Tag Archives: Connor

Vegas escapes whiteout with 3-1 victory

 

With a 3-1 Game 2 victory at Bell MTS Place, the Vegas Golden Knights have leveled their Western Conference Finals series with the Winnipeg Jets at one game apiece.

As would be expected from the Winnipeg Whiteout crowd, all the energy was with the Jets at the opening puck drop. In fact, the fan-power almost resulted in a Jets goal only 33 seconds into the game when C Mark Scheifele‘s backhanded shot leaked through Second Star of the Game G Marc-Andre Fleury and laid exposed in the blue paint, but D Nate Schmidt was there to clean up the situation to keep the game from turning into a potential barn-burner early.

Even though Winnipeg almost got that first laugh, it was the Golden Knights who eventually took command of the first frame. With 6:37 remaining in the period, F Tomas Tatar (D Shea Theodore and F Ryan Carpenter) drew Game 2’s first blood, scoring his first goal of the playoffs to give his side a lead a lead it would not yield.

Tatar’s tally was an excellent example of commitment to a play, as his first shot bounced off G Connor Hellebuyck‘s left post and careened into the end boards. However, Tatar maintained control of the situation by reclaiming possession and returning to the original scene of the crime, this time beating Hellebuyck to the near post.

3:59 later, some incredible defense by the Golden Knights in the neutral zone yielded First Star F Jon Marchessault‘s (W Reilly Smith) first goal of the game. Marchessault was the fortuitous recipient of Smith’s work against Third Star LW Kyle Connor at the red line, eventually earning a breakaway opportunity against Hellebuyck that he buried five-hole.

A scoreless second period was due in large part to some solid defense played by both sides. Both Vegas and Winnipeg fired only eight shots apiece in the middle frame.

In terms of overall stats for the entire game, Winnipeg certainly made its presence known along the boards by throwing 19 hits to Vegas’ seven. Leading that effort was none other than F Adam Lowry, who threw a game-high four checks.

Meanwhile, the Golden Knights made an excellent habit of getting in the way of the Jets’ shots, as they blocked a whopping 21 shots in Game 2. Though D Josh Morrissey led the game with five shot blocks, Smith paced Vegas in the statistic with his three rejections (not to mention his game-high three takeaways).

We all know the expression “third time’s the charm,” and that was true yet again in regards to Winnipeg’s power play. After failing to convert a too many men on the ice penalty in the first period and D Brayden McNabb‘s tripping infraction against RW Blake Wheeler late in the second, the Jets finally got on the scoreboard at the 7:17 mark of the third period.

Taking advantage of D Luca Sbisa tripping W Brandon Tanev 1:38 before, Connor (W Nikolaj Ehlers and D Tyler Myers) flung a prayer of a wrist shot at Fleury’s chest that managed to roll off his chest protector and into the goal, pulling Winnipeg back within a one-goal deficit.

As would be expected, the Whiteout was fully rejuvenated after its club finally showed some offensive life, but the Winnipeg faithful reclaimed their seats only 1:28 later when Marchessault (Smith and C William Karlsson) buried a backhander to set the 3-1 score that held to the end of regulation.

With only one day off to make the approximately three-hour flight from Southern Manitoba to Southeastern Nevada, Game 3 to snap the 1-1 tie is scheduled for 9 p.m. Eastern this Wednesday at T-Mobile Arena. Television viewers can catch the contest on CBC, NBCSN, SN and TVAS.

Hellebuyck steals Game 1 for Winnipeg

 

With 47 saves from First Star of the Game and Vezina finalist G Connor Hellebuyck, the Winnipeg Jets beat the Nashville Predators 4-1 at Bridgestone Arena in Game 1 of their Western Conference Semifinal.

Hockey is a bizarre, incredible game in that one side can absolutely dominate play by out-shooting the opposition 20-4 (yes, you read that correctly: only four shots on goal) in one period, yet it only takes one player to completely neutralize that assault.

Enter Hellebuyck, who came into the Second Round on the coattails of two consecutive shutouts to close out the Jets’ series against Minnesota.

Hellebuyck rejected every single offering that came his way in that first frame, including three power play shots while W Nikolaj Ehlers was in the penalty box for tripping Third Star W Kevin Fiala.

Admittedly, he benefited from the Predators failing to connect on at least two passes that would have provided the recipient a prime scoring opportunity on an open net, but it could also be argued that the Jets defense, though porous, did stand up at the biggest moments to help Hellebuyck keep the Preds at bay – especially by clearing most rebounds off the netminder’s pads.

Making things even better for the Jets, their fourth shot on goal of the game ended up being the first marker of this highly anticipated Central Division showdown series. With 5:09 remaining in the frame, W Brandon Tanev (F Bryan Little) collected the rebound of Little’s shot off G Pekka Rinne‘s stick and right skate, beating the netminder’s blade to the near post to give the Jets a one-goal lead.

A similar storyline continued in the second period. Hellebuyck was charged with making 16 more saves after the first intermission, and he performed beautifully – albeit with the help of his right post when F Filip Forsberg should have buried a power play slap shot on a gaping cage.

And just like in the first frame, the Jets rewarded him with goals at the other end of the rink. 9:01 into the second period, C Paul Stastny (RW Patrik Laine and Ehlers) completed Ehlers’ powerful drive into the offensive zone by scrapping out a wrister in the slot after two Rinne saves.

And only 1:22 after Forsberg missed his opportunity to snap Hellebuyck’s shutout, C Mark Scheifele (RW Blake Wheeler and LW Kyle Connor) turned Winnipeg’s successful penalty kill into a wrister with 2:09 remaining in the period. This goal was a stellar example of Winnipeg’s counterattack, as Wheeler sped into the offensive zone to give the Jets a three-on-three opportunity. After dropping a pass to Scheifele, it was all the center could do but rip his wrister past Rinne’s blocker for the Jets’ third goal.

Following the second intermission, Head Coach Peter Laviolette elected to lift Rinne – who’d saved 13-of-16 shots faced (.813 save percentage) through two periods – in favor of G Juuse Saros to try and send a message to his club.

