Tag Archives: Crawford

November 28 – Day 55 – Welcome to Smashville

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 15 – Day 43 – Heading in opposite directions

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DeBrincat and Anisimov.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Hockey is a fickle game.

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

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

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

November 12 – Day 40 – Battle of California

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

Go figure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 9 – Day 37 – The best in the business

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

Alright, I’ll stop impersonating your dad now.

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 4 – Day 32 – Another Saturday, another rivalry

I made a snarky comment in yesterday’s column about the NHL holding out on its fans by scheduling only two games on Friday.

Boy was I just served.

There’s a full slate of games on tap this Saturday – 13, to be exact, which is just as many as Thursday. It all gets started with our lone matinee of the day at 2 p.m. when Vegas makes its first-ever visit to Ottawa (TVAS2). The real fun begins at 7 p.m., as that’s when six games (Toronto at St. Louis [CBC], Montréal at Winnipeg [SN/TVAS], Washington at Boston [NHLN], Columbus at Tampa Bay, the New York Rangers at Florida and Colorado at Philadelphia) will drop the puck, followed by two more (Buffalo at Dallas and Chicago at Minnesota) an hour later and Carolina at Arizona at 9 p.m. The West Coast finally gets involved at 10 p.m. with the beginning of Pittsburgh at Vancouver (CBC/SN), trailed half an hour later by tonight’s co-nightcaps: Nashville at Los Angeles and Anaheim at San Jose. All times Eastern.

As usual, there’s a compelling reason to keep tabs on almost every game. That especially goes for the action at the Xcel Energy Center and SAP Center this evening, as rivalry games always bring out the best in every player involved.

I’m in the mood for a heated rivalry game. Since we just featured the Ducks yesterday, lets see what action the State of Hockey has to offer this evening.

 

Thee straight playoff meetings has a way of creating more than a bit of animosity between two clubs – especially when the same team won all three series.

Interestingly, as the Western Conference table currently stands coming into tonight’s game, neither club has the chance of seeing the other during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs because they’re both slated to be golfing come this April.

The chance of that situation holding for the rest of the season is unlikely, and that makes tonight’s game even more important as the 6-5-2 Blackhawks and 5-4-2 Wild work to climb the Central Division standings.

When Chicago has found success this year, it’s all been by the work of 6-4-0 G Corey Crawford – even in spite of his defense. Even though the Hawks allow a third-most 34.5 shots-per-game to reach their own crease, the Windy City is home to the (t)sixth-best goals-against average in the league at 2.62.

Forget being the better of the Blackhawks’ two goaltenders, or even the best in the Central Division. Heck, saying Crawford’s .941 save percentage and 1.92 GAA is at the top of the Western Conference (yes, even better than G Jonathan Quick) does not even do him justice. Among all 29 netminders in the NHL that have started at least six games, Crawford is number one in both statistics.

Given the 32-year-old’s performance for the season, perhaps it’s no surprise that the Hawks’ penalty kill is also among the top-10 in the league. Even though Crawford’s .918 save percentage against the power play is only fifth-best in the league, Chicago has killed 83.3 percent of opposing man-advantages to tie for ninth-best in the NHL. If D Brent Seabrook, who leads the team with 2.4 blocks-per-game, can find a way to inspire his defensive corps to be even just a little stiffer while shorthanded, this Chicago team can keep riding its goaltender’s career season to a 10th-straight playoff appearance.

This evening, Crawford will face a good test against an offense that knows what it’s doing, as Minnesota’s 3.36 goals-per-game is the third-best effort in the West.

What makes the Wild so difficult to defend against is their unpredictability. D Jared Spurgeon currently leads the team in production with his 2-7-9 totals from the top defensive-pair. Minnesota’s leading forward is its top-line center Mikko Koivu, who is equally potent passing and shooting – made evident by his 4-4-8 totals.

Both Koivu and Spurgeon’s seasons might be foreseeable, but it’s the fact that third-liner W Chris Stewart‘s 6-2-8 campaign begins the list of depth scorers that makes the Wild so potent. Utilizing his incredible .273 shooting percentage, he’s provided 16 percent of the Wild’s goals from his spot on the third line. Add in the fact that Minnesota is also home to players like C Eric Staal, D Ryan Suter and W Jason Zucker, and you have a team that is capable of scoring regardless of which personnel is on the ice.

Though this contest is being played at Xcel Energy Center, I’m leaning towards Crawford being able to ensure a victory for his Blackhawks.


