The Original Trio splices together some thoughts on the 2018 Hockey Hall of Fame Inductees, Dan Bylsma, the 2018 Draft, recent trades and John Tavares. Go check out your local museums while you’re at it. It’s the offseason, surely you have nothing going on.
Nick checks in with Colby Kephart and Frank Fanelli (of Student Union Sports) on Radko Gudas’s suspension, the Buffalo Sabres, Philadelphia Flyers and Chance The Rapper’s SNL skit for the ages. Also discussed, the overabundance of outdoor games featuring teams that are obviously stuck in a revolving door of outdoor games.
And be sure to check out our newest extension of the product, DTFR Overtime, this week where Nick retroactively wrote about a topic from last week’s episode.
The Falcon Hockey program at Bowling Green State University has been a topic of debate for the last several years. Has their internal rebuild been successful? Have they returned to their historic, dominant form? Are they good or are they great?
There is a fine line between a good hockey team and a true contender. Good hockey teams in the NCAA win 15-20 games a year, always finish in the top half of their conference, and are capable of winning a post-season series. Yet, their trophy case is left empty and their name vacant from the NCAA Hockey Tournament bracket. If you’re a follower of college hockey, you can name a few teams that fit this mold, but Bowling Green is definitely one of them.
Under Head Coach Chris Bergeron, the Falcons have gradually improved over time. There is an obvious answer to the question regarding their internal rebuild. It has been successful and it continues to be. The only problem is, how exactly do you measure success? In the beginning, it was all about gaining an identity and following the mystical “process” that is often referred to by the team and coaching staff. Fortunately for the program, after several years of good recruiting, expectations begin to change.
Three or so years into the new era, there has to be an adjustment to what is considered success. The coaches, team, and fans eventually want to see results on the scoreboard. During the 09-10 season (before the coaching change), the Falcons only mustered five wins, an incredibly poor result for any college hockey program. The 11-12 season saw 14 wins, including the historic run to Joe Louis Arena in the dwindling years of the CCHA. The 14-15 season was a breakout year, with the Orange and Brown reaching the 20-win marker for the first time since the 94-95 campaign. Twenty wins is good, especially when paired with positive post-season results, but this equation is still missing something. The past three seasons, Bowling Green has earned a +0.500 record, won a first-round playoff series, and then ended it without any hardware.
The Falcons desperately need to take the next step. They may never truly regain the dominance of their historic teams, but how can you expect them to match the talents of George McPhee, Dan Bylsma, and Rob Blake? This team needs to learn who they are now and what they are capable of. To put it bluntly, they need to get their hands on a championship trophy because it has been far too long since they have done so. At this point in their rebuild, this is the only true measure of success and they are right on the cusp of it. Just last season, the Orange and Brown faced a devastating double-OT loss to Michigan Tech in the conference finals. In their current campaign, they are 6-4-3, but are just one point out of first place in the WCHA. With their great depth on offense, overall solid play on defense, and a tandem of Ryan Bednard and Eric Dop in net, this could be the team to do it.
Is it time for Bowling Green to be great? The short answer is yes. The staff has dedicated themselves to this program and have turned it in the right direction. Although the previous few seasons have been positive, players and fans alike are left wanting more. The Falcons are good, but with just one outstanding season, they can be great. Six wins through 11 games isn’t exactly stellar, but they are currently 11th in the Pairwise Rankings (which determine NCAA Tournament eligibility). If they continue to develop as a team, earning positive results along the way, why not them? Why not now? It’s time for the Falcons to respond to the bell and prove that they can be great.
NHL Insider for The Athletic and Editor-In-Chief for The Athletic Detroit, Craig Custance joined the show this week to discuss his new book Behind the Bench: Inside the Minds of Hockey’s Greatest Coaches available on Amazon or wherever books are still sold. Custance and the Original Trio discussed his book, the Detroit Red Wings and who they’d pick as head coach of Team USA.
