Tag Archives: Corey Crawford

Numbers Game: March to the Playoffs

First of all, it’s March, which means it’s officially the best month of the year, but not for any of the reasons you’re thinking. College basketball can stay on the back burner– especially when there’s playoff hockey to look forward to next month when, oh yeah, that NCAA championship game actually occurs.

Save your “March is the worst month of the year” takes for the next person in line, thanks.

Anyway, at this point in the season it’s worth noting that the trade deadline has come and passed. While acquisitions like Rick Nash for the Boston Bruins, Derick Brassard for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Tomas Tatar for the Vegas Golden Knights and Paul Stastny for the Winnipeg Jets will certainly impact their teams, the following projected standings are merely an educated guess at how things should pan out.

There are simply too many variables that Microsoft Excel cannot account for, namely injuries, roster changes and well, whether or not a player woke up on the right side of the bed that day.

To that end, some projected points totals had a little Gut Feeling 2.0 added to them. In other words, the Toronto Maple Leafs are not going to end up with 130 or 131 points like a couple of models showed– there’s simply not enough games remaining for them to almost match an NHL record.

Therefore, more realistic measures have been added for some teams to account for “reality”.

Some teams like the Chicago Blackhawks, for instance, had a little win-percentage on the season taken into account for their 19 remaining games on the season– and then reflected in the total number of points they should earn.

As with all stats and analytics, try not to get too bogged down on one or another. A holistic viewpoint goes much further than trying to survive on heart and grit alone.

Especially in today’s NHL, where speed and skill are more present than ever before.

With that, here’s a glance at how the standings should shake out for all 31 NHL clubs based on their performances through February 28, 2018.

As always, my degree is in communication, not math. In other words, throw everything mentioned above out the window, strap yourself in and good luck surviving the adrenaline rush that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Oh, your team’s not going to make it, you say?

My condolences, Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres, New York Rangers, Carolina Hurricanes, Blackhawks and Arizona Coyotes fans. Next year is totally your year.

Maybe.

2017-2018 Projected Standings after Five Months

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

  1. y-Tampa Bay Lightning, 106 points (64 GP so far)
  2. x-Boston Bruins, 105 points (61 GP so far)
  3. x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 105 points (66 GP so far)
  4. Montreal Canadiens, 78 points (63 GP so far)
  5. Detroit Red Wings, 75 points (63 GP so far)
  6. Florida Panthers, 75 points (60 GP so far)
  7. Buffalo Sabres, 68 points (64 GP so far)
  8. Ottawa Senators, 65 points (62 GP so far)

The Atlantic Division was already determined in December. Nothing should surprise anyone, except for how close it should be coming down the wire for first place in the division.

It might seem crazy considering the Tampa Bay Lightning really bolstered their defense with Ryan McDonagh at the trade deadline, but Boston and Toronto have as much speed and offense to remain in the hunt for that little “Y” next to their names down the stretch. Plus it helps that the Lightning, Bruins and Maple Leafs aren’t playing each other every night, so that has to factor in their somehow.

Between 4th and 6th in the division it’s anyone’s game. The Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings and Florida Panthers are all teetering on the edge of either a rebuild or just a few steps away from a re-tool-on-the-fly.

Neither of them are inherently “ideal”, but they can’t do anything else to compete with Tampa, Boston and Toronto.

It’s worth noting that the Buffalo Sabres will barely climb out of the basement of the division this year. And that’s without Jack Eichel (fractured ankle).

Simply put, the Ottawa Senators are beyond bad.

Metropolitan Division

  1. z-Pittsburgh Penguins, 108 points (64 GP so far)
  2. x-Philadelphia Flyers, 99 points (63 GP so far)
  3. x-New Jersey Devils, 97 points (63 GP so far)
  4. wc1-Columbus Blue Jackets, 96 points (63 GP so far)
  5. wc2-Washington Capitals, 94 points (64 GP so far)
  6. New York Islanders, 87 points (64 GP so far)
  7. Carolina Hurricanes, 75 points (63 GP so far)
  8. New York Rangers, 72 points (64 GP so far)

After much turbulence leading up to this month in the Metropolitan Division, it seems by the end of the month, we’ll have a clear picture of who’s really a contender, who’s making a Second Round exit and who’s just pretending to be on the ice when they’re actually sending out some pretty high-tech holograms on the ice.

In other words, the Pittsburgh Penguins are suited for a three-peat as long as Matt Murray can stay healthy. Even still, they’re beginning to peak at the right time as they have done every year with Mike Sullivan behind the bench.

But who’s that neighbor of theirs in Pennsylvania? They might have to re-grease some poles in Philadelphia, because the Flyers are surging right now and it should carry them into decent playoff position.

The New Jersey Devils, Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals all remain competitive, but sadly fall victim to First or Second Round exits simply because have you seen the rest of the Eastern Conference? Yeah, I thought so too.

One of these years if the Carolina Hurricanes look to actually spend a little more money they’ll be able to take their money-puck approach back to the postseason for the first time since 2009, but this year is not that year. They didn’t do anything at the deadline and it shows.

Western Conference

Central Division

  1. p-Winnipeg Jets, 116 points (63 GP so far)
  2. x-Minnesota Wild, 104 points (63 GP so far)
  3. x-Nashville Predators, 100 points (62 GP so far)
  4. wc2-St. Louis Blues, 92 points (65 GP so far)
  5. Dallas Stars, 92 points (63 GP so far)
  6. Colorado Avalanche, 85 points (63 GP so far)
  7. Chicago Blackhawks, 70 points (63 GP so far)

Your President’s Trophy winners, ladies and gentlemen, entering March 2018 should be the Winnipeg Jets.

That’s right, the team in Winnipeg, Manitoba with a seating capacity of a little more than 15,000 fans at Bell MTS Place. That one. Winnipeg. The Western Conference’s Carolina Hurricanes. They aren’t big spenders, yet they bought exactly what they needed at the trade deadline in Paul Stastny.

Meanwhile, apparently Eric Staal‘s first hat trick in a little over five years is enough to catapult the Minnesota Wild on a surprising run down the stretch. Though they are currently 3rd in the Central Division, Minnesota is coming alive.

It’s hard to knock the Nashville Predators off of their game– especially while they’re in command of the division– but something just doesn’t go exactly as planned this month for the Preds.

They’ll still beat Minnesota in the First Round and set themselves up for quite a matchup with Winnipeg in the Second Round though. Obviously the winner of that is going to battle the Vegas Golden Knights for the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl.

A warning to the St. Louis Blues– keep up this downward trend and the Dallas Stars will replace you in the wild card.

Whatever upper body injury is plaguing Corey Crawford is only making things worse for the Chicago Blackhawks.

In some models, they should be a lot better than they are right now, but that’s due to their impressive streak of success from 2010-17. Now, in 2018, the wheels fell off and the floor fell out from under them– on top of the Crawford injury.

