Tag Archives: Connor Keith

December 14 – Day 71 – No sushi here

It’s another Thursday in the NHL packed with action, as all but seven teams will be lacing them up this evening.

Like they do most nights, the festivities find their start at 7 p.m. with the puck drop of three games (Washington at Boston [SN360], Buffalo at Philadelphia and the New York Islanders at Columbus), followed half an hour later by New Jersey at Montréal (RDS/TSN2). Three more puck drops (Anaheim at St. Louis, Toronto at Minnesota and Chicago at Winnipeg) are scheduled for 8 p.m., while a four-pack (Florida at Colorado, San Jose at Calgary, Nashville at Edmonton [TVAS] and Tampa Bay at Arizona) waits until 9 p.m. to get underway. Finally, Pittsburgh makes its first-ever visit to Vegas (NHLN/SN/SN360) at 10 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

For those that know me, or at least keep track of this column, you probably know which two teams I call my own (I know, I’m cheating by having two. That’s what you get when your dad pulls for a team far from where you live.). So, you’re probably guessing I’m leaning towards the Penguins-Golden Knights game to see the reunion of G Marc-Andre Fleury and his old Pens pals.

However, I’m far more interested in Fleury’s return to the Steel City when he gets greeted by his former home fans and receives his 2017 Stanley Cup ring (hint: look forward to my February 6 column).

In the meantime, let’s head to southern Alberta where there’s an important Pacific Division game taking place.

 

Tell me if you’ve read this as recently as yesterday’s column: these two teams are fortunate they play in the division they do, or their playoff hopes could already be in the trash.

While the Pacific Division has been full of surprises this season (the dominance of the Kings, the Golden Knights being way better than an expansion team should and the Oilers’ fall from incredible to dumpster fire), the middle of the pack has been nothing more than… well, average.

Take for example tonight’s visitors, the 16-10-3 Sharks. San Jose is average in a very special way, because it pairs one of the best defenses in the game with an offense that can’t seem to figure out why there’s goals at both ends of the rink.

Let’s start with the good: led by the impressive efforts of defensemen Justin Braun (team-leading 1.96 blocks per game), Brent Burns (33 takeaways) and Brenden Dillon (2.85 hits per game), the Sharks allow an average of only 29.13 shots to reach 5-3-1 G Aaron Dell – tonight’s probable starter, per Curtis Pashelka of Bay Area News Group due to the Sharks traveling to Vancouver for a game tomorrow night.

Though his eight starts and 11 appearances are a fairly small sample size at this point of the season, Dell has technically outperformed 11-7-2 G Martin Jones so far, posting a superior .939 save percentage and 1.72 GAA. In fact, of the 50 goaltenders in the league with at least eight starts, Dell has been the class of the NHL and led both statistical categories.

Of course, he’s also faced the fourth-fewest shots of any of those netminders, so maybe that’s a better reflection of his defense’s effort. Either way, the Sharks have allowed only 2.34 goals against per game this season, the second fewest in the league.

But with all that good comes an equal share of bad; specifically, an offense that averages only 2.68 goals per game, the seventh-fewest in the league. I wrote about why I think the Sharks’ attack isn’t working here (hint: looking at you, Burns), but one player that doesn’t deserve a nightly tongue lashing from Head Coach Peter DeBoer is F Logan Couture. He’s been a solid player this season on an unspectacular offense, posting 15-10-25 totals that puts even the likes of C Jack Eichel, W James Neal and F T.J. Oshie behind him on the league leader board.

The longer Burns and that offense struggles, the more opportunities it gives teams like the 16-12-3 Flames to climb into playoff position. Calgary currently occupies fourth place in the Pacific Division, but only 10th in the Western Conference, which means it is not even next in line for the second wild card.

That puts a big emphasis on these division games, and there’s no time like the present to play one for these Flames. They may have only won two of their last four games, but they’re riding a four-game point streak that includes three road contests, including visits to the Air Canada Centre and Bell Centre.

Over this decent run, 13-9-3 G Mike Smith has buckled down and put on some solid performances in the crease. Starting three of the four games, he’s posted a .947 save percentage and 1.26 GAA to go 1-0-2 and improve his season numbers to a .919 save percentage and 2.6 GAA.

Due to Calgary’s defense allowing an average of 31.8 shots per game (15th-most in the league), Smith needs to be on his game most nights to give his team a chance to win. That’s especially true considering the Flames’ offense averages only 2.8 goals per game – the 11th-fewest in the NHL – even though LW Johnny Gaudreau (12-26-38 points) and C Sean Monahan (17-13-30) have been putting on a show this season.

The Flames’ struggle this year had been depth scoring, but its no surprise that’s exactly what they’ve gotten during this little run they’re on. 14 different players have found the scorecard in the past four games, including Travis Hamonic (1-3-4 season totals) and Brett Kulak (0-4-4), defensemen not usually known for their offensive contributions. If this trend can continue, maybe – just maybe – Calgary can shape up into a decent team.

If nothing else can be said about the bottom five teams in the Pacific Division, it will certainly make for an exciting trade deadline and playoff push this March if all these teams are fighting for third place. We may not know who will square off in Vegas’ playoff debut until the last day of the regular season.

As for who will get two points closer to that goal this evening, I’m leaning towards the Flames. Smith has been playing spectacularly this season and should be able to quell the Sharks’ anemic offense, and I think Calgary’s depth can keep up its scoring streak.


Though they had to pull Second Star of the Game G Tuukka Rask for an extra attacker just to force overtime, the Boston Bruins were able to get past the Detroit Red Wings 3-2 at Little Caesars Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The first goal of this contest wasn’t struck until the 9:15 mark of the second period. That’s when F Tomas Tatar (D Niklas Kronwall and F Henrik Zetterberg) buried a power play wrist shot to give the Wings a 1-0 lead that would last into the second intermission.

Thanks to F Noel Acciari‘s (F Tim Schaller) second goal of the season, the Bruins leveled the game at the 3:02 mark of the third period, but Detroit once again took the lead 8:32 later on a special teams goal. Third Star F Dylan Larkin (F Darren Helm and D Trevor Daley) took advantage of RW David Pastrnak‘s indecisiveness to score a breakaway shorthanded backhanded shot. Pastrnak (First Star LW Brad Marchand and D Torey Krug) was provided the opportunity to redeem himself though, and he leveled the game at two-all with 86 seconds remaining in regulation with Rask pulled for the extra attacker.

Even though the Bruins never led in this game, Marchand (Krug) gave the Bruins their 15th win of the season with what our in-house Bruins expert @nlanciani53 is calling nothing more than “a typical Marchand breakaway backhander.”

We’ll take his word at it.

Rask earned the victory after saving 31-of-33 shots faced (.939 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to G Jimmy Howard, who saved 29-of-32 (.906).

Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have now won two-straight contests. As such, they’ve pulled within 14 points of the 39-23-9 hosts.

December 13 – Day 70 – Original Six rivalry

It’s another Wednesday in the NHL, so you know what that means: a supposed rivalry-filled schedule.

Let’s see how that pans out.

