Tag Archives: Couture

December 14 – Day 71 – No sushi here

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

We’ll take his word at it.

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

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

December 4 – Day 61 – They’re currently in line for the postseason, but…

For the second day in a row, the NHL has scheduled only four games in a row. While a limited schedule makes it easier to keep an eye on everything, it does make it a slow night for our fantasy teams, doesn’t it?

What’s really nice about tonight’s slate is that all four games have a different starting time, which should hopefully ensure that there’s at least one contest being actively played from 7 p.m. – when San Jose makes its yearly visit to Washington (NHLN) – until Philadelphia at Calgary, which drops the puck at 9 p.m., wraps up around midnight. Starting between those games are the New York Islanders at Florida at 7:30 p.m., followed by Boston at Nashville (SN/TVAS) half an hour later. All times Eastern.

The only game I had circled on my calendar since the start of the season is taking place in the Saddledome, as G Brian Elliott is making his return to Calgary – his home for the 2016-’17 season – but I can’t say that matchup gets me all that excited. Instead, I think we need to wander towards The Capital of the Free World.

 

Though both these clubs currently occupy playoff positions, I wouldn’t go so far as to assume they are two of the top 16 teams in the NHL.

I find that especially apparent with tonight’s visitors, the 14-9-2 Sharks. Even though they’re in third place in the Pacific Division, they sport an offense that manages a third-worst 2.56 goals-per-game, putting them in the same conversation as Anaheim, Arizona, Boston, Buffalo, Detroit and Philadelphia in terms of offensive inefficiency – all teams currently sitting on the outside looking in at the tournament for the Stanley Cup if it started today.

Of course, having a winning record with an offense as bad as San Jose’s makes the defense look really, really good. In fact, it’s because the Sharks allow only 2.24 goals against-per-game (second in the NHL) that this team is able to thrive.

A major player in that effort is 10-6-1 G Martin Jones, who has managed a solid .926 season save percentage for a 2.23 GAA to rank sixth and fourth, respectively, in those statistics among the 34 goaltenders with at least 10 starts to their names.

But it’s not simply Jones. The Sharks’ physical defense has also been among the league’s strongest, allowing only 29.7 shots against-per-game to rank second-best in the NHL. Stand-out skaters include D Justin Braun (2.2 blocks-per-game), F Logan Couture (team-leading 27 takeaways) and D Brenden Dillon (2.8 hits-per-game), but it’s the entire team’s commitment to excellence in their own zone that really makes this San Jose team a tough out.

Meanwhile, the best word to explain the 15-11-1 Capitals is “average” (we’ll be generous and not tack on any adverbs). Gone are the days of dominating both ends of the ice, as Washington manages the (t)13th-fewest goals (2.89 per game) while allowing the 12th-most against (3.07 per game).

If anyone is going to take the blame for Washington’s struggles, it’s not going to be its stars. W Alex Ovechkin has been stellar this season with his league leading 19 goals (ok, he’s tied for the with Tampa’s RW Nikita Kucherov), while F Evgeny Kuznetsov has been equally stellar on the second line with his 9-20-29 totals.

14-6-0 G Braden Holtby has also been solid, posting a .919 save percentage for a 2.63 GAA to rank (t)12th and 11th, respectively, among the group of 34 netminders mentioned when we discussed Jones.

Instead, what seems to be holding the club back is simply the absence of yesteryear’s stars, specifically those on the blueline. With the exception of D John Carlson and his stellar 2-18-20 totals, there are no defensemen contributing on the offensive end anymore.

Though D Kevin Shattenkirk has moved on to the Big Apple, I think the major reason for this decline is the departure of D Karl Alzner to Montréal. No, Alzner was never a major offensive threat: he managed only 19-98-117 totals in his nine seasons with the Caps (.2 points per game, 13 per campaign). But it’s the fact that Alzner can dominate the defensive zone almost single-handedly that allowed the offense – and his defensive partner – the freedom and versatility to take chances when they had the puck on offense.

Should the Capitals desire to hold on to their playoff spot, I bet they’ll find a way to bring in another solid defenseman of Alzner’s mold. Until then, the Caps are a living example of what can happen when you overpay too many players.

Apparently below average is enough to get by in the Eastern Conference right now, because Washington currently occupies seventh place in the conference and the second wild card position. That being said, I think Washington’s offense has enough in it to get past the Sharks’ vaunted defense and earn two points tonight.


The Dallas Stars didn’t skip a beat playing in back-to-back DtFR Game of the Days, as they beat the Colorado Avalanche 7-2 at the Pepsi Center.

Though it took him a moment to get going, the first period ended up being dominated by First Star of the Game F Tyler Seguin, who buried an unassisted backhanded shot with 5:16 remaining in the frame, followed 4:26 later (RW Alexander Radulov and Third Star D John Klingberg) by a tip-in to set the score at 2-0 going into the first intermission.

In my preview for this game, I commented on RW Mikko Rantanen scoring fewer goals since making the trip to Stockholm, Sweden. He apparently read the column (thanks for reading, Mikko), as he scored a wrist shot (F Nathan MacKinnon) 39 seconds into the second period to pull Colorado back within a goal.

C Jason Spezza (C Devin Shore and Klingberg) returned the two-goal advantage to the Stars 6:09 later with what proved to be the game-winning tally. For a contest clincher, it was far from an incredible marker, but more a reward for good work in the defensive zone. D Erik Johnson and Shore battled along the boards for a solid five seconds before the center was able to move the puck back to Klingberg in the left corner. When the defenseman returned the pass, Shore was off to the races, screaming up the boards before sliding a centering pass to Spezza, who redirected a the puck through G Jonathan Bernier‘s five-hole.

Another player I brought up in my preview was D Greg Pateryn, though it was for his efforts on the other end of the ice. This evening, he was rewarded for his hard work with his first goal of the season (Radulov and LW Jamie Benn), a slap shot scored at the 7:52 mark of the second period to set the score at 4-1. W Blake Comeau (W Matthew Nieto and F Carl Soderberg) was able to net a wrister with 7:15 remaining in the frame, but it proved to be the Avalanche’s final goal of the night.

Second Star RW Brett Ritchie (LW Curtis McKenzie), Shore and Ritchie (C Radek Faksa and D Esa Lindell) again for a second time provided the Stars’ three insurance goals in the final frame to set the 7-2 final score.

G Kari Lehtonen earned the victory after saving 25-of-27 shots faced (.926 save percentage), leaving the loss to Bernier, who saved five-of-nine (.556). Bernier was replaced by G Semyon Varlamov following Pateryn’s goal, who saved 16-of-18 (.889) for no decision.

Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series seem to be finding their groove again, as they’ve earned points in three-consecutive games. That being said, they’ll need quite a few more wins to catch up with the 34-21-6 hosts, who lead the series by 14 points.

November 20 – Day 48 – Where’s the offense?

We’re only three days away from the all-important American Thanksgiving holiday! Every team (well, maybe not Arizona and Buffalo) will be working to pack as many points into these days as possible, which should make for some exciting action.