Pacific Division

  1. y-Vegas Golden Knights, 113 points (63 GP so far)
  2. x-Los Angeles Kings, 105 points (64 GP so far)
  3. x-Anaheim Ducks, 100 points (64 GP so far)
  4. wc1-San Jose Sharks, 94 points (64 GP so far)
  5. Calgary Flames, 78 points (65 GP so far)
  6. Edmonton Oilers, 78 points (63 GP so far)
  7. Vancouver Canucks, 77 points (64 GP so far)
  8. Arizona Coyotes, 63 points (62 GP so far)

The Vegas Golden Knights, in their inaugural season, come up three points shy of winning the 2017-18 President’s Trophy as the team with the best regular season record. The Vegas Golden Knights.

Despite the push from all of the California clubs, this is Vegas’s division title to lose. Not just in the regular season, but in the playoffs too.

No amount of onslaught from the Los Angeles Kings or Anaheim Ducks should be able to stand a seven-game series with Ryan Reaves and the rest of the Golden Knights. Having said that though, it’s a shame the San Jose Sharks will likely pair-up with the Jets, because we’ll never get to know if Vegas could single handedly defeat all three California teams en route to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

That’s assuming a lot, but let’s roll with it.

All season long the Calgary Flames have been a lovable underdog. Unfortunately, their time is cut short. All good things must come to an end and again, if you’re going to do nothing at the deadline as a fringe competitor, you can’t expect to improve.

At least you shouldn’t, otherwise well, you know the definition of insanity (doing the same thing and expecting a different result).

Better luck next year, Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks and Arizona Coyotes.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #90- Standing All-Stars

Nick and Connor breakdown the news and notes from the latest week in the NHL leading up to the 2018 NHL All-Star break. Mike Smith is going back to the All-Star Game and we’re celebrating with #DTFRMissionAccomplished.

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

January 3 – Day 88 – Black and blue and red all over

It’s Wednesday in the NHL, and as usual it’s a light schedule.

The action begins at 7:30 p.m. when the Senators pay a visit to Detroit to take on the Red Wings (SN/TVAS), and Chicago at the New York Rangers (NBCSN) drops the puck half an hour later to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

While I run the risk of repeating things I said Monday, the contest that should draw everyone’s attention is taking place at Madison Square Garden.

 

For those that love Original Six matchups, you’re welcome. It’s been a while since we’ve featured such a game, as the last was Boston at Detroit three weeks ago.

Of course, it hasn’t been anywhere near that long since we last featured the 21-13-5 Rangers, as their 3-2 overtime victory in the Winter Classic at Citi Field – a road game a whopping 10 miles from home – was the NHL’s lone game on New Year’s Day.

The Rangers, who are currently the Eastern Conference’s top wildcard, are rolling right now, as they’ve earned a 5-1-2 record over their past eight showings, and that success has been largely because of the dominance on the defensive end. Of course, what should we expect from a team that has the luxury of having 18-9-4 G Henrik Lundqvist on its roster. Lundqvist has won the (t)eighth-most games this season, and his two shutouts are (t)10th-most in the NHL.

Lundqvist has been in net for all but one of the tilts over this eight-game run, and he’s found a lot of success. He’s posted a .943 save percentage and 2.07 GAA (both top-10 efforts among the 31 goalies with at least four starts since December 15).

If this game comes down to which goaltender is better, I’d put my money on New York because 16-9-2 G Corey Crawford is going to be unavailable to the 18-14-6 Blackhawks for the foreseeable future. He was placed on injured reserve last week with an upper body injury with no timetable of when he could return to the ice.

That wouldn’t be good news if Chicago was atop the Western Conference like it has been for most of the last decade, but it’s even worse since the Hawks are currently four points behind Anaheim for the second wild card.

The Hawks’ struggles aren’t Crawford’s fault – in fact, I’d argue that he’s the main reason they still have a shot at qualifying for the playoff for the 10th-consecutive season. Before going down with an injury, he’d posted a .929 save percentage and 2.27 GAA, the fourth- and seventh-best efforts, respectively, in the NHL.

Filling in for Crawford is already a tall task for 1-0-1 G Jeff Glass, but it doesn’t help that the Hawks are finishing an uncomfortable six-game road trip this evening. This has not been a fun jaunt from the United Center, as they’ve posted a miserable 1-3-1 record on the trip.

Glass will be making his third career start in the NHL tonight behind a defense that has allowed an average of 33.2 shots against over its last five games. He’s been decent so far, as he’s posted a .917 season save percentage and 3.46 GAA, but going up against a Rangers team that is having the success it is right now can’t be a good omen.

These teams have already squared off once before this season, and it was the Blackhawks that came away with the 6-3 victory at home on November 15. Artem Anisimov was incredible in that game, scoring what is still the only hat trick of his 10-year career. I suppose he is still a bit salty about being traded by the Rangers to Columbus for Rick Nash in the 2011 offseason. Go figure, Anisimov is also on injured reserve with an upper body injury, so the Hawks will need to find a different hero if they want to earn two points tonight.

It’s tough to pick the Blackhawks in this one. In addition to the previously mentioned injuries, their offense hasn’t been in sync all season. All signs point towards an easy Rangers win this evening.


Behind the excellent work of First Star of the Game G Marc-Andre Fleury, the Vegas Golden Knights shutout the Nashville Predators to win yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at T-Mobile Arena 3-0.

Fleury performed incredibly to earn his second clean sheet of the season. Especially tested in the second and third period, he saved all 29 shots he faced to keep the Knights atop the Western Conference and within four points of the league-leading Lightning.

Of course, he couldn’t do everything – a la play offense – and that’s where Second Star W Reilly Smith (D Nate Schmidt and RW Alex Tuch) comes into play. With 7:50 remaining before the second intermission, Smith took advantage of the extra room caused by W Kevin Fiala serving a too many men on the ice penalty to attack G Pekka Rinne‘s crease and bank a wrist shot off his left pad to score what proved to be the game-winning goal.

Third Star D Shea Theodore (D Deryk Engelland and Tuch) tacked on Vegas’ first insurance goal 91 seconds after the goal horn stopped blaring, and F Jon Marchessault (W David Perron and F Erik Haula) cleaned up the evening’s scoring by burying a wrister on an empty net with 2:23 remaining in the game.

Rinne took the loss after saving 28-of-30 shots faced (.933 save percentage), his second consecutive loss and fourth in his last five appearances.

Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day are rolling since the holiday break, as they’ve won four of the last five featured games and earned points in five of the last six. As such, their 50-27-11 record in the series is 25 points superior to that of the roadies.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #86- Best Misnomers of 2017

Nick and Connor pick apart the Central Division, provide injury updates, preview the 2018 Winter Classic and discuss the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship so far.

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

NHL Power Rankings: First Edition

Here at Down the Frozen River, we always try to keep things fresh. For your viewing pleasure, we will begin bringing you a weekly rendition of our staff’s NHL Power Rankings. Hockey is a funny game, in that winning streaks, slumps, and hot players are constantly changing. We will bring you our humble opinions on the top ten best teams in the league, based on the previous week’s performances. Sure the overall record is what matters most at the end of the season, but as sports writers, we like to pick at the details along the way. Without further ado, here is our first edition of Down the Frozen River’s NHL Power Rankings!