Tonight’s schedule starts at 7 p.m. with two contests (the New York Rangers at Ottawa [SN/TVAS] and Dallas at the New York Islanders), followed by Boston at Detroit (NBCSN) an hour later. Finally, tonight’s nightcap – Nashville at Vancouver (SN) – gets underway at 10 p.m. to close the game out. All times Eastern.

I had half of today’s games circled on my schedule from the start of the season.

  • New York at Ottawa: It’s a rematch of one of last season’s Eastern Conference Semifinals.
  • Boston at Detroit: It’s been a while since we’ve had an Original Six rivalry…

In honor of NBC finally featuring a real rivalry – and what is arguably a bigger game than meets the eye – let’s head off to Motown.

 

It doesn’t seem right that these teams are still in the playoff hunt considering they play in the same division that features Tampa Bay and Toronto, but such is life in the Atlantic Division.

The team currently occupying that third division spot is none other than the 14-9-4 Bruins, who are a full three points behind a Pittsburgh team that would be on the outside looking in if the postseason started today.

Don’t tell anybody, but Boston’s defense is quietly making a name for itself as one of the better corps in the league. Bruins fans witness their team allow only 2.74 goals-per-game, which is the seventh-fewest in the league.

Led by the solid efforts of F David Backes (3.1 hits per game), D Zdeno Chara (1.59 blocks per game) and F Riley Nash (team-leading 32 takeaways), Boston has allowed an average of only 29.85 shots to reach its starting goaltender each game, the fifth-fewest in the NHL.

That makes life pretty easy on 7-8-2 G Tuukka Rask, who doesn’t need all that much help to be exemplary at his job – he just needs rest. Now that Head Coach Bruce Cassidy is accepting the fact that Rask cannot start every game (Rask has started at least 62 games for the past three seasons and watched his save percentage drop) and playing 7-1-2 G Anton Khudobin more often, the 2014 Vezina-winning goalie is beginning to look like himself once again.

Rask has earned a perfect 4-0-0 record over his last five appearances (he relieved Khudobin in Nashville last week for no decision), posting a .955 save percentage and 1.1 GAA in that time to elevate his season numbers to a .912 save percentage and 2.43 GAA, the (t)18th- and sixth-best efforts, respectively, among the 35 goaltenders with at least 11 starts.

But we haven’t even gotten to one of my favorite things about this Bruins team: its penalty kill. Successfully defending 85.54 percent of its infractions, Boston’s PK ranks third-best in the league behind only Los Angeles and San Jose, some very good defensive company.

This is where Rask has truly shined brightest. He’s saved 92.8 percent of all power play shots that make it to his goal, which is the most of any netminder with at least 15 starts to their credit. Of course, he’s also had the luxury of facing only 70 such shots all season thanks to Chara’s team-leading 20 shorthanded blocks.

Meanwhile, the 11-13-6 Red Wings are trying valiantly to outperform everyone’s expectations, as they trail the third place Bruins by only four points. Unfortunately, it’s been an anemic offense that has held them back from glory, as they manage a fourth-worst 2.63 goals-per-game.

If anyone in particular is to blame for Detroit’s struggles, it can’t be the second line – specifically F Dylan Larkin (4-19-23 totals) and F Anthony Mantha (12-10-22). They are the team leaders in almost every offensive department, but have combined for only two game-winners. If that’s not an an indictment on the rest of this offense, I don’t know what is.

Additionally, the Wings also have D Mike Green making considerable contributions from the blue line, as he’s managed a decent 2-16-18 effort that is shaping into the best season of his three-year Detroit career.

Knowing that Green, who is slated to be a free agent this offseason, is having a bit of a resurgence but has nothing to show for his career beyond being named to two NHL First All-Star Teams, it’ll be interesting to see if/when he’ll be traded. It is certainly possible in this division for the Wings to regroup and sneak into the playoffs, but it is looking more and more likely that won’t be the case. Green very well could be on the move at or before February 26’s trade deadline.

If Detroit is going to win this game, it’s going to need its greatest weapon to be firing on all cylinders. Though the Wings struggle on offense as a whole, their power play success rate of 20 percent is actually the 11th-best effort in the league. They face a tall task in the previously mentioned Boston penalty kill, but I think Detroit’s best chance of finding a goal is while a Bruin is in the penalty box.

The power play is Green’s specialty, as he leads the squad with nine man-advantage points. However, all of those are assists. Instead, I’d bank on Mantha and his team-leading five power play goals being Rask’s primary focus this evening.

As long has the Bruins can keep Detroit’s two forwards under control, they should come away with a victory tonight.


Behind First Star of the Game G Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s third shutout of the season, the Tampa Bay Lighting defeated the St. Louis Blues 3-0 at Scottrade Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

For the Bolts’ second game in a row, Second Star F Brayden Point (F Tyler Johnson and F Alex Killorn) provided Tampa Bay’s game-winning goal. This one was struck with 45 seconds remaining in the first period.

Johnson entered the offensive zone with the puck on his stick, but Third Star D Colton Parayko did a good job to force him away from the front of G Jake Allen‘s net. Johnson instead traveled behind the cage, moving from Allen’s left to right before passing from the left face-off circle to Point at the top of the zone. Point ripped a wrist shot through two St. Louis defenders that found the right goal post, but he collected his own rebound to squeeze a shot behind Allen and off the left post.

Tampa’s two insurance goals weren’t struck until the third period. RW Nikita Kucherov (D Mikhail Sergachev) scored the first with 6:23 remaining in regulation, followed by Johnson (Point and D Victor Hedman) burying a wrister into an open net with 22 seconds remaining before the final horn to close out the game.

Vasilevskiy saved all 32 shots he faced for the shutout victory, leaving the loss to Allen, who saved 22-of-24 (.917 save percentage).

Home and road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are getting back into the holiday spirit and exchanging victories. With the road Bolts winning last night, the visitors have pulled back within 15 points of the 39-23-8 hosts.

December 12 – Day 69 – For the Presidents’ Trophy

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!
  • Carolina at Vegas: For a combined three days, C Marcus Kruger and D Trevor van Riemsdyk were Golden Knights. Does this count as a homecoming?

… but they pale in comparison to tonight’s action in the Gateway to the West.

 

What a gauntlet the league-leading 21-6-2 Lightning have faced of late. It was only Saturday that they escaped with an overtime victory against an impressive Jets squad that plays a similar style to them.

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.

It took New York only 2:36 of action before it had the lead. That’s when Third Star of the Game F Brock Nelson (RW Cal Clutterbuck and W Jason Chimera) buried a wrist shot to set the score at 1-0.

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.

December 11 – Day 68 – No sleep ’til!

Thank goodness for hockey, or else this would’ve been another one of those brutal Mondays.

There’s a half-dozen games on the schedule today, starting with three (Washington at the New York Islanders, Dallas at the New York Rangers and Colorado at Pittsburgh [SN/TVAS]) at the usual time of 7 p.m. and Florida at Detroit half an hour later. 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of Vancouver at Winnipeg, while tonight’s nightcap – Carolina at Anaheim – waits until 10 p.m. to get underway. All times Eastern.

It’s hard to find action better than the two games taking place in the Big Apple this evening, but lets head south from The City, cross the Manhattan Bridge and take in an important Metropolitan Division rivalry taking place in Brooklyn.

