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Get ready, because there’s a whole lot of hockey coming at you today.
With the Olympics underway, the hockey festivities get an early start today. Switzerland and the unified Korean women’s hockey teams will square off in Group B play at 7:10 a.m. Eastern time.
As for NHL action, the first five of nine games (Buffalo at Boston, Ottawa at Toronto [SN/TVAS], Nashville at Montréal [CITY/NHLN/SN360/TVAS], Los Angeles at Tampa Bay and New Jersey at Columbus) wait until the usual 7 p.m. starting time before getting underway. Next up is the three tilts (Philadelphia at Arizona, Chicago at Minnesota and Colorado at Carolina) scheduled for 8 p.m., followed two hours later by Edmonton at San Jose (CITY/SN/SN360), tonight’s NHL nightcap. All times Eastern.
Finally, we’ll also include Finland vs. the United States’ women’s hockey team’s Group A tilt in today’s listing. That puck drop is scheduled for Sunday at 2:40 a.m. Eastern time.
Here’s just a few of the games on today’s slate that stuck out to me:
- Switzerland vs. Korea: Let’s see if this unified Korean team can shock the sixth-ranked women’s side in the world.
- Buffalo at Boston: It’s rivalry night in New England!
- Ottawa at Toronto: Speaking of rivalries, the Battle of Ontario rages on in the Queen City tonight.
- Nashville at Montréal: Another former Canadiens defenseman moved to Nashville this offseason. This year, it was Alexei Emelin.
- Los Angeles at Tampa Bay: C Vincent Lecavalier‘s sweater is being sent where it belongs tonight: hanging above the Amalie Arena ice.
- Chicago at Minnesota: Saturdays are apparently for rivalries, because every game between the Blackhawks and Wild is a good one.
- Edmonton at San Jose: This tilt may not be a rivalry, but it is a rematch of one of last year’s Western Conference Quarterfinals.
- Finland vs. USA: Every game in Group A of the women’s Olympic tournament is a big deal. This one is no exception.
A sweater can only be retired once, so it looks like we’re headed to Florida!
Lecavalier’s outstanding story of an NHL career began on June 27, 1998. It was a beautiful 78 degree day in Buffalo (that’s 25.5 degrees to you Canadians) outside Marine Midland Arena, but that didn’t interest the 18-year-old L’Île-Bizard, Quebec native all that much, as he was the top-overall pick in that year’s NHL Entry Draft – the Bolts’ second such pick in six years.
With only two years of play under his belt with QMJHL side Rimouski, Lecavalier immediately joined a Tampa Bay team that had posted a horrendous 17-55-10 record the year before to finish dead last in the league standings, 19 points behind second-worst Florida.
The rookie didn’t exactly put up stellar numbers, finishing with 13-15-28 marks, but he did play all 82 games of his first regular season to help the Lightning improve, albeit moderately, to 19-54-9. Lecavalier finished 14th in Calder Trophy voting, well behind winner C Chris Drury, the 22-year-old center of the Colorado Avalanche.
Considering then-new Lightning owner Art Williams had dubbed Lecavalier “the Michael Jordan of hockey,” his rookie season must have been a disappointment. However, real champions are those that learn and grow from their struggles.
That’s exactly what Lecavalier did over the summer, and he reaped the benefits during his sophomore season. The still teen-aged youngster exploded during the 1999-’00 season, more than doubling his rookie production with 25-42-67 totals in two fewer games played- far and away the best marks on the team. Though the Bolts held firm in fourth place in the Southeast Division, Lecavalier was starting to show that he was worth the top-overall pick.
After stumbling a bit and continuing to grow into the NHL game over his next two seasons (not to mention assuming captaincy of the Lighting for the 2000-’01 season), Lecavalier’s next breakthrough came during the 2002-’03 campaign. In 80 games played, he posted a then career-best 33-45-78 score line, barely missing out on averaging a point-per-game for the first time since his dominant 44-71-115 effort during his final year in the QMJHL. Additionally, he posted his first non-negative season goal-differential, which is just as much a testament to his improved play as it is to the improvement of the squad around him.