Said action is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. with three games (Columbus at Buffalo [SN1], Arizona at Toronto and Calgary at Washington [TVAS]), followed by a pair (Winnipeg at Nashville and New Jersey at Minnesota) an hour later. Finally, tonight’s nightcap featuring Anaheim at San Jose (SN) will drop the puck at 10:30 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

Separated by only a point in the Pacific Division standings, there’s no way we’re missing a rivalry game pitting NorCal against SoCal. Off to the SAP Center with us!

 

Two teams undoubtedly working to maximize their points this week are the 9-7-3 Ducks and the 10-8-0 Sharks, as both are currently on the outside of the top-eight in the Western Conference.

Even though it’s currently riding a two-game winning streak, Anaheim’s offense has left much to be desired this season, as it ranks 11th-worst in the NHL by averaging only 2.84 goals-per-game. Of course, what should we expect from a team that is playing Derek Grant as its top-line center?

Grant is in the position he’s in due to the Ducks’ roster being absolutely devastated by injuries. RW Jared Boll, W Patrick Eaves, C Ryan Getzlaf, W Ondrej Kase and F Ryan Kesler are all on injured reserve, which has thrust immense pressure on F Rickard Rakell and W Corey Perry to keep Head Coach Randy Carlyle‘s machine running as smooth as possible. All things considered, they’ve both performed very well, as Rakell has scored a team-high seven goals (7-9-16 totals), thanks in large part to Perry’s club-leading 11 assists (3-11-14).

They’ve also received decent backup from second-liner F Andrew Cogliano, who provides .58 points-per-game, but it gets harder and harder to find depth scoring when young players like Grant, LW Nick Ritchie, F Kevin Roy and W Logan Shaw are being thrust onto the senior team.

Even though they’re performing with varying degrees of success, the youngsters have managed only 8-13-21 totals in their 57 man games (.37 points-per-game), playing predominantly in the bottom-six positions formerly occupied by those that have been promoted to the top lines. It’s hard to fault them for Anaheim’s struggles, but it’s equally hard to imagine the Ducks having much success until the end of December when Getzlaf and Kesler should be able to return to the ice.

Making a difficult situation even tougher, Anaheim has to square off against a Sharks team that plays defense extremely well, as San Jose leads the league in both shots against (28.2 per game) and goals against (2.28 per game).

Of course, that leaves the Sharks’ offense to blame for them also sitting on the outside of the current playoff picture. Even with the incredible secret weapon named D Brent Burns at their disposal, Head Coach Peter DeBoer’s club has managed only 2.44 goals-per-game, the fourth-worst effort in the NHL.

Unfortunately for San Jose, they don’t have the excuse of a long list of injuries like Anaheim, as it’s only been confirmed that F Joe Pavelski has not been playing at 100 percent. Instead, everyone not named F Logan Couture – who has managed .83 points-per-game –  has simply struggled to start the season.

Probably the best statistic to showcase the Sharks’ lack of rhythm can be found within the leader board for their clubhouse Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy (if this trophy exists, it has to be called the Patrick Marleau Award). With his 10-5-15 totals, Couture is easily leading the race, but W Joonas Donskoi is in second place with only five goals to his name. In fact, only 13 different players have found the back of the net this season for San Jose, only a year removed from 26 different players scoring at least one goal.

One of the most obvious players still looking for his groove is last year’s Norris Trophy winner. After posting career-high 29-47-76 totals last year, Burns has yet to find the back of the net on any of his 75 shots on goal. It has become painfully obvious how important the versatility of Burns is to this team, so the sooner he can find his rhythm, the better the Sharks’ chances of getting into the tournament

Rivalry games have a way of bringing out the best in any team, regardless of how well or how poor it’s been playing lately. That being said, I’m still leaning towards G Martin Jones and the Sharks beating Anaheim since D John Gibson made 50 saves in yesterday’s victory over the Panthers.


After chasing G Jonathan Quick 11:22 into the game, the Vegas Golden Knights beat the Los Angeles Kings 4-2 at T-Mobile Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The reason Quick was pulled shortly after the midway point of the first period is because he allowed Vegas to score three unanswered goals on only nine shots faced (.667 save percentage).

The first of those was struck only 55 seconds into the contest courtesy of a wrist shot by First Star of the Game William Karlsson (Reilly Smith). The Golden Knights’ advantage was doubled to two goals at the 9:21 mark by Second Star Cody Eakin (Brendan Leipsic), followed only 2:01 later by Karlsson’s (Smith) second tally of the night, a wrister that proved to be the game-winner.

This goal was all due to a careless mistake by Quick while he was playing behind his own net. Intending to dish the puck to D Derek Forbort in the right corner, the goaltender fanned on the pass and left it unattended in the trapezoid. Before he could decide whether to repossess the puck or get back to his crease, Smith took control of the situation and centered a pass to Karlsson at the right post, who played it with his right skate to slide it behind his left leg to the blade of his stick and into the net – no matter how hard D Drew Doughty tried to keep the puck from crossing the goal line.

After Quick was replaced by backup G Darcy Kuemper, the Knights did not find the back of the net again while he was in the crease. Solidifying the defensive end was a major boost to the Kings’ morale, because Trevor Lewis (Alex Iafallo) finally got them on the board at the 8:35 mark of the second period.

That positive momentum carried into the third period, and Los Angeles finally sneaked a second goal past Third Star G Maxime Lagace with 8:15 remaining in regulation: a wrister by Tanner Pearson to set the score at 3-2.

Since they were unable to beat Lagace a third time with only five skaters, the Kings pulled Kuemper late in the third period for an extra attacker. It was then, with 62 seconds remaining before the final horn, that Alex Tuch (Eakin) scored the last goal of the game on an empty net to set the 4-2 final score.

Lagace earned the victory after saving 27-of-29 shots faced (.931 save percentage), and Kuemper finished the night saving all 30 shots he faced in 47:23 of play for no decision.

The Golden Knights’ home victory is the third-straight and sixth in the past seven days by hosts in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The homers now have an impressive 26-17-5 record that is 10 points better than the visitors.

October 30 – Day 27 – I Left My Heart in San Francisco

How do we do this Monday thing during the summer without hockey to watch after work? Maybe that’s why so many people take summer vacations.

I suppose that’s a question we’ll solve another day. In the meantime, there’s a total of eight contests on the schedule today, starting with three (Vegas at the New York Islanders, Arizona at Philadelphia and Boston at Columbus [SN]) at the usual 7 p.m. starting time and two more (Montréal at Ottawa [RDS/TSN2] and Tampa Bay at Florida) half an hour later. In a matchup of the top two teams in the Western Conference, Los Angeles visits St. Louis at 8 p.m., followed by Dallas at Vancouver two hours later and tonight’s nightcap – Toronto at San Jose – at 10:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

What a slate of games! Beyond the note associated with the Kings-Blues game, there’s also two rivalry games to be played tonight that should produce some thrilling action.