1. Tampa Bay Lightning (52)

Current Record – 24-6-2

Last Ten Games – 8-2-0; Streak – W7

Well, it makes a lot of sense for the Lightning to be our top team this week. When you win seven in a row, it isn’t really a question. They could have cooled down after their fantastic start, but they continue to be one of the league’s top teams. They are four points ahead of the three teams tied for second in the NHL, including three games in hand on the Blues and Kings. It will be interesting to see if Steve Yzerman makes a move as the trade deadline draws closer. Either way, consider this team a lock for the playoffs.

2. Washington Capitals (48)

Current Record – 21-12-1

Last Ten Games – 8-2-0; Streak – W3

The only team as hot as Tampa Bay in the last ten games are the upbeat Capitals. For a couple weeks there, Washington seemed to be losing their identity, falling behind in the Metropolitan race. Riding off the backs of Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby, this team has won eight of their last ten and are tied with New Jersey for the division lead. It’s never a good idea to bet against the Capitals, at least during the regular season.

3. Philadelphia Flyers (47)

Current Record – 14-12-7

Last Ten Games – 6-3-1; Streak – L1

Keep in mind these rankings are based on the previous week’s play, in which the Flyers were riding a six-game winning streak. They did lose 1-4 to a the Kings last night, but we’ll let that one slide. After going ten games without a victory, the Flyers look like they have put their puzzle back together. They could have been the next team to be unofficially knocked out of the playoffs, but they kept themselves in the picture. Although they are still four points out of contention, there is plenty of hockey left to be played.

4. Nashville Predators (37)

Current Record – 21-7-4

Last Ten Games – 7-1-2; Streak – W3

Earlier in the season, the Predators seemed like an average hockey team. After a momentum swing and a big trade in their favor, they are streaking through the month of December. One guy doesn’t make a team, but he sure can make a big difference. Nashville is 13-2-2 after trading for Kyle Turris, who has 4 goals and 13 assists with his new team. Keep an eye on this team as they continue to perform well every night.

5. Vegas Golden Knights (35)

Current Record – 21-9-2

Last Ten Games – 6-3-1; Streak – W2

Everyone surely thought the Golden Knights would be here at this point in the season, right? Absolutely not. Vegas continues to silence the critics and shock the hockey world as they just keep finding ways to win. Last week, their 2-1 win over Pittsburgh was impressive, but they went on the thump Florida 5-2. With the return of Marc-Andre Fleury in net, the NHL’s newest team is cruising towards 90+ points, which would likely be enough for a playoff spot in the Pacific Division. They have two very tough contests against the Lightning and Capitals, which will really test the strength of this team.

6. Chicago Blackhawks (31)

Current Record – 17-11-5

Last Ten Games – 5-3-2; Streak – W5

The Blackhawks are in a similar situation to Washington. They start losing some games, fans begin to write them off, and then the team shifts into overdrive and rattles off five straight wins. Patrick Kane has played a big role in this resurgence, but he isn’t the only one. Since returning from injury, Corey Crawford is a prefect 5-0. Not to mention, he is 9-0-2 in his last 11 games played. In his recent streak, he hasn’t allowed more than two goals against. What we’re saying is, this dude is doing that hockey and doing it well. With Crawford in net, the Blackhawks are a winning team.

7. New Jersey Devils (25)

Current Record – 19-9-5

Last Ten Games – 5-4-1; Streak W2

The sneaky Devils continue to be a force in the Metropolitan Division. Currently, they are tied with Washington for the top position. They had two big wins over the Kings and Stars last week, as well as a 5-3 victory over the Ducks just last night. The gears in Ray Shero’s head have to be turning as the team pushes towards the post-season. Short of a complete breakdown, the Devils should have no issues heading into the new year. Their next game is an important divisional matchup against New York.

8. Winnipeg Jets (13)

Current Record – 19-10-5

Last Ten Games – 4-4-2; Streak- W1

What should you make of Winnipeg? They are currently sitting in the third and final playoff spot in the Central Division, but are being heavily pursued by the Blackhawks. They have slowed down a bit, only winning four in their last ten, but just had a huge 4-0 win against the Blues, a fellow divisional opponent. After their split of the two-game series, it doesn’t get any easier for the Jets. They head to Nashville to take on the Predators. Expect this team to recover, even if they have been up-and-down as of late.

9. Los Angeles Kings (12)

Current Record – 21-10-4

Last Ten Games – 7-2-1; Streak – W1

The Kings are quietly returning to their dominant form. They have lost three of their last four, but they still remain atop the Pacific Division. The Kings’ success really fall onto the shoulders of Jonathan Quick. If he performs well, they have a chance to win. They recently ended Philadelphia’s six-game winning streak, which also ended their own three-game skid. There should be nothing to worry about in Los Angeles, as the Kings face the Avalanche and Canucks in two of their next four games.

10. Carolina Hurricanes (10)

Current Record – 14-11-7

Last Ten Games – 4-3-3; Streak – W3

The Hurricanes have been all over the board, but have recently picked up the pace. Their three-game steak has them back in the playoff discussion and trending in the right direction. In their last game, they proved that great goaltending and solid defensive play can win hockey games, as they defeated Columbus 2-1. They look to take advantage of the struggling Maple Leafs in their next tilt.

How We Picked ‘Em

Jordan – #1 Tampa Bay Lightning, #2 Washington Capitals, #3 Chicago Blackhawks, #4 Philadelphia Flyers, #5 Nashville Predators, #6 Vegas Golden Knights, #7 Los Angeles Kings, #8 Pittsburgh Penguins, #9 New York Rangers, #10 St. Louis Blues

Cap’n – #1 Tampa Bay Lightning, #2 Washington Capitals, #3 Nashville Predators, #4 Vegas Golden Knights, #5 New Jersey Devils, #6 Chicago Blackhawks, #7 Philadelphia Flyers, #8 Winnipeg Jets, #9 Carolina Hurricanes, #10 San Jose Sharks

Nick – #1 Tampa Bay Lightning, #2 Philadelphia Flyers, #3 Nashville Predators, #4 Washington Capitals, #5 Vegas Golden Knights, #6 Los Angeles Kings, #7 New Jersey Devils, #8 New York Rangers, #9 Winnipeg Jets, #10 Chicago Blackhawks

Peter – #1 Philadelphia Flyers, #2 Tampa Bay Lightning, #3 Vegas Golden Knights, #4 Washington Capitals, #5 New Jersey Devils, #6 Nashville Predators, #7 Winnipeg Jets, #8 Chicago Blackhawks, #9 Anaheim Ducks, #10 Carolina Hurricanes

Colby – #1 Tampa Bay Lightning, #2 Washington Capitals, #3 Nashville Predators, #4 Philadelphia Flyers, #5 Chicago Blackhawks, #6 Vegas Golden Knights, #7 Winnipeg Jets, #8 Los Angeles Kings, #9 Carolina Hurricanes, #10 New York Rangers

Connor – #1 Philadelphia Flyers, #2 New Jersey Devils, #3 Chicago Blackhawks, #4 Washington Capitals, #5 Anaheim Ducks, #6 Carolina Hurricanes, #7 Vegas Golden Knights, #8 Tampa Bay Lightning, #9 Nashville Predators, #10 Dallas Stars

December 17 – Day 74 – Another Wild Hawks game

It’s Sunday Funday in the NHL, as there’s four games on today’s schedule.

