The DTFR Duo talk a little college hockey, other stats from the week, the CWHL folding and NWHL expansion opportunities, as well as hand out more awards and a look at how things should sort out in the Atlantic Division for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The DTFR Duo breaks down Jimmy Howard’s one-year extension with the Detroit Red Wings, Gritty’s allegiance in the 2019 NHL Global Series, the New York Islanders’ bottom-six dilemma, Ilya Kovalchuk’s relationship with the Los Angeles Kings, more awards and a look at how things should stack up in the Metropolitan Division for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
As we inch ever closer to Decision Day, every game takes on even more importance. Whether clubs are battling for seeding or their playoff lives, there’s been much excitement to be had this week.
Speaking of, here’s the NHL’s slate of games for this week:
|NHL SCHEDULE: March 18-24|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
|Monday, March 18|
|7:30 p.m.||Arizona||Tampa Bay||1-4|
|8:30 p.m.||Vancouver||Chicago||3-2 (OT)|
|10:30 p.m.||Winnipeg||Los Angeles||3-2|
|10:30 p.m.||Vegas||San Jose||7-3|
|Tuesday, March 19|
|7 p.m.||Boston Bruins||New York Islanders||5-0|
|7 p.m.||Detroit Red Wings||New York Rangers||3-2|
|7 p.m.||Pittsburgh||Carolina||2-3 (SO)|
|7:30 p.m.||Washington||New Jersey||4-1|
|8 p.m.||Edmonton||St. Louis||2-7|
|Wednesday, March 20|
|7:30 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Washington||5-4 (OT)|
|Thursday, March 21|
|7 p.m.||Boston||New Jersey||5-1|
|7 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Carolina||6-3|
|7:30 p.m.||New York Islanders||Montréal Canadiens||0-4|
|8 p.m.||Detroit||St. Louis||2-5|
|8 p.m.||Pittsburgh||Nashville||2-1 (SO)|
|10:30 p.m.||San Jose||Los Angeles||2-4|
|Friday, March 22|
|10 p.m.||San Jose||Anaheim||3-4 (OT)|
|Saturday, March 23|
|1 p.m.||Arizona||New Jersey|
|1 p.m.||New York Islanders||Philadelphia Flyers||NHLN|
|3 p.m.||Chicago||Colorado||ESPN+, SN1|
|7 p.m.||Nashville||Winnipeg||ESPN+, SN360|
|7 p.m.||New York Rangers||Toronto Maple Leafs||CBC, NHLN, SN1|
|7 p.m.||Buffalo||Montréal||CITY, TVAS|
|8 p.m.||Tampa Bay||St. Louis|
|10 p.m.||Calgary Flames||Vancouver Canucks||CBC, CITY, ESPN+, SN, SN1, SN360|
|10:30 p.m.||Anaheim||Los Angeles|
|Sunday, March 24|
|12:30 p.m.||Philadelphia||Washington||NBC, TVAS|
|3 p.m.||Arizona Coyotes||New York Islanders||SN|
|7 p.m.||Montréal||Carolina||ESPN+, RDS, SN|
There’s no shortage of fun tilts taking place this week, even if we look beyond the standings.
For instance, Vancouver and Chicago squared off on Monday to rekindle their former hatred from the last decade, followed the next day by an Original Six tilt between the Red Wings and Rangers.
Wednesday saw another edition of the Battle of the QEW, while the Wings were back at it in St. Louis on Thursday. Speaking of Thursday, the Battle of California also took place that night to springboard the Sharks into their Friday tilt against the Ducks.
Today’s rivalry action once again features the Rangers in an Original Six bout, this time squaring off against Toronto. Once that game is through, the Freeway Face-Off will be played for the second-to-last time this season, while Philadelphia and Washington’s derby will wait until tomorrow afternoon.
As for playoff rematches of almost a year ago, we saw San Jose get whipped by Vegas once again on Monday, Tampa Bay barely escaped Washington with an overtime victory on Wednesday, Vegas beat the Jets on Thursday and the aforementioned Sharks-Ducks game last night. One more rematch is on the schedule this weekend, as the Predators and Jets will square off tonight in a game that could determine the fate of the Central Division.
As for player returns, there weren’t many that qualified in any way as significant. As a matter of fact, D John Moore‘s return to New Jersey, his former home of three seasons, is the week’s biggest homecoming.
Now, as fun as it would have been to do a big write-up on Moore’s time with the Devils, I thought this weekend’s home-and-home series featuring two Central Division clubs fighting to qualify for the playoffs was a bit more important.
Coming into the weekend with a 32-31-10 record, the Chicago Blackhawks currently occupy seventh place in the Central Division and 11th in the Western Conference, but they’re still very much in the playoff race since they trail the Minnesota Wild by only five points and have two games in hand.
