As usual, you’d better have your remote ready for tonight’s onslaught of games, because there’s a bunch of good ones. As usual, the action starts at 7 p.m. with four games (the New York Islanders at Boston [SN], Nashville at New Jersey, the New York Rangers at Pittsburgh and Los Angeles at Columbus), followed half an hour later by another trio of contests (Anaheim at Montréal [RDS], Detroit at Tampa Bay [TVAS] and Buffalo at Florida). Colorado at Minnesota drops the puck at the top of the hour, and a pair of games (Ottawa at Chicago [RDS2] and St. Louis at Dallas) wait until 8:30 p.m. Winnipeg at Vancouver gets the West Coast involved at 10 p.m., with our nightcap – Calgary at San Jose – waiting 30 minutes before getting underway.
- New York at Boston: Dennis Seidenberg called the TD Garden home for seven seasons, but he’s gotten a new start in Brooklyn.
- New York at Pittsburgh: An important duel in the Metropolitan Division is also a rematch of last season’s Eastern Quarterfinals.
- Detroit at Tampa Bay: Another Eastern Quarterfinals rematch, but last season’s success is still eluding both these clubs.
- Buffalo at Florida: Dmitry Kulikov is in the same homecoming boat as Seidenberg. He returns to his old stomping grounds of seven years with his new club.
- St. Louis at Dallas: Yet another rematch, but this matchup occurred in the Western Semifinals.
I’m torn between featuring Kulikov or Seidenberg, as both spent considerable portions of their careers in the building they’ll be playing in this evening. Since the game in the Sunshine State will probably be much more competitive, we’ll focus on Kulikov.
With the 14th-overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, the Florida Panthers selected Dmitry Kulikov from Drummondville in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
That was the last the Voltigeurs saw of the defenseman, as he signed a contract with the Panthers the following September to begin play in the NHL only a month later.
Barring the 2012-13 lockout season, Kulikov has played at least 58 games in each of the remaining six seasons of his career. While he’s been unable to fully maintain his scoring reputation from his junior days (his 138 points are 75th-most among the 603 defensemen to appear in a game since he’s joined the league), he’s still been very effective for his club as the second-highest points earner among Panthers blueliners.
Leading that group of defensemen from 2009-’16 was Brian Campbell, whose 175 points were 37 more than the Russian’s in 84 fewer games (he joined Florida before the 2011-’12 season). Both skaters notched 28 goals during their tenure with the Panthers.
Kulikov began making his way to the KeyBank Center during this season’s draft. He and Vancouver‘s second round pick that was in the Panthers‘ possession was exchanged with Buffalo for Mark Pysyk, Buffalo‘s second round pick and St. Louis‘ third round pick then in possession of the Sabres.
It’s proven to be a tough transition for Kulikov. He has yet to even notch an assist this season, much less a goal, due in part to injuring his back during the preseason. He played 12 games before taking a leave of absence that left him out of the lineup for a month. Tonight’s game is only his fifth contest back in the lineup, and he’ll certainly want to score on the team that didn’t value him enough to keep him off the trading block.
The Sabres enter tonight’s game with a 12-11-7 record to sit in last place in the Atlantic Division. They’ve gotten in that position by playing some very poor offense that has scored only 65 goals – tying with Colorado for fewest in the NHL.
Hurling insults at the Sabres offense is a difficult thing to do given Jack Eichel was injured for nearly two months. That being said, the offense did not gel without him and has put the Sabres in a tough spot to start the season. Kyle Okposo, with his 22 points to lead the team, and Rasmus Ristolainen effectively carried the team on their backs, as they are the only two skaters with more than 18 points to their credit. Okposo especially deserves credit, as his nine tallies are the most on the team.
One part of Buffalo‘s game where they did not suffer during Eichel’s absence was their man-advantage. Led by Okposo and Ristolainen’s dozen power play points, the Sabres have converted 22.9% of their advantageous opportunities, the third-best rate in the league.
As good as the power play has been, the penalty kill has been the reverse. Even with Josh Gorges‘ 14 shorthanded shot blocks (which ties him for 22nd-most in the league), the Sabres have prevented their opposition from scoring only 73.6% of the time, the worst effort in the league.
Playing host this evening are the 14-13-5 Panthers, the fifth-best team in the Atlantic Division. Just like Buffalo, their struggles are found on the offensive end of the ice, where their 75 total goals are sixth-fewest in the NHL.
The similarities between tonight’s clubs continue. Just like the Sabres, Florida has two players who have stood out among a mediocre offense. Aleksander Barkov (22) and Jon Marchessault (20) are the only two players with more than 17 points to their credit so far this season. Marchessault has been especially impressive, as his 10 goals are also the best on the squad.
The power play has really suffered during this season’s scoring slump. Florida has only potted 14.8% of their man-advantage opportunities, the seventh-worst rate in the NHL. Marchessault has been active in this situation too. His seven power play points are most on the team.