All that being said, there’s one occurrence that simply cannot be missed this evening: the return of F Patrick Marleau to San Jose.

 

 

 

 

 

Time to take the WABAC Machine to Civic Arena in Pittsburgh, Penn. on June 21, 1997, the location and date of that year’s NHL Entry Draft.

It was here that Marleau’s 19-season tenure with the Sharks began, as the Seattle Thunderbird was selected second-overall by former General Manager Dean Lombardi. It proved to be an excellent match, as Marleau owns many of the Sharks’ franchise records, including games played (1493), goals (508), even-strength goals (331), power play goals (160), short-handed goals (17), game-winning goals (98) and points (1082), among others.

Talk about a career.

Though Marleau’s 2005-’06 season was his best as measured by his career-high 86 points, it’d be hard to argue that his 2009-’10 effort, at 30-years-old, wasn’t his most impressive. It was that season that he scored 44 goals – better than a goal every-other game – in the regular season followed by eight more in the playoffs to lead the Sharks to their second-ever appearance in the Western Conference Finals, where they were swept by Chicago.

Along with other playoff shortcomings, that is the main blemish on Marleau’s impressive career: he’s never hoisted any NHL hardware besides the Campbell Bowl in 2016. His best accolades from the league are his three All-Star Game appearances.

When General Manager Doug Wilson elected not to resign the forward, who turned 38-years-old this September, Marleau made sure to choose a team that could resolve that issue for him, leading him to Toronto.

Though currently third in a stacked Atlantic Division, they sky is the limit for the 7-4-0 Maple Leafs this season, due in large part to their unbelievable offense.

Yes, Atlantic-rival Tampa Bay may prove to be a more complete team in the long run, but it’s hard to beat a team that boasts a league-best 4.09 goals per game.

Of course, what should we expect from an attack headed by C Auston Matthews? The reigning Calder Trophy winner, who posted 40-29-69 totals in his rookie season, is suffering no sophomore slump this year as he’s already scored eight goals for 15 points (both [t]fourth-most in the league).

For those wondering who was selected with the first-overall pick in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft, they need to look no further than the 5-5-0 Sharks’ top-line center. That’s right: Joe Thornton. After being traded from Boston in late November, 2005, the top-two picks of the 1997 draft played on the same team for the next 12 years.

Though it hasn’t exactly been the best of starts for the Sharks this season, they certainly have postseason aspirations of their own, hoping to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs for the third-consecutive campaign.

Even though San Jose still touts offensive weapons of the likes of F Logan Couture and Thornton, the Sharks are at their best when playing a defensive game. Having allowed an average of only 29.8 shots-per-game to reach G Martin Jones (fifth-fewest in the NHL), the Sharks allow only 2.6 goals against-per-game, the seventh-best mark in the league.

That defense is co-led by two of the best defensemen in the NHL: Justin Braun and Brent Burns. Burns’ reputation is certainly cemented in his offensive contributions, but he’s also been very busy along his own blue line by blocking 2.1 shots-per-game and registering nine takeaways already this season (the most of any defenseman). Braun has also been very effective on San Jose’s second D-pair, but with his own style. He prefers to play a very physical game and has registered 3.2 blocks-per-game to go with his 21 blocks in 10 games played.

Marleau should receive an extremely favorable response from devoted Sharks fans before they lend their support to their teal-clad club. Since this game features strength-on-strength, I like the Sharks to win this game due to their offense being better than Toronto’s defense.


The Winnipeg Jets showed no mercy in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 7-1 at Bell MTS Place.

We featured this game on the chance Penguins G Casey DeSmith would earn the first start of his NHL career. Though it was instead G Matthew Murray that started his second game in as many days, DeSmith did eventually earn his first NHL appearance after Murray allowed four goals on nine shots against (.556 save percentage).

Murray didn’t even last an entire period of play, as all four of his goals against were struck in 18:07 of action. First up was C Andrew Copp (F Shawn Matthias and D Toby Enstrom), who buried his first goal of the season only 1:20 into the game.

Assisted by Second Star of the Game C Mark Scheifele and LW Kyle Connor, RW Blake Wheeler buried what proved to be the game-winning goal with 6:02 remaining in the period.

Though the play started in Winnipeg’s defensive zone, it didn’t stay there long thanks to an untimely turnover by D Zach Trotman. Connor was quick to take possession of the loose puck and passed to Scheifele through the neutral zone to set up a two-on-one attack for the Jets. Once D Ian Cole committed to preventing a shot from Scheifele, the center passed to Wheeler in slot, who buried a low wrist shot through Murray’s five-hole.

Wheeler (Matthias and Scheifele) continued applying the pressure 3:46 later, setting the score at 3-0, followed by RW Joel Armia (F Matt Hendricks) burying a wrister with 113 seconds remaining in the first period to chase Murray.

Not to leave DeSmith out from being scored on in the first period, Wheeler (Connor) scored a backhanded shot only 11 seconds after the netminder’s NHL debut to complete his first-frame hat trick. As you might expect, he took home First Star honors for his effort.

Though F Evgeni Malkin (RW Phil Kessel and D Kris Letang) was able to score a power play deflection with 2:58 remaining in the second period, it did little to brighten the Penguins’ spirits – especially since Scheifele (Wheeler and D Dustin Byfuglien) and LW Brendan Lemieux (D Tyler Myers and Armia) were able to score a goal apiece in the third frame to set the 7-1 final score.

Third Star G Connor Hellebuyck earned the victory after saving 31-of-32 shots faced (.969 save percentage), leaving Murray the loss.

Winnipeg’s win was its first in the DtFR Game of the Day series this season and helped the 15-8-4 home teams reclaim an eight-point advantage over the roadies.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round – April 14

For at least the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writer is Connor Keith.

 

New York Rangers at Montréal Canadiens – Game 2

Montréal redeemed itself in in Game 2 by beating the Rangers 4-3 in overtime at the Bell Centre to level their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal at a game apiece.

And none of it would have been possible if not for Third Star of the Game Tomas Plekanec‘s (First Star Alexander Radulov and Alex Galchenyuk) miracle goal with 18 ticks remaining on the clock in regulation. Carey Price had vacated his crease for the extra attacker, but the real advantage occurred when Shea Weber knocked Michael Grabner down along the blue line. That freed up the Galchenyuk to find Radulov in the far corner, who then set up Plekanec on the far post for a quick tip-in.

In similar fashion as far as the clock was concerned, the Canadiens waited to strike until the end of the overtime period was near. Radulov (Max Pacioretty and Weber) earned the first playoff game-winning goal of his career in the scrappiest of ways. Though the Habs captain had fired the initial shot, Second Star Henrik Lundqvist was able to keep that attempt out of his net. He was unable to contain that shot however, leaving the rebound in front of his crease ready for the taking by Radulov, who buried a wrister five hole for the victory.

Speaking of Lundqvist, he stood tall though he faced adversity all night. He knew he was in for a tough game when his stick snapped early in the first period. He was without that important piece of equipment for almost a minute, and Jeff Petry (Phillip Danault and Radulov) was able to take advantage for the opening goal of the game.