 

 

 

 

Before you start complaining, yes: we did already feature this matchup this once this season on November 2. In fact, it was a stellar 4-3 game at Capital One Arena won by C Lars Eller and the Capitals with only 3:21 to spare before three-on-three overtime.

I’m expecting more of the same when these rivals square off tonight at the Barclays Center, because second place in the division is on the line this evening.

The 18-11-1 Capitals are not only the current owners of that second-place spot, but they’ve also won seven of their last eight games – including a current four-game winning streak.

Both ends of the ice have been impressive during this run, especially considering Washington’s offense has averaged four goals-per-game since November 22 (led by none other than W Alex Ovechkin and his 8-5-13 totals). However, I’ve been most impressed by the Caps’ defensive effort of late, as they’ve allowed only 18 goals over this run to tie Boston for second-fewest in the NHL in that time.

Now, when you have a Vezina-winning goaltender on your team, the job of defenseman is usually not a tough one. G Braden Holtby has posted a .92 season save percentage and 2.57 GAA to rank among the top 11 netminders in the NHL with at least 11 starts.

He’s been just as good of late too, as he’s managed a .92 save percentage and 2.34 GAA since November 22, both of which rank among the top 10 of the 26 goaltenders with at least six starts since then.

But don’t read into Holtby’s performance as a reason for the defense to mail in their efforts, because it’s been in fact the opposite. Over the past eight games, Washington’s defensive corps has allowed only 241 shots against – the third-fewest in the NHL. That incredible defensive effort has been spearheaded by D John Carlson‘s 2.75 blocks-per-game, as well as D Brooks Orpik and RW Tom Wilson‘s 3.37 hits-per-game.

That defense will prove especially important tonight when Washington takes on the 16-10-3 Islanders, who currently occupy fourth place in the Metropolitan Division and the first wild card. When New York has found its success, it has employed one of the most potent offenses in the game.

So far this season, the Islanders have scored a whopping 103 goals, which averages into 3.55 per game. Pick your favorite offense that doesn’t wear a lightning bolt as its crest, and the Islanders are better (in laymen’s terms, New York is second-best).

I’ve said it multiple times this season, but the core of this attack is the Isles’ incredible Sandwich Line. F Josh Bailey (5-27-32 totals), F Anders Lee (17-12-29) and C John Tavares (17-12-29) are the three leading point earners on this club, though they are followed close behind by rookie sensation C Mathew Barzal (8-20-28).

One of the best ways to get past the Caps’ defense is to take one of their players off the ice, as their 79.43 penalty kill rate is the 12th-worst in the league. While New York’s power play isn’t exactly the league leader its base offense is, I have a sneaking suspicion it’ll improve on its 11th-ranked 20 percent success rate if it earns to points tonight.

Though it’s not exactly that important right now, the Caps and Isles won’t resume their four-game season series until they play a two-day home-and-home series in mid-March. Of course, head-to-head record is the second tiebreaker if these clubs are tied come

As for who wins this evening, I’m having tough time picking against the Caps. The fact that they have Ovechkin at their disposal should be enough to propel them to their fifth-straight win.


Though the San Jose Sharks were able to mount a tremendous two-goal comeback in the third period to force overtime, the Minnesota Wild was able to hold on for a 4-3 victory at the SAP Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Usually, the “tale of two halves” expression is used to describe a basketball, football or soccer match, but it applied to yesterday’s featured hockey game quite well as the Wild were able to score the first three goals of regulation.

Minnesota started its attack 4:19 into the game on a D Ryan Murphy (W Jason Zucker and Second Star of the Game C Eric Staal) power play wrist shot, his first goal of the season. That goal was followed 6:08 later by Staal (D Ryan Suter and F Mikael Granlund) burying a wrister of his own to set the score at 2-0.

Staal (Murphy and Granlund) further expanded the Wild’s lead at the 4:58 mark of the second period, but his wrap-around tally proved to be the final one Minnesota could manage in regulation.

After that, it was all San Jose.

Third Star D Brent Burns (C Joe Thornton and F Tomas Hertl) was the first Shark to register a goal, as he banged home a power play slap shot with 53 seconds remaining before the second intermission to pull San Jose back within a 3-1 deficit.

Someone must have told Burns how much catching up he needs to do to match his performance from last season, because 2:41 after he returned to the ice, he (F Joe Pavelski) scored another power play clapper to trim Minnesota’s lead to one. Hertl (D Dylan DeMelo and D Tim Heed) completed the comeback with 5:01 remaining in regulation with a wrister.

Speaking of people saying things to players, Head Coach Bruce Boudreau was probably furious with his squad for squandering a 3-0 advantage, and I’ll bet he let them know it during the break before three-on-three overtime. Apparently First Star W Nino Niederreiter took that message to heart, because he scored an unassisted wrister with 1:34 remaining before the shootout to earn Minnesota the bonus point.

G Alex Stalock earned the victory after saving 31-of-34 shots faced (.912 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to G Martin Jones, who saved 20-of-24 (.833).

If all it takes to constitute a good game is one that extends beyond regulation, we’ve gotten some real treasures the past five days in the DtFR Game of the Day series as all of them have required either overtime or a shootout to determine a winner. With the road team winning yesterday, visitors have pulled within 15 points of the 38-22-8 hosts.

December 10 – Day 67 – Scoring is hard

After an action-packed Saturday, the NHL is pulling reigns back a bit this evening, as it has scheduled only four games to be played tonight.

In fact, most of that action starts at the same time, as three (Arizona at Chicago, Buffalo at St. Louis and Edmonton at Toronto [NHLN/SN/TVAS]) of the four contests drop the puck at 7 p.m. The last matchup of the night – Minnesota at San Jose – waits until 9 p.m. before getting underway. All times Eastern.

Originally, I was planning on commemorating D Niklas Hjalmarsson‘s first return to Chicago since being traded this offseason, but that is difficult to do while he is on injured reserve (I guess we’ll have to wait until next season). Instead, we’ll make the trip out to The Tank for what should be the best game of the night between the Sharks and Wild.

 

To put things lightly, life could be easier for both of these clubs. Let’s start with the 16-10-2 Sharks, who are scrapping with the 16-12-2 Flames and 15-12-4 Canucks for third place – not to mention trailing an expansion team for home ice in the playoffs –  in the Pacific Division.

The main thing San Jose has in its favor is an incredible defense. Allowing only 2.28 goals against-per-game, the Sharks are the second-best in the NHL in the statistic, which atones for the sins of their anemic offense that manages a fourth-worst 2.67 goals-per-game.

The primary way the Sharks are finding their defensive success is by keeping pucks off 11-7-1 G Martin Jones. San Jose has limited its goaltenders’ workloads to only 29.32 shots against-per-game (the second-fewest in the NHL). That effort has been spearheaded by D Justin Braun‘s 2.03 blocks-per-game, D Brent Burns‘ team-leading 33 takeaways and D Brenden Dillon‘s 2.85 hits-per-game.

But it’s not like Jones needs all that much help. He’s posted a .91 season save percentage and 2.41 GAA this year to rank (t)12th- and sixth-best, respectively, among the 37 netminders with at least 10 starts.

