Tag Archives: Couturier

February 13 – Day 125 – Battle of the Turnpikes

That adventure to Asia yesterday was excellent, but there’s more hockey to be watched today.

At 7:10 a.m. Eastern time this morning, the Team USA women took on the OAR in Group A play. Needing a regulation victory to keep pace with the Canadians, the Americans shutout OAR 5-0.

Meanwhile, the NHL is still going strong in North America. Today’s action begins at 7 p.m. with six games (Calgary at Boston [TVAS], Tampa Bay at Buffalo, Columbus at the New York Islanders, New Jersey at Philadelphia, Ottawa at Pittsburgh [RDS] and Los Angeles at Carolina), followed half an hour later by Anaheim at Detroit. Next up is a pair of tilts (St. Louis at Nashville and the New York Rangers at Minnesota) at 8 p.m., trailed by Washington at Winnipeg 30 minutes later. The final wave of games starts at 10 p.m. when Chicago visits Vegas, with tonight’s nightcap – Arizona at San Jose – dropping the puck only half an hour after. All times Eastern.

Back in South Korea, Group B of the women’s tournament will complete play this evening when Sweden takes on Switzerland at 10:10 p.m., followed by the unified Koreans vs. Japan at 2:40 a.m. Wednesday morning. All times Eastern.

Here’s just a few of the games that are drawing my eye:

  • New Jersey at Philadelphia: The Battle of the Turnpikes is even more important when these teams are battling for playoff positioning!
  • Ottawa at Pittsburgh: It’s a rematch of the Eastern Conference Finals from a season ago!
  • Anaheim at Detroit: Back when the Red Wings were in the Western Conference, this was quite the nasty rivalry.
  • St. Louis at Nashville: Another playoff rematch, this one from the Western Semifinals.
  • Sweden vs. Switzerland: Which team will win Group B of the women’s Olympic tournament? This game will determine just that.
  • Korea vs. Japan: The unified hosts are still looking for their first win. Is this the night?

Of all of those, there’s two games that stand out the most. Let’s make the trip to Broad Street to a big battle in the Metropolitan Division.

 

Starting with the visiting 27-20-8 Devils, who are currently the top wild card in the Eastern Conference, we find a team that has had a rough go of things lately. In its past four games, New Jersey has failed to register even one point in the standings, losing the tilts by a combined 19-9 score.

The biggest difference between these Devils and the club that exploded into the playoff picture at the beginning of the season is the fact that 17-11-6 G Cory Schneider is occupying a seat in the press box instead of the Jersey crease.

While he’s been out with a groin injury, that’s also meant the Devils haven’t had his .913 season save percentage and 2.79 GAA at their disposal, and that’s been a major problem. While 10-7-2 G Keith Kinkaid has been impressive in his sporadic time this season, assuming starting duties in Schneider’s stead since he went down has not been a success. Kinkaid has started three of Jersey’s four games, posting a measly .863 save percentage and 5.29 GAA for an 0-3-0 record in that time.

However, Kinkaid doesn’t have to shoulder all of the blame, as his defense has not been doing him many favors. Even with F Blake Coleman (3.3 hits per game since February 6), D Andy Greene (2.5 blocks per game in his last four showings) and C Pavel Zacha‘s (team-leading three takeaways over this run) trying their hardest, New Jersey has allowed a 12th-worst 33.5 shots against per game in its last four, well above their its season average of 31.6.

Between Kinkaid and his defense, New Jersey has allowed an average of 4.75 goals per game since February 6, the second-worst effort in the league in that time.

Making matters even worse, the Devils’ offense has also struggled mightily of late, scoring a second-worst 2.25 goals per game since February 6.

What had made Jersey’s attack so successful earlier in the season was, among other things, the involvement of blueliner Will Butcher (2-28-30 season totals) on the offensive end. Whether it’s him paying more attention to the defensive end with Schneider out or simply an unfortunate scoring slump, Butcher has only provided one assist over the past four games – well off his pace of registering .55 points per game.

But he’s not the only one in a slump. Only four Devils have registered more than one point in their last four games, led by F Taylor Hall (3-3-6 since February 6, 21-36-57 overall) and W Kyle Palmieri (3-1-4 since February 6, 13-11-24 overall) averaging at least a point per game from the first line. Butcher can only earn assists when his forwards find the back of the net, so that puts the pressure on Hall, LW Miles Wood (15-9-24 totals) and Palmieri to complete plays.

Meanwhile, the 28-19-9 Flyers are among the hottest teams in the league right now having posted a four-game winning streak and five-game point streak, and they’ve ridden that energy into third place in the Metropolitan Division.

Over this point streak, the most impressive facets of Philadelphia’s success has easily been 21-11-7 G Brian Elliott and 7-7-2 G Michal Neuvirth.

Elliott has started three of Philly’s last five games, earning a 2-0-0 record with a .916 save percentage and 2.21 GAA. The reason he doesn’t have the same number of results as starts is because he suffered a lower-body injury February 10 during the shootout in Arizona.

Enter Neuvirth, who became the first goaltender in NHL history to win a shootout after entering midway (per Craig Morgan of NHL.com) and has since assumed starting responsibilities while Elliott has been on the mend. Unlike Kinkaid, who’s been thrust into a similar situation, Neuvirth has performed phenomenally in his three appearances, posting an incredible .978 save percentage for an unbelievable .72 GAA, improving his season marks to a .917 save percentage and 2.5 GAA.