In all, the Rangers netminder saved an incredible 54-of-58 shots faced (93.1%). By comparison, Price saved 35-of-38 (92.1%) in his win.

 

Columbus Blue Jackets at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 2

Thanks in large part to another stellar performance by Second Star of the Game Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguins earned a 4-1 victory against the Blue Jackets at PPG Paints Arena to claim a two-game advantage in their Eastern Quarterfinals matchup.

Mike Sullivan is going to have quite the decision on his hands when Matthew Murray is cleared to resume play. Though last year’s Stanley Cup-winning goaltender was expected to command the Pens’ crease throughout the postseason, longtime starter Fleury has saved a combined 70 of 72 shots faced (97.2%) for two-straight victories.

Offensively, no one on the ice was finer than First Star Sidney Crosby. He posted a three-point effort on the night, including the lone tally of the first period.

It was an excellent play that started with Conor Sheary ripping the puck away from Sergei Bobrovsky behind the goaltender’s net. After Bobrovsky had given up on the play to return to his goal line, Sheary passed to Third Star Jake Guentzel (who took credit for the game-winner in the second period), who was waiting on the near side of the crease. Bobrovsky committed to saving a Guentzel shot, so the rookie dished across the crease to Crosby, who powered home an easy wrist shot.

 

 

St. Louis Blues at Minnesota Wild – Game 2

It may not be what many predicted, but the Blues emerged from two games at the Xcel Energy Center with a two-game lead in their Western Conference Quarterfinals matchup against Minnesota thanks to a 2-1 victory.

Both clubs’ defenses were the true stars of this game. Neither Jake Allen (21 saves, 95.5%) nor Devan Dubnyk (22 saves, 91.7%) faced more than 24 shots, and a combined 27 shot blocks were earned between the two teams. The brightest blueliners were Jay Bouwmeester and Colton Parayko, as both rejected three shots apiece from reaching Allen’s crease.

Another blueliner that earned his pay was Joel Edmundson, who seems to be taking over Kevin Shattenkirk‘s former position of two-way defenseman. Assisted by Patrik Berglund and Magnus Paajarvi, he fired a slap shot from the blueline to give the Notes an early lead in the second period.

Zach Parise (Eric Staal and Ryan Suter) made sure St. Louis would not escape the frame with the lead, though. Taking advantage of Alex Steen and Scottie Upshall sitting in the penalty box, Staal collected his own rebound and slid a pass between Allen and a sprawled Bouwmeester to Parise waiting at the top of the crease. The wing elevated his wrist shot bar-down over Allen to level the game at one-all.

With 2:27 remaining in regulation, Jaden Schwartz (Alex Pietrangelo and Kyle Brodziak) provided St. Louis its second tally of the night. The Blues’ captain dished to Schwartz from the red line, who entered the offensive zone slow enough to allow David Perron to screen Dubnyk. Schwartz did not simply use that screen, he used Perron. He fired his wrister five hole… on Perron… to find the back of the net before the Minnesota netminder even knew a shot was fired.

San Jose Sharks at Edmonton Oilers – Game 2

With a 2-0 victory over the Sharks at Rogers Place, Edmonton pulled even at one game apiece in its Western Conference Quarterfinal and earned the celebration it had been waiting 11 years for.

The Oilers scored only four shorthanded goals during the regular season, but both tallies they registered in the victory were on the penalty kill. One of those – the opening goal of the game – belonged to First Star of the Game Zack Kassian. He was the best player on the ice all night, sticking his nose in every play and throwing six hits – including two bone-rattling blows on Logan Couture and Brenden Dillon.

His shorty was a direct result of a Joe Pavelski fumbled puck early in the second period (It was that kind of night for the Sharks. They managed only 16 shots on goal). The wing collected the puck at the Sharks’ blueline, but Pavelski tried to steal it right back.

Unfortunatly for San Jose, his steal landed right on Mark Letestu‘s stick, who returned the puck to the streaking wing for a one-on-one showdown against Martin Jones. Kassian elected to fire a snap shot from between the face-off dots, beating the netminder low for the winner.

The usual star of the Oilers would not be outdone. Just like Kassian, Third Star Connor McDavid registered the first goal of his playoff career in a shorthanded situation. Assisted by Darnell Nurse and Second Star Cam Talbot, he fired a snapper from the far face-off dot after screaming up the boards to beat Jones low.

January 18 – Day 95 – Battle of California

It’s time for some Wednesday hockey! The action begins at 7:30 p.m. with two contests (Arizona at Winnipeg and Pittsburgh at Montréal [RDS/SN1]), with Boston at Detroit (NBCSN/TVAS) waiting until 8 p.m. 9:30 p.m. marks the puck drop of Florida at Edmonton (SN1) and precedes this evening’s nightcap – San Jose at Los Angeles (NBCSN) – by an hour.

Short list:

  • Boston at Detroit: Not only is it an Original Six rivalry, but the Bruins were held out of last season’s playoffs due to losing a tiebreaker to the Wings.
  • San Jose at Los Angeles: This rivalry was made only more intense by the Sharks eliminating the Kings in last season’s Stanley Cup playoffs.

We’ve only made one trip to the Staples Center this season, and that’s just inexcusable. Let’s fix that by featuring the Battle of California tonight.

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We all know the Sharks‘ story last season. They won their first Western Conference title. They were within two games of hoisting one of, if not the most coveted piece of hardware in sports.

But fans – okay, most fans (sorry Angelenos!) – need to remember that according to seeding, San Jose had no business finding that success. The Sharks were the three seed in the Pacific Division, arguably the weakest division in the NHL. But they didn’t care. They blew up the Kings‘ trend of winning even-yeared Cups and cruised to a five-game Western Quarterfinals victory.

Tonight, the Sharks return to the very surface they clinched that series victory on for the third time this season. They’re 1-1-0 in Los Angeles this season, and lead the overall season series against the Kings 2-1-1.

San Jose makes the trip to the City of Angels with a 26-16-2 record, good enough for third-place in the Pacific Division. They’ve found that success by playing a phenomenal combination of defense and goaltending to allow only 102 goals against, the fourth-fewest in the NHL.

Every defensive feature has to start with the goaltender, and 22-14-2 Martin Jones is no slouch. He’s notched a .916 save percentage for a 2.25 GAA, the (t)20th and (t)sixth-best efforts, respectively, in the league among the 41 goalies with 19 or more appearances.

A good GAA paired with a less-than-impressive save percentage is almost always due to a fantastic defense, and San Jose is not exception. Thanks to Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s team-leading 81 blocks, the Sharks have allowed only 27 shots-per-game to reach Jones’ crease, the third-best average in the league.

