Tag Archives: DeBoer

Game of the week: December 17-23

The holiday break is so close we can almost taste it, but there’s still a little more work to be done before the NHL begins its three-day break on Monday. Without further ado, this week’s offerings include:

NHL SCHEDULE: December 17-23
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, December 17
7 p.m. Anaheim Pittsburgh 4-2
7 p.m. Vegas Columbus 0-1
7:30 p.m. Boston Montréal 4-0
7:30 p.m. Nashville Ottawa 3-4 (OT)
9 p.m. New York Islanders Colorado Avalanche 4-1
Tuesday, December 18
7 p.m. Florida Buffalo 5-2
7 p.m. Toronto New Jersey 7-2
7 p.m. Anaheim Ducks New York Rangers 1-3
7 p.m. Detroit Philadelphia 2-3
8 p.m. San Jose Minnesota 4-0
8:30 p.m. Nashville Chicago 1-2
8:30 p.m. Calgary Dallas 0-2
9 p.m. St. Louis Edmonton 4-1
9 p.m. New York Islanders Arizona Coyotes 3-1
10 p.m. Tampa Bay Vancouver 5-2
10:30 p.m. Winnipeg Los Angeles 1-4
Wednesday, December 19
8 p.m. Pittsburgh Washington 2-1
8:30 p.m. Montréal Colorado 1-2
Thursday, December 20
7 p.m. Anaheim Boston SN360
7 p.m. Florida Toronto TVAS
7 p.m. Nashville Philadelphia ESPN+
7 p.m. Minnesota Pittsburgh
7 p.m. Detroit Carolina
7 p.m. New Jersey Columbus
8:30 p.m. Chicago Dallas
9 p.m. Tampa Bay Calgary
9 p.m. Montréal Arizona RDS, TSN2
10 p.m. St. Louis Vancouver ESPN+
10 p.m. New York Islanders Vegas Golden Knights SN360
10:30 p.m. Winnipeg San Jose
Friday, December 21
7 p.m. Ottawa New Jersey RDS
7 p.m. Buffalo Washington NBCSN, SN, TVAS
9 p.m. Chicago Colorado ESPN+, SN360
Saturday, December 22
1 p.m. Nashville Boston NHLN, SN, SN1
1 p.m. Columbus Philadelphia ESPN+
2 p.m. Florida Detroit
4 p.m. Montréal Vegas RDS, TSN2
4 p.m. Los Angeles San Jose NBCSN, SN1
4 p.m. St. Louis Calgary
7 p.m. Colorado Arizona
7 p.m. Anaheim Buffalo
7 p.m. New York Rangers Toronto Maple Leafs CBC, NHLN, SN, SN1
7 p.m. Washington Ottawa CITY, SN360, TVAS
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Carolina
8 p.m. Dallas Minnesota
10 p.m. Winnipeg Vancouver CBC, SN360
10 p.m. Tampa Bay Edmonton CITY, ESPN+, SN1
Sunday, December 23
12:30 p.m. Columbus New Jersey SN
5 p.m. Boston Carolina SN1
7 p.m. Florida Chicago ESPN+
7 p.m. Philadelphia Flyers New York Rangers NHLN
7:30 p.m. Detroit Toronto SN, SN360, TVAS
8 p.m. Los Angeles Vegas
8 p.m. Arizona San Jose
8 p.m. New York Islanders Dallas Stars

For those that didn’t keep count, that’s a healthy 55 tilts to keep us entertained while family members you simply adore ask a multitude of questions you’d rather they not.

In the rivalries department, the NHL loaded us up with six showdowns this week, including Boston at Montréal, Pittsburgh at Washington, Los Angeles at San Jose, the Rangers at Toronto, Philadelphia at the Rangers and Detroit at Toronto.

Two rematches from this spring’s edition of the Stanley Cup Playoffs will also take place: the previously mentioned Pens-Caps game and Los Angeles’ trip to Sin City Sunday night.

Finally, the biggest player return of the week will take place tonight when F Max Domi makes his first trip back to Glendale to take on the Coyotes, the club that drafted him 12th overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.

However, of all those games highlighted, there’s still another tonight that will have my full attention. Both the Jets and Sharks entered this season with high expectations, but only one has truly flexed its muscles thus far this season. Perhaps that will be just the motivation San Jose needs to find its next gear.

Currently in a three-way tie for first place in the Western Conference, the 22-10-2 Winnipeg Jets are technically the top team by playing one fewer game than both the Calgary Flames and Nashville Predators.

Winnipeg’s last outing wasn’t exactly one to be proud of (the Jets fell 4-1 in Los Angeles to the lowly Kings on Tuesday), but it had been riding a five-game winning streak coming into that game. In fact, in their past 11 games, the Jets boast a 9-2-0 record that includes five overtime or shootout victories.

To the surprise of none, Winnipeg’s greatest strength is undoubtedly its offense. Having averaged 3.56 goals per game for the entire season (the fourth-best mark in the NHL), Head Coach Peter DeBoer will certainly have a plan for how he wants his team to slow down the impressive talents of C Mark Scheifele (21-25-46 points) and RW Blake Wheeler (5-39-44) on Winnipeg’s top line.

However, that will be a difficult task to pull off because the Jets’ attack has been even more potent than usual during this 11-game run. Since November 29, the Jets have averaged an outstanding four goals per game, which is tied with, coincidentally, San Jose for third best in the league in that time.