The action starts at 6 p.m. in Manitoba when St. Louis visits Winnipeg, followed an hour later by Minnesota at Chicago. Tonight’s co-nightcaps (Calgary at Vancouver [SN] and Florida at Vegas) find an early start this evening, as their opening puck drops are slated for 8 p.m. All times Eastern.

Believe it or not, I can come up with a reason to watch each and every one of tonight’s contests:

  • St. Louis at Winnipeg: Not only is this an important Central Division showdown, but it’s also Chris Thorburn‘s first return to Winnipeg – his home for the past six years – since joining the Blues.
  • Minnesota at Chicago: This rivalry has provided some thrillers in the past, and I expect more of the same tonight between these playoff hopefuls.
  • Calgary at Vancouver: With both teams trailing the Sharks in the standings, this rivalry is even bigger than usual.
  • Florida at Vegas: Connor Brickley was a Golden Knight for 10 days this offseason, so I suppose this counts as an awkward homecoming, but this game is more about Head Coach Gerard Gallant, Jon Marchessault and Reilly Smith showing the Panthers how silly they were for letting them leave.

Since we featured the Blues and Jets yesterday, that matchup that is calling my name today is taking place at the United Center. Off to the Windy City!

 

As the standings currently stand, the 16-11-5 Blackhawks currently occupy eighth place in the Western Conference and the second wild card position. Though they’ve struggled the last few times we’ve featured them in the DtFR Game of the Day series, it seems they’re finally figuring things out, as they’re currently riding a four-game winning streak.

The biggest reason for this recent success has been the dominating play of 15-7-2 Corey Crawford. Having been in net for all four games, he’s managed an impressive .952 save percentage and 1.45 GAA since December 8, both efforts among the top five of the 27 goaltenders with at least three starts in that time span.

If not for Crawford, the Hawks might not have been on this hot streak considering his defense has allowed him to face 125 shots over the last four games. Averaging out to 31.25 per game, its the fifth-highest total any netminder has faced since December 8.

Crawford’s considerable work load certainly isn’t the fault of John Hayden, Nick Schmaltz or Brent Seabrook. During this streak, they’ve respectively thrown a team-leading 14 hits, managed five takeaways and blocked nine shots. While those efforts have been impressive, it obviously hasn’t inspired their teammates all that much.

For a team to move into playoff position, another has to fall out of the picture. That team was 17-12-3 Minnesota, a team who just had a four-game winning streak of their own snapped yesterday by the Oilers.

Just like Chicago, the Wild have been finding most of their success of late with some incredible goaltending. Unfortunately, 12-8-2 starter Devan Dubnyk suffered a lower body injury on December 12, so it’ll be interesting to see how 9-5-4 Alex Stalock performs in his stead.

If his play since December 12 has been any indicator, it seems the Wild should be just fine. Since replacing Dubnyk in Tuesday’s game against the Flames, he’s posted a .946 save percentage that includes a shutout against the Maple Leafs’ potent offense.

Even with how well he’s played so far, I have concerns that he’ll start regressing to the mean due to the average-at-best defense playing in front of him. The Wild have allowed an average of 31.84 shots against per game this season, and most of that was before Jared Spurgeon and his team-leading 2.21 blocks-per-game went down with a groin injury.

This is the third of five meetings this season between these two clubs. The last time they met was November 4 at the Xcel Energy Center, and they played to a 2-0 Hawks victory. Given Minnesota’s defense, I have to lean towards the Blackhawks duplicating that success and earning two points this evening.


Earning his first shutout of the season, First Star of the Game Carter Hutton led the St. Louis Blues to a 2-0 victory against the Winnipeg Jets at Scottrade Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Hutton performed brilliantly in only his seventh start of the season. Though Kyle Connor and Blake Wheeler led the Jets to firing 48 shots on goal, Hutton, was able to keep them off the scoreboard.

Meanwhile, Steve Mason also posted a solid effort by saving 28-of-30 shots faced (.933 save percentage) – including all 18 at even strength – but two power play offerings were able to sneak past him.

The first, which proved to be the game-winner, was buried 9:16 into the contest courtesy of Second Star Vladimir Tarasenko (Alex Steen and Colton Parayko). With Andrew Copp in the penalty box for tripping Brayden Schenn, Steen slung a wrist shot at Mason from the right face-off dot that was deflected towards the opposite dot. Unfortunately for the netminder, Tarasenko was waiting to collect the rebound, and he elevated his wrister over the diving Mason to give the Notes a 1-0 lead.

After that, Mason kept the Blues off the board until only 2:26 remained in regulation. Third Star Vince Dunn (Tarasenko and Schenn) took advantage of Patrik Laine‘s double minor penalty for hi sticking Robert Bortuzzo to sneak a wrister past the netminder and set the 2-0 final score.

For the first time since December 6-7, home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have won consecutive games. That elevates their record to 41-24-9, which is 16 points better than the roadies’ record.

November 28 – Day 55 – Welcome to Smashville

If you’re a hockey fan and don’t look forward to Tuesdays, I don’t know what’s wrong with you. This is one of the busiest and most exciting days of the week!

The final Tuesday of November is no exception, as the NHL as scheduled 10 games to take place today. Like it usually does on a weeknight, the action starts at 7 p.m. with five contests (Tampa Bay at Buffalo, Vancouver at the New York Islanders, Florida at the New York Rangers [TVAS], San Jose at Philadelphia and Carolina at Columbus), trailed half an hour later by Los Angeles at Detroit. Chicago at Nashville (NBCSN) drops the puck at 8 p.m., with two more tilts (Toronto at Calgary and Arizona at Edmonton) in tow an hour after. Finally, tonight’s nightcap finds its start at 10 p.m. when Dallas visits Vegas (SN1). All times Eastern.

Like every busy day, I have already circled a few games on my personal calendar (it’s actually an Excel spreadsheet, if we want to get really technical).

  • Chicago at Nashville: This rematch of a Western Quarterfinal has already occurred twice this season, but it’s yielded two stellar games.
  • Dallas at Vegas: D Marc Methot was a Vegas Golden Knight for five days this offseason before being traded to Dallas. But what a Knight he was!

Since the Chicago-Nashville series has already yielded two stellar games this season, I see no reason why we shouldn’t expect a third.

 

Somehow, 14-6-3 Nashville having only a four-point advantage over the 12-8-3 Blackhawks in the Central Division still undersells how competitive the games between these teams have been.

As hinted at before, these clubs are already well into their season series, having already played two of their four games this year. Game 1 at the United Center went the way of Chicago thanks to an overtime goal by W Brandon Saad, but home ice didn’t work in the Blackhawks’ favor 13 days later when the Predators beat them 2-1 on G Pekka Rinne‘s almost-perfect night. Those results mean Nashville has a 1-0-1 advantage against the Hawks so far this year.