If the Sharks could improve on one aspect of their game, it would have to be the power play where they rank ninth-worst after converting only 16.5% of their opportunities. Joe Pavelski has been most-responsible for the little success his squad has found with a team-leading 14 power play points, yet it’s been Logan Couture who’s stricken the most fear into opposing goaltenders with his seven man-advantage goals. Unfortunately, he injured his upper body on Monday against the Jets and could miss tonight’s contest. If he does, the “power play striker” role shifts to Brent Burns, who has five extra-man goals to his credit.

Hosting this evening are the 22-18-4 Kings, the fifth-best team in the Pacific Division. Just like their rivals, Los Angeles plays a some phenomenal defense and goaltending to allow only 107 goals, the fifth-fewest in the league.

20-12-3 Peter Budaj continues to do a good job standing in for the injured Jonathan Quick this season, notching a .917 save percentage and 2.09 GAA – the 19th and fifth-best efforts, respectively, among the 44 netminders with 18 or more appearances.

Although Budaj has been good, his bluelines have been better. Led by Alec Martinez‘ 93 shot blocks, the Kings have allowed only 25.8 shots-per-game to reach Budaj’s net, easily the best rate in the NHL.

Unlike San Jose, the Kings‘ defensive success has carried into the penalty kill. Los Angeles refuses to yield a tally after 83.2% of their penalties, the ninth-best effort in the league. Once again, Martinez has been at the core of the blueline’s play with a team-leading 24 shorthanded shot blocks.

Unfortunately, the Kings‘ power play has not been able to maintain the special teams reputation of success. They’ve converted only 16.9% of their opportunities for goals, which ties for 10th-worst in the NHL. Jeff Carter has tried as hard as he can with his team-leading 11 power play points, but only Drew Doughty has joined him in his push. Carter also leads the club in power play goals with seven.

Some players to watch this evening include Los Angeles‘ Budaj (four shutouts [fourth-most in the league] and a 2.09 GAA [sixth-best in the NHL] for 20 wins [eighth-most in the league]) and Carter (23 goals [second-most in the NHL]) & San Jose‘s Burns (45 points [tied for fifth-most in the league]) and Jones (22 wins [tied for fourth-most in the NHL] on a 2.25 GAA [tied for eighth-best in the league]).

I like San Jose to come to Hollywood to earn the victory. It will certainly be a tight, defensive matchup that will only be solved by the superior offense. Compared to the Kings‘ 2.5 goals-scored average, the Sharks average 2.61 goals per game should be enough to earn them the victory.

Hockey Birthday

  • Syl Apps (1915-1998) – This Hall of Fame center played all of his 10 seasons in Toronto. He had a habit of collecting hardware, including three Stanley Cups, the 1937 Calder Trophy and the 1942 Byng Trophy.
  • Mark Messier (1961-) – Drafted 48th-overall in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft by Edmonton, this Hall of Fame forward played in 15 All Star games over his 25 NHL seasons. The longtime Oiler hoisted the Stanley Cup six times, as well as two Hart Trophies, two Pearsons and the 1984 Smythe.
  • Ruslan Fedotenko (1979-) – Even though he went undrafted, this left wing played 863 games over his dozen seasons, most of which in Tampa Bay. The two-time Stanley Cup champion scored 366 points before hanging up his skates the last time.
  • Brian Gionta (1979-) – A third-round pick by New Jersey in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing is in his third season in Buffalo. He was on the 2003 Devils squad that won the Stanley Cup.
  • Alex Pietrangelo (1990-) – The lone non-champion on today’s list, this defenseman was drafted fourth-overall by St. Louis in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. He’s never played a game without the Blue Note on his chest, and was awarded the Blues‘ captaincy in August.

I sure do love a one-goal game, and that’s what we got in Vancouver yesterday for the DtFR Game of the Day as the Canucks beat the visiting Predators 1-0.

That winning tally wasn’t struck until only 7:32 remained in regulation. Second Star of the Game Henrik Sedin (Luca Sbisa and Loui Eriksson) takes credit with a solid wrister to beat Third Star Pekka Rinne.

First Star Ryan Miller earns the shutout victory after turning away all 30 shots he faced, leaving the disappointing loss to Rinne after saving 25-of-26 (96.2%).

The Canucks‘ shutout victory is the first in the DtFR Game of the Day series since the Philadelphia-San Jose game on December 30. Just like in that game, the home team won, improving the hosts’ record to 51-32-14, seven points better than the visitors.

Pittsburgh at San Jose – Game 6 – Penguins hoist the Cup after a 3-1 victory

Pittsburgh Penguins LogoUnknownIf football is any predictor, we should’ve known this series would be exactly this long – the Raiders and Steelers have split their six games when meeting in the AFC playoffs in their historic rivalry, including such occurrences as the Immaculate Reception.  In hockey, we cannot end a playoff series tied, and the Penguins now have a 4-2 postseason record over the Sharks that they used to hoist the Stanley Cup for the fourth time in the franchise’s history.

Perhaps Kris Letang’s goal (by a defenseman no less, not ironic if you’re familiar with the history of both football teams) will be remembered with such accolades as the one listed before and become one of those named plays in Pittsburgh‘s vast sporting lore.  The Second Star of the Game’s slap shot found the back of Third Star Martin Jones’ net at the 7:46 mark of the second period after assists from First Star Sidney Crosby (his 12th helper of the postseason) and Conor Sheary.  A centering pass to Patric Hornqvist went awry, leading to Crosby ending up with the puck on the near side of Jones’ crease.  He took it behind the net and passed to Letang waiting at the far face-off zone to bang it off the netminder for a five-hole goal.

What’s more impressive is that tally was struck only 1:19 after Logan Couture and the Sharks had leveled the score.

For the opening five minutes of the second period, the Sharks were making extremely evident what Coach Peter DeBoer had stressed during intermission, as they led the shot totals five to one.

Those efforts proved fruitful 6:27 after resuming play when Couture scored his 30th point of the postseason (only the fifth player to reach that mark since 1995) with a goal-scoring wrister, assisted by Melker Karlsson and Brent Burns (his 17th helper of the postseason).  Burns had gloved down a clearing attempt by the Penguins just outside San Jose‘s offensive zone.  He passed from the near to far boards along the blue line to Karlsson to enter the zone, who immediately shoved the puck along to the attacking Couture.  Although the scouting report has said to attack Matt Murray’s glove hand, Couture fired for the netminder’s five-hole, banking a shot off his left pad to level the score after a first period goal from Brian Dumoulin.

Dumoulin’s play actually begins 26 seconds before he finds the net when he was tripped by Dainius Zubrus at the 7:50 mark of the first period, causing the first power play of the game.  His ensuing slap shot was assisted by Justin Schultz and Chris Kunitz (his eighth helper of the postseason).  Kunitz passed up the near boards to Schultz at the point, who passed across the blue line to the waiting goal scorer.  The defenseman faked a shot to get Karlsson out of his way before following through with a second attempt that narrowly beat Jones far side.

For the most part, Pittsburgh was in control for most of the final game of the NHL season.

