martin Jones, tonight’s starter. Though he’s struggled for much of the season (made evident by his unusually low .901 save percentage and 2.81 GAA for the campaign), he’s shown signs of improvement lately. He’s earned five of the Sharks’ last seven wins, posting a much more familiar .936 save percentage and 1.94 GAA in his last seven starts.

If Jones has finally rounded into form for the year, this Sharks blue line will truly begin to influence play in the offensive zone, which should be a very scary proposition for the entire Western Conference.

When two high powered offenses are going at it, I usually side with the better of the two goaltenders to determine the game’s winner. In his past eight starts, 15-9-1 G Connor Hellebuyck has earned six wins on the back of a .91 save percentage and 2.72 GAA (both nominal improvements on his .908 season save percentage and associated 2.9 GAA).

Compare that to Jones’ numbers, and the answer is obvious: the Sharks should come away winners tonight and send the home fans happy.

DTFR Podcast #129- Top Line Stars

Nick and Connor talk Alex Tuch’s extension with the Vegas Golden Knights, superstars Auston Matthews, Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid, as well as Charlie McAvoy extension options, the New York Rangers, Boston’s first line vs. Colorado’s top line and the week’s biggest matchup.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

Game of the week: October 22-28

Week 3 of the DtFR Game of the Week series is due today, so let’s take a look at our options!

NHL SCHEDULE: OCTOBER 22-28
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, October 22
7 p.m. Colorado Philadelphia 4-1
7:30 p.m. Carolina Detroit 3-1
8 p.m. St. Louis Winnipeg 4-5 (OT)
10 p.m. Washington Vancouver 5-2
Tuesday, October 23
7 p.m. Florida Panthers New York Rangers 2-5
7 p.m. Arizona Columbus 4-1
7:30 p.m. Calgary Montréal 2-3
7:30 p.m. Boston Ottawa 4-1
8 p.m. San Jose Nashville 5-4
8:30 p.m. Anaheim Chicago 1-3
8:30 p.m. Los Angeles Dallas 2-4
9 p.m. Pittsburgh Edmonton 6-5 (OT)
Wednesday, October 24
7 p.m. Toronto Maple Leafs Winnipeg Jets NBCSN, SN1, SN360, TVAS
7 p.m. Florida Panthers New York Islanders
9:30 p.m. Tampa Bay Colorado NBCSN
10 p.m. Vancouver Vegas SN360
Thursday, October 25
7 p.m. Philadelphia Boston SN360, TVAS
7 p.m. Montréal Buffalo RDS, TSN2
7 p.m. Nashville New Jersey
8 p.m. Columbus St. Louis
8 p.m. Los Angeles Minnesota
8:30 p.m. New York Rangers Chicago Blackhawks
8:30 p.m. Anaheim Dallas
9 p.m. Pittsburgh Calgary
9 p.m. Washington Edmonton SN1
10 p.m. Vancouver Arizona
Friday, October 26
6 p.m. Tampa Bay Vegas TVAS
7:30 p.m. Winnipeg Detroit NHLN
7:30 p.m. San Jose Carolina
9 p.m. Ottawa Colorado RDS2
saturday, October 27
noon Florida New Jersey
1 p.m. New York Islanders Philadelphia Flyers SN
3 p.m. Edmonton Nashville
4 p.m. Washington Calgary SN1
7 p.m. Montréal Canadiens Boston Bruins CITY, NHLN, SN1, TVAS
7 p.m. Winnipeg Toronto CBC, SN360
7 p.m. Buffalo Columbus
8 p.m. Chicago St. Louis
8 p.m. Colorado Minnesota
9 p.m. Tampa Bay Arizona
10 p.m. Pittsburgh Penguins Vancouver Canucks CBC, CITY, SN1, SN360
SunDay, October 28
3:30 p.m. New York Rangers Los Angeles Kings
5 p.m. Dallas Detroit
5 p.m. New York Islanders Carolina Hurricanes
6 p.m. Edmonton Chicago NHLN, SN360
8 p.m. Ottawa Vegas SN1, TVAS
8 p.m. San Jose Anaheim

As usual, there’s more than a few compelling matchups this week. Just like every week, there’s the rivalries (Philadelphia at Boston, New York at Chicago, Montréal at Boston, Chicago at St. Louis and San Jose at Anaheim) and the player returns (F Matt Duchene‘s first trip back to Denver steals most of the headlines in this department, even though F Valtteri Filppula and G Louis Domingue are headed back to Philly and Arizona, respectively, on Saturday), but this week is different in a way that we could have only dreamed of during the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.

 

Patrik Laine hosting C Auston Matthews was already must-see T.V. based on their individual talents alone, but now that both of their clubs are looking to the top of the league standings, this just might qualify as a Stanley Cup preview.

Toronto has exploded out to a 6-3-0 record in its first nine games and was pacing the Eastern Conference until Montréal’s victory over the Flames last night (the top three teams in the Atlantic are tied with 12 points, but the Habs own the games-played tiebreaker over Toronto while the Leafs best Boston in regulation+overtime wins).