Exactly one month has passed since the Predators made their second trip to the Windy City, but not much has changed in either team’s style. Nashville still plays stellar defense backed by Rinne – though the Preds’ offense has climbed to 11th-best in the NHL – while the Hawks continue to rely on the incredible play of G Corey Crawford to find wins.

Let’s jump into that for a minute, starting with tonight’s hosts, who currently occupy third place in the Central Division.

Averaging only 31.3 shots against-per-game to rank 11th-best in the NHL, the Predators play an above average defense that isn’t enough to write home about.

That being said, above-average is all Head Coach Peter Laviolette really needs when he has 13-3-2 Rinne in goal. It seems the Finn has finally bucked the trend of the past five seasons where he alternated yearly between success and misery, as he has followed up last season’s .918 save percentage and 2.42 GAA with superior .926 and 2.31 marks this campaign. Under Rinne’s leadership, the Predators have allowed only 2.78 goals against-per-game to rank ninth-best in the NHL.

Knowing Rinne can effectively dominate the defensive end on his own means the Preds’ blueliners can turn their attention to contributing on the offensive end. As such, defensemen Mattias Ekholm (6-9-15 totals), Roman Josi (5-10-15) and P.K. Subban (4-14-18) have all earned at least 15 points to rank among Nashville’s top-six point-earners. Mix in the incredible F Filip Forsberg (11-13-24 totals), and you have an offense that averages an 11th-best 3.09 goals-per-game.

No discussion about the Preds’ offense is complete without mentioning their special teams, as Nashville is home to the third-best power play in the NHL and best in the Western Conference. Of the players listed above, Forsberg and Subban are the brightest when the Predators have the man-advantage as both have at least nine power play points. The forward deserves special recognition for his seven power play goals, as he’s tied with the likes of C Sean Monahan, F T.J. Oshie and C Steven Stamkos for most in the NHL.

Facing the tall task of taking down a very complete team are the Blackhawks, who could use two points to hold off three teams trying to move into the top wild card position Chicago currently occupies.

When Chicago is at the top of its game, it’s the toughest team to score against in the division, as the Hawks allow only 2.61 goals against-per-game to rank fourth-best in the NHL. A major reason for that success has been the brilliant play of 11-7-1 Crawford, who has managed a .933 save percentage and 2.21 GAA (both second-best among goaltenders with at least 18 starts) behind a defense that allows a fourth-worst 34.1 shots against-per-game.

Unfortunately for Chicago, it seems unlikely that Crawford will see the ice tonight, as he played to 7-2 victory against the Anaheim Ducks last night at the United Center. Instead, the start will probably go to 1-1-2 G Anton Forsberg, who has earned only a .904 save percentage and 3.81 GAA.

I was surprised to see Crawford given last night’s start, considering the injury-riddled Ducks sport an offense vastly inferior to Nashville’s. Forsberg will need to put up a performance similar to his 40-for-42 (.952 save percentage) showing against the Oilers on October 19 to give the Hawks a chance in this game.

Since the odds of that aren’t exactly likely, the onus falls on Chicago’s eighth-ranked offense to find a way to earn a victory.

Usually this is when most would start talking about F Patrick Kane and C Jonathan Toews – and with good reason. Kane has managed 9-16-25 totals to lead the team, followed by Toews’ 6-10-16 effort for third-most points on the team.

However, it would be highly irresponsible to not highlight rookie F Alex DeBrincat. Having yet to celebrate his 20th birthday, DeBrincat has earned the second-most points for the Blackhawks this season with his 10-7-17 totals and is coming off the game of his life. Yesterday against Anaheim, the youngster had a four-point night that included the first hat trick of his career. Whether or not he can duplicate at least half of that effort tonight could determine the result of this contest.

If Vegas (the bettors, not the Golden Knights) is right, the Predators should be in line for a win tonight, as they’re favored at a -160 money line by most bookies. I’m siding with the bookies on this one since I believe Head Coach Joel Quenneville made a mistake in playing Crawford last night against the Ducks. The Predators’ offense should feast on A. Forsberg tonight.


In a game chock-full of momentum swings, the Pittsburgh Penguins emerged from overtime at PPG Paints Arena victorious over the Philadelphia Flyers 5-4 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

All in all, the game started calmly enough with only one goal struck in the first period. First Star of the Game F Jake Guentzel (D Justin Schultz and G Matthew Murray) is the guilty party, as his snap shot with 3:57 remaining before the first intermission gave Pittsburgh the lead.

It was in the second period when all heck broke loose, which played right into the hands of the Flyers. For starters, both D Brian Dumoulin and D Olli Maatta earned seats in the penalty box to allow D Shayne Gostisbehere (F Nolan Patrick and F Claude Giroux) to score a five-on-three power play slap shot 3:40 into the frame. Philadelphia then took the lead with 4:55 remaining in the second period courtesy of a F Travis Konecny (D Brandon Manning and Third Star W Michael Raffl) tip-in.

The next major play took place only 34 seconds after Konecny’s goal, but it won’t show up on the score sheet. RW Jakub Voracek blew an edge and crashed into Murray with, according to Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, his skates directed towards the netminder’s midsection. Whatever the injury was, it forced G Tristan Jarry to enter the game, who proceed to allow C Sean Couturier (D Ivan Provorov and Giroux) to set the score at 3-1 with 32 seconds remaining before the second intermission.

It seems power play goals are the way to steal momentum, because that’s exactly how RW Patric Hornqvist (Guentzel and Second Star C Sidney Crosby) pulled Pittsburgh back within a goal 67 seconds into the third period. The Penguins completed their comeback 39 seconds later courtesy of a W Bryan Rust wrist shot.

Courtesy of an unassisted backhanded shot by Raffl, Philly reclaimed a one-goal lead with 3:41 remaining in regulation to put the pressure on the hosts, but the Pens were up to the task. Guentzel (Schultz and Crosby) leveled the game at four-all with 64 seconds remaining before the final horn to force three-on-three overtime.

The overtime period lasted only 1:48 before Crosby (D Kris Letang and RW Phil Kessel) top-shelfed a redirection to win the game. Following Kessel returning the puck to the point while the Penguins were still on a four-on-three power play, Letang blasted a clapper intentionally wide of the goal to Crosby, who was waiting near the right post, at the same time the door opened to allow Voracek back onto the ice. The captain angled his stick just right to elevate the shot over G Brian Elliott and into the top of the netting.

Jarry earned the victory after saving eight-of-10 shots faced (.8 save percentage) in place of Murray, who saved 20-of-22 (.909) before exiting the game. Elliott, DtFR’s honorary Fourth Star, takes the overtime loss after saving 47-of-52 (.904).

Don’t all look at once, but home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are now riding a three-game winning streak. That elevates the hosts’ record to 30-19-6, which is 11 points better than the visitors’.

November 15 – Day 43 – Heading in opposite directions

We’re halfway through the month of November and only a week away from American Thanksgiving, an important benchmark in the NHL for separating the men from the boys in terms of probable playoff teams. Though it wouldn’t seem it with over four months of play remaining, this is a pivotal week.