The first period stats that best explain the opening frame (other than Pittsburgh‘s 100% power play success rate) include the Pens‘ 60% face-off win rate and the 16 combined turnovers in favor of the Sharks – 11 giveaways from the Penguins and another five Shark takeaways.

Overall, Pittsburgh controlled the puck, but when San Jose could ascertain possession, they certainly struck fear into Murray and the black-and-gold on a few occasions, but the netminder stood tall to keep the Sharks off the board.

 

Once again the Penguins entered the intermission with a one-goal lead, but the long change in the second period, as its prone to do, has a way of evening things out to not favor either side.  The Sharks actually led the frame’s shot totals (13 to 11, respectively) in addition to continuing their dominance along the boards (18 to 10 for the period and 36 to 22 after two periods), but Pittsburgh continued to own the face-off dot (winning 15 out of 22 face-offs in the frame and 65% for the contest) to hold their own.

Statistics for the final frame are misleading, with the exception of one: blocked shots.  Pittsburgh ended the game with 33 blocks, with quite a few of them occurring in the final 20 minutes.  With the help of those blocks and the threat of others forcing rushed attempts, only two Shark shots reached Murray’s net.

With two minutes remaining in San Jose‘s season, Jones left the ice for a sixth skater.  Hornqvist made the Sharks pay with 62 seconds remaining with a wrister on the empty net after an assist from Crosby to seal the victory for the City of Champions.  The Conn Smythe Trohpy-winning captain took credit for one of the many blocks of the frame near the point and dished to a streaking Hornqvist, who barely advanced into the Sharks’ zone before scoring.

History certainly has a way of repeating itself, even when excluding the connection between these towns on the gridiron.  Seven years ago, to the day, was the date when the Penguins last hoisted the Cup.  The seasons followed a similar story line: a team that looked so dangerous on paper that failed to live up to the scouting report on ice.  To resolve the issue, a new coach was hired, then Dan Bylsma, and Sullivan this season.  Even the fact that the Penguins won in their road white sweaters (That’s a Steel City tradition though, at this point.  It’s been since 1960 that a Pittsburgh-based Big Four team [baseball, basketball, football and hockey] has won on home turf (the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates) recalls memories of the Penguins‘ triumph in Joe Louis Arena.

Both goaltenders played exceptionally well, but Murray earned the victory after saving 18 of the 19 shots he faced (94.7%), while Jones takes the loss, saving 24 of 26 (92.3%).

San Jose at Pittsburgh – Game 2 – Sheary’s OT winner gives Pens 2-0 lead

UnknownPittsburgh Penguins LogoThe Pittsburgh Penguins entered Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals on a three game winning streak, and First Star of the Game Conor Sheary’s overtime goal over the Sharks extended that streak to four.

Game 1 featured the Penguins coming out to a hot start.  This time, it was the Sharks who had the pep in their step after Jeff Jimerson left the ice, most evident in the opening minutes when Chris Tierney centered a beautiful pass right in front of Matt Murray’s crease to Joel Ward, but his ensuing shot was held by Murray to end the attack.

The Penguins responded well around the 5:30 mark when Sidney Crosby attacked the zone off a breakaway pass, but Martin Jones, just like Murray, was up to the pressure and deflected the attempt into the netting above the glass.

An alarming play for the Sharks occurred a few minutes before the midway point of the period.  When simply trying to reset the play by sending the puck to the point, the offending blueliner not only allowed the puck out of the zone, but also become a giveaway that Jones was required to make a save on.

Following that play, Pittsburgh certainly seemed to have the upper hand in play.  In the span of two or three minutes, Second Star of the Game Phil Kessel alone fired at least three shots on Jones’ net spread out over a couple shifts.  By the time nine minutes remained in the period, Pittsburgh had already fired nine shots to San Jose‘s three.

The first power play of the game was awarded to the Pittsburgh Penguins due to Paul Martin misfiring on a pass to send it over the glass with 7:51 to go in the first period.  With the exception of a Kris Letang fan on an shot attempt, Jones and the Sharks did well to not yield any quality scoring chances.

A quality penalty kill inspired the Sharks to reclaim the energy of the frame.  With a little over five minutes remaining, Tomas Hertl’s wrister rang the post, but the score remained at the scoreless draw.

San Jose led some important statistics for the frame, including blocks (seven to four), takeaways (two to one), giveaways (three to five) and hits (18 to 14), but Pittsburgh had 11 shots (five more than the Sharks) and face-offs (57%) to keep the game scoreless.

The second period began as much more of a back-and-forth affair, with both squads earning quality chances due in part to the long change, even if it didn’t show up in the shot totals.  Play also became noticeably more chippy, with the hits being harder and the 50-50 pucks along the board becoming more intense.

Pittsburgh got on the board first after 28:20 of play.  Kessel gets credit for the tip-in on Nick Bonino’s initial shot (it ended up being his 13th assist of the postseason) to a wide open net (Jones had already attempted a save towards the near boards), with another assist from Carl Hagelin.  Bonino advanced the puck into the zone, followed immediately by passing to Kessel.  The wing tried to return the favor, but his pass was intercepted by Logan Couture, who passed deeper into the zone to Roman Polak.  Polak’s lazy pass to Brenden Dillon was almost intercepted by Kessel, but his pressure on the defender led to Hagelin completing the steal and passing to Bonino.  Bonino, originally drafted by the Sharks in 2007,  tried to reach across Jones’ crease, but couldn’t complete the play.  Since Jones had tried to close off the post on Bonino’s side of the cage, he was out of position for Kessel’s final tip-in attempt, giving the Pens a 1-0 lead.

Half a minute later, Martin was found guilty of his second penalty of the night, this one a hi-stick on Evgeni Malkin.  The seventh best penalty kill of the playoffs continued to stand tall, refusing to yield an insurance goal on some impressive stick checks, blocks and takeaways.

With a minute remaining and during an impressive Pittsburgh possession, Ian Cole committed interference against Couture (though those clad in black and gold would argue he embellished the infraction).  Impressively, it was the Pens who had more opportunities on the Sharks‘ power play leading into the second intermission, but neither scored, leaving the score favoring the home side by a tally.

Pittsburgh took control of the period in blocks (six to five), shots (12 to five) and face-offs (55% for the entire game), while the Sharks maintained their aggressive play by throwing 12 hits to Pittsburgh‘s 11. The squads split takeaways and giveaways, with both teams doing one of each.

Even though San Jose had a full intermission to draw up a power play plan, they could not convert on the residual 48 seconds of the man-advantage to start the third frame.

San Jose had an exemplary break away opportunity after 4:12 of third period play, but once again Tierney’s attempt found iron, far from the first time a San Jose shot had met the same fate.

Kessel did the same thing around the midpoint of the period.  He beat Jones five-hole, but the puck barely caught the left post at the proper angle to not deflect into the net, but away from it.

Throughout the period, San Jose had possessions in the offensive zone on par with some of the solid chances they had in the first period, but each time Murray and the Pittsburgh defense refused to allow the Sharks their first strike.