That all being said, it looks like San Jose is having a dream season in comparison to the Wild, who have yet to find consistent traction and officially jump into the Western Conference’s playoff picture.

Of course, Minnesota does not have the privilege of playing in the less intense Pacific Division, but that’s no excuse for an offense that manages only 2.92 goals-per-game, the 14th-fewest in the league.

The Wild have a real problem with creating depth scoring. There’s no doubt that second line C Eric Staal (10-13-23 totals) and first-liner W Jason Zucker (14-10-24) have been impressive, but F Mikael Granlund ranks third on the team in points with only 6-11-17 totals a year removed from his incredible 26-43-69 effort.

Until Minnesota can figure out a way to get Granlund back to form, I feel they’re going to continue to struggle. It’s for that reason that I think the Sharks are going to come away with the victory today.


No amount of hype could prepare us for such a competitive matchup in the DtFR Game of the Day, but the Tampa Bay Lightning were able to hold on for a 4-3 overtime victory at Amalie Arena over the Winnipeg Jets.

With the obvious exception of overtime, both clubs managed a goal-per-period to create an exciting, turbulent environment. That mood found its start at the 1:23 mark of the first period when F Andrew Copp (F Adam Lowry and F Brandon Tanev) buried a wrist shot to give Winnipeg an early lead. That advantage lasted until 63 seconds remained in the frame when F Yanni Gourde (First Star of the Game F Brayden Point and F Tyler Johnson) scored a power play tip-in to level the game at one-all.

Tampa Bay carried that positive energy into the second period, and finally earned its first lead of the night when Third Star D Mikhail Sergachev (Johnson and W Ondrej Palat) scored a wrister with 3:41 remaining in the frame. The game was once again leveled 1:23 later courtesy of a tip-in from birthday boy LW Kyle Connor (D Josh Morrissey and RW Blake Wheeler), setting the score at 2-2 going into the second period. Considering it was his 21st birthday, I’ll bet more than a few of his teammates bought him a beer after the game to celebrate.

The Bolts scored goals on both sides of the first intermission, so it is only logical that the Jets would match that effort around the second. Winnipeg took a 3-2 lead at the 7:02 mark of the frame courtesy of a wrister from Second Star W Nikolaj Ehlers (D Jacob Trouba and RW Patrik Laine), but the score was once again tied 1:49 later on a RW Nikita Kucherov (D Jake Dotchin and C Steven Stamkos) wrister. After that quick scoring spurt, both defenses clamped down to allow only a combined 14 shots in the third period.

For such a competitive game, it’s a surprise overtime didn’t last longer. However, Point (D Anton Stralman) was able to score a backhanded shot only 36 seconds into three-on-three play to earn Tampa the overtime victory.

Point’s goal was a result of some brilliant agility and puck control. After receiving Stalman’s pass at the red line, he deked around F Bryan Little to set up a one-on-one with G Connor Hellebuyck. Not content to simply fire a wrister at the netminder, he patiently waited and pulled the puck across the crease from Hellebuyck’s left to right before flipping a backhander between the goalie’s right arm and leg and into the back of the net.

G Andrei Vasilevskiy earned the victory after saving 17-of-20 shots faced (.85 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Hellebuyck, who saved 24-of-28 (.857).

This contest was the fourth-consecutive in the DtFR Game of the Day that required more than 60 minutes to determine a victor. With the hosts winning, they extend their record in the series to 38-22-7, 16 points better than the away sides.

December 9 – Day 66 – Mirror images

After your busy Saturday of holiday shopping is complete, sit down; take a load off; watch hockey. You know, exactly what we were created to do.

There’s only one matinee on the schedule, and it takes place at 1 p.m. when St. Louis makes its annual trip to Detroit (SN1). The rest of the action gets started at 7 p.m. with the puck drop of seven games (the New York Islanders at Boston, Edmonton at Montréal [SN/TVAS], Winnipeg at Tampa Bay [CITY], Colorado at Florida, New Jersey at the New York Rangers, Toronto at Pittsburgh [CBC/NHLN] and Arizona at Columbus), followed by Vegas at Dallas an hour later. The West Coast gets involved at 10 p.m. with the start of two contests (Ottawa at San Jose [SN] and Vancouver at Calgary [CBC]), followed by Carolina at Los Angeles – tonight’s nightcap – half an hour later. All times Eastern.

As regular readers have come to expect, I have circled more than a few games on my calendar on days like today.

  • St. Louis at Detroit: This rivalry might have lost some heat when the Wings jumped to the Eastern Conference, but a rivalry it is nonetheless.
  • New Jersey at New York: The Battle of the Hudson River is truly special when both parties involved are playing well.
  • Toronto at Pittsburgh: The day has finally arrived for D Ron Hainsey to collect his championship ring.
  • Vancouver at Calgary: There’s no love lost in this rivalry.

Of course, I couldn’t predict the magnitude of the night’s events in Central Florida. Since we’ve already featured Canucks-Flames once this season, let’s take in this exciting Jets-Lightning matchup.

 

Even with the advice of our very own Colby Kephart, I’ve made the unforgivable sin of featuring the best team in the league only three times before today. While I cannot go back and change the past, I can only try my best to feature the 20-6-2 Lightning more often.

Where to start with what makes the Bolts great? We could discuss their incredible offense that averages a league-leading 3.75 goals-per-game, or we could turn our attention to a defense that allows only 2.5 goals against-per-game, the fourth-lowest average in the NHL.

It’s more fun to talk offense, so we’ll do that. Besides, I would argue that 18-4-1 G Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s .93 save percentage and 2.21 GAA ([t]best and third-best, respectively, among the 45 goaltenders with at least eight starts) are helped just as much by an offense that possesses the puck at will as they are by D Dan Girardi‘s team-leading 2.32 blocks-per-game.

Perhaps you’ve heard, but C Steven Stamkos is pretty darn good at his job. After all, his 12-29-41 totals, the most by any player in the NHL this year, is made even more impressive considering he played only 94 games over his past two season.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have coworkers like RW Nikita Kucherov, who has managed an equally mesmerizing 19-21-40 effort to rank second in the league in both points scored and goals (dang you, W Alex Ovechkin, and your 21 tallies), and breakout fourth-year player F Vladislav Namestnikov playing on the same line.

With 12-15-27 totals currently to his name this season, Namestnikov is on track to post 35-44-79 marks by the end of the regular season. If he can continue on that pace, he will effectively double the 33-46-79 career totals he had coming into this season.

Welcome to the big time, Vladdy.

There’s some stellar teams in the Central Division this season, but one of the two that has mirrored Tampa’s style is the 17-8-4 Jets. Just like the Lightning, Winnipeg utilizes a commanding offense that manages 3.37 goals-per-game (fifth-best in the league) to keep pucks out of their defensive zone. The strategy has worked almost as seamlessly as the Bolts’, as they’ve allowed only 2.82 goals-per-game, the 10th-fewest in the NHL.

Of the pucks that have made their way to 15-3-3 G Connor Hellebuyck, he’s been more than able to make the necessary stops. He’s managed a .92 save percentage and 2.43 GAA performance that ranks him in the top-10 goaltenders with at least 11 starts to their name.