The Nashville Predators have won their last two games played at the Honda Center, as they beat the Anaheim Ducks 5-3 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The Preds found a fast start to the contest, as they registered their first goal only 6:26 into the matchup courtesy of a LW Scott Hartnell (First Star of the Game D Roman Josi and W Pontus Aberg) tip-in. Anaheim nearly made it to the dressing room for first intermission with the opportunity to regroup after giving up only one goal, but Josi (C Colton Sissons and C Frederick Gaudreau) scored a snap shot with 49 seconds remaining in the frame to give Nashville a two-goal advantage.

Just like in the first period, the Predators were quick to pounce on the Ducks at the start of the second frame. Scoring his first goal of the season, D Matt Irwin (D Yannick Weber and Gaudreau) gave Nashville a 3-0 advantage 3:05 into the period. Anaheim finally got on the scoreboard 79 seconds thanks to F Antoine Vermette (W Ondrej Kase and LW Nick Ritchie) and his wrist shot, but could not build any momentum off the marker. That led to 12:56 of scoreless action.

Ritchie proved important in breaking the game’s scoreless skid, but it wasn’t in the Ducks’ favor. Instead, he earned a seat in the penalty box (his second of the period) for slashing Gaudreau with 3:35 remaining in the frame. 55 seconds later, W Viktor Arvidsson (D Mattias Ekholm and LW Kevin Fiala) registered what proved to be the game-winning goal.

Arvidsson owes every bit of his successful slap shot to a patient Predators power play. Fiala was working with the puck in the right face-off circle and along the boards, but he simply didn’t like the look he was getting at G John Gibson‘s net with D Hampus Lindholm in his way. He eventually returned the puck to Ekholm at the point, who slid a pass across the zone to Arvidsson at the top of the opposite circle that the wing whipped past Gibson’s glove into the back of the net.

Whether he was working to match Arvidsson’s power play goal or Josi’s late-period heroics, Lindholm (F Rickard Rakell) scored a slapper with 15 seconds remaining on the second frame clock to pull the Ducks back within a 4-2 deficit.

Anaheim fans finally had a chance to truly believe their club had a chance at the 7:41 mark of the third period when Second Star W Jakob Silfverberg (C Derek Grant and Third Star F Chris Wagner) notched a slapper to pull the Ducks back within a goal. But, try as they might with their 13 shots-on-goal, the Ducks simply could not find a way past G Pekka Rinne, eventually forcing them to pull Gibson. D P.K. Subban (Rinne and F Austin Watson) took advantage of the empty cage with 18 seconds remaining in regulation to ensure a Predators victory.

By saving 35-of-38 shots faced (.921 save percentage) – not to mention earning his first point of the season – Rinne did all he could to earn his sixth win of the season. On the other side, Gibson took the loss after saving 25-of-29 (.862).

Nashville’s win away from Bridgestone Arena earns another two points for road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, but visitors still trail the 17-11-4 hosts by six points.

October 27 – Day 24 – They’re at it again

Thank goodness that work is finally done for the week. Time to sit back and take in the weekend’s hockey!

The weekend starts early in Vegas, as a 3 p.m. local start time against Colorado (TVAS) means a 6 p.m. puck drop on the East Coast. The usual starting time of 7 p.m. brings with it two contests (Ottawa at New Jersey [RDS2] and Winnipeg at Columbus), followed by St. Louis at Carolina half an hour later. Nashville pays a visit to Chicago (NHLN/TVAS) at 8:30 p.m., with tonight’s nightcap – Dallas at Calgary (SN360) – waiting until 9 p.m. to get underway.

All times Eastern unless otherwise noted.

I was going to complain about featuring the second Nashville at Chicago matchup of a season that is not even a month old, but upon remembering how competitive and entertaining their first meeting was, there’s no other choice! To the Windy City we go!

 

Now, with this being the second time in two weeks that this matchup has been featured, I’m sure I don’t need to rehash how the Predators swept the Hawks in four games by a combined score of 13-3 that included two shutouts. I’m sure I also don’t need to go over how the eighth-seeded Preds went on to win the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl.

Oh, I guess I just did anyways. As a fan of one of Chicago’s rivals, I guess I simply couldn’t help myself.

Whether or not that playoff elimination still motivates the Blackhawks against Nashville (I’d bet the house it does), we have more current data to help us preview and predict this game.

For starters, we know that the Hawks needed overtime to secure a 2-1 victory at the United Center the last time these squads met on October 14. You can read a slightly more in-depth recap here, but the main thing to know is, with the help of LW Scott Hartnell and D P.K. Subban, F Filip Forsberg got Nashville on the board late in the second period before F Patrick Sharp (F John Hayden and D Cody Franson) leveled the game in the closing six minutes of regulation and W Brandon Saad (F Patrick Kane and D Duncan Keith) cleaned things up in overtime.