The previously mentioned Scheifele and Wheeler have certainly had their fingerprints all over that dynamic attack, as they’ve posted respective 8-12-20 and 1-14-15 totals in their last 11 outings. However, they’ve also been joined by LW Nikolaj Ehlers (7-5-12), D Josh Morrissey (3-8-11 in nine games) and D Dustin Byfuglien (1-8-9 in seven games) in averaging at least a point per game during this run, creating a defensive nightmare for most teams not as talented as the Sharks on the blue line.

The San Jose Sharks were supposed to already be atop the Western Conference – if not the entire NHL – according to many preseason reports, yet they find themselves stuck with a 19-11-5 record good enough for only second place in the Pacific Division.

But don’t read that as the Sharks being a bad team. They’re riding a five-game winning streak and have posted a 7-1-0 record in their past eight outings, so it seems like the team is finally starting to realize its potential. The next question, of course, is just how good can this team be, but that’s an answer the Jets would rather not answer tonight.

During this eight-game run, San Jose has been clicking on all cylinders; literally everything is gelling, and the numbers are showing just that.

Perhaps my favorite part of the Sharks’ game right now is their attack. Currently in a tie with Ottawa for eighth-best offense on the season by averaging 3.31 goals per game, the Sharks’ effort since December 2 has made all but Tampa Bay jealous. Led by F Logan Couture‘s impressive 5-6-11 totals in the last eight games, San Jose has managed a dominant 4.25 goals per game during this run.

Joining Couture in averaging at least a point per game since the beginning of the month are RW Timo Meier (5-5-10 in seven games played), F Tomas Hertl (4-5-9) and D Erik Karlsson (0-8-8).

That’s right, the same Karlsson that looked like he wasn’t panning out in Silicon Valley is on a bit of a hot streak of late. His goal scoring may be down from his Ottawa days (last season’s nine goals in 71 appearances was a poor season for him, and this year’s pace has him set to register only five markers), but the 10-year NHL veteran is still making his presence known on the scorecard.

In addition to scoring, this dynamic offense has also had some incredible influence on the defensive zone by maintaining elongated possessions. During this eight-game run, San Jose has allowed only 27.88 shots against per game, the fifth-best mark in the NHL since December 2 and only two shots worse than the Islanders’ league-leading pace set in that same time span.

Of course, D Justin Braun (2.3 blocks per game since December 2), D Brenden Dillon (2.8 hits per game during this run) and Karlsson (11 takeaways in his past eight outings) have certainly done their fair share on the defensive end as well.

If anyone is appreciative of that effort, it’s surely 14-7-3 G Martin Jones, tonight’s starter. Though he’s struggled for much of the season (made evident by his unusually low .901 save percentage and 2.81 GAA for the campaign), he’s shown signs of improvement lately. He’s earned five of the Sharks’ last seven wins, posting a much more familiar .936 save percentage and 1.94 GAA in his last seven starts.

If Jones has finally rounded into form for the year, this Sharks blue line will truly begin to influence play in the offensive zone, which should be a very scary proposition for the entire Western Conference.

When two high powered offenses are going at it, I usually side with the better of the two goaltenders to determine the game’s winner. In his past eight starts, 15-9-1 G Connor Hellebuyck has earned six wins on the back of a .91 save percentage and 2.72 GAA (both nominal improvements on his .908 season save percentage and associated 2.9 GAA).

Compare that to Jones’ numbers, and the answer is obvious: the Sharks should come away winners tonight and send the home fans happy.

December 23 – Day 80 – Californian Christmas contest

Pack your hockey watching in today, because the NHL goes on hiatus until Wednesday. What are we supposed to do with our lives?

But don’t be alarmed, the league scheduler didn’t forget to tuck a present under your tree: it’s a loaded schedule today, as every team except the Flames are in action.

The action gets an early start today, as both Detroit at Boston (SN) and Winnipeg at the New York Islanders drop the puck at 1 p.m. The usual 7 p.m. starting time brings with it eight contests (Montréal at Edmonton [SN/TVAS], Minnesota at Tampa Bay, Ottawa at Florida [CITY/SN360], Chicago at New Jersey, Toronto at the New York Rangers [CBC/NHLN], Anaheim at Pittsburgh, Buffalo at Carolina and Philadelphia at Columbus), while three more (Washington at Vegas, Colorado at Arizona and Nashville at Dallas) wait until 8 p.m. to get underway. Finally, tonight’s co-nightcaps – St. Louis at Vancouver (CBC/SN) and Los Angeles at San Jose – drop the puck at 10 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

What a slate of games! Here’s a few that stuck out to me before the season even got started…

  • Detroit at Boston: The first of two Original Six matchups today, though this one pales in comparison to the other.
  • Toronto at New York: If Original Six games are your scene, you need to be in Manhattan.
  • Los Angeles at San Jose: The Battle of California rages on this evening in The Tank.

If only we hadn’t featured the Maple Leafs and Rangers already this week, I would totally be making the trip to Madison Square Garden for what should be an excellent game. But since we did, I have my eye on the activity in the Golden State this evening.

 

 

 

 

 

Nothing gets me into the holiday spirit quite like a nasty intrastate rivalry.

There are few teams nastier than the 22-10-4 Kings, who have thrown 901 hits already this season – the second-most in the league behind Edmonton’s 947 blows. That effort has been led by Dustin Brown, who has delivered 101 of those 901 hits (11.2 percent), the 11th-most in the NHL.