Calgary makes its yearly visit to Detroit (SN/TVAS) to get this stretch started at 7:30 p.m., followed half an hour later by the New York Rangers at Chicago (NBCSN). Finally, this evening’s nightcap of Boston at Anaheim (SN360) will drop the puck at 10 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

All three games should be very competitive, as they are being contested by opponents separated by only two points or less in the league table. That being said, there’s going to be no game more exciting than the one between Original Six clubs taking place in the Windy City.

 

I apparently really like these Central vs. Metropolitan matchups, because this is the fourth game we’ve featured between these two divisions in the last five days.

9-7-2 New York’s wild ride through the month of November continues since the last time it was featured in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Starting with Halloween night against the Golden Knights, the Rangers have yet to drop a point in any of their past six contests, including tilts against Tampa Bay (you know, the best team in the NHL) and Columbus.

In fact, the Blueshirts have played so well they’ve converted their goal-differential, which was once an ugly -10 on October 23, into a positive number for the first time this season. And with that success, the Rangers find themselves in a tie with their crosstown rivals for eighth-place in the Eastern Conference.

This may seem elementary, but the best way to improve a goal differential – and by default, win – usually involves burying some goals. Offense has been all the rage at Madison Square Garden lately, as the Rangers have scored a league-high 26 goals since October 31, averaging 4.33 per game.

In the league-wide list of top-10 point earners since Halloween, there is only one defenseman listed: Kevin Shattenkirk. Managing 3-5-8 totals in his past six games, the New Rochelle, N.Y. native and first-year Ranger has been a major driver in this surge. Of note, half his points – both for the season and during this run – have come on the power play (an effort the Rangers rank third-best for the season with a 25.8 percent conversion rate), indicating his impact in all situations.

Not to be overshadowed too much, top-line C Mika Zibanejad has also earned eight points over this stretch, but he’s been earning his pay more as a play-maker than a goalscorer, as he’s buried only one goal in this stretch. His favorite player to assist of late has been sophomore W Pavel Buchnevich, who has scored four goals in six games – an effort eclipsed only by fourth-liner W Michael Grabner.

It’s also been a tale of two months for the 8-8-2 Blackhawks, but they’re not exactly as happy with the change as the Blueshirts. Going back to October 24’s 4-2 loss in Vegas, Chicago is an uninspiring 3-6-0. That includes losses to the Avalanche, Canadiens and Flyers, who among them have a combined 24-24-5 record and a -15 goal-differential.

What should be truly concerning for the Blackhawks is their record in meaningful games since April 1 of last season. They went 0-2-2 to finish out the 2016-’17 regular season campaign, followed by an 0-3-1 performance in the playoffs. Add that in with this year’s record and Chicago has gone 8-13-5 in its last 26 competitive matches.

If this is an April Fools’ Day joke, it should go down in the Guinness World Records as the longest and most convoluted, because this Hawks team should be in much better position than 11th in the Western Conference.

After all, the Hawks boast players such as F Patrick Kane (winner of 2016’s Hart, Lindsay and Ross Trophies), D Duncan Keith (a two-time Norris Trophy winner) and C Jonathan Toews (the 2013 Selke Trophy winner), all of whom have thrice hoisted the Stanley Cup.

What’s most frustrating is that the Hawks aren’t really doing anything wrong statistically. Sure, the offense’s 2.94 goals-per-game for the season could technically be better (it’s only [t]13th-best in the league, after all), but allowing a (t)ninth-fewest 2.72 goals against-per-game should be more than enough to keep Chicago competitive.

Of course, season averages have a way of camouflaging recent momentum – or lack thereof. Since October 24, the Blackhawks have scored only 21 goals, tying Detroit for sixth-fewest in that stretch.

Perhaps the most telling point about this squad during this nine-game stretch is that W Alex DeBrincat, a rookie on the third line, is leading the attack with his 5-2-7 totals (6-5-11 for the season), followed close behind by F Artem Anisimov‘s – a player that’s never scored more than 45 points in a season – 5-1-6 effort. Not Kane; not Toews; heck, not even W Brandon Saad.

DeBrincat and Anisimov.

Head Coach Joel Quenneville will never complain about depth scoring. Depth scoring is one of the top things that separates the best teams in this league from pretenders. But you can’t have depth scorers without stars like Kane and Toews doing their jobs as the primary forwards. Until they rediscover their groove, Chicago will continue to struggle.

It’s with that in mind that I’m forced to favor the Rangers in this contest. Though I’m sure G Corey Crawford – who’s having a Vezina-caliber season so far – will prove a solid test against New York’s red-hot offense, I don’t think the Blackhawks’ offense will be able to break through G Henrik Lundqvist and his defense.


A combined seven goals were struck in the second period of yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, but the Nashville Predators weathered the storm to beat the Washington Capitals 6-3 at Bridgestone Arena.

Though the middle act of this three-ring circus was the wildest, the first period still provided some excitement for the home fans when F Craig Smith (First Star of the Game LW Kevin Fiala and D Anthony Bitetto) scored a tip-in with 8:12 remaining before the first intermission. 5:55 later, Third Star C Nick Bonino (D Roman Josi and F Calle Jarnkrok) doubled the Preds’ advantage to 2-0.

It took only 6:28 of play in the second period for the Caps to level the game. Aided by Jarnkrok earning a seat in the penalty box for hooking him 45 seconds earlier, F T.J. Oshie (D John Carlson and F Evgeny Kuznetsov) scored Washington’s first goal of the night at the 4:29 mark with a power play tip-in. 1:59 later, RW Alex Chiasson (W Brett Connolly and Carlson) tied the game at two-all with a slap shot. That tie lasted exactly 17 seconds before F Filip Forsberg buried an unassisted wrist shot to reclaim a lead for Nashville.

Scoring subsided for almost two-and-a-half minutes before Fiala (Second Star D Mattias Ekholm) decided to get things ramped back up with a tip-in that proved to be the game-winner at the 9:04 mark to set the score at 4-2, but his tally was quickly answered by Oshie’s (F Chandler Stephenson and C Nicklas Backstrom) wrister 17 seconds later to pull Washington back within a 4-3 deficit.

Now that we’ve reached the midway point of the frame, let’s take a second and recap: five goals have already been scored in this second period! There’s still 10 more minutes to play! Meanwhile, the last three teams to face Wild G Devan Dubnyk have not been able to score even one goal against him.

Hockey is a fickle game.

Anyways, only two more goals were struck in the period, and they both belonged to the Preds. W Miikka Salomaki (C Colton Sissons and D Matt Irwin) scored his second goal of the season with 5:54 remaining in the frame, and Ekholm (C Kyle Turris and Sissons) finished the period off with a power play clapper two minutes before the second intermission.

It seems both teams used up all their offense in the second period, because not a single goal was struck in the third period. That left G Pekka Rinne with the victory after saving 26-of-29 shots faced (.897 save percentage) and G Braden Holtby, who saved 19-of-25 (.76), with the loss. Holtby was lifted for G Philipp Grubauer at the start of the third period, and he saved all six shots he faced.