If only everything in life was as simple as a one-sentence game recap.

That low scoring affair proved to be a sign of things to come, as both teams have scored only a total of nine goals in four games played since departing the United Center that Saturday night, tying them for the fourth-lowest goal production in that time span.

For Chicago, the downturn in scoring has been no fault of Kane’s. Showtime has averaged a point-per-game in those four games, including three goals. The Predators have also had their own offensive standouts in Forsberg and D Roman Josi, as both have 2-3-5 totals since October 15.

Instead, Chicago and Nashville have continued their strong defensive efforts to find wins.

The Predators in particular have been studs at keeping opponents off the scoreboard of late. In the past two weeks, they’ve allowed only seven goals against in four games, an effort that’s overshadowed only by Tampa Bay’s 10 goals against in six games played in the same stretch of time.

It’s no secret how good Smashville’s defense is, but D Alexei Emelin has been playing at another level since his last visit to Chicago. He’s blocked two shots-per-game to lead the team while also averaging 3.3 hits-per-contest. Through his bold leadership while D Ryan Ellis is recovering from an offseason knee surgery, the Predators have allowed only 29.8 shots against-per-game for the entire season, the fourth-best mark in the NHL.

Meanwhile, Chicago’s (t)eighth-best 2.6 goals against-per-game is due to the play of only one man: G Corey Crawford. Never before has Crawford posted a season save percentage over .93 percent, but he’s currently in possession of a .936 save rate that is second only to G Jonathan Quick‘s unbelievable .944. Considering the Blackhawks’ defense allows a 35.6 shots against-per-game that is second-worst in the league, Crawford being at the top of his game may be an integral piece to the success of this team both tonight and for the remainder of the campaign.

Even though the Blackhawks have a decent 3-1-1 record at home this season – including their victory over Nashville – I’m actually leaning towards the Preds taking this game. Thanks to Emelin, Nashville looks like it’s finally clicking without Ellis and will be a tough out for a Chicago team struggling to score.


In yesterday’s preview, I predicted a barn-burner would go the Senators’ way. In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Ottawa Senators beat the Philadelphia Flyers 5-4 at the Canadian Tire Centre.

There’s no better way to start a game than with three unanswered goals in the first period. That’s exactly what Ottawa did, starting with D Dion Phaneuf‘s (C Filip Chlapik and F Chris DiDomenico) power play slap shot only 91 seconds into the game (what D Brandon Manning was doing slashing DiDomenico only 36 seconds into the game, I’ll never know). D Mark Borowiecki (F Mike Hoffman and First Star of the Game C Jean-Gabriel Pageau) scored his first goal of the season 8:19 later to give Ottawa a 2-0 lead, followed by Pageau (Third Star D Erik Karlsson) burying one of his patented shorthanded wrist shots with 6:32 remaining in the frame to further extend the Sens’ advantage.

Whatever Head Coach Dave Hakstol screamed during the intermission certainly worked, because the Flyers were able to respond with two goals of their own in the second period. RW Jakub Voracek (Second Star C Sean Couturier and D Ivan Provorov) finally stashed his first goal of the season with 5:30 remaining in the second period, followed by F Travis Konecny (D Radko Gudas) only 53 seconds later to pull Philly back within a 3-2 deficit. Much to the delight of the home fans, RW Mark Stone (F Ryan Dzingel and Karlsson) was able to bury a backhanded shot with 2:23 remaining in the period to reclaim a two-goal advantage for the Senators going into the second intermission.

With 9:27 remaining in regulation, F Tom Pyatt (C Nate Thompson and Pageau) scored what proved to be a very important goal. Though Pageau earned the hockey assist, this breakaway goal was almost entirely set up by Thompson. After receiving Pageau’s pass at his own blue line, Thompson immediately connected with Pyatt in the neutral zone, who was screaming up the far boards towards G Michal Neuvirth. With no help, D Shayne Gostisbehere was forced to eliminate the passing lane between Pyatt and Thompson, leaving the forward in a one-on-one situation with the netminder. Pyatt didn’t miss on that opportunity, beating Neuvirth with a pinger off the right post

Pyatt’s tally ended up converting from a brace into the game-winner due to the tremendous comeback effort by the Flyers. With 4:42 remaining in regulation, Provorov (Konecny and Couturier) buried a slapper on G Craig Anderson to pull Philadelphia back within a 5-3 deficit. The comeback became even more realistic when Couturier (Gostisbehere and Voracek) scored a deflection to set the score at 5-4 with 106 seconds remaining before the final horn. But, even with Neuvirth pulled for the extra attacker, the Flyers could not find a leveling goal.