As a result of Neuvirth’s – who’ll be in net tonight – amazing performance, the Flyers have allowed an average of only 2.2 goals against per game since February 3, the (t)third-best effort in the NHL in that time.

Though the season series between these clubs began only a month ago, this is their fourth and final (barring a playoff matchup) meeting of the year. The Flyers took the opening two tilts, winning January 13 in New Jersey 5-3 (C Sean Couturier took First Star honors with a two-goal, three point night) and January 20 in Philly 3-1 (D Shayne Gostisbehere was the First Star). However, a 4-3 home victory by the Devils on February 1 (C Nico Hischier provided the game-winning goal with 1:27 remaining in regulation) has set them up with an opportunity to tie the series with a regulation win tonight.

Considering the Flyers are one of, if not the hottest team in the league, it’s hard to pick against them. Jersey’s offense will need to come alive for the Devils to even have a chance at earning a point tonight.


The Team Canada women dominated Finland in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, winning 4-1 at Kwandong Hockey Centre.

The Canadians needed only 35 seconds to take a 1-0 lead. Meghan Agosta (Melodie Daoust) took credit for that tally, her first of the tournament. Canada found its winner 16:36 later, as Marie-Philip Poulin intercepted an errant Finnish pass and proceeded to tuck a backhanded shot underneath the crossbar. The play happened so quickly that the officials actually revoked the tally after their initial look, but video review proved that the captain had successfully beaten G Noora Raty.

Two goals were scored in the second period, and once again they both belonged to the team in black sweaters. Daoust (Laura Fortino and Agosta) registered the first at the 8:19 mark of the frame, followed 10:07 later by Jillian Saulnier’s (Rebecca Johnston) first Olympic goal.

Finland finally got on the scoreboard at the 7:17 mark of the third period with a tally from Riikka Valila (Susanna Tapani and Michelle Karvinen), but the comeback effort was too little, too late to make any real impact on this game.

G Shannon Szabados earned the victory after saving 22-of-23 shots faced (.957 save percentage), leaving the loss to Raty, who saved 28-of-32 (.875).

With Canada wearing its colored uniforms, it was officially the road team in this morning’s tilt. That means the roadies in the DtFR Game of the Day series have pulled within 23 points of the 68-41-16 hosts.

January 31 – Day 112 – High Flyer-ing offense

There may only be three games on the schedule today, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a quality matchup.

The action starts at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time when the New York Islanders visit Toronto (SN/TVAS), and it is followed half an hour later by tonight’s co-nightcaps: San Jose at Detroit and Philadelphia at Washington (NBCSN).

As I discussed with @nlanciani53 in a recent podcast, it’s time to see just how good this Flyers team actually is, as they face a good test in a rivalry game with the Caps this evening. Let’s take a look into this matchup, shall we?

 

Since December 29, there have been few teams in the Eastern Conference as successful as the Flyers. They’ve posted a 9-3-0 record to surge into the second wildcard, with impressive wins coming against the Lightning in Tampa Bay, St. Louis, the Devils in New Jersey, Toronto, the Devils again and the Capitals in Washington (more on that below).

In other words, Philadelphia hasn’t been picking up wins against scrubs.

All credit for this success is due to the Flyers’ offense, which is scoring the puck at an unbelievable pace (3.33 goals per game, the fourth-best average in the league since December 29) and maintaining possession to limit 5-6-1 G Michal Neuvirth‘s – tonight’s starter with 19-11-7 G Brian Elliott on injured reserve –  workload to an average of only 27.83 shots per game (the lowest mark in the NHL during this run).

As for who’s been behind this attack, all signs point towards C Sean Couturier. Philly’s top center has posted 9-7-16 totals in his last 12 games played to improve his season marks to 26-23-49. In fact, his 26 markers are so impressive, they rank (t)fifth-best in the league.

F Claude Giroux and W Jakub Voracek have also been stellar during this run of success, as they’ve respectively posted 1-13-14 and 1-11-12 totals to join with Couturier in averaging at least a point per game since December 29. Of course, their success is no surprise considering they both rank among the league’s top-three in assists and top-10 in points.

Meanwhile, 29-15-5 Washington has been busy all season proving the doubters wrong, as all the team has done after a tough offseason is lead the ultra-competitive Metropolitan Division.

However, the Caps did not have the best of runs leading into the All-Star Break. Though they earned points in four of their five games, they posted only a record of 2-1-2 in their last five games.

The biggest reason for this lull in an overall very successful season seems to be the play of 25-9-2 G Braden Holtby. Starting three of those five games, he led the Capitals to only one victory with a .91 save percentage.

Fortunately for him, his defensive corps played a big part in helping him post a 2.66 GAA in those tilts, which is exactly in line with his season mark. Behind the stellar efforts of D Dmitry Orlov (team-leading 1.4 blocks per game and five takeaways since January 12) and D Brooks Orpik (three hits per game over this run), the Capitals have limited his workload to only 30.8 shots against per game during this five-game stretch, the 13th-best effort in the NHL in that time.

Tonight’s tilt is Game 3 of four between the Caps and Flyers this regular season. Though Philly trails in the standings, it has had its way in this series so far, as it has won both the previous two games. They first met on October 14 at Wells Fargo Center, where the Flyers exploded to an 8-2 victory (Voracek took First Star honors with three assists). More recently, Philadelphia traveled to the capital on January 21 to post a 2-1 victory, courtesy of a F Travis Konecny overtime game-winner.