This improved team effort earned Tampa Bay a 36-25-16-5 record, good enough for its first-ever division title and second-ever playoff berth. Lecavalier and the Lightning performed well in the postseason, advancing to the Eastern Semifinals before falling to the mighty Devils in five games.
That sparked a run of four-consecutive postseason appearances for the Bolts (ignoring, of course, the locked-out 2004-’05 season), which included what is probably the pinnacle of Lecavalier’s NHL career: hoisting the 2004 Stanley Cup after a seven-game war against the Calgary Flames.
After taking a back seat in Tampa’s five-game victory over the Isles in the Eastern Quarterfinals, Lecavalier absolutely dominated his hometown Canadiens in the semifinals (growing up a Red Wings fan, he probably brought some Original Six bad blood into the matchup). In only four games, he posted unbelievable 5-2-7 totals to have a hand in half of the Bolts’ goals.
Lecavalier continued his scoring ways in the Conference Finals against third-seeded Philadelphia, nearly managing a point per match with 4-2-6 totals in the seven-game series.
Though not to the extreme of his 0-0-0 performance against New York, Lecavalier struggled to find much traction in the Stanley Cup Finals against Calgary – the West’s sixth-seeded team – and its dominant defense. He posted only 0-3-3 totals in the seven-game series, but one of those assists proved to be the primary helper on LW Ruslan Fedotenko‘s Cup-clinching goal.
But Lord Stanley’s Cup is not the only piece of hardware associated with Lecavalier. The same year he was named to the Second All-Star Team (not the group that competes during the break in late January, but the arguably more important season-ending honor), he took home the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy for his career-best 52-56-108 performance in 2006-’07, beating Ottawa’s LW Dany Heatley by two tallies.
In addition to being a stellar hockey player, Lecavalier was – and undoubtedly still is – an incredible human being. Only a year after winning one of the most prestigious awards for achievements in the rink (and finishing in fourth place for the Hart Memorial Trophy as well), Lecavalier was bestowed the 2008 King Clancy Memorial Trophy for pledging $3 million to build the Vincent Lecavalier Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders Center at St. Petersburg’s All Children’s Hospital (now Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital).
As for Lecavalier on the ice, things started to decline following his respective 108 and 92-point seasons in 2006-’07 and 2007-’08. Though he came close in 2012-’13 with his 10-22-32 totals in 39 games played, never again would Lecavalier reach the illustrious point-per-game mark that all forwards strive for.
As such, the Lightning were forced to buyout the remaining seven years of Lecavalier’s contract on June 27, 2013 – 15 years to the day after being drafted by the club.
However, that didn’t mark the end of Lecavalier’s career. He would go on to play three more seasons in the NHL, including 42 regular season games in the 2015-’16 campaign with tonight’s opponent: the Los Angeles Kings. After five postseason games with the Kings, in which he managed 1-1-2 totals before being eliminated by San Jose, Lecavalier retired from the league on June 21, 2016, six days before the 18th anniversary of an 18-year-old boy from L’Île-Bizard being drafted first overall.
It was a beautiful 89 degrees that day in Los Angeles, but that didn’t interest Lecavalier all that much.
Made known by his Richard Trophy, there’s nothing Lecavalier loved more than scoring. Though he won’t be lacing up the skates this evening, he would certainly fit in with his would-be teammates on the league-leading 37-14-3 Lightning, as they’ve posted a 6-2-0 record since January 22 with an imposing 3.75 goals per game, the third-best mark in the league in that time.
If the leaders of an offense during a run like this are those that average at least a point per game, Tampa has had three stars in its past eight tilts: F Yanni Gourde (6-4-10 points over this run, 20-20-40 overall), C Steven Stamkos (3-5-8 over this run, 20-42-62 overall) and sophomore LW Adam Erne (1-0-1 in his one NHL game of the season so far, Thursday’s 5-2 victory against the Canucks).