Of course, this is not news to the Hawks, as they were on quite a tear before dropping their last two games. Chicago was on a five-game winning streak before losing 3-2 in overtime at home to the Canucks on Monday, and that six-game point streak was snapped Thursday with a 3-1 home loss to the Flyers.
Just like the good ol’ days, one of the Hawks’ most potent weapons during this surge has undoubtedly been their impressive offense. Chicago has averaged 3.29 goals per game since March 7, the fourth-best mark in the Western Conference and seventh-best in the league.
As would be expected, F Patrick Kane has been one of the most important players during this effort, as he’s posted solid 1-6-7 marks in his last seven outings to average a point-per-game. However, he’s been clearly outplayed by second-liner W Brendan Perlini (the Blackhawks’ return alongside C Dylan Strome for trading C Nick Schmaltz to Arizona in November) and his outstanding 6-2-8 effort in that time.
Perhaps it is simply coincidence, but Perlini has not registered a point in his last two games – the same two games Chicago has most recently lost. Whether he buys into the correlation or not, Head Coach Jeremy Colliton certainly won’t complain if Perlini can get back to work this weekend.
Another facet of Chicago’s play that has been absolutely incredible lately has been its goaltending. Despite playing behind a defense that has yielded 35.43 shots per game since March 7 (the fourth-worst in the league in that time), the Blackhawks have allowed only 2.29 goals in that same time frame – the seventh-best in the NHL.
12-16-3 G Corey Crawford has been absolutely fantastic in his last seven starts. He’s posted a .945 save percentage and 1.79 GAA during this run by the Hawks despite playing behind their shoddy defense, and he will be the one that deserves the most praise should Chicago extend its season beyond 82 games.
Just like the Blackhawks, the 33-29-12 Colorado Avalanche are still on the outside of the playoff bubble and looking in, but they can see their path to the postseason even easier than their brethren from the Windy City.
Colorado enters the weekend trailing eighth-place Minnesota by only one point – an incredibly manageable deficit considering the Avs hold a game-in-hand on the Wild.
However, it is that game-in-hand that makes this weekend’s series against Chicago so important for the Avalanche. Since Minnesota is only playing one tilt this weekend, Sunday’s game will spend that game-in-hand.
Coming into Saturday’s tilt, the Avalanche boast a three-game winning streak, including road victories against current playoff teams in Minnesota and Dallas.
The backbone of this three-game run has undoubtedly been 14-9-3 G Philipp Grubauer as, despite playing behind a defense that has allowed an average of 34.67 shots against per game since March 17, he and the Avs have yielded only two goals in their past three games.
Despite boasting only a .911 save percentage and 2.77 GAA for the season, Grubauer has managed an unbelievable .981 save percentage and 0.67 GAA in his last three outings. Of course, New Jersey, Minnesota and Dallas do not boast the offenses that Chicago do, so he will need to be totally on his game either today or tomorrow when he gets his nod.
The German has faced Chicago only twice in his entire career, earning a 0-1-0 record in those outings. Against the Blackhawks, he owns a career .923 save percentage and 2.27 GAA. His last outing against the franchise was on December 21 of this season, and the Avs played to a 2-1 home loss.
So, who wins this weekend’s series?
Though they’re riding a two-game losing skid, I like the Blackhawks in this home-and-home. Though Grubauer has been incredible lately, the fact that Crawford has such a strong offense playing in front of him is certainly in his favor. Additionally, offense will be even more important when the backups earn the nod, which should make the ice tilt Chicago’s way even more.
The DTFR Duo runs through some Tampa Bay Lightning franchise records, Conor McGregor reactions, hands out more awards, fixes the NHL and takes a look at how things are shaping up in the Pacific Division for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
We’re definitely starting to get close to the Stanley Cup Playoffs now! As of the completion of last night’s games, three teams (Detroit, New Jersey and Ottawa) have already been eliminated from postseason contention, and even more will surely join that list by next week’s featured matchup.