33-37-12, 78 points, 8th in Atlantic (‘16-‘17)
Unsigned: Cody Franson
Offseason Analysis: The Buffalo Sabres had a busy offseason to say the least, as both General Manager Tim Murray and Head Coach Dan Byslma were fired following the club’s sixth-straight season missing the playoffs. The search for a new GM led Owner Terry Pegula to former player Jason Botterill, who continued the trend of hiring former players by offering former Sabres great Phil Housley his first NHL head coaching job. Housley was an assistant coach with the Nashville Predators for the past four seasons, helping to lead the club to its first Stanley Cup Finals appearance. This was a smart move to hire a former blue liner to lead the team, as he should bring Buffalo a smooth-skating team that allows the defensemen, Rasmus Ristolainen in particular, to carry the puck up ice similar to Nashville’s style.
The Sabres have struggled defensively for years now, so it was no surprise that Botterill’s first goal was to fix that issue. He started by signing KHL free agent defenseman Viktor Antipin, but didn’t stop there: he also acquired Nathan Beaulieu from Montreal for a 3rd round pick. Botterill still saw the need for a top pair defenseman, so he traded Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno and a 3rd round pick to the Minnesota Wild for Marco Scandella, fan-favorite Jason Pominville and a 4th round pick.
Although Botterill addressed the Sabres’ defensive issues early in summer, he didn’t neglect his other positions. Among his most important additions are Benoit Pouliot, Chad Johnson and Jacob Josefson.
All in all, the Sabres’ offseason look pretty solid. They didn’t go out and overspend on any major free agents.
That being said, they still have a big hole among their top 6 forwards. Specifically, the need for a left wing is paramount, and it has top prospects Justin Bailey, Nicholas Baptiste and Alexander Nylander all itching for the chance to play with the big boys. I personally believe Nylander stands the best chance. He is a natural left wing and has added some needed muscle this offseason. A solid camp from him could see him playing on the left with Jack Eichel or Ryan O’Reilly.
Offseason Grade: B+
Overall, the Sabres had a tremendous offseason and I think the fans will see a better product on the ice this season. With a healthy Eichel and strong defense, I think the Sabres should be a playoff team.
Nick and Connor discuss the ongoing First Round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs with incredible analysis of the Nashville Predators unbelievable sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks, as well as an in depth look at the Buffalo Sabres and where they go from here after relieving Tim Murray and Dan Blysma from their respective duties as general manager and head coach. Selke Trophy and Calder Trophy winners are predicted based on the finalists.
For the second day in a row, somebody else has had to take the Game of the Day duties, since Connor Keith is out of town. Here goes nothing.
Sundays are perfect for sitting and watching hockey all day and if you don’t have anything to do from mid-afternoon through the rest of the night, then today’s schedule is just for you.
Sunday’s action begins in Calgary, Alberta as the New York Islanders pay their annual visit to the Calgary Flames at 4 p.m. Buffalo at Pittsburgh (NHLN/ROOT/MSG-B) kicks off at 5 p.m. As things get underway at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, newly acquired defenseman Kyle Quincey and the Columbus Blue Jackets face off against now former Blue Jacket defenseman Dalton Prout and the New Jersey Devils in New Jersey.
An hour later the Pacific Division leading San Jose Sharks visit the 2nd place in the Central Division Minnesota Wild. At 8 p.m. the Vancouver Canucks face former teammate Ryan Kesler and the Anaheim Ducks in southern California as the St. Louis Blues square off against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on NBCSN.
Half an hour later, the evening’s final game kicks off in Glendale, Arizona with the Carolina Hurricanes and the Arizona Coyotes. All times eastern.
- Buffalo at Pittsburgh: In a rematch of the 2008 Winter Classic, the Sabres and head coach Dan Bylsma pay a visit to Bylsma’s former club as Buffalo looks to climb from being five points out of a wild card spot in the Atlantic Division.
- Columbus at New Jersey: Kyle Quincey and Dalton Prout were traded for each other, so which team made the better move? Obviously we’ll find out after whoever wins this game.
- San Jose at Minnesota: Two division leaders in the Western Conference do battle as the Wild look to compete with the Washington Capitals in this season’s President’s Trophy race. Okay, fine, Minnesota was on top of the Central Division until last night.
- St. Louis at Colorado: Some professional team from St. Louis is playing some bantam team from Colorado (only kidding). Honestly, I’m just throwing this one on here in case your team’s not playing tonight and you want to watch out of market hockey on NBCSN.