In all seriousness, the Lightning’s top line – which currently consists of Gourde, Stamkos and F Tyler Johnson – has been playing lights out over the past 19 days. Whether it’s been on the power play or at even-strength (Tampa’s 24.1 percent power play success rate on the season is [t]second-best in the league), the Bolts have been an imposing threat every time they have the puck on their sticks.
Of course, it would be wildly irresponsible to discuss Tampa Bay’s offense without bringing up RW Nikita Kucherov. The Russian has been unstoppable all season, as his 68 points on the year is the most in the league, followed by his (t)sixth-most 28 goals. Stamkos has also been the consistent threat everyone expects him to be, as his 62 points on the year is (t)seventh-most in the NHL and his 42 assists (t)eighth-most.
Of course, the Lighting aren’t just all offense. They dominate the defensive end too, allowing a ninth-fewest 2.63 goals against per game since January 22.
Considering Tampa’s defense has allowed an abysmal 36.25 shots against per game over its past eight games (third-worst since January 22), no one but 32-10-2 G Andrei Vasilevskiy deserves any credit for that success. Vasilevskiy has posted a dominant .938 save percentage and 2.29 GAA over his past six starts to improve his season marks to .929 and 2.27, and he’s all but certain to be in net this evening.
As for the visiting 30-19-5 Kings, it’s been an up-and-down season so far. However, Los Angeles seems to be experiencing one of its ups lately, as it’s posted a 5-1-0 record in its past six games to jump into second place in the Pacific Division.
The person behind these recent winning ways is none other than 9-1-3 G Darcy Kuemper. He’s started four of the past six games for an undefeated record, sporting an almost unbreakable .973 save percentage and .74 GAA to improve his season marks to .942 and 1.78. With 21-18-2 G Jonathan Quick dominating the crease to a 3-1 victory in Sunrise last night, it seems probable that Kuemper will be in net this evening
Of course, Kuemper has also had the luxury of the league’s (t)ninth-best defense since January 24 playing in front of him. Led by the efforts of LW Kyle Clifford (2.5 hits per game since January 24), F Alex Iafallo (four takeaways over this run) and D Alec Martinez (4.5 blocks per game in his past four appearances), the Kings have allowed an average of only 30.83 shots against to help Kuemper earn these victories.
For the icing on the cake, Los Angeles has also been able to turn Kuemper’s confidence in the crease into goals on the other end. With C Anze Kopitar (3-5-8 totals since January 24, 22-36-58 overall) and D Drew Doughty (1-5-6 totals in his past six games, 8-31-39 overall) leading the way, the Kings have scored an impressive 3.17 goals per game over their past six tilts – the 10th-best effort in that time.
Back on November 9, the Lightning made their annual trip to Tinseltown and found much success, beating the Kings 5-2. Kucherov took home First Star honors from that tilt with his one-goal, three-point effort.
Two teams come into this game playing with confidence, but only one can earn two points. Considering the Kings had to travel to Tampa last night, it’s hard to pick against the Bolts. However, considering how well Kuemper has been playing of late, the Lightning just might need more than 60 minutes to get enough pucks past him.
With three goals in the second period, the St. Louis Blues beat the Winnipeg Jets 5-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Bell MTS Centre.
Before the Jets even got on their own scoreboard, St. Louis had already earned found its game-winner. First Star of the Game RW Vladimir Tarasenko (Third Star F Alex Steen) scored the first goal of the game with a wrist shot 24:18 into the contest.
Once that opening tally was out of the way, the Blues were able to score seemingly at will. With 9:47 remaining in the second frame, F Patrik Berglund (D Robert Bortuzzo and F Jaden Schwartz) doubled St. Louis’ advantage, followed only 1:26 later by Steen’s (D Alex Pietrangelo) game-winning snap shot.