Of course, the only way to figure out which teams those are is by playing out the schedule. Here’s this week’s NHL offerings:
|NHL SCHEDULE: March 11-17|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
|Monday, March 11|
|7 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Toronto||6-2|
|7 p.m.||Columbus Blue Jackets||New York Islanders||0-2|
|8 p.m.||San Jose||Minnesota||3-0|
|9 p.m.||New York Rangers||Edmonton Oilers||2-3 (OT)|
|Tuesday, March 12|
|8 p.m.||Arizona||St. Louis||3-1|
|8 p.m.||San Jose||Winnipeg||5-4|
|9 p.m.||New Jersey||Calgary||4-9|
|Wednesday, March 13|
|9:30 p.m.||New Jersey||Edmonton||6-3|
|10 p.m.||New York Rangers||Vancouver Canucks||1-4|
|Thursday, March 14|
|7 p.m.||Montréal Canadiens||New York Islanders||1-2|
|7:30 p.m.||St. Louis||Ottawa||0-2|
|7:30 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Detroit||5-4|
|10:30 p.m.||Nashville||Los Angeles||3-1|
|10:30 p.m.||Florida||San Jose||4-2|
|Friday, March 15|
|9 p.m.||New York Rangers||Calgary Flames||1-5|
|10 p.m.||New Jersey||Vancouver||3-2 (SO)|
|Saturday, March 16|
|1 p.m.||St. Louis||Pittsburgh||NHLN, TVAS|
|1 p.m.||New York Islanders||Detroit Red Wings|
|4 p.m.||Florida||Los Angeles|
|7 p.m.||Chicago||Montréal||CITY, TVAS|
|7 p.m.||Toronto||Ottawa||CBC, SN1, TVAS2|
|7 p.m.||Washington||Tampa Bay||NHLN|
|8 p.m.||New York Rangers||Minnesota Wild|
|10 p.m.||Edmonton Oilers||Arizona Coyotes||CBC, CITY, SN, SN1|
|10:30 p.m.||Nashville||San Jose||ESPN+|
|Sunday, March 17|
|3 p.m.||New Jersey||Colorado||SN1|
|5 p.m.||St. Louis||Buffalo||NHLN|
|6 p.m.||New York Islanders||Minnesota Wild||ESPN+|
|7:30 p.m.||Philadelphia||Pittsburgh||NBCSN, TVAS|
Another fun week of NHL action, no?
After all, we’ve been treated to a little bit of rivalry action already when the Capitals visited Pittsburgh and the Red Wings headed to Montréal on Tuesday, not to mention Wednesday’s Original Six contest featuring Chicago at Toronto.
The hatred continued Thursday when the Caps headed to the City of Brotherly Love and will resume today with the Hawks in Montréal and the Battle of Ontario. Finally, the Battle of the Keystone State will clean up this week’s derby action tomorrow night.
We were also treated to more than a few playoff rematches from last season, though it must be asked if they’re all that exciting anymore since we’re so close to this year’s postseason.
It’s all about the Capitals and Penguins in that department this week, starting with their Tuesday night tilt in a rematch of the Eastern Semifinals. Washington then heads to Tampa tonight in a rematch of the Eastern Finals, while the Pens host Philly tomorrow in a rematch of the First Round.
Finally, this week’s homecoming king is none other than LW Antoine Roussel, who spent the first six seasons of his NHL career in Dallas before signing with the Canucks this offseason. He’ll play his first-ever road game at American Airlines Center tomorrow.
Players also making important returns this week include F Jacob de La Rose (he was a second-round pick by the Habs in 2013) and C Ryan O’Reilly (he spent three seasons with the Sabres before being traded to St. Louis this offseason).
However, we can throw all of this information out of the window, as I’m instead choosing to feature the tilt fellow DtFR writer Colby Kephart and I are taking this evening featuring his beloved Sabres taking on the red-hot Carolina Hurricanes.
The growing pains for the 30-31-9 Buffalo Sabres have been all too real this season, but the fact that they’re having them should mean the club is growing, right?
Of course, we all remember the Sabres’ unbelievable 10-game winning streak they experienced throughout almost the entire month of November.
However, that winning run is certainly in the rear-view mirror nowadays, as Buffalo is currently riding a six-game losing skid (0-5-1) and boasts a lowly 2-10-2 record in its last 14 outings. Making matters even worse, the Sabres’ attack has been shutout for three-straight games, clocking in at 192:40 since their last non-shootout goal.
As might be indicated by a shutout streak of that magnitude, offense has been the Sabres’ biggest struggle of late. That’s not to say the 3.79 goals or 35.07 shots they’re allowing on average since February 15 is OK (those stats respectively rank third and fourth-worst in the NHL in that time), but the Sabres’ 2.07 goals per game in the past month ranks second-worst in the league and simply must improve to something closer to their 2.71 season average if they want to end their campaign on a positive note.
In the Sabres’ defense, they have been without their captain, C Jack Eichel, while he’s been suspended for the last two games for an illegal hit to F Carl Soderberg‘s head. That being said, even his 7-4-11 production in his past 12 outings is still slightly off his expected pace. On the season, he’s managed 25-47-72 points in 65 games and looks to be on pace for his first season averaging more than a point per game.
With his return to the ice, Head Coach Phil Housley will have high expectations that his club’s top line and first power play unit should rediscover its groove. If that proves to be the case, F Jeff Skinner (36-22-58 on the season, 2-5-7 since February 15) and RW Jason Pominville (15-13-28 on the season, 2-3-5 in his last 14 appearances) should see their numbers get back on pace as well.
You’re hard pressed to find a hotter team in the NHL right now than the 38-26-7 Carolina Hurricanes, the Eastern Conference’s current first wild card.