That message was more than received, as Fiala (C Kyle Turris and D Ryan Ellis) finally squeaked a wrister past Hellebuyck 1:23 into the third frame to end his perfect run. Fiala was the recipient of a stellar centering touch pass from Turris along the goal line, quickly potting his second goal of this postseason to set the score at 3-1.

However, Nashville couldn’t build any positive energy from that tally. Even though the Preds fired another 10 shots at Hellebuyck in the remaining 18:37 of regulation, they simply couldn’t replicate that winning formula to pull any closer to Winnipeg.

That led to Saros departing his crease for an extra attacker, which allowed Scheifele (Wheeler) to close out the match by burying an empty-netter with 36 seconds remaining in regulation.

Statistically, there’s few things the Predators did wrong in this game. They dominated the face-off dot (Nashville won 66 percent of draws) and threw more hits (29-22) even though they easily out-shot Winnipeg 48-19.

Instead, Nashville’s focus should be on duplicating Fiala’s goal if it wants any chance of besting Hellebuyck and his 47-of-48 (.979 save percentage) in Game 2.

Speaking of, that contest is scheduled for 7 p.m. Eastern on Sunday, April 29. For those that don’t have the pleasure of being in attendance at Bridgestone Arena that night, they may view the game on CBC, NBCSN and TVAS.

Snowed Under: Wild fall 2-0 to Jets, face 3-1 series defecit

 

In the midst of a Minnesota snowstorm, the hometown crowd watched their hopes all but buried as the Wild were simply unable to overcome their laundry list of injuries and a suffocating Winnipeg defense.

Already without Ryan Suter, the Wild took another hammering blow late in Game 3 when Zach Parise got sandwiched by Mark Scheifele and Ben Chiarot and suffered a fractured sternum (side note: ouch) that rules him out of the rest of the playoffs. Parise’s spot in the lineup would be filled by Tyler Ennis, seeing his first NHL playoff action since 2011 when the diminutive forward was a member of the Buffalo Sabres.

Winnipeg was not without their own injury problems, losing Tyler Myers after an awkward collision with Marcus Foligno in Game 3. Though not as key an element to his team as Parise is to the Wild, Myers still eats a lot of quality minutes on the Winnipeg blueline. Young Tucker Poolman would taste his first ever playoff action as he filled in for the towering Myers.

The game started much the same as it ended…and middle-d…you know what I mean.

Tight checking, excellent stick position, and a near-complete lack of offensive chances were a theme in this one. Not to say that there wasn’t action, as from the opening puck drop the two teams continued the series’ main theme: That is, both teams spent every shift actively trying to kill each other. Arguably 2018’s roughest series so far, it isn’t even so much the quantity of hits we’ve seen in this one, but moreso that every hit we do see is thrown with seemingly as much force as it can possibly be delivered with. No great wonder why so many players are nursing injuries.

Other than a brief flurry by Winnipeg that Devan Dubnyk answered with three or four quality stops about 8:30 into the frame, the opening 10 minutes had little to speak of in terms of scoring opportunities.

Finally it was Minnesota who started to find some traction, first coming from an unlikely source in their fourth line of Foligno – Joel Eriksson EkDaniel Winnik, who deployed an effective dump and chase strategy, sending two forecheckers in hard and fast to get the Winnipeg defense in deep, then working the puck free to a second wave usually of the third forward and a pinching defenseman. All Minnesota lines adopted the strategy for a solid few minutes in the late first, and all had decent chances, including Nino Niederreiter feeding Eric Staal right in the goal mouth, only to have an excellent backhand chance waffled away by Connor Hellebuyck. Shortly after, Minnesota’s sustained pressure forced the Jets into a penalty, and on the resulting power play Josh Morrissey got away with an egregious cross-check to the face/neck of Staal, who lay on the ice for a few seconds before slowly making his was to the bench all while play continued around him. The Minnesota crowd was…less than pleased.

To continue their displeasure, shortly after the penalty concluded, it would be Morrissey starting a breakout to Scheifele, who played a give-and-go with Kyle Connor beautifully, taking Connor’s drop pass in the low slot and ripping a snapshot through traffic and over Dubnyk with just 28 seconds left to play, sending the Minnesota crowd into a symphony of boos so loud I think P.K. Subban actually might have heard them.

Minnesota ended the period leading 10-7 in shots, but down on the board. Shot blocking was a major theme of the first period, and the game, really. It also contributed to the growing list of banged up players, as both Mathew Dumba and Dustin Byfuglien left the ice at different points in the first because of shot blocks.

The second started with a bang, as on the opening shift the Wild jumped on a turnover by Jacob Trouba and flew up the ice on a three-on-one lead by Mikael Granlund. #64 in green showed Hellebucyk shot all the way, but with just inches to spare sent a pass across the crease to Dumba who looked to have a sure goal, before the glove of Hellebucyk robbed him blind. A few minutes later Jonas Brodin sprung Niederreiter on a breakaway with an unbelievable stretch pass (that frankly I have no idea how Nino even managed to corral on his stick) but just before he could get the shot off a desperate Morrissey poked the puck off of his stick and clear of danger.

Dubnyk would see little action of serious consequence in the middle frame, a few whacks at a centered puck in the blue paint by Adam Lowry the only real threat of the second 20 minutes. The Wild did, however, lose Granlund for a few minutes in the middle of the frame, but he would return to finish the game. Also of note was Dumba taking a run at Byfuglien, which worked out about as well as you’d expect.

Late in the period Brodin nearly played hero himself, absolutely dancing a Winnipeg defender at the blueline and walking in to label a wrist shot for the high blocker side of Hellebucyk, but the newly-elected Vezina candidate had the answer, as was the case all night.

By the end of the second the Wild lead 20-19 on the shot clock, but struggled to find room to construct any serious chances.

The Jets took the attack to Minnesota for stretches of the third, attempting to prevent them from even having the chance to tie the game. An early chance by Joe Morrow found a goal post, and later Scheifele found one of his own, which created some chaos around the Wild goal that Dubnyk had to tidy up. Laine then got a breakaway opportunity in the dying minutes of the third that was harassed just enough by Spurgeon to allow Dubnyk to poke the puck away before any harm could come.