Since I was informed I would be writing today’s Game of the Day matchup preview, the Minnesota Wild were on top of the Central Division as the San Jose Sharks continued to dominate the Pacific Division and everything seemed to be perfectly aligning for my Daily Matchup debut– that is until the Chicago Blackhawks decided to ruin the fun, surpassing the Wild for 1st in the Central Division with their 5-3 victory over the Nashville Predators Saturday night.
However! First place is still on the line for both teams in the San Jose Sharks at Minnesota Wild matchup (technically). Minnesota can reclaim the Central Division lead with a win at home and San Jose can do everything to keep the Wild out of first place in the Central while putting more separation between themselves and the Edmonton Oilers for first in the Pacific Division.
Stay with me here.
The Sharks enter Xcel Energy Center on a three game winning streak with a 38-18-7 record through 63 games played (good enough for 83 points on the year), as the Wild enter Sunday night coming off of a 1-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets and a 41-15-6 record after 62 games played and 88 points on the season.
Despite losing in the Stanley Cup Final last year, San Jose is still a hot team on a run, similar to how the Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to shrug off their 2015 Stanley Cup Final loss to the Blackhawks. The Sharks aren’t in the hunt for the President’s Trophy– but the Wild are, more on that in a second– yet they’re quietly peaking at the right time.
Though quietly might not be the right term.
Winners of four out of their last five games, in which they’ve outscored their opponents 15-6 in that span, San Jose is witnessing quite the team effort in the midst of a Hart Trophy worthy season from defenseman Brent Burns (27-40-67 totals in 63 games). Only Sharks captain Joe Pavelski ranks in the top-50 in scoring in the NHL tied for 21st in the league with 55 points alongside Auston Matthews (TOR), Alex Ovechkin (WSH), Leon Draisaitl (EDM) and Victor Hedman (TB).
Despite trailing off in goals this season, Joe Thornton’s 35 assists contribute to the overall +29 goal differential for the team in teal.
Martin Jones (30-15-6 on the season in 52 GP) has stood tall in goal for the second straight year, notching 30 wins thus far (tied for 5th in the league with Boston’s Tuukka Rask). Jones’s .917 save percentage ranks 17th (tied with Florida’s Roberto Luongo) among active goalies with at least 25 games played this season, as his 2.28 goals against average is good enough to be tied for 9th in the league with Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray (same parameters as before, active goalies with at least 25 games played).
Minnesota enters Sunday with a 41-15-6 record through 62 games played (good enough for 88 points) and is 3-2-0 in their last five games, having outscored their opponents 19-17 during that time.
Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau has led his team within reach of the President’s Trophy as the team with the best record in the league at the end of the regular season, trailing one point behind the Blackhawks with three games in hand and seven points behind the Washington Capitals with two games in hand.
The State of Hockey’s leading scorer, center Mikael Granlund, ranks 12th in the league with 21-38-59 totals in 62 games played. Mikko Koivu (48 points), Nino Niederreiter (46 points) and Eric Staal (46 points) are also in the top-50 scorers in the league among active skaters.
Depth scoring has been a strong suit of an otherwise solely superstar-less driven scoring team as the Wild have racked up a +61 goal differential. Devan Dubnyk (34-12-3 on the season in 49 GP) ranks 1st in the league in save percentage with a .933 and 2nd in GAA with a 2.03 among active goalies with at least 25 games played this season. Dubnyk’s underrated play in net is sure to land him a Vezina Trophy this season.
The Sharks are 18-11-3 on the road, including their most recent 4-1 win in Vancouver against the Canucks on February 25th. Meanwhile, the Wild are 22-8-1 on home ice, including their 5-4 victory in overtime against the Los Angeles Kings on February 27th.
Minnesota topped San Jose in their previous meeting by a score of 5-4 on January 5th. The two teams will do battle once again on March 21st in what could be a season series tiebreaker.
Both teams are on a tear on offense in the last couple of weeks, however, Sunday night could be a different story with Dubnyk and Jones in net (so long as they’re the starters). Additionally, the Sharks have a slight edge in defense, having allowed one fewer goal than the Wild this season (147 goals against for SJ, compared to 148 GA for MIN).