Though Pietrangelo technically goes down as providing the only helper on Steen’s tally, he should really receive the secondary assist while handing the primary honors over to G Connor Hellebuyck. Pietrangelo fired a low wrister from the right face-off circle that the netminder easily deflected with his pads, but that save ended up right on Steen’s stick. Having scored 11 goals on the season before this one, the forward knew exactly what to do with the opportunity, burying a snapper in Hellebuyck’s wide open net before he could figure out what was going on.
Winnipeg’s comeback attempt continued in the third period, as W Patrik Laine (Connor and RW Blake Wheeler) took advantage of F Vladimir Sobotka hooking him only 39 seconds before to score a power play slap shot with 8:21 remaining in regulation. With Winnipeg now only a goal away from tying the game, Tarasenko (C Paul Stastny and D Jay Bouwmeester) set the score at 4-2 with an insurance snapper 66 seconds after the horn stopped blaring for Laine. Finally Schwartz tacked on another insurance tally with three seconds remaining on the clock, scoring a shorthanded wrister on an empty net.
G Jake Allen earned the victory after saving 20-of-22 shots faced (.909 save percentage), leaving the loss to Hellebuyck, who saved 22-of-26 (.846).
With points in three-straight games, the road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day are trying to do all they can to get back into the season series. With the Notes’ victory in white sweaters, the roadies are now 24 points behind the series’ 67-40-15 hosts.
After NHLers were not allowed to participate in the 2018 Winter Games and due to the success of last week’s episode, Nick and Connor decided to create rosters with NHL players anyway for Team Canada. Also discussed, Alexandre Burrows, Max Domi and the New York Rangers plan for the future.
Listen to this week’s podcast on our Libsyn page (and/or on your favorite podcast listening app that snags our RSS Feed).
1. Vegas Golden Knights– 33-12-4 (70 points, 49 GP)
There isn’t really that much the Vegas Golden Knights need to do to improve down the stretch. Should they trade James Neal or Marc-Andre Fleury as some fans and media members alike wondered since the expansion draft last June? No. They shouldn’t.
These are the Golden Knights. They’re trying to win the Stanley Cup in their first season of existence. And they just might.
They’ve dismantled some of the league’s best teams on a night-to-night basis, while amassing a plus-38 goal differential through 49 games played– and oh yeah, they’re smashing inaugural season records by an expansion franchise. All of that has put them in position for making a stake as a leading horse in the Presidents’ Trophy race.
That said, if Vegas general manager, George McPhee, is presented with an offer he can’t refuse that would make his team better, by all means, he should pursue it. Addition without subtraction or whatever– they have roughly $8.100 million in salary cap space, they can afford it.
2. San Jose Sharks– 26-16-8 (60 points, 50 GP)
The San Jose Sharks sit in an uncomfortable position. Yes, they’re currently 2nd in the Pacific Division, but it’s a four-horse race for anywhere between two and four playoff spots in the Pacific Division.
No that’s not counting out the Edmonton Oilers (spoiler alert– they’ll be sellers), but let’s assume the Golden Knights lay claim to the regular season division title. Then it becomes a Battle of California and Calgary for two divisional spots and either one, two or no wild card positions in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Taking a look at the Central Division… yeah, odds aren’t great that they’ll be five teams from either the Pacific or Central clinching a playoff berth, considering the Dallas Stars (60 points), Sharks (60 points), Minnesota Wild (59 points), Kings (59 points), Ducks (59 points), Colorado Avalanche (58 points) and Flames (58 points) are all separated by a measly two-points.
There’s no room for error.
With only about $5.200 million in cap space currently and pending RFA forwards Tomas Hertl, 24, and Chris Tierney, 23, to re-sign along with pending RFA defenseman, Dylan DeMelo, 24, San Jose would be smart to lock up the future of their core while accepting that they’ll likely lose some guys via trade or free agency this offseason.
Could this be a last hurrah?