Before we go any further, there’s one more matter we need to address: Marchessault, as great has he’s been, is currently listed on the Panthers’ injury report. He’s missed the last two games with a lower body injury, and hasn’t played since last Tuesday in Minnesota.
If anything has gone right for Florida, it’s been their defense – specifically their penalty kill. Successful on 86% of attempts, the Panthers are the fifth-best team when down a man, led by Michael Matheson‘s seven shorthanded blocks.
These squads have already met up once this season at the KeyBank Center. It was a very successful night for the Sabres, as they kept the Panthers off the board, compliments of Anders Nilsson, en route to a 3-0 victory. Johan Larsson‘s first goal of the season was the winner.
Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Buffalo‘s Nilsson (.933 save percentage [sixth-best in the league]) and Florida‘s Barkov (15 assists among 22 points [both lead the team]).
Florida has a -150 next to their name, which is bad news for the Sabres. It’s tough not to side with the Panthers given the fact that they’re at home. Regardless of who wins, you can certainly assume it will be a low-scoring affair.
- Cory Stillman (1973-) – The sixth-overall pick in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft by Calgary, this left wing played 1025 games over 16 seasons. He spent most of his days with the club that drafted him but won a Stanley Cup with both Tampa Bay (2004) and Carolina (2006).
- Andrei Markov (1978-) – This defenseman was selected by Montréal in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, and he’s played with the Canadiens ever since. Tonight could mark his 960th career game, provided his lower body injury sustained Sunday in Washington isn’t too severe.
It took a two-goal third period for the Ducks to knock-off the Maple Leafs, winning 3-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
It took 27:27 before Third Star of the Game Auston Matthews (Nikita Zaitsev and Zach Hyman) scored a tip-in goal to give Toronto a 1-0 advantage, but Anaheim was able to level with 1:59 remaining in the frame. Ryan Getzlaf‘s (Sami Vatanen and First Star Cam Fowler) snapper was aided by the fact that Zaitsev was serving two minutes in the penalty box for roughing.
The Ducks when right back to work upon returning from the second intermission. 1:21 after taking the ice for the third period, Nick Ritchie (Ondrej Kase) fired a wrister to give Anaheim a 2-1 lead. It lasted 10:21 before Nazem Kadri (Matt Hunwick) scored a wrister of his own to once again level the contest. With 6:52 remaining in regulation, Fowler (Ryan Kesler) buried a power play snapper to give the Ducks a 3-2 lead they would not yield.
Anaheim’s victory pulls the road teams within five points of the hosts in the DtFR Game of the Day series, who have a 37-23-11 record.
With two successful shootout goals, the Flyers held home ice to beat Washington 2-1 in yesterday’s Game of the Day.
The first two periods were just like I like them – scoreless. It wasn’t until 41:28 had ticked off the clock that Alex Ovechkin connected on a power play snap shot, assisted by Evgeny Kuznetsov (his 54th helper of the season) and Justin Williams. With 5:28 remaining in regulation, Brayedn Schenn leveled the game for the Flyers, assisted by Claude Giroux (his 43rd helper of the season) and Wayne Simmonds. Neither side could find the net again during the remaining time, nor the five minutes of overtime, sending us to a shootout.
Washington got to shoot first, but T.J. Oshie’s attempt was denied by Third Star of the Game Steve Mason. Nick Cousins was up next, and scored on a backhander. Kuznetsov danced around a bit before getting almost all the way to the goal line and tried to bang one off the far post, but Mason make a quick glove save to end that attempt. Second Star Sam Gagner gets the unofficial game winner, going five hole on First Star Braden Holtby to secure the bonus point.
Mason earns the win after saving 29 of the 30 shots he faced (96.7%), while Holtby take the shootout loss, saving 33 of 34 (97.1%).
With the third straight home win, the DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 77-43-18, favoring the home sides by 37 points over the roadies.
This Thursday, we have 10 games on tap for you to choose from. 40% of them drop the puck at 7 p.m. eastern (Toronto at Buffalo [BELL TV], Columbus at the New York Islanders, Nashville at Pittsburgh [NHLN/TVAS] and the New York Rangers at Carolina), followed half an hour later by two more (Montréal at Tampa Bay [RDS] and New Jersey at Florida). Ottawa at Minnesota [RDS2] starts at 8 p.m. eastern, with Arizona at Dallas trailing 30 minutes later. Finally, our co-nightcaps drop the puck at 10:30 p.m. eastern (Calgary at Los Angeles and Vancouver at San Jose).
Over half of tonight’s games are divisional rivalries (Toronto at Buffalo, Columbus at New York, New York at Carolina, Montréal at Tampa Bay, Calgary at Los Angeles and Vancouver at San Jose), but only Nashville at Pittsburgh is between playoff qualifiers. Also, the Montréal–Tampa Bay game is a rematch of one of last season’s Eastern Semifinals.