Despite losing last night in Columbus 3-0, Carolina has rattled off an impressive 16-5-2 record in its past 23 outings and is drawing ever nearer to ending its nine-year playoff drought by qualifying for the postseason for the sixth time in Hurricanes history (14th if the Hartford Whalers’ eight Stanley Cup Playoff appearances are included).
While the Canes are certainly finding success in almost every facet of the game during this run, their most impressive strength, at least in my opinion, has been that of their defense. A point of emphasis even before Rod Brind’Amour took over head coaching responsibilities, Carolina has allowed an average of only 28.61 shots against per game since January 20, the second-best mark in the Eastern Conference and third-best in the league in that time.
Leading the defensive charge for the Hurricanes during this run has been none other than D Calvin de Haan (2.5 hits per game in his last 20 appearances) and D Jaccob Slavin (1.7 blocks per game and 21 takeaways since January 20).
Unfortunately, de Haan suffered an eye injury in Colorado on Monday and will likely remain out of the lineup this evening. Taking up de Haan’s role as the rough-‘n’-tough blueliner has been Slavin’s linemate, D Dougie Hamilton, who’s averaged two hits per game since January 20.
Of course, the person in PNC Arena most appreciative of that incredible defensive effort is always 17-8-2 G Curtis McElhinney, who’s all but ensured of this evening’s start since 18-13-3 G Petr Mrazek was in net last night in Ohio. McElhinney boasts a .914 save percentage and 2.52 GAA for the season, and that’s almost the exact form he’s shown for his past nine starts to add his last six wins (his GAA is a 2.54 for his last nine outings, two-hundredths of a goal worse than his season mark).
Especially after last night’s poor outing, it’s hard to pick against the Hurricanes this evening. Having already won their first two meetings with the Sabres this season, Carolina will have its sights set on completing the season sweep and staying ahead of Columbus and Montréal in the playoff race.
That being said, just because the Canes have won the last two meetings doesn’t mean they were easy victories. Both tilts ended with only one goal separating the winner and loser, including their last meeting on February 7 in Buffalo that required overtime.
Being the better rested team that is regaining its captain, the Sabres will surely show their teeth this evening, but Carolina should still escape with two points.
We’re less than a month away from the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, so let’s take a gander at how things should shape up for the Central Division.
The Tampa Bay Lightning clinched the first postseason berth this season, Quinn Hughes signed his entry-level contract with the Vancouver Canucks, Shane Wright was granted exceptional status and the DTFR Duo presented the first few individual season awards.
*Zach Boychuk wasn’t actually on… …this time around, anyway.*
It’s hard to believe, but there’s less than one month remaining in the regular season. 16 clubs are none too concerned about that, but with the exception of Tampa Bay, we don’t officially know yet which teams those are.
Take a look at this week’s schedule that got us a little closer to figuring out the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
|NHL SCHEDULE: March 4-10|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
|Monday, March 4|
|Tuesday, March 5|
|7 p.m.||Carolina||Boston||3-4 (OT)|
|7 p.m.||Columbus||New Jersey||2-1 (SO)|
|7 p.m.||Ottawa Senators||New York Islanders||4-5 (SO)|
|7 p.m.||Florida||Pittsburgh||2-3 (OT)|
|7:30 p.m.||Winnipeg||Tampa Bay||2-5|
|8 p.m.||Minnesota||Nashville||4-5 (SO)|
|8:30 p.m.||New York Rangers||Dallas Stars||0-1|
|9 p.m.||Detroit||Colorado||3-4 (OT)|
|10:30 p.m.||Montréal||Los Angeles||3-1|
|Wednesday, March 6|
|9 p.m.||Toronto||Vancouver||2-3 (OT)|
|10 p.m.||St. Louis||Anaheim||5-4|
|Thursday, March 7|
|7:30 p.m.||New York Islanders||Ottawa Senators||4-2|
|7:30 p.m.||New York Rangers||Detroit Red Wings||2-3 (SO)|
|7:30 p.m.||Minnesota||Tampa Bay||3-0|
|8:30 p.m.||Buffalo||Chicago||4-5 (SO)|
|10:30 p.m.||St. Louis||Los Angeles||4-0|
|10:30 p.m.||Montréal||San Jose||2-5|
|Friday, March 8|
|7 p.m.||New Jersey||Washington||0-3|
|Saturday, March 9|
|4 p.m.||St. Louis||San Jose||NHLN|
|7 p.m.||Toronto||Edmonton||CBC, NHLN, SN|
|7 p.m.||Ottawa||Boston||CITY, SN1, TVAS|
|7 p.m.||Detroit||Tampa Bay|
|7 p.m.||Philadelphia Flyers||New York Islanders|
|7 p.m.||New Jersey Devils||New York Rangers|
|8 p.m.||Los Angeles||Arizona|
|10 p.m.||Vegas||Vancouver||CBC, CITY, SN, SN1|
|Sunday, March 10|
|7:30 p.m.||Boston||Pittsburgh||NBCSN, TVAS|
|10 p.m.||Los Angeles||Anaheim||NBCSN|
As always, this week’s NHL schedule did not disappoint. We were given our regular serving of rivalries, starting with a throwback in Denver when Detroit visited Colorado on Tuesday. Wednesday also featured a derby, this one involving the Capitals heading to the City of Brotherly Love.