Again, it all depends on how the Sharks approach everything moving forward– oh, by the way, backup goaltender, Aaron Dell, is a pending-UFA at season’s end too, but Troy Grosenick looks ready enough to settle into the backup role once Dell is either traded or probably makes a lot of money for the chance to be a starting goaltender elsewhere this July.
3. Los Angeles Kings– 27-18-5 (59 points, 50 GP)
The Los Angeles Kings are set. They don’t really need to add as long as elite-starting goaltender, Jonathan Quick, is healthy. General manager, Rob Blake, should take a page out of Vegas’s book and sit on his hands come February 26th, that way he won’t be tempted to make any phone calls he might regret later.
It’s not like the Kings should really consider dumping what’s left of 35-year-old forward, Marian Gaborik, but they very well could– just to get $4.875 million in salary cap off of their hands. Gaborik’s 7-7–14 totals in 27 games played are pretty telling (albeit due to injury and being scratched other nights).
F Nick Shore, D Kevin Gravel and G Darcy Kuemper stand out as the only “big” names Los Angeles will have to re-sign this offseason with veteran forward, Torrey Mitchell, either working out as a long-term, year-to-year, rental or a short-term, Cup focused, investment.
Similar to San Jose, however, the Kings don’t have a lot of cap space as things stand. Los Angeles has about $3.600 million in wiggle room and really doesn’t have any holes that need to be filled.
Los Angeles should sit this trade deadline out and instead work on a plan for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft in June where they’ll have to make some moves (unless the cap rises, which it’s expected to). Then again, Drew Doughty ($7.000 million cap hit) will need a new contract in 2019…
Potential assets to trade: F Marian Gaborik
Potential assets to acquire: draft picks, maybe a prospect or two
4. Anaheim Ducks– 25-17-9 (59 points, 51 GP)
Every now and then there are teams that seemingly destroy their opponents in more ways than one while quietly existing and carrying their own weight. Injuries amounted early, but these days the Anaheim Ducks are the ones handing out the bruises– and winning… significantly.
The Ducks are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games, which won’t mean anything by February 26th (unless they go on a significant winning/losing streak).
Anaheim might creep up in the standings, but what will set them apart from the rest of the Western Conference?
This is where the Ducks can shine at the trade deadline if they just add one more piece to the puzzle. It doesn’t have to be a permanent piece, but one that’ll hold them over in the event of injuries.
Let’s face it, regardless of the physical brand of hockey Anaheim plays, there will be an injury or two down the stretch that could impact their chances of postseason success.
A return of Patrick Maroon to The Pond or a rental like Thomas Vanek or Michael Grabner just might put Anaheim on the fast track to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final. Filling out their bottom-six depth and scoring prowess, while continuing to center their game around size and skill is exactly what they could add at the end of the month.
With only about $3.100 million in cap space available, the right move might be hard to make.
Potential assets to trade: G Reto Berra, D Steve Oleksy, draft picks, prospects
Potential assets to acquire: D Cody Franson (CHI), D Mike Green (DET), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F David Desharnais (NYR), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Nick Holden (NYR), D Erik Gudbranson (VAN), F Thomas Vanek (VAN)
5. Calgary Flames– 25-17-8 (58 points, 50 GP)
When the Calgary Flames are hot, they’re red hot. When the Flames are cold they’re cooler than being cool (shouts OutKast).
Of all the teams in the Pacific Division, Calgary is the most Jekyll and Hyde of the two Alberta teams. Goaltender, Mike Smith, has saved the season (literally) multiple times on nights where Johnny Gaudreau and the Flames’s offense hasn’t gotten going.
Conversely, Gaudreau has propelled his team on nights when Smith has struggled. Some nights the Flames are on their “A” game. Some nights their porous defense shows. A lot.
Calgary is too young to give up on. Guys like Troy Brouwer, Matt Stajan and Kris Versteeg provide a veteran presence both on the ice and in the locker room, but are harder to move given their modified no-trade clauses. Not that anyone’s in a rush to move them. Just being mindful of July 1st and the plethora of youth that could steal some roster spots next year, provided the Flames don’t do anything crazy in free agency.