San Jose finally got on the board with 4:05 remaining in regulation, courtesy of a Third Star Justin Braun snap shot (his first tally of the playoffs) assisted by Couture (his 18th helper of the postseason) and Ward.  The goalscorer collected the puck in the near corner and dumped back behind Murray’s cage to Couture with a little influence from Ward.  After fighting off pressure from three Penguins, he returned the puck to Braun, who was positioned beyond the near face-off circle.  He immediately fired his snapper to beat the netminder glove side.

San Jose was certainly motivated by their tally as they dominated most of the remaining play of regulation.  Specifically within the final minute, there were two individual scrums in front of Murray’s crease, but neither time could the Sharks break the draw, making Game 2 the first overtime contest of the Cup Finals.

San Jose may have only fired the puck nine times in the third period, but it led Pittsburgh‘s attempts by a trio of shots, but the Pens still fired the puck nine more times throughout regulation.  Overall, regulation favored neither team statistically, with the Sharks leading in blocks (16 to 14), giveaways (four to eight) and hits (42 to 35), while the Penguins won shots, face-offs (54%) and takeaways (eight to five).

Although the Sharks were thankful to get the game to overtime after trailing for almost half the game, it was the Penguins that not only had more experience, but also more success.  They’d won three of their five overtime playoff games (although only one of those losses was charged to Murray), while Jones and the Sharks were a win-less 0-3.

Overtime lasted a whopping 2:35 before Sheary won the game over Jones’ glove.  Crosby won the face-off from the far boards (his 11th helper of the playoffs), which was collected by Letang.  The defenseman quickly passed to the winger at the top of the far face-off circle, who fired his wrister for his second goal of the Stanley Cup Finals – a goal in each of the Penguins‘ wins.

Murray earns the win after saving 21 of 22 shots faced (95.5%), while Jones takes the overtime loss, saving 28 of 30 (93.3%).

Game 3 is scheduled for an 8 p.m. eastern puck drop three days from now.  That Saturday’s game may be viewed on CBC, NBCSN or TVAS.

San Jose at St. Louis – Game 5 – Sharks score six goals to pull within a win of the Stanley Cup Finals

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The two highest scoring postseason teams went at it again Monday night, and did not disappoint as the Sharks won 6-3 to pull within a win of the Stanley Cup Finals.

St. Louis started the night with three straight shots before the Sharks could register their first almost four minutes into play.  It didn’t matter though, as Shot No. 2 found the back of the net on a Tomas Hertl backhander, assisted by Marc-Edouard Vlasic and First Star of the Game Joe Pavelski.  Third Star Joe Thornton won the face-off at the far dot, which was collected by Pavelski heading towards the point.  He passed back to the far boards to Vlasic, who fired a slap shot towards Jake Allen’s net before Troy Brouwer could apply pressure, but Hertl redirected the puck before it reached the crease to get past Allen’s glove.

Following that tally, the Sharks certainly took control of the game, as they had another great scoring opportunity around the 6:30 mark.  A San Jose forward collected a rebound in front of a fairly open net, but he elevated the puck too much and it sailed over the cross bar.

Jaden Schwartz leveled the game at the 7:04 mark with a wrister, assisted by David Backes (his seventh helper of the postseason) and Patrik Berglund.  Off an initial shot from Kevin Shattenkirk, Berglund collected the rebound around the near face-off dot.  He turned around and shot again at Martin Jones’ net, which was once again blocked.  From his usual spot right in front of the crease, Backes passed along the goal line to Schwartz, who fired past Jones’ stick side to tie the game at one-all.

With 4:52 remaining in the frame, Brouwer fired a wrister out of midair to give the Blues their second tally.  He was assisted by Paul Stastny (his ninth playoff helper), who had fired the initial shot that became the airborne rebound off Jones’ pads, and Alexander Steen.  Steen advanced the puck into the zone before running into Hertl, but passed just in time to Stastny who fired from between the face-off dots.  Brouwer one-timed his shot from the near face-off circle to beat Jones stick side.

Just like San Jose, the Blues fed off the momentum of that tally to keep the puck almost predominantly in the offensive zone.  Although it did not turn into their third goal, the Notes were certainly happy to keep the Sharks off the board for the remainder of the frame, sending the game into intermission at 2-1.

Although St. Louis led on the scoreboard, San Jose statistically had the advantage through the first frame.  Their 10 shots were one more than the Blues‘, helped by winning 56% of face-offs.  Defensively, their five blocks were two more than St. Louis‘, the same differential as their takeaways (the Sharks had three of those).  Giveaways and hits also favored San Jose, as the Sharks committed one fewer turnover and threw four more blows.

The first power play of the game occurred at the 2:38 mark, but it was three players earning seats.  Tommy Wingels hit an unaware Shattenkirk, who didn’t take kindly to it and initiated a fight.  He was also charged with roughing, which was served by the innocent Second Star Robby Fabbri.  The Blues were two seconds from killing the penalty, but Joel Ward was able to score a wild puck to tie the game again at the 4:37 mark.  He was assisted by Vlasic and Paul Martin.  Martin received a pass at the point and passed to Vlasic, waiting at the top of the near face-off circle.  His initial shot on Allen’s net was saved, but wildly bounced off the crossbar and the net-minder’s back.  Ward’s quick stick was able to complete the score to level the game at two-all.

St. Louis earned their chance at the power play at the 8:03 mark when Justin Braun held Fabbri, partially because he had thrown a solid hit and fired a quality in the preceding seconds.  The Sharks‘ penalty kill stood tall though, so the score remained tied at two.

The second fight of the night was between Roman Polak and Dmitrij Jaskin.  The two were tumbled together in the St. Louis offensive zone and, while they were still on the ice, Polak threw a right punch at Jaskin’s head, and again once they’d gotten  up.  Polak was charged with roughing, and both with fighting, giving the Blues a second power play.

In their first power play attempt, the Blues didn’t notch a shot on goal.  They learned from their mistakes and scored on this one with 8:02 remaining in the frame.  Fabbri takes credit for the tally, assisted by Colton Parayko and Alex Pietrangelo (his seventh playoff helper).  Fabbri begins the play retreating back to the blue line before passing across the zone to Pietrangelo.  After getting to the near face-off dot, he passed across the zone to the rookie defenseman in open ice, who found Fabbri at the point to score five-hole on Jones, making him only the second Blues rookie with 15+ points in a postseason.

With 2:52 remaining, Shattenkirk earned a seat in the sin bin for hooking Hertl as he was streaking towards Allen’s crease, although I would guess that many folks in the Bay Area would have been inclined to award a penalty shot.  The net result was the same, as the Sharks struck on their second power play with their second power play goal with 1:27 remaining in the frame to level the score again.  Pavelski takes credit with a slap shot, assisted by Thornton and Logan Couture (his 14th playoff assist).  Patrick Marleau collected the puck along the near boards and dumped further into the goal to Couture, who won a scrum against Carl Gunnarsson to pass behind the net to Thornton.  Thornton centered a pass to Pavelski, setting him up to beat Allen over his glove.