Anderson earned the victory after saving 36-of-40 shots faced (.9 save percentage), leaving the loss to Neuvirth, who saved 23-of-28 (.821).

Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day are a win away from the business week streak, as they’ve won the last four games. That elevates their record to 14-6-4, which is a solid 10 points better than the visitors.

October 24 – Day 21 – It’s Showtime in Las Vegas

It’s been a few days since we’ve had a busy schedule, but Tuesday fixes that by bringing us almost a dozen contests.

As it usually does, tonight’s action finds its start at 7 p.m. with four puck-drops (Arizona at the New York Islanders, Anaheim at Philadelphia, Edmonton at Pittsburgh [SN1/TVAS] and Tampa Bay at Carolina), with another set of three games (Detroit at Buffalo [NBCSN], Florida at Montréal [RDS/TSN2] and Los Angeles at Ottawa [RDSI]) waiting half an hour before getting underway. 8 p.m. brings with the start of two more games (Calgary at Nashville and Vancouver at Minnesota), trailed by Dallas at Colorado at 9 p.m. and Chicago at Vegas an hour after that to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

It’s hard to believe, but W Thomas Vanek hasn’t been back to Xcel Energy Center since being bought out following the 2015-’16 season. Though it might be fun to see him take on his former team, I’m actually more interested in tonight’s activities in the desert.

 

 

 

 

 

These two teams that are both second place in their respective divisions have become DtFR Game of the Day series favorites, as they’ve been featured a total of six times before tonight. So, when the Blackhawks make their first-ever trip to Sin City, what else are we supposed to do besides focus on their matchup?

Things have changed quite a lot for the 6-1-0 Golden Knights since the last time we featured them when they opened T-Mobile Arena to a 5-2 victory. For starters, they’ve actually lost a game (darn those Red Wings and their sneaky offense), but more importantly, it was that contest that cost them their starting goaltender.

G Marc-Andre Fleury was off to an impressive start with his new team, managing a .925 save percentage and 2.48 GAA through four games played. But in that Detroit game, he suffered a concussion that has sent him to injured reserve with no timetable for his return.

That’s pretty disappointing for an expansion team that’s proving everybody wrong. But, the story unfortunately takes another turn for the worse.

In the Golden Knights’ last game played on Saturday against the Blues, G Malcolm Subban – who himself was also off to a solid start to the season, managing a .936 save percentage and 2.06 GAA after being waived by Boston at the start of the year – suffered a lower-body injury that has also landed him on injured reserve for the next four weeks.

To put it lightly, things could be going a lot better in the Knights’ crease. Who is next up for a franchise that didn’t have a single player four months ago?

I’d put my money on G Oscar Dansk, who I expect will be making his first-ever NHL start tonight. He was the one who completed the Blues game for Subban. His career had a rough start, as the first shot he faced was a D Alex Pietrangelo game-tying slap shot, but he quickly rebounded to save the remaining 10 shots he faced in that game to win it in overtime.

But here’s the problem for Dansk: the Blues’ offense is nowhere near as successful as Chicago’s. Though the Hawks fire only a 10th-fewest 30.7 shots per game, they’re pretty accurate with those attempts, scoring a seventh-best 3.56 goals per game.

At the forefront of that attack is none other than Showtime himself, F Patrick Kane. Though he hasn’t scored the most goals on Chicago’s roster (that honor belongs to W Brandon Saad, who’s managed six in nine games played), his 4-7-11 totals are certainly best on the team.

And to think Kane, W Ryan Hartman and C Nick Schmaltz only play on the Hawks’ second line. There’s a whole ‘nother line of scoring studs Dansk has to worry about. With the likes of C Jonathan Toews and his 3-5-8 totals leading that charge, Dansk may just fall asleep in his crease at the completion of this game out of sheer exhaustion.

Assuming Dansk can hold his own, we’d be remiss not to at least discuss the play of G Corey Crawford. He’s been nothing short of exceptional, as his .945 save percentage and 1.86 GAA are both best in the league among netminders with at least four starts. If W James Neal (6-2-8 totals), W Reilly Smith (2-5-7) and co. can manage to get past him, they’ll deserve every bit of praise heaped on them.

Goaltending and clutch scoring have been the main reasons the Golden Knights have found success so far this season. Though it’s no fault of 23-year-old Dansk, he’s no Subban – much less Fleury. Upsets happen all over this league, but I think the Blackhawks will be very disappointed if they don’t depart Fabulous Las Vegas with two points in hand.