That physical nature has obviously been a major component of Head Coach John Stevens‘ game plan, and that plan has worked to a T considering the Kings allow a league-best 2.31 goals against-per-game to earn first place in the Western Conference.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have 17-10-1 G Jonathan Quick in net stopping pucks. In his seven December starts, he’s posted a .926 save percentage and 2.12 GAA to improve his season numbers to .928 and 2.23. His performance on the season puts him among the top-10 goalies regardless of how much or little time they’ve spent in the crease (76 in all), and third-best among the 39 netminders with at least 11 starts.

To make matters even tougher on the Sharks, Los Angeles is one of the hottest teams in the conference right now, as it has earned a 7-2-1 record over its last 10 games – an effort matched only by second-place Vegas.

Speaking of those Sharks, they’ve earned an 18-11-4 record that is good enough for third place in the Pacific Division. When they’ve found success this season, the Sharks have played some of the bets defense in the NHL, allowing only 2.52 goals against-per-game.

While the Kings have a great defense built on violence and a stellar goaltender, San Jose employs a more traditional defensive plan based on limiting shots on 11-8-3 G Martin Jones‘ net. Jones and backup 7-3-1 G Aaron Dell see an average of only 29.94 shots against per game, the fourth-fewest in the league.

Defensemen Justin Braun and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (both with 1.9 blocks per game), Brent Burns (team-leading 37 takeaways) and Brenden Dillon (2.75 hits per game) have been the major leaders in that defensive effort, but a total of seven players average at least 1.5 hits, and another group of nine block at least one shot per game. This entire team has bought into Head Coach Peter DeBoer, and that effort has kept them afloat in the division despite averaging only 2.79 goals per game, the second-worst among the 16 teams currently in playoff position.

These teams have already met twice this season, and both have won one game on the road. Los Angeles won the first game at The Tank 4-1 back in October, while the Sharks exacted revenge in mid-November to win 2-1 at the Staples Center.

Given a home team has yet to defend their arena in this series, I’d be led to believe the Kings will earn two points this evening. Throw on the fact that they statistically play better on both ends of the rink, and I’d say they’re a lock.


Though the Calgary Flames staged a two-goal comeback attempt in the third period, the Montréal Canadiens held on to win yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at the Scotiabank Saddledome 3-2.

The Habs employed a strong and steady attack throughout this contest, as they managed a goal per period to slowly wear down the Flames. Scoring his first NHL goal since February 20, 2016, First Star C Byron Froese (D Jordie Benn and F Alex Galchenyuk) provided Montréal its first period goal on a deflected shot with 9:15 remaining in the frame.

The second period’s goal belonged to none other than LW Nicolas Deslauriers (Froese and W Daniel Carr). He buried his wrist shot behind G Mike Smith at the 8:44 mark of the period to give the Canadiens a 2-0 advantage.

Though it was only an extra insurance goal at the time, Third Star RW Brendan Gallagher (LW Artturi Lehkonen and C Tomas Plekanec) scored what proved to be the game-winning goal with a wrister at the 3:10 mark of the third period. After collecting the puck in the trapezoid, Lehkonen began wrapping around the backside of Smith’s net from his right to left. However, instead of completing his play with a shot on goal, he elected to pass to Gallagher through the crease, who needed two shots to get the puck past Smith and into the twine.

But this game was far from over at that point. Calgary finally got on the board after 49:42 of action courtesy of a W Micheal Ferland (F Michael Frolik and C Sean Monahan) wrister.

As more minutes ticked off the clock, hope began to dwindle once again among the C of Red, but a power play wrister from LW Matthew Tkachuk (C Mikael Backlund and LW Johnny Gaudreau) with 1:53 remaining in regulation reignited the Flames faithful. However, that comeback would fall just short, as Calgary could not level the game even with Smith pulled for an extra attacker.

G Carey Price earned the victory after saving 21-of-23 shots faced (.913 save percentage), leaving the loss to Smith, who saved 32-of-35 (.914).

The Canadiens’ win away from the Bell Centre is a rare one for road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day of late. Winning only their second in eight days, the roadies now trail the 45-26-9 hosts by only 19 points.

December 14 – Day 71 – No sushi here

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

We’ll take his word at it.

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

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

November 16 – Day 44 – Defense is a Boughner

Fantasy hockey players, consider this your alert: with a dozen games on the schedule, there’s tons of points to be earned tonight!

Like they do most nights, the festivities begin at 7 p.m. when two games (New Jersey at Toronto and Carolina at the New York Islanders), followed half an hour later by three more (Arizona at Montréal [RDS/TSN2], Pittsburgh at Ottawa [RDS2] and Dallas at Tampa Bay). 8 p.m. marks the start of two contests (Nashville at Minnesota and Philadelphia at Winnipeg) with another pair (Washington at Colorado and St. Louis at Edmonton) waiting an hour before getting underway. Vegas at Vancouver gets green-lit at 10 p.m. and tonight’s nightcaps – Boston at Los Angeles (SN) and Florida at San Jose – close things out half an hour later. All times Eastern.

There’s quite a few games that have caught my eye this evening. That list includes:

  • Pittsburgh at Ottawa: It’s the first of three rematches of last season’s Eastern Conference Finals.
  • Dallas at Tampa Bay: Welcome home G Ben Bishop; welcome home.
  • Vegas at Vancouver: D Luca Sbisa called British Columbia home for three seasons, but he’s traded his Vancouver digs for a pad in Sin City.
  • Florida at San Jose: For the last two years, Bob Boughner was an assistant coach for Head Coach Peter DeBoer in San Jose. Tonight, he’ll square off against him as the 15th head coach in Panthers history.