Beginning to see some similarities yet? Maybe you’d be interested to know that Winnipeg also has a top line focused around its potential All Stars: C Mark Scheifele and RW Blake Wheeler.

That’s right, even the starred positions are the same.

Wheeler has absolutely stolen the show in Winnipeg this year. In the 11th year of his career, he’s managing a team-leading 8-29-37 points that is tied for third-most in the NHL.

As you can see, most of those points are assists, and most of those apples have turned into Scheifele goals. Scheifele has scored 14 of them this season en route to 14-20-34 totals. Sticking with the theme of career years, Scheifele could manage 39-57-96 totals if he keeps up this pace, well better than last year’s 32-50-82 effort.

If there’s one thing the Jets have that the Bolts don’t, it’s a commanding presence at the second line’s right wing position. RW Patrik Laine isn’t getting quite the amount of headlines he did last year due to the improved play of those around him, but that hasn’t stopped him from posting similar numbers. After a 36-28-64 rookie campaign, he’s already managed 15-10-25 totals this season and is on his way to a 43-28-71 performance if he continues on his pace.

So much for a sophomore slump.

This game has the potential to be the matchup of the season so far. It features two dominant offenses led by impressive centers and right wings intent on keeping possession. Tonight’s game should be a Lightning victory, but they might face one of their toughest tests yet in the Jets.


The Vegas Golden Knights weathered an impressive third period resurgence by the Nashville Predators to win yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Bridgestone Arena 4-3 in a shootout.

Only one goal was struck in the first period, and F Craig Smith was largely responsible. Due to him getting caught hi-sticking W David Perron, C William Karlsson (RW Alex Tuch and D Nate Schmidt) was able to score a power play snap shot 6:55 into the game to give Vegas an early lead.

The Knights doubled that lead with 5:23 remaining in the second period courtesy of W James Neal (D Luca Sbisa and Schmidt), playing his first game in Nashville since being selected in the expansion draft. However, the score was trimmed to 2-1 only 63 seconds later on C Calle Jarnkrok’s (W Pontus Aberg and F Filip Forsberg) wrist shot.

Nashville completed its comeback at the 8:04 mark of the third period on a wrister by First Star of the Game W Viktor Arvidsson (W Kevin Fiala and C Kyle Turris), followed 6:52 later by Second Star C Nick Bonino‘s (Arvidsson) sixth goal of the season to give the Predators their first lead of the night. That 3-2 lead almost held to the end of regulation, but F Erik Haula (D Colin Miller and Perron) was able to bury a wrister with 40 seconds remaining in regulation to level the game and force three-on-three overtime.

Since no goal was stuck in overtime, this game entered the shootout. As host, the Predators had the choice of shooting first or second…

  1. Head Coach Peter Laviolette chose first and sent Turris to center ice. Usually a decent penalty shooter (he now has a .365 career shooting percentage in this situation), he missed wide of the net.
  2. The Homecoming King had an opportunity to give the Golden Knights a mini-break, but Neal’s offering was saved by G Pekka Rinne, who had probably seen every trick Neal had up his sleeve over the last three years of practice.
  3. Fiala was next up for Nashville, but he performed just like Turris: he missed wide of the net.
  4. If only saves forced was a deciding factor in shootouts, because Vegas would have won after Rinne saved Tuch’s wrister.
  5. Of the Preds’ first three shooters, Forsberg was easily the best. Though he didn’t score, he did manage to force G Malcolm Subban to make a save.
  6. With the opportunity to win the game, Perron’s backhanded shot… was saved by Rinne. To sudden death!
  7. Up next for Nashville was Smith, but he continued the Predators’ tradition of blatantly missing the net, though he did at least catch iron.
  8. Here comes Haula! He fired a wrister on net, but Rinne was there to make the save.
  9. Tell me if you read this already: another Predator missed the net – this time it was Arvidsson. I guess one goal in this game was enough.
  10. Vegas’ fifth shooter was none other than Karlsson, who had scored the opening goal of the game way back in the first period. That experience didn’t help him here, because his backhander was saved by Rinne.
  11. Round six started with Bonino firing a wrister at Subban’s net, but the netminder was there to make the save.
  12. Finally, everyone’s prayers were answered by Third Star W Reilly Smith, who was the lone goalscorer of the shootout to earn the bonus point for Vegas.

Subban earned the victory after saving 41-of-44 shots faced (.932 save percentage), leaving the shootout loss to Rinne, who saved 36-of-39 (.923).

This was the third-straight game in the DtFR Game of the Day to require more than 60 minutes to determine a victor. With the visitors coming out on top of this one, they pulled within 15 points of the 37-22-7 hosts.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #83- What’s Brewing In Seattle?

Nick and Connor address the latest potential-expansion news regarding Seattle, recap the process thus far and speculate about many hypothetical relocation possibilities. Charlotte is better than Raleigh, another Subban was traded and— oh yeah— there’s games on the schedule this weekend.

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

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

December 8 – Day 65 – James Neal loves gold

Welcome to your favorite day of the work week: Friday. Time to settle in for a weekend of online Christmas shopping while watching hockey.

There’s a small, but solid, selection of five games to watch this evening, starting with two (Columbus at New Jersey and the New York Rangers at Washington [NHLN/SN/TVAS]) at 7 p.m., followed by Vegas at Nashville at 8 p.m. and Buffalo at Chicago half an hour later. Finally, this evening’s nightcap, Minnesota at Anaheim (SN1), drops the puck at 10 p.m. to close the night out. All times Eastern.

I had two of these games circled on my calendar at the start of the season…

  • New York at Washington: Not only is this a rivalry game in the ultra-competitive Metropolitan Division, but it’s also F Paul Carey and D Kevin Shattenkirk‘s first trip back to the capital since signing with the Blueshirts this offseason.
  • Vegas at Nashville: Welcome back to Music City, W James Neal!

…but I’m also very interested in Columbus and Jersey’s rematch of a game that happened only three days ago.

Here’s what we’ll do: if you want a preview of the Jackets-Devils game, go here (you should also probably read the recap of that game here). Otherwise, we’re going to feature a different game instead.

 

 

 

We haven’t featured either of these clubs yet this December, and there’s no time like the present.

The Golden Knights enter this game with a solid 17-9-1 record that is good enough for second place in the Pacific Division. Much of that success has been due to their imposing offense, which has managed a Western Conference-leading 3.44 goals-per-game.

There are few on the Knights’ roster that has had a bigger part of those goals than Neal, whose 21 points-per-game are tied for third-most on the squad. Of those 21 points, 13 of them have been goals – a total that is only one short of C William Karlsson‘s team-leading 14 mark.

What makes Neal a surprise is that Head Coach Gerard Gallant is getting even more than he expected when the Knights drafted him out of Nashville. For his career, he’s managed only .72 points per game, of which he’s directly produced .38 goals per game.  Assuming he plays a full 82-game season, that would translate into 31-28-59 totals, well above his 23-18-41 marks from last season.

This season, Neal is on pace for 39-25-64 totals, which would go down as his best season since his 40-41-81 effort in 2011-’12 with the Penguins.

Trying to slow Neal and co. down this evening are the 18-7-3 Predators, who are also second place in their division. They’ve found their success by playing some solid defense.