Columbus and Pittsburgh will square off twice this week, with the Pens taking Game 1 on Thursday before heading to Ohio for Game 2 this evening. Speaking of Thursday, the Rangers and Red Wings also matched up and honored Ted Lindsay with an extremely competitive game.
Finally, this weekend also features the previously-mentioned Penguins-Blue Jackets tilt and the Battle of the Hudson River today followed by the Freeway Face-Off tomorrow night.
In regards to momentous homecomings this week, there weren’t any. By my estimation, the most important was Kevin Fiala‘s return to Nashville. Fiala played 204 games with the Predators since being drafted by the organization in 2014 before being traded to Minnesota at this year’s deadline.
As to which game takes our attention this week, I’ve been drawn to the Columbus-Pittsburgh series. With six teams (Blue Jackets, Canadiens, Capitals, Hurricanes, Islanders and Penguins) fighting for five spots in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, one good side is going to see its season end at 82 games.
While not a season-ender, this series is a major step for both Columbus and Pittsburgh in determining their postseason fates. With two points already in the Pens’ pockets, how will tonight’s tilt go down?
Coming into tonight’s game with a 36-22-9 record, the Pittsburgh Penguins are currently holding down third place in the Metropolitan Division.
While that is certainly an improvement from where this team was just a few weeks ago, the Pens’ job is still not finished as they only have a four-point cushion separating them from ending their season at 82 games.
Pittsburgh isn’t looking back these days, though. It’s riding a solid six-game point streak (4-0-2) that includes two wins against tonight’s opponent (more on that later) and a 5-1 victory in Québec.
Pittsburgh fans will know that this string of games started with the Stadium Series overtime loss in Philadelphia. That was a game that cost the Penguins two defensemen (D Brian Dumoulin has since returned to action on Tuesday) and has forced them to reexamine their defensive game, involving each and every skater on the ice.
Despite the new defensive strategies, Pittsburgh is still yielding an average of 31 shots per game during this run – the NHL’s middle-of-the-road since February 23. Despite that, the Penguins are also yielding an average of only 2.17 goals against per game, the fifth-best mark in that time.
Murray has been in net for all of the Penguins’ last six games and claims a commanding .93 save percentage and associated 2.12 GAA for those outings (both eighth-best in the league among the 28 netminders with at least four starts since February 23). Those outstanding numbers boost his season statistics to a .916 save percentage and 2.79 GAA, the 10th and 19th-best marks in the league, respectively, among the 43 goaltenders with at least 24 starts to their credit.
With a home game against the Bruins tomorrow night, it remains to be seen which goaltender Sullivan starts this evening. If I had my druthers, Murray would be in action this evening considering the importance of beating a division rival in a tightly contested playoff race. With 12 points (and two games-in-hand against the Habs) separating Boston from the a wildcard spot, Pittsburgh cannot worry about the Bruins until it runs into them in a potential playoff matchup (whether that would be the Conference Semifinals or Final remains to be seen).
Of course, it would be highly irresponsible to talk about the Penguins and not mention their potent offense. Averaging 3.45 goals per game for the season, Pittsburgh has been operating at a slightly higher level lately, as it has averaged 3.67 goals per game during this six-game run (again, I emphasize slightly) – the (t)sixth-best mark in the league since February 23.
Pittsburgh’s top line has carried most of that charge, which of course means C Sidney Crosby has been the star of the show. In his past six games, the captain has managed an outstanding 6-8-14 effort to lead the league in scoring in that time (well, he’s technically tied with Florida’s F Jonathan Huberdeau on points, but Crosby has played fewer games and scored more goals to take the title in my book).
Since all of 37-27-3 Columbus’ moves at the trade deadline, everything it has done from then until the end of the season has taken on a new life.
Unfortunately for the Blue Jackets, that new light isn’t all that positive, as they’ve gone on a 2-4-0 run since then to find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, trailing Montréal by two points for the East’s second wild card.
Though Columbus has struggled to keep opponents off the board during this six-game run (the Jackets have allowed 3.5 goals against per game since February 26, the eighth-worst mark in the NHL in that time), an even bigger problem has been its offense.
With the exception of fellow Metropolitan member New Jersey, no team has struggled more on the attack since the trade deadline than Columbus. The Blue Jackets are averaging only 1.5 goals per game in their last six outings, compared to the 11th-best 3.04 they’ve averaged for the season.
Surely, much of this can be attributed to all of the Jackets’ deadline additions. In fact, the second line has been entirely revamped and now features Oliver Bjorkstrand and former-Senators Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel (who’s celebrating his 27th birthday today). Fortunately for Columbus, Duchene and Dzingel regularly played together in Ottawa, so it is just a matter of Head Coach John Tortorella finding the right person to complete their line.