It’s a tough selection among those four, but I have a great way to determine which game is the DtFR Game of the Day: we’ve featured 30 of 31 NHL teams in the series so far, but the one club that escapes us is the Panthers. It’s time to resolve that today.

 

I don’t think you really understand how happy it makes me each year to say we’ve featured every club at least once in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Of course, the Panthers haven’t exactly done themselves any favors with 14 points in the standings…

Regardless of Florida’s current situation, there’s no doubt of Boughner’s ability as a coach. He’s been a head man before, even if his experience wasn’t in the NHL. For eight total seasons (two four-year terms) he was the skipper his hometown OHL team, the Windsor Spitfires. In particular, his first stint with the club was certainly noteworthy. After missing the playoffs in 2006-’07, his first season coaching the organization, he built the Spitfires into a team capable of winning back-to-back Memorial Cups in 2009 and ’10.

Of course, what can you expect from a team that featured the likes of D Ryan Ellis, D Cam Fowler, G Philipp Grubauer, F Taylor Hall, F Adam Henrique, RW Zack Kassian and F Austin Watson?

Winning two CHL championships is a good way to get noticed by the big kids in the hockey business, and Boughner was hired as an assistant coach to Scott Arniel with the Blue Jackets in 2010-’11 before returning to Windsor a year later.

His second four-year stint with the Spitfires was nowhere near as good as his first (given, winning back-to-back titles is a tough act to replicate), as he only qualified Windsor for the OHL playoffs two times – both times falling in the first round.

Following 2014-’15’s failure to reach the postseason, Boughner returned to the NHL as an assistant coach for DeBoer in San Jose, working primarily with D Brent Burns and the defense. The Sharks found much success in Boughner’s two years with the club, as they qualified for their first-ever Stanley Cup Finals in 2016.

And that brings us to present day. Since being hired as the Panthers head coach on June 12, he’s led the club to a not-so-great 6-9-2 record that – as I indicated in my season preview – I blame almost entirely on General Manager Dale Tallon.

As the saying goes, “If it walks like a duck, flies like a duck and sounds like a duck, it’s probably a duck.” Well, these Panthers are definitely no Anaheim Ducks. Even though I’m sure Boughner – a former defenseman with 10 seasons of NHL experience – is telling his blueliners all his tips and tricks, Florida is the worst defense in the NHL as measured by shots against-per-game, as their 36.6 is 1.1 more than second-worst New Jersey.

Given the obnoxious number of shots it allows, perhaps it’s no surprise Florida has registered the sixth-fewest blocks so far this season. I usually hold D Aaron Ekblad in high esteem, but as one of, if not the best defenseman on this team, his 1.5 blocks-per-game are definitely not cutting it.

Even D Andy Greene, who plays for a nominally better defense in Jersey, has managed 2.1 blocks-per-game this year. Good leaders lead by example, and Ekblad needs to do that if he wants any chance of a positive future for this Panthers organization – especially since he’s locked in with this team until the end of the 2024-’25 season.

Maybe the Panthers are a more violent team; maybe that’s how they are trying to play defense. Guess again, because Florida’s 320 hits are fifth-fewest in the NHL.

Making matters worse, F Derek MacKenzie, whose 37 hits lead the team, is currently listed as day-to-day and it is uncertain if he’ll be able to return to the ice for the first time since getting injured early in Saturday’s game against the Devils. If he’s not ready to play and D Alex Petrovic is still banished to the press box with his team-leading three hits-per-game, F Micheal Haley and his 1.8 hits-per-game would take over as the Panthers’ primary muscle.

What all of this means is 3-3-1 G Roberto Luongo should probably be commended for his .919 save percentage and 3.09 GAA. He’s doing the best he can to provide the league’s (t)ninth-best offense a chance every night he takes to the crease.

Last thing about the Panthers before we talk Sharks real quick: that offense, though. Jonathan Huberdeau (7-14-21 totals) and Vincent Trocheck (8-10-18) are absolute studs, as they’ve racked up all those points on separate lines. Snoozing on Florida’s offense is a recipe for disaster, and G Martin Jones would be wise to treat every attack from the top-two lines just like he would against the other team in the Sunshine State.

That’s actually as good a transition as any, because 10-6-0 San Jose makes a living out of rejecting even the best of offenses, allowing a league-leading 2.25 goals against-per-game.

Perhaps Boughner can use the Sharks’ defense – the same defense he helped build – as a teaching tool for his club, because there’s few blue lines in the league better than San Jose’s. Though 8-4-0 Jones has been solid with his .925 save percentage, it’s the fact that D Justin Braun (2.4 blocks-per-game), D Brenden Dillon (3.1 hits-per-game) and co. have allowed only 28.8 shots against-per-game that has earned the Sharks third place in the Pacific Division.

In my opinion, one of the best indicators of a really good defense is finding success with a man in the penalty box. The Sharks pass that test with flying colors (I can only assume those colors are teal and orange), as their 88.5 percent kill rate is second-best in the NHL. Considering the Panthers’ power play is (t)12th-worst in the league, they shouldn’t have too much trouble keeping those numbers up tonight.