The Flyers have certainly been the more dominant team leading into the All-Star Break. Add in the fact that they haven’t lost to the Caps yet this year, and I have a hard time picking against Philly’s offense.


With three goals in the span of 53 seconds in the third period, the Vegas Golden Knights beat the Calgary Flames 4-2 at the Scotiabank Saddledome in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

This was an odd game in that the number of goals scored in each frame matched the period’s number, and that scoring in each frame was limited to only one team.

Make sense?

Allow me to explain: in the first period, only one goal was scored. Since W Reilly Smith‘s (First Star of the Game F Jon Marchessault and Third Star C William Karlsson) power play tip-in put the Golden Knights up 1-0 with 3:57 remaining in the frame, that meant Vegas was the only team to score in that frame.

Off to Period 2, which featured two markers. Both of those goals belonged to the Flames, as Second Star F Sam Bennett (RW Troy Brouwer) leveled the game 6:02 into the frame with a wrist shot. Calgary then earned its first – and only – lead of the game 12:41 later, courtesy of a LW Matthew Tkachuk (D Dougie Hamilton and F Michael Frolik) wrap-around shot. The 2-1 score held into the second intermission.

Things were looking very good for the Flames in the third period. They still had their one-goal lead with under two minutes remaining in regulation. Worst case scenario, this game went to overtime… right?

Unfortunately for them, the game’s pattern caught up to Calgary in a big way, starting with F Erik Haula‘s unassisted wrist shot with 1:46 remaining on the clock to tie the game at 2-2. The game-winning goal was struck only 10 seconds later, courtesy of Marchessault (Karlsson and Smith).

C Mikael Backlund thought he had this play all wrapped up along the boards in front of his own bench. Karlsson had the puck, but he was coming in to disrupt the play and potentially set his club up for a breakaway opportunity. However, just before he could engage, Karlsson backhanded a pass to Marchessault to set him up for a breakaway opportunity of his own. After getting around D Mark Giordano, Marchessault took advantage of his one-on-one opportunity against G Mike Smith to rip a wrister from the slot top-shelf over the netminder’s glove.

Now trailing by a goal instead of leading by that margin, Flames Head Coach Glen Gulutzan was forced to pull M. Smith with 59 ticks remaining in the game. He was off the ice for only six seconds before W David Perron (F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and D Shea Theodore) capitalized on the gaping cage to set the 4-2 final score with a wrister.

G Marc-Andre Fleury earned the come-from-behind victory after saving 31-of-33 shots faced (.939 save percentage), leaving the loss to M. Smith, who saved 31-of-34 (.912).

Road teams are staging quite the comeback in the DtFR Game of the Day series, as they’ve won six of the last seven games. This streak has pulled them within 17 points of the 60-37-15 home teams.

January 18 – Day 103 – The House that Lindros Built

As usual, Thursday is the best day of the work week for hockey, as we have 10 games on the schedule.

As it usually does, the action finds its start at 7 p.m. this evening with four tilts (Washington at New Jersey, Boston at the New York Islanders [SN360], Toronto at Philadelphia [TVAS] and Dallas at Columbus), trailed half an hour later by another trio (Buffalo at the New York Rangers [NBCSN], St. Louis at Ottawa [RDS] and Vegas at Tampa Bay). Arizona at Nashville is the next fixture up at 8 p.m., followed an hour later by San Jose at Colorado and tonight’s nightcap – Pittsburgh at Los Angeles (NBCSN/SN360) – at 10 p.m. All times Eastern.

Teams on the bye: Calgary, Carolina, Chicago, Edmonton, Florida, Minnesota, Vancouver and Winnipeg.

Even with eight teams on the bye, there’s still more than a few games on the schedule today that deserve attention. However, all pale to today’s action at… Wells Fargo Center?

 

G Bernie Parent‘s number 1. D Mark Howe‘s 2. D Barry Ashbee, LW Bill Barber and C Bobby Clarke‘s numbers – 4, 7 and 16, respectively – have all been honored too.

And tonight, the Flyers add C Eric Lindros‘ number 88 to the list of retired numbers now hanging in their arena’s rafters.

Only the best get away with controlling their fate before even signing their first contract, so Lindros was building his resume before even taking to the NHL ice. He was drafted by the Québec Nordiques in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft, but insisted that he would never play for the Northmen.

Once Nordiques’ owner Marcel Aubut finally got the message after Lindros continued to play for the Oshawa Generals in the OHL and joined Team Canada for the 1992 Winter Olympic Games in France, the centerman was sent to Philadelphia in exchange for four players, the rights to C Peter Forsberg, a first-round pick in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft and $15 million.

Adding a bit of levity to the situation, G Ron Hextall – the Flyers’ current general manager – was one of the players traded to Québec for Lindros… #awkward.

Anyways, Lindros was an incredible rookie, posting 41-34-75 totals in 61 games played to finish fourth in 1993 Calder Trophy voting behind RW Teemu Selanne, C Joe Juneau and G Felix Potvin. Lindros also placed ninth in Hart Trophy voting – an award he eventually won in 1995 alongside the Pearson Trophy following a 29-41-70 46-game season.

In terms of total production, Lindros reached his ultimate form during the 1995-’96. In 73 games played, The Big E scored 47 goals en route to 155 points – both career highs. It was Year 3 of four of Lindros averaging 1.5 points per game.

Unfortunately, the closest Lindros came to getting back to that production was in 1998-’99 when he posted 1.31 points per game over 71 contests. Beyond the first five seasons of his career, Lindros’ career was an almost constant downhill slide due to the multiple serious injuries he sustained. Among other injuries, four concussions, a collapsed lung and a torn ligament in his wrist led to Lindros retiring following the 2007 season.