The game that stands out the most this evening actually has nothing to do with the standings, but everything to do with the return of a beloved player.
Tonight’s game will be New York‘s 22nd in the Game of the Day series, where they own a 11-7-3 record, with their most recent being Sunday’s home 3-2 overtime loss to the Penguins. Carolina has been featured four times before this game, and own a 1-1-2 record in such contests, with their most recent being February 23’s 3-1 home victory over the Flyers.
Drafted by the Hurricanes second overall in the 2003 Entry Draft, Eric Staal has only recently joined the second team of his career at this season’s trade deadline.
Over 12 years in Carolina, Staal played 909 games, scoring 322 goals and adding 453 assists for 775 points.
No doubt the best year to be a Cane was during the 2005-’06 season when they won the Stanley Cup. During that playoff run, Staal scored nine goals (tied for second most on the club) and 19 assists (led the team) for 28 points, the most for Carolina. Arguably his most important goal was his only game winner of the postseason, an overtime power play tally, his first his playoff career, that saved the Canes from going down three games to none in Montréal. With that new found momentum, Carolina won the next three games following to win that series 4-2 and eventually hoist the Cup.
That success wasn’t isolated to the playoffs though, as he scored 45 goals during the regular season, as well as 55 assists, for 100 points flat, all categories he led (ok, tied for the lead in assists with Cory Stillman) for his club. Those sophomore numbers have also been the peak of his career, which he achieved with cool 16.1% shooting rate.
Before joining the Rangers this February, he notched 23 assists, a total that still ranks fourth most on the team this season. His production has improved since making the move to Manhattan, as he already has three goals and two assists to his credit after only 14 games played.
The 43-24-9 New York Rangers sit in second place in the Metropolitan Division as well as the Eastern Conference. To get there, they’ve played solid offense backed by the 12th best defense.
Even with Derek Stepan’s 176 shots, New York has fired the puck only 2158 times, but 10% have found the back of the net for 219 goals (led by Derick Brassard’s 27 tallies), the fifth best offense in the NHL. The Rangers prefer to keep things even-steven, as their power play, successful on 19.32% of their attempts for 40 extra man goals (led by Brassard’s eight power play tallies) ranks only 12th best in the league.
Even with Dan Girardi’s 187 blocks, the Blueshirts have allowed 2303 shots to reach 33-19-7 Henrik Lundqvist and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 92% for 199 goals against, the 12th fewest in the league. If you thought New York was concerned about their power play, you haven’t seen the other side of their special teams. Madison Square Garden is the home of the fourth worst penalty kill in the league, neutralizing only 77.93% of their infractions for 49 power play goals against.
The Rangers last played Sunday when they fell to the Pens, which ended their winning streak at three. A win is very important for New York, as they are still very much competing with Pittsburgh for second in the division and home ice for the first round of the playoffs.
The 33-28-16 Carolina Hurricanes are seventh in the Metropolitan Division and 11th in the Eastern Conference. The Canes play the 15th worst defense, paired with the fifth worst offense.
Led by Ron Hainsey’s 118 blocks, Carolina has allowed only 2112 shots to reach 21-16-10 Cam Ward and co., of which they’ve collectively saved only 90.8% for 208 shots against, the 15th most in the league. The worst part about that stat is that most of those goals come at even strength, as the Hurricanes‘ 84.38% kill rate that has allowed only 30 power play goals against ranks fifth best in the entire league.
Led by Jeff Skinner’s 239 shots, the Canes have fired the puck 2312 times, with 8% finding the back of the net for 187 goals (led by Skinner’s 26 tallies), the fifth fewest in the league. A major contributor to that issue is certainly their power play, which ranks eighth worst after finding success on only 16.67% of attempts for 38 goals (led by Justin Faulk’s 12 power play tallies).
Carolina last played Tuesday to a 2-1 shootout loss in Brooklyn. The Canes are technically still alive for the playoffs, but trail the Flyers by seven points with only five games remaining.
New York has already won the season series against the Hurricanes, but would like to complete the season sweep with a fourth win this evening in Raleigh.
Some players to keep an eye on include Carolina‘s Skinner (26 goals, 22 of which were at even strength and seven were game winners, for 47 points on 239 shots [all lead the team]) and Jordan Staal (+6, 20 even strength assists, two shorthanded assists and 156 hits [all lead the team]) & New York‘s Lundqvist (33 wins [tied for sixth most in the league], four shutouts [tied for seventh most in the league] and .922 save percentage [eighth best in the league]) and Ryan McDonagh (+27 [tied for fifth best in the league]).
There’s no doubt in my mind that New York, especially with the help of their offense, will win this game. That being said, they will get cheered at least once by the Hurricane faithful when the 12-year Carolina alumnus takes the ice.