Florida’s offense squares up rather nicely with San Jose’s defense, and the Sharks’ sixth-worst attack might find it in them to struggle against the Panthers’ defense. If that proves to be the case, I give the edge to San Jose since it’s playing at home and it has Jones at its disposal.


With a third period hat trick by First Star of the Game F Artem Anisimov, the Chicago Blackhawks beat the New York Rangers 6-3 at the United Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Anisimov’s (F Patrick Kane and Second Star F Nick Schmaltz) first goal of the game wasn’t struck until the 1:07 mark of the third period, leaving him only 18:53 to complete his performance. After F John Hayden (D Cody Franson and D Duncan Keith) set the score at 3-1 46 seconds after Anisimov’s first goal, the Russian struck again (Franson and Schmaltz) at the 5:14 mark with a power play wrist shot.

Since his second goal proved to be the game-winner, I suppose we’ll let it be the most important of Anisimov’s night, but his tip-in with 3:48 remaining in regulation (Schmaltz and RW Richard Panik) to send headgear flying has to earn silver. That tally set the score at 5-3 and was followed 2:18 later by C Jonathan Toews‘ (Panik and D Brent Seabrook) fifth marker of the season to set the 6-3 final on an empty net.

Making tonight’s win even sweeter for the Hawks, it technically counts as a come-from-behind victory due to C Mika Zibanejad‘s (F Chris Kreider and W Pavel Buchnevich) wrister 9:58 into the first period. He gave the Rangers a one-goal advantage that lasted 29:10 before Third Star W Alex DeBrincat (Panik and Keith) sneaked a wrister past G Henrik Lundqvist with 52 seconds remaining in the second period to level the game.

The Blueshirts also put up a strong fight in the middle of the final frame, as they scored two goals between Anisimov’s second and third. F Kevin Hayes (W Mats Zuccarello and W Rick Nash) takes credit for the first at the 7:08 mark with a wrister, followed 4:48 later by an unassisted Nash backhanded shot to set the score at 4-3 in favor of Chicago. Momentum was certainly on New York’s side at that moment, but the fact that the Hawks’ defense allowed only nine shots on goal in both the second and third periods put a halt to that positive energy rather quickly.

G Corey Crawford earned the victory after saving 25-of-28 shots faced (.893 save percentage), leaving the loss to Lundqvist, who saved 30-of-34 (.882). King Henrik was lifted after Anisimov’s second goal in favor of G Ondrej Pavelec, who completed the game saving seven-of-eight (.875) for no decision.

Not only is this the second-straight 6-3 score in the DtFR Game of the Day series, but it’s also the third-straight victory by the now 23-16-5 home teams who now have a six-point advantage over the roadies.

March 31 – Day 163 – Keeping it in Alberta

Welcome to the penultimate Friday in the NHL’s regular season. Unless you’re a fan of one of the 16 teams heading for the playoffs, there’s not much hockey left to be watched so make sure to catch the rest of this season’s games!

Tonight’s festivities start with Pittsburgh at the New York Rangers (SN) at 7 p.m., followed half an hour later by New Jersey at the New York Islanders. 8:30 p.m. marks the puck drop of Columbus at Chicago,  with two more (St. Louis at Colorado and San Jose at Calgary) getting underway at the top of the hour. Two contests – Los Angeles at Vancouver (SN360) and Washington at Arizona – share the role of nightcap and get started at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Pittsburgh at New York: Not only is it a rematch of last year’s Eastern Quarterfinals, but the Blueshirts could pull within four points of third place in the Metropolitan Division.
  • Columbus at Chicago: Two of the three best teams in the league? Yes please.
  • San Jose at Calgary: Thanks to the Sharks‘ loss last night, the Flames are only three points out of third place in the Pacific Division.

I’d love to watch the Hawks and Jackets square off, but it doesn’t have major playoff implications – and that’s what we’re all about this time of year. As much as I dislike repeating teams on back-to-back nights, it looks like we have to catch the Sharks‘ plane to Calgary for another important Pacific tilt.

 

If the Sharks can be happy about anything right now, it’s that today is the final day in what has been a dreadful March for them. Their 6-9-0 mark is tied with Arizona for the sixth-worst record in the month, and being compared to Coyotes in anything is usually a sign of trouble.

What makes the recent struggles an even harder pill to swallow is that it is spoiling an overall solid regular season. When the final game in February was played, San Jose was not only leading the Pacific Division by five points, but also trailed Minnesota by only seven points for the top seed in the Western Conference.

Thirty days later, the 43-27-7 Sharks sit alone in third place in the division, and four teams separate them from home ice throughout the conference playoffs. It leaves a club and fan base that entered the season on a quest to hoist its first Stanley Cup wondering if they can even escape what will be a very trying quarterfinals matchup against the Ducks, Flames, Oilers or possibly even the Blackhawks.

As I mentioned yesterday, it’s been an nearly all-inclusive collapse (defense notwithstanding) by the Sharks that has resulted in their horrendous run over the past 15 games.

Since 33-32-6 Martin Jones was in net last night, I’d assume 10-6-1 Aaron Dell will start in goal tonight (of course, I tabbed Dell to start yesterday and I was wrong, so who knows?). Dell has actually been a solid backup all season, as his .928 save percentage and 2.09 GAA are not only better than Jones’ effort, but also rank (t)third and fourth-best in the league among the 56 netminders with at least 16 appearances.

Whether we get that Dell or the Dell that has seen his save percentage drop to .915 in March remains to be seen, but you can plan on Justin Braun and San Jose‘s defense playing as strong as ever.