Those setbacks – in addition to a bad relationship with General Manager Bobby Clarke – led to his rights being traded to the Rangers (Lindros wanted to be traded to Toronto, but Clarke wouldn’t complete the deal. Lindros protested and did not sign a two-way contract for the 2000-’01 season, leaving him on the couch.) before the 2001-’02 season. Lindros would play three seasons with the Rangers, the 2005-’06 campaign with Toronto and 49 games during the 2006-’07 season with Dallas before retiring.

However, that tumultuous end to his career doesn’t blemish what he achieved while playing in Philadelphia, posting one of the best opening five seasons of a career. According to his Wikipedia page, Lindros needed the fourth-fewest games to reach the 300 (210 games) and 400 (277) point plateaus, the fifth-fewest to reach 500 points (352) and the sixth-fewest to reach 600 points (429).

For fans of teams that were regularly downed by the Flyers during Lindros’ tenure, it’s scary to think about that team with an uninjured Big E for more than his eight-year tenure.

It may be hard to believe considering the Flyers are currently in seventh place in the Metropolitan Division, but 20-16-8 Philadelphia is actually rolling lately. Before Tuesday’s 5-1 loss in Madison Square Garden, Philly had won four-straight contests.

When the Flyers are winning (like they are right now), the offense is the biggest driver in their success. Even adding in Tuesday’s loss, Philadelphia has managed a second-best 4.4 goals per game since January 4.

Five players are averaging at least a point-per-game to propel this run, but no player has been better over Philly’s last five games than C Sean Couturier. He’s posted incredible 7-2-9 totals since January 4 (25-20-45 overall) to lead the NHL in goals in that time. Of course, someone has to set him up for those goals, and that’s usually been linemate F Claude Giroux (1-7-8 totals during this run, team-leading 14-40-54 overall), who’s provided the primary assist on three of Couturier’s seven most-recent tallies.

Of course, by focusing only on those two, Toronto runs the risk of ignoring RW Jakub Voracek. That would be extremely unwise, as Voracek’s 45 assists on the season (he has 8-45-53 totals overall) are the best in the NHL. In fact, Couturier, Giroux and Voracek all rank in the top 10 of the NHL in at least one statistic, including the Captain’s second-most assists, which explains why Vorcek has been assigned to the second line to promote more offense with F Valtteri Filppula and W Michael Raffl.

While the 25-17-4 Maple Leafs – who are in third place in the Atlantic Division – are also riding a streak of earning points in four of their last five games, it hasn’t been anywhere near as pleasant an experience. With the exception of last Wednesday’s 4-3 regulation loss against the Senators, all four of the remaining games have required extra time, and that pill is made even harder to swallow by Toronto winning only two of those – both in the shootout.

To put it lightly, Toronto is doing the bare minimum right now as far as the standings are concerned. The same could be said for its offense, which has averaged only two goals-per-game over its last five outings – the (t)third-worst mark since January 5.

But this offensive drought has nothing do with effort – in fact, quite the opposite. 16 of the 19 skaters the Maple Leafs have employed since January 5 have at least one point to their credit, and both C Tyler Bozak and F William Nylander have posted 1-3-4 totals.

I would argue the biggest problem is C Auston Matthews is having just a little slump. Though he has scored two goals in his last five games, he’s currently riding a three-game goalless skid. Perhaps it’s just coincidence, but the Leafs also haven’t won a game during that skid.

I think not.

Tonight’s game completes the three-game series between the Flyers and Leafs, and if history is any indicator, this tilt will end with a 4-2 score just like the previous two matchups. Led by Jakub Voracek, the Flyers invaded Toronto on October 28, and then matched that effort on December 12 in a home contest dominated by Giroux.

Considering the positive mojo the Flyers have in their back pockets, the excitement around the Lindros number retirement ceremony and Matthews’ struggles, it’s hard to pick against the hosts this evening.


Habs-turned-Bruins-turned-Habs Head Coach Claude Julien didn’t get the result he wanted in his first return to TD Garden, as the Boston Bruins beat his Montréal Canadiens 4-1 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Though it wasn’t the best of showings by Montréal, it did manage to take an early lead in the contest courtesy of D Jakub Jerabek‘s (W Charles Hudon and F Paul Byron) first career goal. He struck his tip-in 31 seconds into the game. However, that lead would only last 6:19 before RW David Pastrnak (First Star of the Game C Patrice Bergeron and Second Star LW Brad Marchand) leveled the game with a wrist shot.

That 1-1 tie held until the 2:37 mark of the second period. That’s when F Ryan Spooner (C David Krejci and LW Jake DeBrusk) got lucky and banked a centering pass to either DeBrusk or D Matt Grzelcyk through G Carey Price‘s crease off F Jonathan Drouin‘s right skate and into the back of the net. His pass-turned-backhanded shot proved to be the game-winning marker, his third such goal of the season.

Boston tacked on two insurance tallies in the third period, one a power play wrister by Marchand (Bergeron and D Torey Krug) 3:40 into the frame and another a wrister by Krejci (F David Backes) into an empty net with 3:14 remaining in the contest.

Third Star G Tuukka Rask saved 21-of-22 shots faced (.955 save percentage) in the victory, leaving Price – who saved 28-of-31 (.903) – with the loss.

Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day are starting to resume command of the series. The 57-34-12 hosts have won three of the past four contests and extended their lead over the visitors to 22 points.

November 27 – Day 54 – Battle of Pennsylvania

Welcome to the last week of November! I know you think you need to be doing your Christmas shopping, but you have all of December to do that. Instead, sit down this evening and watch some hockey.

If you’re wise and followed my instructions, the NHL has scheduled five games for your viewing pleasure. Two of them (Florida at New Jersey and Philadelphia at Pittsburgh [NHLN/SN/TVAS]) start at 7 p.m., followed by Columbus at Montréal (RDS/TSN2) half an hour later. Minnesota at Winnipeg continues the half-hour intervals by dropping the puck at 8 p.m., as does Anaheim at Chicago, which waits until 8:30 p.m. to close out the evening’s action. All times Eastern.

I know we just featured the Penguins Saturday, but there’s no way we can miss the season’s first iteration of the Battle of Pennsylvania.

 

To keep the story short, there’s only a few things these teams can agree on:

  1. Hockey is a good game.
  2. Pennsylvania is a good state commonwealth.
  3. Mark Recchi is a good guy.

Beyond that, there’s very little these rivals see eye-to-eye about. Of course, what should one expect from teams that have met 316 times in regular or postseason play (played to a 172-114-30 record in favor of Philadelphia, by the way).

Looking at the overall numbers, the Flyers have certainly had their way with this series. In addition to already owning the overall series by almost 60 games, they’ve also beaten Pittsburgh in four of their six playoff series, including winning three-straight from 1989-2000.

You’d think Pittsburgh having players like C Sidney Crosby and F Evgeni Malkin would have had a way of leveling the playing field for the Pens of late, but every good rivalry has a way of dulling stars’ impact. Even though the Pens swept Philadelphia 8-0-0 during Malkin’s rookie season in 2006-’07, the Flyers have amassed a slightly superior 34-27-8 regular season record against the Penguins since Crosby first donned the black-and-gold.

The difference? Two points.

That’s right, a win by the Penguins tonight at PPG Paints Arena would level the Battle for Pennsylvania series during the Crosby Era – as if 12-10-3 Pittsburgh needed more motivation than it already had sitting a point outside of the playoff picture.

When we featured the Pens’ game against the Eastern Conference-leading Lightning a couple days ago, I mentioned that one of their problems seemed to be a dry spell by Crosby. Of course, he went out and proved me wrong, as he scored two goals and tacked on another assist to lead G Tristan Jarry to his first-ever NHL victory.

But there’s still another wound to poke on this squad: defense. Pittsburgh has allowed 3.4 goals-per-game this season, which is the fourth-highest in the entire NHL.

That being said, it seems even that problem might slowly be resolving itself. The Penguins search for a backup goaltender has been well documented, with offseason signing Antti Niemi failing miserably and already playing for his third team of the year. Since Jarry has been called up, the goaltending duo of him and starter 11-7-1 G Matthew Murray has found much more consistent play, as they’ve combined for a 2.89 season GAA.

Of course, it still seems probable that General Manager Jim Rutherford will eventually pursue a trade that allows him to send Jarry back to the AHL and resume playing consistently alongside fellow prospect Casey DeSmith, but his solid play has allowed management to take its time and find a good deal instead of rush into a bad decision.

Of course, that’s a discussion for another day, because it’s likely that Murray resumes starting duties this evening.

Compared to his rookie campaign and his 13 starts in 2015-’16, he’s left much to be desired in his first season as Pittsburgh’s undisputed number one, as he’s managed only a .906 save percentage and 2.94 GAA that ranks 14th and 11th-worst, respectively, among the 34 goalies with at least 10 starts.

But Murray is not the only contributor to Pittsburgh’s defensive woes. Even though D Kris Letang leads the team with 17 takeaways and RW Ryan Reaves throws 3.1 hits-per-game, Murray has already faced 595 shots this season, the eighth-most among that group of 34 goalies.

One of the odder things going on in Pittsburgh nowadays is D Ian Cole being a healthy scratch, as he leads the team with 1.8 blocks-per-game. He hasn’t dressed for the past two games, and word on the street from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Jason Mackey is that he’ll watch tonight’s game from the press box.

It’s peculiar that a defenseman so committed to keeping pucks away from his netminder that he’s only managed three points this season is the one being punished. Head Coach Mike Sullivan has yet to publicly show his hand (he claims Cole needs to improve his game), but the longer this goes on, the transaction rumors will only increase.

As for the 8-9-6 Flyers, they wish they were in as enviable a position as Pittsburgh to be unhappy with only being a point outside playoff position. For the umpteenth season in a row, Philly burst out of the starting gate to only find itself six points from the bottom of the conference.

A major reason for this slide has been the Flyers’ play over the second half of November. After beating the Blackhawks 3-1 on November 9, Philadelphia has earned only an 0-3-4 record since.

While the offense hasn’t been very good over this stretch (they’ve managed only 2.14 goals-per-game), it’s been the play on the defensive end that has been the true burden, as the Flyers have allowed 25 goals against in their past seven games.

Much of the responsibility for this struggle falls on the shoulders of 6-5-5 G Brian Elliott, who has started all but one of the games in this stretch for a .909 save percentage and 2.77 GAA that is actually better than his season marks of .905 and 2.85.

Unfortunately, that nominal improvement is simply not good enough behind an offense that scores only 2.83 goals-per-game on the season. Until the other three lines behind Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek decide to play hockey, General Manager Ron Hextall can only look forward to a trip to Dallas for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft to see if he can find a skater that can actually contribute (shots fired, F Nolan Patrick).