It took Minnesota until just under two minutes remaining to gain enough solid puck possession to get Dubnyk off, but the extra attacker still couldn’t help them solve the labyrinth that was Winnipeg’s defensive scheme, and Scheifele buried the 2-0 dagger with 10 seconds remaining to seal Minnesota’s fate.

Outshot 30-28, the Jets took the first road victory of the series, giving them the chance to win the first playoff series in franchise history in front of what will surely be a raucous Winnipeg Whiteout crowd on Friday night (DTFR coverage brought to you again by yours truly).

How Minnesota finds a way to extend this series is beyond me. The injuries to key players just seem to be too much for them to overcome. They’ll need nothing short of a miracle to make it back to Xcel Energy Center for Game 6.

True North Stronger: Jets edge Wild to open series; win first-ever playoff game

 

For those expecting this to be a one-sided series, Game 1 would like to have a word with you.

On the opening night of the 2018 NHL Playoffs (also known as the most wonderful time of the year) the Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets treated us to exactly what we expect from playoff hockey: a hard-hitting, fast-paced, raucous affair with something for everyone.

In the end, it would be Winnipeg firing the opening salvo in the series, treating the thundering crowd at Bell MTS Place to the first playoff victory in franchise history. What a victory it was.

The city of Winnipeg hosted its first playoff series Game 1 since 1985 (insert joke about how many current players weren’t even alive) and they did not disappoint. The legendary Winnipeg Whiteout was as incredible a sight as ever, there may have been more people filling the downtown streets around the arena than there were in the arena (it’s a small venue joke and also a legitimate observation), and the Jets took the ice to an earth-shaking ovation. Pregame festivities were actually slightly delayed by a crowd that simply refused to cease their chant of ‘Go Jets Go!”

For Minnesota, the uphill battle was obvious. On the wrong end of some heavy betting odds, missing top defenseman Ryan Suter (28+ minutes of ice time suddenly unaccounted for), and likely unable to hear themselves think, the Wild’s gameplan was to hopefully control the pace and take the crowd out of it.

That did not go well in the early minutes.

Winnipeg came out flying. After buzzing offensively for the first couple minutes, they turned their focus to their other greatest weapon: Physicality. First it was a booming open ice hit on Daniel Winnik by Ben Chiarot. On the very next shift, Brandon Tanev stapled Eric Staal to the boards at one end, then linemate Adam Lowry crushed Jared Spurgeon (in his first game back from injury) at the opposite end.

Lowry was a standout in this game. He and Tanev combined for multiple quality scoring chances, and he played most of the game with the apparent mindset that if it was wearing white, it needed to die. He did leave the ice with about 50 seconds left in the first period, but returned for the second and played the rest of the game without issue. If Minnesota wants to change their fortunes (and potentially save the lives of some of their players) going forward, they’ll need to find a way to neutralize #17.

Potentially as a result of Lowry’s play, the first tv timeout was extended due to some maintenance on a pane of glass in the Minnesota end. After play resumed it was all Winnipeg for the rest of the period. If not for stellar play by Devan Dubnyk (including a spectacular robbery of Andrew Copp after he picked up a deflected point shot at the side of the net) and a great effort by Minnesota to keep most of the chances to the outside, the score could have been out of hand within the first 20 minutes.

My personal highlight of the first was Dubnyk snagging a left wing shot in his glove, before delivering a beautiful Booker T-esque spinebuster to a net-crashing Mathieu Perreault. Not much came of it, but it looked awesome and Dubnyk talking to the referee and very visibly laughing was terrific.

The shot clock read 13-4, but the scoreboard said 0-0 after 20 minutes.

Things picked up slightly in the second, as just 20 seconds in it would be Eric Staal taking the game’s first penalty (a trip on Mark Scheifele). The power play was mostly uneventful, but did include a shorthanded bid by Joel Eriksson Ek that was first negated by Patrik Laine, before ‘J.E.E.’ was absolutely obliterated by a backchecking Dustin Byfuglien.

After the power play it was Hellebucyk’s turn to save his team’s skin, as a terrible giveaway by Jacob Trouba behind his own net gave the Wild essentially a stationary 2-on-0, that luckily the Winnipeg goaltender was able to negate with a blocker save. Eriksson Ek would get another breakaway opportunity, this time avoiding being murdered by Big Buff, but would not find paydirt. The puck then went the other way and saw Kyle Connor unleash a beautiful toe-drag wrist shot from the high slot only to have Dubnyk windmill his hopes and dreams.

Just when it was starting to really look like we would see another scoreless period, Winnipeg would repeat a play they had tried on their previous power play to no avail and find success, with Mark Scheifele taking a sneaky centering feed from Blake Wheeler and ripping a one-timer past Dubnyk to finally break through with 2:23 to play.

Ironically, the Wild would outshoot the Jets in the 2nd, but find themselves trailing 1-0. But Winnipeg found itself down by one in its own right, having lost Mathieu Perreault to an upper body injury, after the diminutive centerman seemed to be the focus of some physical play throughout the period. After taking a huge open ice hit from Mikko Koivu, a tie-up and subsequent body slam from Nick Seeler seemed to be the final blow to end Perreault’s night.

After two periods of goaltenders stealing the show and solid defensive work, the doors got blown wide open in the third.

It started off the opening draw, with Winnipeg executing a perfect set play to spring Connor on a breakaway only to be denied by Dubnyk. The Wild quickly turned the tables, however, as less than two minutes into the frame it would be rookie Jordan Greenway tallying his first ever playoff point in his first ever playoff game by feeding three-time Cup winner and oldest man in the playoffs Matt Cullen for a beautiful one-timer over the shoulder of Hellebucyk to tie the game at one.

A two-minute track meet ensued, before a bad pinch by Dustin Byfuglien allowed Mikko Koivu (who got blown up by Lowry just as he chipped the breakout pass ahead) to feed Mikael Granlund to lead a 2-on-1 with Zach Parise. Granlund showed shot all the way, before feeding a pass to Parise’s stick at the last possible instant for a back-door tap-in to complete the two-goal swing and give Minnesota the lead just over two minutes after tying the game.