Scoring a goal per period was the plan for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and they executed it to a T to beat the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 at the Air Canada Centre in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The first period’s goal was struck 5:46 into the game from the unlikeliest of sources. Scoring his first of the season, W Matt Martin (D Roman Polak and First Star of the Game F Mitch Marner) buried a slap shot on G Jonathan Quick to give Toronto a lead it would not yield.

A power play wrist shot from C Tyler Bozak (LW James van Riemsdyk and Marner) with 5:16 remaining in the second period doubled the Leafs’ advantage to 2-0, but F Adrian Kempe (F Trevor Lewis and D Drew Doughty) pulled the Kings back within a goal 58 seconds later with a wrister of his own.

At the 2:54 mark of the final period, F Patrick Marleau (D Morgan Rielly and C Nazem Kadri) found what proved to be the Maple Leafs’ winning goal. Unable to corral a centering pass from Marleau in front of Quick’s crease, Kadri collected the loose puck in the far corner and sent it to Rielly at the point. From there, the blue liner one-timed a snapper well above the crossbar, but Marleau was there to deflect the offering past Quick’s right shoulder and into the net.

Third Star F Trevor Lewis found the back of Second Star G Frederik Andersen‘s net with 7:41 remaining in regulation with a backhanded shot, but Los Angeles could not find a leveling goal in the remaining time.

Andersen earned the victory after saving 36-of-38 shots faced (.947 save percentage), leaving the loss to Quick, who saved 30-of-33 (.909).

Toronto’s home win snaps a four-game winning streak by road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The hosts now have an 11-6-4 record that is four points better than the roadies.

October 23 – Day 20 – There will be goals

Another Monday, another start to the work week. It’s the same for hockey players, which is good for us; there’s nothing better than sitting back and taking in a game after a day’s work.

For those planning on doing just that this evening, you’ll have to games to choose from – both dropping the puck at 7 p.m. Eastern time. It’s two West vs. East matchups, as Los Angeles makes its annual trip to Toronto (TVAS) and San Jose takes on the New York Rangers (NHLN/SN).

With the Rangers and Sharks both off to slow starts this season, we have to turn our attention to the Air Canada Centre.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When two of the current top-five teams in the league square off, it’s must-watch TV.

If it’s possible to be hotter than a 6-0-1 record indicates, the Kings have discovered how as they’re riding a four-game winning streak coming into tonight’s game.

Los Angeles has a long history of being a defensively-minded club, and this year is no different. Allowing an average of only two goals against-per-game, LA might as well be playing with the Great Wall of China in front of its net.

That wall has a name though, and it’s G Jonathan Quick. Having already earned a 5-0-1 record, Quick has returned to the elite status every fan at the Staples Center was hoping for following his lower body injury, as he’s rocking an impressive .938 save percentage and 1.99 GAA, numbers that pale only in comparison to Chicago’s G Corey Crawford (.945, 1.86).

To continue my analogy (because why not?), the wall alone was not expected to be the nation’s lone defender. Similarly, the Kings don’t rely only on Quick, as their defense is also 13th-best in the NHL in the shots-against category, allowing only an average of 31.4 per game. Two defensemen that deserve a lot of the credit are Derek Forbort and Alec Martinez, as both have blocked 16 shots this season, and C Anze Kopitar leads the team with eight takeaways. Martinez’ effort has been particularly exemplary, as he’s amassed his shot blocks in only four games played.

I need to admit something to you: I may have lied when I said this season has been no different in regards to the Kings’ defensive gusto. That part is true, but Los Angeles has also been one of the best offenses in the game, averaging 3.86 goals-per-game to rank third-best in the NHL.

The top line – especially W Dustin Brown and Kopitar – has been nearly unstoppable in the Kings’ first seven games played. Brown and Kopitar have posted almost identical numbers en route to their 11-point efforts, as the captain has managed 6-5-11 totals while Brown has produced a 5-6-11 contribution.

If the Maple Leafs want to win this game, their defense had better make a point of shutting those two down and instead take their chances with the bottom-nine.

Playing decent defense shouldn’t be too much of a stretch for Toronto, which allows a 14th-fewest 32 shots against-per-game. Blocking 3.4 shots-per-game, D Nikita Zaitsev has been a mastermind at keeping pucks off G Frederik Andersen (he averages 3.4 blocks-per-game to lead the team), which has proven necessary given Andersen’s inconsistent play.

5-2-0 Andersen has started all but one game for Toronto this season, and for good reason – he’s definitely better than G Curtis McElhinney. Then again, that’s not exactly all that hard to do, as McElhinney allowed three goals Wednesday to a Detroit team that looks to be trending in the wrong direction.

Meanwhile, Andersen has managed only an .892 save percentage and 3.41 GAA, marking him the second-worst goaltender in the league with at least five starts to his credit.