All season the goal has been to keep pucks off Dell and Jones’ crease as much as possible, and they’ve done an excellent job in achieving just that. All year, they’ve allowed only 27.5 shots-against per game – the third-best rate in the league – and they’ve actually been slightly better of late, allowing only 27.1 per game in March.

No Shark deserves more credit for that than Braun. He’s been the defensive stalwart of the club all year, and it shows in his team-leading 154 shot blocks. Another that has done well defensively is Joe Thornton, but he does his work before the opposition even thinks about firing at the net. He leads the squad in takeaways with 64 (tied for eighth-most in the league), including 13 this month.

The goaltending issues have proven to be especially detrimental to San Jose‘s penalty kill. Since it has been only an average effort on the season as a whole (80.8% kill rate is 15th-worst in the NHL), taking away the luxury of a usually-reliable backstop has dropped the Sharks to ninth-worst in March, neutralizing only 78% of their infractions. Dell has saved only 85% of the power play shots that have come his way this month, the 14th-worst effort among the 38 goalies with at least six March appearances.

Special teams seem to be a struggle for Peter DeBoer’s squad this year, as his power play has actually been worse than his penalty kill. The Sharks rank seventh-worst on the season with their 17.1% success rate with the man-advantage.

It’s surprising that San Jose has been so poor, mostly because they have one weapon few can match: Brent Burns. The offensive-minded blueliner has notched 24 points on the power play this campaign, which ties for 16th-most in the NHL.

Perhaps the Sharks‘ mojo has relocated itself to Cowtown. Currently in possession of a 43-30-4 record and the West’s first wild card, the Flames have earned a 15-4-1 record since February 15. That ties Columbus for the best mark in that time, though I’d argue the Flames have been better with one fewer game played.

I may actually be on to something regarding San Jose‘s mojo, as Brian Elliott has been fantastic during this run. After a rocky start to the season, he’s reclaimed the starting job in Calgary and made it his own. Since mid-February, he’s earned a .933 save percentage and a 1.97 GAA, the fourth and fifth-best marks in the league, respectively, among the 33 goalies with at least nine appearances in that time.

Tonight is the fourth of five games between these clubs this season, and the Flames have the opportunity to clinch the series victory with a win tonight. They’ve gone 2-1-0 so far against San Jose, including the last time they met on January 11. It was a closely contested affair, but Dougie Hamilton scored with 2:19 remaining in regulation to earn a 3-2 win for the Flames in the Saddledome.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Calgary‘s Johnny Gaudreau (42 assists for 59 points [both lead the team]) and Mark Giordano (176 blocks for a+22 [both lead the team]) & San Jose‘s Burns (73 points [eighth-most in the league]) and Jones (33 wins [seventh-most in the NHL]).

It’s hard to argue with recent success. Vegas has marked the Flames a -130 favorite to win tonight. Just like I said yesterday, the Sharks‘ rebound has to start in the crease. While Calgary certainly doesn’t pose the offensive threat the Oilers did a night ago, the Flames‘ confidence should be enough to get past whichever goaltender DeBoer decides to go with.

Hockey Birthday

  • Bud MacPherson (1927-1988) – For seven seasons MacPherson roamed along Montréal‘s blueline, and he was rewarded with one All-Star Game and the 1953 Stanley Cup.
  • Gordie Howe (1928-2016) – There’s no discussion: this right wing is one of the greatest players the world has ever seen. Named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972 – seven years before his last season in the league – he played in 23 All-Star Games over 26 NHL seasons (all but one with Detroit) and won both the Hart Memorial and Art Ross Trophies six times apiece, not to mention his four Stanley Cups.
  • Bob Pulford (1936-) – Another Hall of Famer, this left wing played all but two seasons of his 16-year career in Toronto. He won four Stanley Cups in the process, including three-straight from 1962-’64.
  • Bill Hicke (1938-2005) – Spending most of his time in Montréal, this right wing played 13 seasons in the NHL. The three-time All-Star was good for almost as many penalty minutes as points contributed, but that didn’t stop him from being a two-time Stanley Cup champion.
  • Gilles Gilbert (1949-) – Selected by the North Stars 25th-overall in the 1969 NHL Amateur Draft, this goaltender played 416 games over his 14-year career. Spending most of his time in Boston, he earned a 192-143-60 record before hanging up his pads.
  • Tom Barrasso (1965-) – Buffalo selected this goaltender fifth-overall in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft, but he played a majority of his career for the Penguins. He played well for both clubs, as he earned the 1984 Calder Memorial and Vezina Trophies and the 1985 William M. Jennings Trophy with the Sabres and back-to-back Stanley Cups in Pittsburgh.
  • Pavel Bure (1971-) – Though only selected in the sixth round of the 1989 NHL Entry Draft by Vancouver (his longest-tenured club), this right wing had a highly successful career. In addition to six All-Star Game appearances, he won two Maurice Richard Trophies and the 1992 Calder. All of that added up to a Hall of Fame induction in 2012.
  • Michael Ryder (1980-) – Montréal selected this right wing in the eighth round of the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he played most of his 11 seasons. That being said, he was wearing the crest of the arch-rival Bruins when he hoisted his lone Stanley Cup.
  • David Clarkson (1984-) – A longtime right wing for the Devils, this Toronto-native played 10 seasons in the NHL. He could’ve been playing his 11th this year with Columbus, but he was denied the opportunity to practice with the club due to failing his physical.
  • Steve Bernier (1985-) – The 16th-overall selection in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft by San Jose, this right wing has played 633 games over 11 seasons in the league. His longest -tenured club is New Jersey, with whom he scored 28 goals for 65 points.
  • Jakob Chychrun (1998-) – This rookie defenseman was the 16th-overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft by Arizona. He shows promise on the offensive end of the ice, as he’s provided 19 points already this year, the third-most among Coyotes blueliners.