The once-booming Winnipeg crowd fell silent. Briefly.

Then Paul Stastny left a drop pass for Patrik Laine just inside the blueline and the 19-year-old phenom ripped a shot from the top of the circle that Dubnyk simply couldn’t catch up to. 2-2, just like that, less than a minute after the second Wild goal.

On the very next shift it looked like Winnipeg was going to take the lead right back, as Joel Armia took the puck on a cross-ice feed and got robbed blind by Dubnyk. The puck squeaked behind the Minnesota goaltender, but his teammates piled on to make sure it couldn’t find the promised land, and a big scrum followed.

The Jets would fire 15 consecutive shots on net after the second Minnesota goal, dominating most of the third period. Then with just over seven minutes left in the game, Joe Morrow would net his first ever playoff goal (and first career game-winner of any kind) with a blast from the point that deflected off of a Minnesota stick and fooled Dubnyk.

Hellebucyk and his teammates would fend off the Minnesota attack for the final minutes, including stops on a beautiful rush by Koivu, and a combined effort from Mathew Dumba and Jason Zucker to hold the fort and secure the 3-2 victory.

Minnesota has nothing to hang its head about, however. It gave a fired-up, heavily-favored Winnipeg team all it could handle, and Dubnyk showed the kind of form that can steal some games. Throw in the abundant physicality, and we’ve got ourselves a very entertaining under-the-radar series to watch.

Speaking of which, Game 2 will come to you Friday at 7:30pm Eastern on USA Network, SN and TVAS2. If you happen to miss it, though, do not fret. Our very own @kephartc will have a recap for you.

January 20 – Day 105 – Break out your synthesizer music

Every team’s bye has come and gone, so let’s get back to playing some hockey!

There’s four matinees on the schedule today: one pair (Dallas at Buffalo and New Jersey at Philadelphia) drop the puck at 1 p.m., and the other two (the New York Rangers at Colorado and Winnipeg at Calgary [CBC/NHLN/SN]) will follow suit two hours later. The next three tilts (Boston at Montréal [NHLN/SN/TVAS], Toronto at Ottawa [CBC/CITY/TVAS2] and Carolina at Detroit) drop the puck at the usual 7 p.m. starting time, followed by three more (Pittsburgh at San Jose, Arizona at St. Louis and Florida at Nashville) an hour later. 8:30 p.m. marks the beginning of the New York Islanders at Chicago, while Tampa Bay at Minnesota waits until the top of the hour to get underway. Finally, Vancouver visits Edmonton (CBC/SN) at 10 p.m. to close out the evening’s festivities. All times Eastern.

It’s so nice having the whole gang back together again. With so many games, I’m back to having at least four rivalry games that stand out above the rest.

  • New Jersey at Philadelphia: The Battle of the Turnpikes is never a dull affair, and tensions will only be heightened by the Flyers’ current hot streak.
  • Winnipeg at Calgary: Back in the 1980s, this was one of the best rivalries in the Western Conference. Perhaps more sparks will fly today.
  • Boston at Montréal: For the third time in basically one week, these historic rivals will tangle. This could get nasty.
  • Toronto at Ottawa: The Battle of Ontario rages on between Canada’s capital and its biggest city.

Somehow, the Jets have not been featured in the DtFR Game of the Day series since the holiday break. Let’s resolve that by seeing how they handle a red-hot Calgary club.

 

The streaky 25-16-4 Flames have jumped in and out of playoff position all season, and this seven-game winning streak they were riding before their five-day bye has propelled them all the way into third place in the Pacific Division.

Calgary has been dominant on both ends of the ice during this run. Since New Year’s Eve, the Flames have employed the league’s third-best offense – averaging 3.86 goals per game – and the (t)fourth-best defense – averaging only two goals against per game.

On the defensive end, the answer is simple: 20-13-3 G Mike Smith. The (t)eighth-most winningest goaltender of the season started all but one of the Flames’ past seven games, posting an impressive .941 save percentage and 1.99 GAA. Those numbers are already good in comparison to his season marks of .924 (the [t]eighth-best mark in the league) and 2.46, but what makes his effort in his last six starts really stand out is the fact that his defense is allowing a fifth-worst 35.43 shots against per game during this winning streak. Without Smith playing at the top of his game, this Flames team is a totally different – and far uglier – product.

However, it’s not just Smith that is performing above expectations. With the offense managing only 2.87 goals per game for the entire season, Calgary is producing a full goal better thanks to the positive energy of its goaltender.

It shouldn’t be a surprise, but the Flames’ leader during this surge has been none other than LW Johnny Gaudreau. The very player that has 39 assists ([t]third-most in the league) and 54 points ([t]fourth-most in the league) to his credit has continued his play-making ways to post 2-11-13 totals during this seven-game winning streak, averaging almost two points per game.

Gaudreau makes everyone around him better, which makes sense why linemates W Micheal Ferland (19-10-29 totals) and C Sean Monahan (21-21-42) have both posted four goals since New Year’s Eve. However, the scorer that really takes the cake during this run is sophomore LW Matthew Tkachuk (13-18-31). The 20-year-old has already matched his goal total from his rookie season, and that’s due in large part to his team-leading five tallies in the last seven games.

As Calgary is proving, when both the top lines are firing on all cylinders, this club is a very tough out. After all, the Flames just handled the Lightning in Tampa Bay on January 11, winning 5-1.

Of course, one of the toughest outs all season has been 26-13-7 Winnipeg, the second-best team in the Central Division. Today marks the Jets’ first game after their six-day bye week, and they’ll be looking to get back to their winning ways.

Though Winnipeg was technically riding a two-game losing skid going into the bye, the Jets are actually 6-2-1 in their last nine games. A major reason for that success is Winnipeg’s offense, which has averaged 3.56 goals per game since December 27.

Just like Gaudreau has led his team both during its winning streak and the overall season, the same can be said for F Blake Wheeler. The captain has posted impressive 5-7-12 totals in the last five games to improve his season marks to 14-39-53, the (t)third-most assists and (t)seventh-most points in the NHL.