Three more shots in the period turned into an extra goal for the Sharks, especially when paired with eight takeaways, only two giveaways and 30 hits through 40 minutes.

The Sharks took a 4-3 lead only 16 seconds after returning to the ice when Pavelski tipped-in his second goal of the game, assisted by Brent Burns (his 13th postseason helper) and Hertl.  Off another face-off win (this one courtesy of the goalscorer), Thornton collected and dumped off to Burns, who fired a shot on Allen.  Allen blocked the attempt into the near corner where it was collected by Hertl, who returned the puck to Burns at the top of the zone.  Burns fired once again from the blue line, which Pavelski redirected under Allen’s glove.

A bad situation got worse for St. Louis when they were caught with too many men on the ice, giving the Sharks the opportunity to go three-for-three on the power play this game.  Vladimir Tarasenko took the seat in the box for the Notes at the 4:52 mark.  It lasted only 41 seconds before Marleau tripped Parayko, setting the game at four-on-four for 1:19 and ending that opportunity.  The four-on-four was exciting, with both teams having solid opportunities, but no score.

St. Louis‘ 41 seconds of the power play was equally as unsuccessful as the Sharks‘, so the score remained 4-3.

With 54 seconds remaining in the regulation, Chris Tierney scored a wrap-around goal on an empty net to secure the victory, assisted by Thornton (his 14th playoff helper).  Another empty netter was struck from mid-ice 21 seconds later by Ward, his fourth of the playoffs, setting the score at the 6-3 final.

Jones earns the win after saving 18 of the 21 shots he faced (85.7%), while Allen takes the loss, saving 21 of 25 (84%).

Game 6 will take place on May 25 in San Jose at 9 p.m. eastern.  It may be viewed on CBC, NBCSN or TVAS.

San Jose at St. Louis – Game 2 – Martin and the Sharks level the series with a 4-0 victory

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With the combined efforts of Second Star of the Game Martin Jones and Paul Martin’s three blocks, the Sharks shutout the Blues 4-0 in St. Louis to level the Western Conference Finals at a game apiece.

The Sharks struck quickly, as Tommy Wingels scored a wrister only 2:07 into the contest, assisted by Dainius Zubrus and Justin Braun (his fourth helper of the playoffs).  Heading back towards the blue line along the far boards, Wingels pass to Braun, who dumped back into the zone to Zubrus.  Zubrus advanced to the far face-off dot and found the attacking center, who scored on Brian Elliott’s stick side.  Elliott made the initial save on Wingels’ attempt, but was unable completely contain the trickling puck that proved to be the winning tally.

It was only the second shot faced by Elliott, but it foretold the way the night would go for the Notes.

With 8:34 remaining in the frame, David Backes was charged and found guilty of tripping Tomas Hertl in the Sharks‘ attacking zone.  His sentence: two minutes in the sin bin.  The Blues continued the trend they set in the first game with their fourth straight penalty kill against the Sharks, allowing only three shots against.

Almost immediately after Backes returned to the ice (12 seconds later, to be exact), Chris Tierney returned the favor by tripping Kevin Shattenkirk, but the Notes‘ power play was equally successful as San Jose‘s, failing to score on three shots on goal.  Due in part to that, the contest entered the first intermission with San Jose leading 1-0.

The game certainly began favoring the Sharks, made evident by their tally, but the Blues started getting their skates under them to get the game to be more of back-and-forth, even affair.  The Sharks led the frame’s shot totals (10 to nine), but the Blues actually led in face-off wins (60%), blocks (seven to two), takeaways (seven to three) and hits (14 to 11).

After resuming the back-and-forth nature in the second, Third Star Logan Couture was caught holding Jori Lehtera at the 4:45 mark.  Fortunately for him and his squad, San Jose earned their second straight penalty kill of the night to keep the Notes off the board.

A second after completing the kill, the Sharks went to the power play on a Troy Brouwer slashing penalty against First Star Brent Burns.  Burns took offense to that and made him pay only 18 seconds later with a wicked snap shot, assisted by Joe Pavelski (his sixth helper of the playoffs) and Couture. This play was especially lopsided, as Alexander Steen was in the process of returning from the bench with a replacement stick.  Just before receiving a hit from Steen (on his way to the bench) at the blue line, Burns passed across ice to Patrick Marleau, who dumped into the zone to Couture.  Couture centered into the center of the zone for Pavelski, who found the crashing Burns at the left face-off dot to set up his snapper that set the score at 2-0.

The Sharks got their third attempt at the power play at the 8:03 mark when the wily Steve Ott interfered with Pavelski along the far boards.  Luckily for the Blues, they were able to complete this kill to maintain the score differential at two tallies.

Patric Berglund took a rough hit into the open door jam at the completion of that kill that forced him to the dressing room.  He did return to the ice with a little over four minutes remaining in the frame.

Once again, only one goal was struck in the period, and this frame was decidedly more in San Jose‘s favor even though Brouwer had a great opportunity stopped by the goal post.  They led the period in shots (nine to six) and giveaways (one to three), while the Blues had face-offs (52%), blocks (14 to six), takeaways (eight to five) and hits (30 to 20) to their credit.

Off a face-off only 32 seconds into the third period, Marleau hi-sticked Carl Gunnarsson and drew blood, earning him a double minor.  San Jose was once again up to the challenge, making their fourth kill of the night.  They were further rewarded at the five minute mark when Jay Bouwmeester slashed Joe Thornton, but were unable to take advantage.

As would be expected, the Blues certainly increased their offensive pressure in the third period.  With 8:24 remaining in the frame, the Notes had already notched eight shots on goal to San Jose‘s three.

Those attempts came to a grinding halt at that mark though, as Brouwer took his second seat in the penalty box of the night for hi-sticking Martin.  Just like the first time, Burns made him pay, this time with a slap shot assisted by Marleau and Couture (his 12th helper of the postseason).  The play looked like a basketball “extra pass” motion wrapping around the three-point arc.  Couture collected a pass along the near boards and passed to Marleau at the point, who found Burns waiting outside the far face-off circle, scoring over Elliott’s glove hand.

Ex-Blue Roman Polak gave the Blues some life with 6:41 remaining when he interfered with Backes, made even worse for San Jose when Martin slashed Brouwer, giving St. Louis 24 seconds of 5-on-3.  After Polak served his complete time, Ken Hitchcock summoned Elliott to the bench for an extra attacker for a 6-on-4 advantage, but it wasn’t enough to get the Notes on the board.

Elliott remained on the bench to give the Blues a 6-on-5, but it was not the Notes that took advantage.  With 19 seconds remaining, Zubrus scored his first goal of the postseason setting the score at the 4-0 final.

Jones earns the shutout victory after saving all 26 shots he faced, while Elliott takes the loss, saving 20 of 23 (87%).

The series now leveled at a game apiece, the action relocates to the SAP Center.  Game 3 takes place Thursday at 9 p.m. eastern and may be viewed on CBC, NBCSN or TVAS.