I don’t know what the odds in Vegas are saying, but my money’s on San Jose pulling off a win with a slim margin of victory over Minnesota. The Wild beat the Sharks on road ice in January, so it’s only fair that San Jose wins one in Minnesota, right?
Milt Schmidt (1918- January 4, 2017)– The Ultimate Bruin played all of his career (1936-1955) with Boston, coached in Boston (1954-1966) and was even the general manager (1967-1972) for the Bruins, winning two Stanley Cups as a player in 1939 and 1941, as well as two Stanley Cups as a GM in 1970 and 1972 for a total of four Cups in his life in hockey. Schmidt also coached the Washington Capitals in their first couple of seasons in existence (1974-1976), though they missed the playoffs both years.Hockey Birthday
Schmidt helped find Bobby Orr and pulled off the blockbuster trade of Pit Martin, Gilles Marotte and Jack Norris for Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield from the Chicago Black Hawks as a general manager and took three years off from his playing career (in its prime!) from 1942-1945 to serve in World War II for the Royal Canadian Air Force alongside his Kraut Line teammates Woody Dumart and Bobby Bauer.
Sadly, the Kitchner, Ontario native passed away in January at 98-years-old as the last member of the inaugural (1936-1937) American Hockey League (AHL) season.
He passed on the reigns of the oldest living former NHL player to John “Chick” Webster, 96, who made his NHL debut in the 1949-1950 season with the New York Rangers, appearing in 14 games and racking up four penalty minutes in his short NHL career.
Bill Thoms (1910-1964), Harry Pidhirny (1928-2010), Ken Yackel (1932-1991), Dale Anderson (1932-2015), Pat Hannigan (1936-2007), Bob Richer (1951-), Paul Gardner (1956-), Tim Friday (1961-), Anatoli Semenov (1962-), Bob Halkidis (1966-), Matt DelGuidice (1967-), Shjon Podein (1968-), Bryan Berard (1977-), Paul Martin (1981-), Barret Jackman (1981-), Michel Ouellet (1982-)
Saturday night’s DTFR Game of the Day matchup between the host New York Rangers and visiting Montreal Canadiens witnessed a 4-1 victory for the Habs on road ice as Montreal improved to 6-2-0 in the Claude Julien (Part Deux).
Carey Price made 26 saves on 27 shots faced en route to picking up the win at Madison Square Garden, while Henrik Lundqvist stopped 31 shots against on 35 shots faced in the loss.
Shea Weber opened the scoring for the Canadiens at 12:51 of the first period for his fifteenth goal of the season. Max Pacioretty (26) and Steve Ott (4) picked up assists on Weber’s goal. Montreal went into the first intermission with a 1-0 lead in what looked like it would be a goalie battle after all (as Colby wrote about yesterday), as Lundqvist made 10 saves on 11 shots faced and Price turned aside all six shots from the Rangers in the first period.
Despite trailing in shots on goal by five in the first period, New York only trailed in SOG 14-10 in the 2nd period and led in the category 11-10 in the 3rd period.
Artturi Lehkonen (12) scored what would become the game winning goal 8:48 into the 2nd period on a one-timer from one knee on a pass from Phillip Danault (21). Pacioretty (27) picked up the seconday assist.
The Canadiens went up 3-0 nearly ten minutes later in the 2nd period on a goal from Andrew Shaw (10). Shaw’s wraparound goal was assisted by Alex Galchenyuk (21) and Andrei Markov (24).
The lone goal from the Rangers came on a shot from Chris Kreider who notched his 24th goal of the season. Derek Stepan (32) and Mats Zuccarello (33) assisted on Kreider’s goal at 1:44 of the 3rd period. New York cut the lead to two goals, but could not muster enough to do anything further.
New addition to the lineup for Montreal, defenseman Jordie Benn fired home his 3rd goal of the season (and first as a Hab) at 6:58 of the 3rd period. Nathan Beaulieu (21) and Galchenyuk (22) assisted on Benn’s goal.
For more stats on Daily Matchup records, wait for Connor to get back (though I’m having a lot of fun writing this, maybe I’ll steal it from him more often).
If you have been following the blog at all or just me personally you know I am a huge Buffalo Sabres fan. With this being said, it has been a year since I have written an article about them, so it’s about time for the Sabres update.