Making Wheeler’s performance even more impressive, he’s been able to maintain his performance even while C Mark Scheifele (15-23-38 totals) has been on injured reserve with an upper-body injury. Of course, what should we expect when the captain has linemates like RW Patrik Laine (20-17-37), who’s filling in for Wheeler as the top-line right wing while he slides into Scheifele’s vacated center position, and LW Kyle Connor (15-13-28)? Both Connor and Laine have provided eight points over the last nine games, and Wheeler has provided six primary assists since December 27.

On the defensive end, no name is greater in Manitoba than G Connor Hellebuyck. He’s posted a 23-6-6 record this season (the third-most wins in the league) that includes three shutouts – the (t)fourth-mots in the NHL. He’s started all but one of the past nine games, posting a .93 save percentage and 2.24 GAA in the process to raise his season numbers to .922 and 2.4 (the ninth-best GAA in the league).

Calgary and Winnipeg have tangled only once before this season, and it was at the Saddledome – the site of today’s matchup – way back on October 7. The Flames performed perfectly to defend home ice, as D T.J. Brodie registered a 2-2-4 night to lead Calgary to a 6-3 victory after it had trailed 3-1 through the first period.

With both teams coming into this game well-rested, it’s hard to tell which will have the upper hand. Since the Flames have home ice, I’m leaning towards Calgary taking this one, but I truly believe its anyone’s guess.


Thanks to First Star of the Game D Aaron Ekblad‘s overtime game-winner, the Florida Panthers beat the Vegas Golden Knights 4-3 at BB&T Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

W Jamie McGinn (F Nick Bjugstad) opened the scoring for the Panthers, burying a backhanded shot only 3:15 into the contest. That 1-0 advantage lasted 11:07 before W David Perron (D Brad Hunt and F Erik Haula) leveled the game with a snap shot, but Second Star C Aleksander Barkov (F Vincent Trocheck) would return the lead to Florida with 4:05 remaining in the frame on a shorthanded backhander.

Vegas would once again tie the game, but C William Karlsson (D Shea Theodore and W Reilly Smith) would not score his tip-in until the 6:54 mark of the second period. That tally proved to be the lone marker of the middle frame, meaning the score read 2-2 through the second intermission.

Staying true to the pattern, the Panthers were next up to tickle the twine. W Evgeni Dadonov (Barkov and D Keith Yandle) was the guilty party, burying a wrist shot 3:35 into the third period. Third Star W James Neal (Haula) waited until 2:09 remained in regulation to score his wrister and level the game at three-all. As neither the Golden Knights nor Panthers could level the game in the remaining time, their final tilt of the regular season advanced into three-on-three overtime.

As stated before, Ekblad (Barkov and F Jonathan Huberdeau) provided the game-winner (his first winner of the season), but it’s arguably more notable that he needed only 40 seconds to score it. The Panthers dominated the overtime frame to out-shoot Vegas 2-0, and that was no more noticeable than when Ekblad fought off D Nate Schmidt in his own defensive zone to eventually set up Huberdeau for a breakaway opportunity. The forward raced into the offensive zone, passing around Smith to Barkov. Barkov’s backhander couldn’t beat G Malcolm Subban, but the puck flew into the air and eventually ended up in the high slot – perfectly centered for Ekblad. The defenseman one-timed a slap shot over Subban’s glove, earning the bonus point for the Panthers.

G James Reimer earned the victory after saving 33-of-36 shots faced (.917 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Subban, who saved 22-of-26 (.846).

There’s no stopping the 59-34-12 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series lately. They’ve won four-straight contests to reclaim a 24-point advantage over the roadies in the series.

December 19 – Day 76 – Predator drones

If you only went off the NHL schedule, you might think that today is a Saturday, but it is in fact a Tuesday.

Have I lost you yet?

Allow me to explain: the day’s first game, Carolina at Toronto, is slated to drop the puck at 2 p.m. today, five hours before you’d expect for a week game. Once the matinee is out of the way, three games (Detroit at the New York Islanders, Anaheim at the New York Rangers and Minnesota at Ottawa [RDS]) will get started at 7 p.m., followed by Boston at Buffalo (NBCSN/SN/TVAS) half an hour later. Winnipeg at Nashville finds its start at 8 p.m., trailed 30 minutes later by Washington at Dallas and Florida at Arizona at 9 p.m. Finally, tonight’s co-nightcaps – Montréal at Vancouver (RDS/TSN2) and Tampa Bay at Vegas (SN1) – get green lit at 10 p.m. to close the evening out. All times Eastern.

The Bruins-Sabres rivalry comes to life tonight, and W Jamie McGinn and RW Radim Vrbata are making their first return to Gila River Arena since joining the Panthers this offseason. However, it’s hard to ignore the action in Tennessee, so it’s off to Nashville with us!

 

You’re hard pressed to find many better teams in the NHL than these two.

Of course, after a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals last season, 21-7-4 Nashville leading the Western Conference wasn’t exactly unexpected. The Preds’ month of December has been a shining example of their style of play, as they’ve earned a commanding 6-0-1 record.

18-4-3 G Pekka Rinne has been nothing short of exemplary since flipping to the last page of his calendar. Having earned five starts this month, he’s posted a .948 save percentage and 1.74 GAA (both top-five efforts among the 41 goalies with at least three starts since December 2) to elevate his season numbers to a .93 save percentage and 2.25 GAA, making him the third-best goaltender in the NHL so far this campaign.

Making Rinne’s effort even more incredible is the fact that his defense, given its offensive contributions, leaves him more than his fair share of work. Even with D Alexei Emelin‘s team-leading 3.42 hits-per-game, F Filip Forsberg‘s seven takeaways and D Roman Josi‘s 2.28 blocks-per-game (all over the past seven games), he and 3-3-1 G Juuse Saros have faced 263 shots this month, the seventh-most in the NHL.