The reason Murray can put up comparable numbers to Elliott and still win is because of the goal support he receives from RW Phil Kessel, and it’s for that reason that I believe Pittsburgh will snap its two-game losing skid to the Flyers and beat them for the first time since February 25.


Though they needed the shootout to do it, the New York Rangers were able to beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-3 at Madison Square Garden in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Vancouver’s offense was ticking throughout this entire game, as it managed a goal in all three frames. W Loui Eriksson (C Henrik Sedin) took credit for the first period’s marker, burying a wrist shot 7:54 into the game.

The Canucks doubled their lead at the 7:21 mark of the second period courtesy of RW Jake Virtanen‘s third goal of the season, an unassisted wrister. However, this tally did not go unanswered, as Second Star of the Game RW Jesper Fast (D Nick Holden and D Brendan Smith) scored a wrister with 2:20 remaining before the second intermission to pull the Rangers back within a goal.

All the offensive action that ultimately mattered in the third period occurred in the opening 5:05 of the frame. W Michael Grabner (W Mats Zuccarello and D Kevin Shattenkirk) took his turn first, bagging a wrister only 19 seconds after emerging from the dressing room to level the game at two-all. The Rangers weren’t even for long though, as Third Star F Sam Gagner (W Thomas Vanek) returned the lead to Vancouver only 41 seconds later. First Star LW Jimmy Vesey (W Rick Nash and F Kevin Hayes) scored the final goal of regulation at the 5:05 mark, and it was an important one: Vesey’s backhanded shot tied the game at three-all and forced three-on-three overtime and, ultimately, the shootout.

As for how the shootout went down…

  1. Vanek took the opening attempt for the Canucks, but his wrister was saved by G Henrik Lundqvist.
  2. That provided Zuccarello an opportunity to earn a mini-break, but just like Vanek, his wrister was saved by G Jacob Markstrom.
  3. Vancouver’s second shooter was C Bo Horvat, but the shootout remained tied thanks to Lundqvist’s save.
  4. C Mika Zibanejad apparently grew tired of seeing all these saves, as he ensured Markstrom couldn’t get his mitts on his shot by sending it wide of the net.
  5. RW Brock Boeser finally found the first goal of the shootout for the Canucks, which forced a miss-and-lose situation for New York.
  6. Put in a pinch, Head Coach Alain Vigneault turned to Shattenkirk, who hadn’t scored a shootout goal since the 2015-’16 season. The defenseman ended that skid to continue the tiebreaker.
  7. Now in a sudden death situation, F Markus Granlund was sent out to win the game for the Canucks. Lundqvist had other ideas and was there to make the save.
  8. W Pavel Buchnevich‘s offering met the same fate: saved by Markstrom.
  9. LW Sven Baertschi started round five with a bang, as he beat Lundqvist to force New York’s second miss-and-lose situation.
  10. Cool under pressure, Nash sent the shootout on to the sixth round by beating Markstrom.
  11. Though he was able to score in regulation, Gagner couldn’t beat Lundqvist in the shootout.
  12. F J.T. Miller hasn’t scored a goal since November 2, and his luck didn’t change here. His offering was saved by Markstrom.
  13. Another skater, another save: this time, Lundqvist stopped D Ben Hutton in round seven.
  14. He was the one to force overtime, and he was the one to end the shootout: Vesey beat Markstrom to earn two points for the Blueshirts.

Lundqvist earned the victory after saving 29-of-32 shots faced (.906 save percentage), leaving the shootout loss to Markstrom, who saved 17-of-20 (.85).

After being on the wrong end of a two-game winning run two days ago, home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are now riding a two-game winning streak of their own. That has elevated their record to 29-19-6, 10 points better than the visitors’.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 7

Player of the Week: William Karlsson

The kid the Jackets bribed Vegas to take in the expansion draft is making Jarmo Kekalainen and John Davidson sweat, and CBJ fans like myself weep.

Karlsson’s 13 goals in 22 games this season already far surpass his previous best effort of 9 in 81 games with Columbus 2 years ago, and he is only 3 points off of a career high of 25 last year with the Jackets. Those eye-catching stats are due in large part to his current scorching stretch of 5 consecutive multi-point games (and 6 multi-point games in his last 7 contests), as the young Swede has really found his offensive game in an increased role with the expansion Golden Knights.

This week’s 3-game stretch saw ‘Wild Bill’ tally 4 goals and 6 points, including just his 2nd power play goal of the year (Karlsson has as many shorthanded tallies as he does PP markers), and he’s a major reason that Vegas is riding a 5-game winning streak and have found themselves suddenly propelled to 4th place in the entire league.

Team of the Week: New York Islanders

…what? Oh, right, sorry, I was still watching that John Tavares setup on Josh Bailey‘s OT goal.

A pair of exciting games capped with OT wins against the Flyers and a 2-1 victory over the Senators took the suddenly-streaking Islanders to a 3-0-0 week and 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division. The Isles are starting to show signs of the balanced attack I hinted at in the season preview I wrote a few months ago, with 14 different players tallying at least 1 point this week, led by Josh Bailey’s 5 points (1 goal, 4 assists). Bailey’s lone goal was an overtime game-winner, which was made possible by John Tavares absolutely ruining Sean Couturier‘s reputation as a defensive stud with the prettiest bit of 1-on-1 puck protection you’re likely to see by anyone not named Pavel Datsyuk.