Nashville’s victory is the second-straight by the home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series. With their record now improved to 22-16-5, hosts now own a four-point advantage over the roadies.

November 12 – Day 40 – Battle of California

It’s amazing to think this is already the 40th day of NHL action. It feels like the Toronto-Winnipeg game to start the season was just a week or two ago.

While I figure out where the days have gone, take a look at today’s four-game schedule. The action begins – as it does most nights – at 7 p.m. as two contests (New Jersey at Chicago and Edmonton at Washington [NHLN/SN/TVAS]) drop the puck, followed by Tampa Bay at Anaheim an hour later. Finally, San Jose at Los Angeles finds its start at 10:30 p.m. to close out the evening’s festivities. All times Eastern.

There’s few things that get me as excited as a good rivalry game, and that’s especially true when it’s the only game featuring two teams in the top-half of the league, so it looks like we’re headed for the Staples Center for the second time in  four days.

 

 

 

 

 

In the same strain as the rivalries between the 49ers and Rams, the Chargers and Raiders, the Dodgers and Giants and the Earthquakes and Galaxy, the animosity between these clubs began by simply being linked geographically – but it has blossomed into something even fiercer over time.

One of the best fertilizers in growing a rivalry is playoff series, and these teams have met up four times in the past seven postseasons. Even though San Jose has gone 14-11 in the playoffs against the Kings, they have each won two series apiece against one another.

Go figure.

The most recent of those playoff meetings was in the First Round of the 2016 Western Conference Playoffs, and the Sharks showed absolutely no mercy. On the back of an eight-point performance by D Brent Burns and five goals from F Joe Pavelski, San Jose cruised to a 4-1 series victory en route to its first-ever appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Of course, that success against the Kings shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise considering how the regular season series played out: the Sharks won three of their five meetings against Los Angeles that season to snap a three-year streak of the Kings winning the season series, and has since built on that success by also winning last season’s Battle of California.

Unfortunately for San Jose, its quest for a three-peat in the series did not start as planned, as C Anze Kopitar‘s 2-1-3 night led the Kings to a 4-1 victory over the Sharks at the SAP Center on October 7.

If the 9-6-0 Sharks want to get back on track and earn their first win of the season against the Kings, they’ll need to get back to playing the elite defense that they’ve been known for this year. San Jose is home to the best goals against-per-game in the NHL, allowing only 2.33 tallies.

7-4-0 G Martin Jones certainly deserves some credit, as his .922 save percentage and 2.24 GAA is certainly nothing to scoff at and has easily earned him recognition as a top-10 goaltender so far. Then again, it’s not too hard to be a good netminder behind a defense that allows only 28.9 shots against-per-game, the second-best in the NHL. Whether it’s the nasty, physical effort of D Brenden Dillon – who averages 3.2 hits-per-game – or D Justin Braun and his 2.3 blocks-per-game, San Jose has held 10 of its 15 opponents to two goals or less.

Of note for the Sharks is their 5-0 victory last night against the Canucks. In addition to proving my point about their defense, it’s also important to acknowledge that 2-2-0 G Aaron Dell was in net, meaning that Jones will be rested and ready for the Kings.

If any team is going to be afraid of the Sharks’ defense, it’s definitely not the 11-3-2 Kings, because they also have an elite weapon in their defensive zone that has led them to a (t)second-best 2.44 goals against-per-game.

That weapon’s name is G Jonathan Quick, who has managed an incredible .932 save percentage and 2.29 GAA en route to a 9-3-1 record. Only G Corey Crawford has a superior save percentage than Quick, and it doesn’t look like American is slowing down anytime soon. Considering the Sharks manage only 2.73 goals-per-game, scoring is going to be at a premium anytime Quick is involved.

The Sharks played yesterday, but the fact that they saved Jones for this game speaks loudly about how seriously they take this matchup. This should be an excellent defensive contest that ends in two points for the home team and its seventh-ranked offense.


Though they needed a shootout, the Nashville Predators have finally exacted revenge against the Pittsburgh Penguins for defeating them in the Stanley Cup Finals by beating them 5-4 at Bridgestone Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day

One of the major events of the first period was W Conor Sheary getting caught holding D Matt Irwin‘s stick to earn two minutes in the penalty box, but it was not the Predators that took advantage of the odd-man advantage. Instead, W Bryan Rust (D Kris Letang) scored a shorthanded wrist shot with 8:02 remaining before the first intermission for the lone goal of the frame.

Almost all of Nashville’s offense was struck in the second period, as it scored three of its four regulation goals in the span of 3:28. The first belonged to First Star of the Game C Kyle Turris (W Miikka Salomaki), who buried a snap shot 2:01 into the frame to level the game at one-all. D P.K. Subban (Third Star F Filip Forsberg and W Viktor Arvidsson) followed that up 1:51 later with a power play slap shot, and Second Star F Craig Smith (Forsberg and F Ryan Johansen) potted a power play goal of his own at the 5:29 mark to give the Preds a 3-1 advantage.

The period didn’t entirely favor the Preds though. RW Phil Kessel (F Evgeni Malkin and Letang) pulled the Penguins back within a goal with 7:33 remaining in the second frame with a solid wrister.

Thanks to F Jake Guentzel‘s (D Justin Schultz) backhanded shot 2:27 into the third period, Pittsburgh tied the game at 3-3, but that score didn’t last long. Only 2:19 after Guentzel’s goal hit the scoreboard, C Calle Jarnkrok (Turris and Smith) returned a 4-3 lead to the Predators. The final goal of regulation belonged to D Brian Dumoulin (Sheary and Kessel), a snapper struck 7:43 into the third frame to once again tie the game.

Since neither side could find a tie-breaking goal in three-on-three overtime (even though Nashville had a 21 second power play due to Malkin tripping D Roman Josi), this tilt required the shootout to declare a winner.

  • Head Coach Peter Laviolette decided to give Turris, the Predators’ first goal scorer of the night, the opportunity to open the shootout. Turris proceeded to rip a shot over the crossbar.
  • Fresh off a seat in the penalty box, Malkin was Head Coach Mike Sullivan‘s first choice for Pittsburgh. The Russian performed slightly better than Turris since his wrister was at least on frame, but G Pekka Rinne was there to make the save.
  • Thank goodness for W Kevin Fiala, the Predators’ second shooter. He opened up the tiebreaker scoring by beating G Tristan Jarry with some slick stick handling.
  • Never one to be shown up (even though he didn’t register much more than five shots on goal in 22:39 of play), C Sidney Crosby matched Fiala’s goal with one of his own to level the shootout.
  • Nashville’s third – and ultimately final – shooter proved to be Forsberg. The forward made perfect use of his second shootout opportunity of the season to score his second shootout goal.
  • Forsberg’s tally set up a miss-and-lose situation for the Pens, so they sent out the obvious choice in this situation: Letang, who completely missed the net with his shot. It seems Kessel was ordering a hot dog at the time… or something.

Rinne earned the victory after saving 26-of-30 shots on goal (.867 save percentage), leaving the shootout loss to Jarry, who saved 24-of-28 (.857) and is still in search of his first NHL win after three starts.