At the 2016 draft, Tim Murray made another trade as the Sabres acquired a top four defenseman Dmitry Kulikov for Mark Pysyk. Another trade at the draft was a 3rd round pick for the negotiating rights of Jimmy Vesey. Jimmy Vesey was due to become a UFA on August 15th when Murray acquired him. This gave the Sabres a few weeks to talk with Vesey before that date. In the end, Vesey decided to become a UFA and eventually chose the New York Rangers as his new team.
The team continued to get better as they landed a top free agent in Kyle Okposo for a 7-year, $42 million contract. This figures out to be a six million dollar average annual value (per year cap hit). The Sabres added a few AHL players for Rochester in free agency, the biggest name being Justin Falk, who will fight to be the depth guy in Buffalo. Most of the Sabres offseason was trying to re-sign their current players.
The Sabres gave one-year deals to Zemgus Girgensons, Marcus Foligno, Daniel Catenacci, Cole Schneider and Johan Larsson. Jason Kasdorf, Casey Nelson and Nicolas Deslauriers got 2-year deals. Jake McCabe got a 3-year deal with $1.6M average annual value. There is only one RFA left and that is Rasmus Ristolainen. Not to worry, though, he is expected to sign a big long-term deal keeping him with the Sabres for a while. (As for why Murray is waiting, I have no clue and I am as frustrated as you are.)
So with all of these moves plus adding a top six winger and top four defenseman, what does this mean for the Sabres this upcoming season?
Here are my thoughts on the subject. The Sabres need to be playoff-bound this year for a few reasons:
First, the Atlantic division is completely up for grabs this year. Looking at the division, there isn’t one clear winner like years past. Boston and Montreal have questions defensively to figure out. The Florida Panthers have a lot of new faces, but will they all fit and work together right? Tampa might be the strongest team in the division after keeping Steven Stamkos.
Second, if the Sabres don’t make the playoffs, it could be the end of Dan Bylsma in Buffalo. Bylsma wasn’t Murray first choice to be coach of this team, and if the team doesn’t improve at the rate Murray wants them to, there could be big changes and Bylsma could be one of them.
Finally, do it for Marcus and Zemgus. Folgino and Girgensons had a few question asked of them about production last season. If the team doesn’t make the playoffs this season, these are two guys who could be playing their last season in Buffalo unless their production jumps up dramatically. You may call me crazy for this thought, but it really does hurt me knowing that my favorite player (Girgensons) may be traded at some point.
If football is any predictor, we should’ve known this series would be exactly this long – the Raiders and Steelers have split their six games when meeting in the AFC playoffs in their historic rivalry, including such occurrences as the Immaculate Reception. In hockey, we cannot end a playoff series tied, and the Penguins now have a 4-2 postseason record over the Sharks that they used to hoist the Stanley Cup for the fourth time in the franchise’s history.
Perhaps Kris Letang’s goal (by a defenseman no less, not ironic if you’re familiar with the history of both football teams) will be remembered with such accolades as the one listed before and become one of those named plays in Pittsburgh‘s vast sporting lore. The Second Star of the Game’s slap shot found the back of Third Star Martin Jones’ net at the 7:46 mark of the second period after assists from First Star Sidney Crosby (his 12th helper of the postseason) and Conor Sheary. A centering pass to Patric Hornqvist went awry, leading to Crosby ending up with the puck on the near side of Jones’ crease. He took it behind the net and passed to Letang waiting at the far face-off zone to bang it off the netminder for a five-hole goal.
What’s more impressive is that tally was struck only 1:19 after Logan Couture and the Sharks had leveled the score.
For the opening five minutes of the second period, the Sharks were making extremely evident what Coach Peter DeBoer had stressed during intermission, as they led the shot totals five to one.
Those efforts proved fruitful 6:27 after resuming play when Couture scored his 30th point of the postseason (only the fifth player to reach that mark since 1995) with a goal-scoring wrister, assisted by Melker Karlsson and Brent Burns (his 17th helper of the postseason). Burns had gloved down a clearing attempt by the Penguins just outside San Jose‘s offensive zone. He passed from the near to far boards along the blue line to Karlsson to enter the zone, who immediately shoved the puck along to the attacking Couture. Although the scouting report has said to attack Matt Murray’s glove hand, Couture fired for the netminder’s five-hole, banking a shot off his left pad to level the score after a first period goal from Brian Dumoulin.