Of course, if any team is going to break through Rinne and Nashville’s defense, I’d bank on 19-10-5 Winnipeg, the Central Division’s third place team. Though they don’t come into tonight’s game on quite the hot streak the Predators are experiencing, the fact that the Jets’ offense enters the night averaging 3.26 goals-per-game to rank fifth in the league shows that they’re capable of going any night of the week that ends in -day.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 1000 times: The Jets’ first line – specifically the talents of C Mark Scheifele (15-21-36 totals) and RW Blake Wheeler (8-31-39) – needs to be in the discussion for the most dominant in the Western Conference, if not the NHL as a whole (yes, Tampa Bay, we know you exist). Scheifele and Wheeler on their own might be able to take on most lines in the league, while adding LW Kyle Connor (10-9-19) into the mix to complete the line is not too shabby either.

Of course, it also doesn’t hurt that Winnipeg is fortunate enough to employ W Nikolaj Ehlers (15-10-25 totals), RW Patrik Laine (16-11-27) and F Bryan Little (5-14-19) on the second line. Between the efforts of these two lines, Nashville’s defense just might be forced to consider performing their primary job descriptions a bit more than they would like this evening.

Given how often these teams have been featured in the DtFR Game of the Day series (a combined 19 times), it’s probably no surprise that I really enjoy watching both of these clubs and am confident they’ll be mighty forces in the postseason. However, only one team can win this evening, and I’m siding with the Preds. They’ve been nigh unstoppable this month, and the fact that they’re playing within the friendly confines of Bridgestone Arena should ensure they continue leading the conference for at least another night.


Even though C Adam Henrique buried a nifty backhanded shot in his return to the Prudential Center, the New Jersey Devils beat the Anaheim Ducks 5-3 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The first period was a defensive affair, as only a combined 13 shots were fired. That being said, the scoreboard read 2-0 at the first intermission in favor of the Ducks thanks to C Ryan Getzlaf‘s (F Rickard Rakell and D Josh Manson) snap shot at the 6:44 mark and W Jakob Silfverberg‘s (F Andrew Cogliano and Henrique) snapper 3:46 later.

New Jersey finally got on the board at the 8:11 mark of the second period on a power play tip-in by Second Star of the Game LW Miles Wood (D Sami Vatanen and Third Star W Jesper Bratt). Henrique (Manson) lobbed the puck over Vatanen to effectively assist himself to a backhander 3:10 later to set the score at 3-1, but the Devils pulled themselves back within a goal on Wood’s (C Pavel Zacha) second tally of the night, a wrist shot with 1:44 remaining before the second intermission.

If the Ducks controlled the first period, Jersey absolutely dominated the third, as they scored three unanswered goals to earn the victory. The first of those was buried at the 5:49 mark courtesy of Bratt (F Blake Coleman and F Brian Boyle) to level the game at three-all. That tie held until 4:07 remained in regulation when First Star RW Stefan Noesen (Boyle and D Andy Greene) scored the game-winning marker.

After Boyle centered a pass to him from the blue line, Noesen tried to rip a wrister past G Ryan Miller, but the netminder aggressively deflected the puck away. Unfortunately for him, that move left his cage yawning, and Noesen was able to collect the loose puck and bury it into the back of the net.

With seven seconds remaining in the game, Noesen (Boyle) scored a wrister on an empty net to secure the Devils’ second-consecutive victory.

G Cory Schneider earned the victory after saving 21-of-24 shots faced (.875 save percentage), leaving the loss to Miller, who saved 29-of-33 (.879).

There’s no stopping home teams lately in the DtFR Game of the Day series, as hosts have won four consecutive contests. This run of success has improved their record to 43-24-9 in the series, 20 points better than the visitors.

Weekly Bumblings for Week 9 With Special Guest Host, Cap’n Cornelius

Peter’s vacation continues, so you are stuck with me once more for the recap of last week’s NHL action.

Player of the Week: Artemi Panarin

You didn’t really think I’d get through two straight columns without talking about the Blue Jackets, did you? The Breadman had been having a solid if unspectacular year as the calendar turned to December.  Despite his talent (or because of it), it had taken some time for the Jackets to find line mates that paired well with the Russian winger.  The initial thought was to put him with Alexander Wennberg and Cam Atkinson.  On paper, that line made all of the sense in the world—two high scoring wingers paired with a player who showed his acumen for setting the table last season.  On the ice was a different story.  While Atkinson and Panarin clicked at points, Wennberg was too conservative, often playing in no man’s land beyond the offensive zone face-off circles.

This lead to weeks of John Tortorella running the blender to try and find lines that worked. In the meantime, Wennberg’s injury also forced Tortorella to get more creative at center, a position the Jackets had been looking to upgrade during the offseason.  Enter rookie, Pierre-Luc Dubois.  While the Jackets wanted Dubois to be their center of the future, the team had been hesitant to play him at the position, preferring to try and ease him in.  But Torts took the advice of Dubois’ father who had found that when he was struggling with his game, he actually improved when forced into the rigors of playing center.  After a bit of a cold spell for Dubois, Tortorella decided to give it a try and Dubois slowly moved his way up the lineup, taking advantage of the opportunity presented by Wennberg’s absence, and finding himself on the top line with Panarin and Josh Anderson.  If the Jackets make noise in the postseason, the decision to unite the three unlikely line mates may be looked back as the moment that set the table for their success.

So, in recent weeks, the line which has affectionately become known as PB&J (Pierre, Breadman and Josh) has started to click, but Panarin had yet to really have a performance where he went off. That changed on Friday night in New Jersey.  After a poor performance in Columbus on Tuesday against the Devils (notwithstanding excellent possession performances from the PB&J line), the Jackets’ backs were to the wall.  They really needed the win against their divisional opponent given how tight the race is in the Metropolitan.  The game didn’t start well for the Jackets with the team entering intermission down 2-0 and likely facing an unhappy LukasTortorella in the locker room.  But the tide would turn in the second period largely due to the efforts of Panarin.

Panarin caused a turnover which found its way to Dubois’ stick for his first assist of the night. Another turnover created by Panarin lead to a goal by Lukas Sedlak in the middle of a line change to even up the score.  Panarin’s third assist of the night may have been the most impressive.  As four Devils watched Panarin, he saw the trailer, Scott Harrington, and made a perfect cross ice pass to get Harrington the goal.  After the Devils tied it before the second period ended, the Jackets got a rare power play goal when Panarin made a backhanded pass to Wennberg who, in a rarer aggressive play, went to the net and buried the puck.  Panarin would add a fifth first assist of the night when he found an open Zach Werenski for the fifth and final goal of the night. And that summary of the game doesn’t even fully encapsulate how well Panarin played.  He was consistently finding his way through traffic and the puck seemed to be magnetically attracted to the tape on his stick blade.