Thanks to Second Star of the Game Cam Talbot‘s 38-save effort, Edmonton was able to best the Sharks 3-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day to improve into second place in the Pacific Division.

Though Talbot had a strong night, it didn’t start off the best way. He allowed Jannik Hansen (Paul Martin) to score only his eighth goal of the season 1:01 into play to allow the Sharks to take an early lead. Fortunately for him, Third Star Patrick Maroon (First Star Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl) provided a game-tying goal 9:21 later. Though Zack Kassian was sent off the ice for hooking birthday boy Marc-Edouard Vlasic with 3:24 remaining in the period, McDavid (Oscar Klefbom and Drake Caggiula) was able to score a shorthanded backhander only 52 seconds later to give the Oil a 2-1 lead it would not yield.

Maroon (Kris Russell) provided what proved to be the game-winning goal 7:51 into the third period with a tip-in. It became the winner with 6:01 remaining in regulation when Joe Pavelski (Vlasic and Hansen) scored a tip-in of his own, but the Sharks were unable to find another tally before the final horn.

Talbot earned the victory after saving 38-of-40 shots faced (95%), leaving the loss to Jones, who saved 19-of-22 (86.4%).

We’re all squared up once again in the DtFR Game of the Day series, as both home and away teams in the series have an identical 189 points. Road sides still have more wins with their 83-59-23 record.

March 30 – Day 162 – The Oilers have surpassed the Jones

Thursdays are fantastic, aren’t they? There’s only one day of work left, the weekend is on its way and the cherry on top is that there’s tons of hockey to watch in the meantime.

Nine games will be played in all this evening, starting with two (the New York Islanders at Philadelphia [SN1] and Columbus at Carolina) at 7 p.m., followed half an hour later by three more (Dallas at Boston [NBCSN/TVAS], Florida at Montréal [RDS] and Detroit at Tampa Bay). Another trio of contests (Toronto at Nashville, Ottawa at Minnesota [RDS2] and Anaheim at Winnipeg) drop the puck at the top of the hour and San Jose at Edmonton – tonight’s nightcap – gets the green light at 9 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Detroit at Tampa Bay: In light of the Red Wings not qualifying for the postseason for the first time in 26 years, I present to you their final rematch of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

  • San Jose at Edmonton: Currently tied at 93 points, this is the first of two meetings in eight days between the Oilers and Sharks, who could meet up in the Western Quarterfinals.

Sorry Wings, but you got some love already this week. It’s off to Alberta with us for the biggest game of the night.

 

Nothing makes for more exciting hockey this late in the season than two divisional rivals tied on points and games-played scrapping for home ice in the playoffs. The cherry on top? They very well could be fighting to host tonight’s opponent in that first round.

Thanks to the NHL’s rule book, the tie is broken by regulation+ overtime wins. Tonight’s hosts – the Oilers – have 38 to their credit. The Sharks have 41, so they’d be hosting that playoff series if it started right now.

Of course, that may or may not be the case following tonight’s events. No matter how this contest ends, we will have a clear cut third-place team in the Pacific Division with five games remaining to be played by Anaheim, Edmonton and San Jose.

Things have been better for the 43-26-7 Sharks than they are right now. Although they beat the Rangers 5-4 in overtime Tuesday night, those are the only two points they have to show for their past seven games.

Nothing has gone right for the Sharks in the last two weeks. San Jose has been outscored 27-12 since March 16, showing that the struggles are equal parts offensive and in goal.

You’ll notice I didn’t say defensive. I slightly over-exaggerated before, as the defense has actually remained consistent with their entire campaign. They’ve allowed only 201 shots (28.7 per game) to reach 33-20-6 Martin Jones‘ crease, which is pretty close to their 27.6 season average.

Instead, the issue has been Jones and backup 10-6-1 Aaron Dell. Peter DeBoer has been almost religious in alternating his goaltenders in the month of March, as Jones has made only two pairs of consecutive starts.

What has resting his backstops done for him? Dell has an .881 save percentage and 3.4 GAA. Ouch. Unfortunately, that’s good in comparison to Jones’ .862 and 4.04 GAA.

Jones’ recent struggles continue on the penalty kill, where he’s managed only an .8 save percentage against opponents’ power plays. That is the ninth-worst mark in the league among the 40 netminders with at least three appearances and has resulted in a 64.7% kill rate, the second-worst in the NHL since mid-March.

As of publication of this article, no word has been released from the Sharks whether Dell or Jones will be in net. Since Jones started his second-straight game two nights ago, I’m going to guess Dell will get the nod tonight. I do not know whether that’s the right or wrong choice, but I do know Dell has been the 11th-worst goaltender in the league since March 16, meaning Jones has been… worse.

But the issues aren’t simply limited to DeBoer’s goaltending situation. The Sharks‘ offense has been abysmal too, averaging only 1.7 goals per game. The lone standout over this stretch has been Patrick Marleau, who has buried three of San Jose‘s dozen goals in the past two weeks, not to mention tacking on two more assists.