Maybe that explains Toronto’s (t)eighth-worst 3.5 goals against-per-game, huh?

As you might guess with Toronto’s goaltending situation, there’s a lot of pressure on the offense to keep the Leafs competitive. Fortunately for them, they drafted that C Auston Matthews guy last year, who’s absolutely perfect for the job. Just like we all expected, the sophomore from Arizona has been among the best scorers in the league to start the season, as he’s already registered 7-5-12 totals in eight games.

But what might be Matthews’ most important statistic coming into tonight’s game is his shooting percentage. He’s a managed a goal on 31.8 percent of his shots, which is best on the team among those that have fired the puck more than 10 times.

Remember Quick’s godlike .938 save percentage? Goals will not be easily earned, meaning a pure shot like Matthews’ will be necessary to earn victory.

Now’s the time to make a pick, which is very tough given the Maple Leafs’ solid 3-1-0 record at home. That being said, I have full faith in Quick and his offense to invade the Air Canada Centre and earn two points for the Kings.


With a dominant three-goal second period, the Vancouver Canucks beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-1 at Little Caesars Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

This contest remained scoreless until First Star of the Game LW Sven Baertschi (Third Star C Bo Horvat and RW Brock Boeser) buried a backhanded shot with 5:26 remaining remaining in the first period to give Vancouver a 1-0 lead. The Canucks almost took that advantage into the first intermission if not for a snap shot by W Anthony Mantha (F Gustav Nyquist and D Mike Green), buried with 92 seconds remaining in the frame.

Since Mantha’s marker was the only goal Detroit could muster, W Derek Dorsett‘s (Horvat and D Derrick Pouliot) wrist shot 8:30 into the second period proved to be the Canucks’ game-winning goal.

The play that led to this goal looks to be something Head Coach Travis Green has been running in practice, as the Canucks ran it to perfection. From his own defensive zone, Pouliot banked a blue line-to-blue line pass off the far boards to Horvat to set up Vancouver’s attack. As that was happening, Dorsett started streaking up the ice towards G Jimmy Howard‘s glove side. Almost immediately upon receiving Pouliot’s pass, Horvat sent a centering pass towards Dorsett, which he quickly put on net. Howard made the initial save with his left shoulder, but the puck bounced into the air and eventually rolled down his back into the goal.

That was Dorsett’s fifth goal and sixth point of the year. After starting the season on the fourth line, he’s earned himself a promotion to a top-six position in the Canucks’ lineup and is certainly one of the most exciting stories in Vancouver.

Baertschi (F Alexander Burmistrov) and Second Star RW Jake Virtanen (LW Daniel Sedin) provided Vancouver’s two insurance goals in the remaining time of the second period, and the Canucks limited the Red Wings to only six shots on goal in the third to ensure the victory.

G Jacob Markstrom earned the victory after saving 20-of-21 shots faced (.952 save percentage), leaving the loss to Howard, who saved 33-of-37 (.892).

In the last four games in the DtFR Game of the Day series, all of them have come back as wins for the road teams. With this run of success, visitors in the series have pulled within two points of the 10-6-4 hosts.

October 18 – Day 15 – Wednesdays are for rivalries

Some Wednesdays feature rivalries, some don’t. Today is one of the former, as two of the three matchups on the schedules features clubs with a little bit more animosity towards each other than usual.

One of those is Detroit at Toronto (SN1/SN360/TVAS), which drops the puck at 7:30 p.m., half an hour before Chicago at St. Louis (NBCSN). After those games are complete, both nations will turn their attention to Montréal at Los Angeles (NBCSN/RDS/TSN2), which drops the puck at 10:30 p.m. to close out the evening’s festivities. All times Eastern.

Both the early games definitely attract my attention as some of the league’s fiercest rivalries, but which one gets the honor of being the DtFR Game of the Day?

 

I’m big enough to admit that I picked this matchup because I’m a fan of one of the clubs involved, but I’m also going to stand by the fact that this is only St. Louis’ second time being featured this season.

So there. Watch the game and be happy.

These teams have certainly employed vastly different styles to find their early season success, but Chicago has certainly been the more impressive of the two. One word perfectly describes Head Coach Joel Quenneville‘s Blackhawks: dominant. Averaging 4.17 goals-per-game, Chicago is easily the best offense in the Western Conference and (t)third-best in the entire league.

Of course, what would you expect from a team that features the likes of F Patrick Kane, W Brandon Saad and young standout W Ryan Hartman? All three have managed eight points already this season, but Saad has easily been the most impressive with his six goals. Not only does he pace the Hawks, but he has also scored the (t)third-most goals of any player in the NHL.