Questions loom over the legitimacy of the Isles as contenders, but for now they’re as hot as their arena is terrible.

Game of the Week: Nashville Predators 3 @ Carolina Hurricanes 4 (SO), Sunday November 26, 2017

This week had a helluva lot of potential choices for this award, but I’m giving the nod to Preds/Canes on the basis that it’s not a traditional matchup that you’d expect to see produce a fantastic game, but that’s exactly what it did.

Two teams that don’t see much of each other certainly didn’t play like strange bedfellows, with a combined 71 hits. Tack on 71 shots for good measure, and you’ve got all the makings of a spectacular Sunday matinee.

Josh Jooris would kick things off just 3:37 into the 1st period, receiving a stretch pass from Marcus Kruger and using his speed to create just enough separation from Mattias Ekholm (boo for my fantasy team) to sneak a backhander through the legs of Juuse Saros that would just squeak across the goal line to give the Canes the early lead. Both netminders were extremely solid for the bulk of the first (and the entire game for that matter), but with just over 4 minutes remaining Ekholm (yay for my fantasy team) would find Viktor Arvidsson with a stretch pass of his own, and Arvy would go to work from there. Gliding across the blueline on the left wing side, Arvidsson gave Noah Hanifin the old howdoyado with a gorgeous toe-drag, before collecting the puck on his forehand and burying a quick wrister bar-down over the glove of Scott Darling to knot the game at 1.

The first half of the 2nd period saw a goaltending duel, before finally just past the 10 minute mark Ekholm (yay for my fantasy team) would blast home a power play goal to give the Preds their first lead of the game. But just 1:04 later Victor Rask would collect a bouncing puck at the side of the Nashville net and bury the equalizer.

The two netminders again duked it out until Mr. Game 7 Justin Williams would collect the rebound of Mr. Jersey Number 7 Derek Ryan and give the Canes the lead once again at 5:49 of the 3rd period on a power play goal. Then just over 5 minutes later it would be Craig Smith once again tying the game, capitalizing on a netmouth scramble after a hectic odd-man rush and tallying the goal that would eventually send the game to extra time.

A relatively tame 3-on-3 period was highlighted by a heroic penalty kill shot block by Joakim Nordstrom on P.K. Subban, but the game was eventually settled in the shootout by a pair of Finns, as Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen would both score on countryman Saros to send the Raleigh crowd home happy.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Hockey Fights Cancer month continues to destroy everyone’s ability to be negative, as this week we saw Brian Boyle score the night the Devils had their HFC promotional game, as well as Alex Ovechkin tripling the wish of cancer survivor and new best friend Alex Luey, who asked for a goal from his buddy and was rewarded with 3.

Carey Price returned to the Montreal lineup, and promptly reminded the Sabres that they’re still worse than the Habs, with a 36-save blanking in a 3-0 win. Oh, and in case you thought you were done reading this article through tear-blurried eyes, he did so on a night where he was joined for the anthems by 11-year-old Charlotte Richard, a cancer patient who was attending her first ever Canadiens game and meeting her hero in the process. Break the tissues back out, no shame in it.

In a complete 180 from heartwarming stories like those, the Anaheim Ducks posted (then promptly deleted and apologized for) a video of a naked Ryan Kesler strolling through their offices, apparently celebrating the NHL’s 100th birthday in his birthday suit. I’m not sure who’s idea this one was, but I wouldn’t be shocked to find out they were no longer gainfully employed.

Apparently Andy Andreoff has never been on the internet, because he seemed to think challenging Kevin Bieksa to a fight was a solid strategy. Much like Radko Gudas, Andreoff waded in to the deep end without his water wings, and found himself on the receiving end of Bieksa’s 2nd superman punch KO of the season. Andy tried to pop right back to his feet and look tough, but we all saw those Bambi legs, bud. You’re not fooling us.

October 26 – Day 23 – Growing pains

After yesterday’s two-game schedule, there’s a whopping 11 games on tap this evening!

Like it so often does, tonight’s action starts at 7 p.m. with four contests (San Jose at Boston [SN360], Carolina at Toronto, Arizona at the New York Rangers and Winnipeg at Pittsburgh), followed by another set of four (Los Angeles at Montréal [RDS/TSN2], Philadelphia at Ottawa [RDS2], Detroit at Toronto and Anaheim at Florida) half an hour later. After that, the remaining three fixtures start every hour, on the hour. First up is the New York Islanders at Minnesota at 8 p.m., followed by Dallas at Edmonton at 9 p.m. and tonight’s nightcap – Washington at Vancouver – at 10 p.m. All times Eastern.

If you like big offseason trades, your featured game is a no-brainer. C Derek Stepan – and maybe G Antti Raanta, if he gets cleared to play – returning to Madison Square Garden with the Coyotes is a must-see for you.

But, considering the Coyotes and Rangers are two of the four worst teams in the NHL, that matchup excites me as much as watching paint dry. Instead, we’re going to make a trip to the Canadian Tire Centre.

 

After making it to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, expectations are high for this 4-1-4 Senators club. Considering they play in the same division as the best team in the NHL (Tampa Bay) and they were without the incredible D Erik Karlsson until October 17, third place in the Atlantic is a good enough start to say they’re filling the bill so far.

But re-acclimating to the style of play that is necessitated by Karlsson being on the ice has been a difficult transition for Ottawa. In the defenseman’s first four games back from foot surgery, the Sens have managed a record of only 1-1-2.