While Saturday’s game was not nearly as exciting, Panarin still managed a Corsi For percentage of 58%. The Jackets would strike early as Panarin found Anderson behind the net and he would bury it top shelf.  When you have Sergei Bobrovsky in net, sometimes one goal is enough, and it would prove to be the case.  Panarin now has 6 straight primary assists for Columbus, but when you look back at Panarin’s performance this week, the thing that stands out that is underrated about him and is the big difference from Brandon Saad, is his play away from the puck.  His work in creating two turnovers that set up those first two goals against New Jersey during a crucial time in the game on Friday prevented the game from getting out of control and righted the ship for a team that had a couple poor performances against divisional opponents before that game.

Game of the Week: Winnipeg Jets 3 at Tampa Bay Lightning 4 (OT), December 9, 2017.

We’ve covered this game extensively this week, and with good reason. One of the top teams in the Western, versus one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. A classic matchup between the immovable object and the unstoppable force.  Even with the Jets coming off of two losses entering the game, you knew they would play up for this one.  Yes, I’m talking about Winnipeg for the second time in my two weeks doing this column and no it isn’t because there is a social media account that retweets anything you tweet featuring the word Winnipeg, positive or negative (yes, that really was a thing).

The game got off to a quick start as you’d expect from two offensive powerhouses. Adam Lowry showed some great patience with two Lightning players defending him to find Andrew Copp in the slot for the first goal of the game.  The Lightning continued their streak of nine straight games with a power play goal (that’s possible, eh?) when Brayden Point made a beautiful feed to give Yanni Gourde a goal that Connor Hellebuyck had no hope to stop.

A Cedric Paquette goal was overturned for goaltender interference by Chris Kunitz, so the score would stay 1-1, but Mikhail Sergachev would finally put the Lightning ahead with a beautiful shot after losing his defender with a quick change of directions. The Jets would not go away though.  Former Youngstown Phantom, Kyle Connor, would redirect a rising shot from Josh Morrissey to even the game at 2 and that is how the second period would end.

Winnipeg retook the lead near the midway point of the third period when Nikolaj Ehlers somehow found Andrei Vasilevskiy’s five hole before the goaltender could even react to the shot.  After Vasilevskiy would stop another attempt by Ehlers, Nikita Kucherov’s shot through traffic somehow found the net and the score was again tied at three.  Note—the sequence I just described happened in all of about 2 minutes of game time.  Both teams then settled down and got the game to overtime to salt away a point for their troubles.

Overtime wouldn’t last long though as Point would elude Bryan Little and get his backhand over Hellebuyck.

The Lightning continue to be in a class by themselves in the early part of the season, but the Jets gave it their all.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

A busy week in NHL and other hockey news. On Tuesday the news came down that Russia would be banned from the Winter Olympics as punishment for their concerted efforts to violate anti-doping rules during the Sochi games in 2014.  Clean Russian athletes will still be permitted to play at the games, but not under the Russian flag.  If they are looking for a team name, I suggest “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Russia, Steroid Free!”  There was concern that the KHL might prevent its players from playing in the Olympics, which would have thrown a monkey wrench in Team Canada’s plans for the games.  However, cooler heads prevailed as the KHL probably realized there was value to having its athletes compete on the world’s highest international stage…unlike the NHL.

Backing up slightly, last Monday the City of Seattle approved the memorandum of understanding with the Oak View Group to remodel the ancient KeyArena at a cost of around $600 million (most of it comes from private funds) so that it could be suitable to host one or more professional sports franchises. This will likely be the death knell for a competing project which would have seen a new arena built closer where the existing stadiums are, in SoDo.  The NHL owners, who conveniently had a Board of Governor’s meeting, couldn’t wait to let Seattle know that they would be willing to take their money consider their application for expansion.  Fee for expansion?  $650 million, exceeding the $500 million that Vegas just paid.  I think Seattle is a great market for hockey in an underserved part of the country, but I also think the economics of a team with startup costs of over one billion dollars are a bit shaky.  For comparison, the Blue Jackets paid a franchise fee of $80 million and built an arena at a cost of $175 million…and still eventually needed a bailout from local government.  From the league’s side, it is understandable why they prefer Seattle to, say, Quebec City, because of the geographic balance adding the market will create.

Finally, let’s take a moment to remember 11 years ago when Anson Carter and his Columbus Blue Jackets teammates released a Christmas album. Amazingly I see no trace of this masterpiece on YouTube, so, if you are looking for a Christmas gift for me, there you go.

November 6 – Day 34 – First line frenzy

Judging by yesterday’s blockbuster three-way trade, I think it’s safe to say we’re starting to get into the meat of the NHL season. If a F Matt Duchene trade is what we get through one month of action, I can’t wait to see what tricks November has up its sleeves.

On today’s menu, the NHL has scheduled a half-dozen games for our viewing pleasure. Of course, the first course of contests drops the puck at 7 p.m. (Minnesota at Boston [TVAS], Vegas at Toronto, Columbus at the New York Rangers and Arizona at Washington), followed by Winnipeg at Dallas 90 minutes later. Finally, Detroit at Vancouver, tonight’s nightcap, closes out the evening at 10 p.m. All times Eastern.

Two of the top-three teams in the Central Division are squaring off this evening in the Lone Star State, so it looks like we’re headed off to the American Airlines Center.

 

Somehow, this is the third time in the past nine days that I’ve featured 7-3-3 Winnipeg, the second-best team in the Central. To avoid beating a dead horse, let’s talk about the third place 8-6-0 Stars first.

The first two times Dallas appeared in the DtFR Game of the Day series, I made a point of featuring the top line of LW Jamie Benn, F Tyler Seguin and RW Alexander Radulov – and for good reason. Together, they’ve combined for a whopping 41 points, including 20 of the Stars’ 41 goals. They’re undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with and should strike fear into the heart and mind of G Connor Hellebuyck.