But dominance, in my opinion, is a result of both ends of the ice – not just commanding one end. That’s where G Corey Crawford comes into play, who’s play has also been nothing short of clutch. His .96 save percentage is the best of any goaltender with more than one start, and the same can be said of his 1.39 GAA.

Meanwhile, the Blues know all about solid play in net, as they allow an average of only 2.67 goals-per-game – the (t)10th-best effort in the league. Though his numbers pale in comparison to Crawford’s, G Jake Allen has posted a solid .917 save percentage and 2.96 GAA, which rank (t)16th and (t)20th in the league among netminders with at least two starts.

Beyond that, the Notes are only average in a vast majority of their play. Their 20.8 percent success rate on the power play is only 14th-best (D Alex Pietrangelo and RW Vladimir Tarasenko co-lead the team with three power play points); the 80.8 percent penalty kill rate is 15th-best; and their 2.83 goals-per-game is (t)14th-worst (Pietrangelo and F Jaden Schwartz co-head the club with eight points, but Schwartz missed Monday’s practice with food poisoning).

Average may beat a lot of clubs, but unfortunately for the Blue Notes, it probably won’t be able to touch what Chicago can throw at them. No matter how raucous the Scottrade Center crowd gets, I’m leaning towards the Hawks taking Game 1 of this nasty rivalry series.


With a three-goal second period, the Nashville Predators dominated the Colorado Avalanche 4-1 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Since no goals were registered in the first frame, F Nathan MacKinnon‘s (D Tyson Barrie and RW Mikko Rantanen) power play deflection 4:09 into the second, his first goal of the season, gave the Avs a 1-0 lead.

But then Nashville happened. The Predators leveled the game 2:58 after MacKinnon’s tally courtesy of a backhanded shot from First Star of the Game W Viktor Arvidsson (F Filip Forsberg and Third Star D Alexei Emelin), and then took the lead with Second Star D Roman Josi‘s (Arvidsson and Forsberg) game-winning five-on-three wrist shot with 6:30 remaining in the period.

D P.K. Subban started with the puck at the far point before passing to Forsberg waiting at the far face-off dot. The forward started to drive on G Semyon Varlamov, but instead slid a crossing pass to Josi in the opposite face-off circle. Josi’s initial shot on goal was rejected by the netminder, so Arvidsson tried his best to wrangle the rebound to try to beat Varlamov again. Varlamov stood tall again, but he couldn’t fend of the third try, an elevated Josi wrister from the slot over the goalie’s left pad.

But the Preds weren’t done, as F Colton Sissons (F Craig Smith and Josi) was able to bury his first goal of the season to set the score at 3-1 with 45 seconds before the second intermission. F Austin Watson (Emelin) finished Nashville’s scoring 4:08 into the third period with his first tally of the season.

For those keeping track, that’s four different players that scored their first goal of the season in this game. That’s a decent number considering we just completed the second week of play.

G Pekka Rinne earned the victory after saving 20-of-21 shots faced (.952 save percentage), leaving the loss to Varlamov, who saved 30-of-34 (.882).

It’s another win for home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, improving their record to 9-5-1 – good enough for a five-point advantage over the visitors.

October 14 – Day 11 – Sweep, sweep revenge

It’s another great day (well, night, technically speaking) in the world of hockey, as there’s a whopping 14 games on the schedule.

With no matinees, we have to wait until 7 p.m. to get the action started. It turns out to be well worth the wait, as there’s six contests (Carolina at Winnipeg [CITY/SN1], Toronto at Montréal [CBC/NHLN/TVAS], St. Louis at Tampa Bay, New Jersey at the New York Rangers, Washington at Philadelphia and Florida at Pittsburgh) on tap with another pair (Colorado at Dallas and Columbus at Minnesota) an hour later. 8:30 p.m. marks the puck drop for Nashville at Chicago, followed half an hour later by Boston at Arizona, and then the West Coast gets involved with two games (Calgary at Vancouver [CITY/SN1] and Ottawa at Edmonton [CBC/TVAS]) at 10 p.m. and another couple (Buffalo at Los Angeles and the New York Islanders at San Jose) 30 minutes after. All times Eastern.

There’s a good reason to watch almost every fixture on tap this evening. Here’s a few I’ve thought of…

  • Toronto at Montréal: This is way more than an Original Six rivalry.
  • New Jersey at New York: Speaking of rivalries… Battle of the Hudson River, anyone?
  • Washington at Philadelphia: Is there a team in Pennsylvania that doesn’t have a rivalry with the Capitals?
  • Nashville at Chicago: If anyone has forgotten the Predators made the Stanley Cup Finals last season, it’s definitely not the Hawks.
  • Calgary at Vancouver: It’s rivalry night in Western Canada.