Now, 1-1-2 is far from a bad stretch; even the best of clubs have stretches of the season where they average only one point-per-game (just ask the Coyotes if they’d like to average half a point-per-game right now). What’s probably frustrating Head Coach Guy Boucher right now is the poor defensive play that’s being highlighted by not getting much help from his goaltender.

Since Karlsson’s return on October 17, the Senators have allowed a fourth-worst 144 shots against in four games (36 per game), even with D Dion Phaneuf‘s team-leading nine shot blocks in that stretch. For a defensive-minded team like Ottawa that runs a 1-3-1, that is absolutely unacceptable, but I have confidence Karlsson and company, even without the help of D Marc Methot, will start trending towards last season’s (t)13th-best 30.1 shots against-per-game soon enough.

If G Craig Anderson, tonight’s starter, keeps playing the way he has, the defense cannot return to form soon enough. Anderson has started three of Ottawa’s four most recent games to a 1-1-1 record. As mentioned before, he has been under heavy pressure, but a .891 save percentage and 3.67 GAA (ninth and seventh-worst, respectively, among the 35 goaltenders with at least two starts since October 17) simply will not cut it.

Last year’s Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy winner had a career year last season, managing a .926 save percentage in 40 starts, but he has not posted consecutive campaigns of save percentages at or above .92 since the 2006-’07, 2007-’08 and 2008-’09 seasons when he was Ed Belfour and Tomas Vokoun‘s backup in Florida. If Anderson can’t become the reliable backstop he became last season, he could waste any positive momentum the Senators brought into this season.

Ottawa’s next chance to rediscover last postseason’s form comes against the 5-4-0 Flyers who – don’t tell anybody – may actually not be as bad as we all thought they’d be.

Dang it, and I was really excited to bust out everybody’s favorite Dennis Green quote. I’ll have to save it for another day.

Here’s another secret about Philly: they’re winning without the help of in spite of F Nolan Patrick, this year’s second-overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft. Highly touted for both his pedigree (he’s the son and nephew of RW Steve Patrick and D James Patrick, respectively) and his 102-point season with the Brandon Wheat Kings in 2015-’16, he’s managed only one goal and three points in nine games played on Philly’s third line.

It’s like he wants to see how well the Hobey Baker Award compliments the Calder Memorial Trophy.

Instead, RW Jakub Voracek has been most responsible for Philadelphia’s high-flying offense (See what I did there? I’m so clever. Nobody has ever made that joke before.) with his team-leading 12 points (all assists). Of course, it’s hard to struggle on a top line with the likes of F Claude Giroux (5-6-11 totals) and C Sean Couturier (6-3-9), but Voracek’s group has produced 36.7 percent of the Flyers’ goals for an offense that averages a (t)ninth-best 3.33 goals-per-game.

What should be most alarming for Anderson is that Philly’s favorite way to score is by launching a full-on assault on the goal. The Flyers – Voracek in particular – aren’t shy about shooting the puck (they average 32.6 shots-per-game, which is 11th-most in the NHL), so if Ottawa’s defense isn’t up to snuff, he could be in for a long night.

If these teams aren’t careful, this game could become a barn-burner as both clubs have a knack for finding the back of the net. If that proves to be the case, I like the Senators to win tonight with their (t)fourth-best offense.


In a dominant performance, the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Buffalo Sabres 5-1 at Nationwide Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Though the Sabres fired a game-high 14 shots-on-goal in the first period, it was Columbus that registered the lone tally of the frame. It came courtesy of an RW Oliver Bjorkstrand (W Sonny Milano and Second Star of the Game D Seth Jones) power play snap shot with eight minutes remaining before the first intermission.

It was the second period – specifically the last five minutes of the second period – when the Jackets absolutely exploded on their offensive end. First up was Jones (F Brandon Dubinsky and RW Cam Atkinson), who buried what proved to be the game-winning goal with 4:40 remaining in the frame.

Entering the zone with a three-on-two advantage, Atkinson advanced to the top of the right face-off circle before dumping a pass towards the near boards to Dubinsky. While the forward was feeding a pass to Jones, who was near where Atkinson was when he released the puck, F Boone Jenner was busy preparing a perfect screen in front of G Chad Johnson. With Jones falling to a knee to elevate his snapper over Johnson’s glove, the netminder had no chance.

Additionally, NBCSN sideline reporter Pierre McGuire says Head Coach John Tortorella also earned an assist on the goal. I didn’t see that in the box score, but congrats to him for his first apple since the 1986 ACHL playoffs.

2:18 after Jones’ second marker of the season, Third Star F Nick Foligno (D Jack Johnson) added an insurance tally to set the score at 3-0, followed by a wrist shot from LW Matt Calvert (D Markus Nutivaara and D Ryan Murray) with 101 seconds remaining before the second intermission to complete the Blue Jackets’ blitz.

Buffalo finally got on the scoreboard with 2:34 remaining in the game courtesy of a wrister from F Seth Griffith (F Jordan Nolan and F Johan Larsson), but it was too little too late to have an impact on the game – especially since RW Josh Anderson (LW Artemi Panarin and C Alexander Wennberg) tacked on a final tally 39 seconds before the final horn to set the 5-1 final score.

First Star G Sergei Bobrovsky earned the win after saving 34-of-35 shots faced (.971 save percentage), leaving the loss to C. Johnson, who saved 33-of-38 (.868).

Columbus’ victory was the third-straight by the 13-6-4 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The hosts now have an eight-point advantage over the visitors.