Of course, it’s hard to fail with 16-4-2 G Pekka Rinne as your goaltender. He’s managed a solid .92 save percentage and a 2.38 GAA to rank sixth-best in both statistics among all goaltenders with at least eight starts.

While I wouldn’t exactly say the Predators’ defense puts a major effort towards keeping pucks off Rinne (Nashville allows a seventh-worst 32.57 shots against per game), their strength is truly shown on the offensive end. Defensemen Mattias Ekholm (6-12-18 totals), Roman Josi (6-13-19) and P.K. Subban (4-14-18) are all among the league’s top 19 blueliners in points, and Nashville’s top pair of Ekholm and Josi are both in the top 10 in goals scored by defensemen.

With strength squaring off against strength, this game will likely come down to which team wins the battle in Nashville’s offensive/Vegas’ defensive end. Considering the Preds’ offense, which ranks eighth in the league (3.17 goals-per-game), is going against the 11th-worst defense (3.11 goals against-per-game), I’m leaning towards the hosts taking this contest.


Though the New York Islanders were able to level the game after trailing by two goals with five minutes remaining to force overtime, the Pittsburgh Penguins held on to win 4-3 at PPG Paints Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Much of this game’s action took place in the third period, but it was set up by the two goals that were struck in the opening two frames. F Jake Guentzel (D Kris Letang and F Evgeni Malkin) scored a power play tip-in with 7:43 remaining in the first period, followed by RW Jordan Eberle (D Ryan Pulock and D Nick Leddy) burying a wrist shot at the 5:53 mark of the second to level the game at one-all.

Just like the first period belonged to Pittsburgh and the second to New York, the first half of the third period belonged to the Pens while the Isles took the second half.

RW Phil Kessel (Letang and C Sidney Crosby) got the frame started with a power play snap shot at the 7:29 mark to return a one-goal lead to the Pens, followed 32 seconds later by Second Star of the Game C Riley Sheahan (LW Carl Hagelin) scoring his second goal of the season.

Then it was New York’s turn to play. Third Star C Mathew Barzal (D Scott Mayfield and C Casey Cizikas) started the Isles’ comeback with 4:53 remaining in regulation by burying a wrister, but it was F Brock Nelson‘s (LW Andrew Ladd and D Thomas Hickey) wrister with 70 seconds left on the clock that forced three-on-three overtime.

Confidence was certainly on the Islanders’ side at the end of regulation, but the short break before overtime allowed Head Coach Mike Sullivan an opportunity to regroup his troops. Whatever pep talk he gave obviously worked, because First Star D Matt Hunwick (W Bryan Rust) was able to end the game at the 1:29 mark with a gritty wrister.

There was nothing sexy about Hunwick’s goal, but it was certainly a nice reward for doing some dirty work in the slot. The defenseman was the one to enter the offensive zone with the puck, but he handed possession off to Rust once he was across the blue line. Once the [position] reached G Jaroslav Halak‘s goal, he tried to drag the puck across the crease for a backhander, but it was stopped by a combination of pads and defensive sticks.

Since Halak was unable to cover up the puck, it trickled towards Hunwick – who had been camping out waiting for such an opportunity – and before the netminder could react, the defenseman had tapped his wrister past Halak’s right skate and into the net.

G Tristan Jarry earned the victory after saving 23-of-26 shots faced (.885 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Halak, who saved 28-of-32 (.875).

For the first time this month, the home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have won consecutive games. As such, they now own a 37-22-6 record that is 16 points superior to that of the visitors.

December 7 – Day 64 – More Metro mayhem

It’s time for me to keep the promise I made Tuesday.

We have a relatively busy schedule today, as there’s nine of a maximum 15 games to be played. Like it does almost every night, the action begins at 7 p.m. with two contests (Arizona at Boston and the New York Islanders at Pittsburgh [SN/TVAS]), followed by three more (Calgary at Montréal [RDS/TSN2], Colorado at Tampa Bay and Winnipeg at Florida) half an hour later. Dallas at St. Louis is the only tilt to drop the puck at 8 p.m., and the next game, Philadelphia at Vancouver, doesn’t get underway until 10 p.m. Finally, tonight’s co-nightcaps (Ottawa at Los Angeles [RDS] and Carolina at San Jose) get started at 10:30 pm. to close out the evening. All time Eastern.

I hinted Tuesday that this was a big week for the Metropolitan Division. Phase two of that claim occurs tonight in the Steel City.

 

 

 

 

 

Making this relatively important matchup even more exciting is knowing how much these teams don’t get along. Whenever this series comes up on the calendar, I remember the first time I saw the fights between these organizations in February 2011 that led to 346 PIM, including 16 major penalties and 21 misconducts.

With that in mind, it almost makes the record between these clubs moot – except for the fact that playoff position is not determined by most or least penalties.

While this series has been relatively evenly matched since it began in 1973 (Pittsburgh owns only a 116-106-22 record against the Isles all-time), the Pens has absolutely dominated the New York since the 2004-’05 lockout. Over the past 12 seasons, the Penguins have won 10 of the past 12 season series, including winning seven-straight series from 2007-’08 to 2013-’14.

Of note, last year’s series between these clubs did end in a 2-1-1 tie, but the Penguins won the series based on the regulation+overtime wins tiebreaker 2-1.

This rivalry has also extended into the postseason four times. This is where New York has really put its foot on Pittsburgh’s throat, as the Islanders have advanced to the next round three of the four times they’ve run into the Penguins.

Playoff series between these teams have been an absolute thrill in the past. The first time they squared off was in the 1975 Quarterfinals. This series was dominated by the Penguins early, as they jumped out to a 3-0 advantage. But RW Ed Westfall wasn’t interested in losing to the higher seeded Pens, so he scored three goals, including the series clincher in at Civic Arena, to lead New York to four-straight wins arrange a date with the other Pennsylvanian team, with which they played another seven-game series.

Another incredible series occurred between these sides in the 1993 Patrick Division Finals. With neither team able to take control of the back-and-forth series (even though the road team won both Game 1 and Game 3), they required a deciding Game 7 in Pittsburgh to settle the matter.

Further stressing how evenly matched these clubs were, regulation was not enough to determine which side was to advance to the Prince of Wales Conference Finals against Montréal. 5:16 into the first overtime period, W David Volek, who had scored only eight goals during the regular season, snapped the 3-3 tie to eliminate the two-time reigning Stanley Cup champions.

Even in the series they lost, the Islanders were still a tough out for Pittsburgh. During the 2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, the top-seeded Penguins needed six games to beat the Islanders, due in large part to the combined efforts of C John Tavares (3-2-5 totals) and future Penguin D Mark Streit (2-3-5).

Anyways, enough talk about the past. It’s time to figure out who has the upper-hand in the opening meeting of the four-game series between these clubs this year.

Let’s start with the 16-9-2 Islanders, who currently occupy the East’s top wildcard spot and are winners of eight of their past 11 games.

For both the entire season as a whole as well as this recent run of success, offense has been the name of the game in Brooklyn. Only one team – the Tampa Bay Lightning – can claim an offensive proficiency better than the Isles’ 3.66 goals-per-game, and New York has posted an even better 4.09 goals-per-game since November 11.