With the Preds’ home victory, hosts in the DtFR Game of the Day series now have a 20-15-5 record that is two points better than the visitors.

November 9 – Day 37 – The best in the business

It’s your favorite day to head to your local rink! It’s Thirsty Thursday! May all of our readers – of legal age, of course – enjoy a responsibly fun-filled night at the game!

Alright, I’ll stop impersonating your dad now.

With seven games on the schedule this evening, there’s a decent selection of NHL action to choose from. Two of those contests (Edmonton at New Jersey and Chicago at Philadelphia [TVAS]) drop the puck at 7 p.m., half an hour before Minnesota at Montréal (RDS/TSN2). 8 p.m. marks the start of Arizona at St. Louis, followed by Detroit at Calgary an hour later. Finally, the West Coast gets involved at 10 p.m. when Vancouver pays a visit to Anaheim, followed 30 minutes later by tonight’s nightcap: Tampa Bay at Los Angeles (SN). All times Eastern.

Before the season started, I had the Lightning’s annual trip to Hollywood circled for the simple fact that G Peter Budaj could be squaring off against the team he started 51 games for last season. Backup Budaj is in fact starting this evening, but it’s because both clubs hold solid early season leads in their divisions that this a must-watch matchup.

 

 

 

 

 

The 12-2-2 Lightning have been the talk of the town since many pundits have pinned them as Stanley Cup favorites, and they haven’t disappointed. In that same strain, they face a tough task this weekend as they tour the Golden State, but the trip is already off to a great start after Tampa beat the Sharks 5-1 in The Tank last night.

Since G Andrei Vasilevskiy earned his 12th victory of the season last night, Budaj is in line for his third start of the season. With only a 0-1-1 record, he’s still looking for his 2016-’17 groove.

Perhaps he’ll find it tonight in the Staples Center, as he hasn’t been the same since departing the Kings organization. Last season in Los Angeles after being called up from the AHL following G Jonathan Quick‘s lower-body injury that had him sidelined for four-and-a-half months, Budaj managed an impressive .917 save percentage and 2.12 GAA to keep the Kings within reach of the playoffs. Though Los Angeles failed to qualify, it was certainly no fault of Budaj’s.

Considering how well Budaj had performed, the Kings elected to “sell high” and trade him to Tampa Bay for G Ben Bishop (now with the Stars) and a 2017 fifth-round pick on February 26, just in time for last season’s trade deadline. In his six starts since then, he’s managed only an .885 save percentage and 3.16 GAA, an effort far inferior to how he performed in La-La-Land.

Though I suppose it’s possible he left his mojo in his Staples Center locker, it’s more likely he’s a goaltender that simply needs regular playing time to maintain his rhythm. Unfortunately for him, he plays behind a 23-year-old netminder that has posted a .928 save percentage and 2.41 GAA to be among the league’s top-10 goalies. Until Vasilevskiy’s performance drops (which isn’t all that likely), Budaj will simply need to adjust to riding the pine more than he’d like unless he’d prefer to earn ice time with another team after being traded, waived or – in a worst-case scenario – in Syracuse.

Of course, all this talk about who’s in goal is borderline ridiculous considering how good Tampa Bay’s offense is. Sure, the Bolts allow a sixth-fewest 2.63 goals against-per-game, but that effort is more than eclipsed by an offense that is the best in the NHL by scoring 3.94 goals-per-game.

There’s no doubt that a large majority of this attack is coming from the Bolts’ top line of Vladislav Namestnikov (7-10-17 totals), Steven Stamkos (7-21-28) and Nikita Kucherov (15-11-26). Tampa has already buried 63 goals this season, and over 46 percent of those tallies have come off the sticks of these three players.

Making Kucherov’s goal total even more impressive is he’s not doing it by peppering his opposing goaltender. Instead he’s being selective with his opportunities, and he’s been rewarded with a 24.2 shooting percentage on 62 attempts that is the best in the NHL among players who have fired the puck at least 40 times.

Before we move on to the Kings, don’t think for a minute that Namestnikov is included on this line simply to feed pucks to Stamkos and Kucherov. He’s just as potent with the puck on his stick, and that was no more apparent than last night when he scored the last two goals of the game.

If any team poses a threat to the Lightning attack, it’s the 11-2-2 Kings. Led by 9-2-1 Quick, Los Angeles has played the best defensive hockey in the NHL by allowing only 2.27 goals against-per-game.

Considering the Kings’ defense allows a 13th-most 32.5 shots against-per-game, almost all of Los Angeles’ success is the result of stellar play by Quick. The 31-year-old has been nearly unbeatable this year in 12 starts, as he’s stopped 93.7 percent of the nearly 400 shots he’s faced this season for a 2.06 GAA. Only Chicago’s G Corey Crawford can claim better numbers in net, but Quick has a superior record – and at the end of the day, those three numbers are the ones that matter most.

Choosing a winner in this game is tough, because even though I’m more than convinced that the Lightning are the superior team, the Kings do have the benefit of having yesterday off and not having to travel from Northern California. That being said, I have faith that Tampa Bay’s defense can find a way to slow down the Kings’ eighth-best offense to extends its winning streak to three games.


With three goals in the first period, the New York Rangers beat the Boston Bruins 4-2 at Madison Square Garden in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

A total of four goals were struck in the first period before an empty second frame. W Pavel Buchnevich (D Ryan McDonagh and W Michael Grabner) got the scoring started 9:53 into the contest with a high-cheese wrist shot, but the Rangers’ lead lasted only 21 seconds before a RW David Pastrnak (Third Star of the Game C Patrice Bergeron and F Anders Bjork) wrister through First Star G Henrik Lundqvist‘s five-hole leveled the game.

It’s remarkable enough that the Blueshirts’ next two goals were struck within 29 seconds of each other, but the fact that they were both scored by Second Star LW Jimmy Vesey is truly extraordinary. Assisted by Buchnevich and C Mika Zibanejad, Vesey buried a wrister with 5:19 remaining in the frame to reclaim the lead for New York.

Vesey’s second goal proved to be the game-winner. The goal-scoring  sequence started when C David Desharnais reset the play from below the goal line to D Kevin Shattenkirk at the top of the right face-off circle. Shattenkirk slung his wrister just wide of the net, but Vesey was able to clean up the mess and beat G Tuukka Rask‘s left skate to the near post.

Though they fired 13 shots at Lundqvist in the second period, the Bruins could not make a dent in New York’s Vesey’s two-goal lead. Instead, Boston couldn’t find its second goal until the 6:44 mark of the final frame when Bergeron (Pastrnak and D Torey Krug) scored a wrister. The Bruins continued to apply the pressure for the remainder of frame by duplicating their second period 13-shot attack, but they couldn’t sneak another goal past King Henrik. They eventually had to pull Rask for an extra attacker, and that’s when W Rick Nash (McDonagh) registered the final goal of the game with eight seconds before the final horn.

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

The Rangers’ home victory snaps a two-game winning streak by road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. As such, hosts in the series now have a 19-14-4 record that is four points better than the visitors’.