However, a lack of familiarity cannot be the excuse for Columbus’ top line, as Cam Atkinson, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Artemi Panarin have spent the entire season together. Instead, all three combine for only 3-6-9 totals in the past six games.
Dubois in particular is struggling the most. He’s only registered one assist since the trade deadline, well off the .81 points per game average he’s managed for the entire season. As his club’s top center, Dubois’ performance can often dictate his team’s success. The sooner he breaks out of his funk, the sooner, Columbus will begin finding success once again.
In addition to cleaning up Columbus and Pittsburgh’s home-and-home, tonight’s game also concludes the four-game regular season series between the two clubs. The Penguins have won the first three meetings 4-2 on November 24, 5-2 on February 26 and 3-0 on Thursday.
Unfortunately for Columbus, I don’t see that script changing tonight. The Penguins have been playing incredibly well lately now that they’ve bought into their new strategy, and that doesn’t pair well with the Blue Jackets’ offensive struggles.
I don’t think the Jackets will be shutout for the second game in a row, but I do think the Pens will win 3-1.
The DTFR Duo honors Ted Lindsay, addresses a potential outdoor game hosted by the Carolina Hurricanes, talk John Tavares’ “welcome” back to Long Island, can’t figure out the Ottawa Senators coaching change circus and more.
With the trade deadline passing by on Monday, there’s only one important date remaining this regular season: April 6, the season’s finale.
However, we’re not quite focused on that date yet. Instead, let’s see what games this week had to offer:
|NHL SCHEDULE: February 25-March 3|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/|
|Monday, February 25|
|7 p.m.||Montréal||New Jersey||1-2|
|7:30 p.m.||Los Angeles||Tampa Bay||3-4 (SO)|
|8 p.m.||Edmonton||Nashville||2-3 (SO)|
|9 p.m.||Florida||Colorado||4-3 (OT)|
|Tuesday, February 26|
|7 p.m.||San Jose||Boston||1-4|
|7 p.m.||Calgary Flames||New York Islanders||3-1|
|7 p.m.||Los Angeles||Carolina||1-6|
|8 p.m.||Nashville||St. Louis||0-2|
|9 p.m.||Florida||Arizona||3-4 (SO)|
|Wednesday, February 27|
|7 p.m.||Calgary||New Jersey||2-1|
|7:30 p.m.||Tampa Bay Lightning||New York Rangers||4-3 (OT)|
|9:30 p.m.||Vancouver||Colorado||2-3 (SO)|
|Thursday, February 28|
|7 p.m.||Toronto Maple Leafs||New York Islanders||1-6|
|7 p.m.||Philadelphia||Columbus||3-4 (OT)|
|7:30 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Boston||1-4|
|10 p.m.||Florida||Vegas||5-6 (SO)|
|10:30 p.m.||Dallas||Los Angeles||4-3 (OT)|
|Friday, March 1|
|7 p.m.||Pittsburgh||Buffalo||3-4 (OT)|
|7 p.m.||Philadelphia||New Jersey||6-3|
|7 p.m.||Washington Capitals||New York Islanders||3-1|
|7 p.m.||Montréal Canadiens||New York Rangers||4-2|
|7:30 p.m.||St. Louis||Carolina||2-5|
|10:30 p.m.||Colorado||San Jose||3-4|
|Saturday, March 2|
|4 p.m.||Chicago||Los Angeles||NHLN|
|7 p.m.||New Jersey||Boston|
|7 p.m.||Buffalo||Toronto||CBC, NHLN, SN1|
|7 p.m.||Pittsburgh||Montréal||SN360, TVAS|
|7 p.m.||Ottawa||Tampa Bay||CITY, TVAS2|
|8 p.m.||Dallas||St. Louis|
|10 p.m.||Minnesota Wild||Calgary Flames||CBC, CITY, SN, SN1, SN360|
|Sunday, March 3|
|12:30 p.m.||Washington Capitals||New York Rangers||NBC, TVAS|
|3 p.m.||Philadelphia Flyers||New York Islanders||SN1, TVAS|
|10 p.m.||Chicago||San Jose|
There were rivalries galore to choose from this week – nine, if you want to be precise. Buffalo and Toronto waged two editions of the Battle of the QEW, with the Leafs hosting on Monday and the Sabres returning the favor tonight.
In between those meetings, the Penguins made their first visit of the season to Columbus and the Habs squared off against the Wings (both on Tuesday) and Friday featured Montréal visiting the Rangers, the Caps visiting the Islanders and the Battle of the Turnpikes. Joining Toronto and Buffalo in rivalry action today are the Blackhawks and Kings, while the Caps and Blueshirts are waiting until tomorrow to stage their derby.