The man leading this vaunted attack is none other than Captain Tavares, who has managed 17-14-31 totals to position himself in third place in the race for the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy.

Of course, he also has the luxury of playing the role of misunderstood fruit on everyone’s favorite line in hockey: New York’s Sandwich Line. Named after the classic BLT, F Josh Bailey (5-26-31 totals) and F Anders Lee (16-12-28) join with Tavares to form the unstoppable trifecta at the top of the Islanders’ roster.

Add in the solid efforts of rookie C Mathew Barzal (7-19-26 totals) on the second line and you have a scary good group of forwards, even without mentioning RW Jordan Eberle (11-9-20) and F Joshua Ho-Sang (2-10-12).

The second wild card 15-11-3 Penguins are another team that likes to do their work on the offensive end, but they’ll need a little bit of help from the Isles’ D Scott Mayfield and his team-leading 23 penalty minutes to get the opportunity to employ their fourth-ranked power play.

What makes Pittsburgh so successful with the man-advantage is that it is so unpredictable. Led by RW Phil Kessel‘s 3-14-17 effort on the power play, five players have at least 10 extra-man points to help the Pens convert 25.68 percent of their man-advantage opportunities into goals. Of that group, C Sidney Crosby and RW Patric Hornqvist have been stellar, scoring six power play goals apiece.

Unfortunately, that success hasn’t translated into even-strength play. For the entire season, Pittsburgh averages only 2.96 goals-per-game to rank 15th-best in the NHL, well below last season’s league-leading 3.39 goals-per-game.

That’s why I feel like RW Ryan Reaves might be one of the bigger keys to the game for the Penguins this evening. With his team-leading 88 hits, perhaps he can find a way to get under Mayfield’s skin to earn the Pens a power play opportunity. If the Pens can get to the man-advantage, they should be able to convert given New York’s (t)second-worst 75 percent kill rate.

Since the Islanders are shorthanded 3.26 times-per-game (the 12th-fewest in the NHL), I think they’ll be able to keep their cool this evening and earn two points on the road.


Though they needed a shutout, the Toronto Maple Leafs were able to beat the Calgary Flames 2-1 at the Air Canada Centre in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Calgary’s lone regulation goal was struck in the first period. Thanks to W Matt Martin getting caught holding RW Garnet Hathaway at the 9:27 mark, D Mark Giordano (C Sean Monahan and W Troy Brouwer) was able to take advantage of the ensuing power play to bury a wrist shot 1:10 later.

The Maple Leafs leveled the game in the waning minutes of the second frame courtesy of D Morgan Rielly‘s unassisted snap shot with 1:13 remaining before the second intermission. It was Rielly’s fourth goal of the season.

The Flames especially tried to end the game in regulation, as they fired 17 shots at First Star of the Game G Frederik Andersen, but neither they nor the Leafs could break the tie in either regulation or the five minute three-on-three overtime period.

As the home team, Head Coach Mike Babcock had the option to shoot first or second in the shootout.

  1. He chose first and sent out C Auston Matthews. As you’d expect from a player of his caliber, he beat Third Star G Mike Smith to give the Leafs an early 1-0 lead.
  2. Head Coach Glen Gulutzan called on Monahan to level the shootout score. After converting his first two opportunities of the season, he was unable to make his third as fired his shot over the net.
  3. Next up for Toronto was F Mitch Marner, who had the opportunity to force a miss-and-lose situation for the Flames if he could get a shot past Smith. The netminder knew the situation as well, because he was able to save the snapper.
  4. With the opportunity to make yet another headline, LW Matthew Tkachuk was tapped as the Flames’ next shooter. He didn’t disappoint and leveled the shootout at one-all.
  5. With the opportunity to win the game against his old Pacific Division rivals, F Patrick Marleau did what I’d probably do in that situation: he sailed his attempt over the net.
  6. Now it was LW Johnny Gaudreau‘s turn to end the game. He did a little better than Marleau by putting his shot on frame, but Andersen was able to save the wrister.
  7. Second Star F William Nylander went two NHL seasons without scoring a shootout goal, but last night ended the skid. He set the shootout score at 2-1, setting up a miss-and-lose situation for Calgary.
  8. Looking at the stats, it’s a wonder C Mikael Backlund represented the Flames’ best opportunity to continue the game. Last night marked the sixth shootout opportunity of his career, and Backlund has missed all six.

Andersen saved 47-of-48 shots faced (.979 save percentage) to earn the victory, leaving the shootout loss to Smith, who saved 28-of-29 (.966).

For the seventh consecutive day, home and road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have exchanged victories (it must be everyone’s holiday spirit). With yesterday being the home team’s turn, they’ve improved their record to 36-22-6, 15 points better than the visitors’.

DtFR Overtime: Where’s the Star Power?

Welcome to DtFR Overtime, where somebody on the most recent podcast offers some deeper thoughts on one of the points of discussion.

Today’s subject: Star power and the absence of it.

We all know the list of current NHL stars: LW Jamie Benn, D Brent Burns, C Sidney Crosby, G Braden Holtby, F Patrick Kane, D Erik Karlsson, G Henrik Lundqvist, C Auston Matthews, C Connor McDavid, W Alex Ovechkin, G Carey Price, G Jonathan Quick, C Steven Stamkos, D P.K. Subban, RW Vladimir Tarasenko, C John Tavares

OK, I think you get the idea.

But how important are these stars really? I mean, of the skaters listed above, they play an average of only 21 minutes – or barely over a third of a game.

While the top NHL teams put a strong value on depth scoring, I would argue that, over the course of a season, it is necessary for Team X’s star to be the best player on the ice for that team to have success.

It sounds basic, right?

It is, but even the clubs that seem to be built to withstand the unfortunately inevitable scoring droughts from its top players are struggling this season.

My first example is the 12-11-5 Chicago Blackhawks, a club that currently sits in 12th place in the Western Conference and is at risk of missing the postsesaon for the first time since the 2007-’08 campaign.

I brought up Kane in the list of stars earlier, but his team-leading 10-17-27 totals are not the reason Chicago finds itself on the outside looking in. Instead, this star-laden team is struggling to find leadership from its captain.

Getting outplayed by rookie F Alex DeBrincat‘s 11-9-20 effort, C Jonathan Toews has only 8-11-19 totals to his credit and is on track for the worst offensive production of his professional career. Perhaps it is no surprise that the Blackhawks have an 11-2-2 record when Toews finds his way onto the scorecard, but a 1-9-3 record when he doesn’t.

That was fun, especially for a fan of a Central Division team that hasn’t worn a lick of red since the 1997-’98 season. Let’s head east and examine another city where it looks like the local club is in an even more dire situation

Welcome to Ottawa, the national capital of Canada.  Expectations were high after forcing a seven-game Eastern Conference Finals series with Pittsburgh back in May, but all the 9-11-6 Sens, who currently sit third-to-last in the conference, have done this season is disappoint.

To be fair, Karlsson at least has the excuse of an injury to partially explain his slump. The hard part in figuring out Karlsson’s 1-16-17 effort is that he’s mostly on track from a points-per-game standpoint. Given he missed the Sens’ first five games, his .81 points-per-game is, while not exemplary by his standards, still a solid output.