We’ve made an unfortunate habit of repeating teams rather quickly lately, but there’s one must-watch game that sticks out above the rest.

 

Just in case you’ve forgotten, the Predators’ run to the finals began in Chicago, where they beat the Blackhawks in a tight 1-0 game. Then they won again, this time by a much more commanding 5-0.

And then the series went to the Bridgestone Center, where the Preds won 3-2 in a tight Game 3 that required overtime. And, of course, Smashville completed the sweep with a dominating 4-1 victory in Game 4.

But you knew all that.

Though I needed to look up the scores to those games, I’ll bet G Corey Crawford, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews and every other hockey player from the Windy City can recite all those numbers without blinking, and will be able to until they reach their graves.

It’s that burning desire for revenge that makes this game so exciting. It’s that rare instance where, no matter what any coach says otherwise, what happened last year may actually have an impact on how tonight plays out.

Scoring only three goals last postseason – including getting shutout twice – the Blackhawks will be expected to show no mercy this evening when they have the puck on their stick. Though the usual culprits of Kane and Toews are always important to defend especially well, Nashville will also have its hands full with prodigal son Brandon Saad and 23-year-old Ryan Hartman.

Led by Hartman’s eight points (2-6-8 totals), those top four Blackhawks forwards have combined for 12 goals and 16 assists for 28 total points. Add in the fact that the other two players that complete the top two lines, Artem Anisimov and Richard Panik, are no slouches either and the Predators’ defense will certainly be busy.

Similar to Chicago wanting to exact revenge, the Predators will try to use this game to really get back into the groove they found last postseason.

It took Nashville a couple games to get their skates under them this season, as they started with an 0-2-0 record. But, since then, the Predators have won two-straight, most recently a 4-1 victory over Dallas Thursday.

A year after their defense was all the rage, it’s been the Preds’ offensive prowess that has really stolen the limelight so far this season – even if a lot of that offense has come from a defenseman. Currently, both Filip Forsberg and P.K. Subban spearhead the team with six points apiece, more than enough to lead the club towards an 11th-best 2.9 goals-per-game.

But it’s truly a full effort from the entire top line that is making this club tick right now. With a second line consisting of Scott Hartnell, Nick Bonino and Pontus Aberg (they’ve combined for only five points), the Forsberg-Ryan Johansen-Viktor Arvidson ensemble that has already managed 13 points is going to be expected to produce until the former builds more chemistry.

There’s a lot more to this game than what’s on paper – unless of course you’re reading a recap from their playoff series last season. That being said, I feel pretty confident in picking the Blackhawks to take two points at home.


The offensive powerhouse that is the Washington Capitals struck Newark in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as the Caps beat the New Jersey Devils 5-2.

Both squads needed a 20 minute warmup to start the game as only one goal was scored. Unfortunately for the home fans, that goal was struck by Second Star of the Game T.J. Oshie (First Star Nicklas Backstrom), as he buried a snap shot with 5:11 remaining in the frame to give Washington a lead it would not yield.

Following intermission, Alex Ovechkin (Backstrom and John Carlson) scored his NHL-leading ninth goal of the season with a power play wrist shot 8:01 after resuming play. Though Taylor Hall (Third Star Kyle Palmieri and Will Butcher) was able to get the Devils on the board with 3:32 remaining in the frame with a power play goal, neither of those tallies proved to be the biggest of the period.

Instead, the Capitals were able to once again register a late-period goal, but this one proved even more important than the last: this one proved to be the game-winner. It was struck courtesy of Jakub Vrana (Devante Smith-Pelly and Evgeny Kuznetsov), his first of the season.

The play started behind G Cory Schneider‘s net when D Andy Greene misplayed a pass from D Steven Santini. Kuznetsov collected “the loose biscuit,” as it was described by play-by-play announcer Steve Cangialosi, at the goal line before advancing it along the far boards toward the point. He passed to Smith-Pelly in the middle of the zone, who fired a shot towards Schneider. But, before the netminder could make play on the puck, Vrana deflected it five-hole with the shaft of his stick.

Palmieri (Damon Severson and John Moore) did pull Jersey back within a goal 53 seconds into the third period, but Oshie (Backstrom and Kuznetsov) and Backstrom (Ovechkin and Oshie) both scored power play goals to quell any chance of a Devils comeback.

G Braden Holtby earned the victory after saving 21-of-23 shots faced (.913 save percentage), leaving the loss to Schneider, who saved 23-of-28 (.821).

With Washington’s victory, road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day have now pulled within two points of the 6-4-1 home clubs.