In a similar strain as rivalries, we were also privy to three rematches from last season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. Minnesota and Winnipeg rekindled their First Round animosity on Tuesday, ending with the Wild exacting revenge for their early playoff exit. The Bolts and Bruins were at it Thursday (with Boston pulling off the 4-1 victory), while Nashville and Winnipeg scrapped for first place in the Central Division last night (the Jets recaptured the division lead with a 5-3 win).
Finally, I always try to point out the biggest homecomings, and there were three this week. Of course, none was more anticipated than C John Tavares making his first trip to Nassau Coliseum as a member of the Maple Leafs on Thursday. Tavares enjoyed nine seasons with the Islanders, including five as the club’s 14th captain. His 621 points scored while wearing blue and orange ranks fifth in franchise history, but don’t let that fool you – Islanders fans did not treat him to a warm welcome.
Also making notable homecomings were current Penguin D Jack Johnson returning to Columbus on Tuesday and current Predator F Mikael Granlund returning to St. Paul tomorrow (considering he just experienced the birth of his child, there’s actually a chance he never left Minnesota in the first place). Both spent seven seasons with their respective former clubs before joining their current organizations (Johnson via free agency this summer and Granlund via deadline trade).
However, all of those things having been listed, there’s still one more event that demands our attention. For the third week in a row, a former great of the game is seeing his number raised to the rafters. Tonight, the Calgary Flames honor RW Jarome Iginla.
It can be easily forgotten that Iginla was not drafted by the Flames, but instead by the Dallas Stars. Only two seasons removed from their departure from the State of Hockey, the Stars selected the Kamloops Blazer 11th-overall in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft.
Knowing what we know now, how Iginla fell all the way to 11th is hard to fathom. Only 10 total players from this 234-player draft class were ever named to even one NHL All-Star Game, of which only Iginla and nine-year teammate G Miikka Kiprusoff ever received end-of-season All-Star Team nods.
Regardless, Iginla likely never even thought about shopping for a Dallas apartment, as he was traded alongside C Corey Millen to Calgary (coincidentally in the same province as the city that hosted that edition of the draft: Edmonton, Iginla’s hometown) five months later for the rights to C Joe Nieuwendyk.
Nieuwendyk would go on to win the Stanley Cup with the Stars in 1999 – scoring two game-winning overtime goals on the way, including one in triple-overtime against former rival Edmonton – so perhaps this was a fair trade all-in-all.
Iginla made his NHL debut during the 1996 Stanley Cup Playoffs (he registered 1-1-2 totals in two games played) after the Blazers lost to Spokane in the WHL’s West Division Finals 4-2. As the reigning WHL Player of the Year, Iginla registered 1-1-2 totals in his first two postseason appearances before the Flames were swept by Chicago in the Western Quarterfinals.
Iginla played all 82 games of his rookie campaign in 1996-97, registering impressive 21-29-50 totals (including three game-winning goals) to finish second in Calder voting behind fellow traded 1995 pick D Bryan Berard of the New York Islanders (he was originally drafted first-overall by Ottawa).
Like many outstanding youths, Iginla faced a rather severe sophomore slump. The winger posted only 13-19-32 marks in 70 games played, but he hopped right back on his horse for Season 3 to reemerge as a 50-point player and start a run of scoring at least 50 points in 15 of 16 seasons (interrupted only by the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign) from 1998-2015, a run that extended beyond his time in Calgary.
Of course, implying that the Flames could only count on 50 points from Iginla is undoubtedly doing his reputation a major disservice. The 51 points he scored in the 1998-99 season was only the beginning of his meteoric rise. He notched 63 points at the turn of the millennium, followed by 71 in 2000-01.
Iggy’s sixth season (2001-02) saw him set his career-high in goals with 52-44-96 totals, and everyone in the league took notice. Not only did Iginla earn his first of three First All-Star Team honors, but he also brought home more than his fair share of hardware from the NHL Awards, winning the Rocket Richard Trophy, the Art Ross Trophy and the Lester B. Pearson Award (now known as the Ted Lindsay Award).
Of course, all that hardware didn’t make up for one major hole in Iginla’s resume. Not only had he not yet won a playoff game, he hadn’t even made a playoff appearance since his NHL debut.
That changed in a massive way in 2004, Iginla’s first season as the Flames’ 18th captain in franchise history. With a 41-32-73 season that earned Iginla his first King Clancy Award and second Richard Trophy, he led the Flames to a sixth-place finish in the Western Conference and their first playoff appearance in eight seasons.
The success didn’t end there though: the Flames defeated all three of the West’s division champions, including the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Red Wings in the conference semifinals, to advance all the way to the Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the East’s top seed.
As for Iginla, he hadn’t yet scored all the goals for his campaign, as he added 13 goals and 22 points in his 26 playoff games – including outstanding 5-3-8 totals in the quarterfinals against Vancouver. His 13 markers were the most by any player in the 2004 playoffs, but his side fell to the Bolts in seven games.