If there’s anything new to say about the Stars, it’s that their power play is basically unstoppable. Led by D John Klingberg‘s seven power play points (more on him in a minute), Dallas has converted a whopping 32.5 percent of its extra-man opportunities to lead the NHL by a solid margin.

Unfortunately, focusing on that dynamic trio has lead to G Ben Bishop and the Stars’ defense being overlooked. In fact, Dallas’ 2.79 goals against-per-game ranks 10th-best in the NHL. Compare that to the Stars’ 15th-worst 2.93 goals-per game and it could certainly be argued that the Stars have played better in their own zone.

The Stars are a defensive team. What is the world coming to?

The most obvious improvement has certainly taken place in net. Last season’s starter – and this year’s backup – G Kari Lehtonen managed only a .902 save percentage and 2.85 GAA in 52 starts last campaign. Swap that out with 6-3-0 Bishop’s .913 save percentage and 2.66 GAA so far this season through 11 starts and you have a Stars team that is immediately improved.

Of course, by allowing only 30 shots against-per-game (the fifth-fewest in the league), Dallas’ defense isn’t too shabby either. One player I’ve been especially impressed with is second-year D-man Stephen Johns. The 25-year-old native of Ellwood City, Penn. has been on of the best shot-blockers in Texas, as he averages 1.8 per game. With the opportunity to be Klingberg’s understudy, the future is bright for this young player.

Oh yeah, Johns has also posted 2-3-5 totals in his 11 games so far this season. Though he’s far from the next Brent Burns, he’s managed that contribution from Dallas’ third pair. Add in Klingberg’s 3-11-14 totals for the season, and you have an entire defensive corps that is more than capable of helping their own goaltender with a little bit of scoring touch on the opposite side of the ice.

One of the best indicators of the strength of a defense, in my opinion, is their performance on the penalty kill. Considering the Stars have squelched 87.8 percent of opposing power plays to rank third-best in the league on the kill, I’d say they certainly pass that test.

All that being said, Bishop and his defense could have their hands full tonight with the 12th-best offense in the game coming to town, specifically when the Jets’ first line is on the ice.

Just like Dallas has an imposing top trio, LW Kyle Connor, C Mark Scheifele and RW Blake Wheeler form an equally deadly platoon for Winnipeg. Together, they combine for 37 points that include 14 of the Jets’ 42 goals.

Though he doesn’t officially occupy the position, Wheeler has operated as this line’s center from his position at right wing. He’s already notched a dozen assists in 13 games played and has helped Scheifele find the back of the net five times.

W Nikolaj Ehlers has also been a commanding presence on the second line. While RW Patrik Laine attracts most of the attention while he’s on the ice, that has left Ehlers the opportunity to create his own opportunities. So far, he’s been extremely successful at that this season, as he’s already managed 8-3-11 totals.

Not to be outdone by Dallas’ offense, the Jets have also had their fair share of success on the power play, as they’ve converted 23.3 percent of their opportunities for the seventh-best mark in the league. This has truly been where Wheeler has shined, as his seven power play points lead the team.

With two high-flying offenses, this game has the potential to be a real thriller of a barn-burner. If that proves to be the case, I favor the Stars to win this game on their special teams and superiority in the defensive zone.


In what proved to be a busy day for General Manager Joe Sakic, the Colorado Avalanche lost 6-4 to the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The Islanders didn’t take long to take command of the game. Only 4:05 after the opening puck drop, Third Star of the Game D Scott Mayfield (D Calvin de Haan and F Josh Bailey) scored a tip-in to give New York a 1-0 lead, followed by a RW Jordan Eberle (First Star C Mathew Barzal and D Johnny Boychuk) wrist shot 8:53 later.

Those two goals proved to be the only goals of the first period, but what made Mayfield’s especially notable was that it occurred during Duchene’s final shift as a member of the Avalanche. 53 seconds after he scored, Duchene was pulled from the game to be sent to Ottawa.

The remainder of the contest was a taste of life for the remainder of the season for Colorado. Considering the Avs ended up scoring four goals while he was on his way to the airport (whether he flew to Ottawa or Stockholm, I do not know), life looks like it will continue in Denver.

The first of those four goals was struck only 40 seconds into the second period courtesy of F Nathan MacKinnon (D Erik Johnson and LW Gabriel Landeskog). Colorado was within a goal of the Islanders for 53 seconds before Second Star D Nick Leddy decided to change things with two power play goals. The first, assisted by Barzal and C John Tavares, was struck at the 1:33 mark and followed 2:51 later by his second (Bailey and Barzal) to give New York a 4-1 advantage.

The next goal of the game, struck at the 9:46 mark of the second period, proved to be the game-winner. Scoring on a snap shot from the blue line, Boychuk (Leddy and Barzal) beat G Jonathan Bernier‘s left skate to give the Islanders their fifth goal of the game.

Thanks to Landeskog’s (MacKinnon and D Tyson Barrie) deflection with 6:58 remaining in the period, a total of five goals were struck in the second frame. With most of those tallies belonging to the home Isles, New York held a 5-2 advantage through the second intermission.

Only 83 seconds into the third period, Eberle (Barzal and Mayfield) provided an insurance goal that narrowly avoided becoming the all-important game-winning goal. Just like Leddy went on a goal-scoring rampage in the second, rookie F Alexander Kerfoot did in the third (probably for being responsible for giving New York the power play on Leddy’s second goal) by burying two tallies in the span of 21 seconds. His first was a wrister struck with half-a-minute remaining in regulation following assists from W Sven Andrighetto and Barrie, followed by another wrister assisted by Andrighetto and F Rocco Grimaldi.

Unfortunately for Colorado, Kerfoot’s outburst did not happen early enough for the Avalanche, as they could not score another two goals in the nine seconds remaining in the game, leaving the final score at 6-4.

G Thomas Greiss earned the victory after saving 31-of-35 shots faced (.886 save percentage), leaving the loss to Bernier, who saved 22-of-28 (.786).

New York’s home victory snaps a two-game winning streak by road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, Hosts in the series now have an 18-12-4 record that is six points better than the roadies.