Unfortunately, this is where points can distract from goals. You probably noticed he only had one tally to his credit, which is where I think his team needs him most.

The 14-10-2 Sharks are facing a similar situation with their star defenseman Burns, who has managed only 1-11-12 totals in 26 games a year after posting 29-47-76 numbers to win the Norris Trophy. As such, San Jose does not have the solid footing in the standings it would like, as the Sharks are holding onto their second wild card position by winning only a games-played tiebreaker.

Now, I’m not going to sit here on my couch and pontificate about how to score a goal in the NHL against the 30-something best goaltenders in the world. I mean, I live in the South and can barely keep my skates underneath me the entire time I’m at the rink. But, I am going to say that Karlsson’s .05 goals-per-game for the season and Burns’ .04 is – you guessed it – the worst performances of their careers.

Last year, Karlsson scored 17 of the Sens’ 212 regular season goals. That may only be eight percent of the total, but Ottawa earned a 12-3-3 record when he personally put a goal on the scoreboard, including a perfect 2-0-0 record in the postseason. Similarly, Burns’ career-high 29 goals earned the Sharks an 18-7-1 record last season, though it might be of bigger note that Edmonton did not allow him to find the back of the net in their six-game first round matchup, the Sharks’ only playoff series of the 2017 postseason.

Now, don’t read this as all doom-and-gloom for these respective squads. All of these teams can get right back into the playoff discussion (yes, even Ottawa thanks to a weak Atlantic Division) or better cement their position in the tournament if their biggest players can simply rediscover their mojo.

Take for example Montréal, where as recently as two weeks ago it looked like the 13-13-3 Canadiens had never seen, much less used hockey sticks before. Then Price came back from his lower-body injury, and the Habs look better than ever.

Of course, things weren’t exactly peachy in Québec before Price took time off. In his 11 appearances before retreating to the press box, Price had managed only an .877 season save percentage and 3.77 GAA to earn a 3-7-1 record, forcing Habs fans and bloggers alike to wonder when exactly this injury occurred.

But since Price’s return on November 25, Price and the Habs have been almost unbeatable, as they’ve won five of their last six games with him in net. The goaltender himself has been extremely successful as well, as he’s posted a .94 save percentage and 1.67 GAA in that time.

But the turnaround hasn’t been simply in the defensive end. Even the offense is gelling now that its true leader is back (Sorry LW Max Pacioretty, but this is Price’s team. You’re captain by technicality), as success breeds success and positive energy. Since Price’s return, Montréal’s offense has managed a whopping 4.5 goals-per-game, highlighted by Saturday’s 10-1 shellacking of the Red Wings. Even taking out that major outlier, the Habs’ 3.4 goals-per-game is much better than the 2.32 goals-per-game they’d managed before Price’s return. This surge has propelled the Canadiens from sixth place in the Atlantic Division into third – a playoff spot.

Since we’re on the topic of Montréal and its stars and I already brought up Pacioretty, we might as well discuss my concerns over this team. Pacioretty is struggling something fierce right now. He’s only managed 8-8-16 totals so far this season, and is on pace for his worst professional season since his first two years with the Habs.

Unfortunately for Canadiens fans, this scoring skid is not limited to just this season. I don’t need to remind them of the magic disappearing act he performed in the playoffs against the Rangers, managing only a lone assist. In fact, since March 14 of last campaign, he’s managed only 10-14-24 totals in games that count (aka everything but the preseason).

While I belittled the letter Pacioretty wears on his sweater, he is still one of the leaders on this team. For the Habs to sustain this recent success, Pacioretty is going to need to snap out of his slump – even if it means he has to become a play-maker before resuming a goalscorer role.

Another team that has had more struggles than it would like is the two-time reigning Stanley Cup champions. While they’ve had trouble finding depth scoring and are now facing even bigger goaltending issues than they had before, the 15-11-3 Penguins have held onto a playoff position for most of the year.

Now, the operative word here is ‘most.’ There was a point in late November when the Penguins had fallen outside the playoff picture, and – as you might guess from the other examples – I would pin a lot of the club’s struggles on Crosby.

It is very hard to point at a player that is contributing a point-per-game on the season and say he is not doing enough for his team. After all, isn’t this the same team that supposedly embodies the speed-based future of the sport while also trotting out RW Ryan Reaves onto the ice every game? Why can’t his lousy 1-2-3 totals be the problem?

And yet, it’s hard to ignore that Pittsburgh’s slump aligned almost perfectly with Crosby’s goal-scoring slump. Between October 21 and November 22, Crosby managed only 1-6-7 totals in 15 games, which led the Penguins to earning only a 6-7-2 record in that time.

You might say that 6-7-2 isn’t a terrible run while one of the league’s top players is on the schneid, and I’d agree if that team wasn’t in the highly competitive Metropolitan Division. The Penguins also have the luxury of employing RW Phil Kessel and F Evgeni Malkin, who were able to keep the team mostly afloat with their combined 10-18-28 effort.

If that stat does nothing other than stress the importance of Crosby to his team, I don’t know what does. The fact that the Penguins were losing, or at least treading water, while two players created nearly 30 goals in 15 games is unbelievable.

Anyways, Crosby has rediscovered his scoring ways since then, and the Pens are all the better for it. Starting with November 24, the captain has earned 6-6-12 totals that are closer to what fans expect from him. As such, the Penguins have found their way back into the win column, earning a 4-2-0 record in spite of G Matthew Murray missing Pittsburgh’s last three games with a lower-body injury.

Of course, the Penguins are doing a great job of poking a hole in my argument by falling from third in the division back into the second wild card spot while Murray is healing, but I’m still going to hold firm that G Tristan Jarry has earned a 3-1-0 record filling in not because of his solid .926 season save percentage (though that doesn’t hurt), but because Crosby has scored a goal in every game but – you guessed it – Jarry’s one regulation loss.

Confidence – which I am led to believe is the word people are actually looking for when they discuss momentum in sports (I mean, “momentum” is technically mass x velocity, so the momentum of a sports team cannot change without either a plane or a player transaction) – is like hitting in baseball: it’s a contagious thing.

Star players are not star players simply because they can score or stop goals no one else can. Stars are stars because they can make those plays and make the athletes associated with them feel like they too can contribute to the ultimate goal and find wins and success.

Stars are leaders.

And that’s why stars have to perform their best. That’s why they have to have the best numbers on their team. It’s not to belittle the third and fourth liners, but it’s their success that should drive a team to achieve more.

Success breeds success.

In that same train of thought, leaders can’t create success from the rest of their team while they themselves are struggling to find their groove. Stars are stars because they find that motivation to excel within themselves, and then use that flame to light the others’ torches.

You might have noticed the thread that connects all of the players called out in this column: Toews, Karlsson, Burns, Pacioretty and Crosby are all captains. These players have been selected by their coaches and peers based not only on their undoubted skills, but also on their work-ethic and leadership abilities. They were honored with that distinction, so it is time for them to step up and serve the letter and crest on the front of their sweaters and get/keep their squads on track.

These teams are capable of winning; it just takes a little input from a star.