Dumoulin’s play actually begins 26 seconds before he finds the net when he was tripped by Dainius Zubrus at the 7:50 mark of the first period, causing the first power play of the game. His ensuing slap shot was assisted by Justin Schultz and Chris Kunitz (his eighth helper of the postseason). Kunitz passed up the near boards to Schultz at the point, who passed across the blue line to the waiting goal scorer. The defenseman faked a shot to get Karlsson out of his way before following through with a second attempt that narrowly beat Jones far side.
For the most part, Pittsburgh was in control for most of the final game of the NHL season.
The first period stats that best explain the opening frame (other than Pittsburgh‘s 100% power play success rate) include the Pens‘ 60% face-off win rate and the 16 combined turnovers in favor of the Sharks – 11 giveaways from the Penguins and another five Shark takeaways.
Overall, Pittsburgh controlled the puck, but when San Jose could ascertain possession, they certainly struck fear into Murray and the black-and-gold on a few occasions, but the netminder stood tall to keep the Sharks off the board.
Once again the Penguins entered the intermission with a one-goal lead, but the long change in the second period, as its prone to do, has a way of evening things out to not favor either side. The Sharks actually led the frame’s shot totals (13 to 11, respectively) in addition to continuing their dominance along the boards (18 to 10 for the period and 36 to 22 after two periods), but Pittsburgh continued to own the face-off dot (winning 15 out of 22 face-offs in the frame and 65% for the contest) to hold their own.
Statistics for the final frame are misleading, with the exception of one: blocked shots. Pittsburgh ended the game with 33 blocks, with quite a few of them occurring in the final 20 minutes. With the help of those blocks and the threat of others forcing rushed attempts, only two Shark shots reached Murray’s net.
With two minutes remaining in San Jose‘s season, Jones left the ice for a sixth skater. Hornqvist made the Sharks pay with 62 seconds remaining with a wrister on the empty net after an assist from Crosby to seal the victory for the City of Champions. The Conn Smythe Trohpy-winning captain took credit for one of the many blocks of the frame near the point and dished to a streaking Hornqvist, who barely advanced into the Sharks’ zone before scoring.
History certainly has a way of repeating itself, even when excluding the connection between these towns on the gridiron. Seven years ago, to the day, was the date when the Penguins last hoisted the Cup. The seasons followed a similar story line: a team that looked so dangerous on paper that failed to live up to the scouting report on ice. To resolve the issue, a new coach was hired, then Dan Bylsma, and Sullivan this season. Even the fact that the Penguins won in their road white sweaters (That’s a Steel City tradition though, at this point. It’s been since 1960 that a Pittsburgh-based Big Four team [baseball, basketball, football and hockey] has won on home turf (the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates) recalls memories of the Penguins‘ triumph in Joe Louis Arena.
Both goaltenders played exceptionally well, but Murray earned the victory after saving 18 of the 19 shots he faced (94.7%), while Jones takes the loss, saving 24 of 26 (92.3%).
I don’t know about you, but yesterday’s Game of the Day did not end as I expected, as the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Washington Capitals 3-1 at the Verizon Center. Phil Kessel, assisted by Evgeni Malkin and David Perron, notched the game winner at the 3:49 mark of the third period.
Washington waited to open the scoring until the 1:28 mark of the final period. Karl Alzner assisted Evgeny Kuznetsov to his fourth goal of the season to give the Caps a one-goal lead, but it was short lived – only 24 seconds, in fact, as Nick Bonino and Olli Maatta assisted Beau Bennett to the game-tying goal. Bonino also scored an empty netter with under two minutes remaining in the game.
Marc-Andre Fleury earned his fifth win of the season by stopping 33 of 34 shots (97.1%) to set his record at 5-4-0, while Braden Holtby takes the loss, his second of the season, after allowing two of 24 shots faced (91.7%).
The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 13-6-3, favoring the home team by nine points.