Iginla’s Flames would qualify for the next four playoffs after their Stanley Cup Final appearance (skipping, of course, the 2004-05 lockout-cancelled season), but each time they failed to advance beyond the First Round. During that run, the captain earned his last two nominations to the NHL’s First All-Star team, doing it consecutively in 2008 and 2009 with respective 50-48-98 and 35-54-89 seasons.
Iginla’s Flames career would end on March 28, 2013 when he was traded as a rental to Pittsburgh for LW Kenny Agostino, RW Ben Hanowski and a 2013 first-round pick that would eventually become LW Morgan Klimchuk. He would go on to play for the Bruins, Avs and Kings before being forced to hang up his skates after the 2016-17 season.
With 525-570-1095 totals in 1219 career games played for Calgary, Iginla holds franchise records for appearances, goals, points, power play goals (161) and game-winning goals (83). In terms of league records, Iginla is one of only seven players to score 30 or more goals in 11-straight seasons (all of which were with Calgary, and a streak that could have been longer if not for the 2012-13 lockout), one of 20 to reach the 600-goal plateau and one of 34 to manage at least 1300 points.
For these reasons, as well as every other detail and fact listed above, Iginla is bypassing Calgary’s “Forever a Flame” program (in which a player is honored, but his number not retired) and seeing his No. 12 rightfully join RW Lanny McDonald‘s No. 9 and G Mike Vernon‘s No. 30 as the team’s third (fourth if that Oiler’s No. 99 is included) sweater retired from circulation.
What a time to be a member of the C of Red, no? Not only is the organization honoring one of, if not the greatest to ever don the Flaming C (no disrespect intended to D Al MacInnis, McDonald and his mustache or Vernon), but this year’s team is also pretty darn exciting. They boast a 41-16-7 record that that leads San Jose for the Western Conference lead, and they’re showing no signs of slowing down with their seven-game win streak and eight-game point streak – both the best currently active in the NHL.
Dating back to Valentine’s Day, the Flames have played to a 7-0-1 record (they dropped a point to the Panthers in a shootout), largely as a result of their incredible defensive play. Entering play Friday (all stats will not take into account March 1’s eight games due to my work schedule), no team has allowed fewer shots than Calgary in the past 14 days. The Flames have allowed only 214 shots against in their past eight outings, which averages out to 26.75 shots against per game.
Leading that defensive charge has been none other than Calgary’s resident 3-H Club: D Noah Hanifin, who’s 10 takeaways since February 14 lead the team; D Travis Hamonic, who tops the squad by averaging two blocks per game during this run; and W Garnet Hathaway, the Flames’ leading body checker in the past 14 days by averaging three hits per game.
As would be expected, the most prominent place this solid defensive work is showing up is on the scoreboard, as the Flames have allowed a (t)fourth-best 1.75 goals against per game since February 14. As a result, 19-11-2 G Mike Smith has been having an easy go of it lately, made evident by his combined .93 save percentage and 1.98 GAA for his past six starts.
On the season, Smith boasts an .897 save percentage and 2.89 GAA, but his recent run of success means he’ll likely be in the crease this evening. Smith has a not-so-great 6-11-2 all-time record against the Wild, but he stopped all 31 shots faced the last time he saw them on December 6 to improve his career statistics against Minnesota to a .921 save percentage and 2.18 GAA.
Speaking of the Wild, they’re currently on a bit of a run themselves.
On the back of a four-game win streak (including wins against the Blues and Jets), Minnesota has amassed a 31-27-6 record that is currently (well, as of Friday morning) good enough for the Western Conference’s second wild card.
The main player in this recent success has undoubtedly been 25-21-5 G Devan Dubnyk, Smith’s former battery-mate with the Coyotes. Though he’s certainly received help from his defense (the Wild have allowed an average of 30.5 shots against per game in their last four outings, the 12th-best mark in the NHL in that time), he’s played lights out to allow only 1.5 goals against per tilt in his last four starts – the fourth-best mark in the league since February 21.
What makes this streak so impressive is that Dubnyk has been only a little better than average this season with his .912 save percentage and 2.59 GAA on the campaign. However, he’s elevated his game to his 2014-15 level in his last four outings to post a combined .951 save percentage and 1.49 GAA.
Over his 10-year career, Dubnyk has squared off against Calgary 26 times and can boast a solid 11-8-4 record against the Flames. Combined, he’s managed a .923 save percentage and 2.7 GAA against Alberta’s southern franchise.
So if we’re in line for a goaltending duel, which will emerge with two points?
Personally, I like the Flames this evening. They have the advantage of playing at home with an excited C of Red behind them, as well as a better defense and more talented offense. Dubnyk might continue to stand on his head, but I think the Flames can find a way to sneak one more goal past him.
I’ll take Calgary 2-1.