My biggest concern is that Joel Ward, the man who has notched the sixth-most points (27) and goals (t19) all season for San Jose, did not register a point during the recently-ended skid. Perhaps it is just coincidence, but I think it is no accident that his most recent assist was on March 14 in a victory against the Sabres. The sooner he returns to form, the sooner the Sharks become the team we’ve come to expect.

All that being said about the offense as whole, the power play has actually been solid of late. Not only is a 23.5% conversion rate 10th-best in the league since mid-March, but it also well exceeds the Sharks‘ 17.2% season rate.

It’s been all about the first power play unit – specifically Brent Burns, Marleau and Joe Thornton. Each have a goal and two assists on the man-advantage since the 16th to lead the squad.

While the third month of the year has not gone so well for the Sharks, it’s been splendid for the 42-25-9 Oilers. They’ve taken advantage of playing only two of their 12 games away from Rogers Place to earn an 8-3-1 record in March.

Just like you’d expect from a team led by Connor McDavid, offense has been the driver to Edmonton‘s success. The Oilers have scored 42 goals since March 4, the second-highest total in the league in that time.

In addition to the stellar play of McDavid, line mate Leon Draisaitl has also been exceptional as both have 17 points to their credit this month, which ties for fourth-most in the league in that time. Don’t get confused though; the captain is still in charge of this attack, as he’s scored six of his 27 goals this month, two more than his partner in crime.

As you might expect, Draisaitl and McDavid continue their chemistry on the power play. Since March 4, the Oil has successfully converted 27% of its opponents’ penalties into goals, the fourth-best mark in the league.

The man-advantage seems to be Draisaitl’s forte, as he’s set up five power play goals in March to lead the team in extra-man points. Of course, someone has to score those assists…

That’s where Mark Letestu and Milan Lucic come into play. They are the other two forwards on Draisaitl and McDavid’s power play unit, and they’ve both buried two goals apiece in that situation this month to lead the team.

The Oilers have been just as good of late on the penalty kill with their 88.5% kill rate, so the Sharks will have their work cut out for them this evening. My advice: avoid Andrej Sekera at all costs. He’s blocked nine shots on the penalty kill to not only lead the team, but tie for fourth-most in the league in that time-span.

Thanks to forcing overtime the first time these clubs met, Edmonton trails the Sharks by only a point in the season series between them. The last time they met was January 26, the Oilers‘ lone win against San Jose this season. They traveled to The Tank and emerged with a 4-1 victory thanks to Sekera’s two goals and Cam Talbot‘s 32 saves.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Edmonton‘s Draisaitl (71 points [10th-most in the NHL]), McDavid (89 points on 62 assists [both lead the league]) and Talbot (seven shutouts [tied for second-most in the NHL] among 38 wins [third-most in the league]) & San Jose‘s Burns (73 points [eighth-most in the NHL] on 45 assists [tied for ninth-most in the league]) and Jones (33 wins [seventh-most in the NHL]).

Vegas has marked Edmonton a -126 favorite tonight, a line I think the Oilers are more than capable of upholding. Unless the Sharks get their goaltending under control, the hot Oilers should get their fans screaming at full-throat and even more excited for their return to the playoffs.

Hockey Birthday

  • Doug Wickenheiser (1961-1999) – Montréal selected this center with the top pick in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft, but he actually spent more of his 10-year career in St. Louis. Hockey fans truly in the know remember Wickenheiser for completing the Blues‘ “Monday Night Miracle” with an overtime goal against Calgary to force a Game 7 in the 1986 Campbell Conference Finals.
  • Ty Conklin (1976-) – Some guys just seem to be born unlucky. This goaltender, who has nine years of NHL experience with six different teams (mostly with Edmonton), was a member of the 2008 Penguins team that lost in the Stanley Cup Finals to Detroit. So he could get his hands on the hardware, he joined the Red Wings the following season, who ended up losing the Stanley Cup to Pittsburgh.
  • Marc-Edouard Vlasic (1987-) – This defenseman was selected 35th-overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by San Jose, and that’s where he’s played ever since. Even though this is his 11th season, tonight’s game is only the fifth he’s ever played on his birthday in the NHL. His last was in 2013, and it was a special one: he notched his first birthday goal.

With four goals in the opening period, the Blackhawks easily beat Pittsburgh 5-1 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Though the scoring started quickly thanks to First Star of the Game Artemi Panarin‘s (Third Star Patrick Kane and Second Star Tanner Kero) wrist shot 3:23 after the opening puck drop, the Hawks truly took command of the game in the final six minutes of the first frame. With what proved to be the game-winning goal, Richard Panik (Nick Schmaltz and Jonathan Toews) buried a snap shot with 5:21 remaining, followed by Marcus Kruger (Kane and Panarin) and Marian Hossa (Ryan Hartman) in the closing minute of the period to set Chicago‘s advantage at four goals.

Kero tacked on an additional goal 3:32 into the third period, followed 2:14 later by an shutout-snapping backhanded shot from Bryan Rust (Ian Cole and Matt Cullen).

Corey Crawford earned the victory after saving 31-of-32 shots faced (96.875%), leaving the loss to Marc-Andre Fleury, who saved 31-of-36 (86.1%).

A win by the road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series was an important one yesterday, as it set the visitors’ record at 83-58-23 and gave them a two-point advantage on the hosts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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