Tonight’s schedule is another full one, with a total of eight games on the night. The action gets started at 7 p.m. eastern when three games get started (Carolina at the New York Islanders, New Jersey at Philadelphia and Buffalo at Pittsburgh [Bell TV]), followed half an hour later by Colorado at Tampa Bay. Beginning at 8 p.m. eastern are two games (Anaheim at St. Louis and Chicago at Winnipeg), followed half an hour later by Vancouver at Dallas. Finally, the night begins to see its end at 9 p.m. eastern when Montréal visits Edmonton (SN, SN360, RDS).
Of tonight’s matchups, three are divisional rivalries (Carolina at the Isles, New Jersey at Philadelphia and Chicago at Winnipeg) and only one game featuring two teams currently in playoff position (Vancouver at Dallas).
Those games being noted, there is another matchup that strikes my fancy, as it is the first return of an ex-coach to play against his ex-team. That man is none other than Dan Bylsma, who is featured in the Buffalo–Pittsburgh matchup.
I know, we watched Pittsburgh yesterday, but this is a significant return. Although under slightly bizarre circumstances, Bylsma is the last coach to lead the Pens to the Stanley Cup. Plus, it’s Game of the Day’s first opportunity to see Jack Eichel in action, so I shouldn’t hear any complainers.
Coach Bylsma returns to the home arena of the team he led to the 2009 Stanley Cup with only 25 regular season games coached after replacing Michel Therrien mid-season. Winner of the 2010-’11 Jack Adams Award, Bylsma is the winningest coach in team history (252 wins, 20 more than Eddie Johnston), as well as the coach with the highest win percentage (67%).
As we all know, the reason for Bylsma’s departure from the Triangle was not his regular season success, but his post-season letdowns. Under his direction, the Penguins improved every regular season until the 2013-’14 season, beginning in his first full season with a .616 point percentage that grew to .75 by the time of his release. However, his postseason win-loss percentage is a different story. During his tenure the team won the Cup, then fell in the conference semifinals, followed by falling in the conference quarterfinals twice in a row, improving to the conference finals, then finally the semifinals. While some teams would love to make the playoffs on a consistent basis and make it past the first round most of the time, the Pittsburgh teams he coached were built to win, and only one cup did not satisfy ownership.
The Buffalo Sabres are currently 3-6-0 coming off a 4-3 win over Philadelphia on Tuesday. While folks in Upstate New York may be excited to usher in the Eichel Era, there have been some growing pains so far this season. The team has scored four goals less and given up five over the league average. The offensive production may be more due to bad luck though, as the Sabres have put 283 shots on goal so far this season, 21 over the league average, but only 6.7% of those attempts are finding the back of the net.
Probably the most exciting part about this Sabres team is their power play. The special teams have accounted for nine goals so far this season (three over the league average) on 36 opportunities, giving them a 25% success rate that exceeds the league average by 6.39%.
Sadly, this positive comes with its own negative, as the penalty kill is vastly inferior to the rest of the NHL. Buffalo has given up seven power play goals so far on only 23 opportunities (seven under the league average), giving them an atrocious penalty kill percentage of 69.57%, 11.82% under the league average. Fortunately for the Sabres, they have been limiting penalties to a minimum to avoid man-down situations as much as possible, but penalties do happen and this statistic may be a monkey that hangs on the squad’s back for the entire season.
As explained yesterday, Bylsma’s old team is leaning heavily on Fleury and the defense, and there has been no indication that Jeff Zatkoff will see his first playing time tonight, although I don’t think anyone would be surprised if he did, given that Fleury has played every minute of all nine games this season.
Some players to watch in this one include Buffalo‘s Jake McCabe (two even strength goals [leads team] and 40% shot percentage [leads team]), Ryan O’Reilly (eight points [leads team], five assists [leads team], four power play assists [leads team]) & Sam Reinhart (+2 Corsi rating [leads team] and three even-strength assists [leads team]) and Pittsburgh‘s Malkin (seven points [leads team], four assists [leads team], three even-strength assists [leads team], two game-winners [leads team] and 13.6% shot percentage [leads team]) and, should he play, Fleury (five wins [tied for third in league], one shutout [tied for sixth in the league], 1.9 GAA [eighth in the league] and .936 save percentage [ninth in the league]).
Conventional wisdom points to the Penguins being favored in this one, but I think Pittsburgh‘s poor power play provides the Sabres a way to keep this one closer than expected.