The main reason for this early season dominance? You guessed it: Toronto’s dominant offense. The Maple Leafs are averaging 3.78 goals per game so far this season, which trails only Washington and Tampa Bay for tops in the league, in addition to boasting the second-best power play with a 37.5 percent conversion rate.

Even though the big story during free agency in July was Toronto signing C John Tavares (who himself has posted imposing 6-5-11 totals so far this season), this team still belongs to the No. 1 overall pick in 2016: Matthews. Playing on the second line, Matthews has potted a whopping 10 goals already this season, not to mention his six assists.

Fans of the podcast know I predicted Matthews to win the Rocket Richard Trophy this season, due in large part to the opposition Matthews is going to be playing against as a member of the Leafs’ second line instead of on its top unit. Especially at the center position, it is usually a given team’s best offering getting the start on the first line, and that No. 1 center is usually one of the better players on the team and can exhibit a solid two-way game (after all, the Leafs are in the Atlantic Division with Boston’s C Patrice Bergeron… are any more examples necessary?).

Matthews has already proven through the first two seasons of his career that he’s capable of making any other player in the league look silly (yes, even Bergeron!) with his scoring touch, but now that he’s going up against opposing second lines and second defensive pairs, it’s bound to be open season on opposing goaltenders all year.

D Morgan Rielly (4-10-14 totals) and F Mitch Marner (4-8-12) also join Matthews and Tavares in scoring better than a point-per-game, so consider that your warning G Connor Hellebuyck.

As for 6-2-1 Winnipeg – the third-best team in the Central Division and Western Conference as things stand right now –  the 2016 NHL Entry Draft has treated it just as well as Toronto in regards to Laine. Though the Finn has managed only 3-2-5 totals so far this season, his 83-56-139 totals through 164 career games is nothing to scoff at.

Laine’s offensive struggles thus far are not limited to just him, as the entire Jets roster (save C Mark Scheifele‘s 4-5-9 totals making him the only player averaging a point-per-game) has had trouble finding the back of the net. Averaging only 3.22 goals per game, Winnipeg’s offense is tied with Carolina for only 15th best in the NHL.

So, if offense isn’t winning games for the Jets, it must be their goaltending or defense, right?

Well, it’s definitely not the defense. Allowing an an uninspiring 34.22 shots against per game (eighth-worst in the NHL) is certainly not getting it done and is putting a lot of work on Hellebuyck’s shoulders.

But hey, Hellebuyck finished second in Vezina voting last year, so he must be more than up to the challenge of keeping these Jets in the air, right?

Once again, not so much. Even with a 4-2-1 record in his first seven starts, he only boasts a .909 save percentage and 2.83 GAA (t17th and 21st, respectively, among the 35 goaltenders with at least four starts). Instead, the most inspiring goaltender in Manitoba has been backup 2-0-0 G Laurent Brossoit and his .955 save percentage and 2.01 GAA.

So, how exactly are the Jets in third place in the ultra-competitive Central Division?

The answer can be found in both of Winnipeg’s special teams, with the power play doing some serious heavy lifting with a 32 percent conversion rate that is fourth-best in the NHL.

While Laine has struggled to find the back of the net at even-strength, he has absolutely dominated the power play. Of his 3-2-5 totals so far this season, he’s earned 3-1-4 of those marks while playing with the extra man. In fact, much of the top power play unit has been solid, as Scheifele and RW Blake Wheeler have both registered four power play points in nine games played.

But the Jets’ special teams dominance doesn’t end with the power play. Winnipeg’s penalty kill has also been excellent, as its 82.3 percent kill rate is tied with Minnesota for ninth-best in the league. W Brandon Tanev in particular has been very solid while one of his teammates has been in the penalty box (his four shorthanded hits and three shorthanded blocks both pace the club), and his dominant play has made life much easier on Hellebuyck.

Though an .895 save percentage against the man-advantage doesn’t exactly sound impressive, Hellebuyck ranks (t)eighth-best in the statistic among the 35 goalies with at least four starts.

Talk about flipping a switch.

The next step, of course, is finding success on both ends of the ice at even strength. It is often these big games that brings that best play out of a team with as much potential as the Jets, so I’ll be very interested to see if Winnipeg can rise to the occasion against the Leafs.

So, it’s time for the big question: who’s winning this game?

First and foremost, it should probably be mentioned that Winnipeg boasted the best home-ice advantage in the entire NHL last season with a 32-7-2 record. Knowing that such a highly touted opponent is coming to town, there’s no way Bell MTS Place won’t be rocking tonight.

However, I have my concerns about Hellebuyck being able to stop Matthews and Toronto’s attack, especially since the Leafs join Winnipeg in dominating special team-play (Toronto’s power play and penalty kill rank second and seventh in the league, respectively). As such, I see the Maple Leafs cruising to a 5-3 victory in Manitoba.

DTFR Podcast #127- Tip Of The Hat(s)

John Tavares and Patrice Bergeron both had hat tricks in the last week, so Nick and Connor discuss hat trick ethics and more, since celebrations are hot topics these days. Also, everything else that happened in the first week of regular season action.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.