The Flames have to get better if they want to play longer. Whether or not they decide to take action now or let things develop on their own, well, hasn’t it been long enough?
If they want to make a deep playoff run they have to manage their cap situation a lot better (and fix their defense with, say, six new defensemen?). With a little more than $2.200 million to play with in cap space come deadline day, Calgary isn’t doing this whole “let’s be buyers on February 26th” thing right.
Potential assets to acquire: F Sam Reinhart (BUF), D Nick Holden (NYR), D Ian Cole (PIT)
6. Edmonton Oilers– 22-24-3 (47 points, 49 GP)
It’s a trick question, because no matter how many Art Ross Trophies those two players combined win in their careers, you still need to fill out the rest of the roster so you can be salary cap compliant and thus able to compete in the first place.
Fortunately for the Edmonton Oilers, Peter Chiarelli is at the reins.
Check that. It’s pretty dire.
The Oilers aren’t the worst team anymore, so at least they have that going for them, but once again we’re approaching yet another trade deadline where Edmonton has a lot of cargo to jettison into the void that is the rest of the league.
While McDavid and Draisaitl will eat up $21 million in salary starting next season, the Oilers have plenty of pending free agents to sort out– which also means they have a lot of rentals to sell at the deadline.
With the right moves, Chiarelli can redeem himself in Edmonton. All it requires is a swift retool. Too bad there’s a couple of no movement clauses on the blue line, because they’re eating $9.500 million in salary that the team will probably need to re-sign Rasmus Dahlin in a few years after they win the draft lottery.
Potential assets to acquire: F Zemgus Girgensons (BUF), F Sam Reinhart (BUF), F Luke Glendening (DET), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Andrew Shaw (MTL), D Nick Holden (NYR), F Derick Brassard (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Klim Kostin (STL), F Jordan Kyrou (STL)
7. Vancouver Canucks– 20-24-6 (46 points, 50 GP)
Similar to the Edmonton Oilers, the Vancouver Canucks had high hopes for this season. Okay, not that high, but still.
Vancouver has about $1.000 million in cap space currently. For a team that’s massively under-performing with a minus-31 goal differential through 50 games played, that’s horrendous.
Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin are both pending-UFAs earning $7.000 million through the end of this season. Their playing days are safe in a Canucks uniform, given their no movement clauses and the fact that the traditional “honorary” $1.000 million (with a bunch of bonuses tied to performance) year-to-year contract extensions forthcoming– if they choose to play another year in the NHL.
There’s a lot of youth in Vancouver, so that’s promising.
Guys like Thomas Vanek and Erik Gudbranson have been the subject of those expected to be on the move from the Canucks organization and surely at least one of them will be out the door come February 26th.
As much as Sam Gagner has turned around his game, he may fall victim to the tight cap situation with pending RFAs Jake Virtanen, Markus Granlund and Sven Baertschi on the cusp of seeing pay raises. Then again, maybe Gagner’s future with the Canucks will be saved by whatever the Sedin’s decide to do (take less money).
Short of some adjustments on the blue line and letting their young forwards gain experience, Vancouver really doesn’t need that much. Full health and finding the right starting goaltender should be the main focus going into the deadline and beyond.
Potential assets to acquire: F Zemgus Girgensons (BUF), G Robin Lehner (BUF), F Sam Reinhart (BUF), G Petr Mrazek (DET), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Klim Kostin (STL), F Jordan Kyrou (STL)
8. Arizona Coyotes– 12-29-9 (33 points, 50 GP)
Just exactly how long will we go before recognizing that the Arizona Coyotes are in a state of denial?
The perpetual rebuild has hit its lowest point so far and general manager, John Chayka, has nothing to show for some of his seemingly brilliant acquisitions in the offseason (namely, Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta from the New York Rangers, as well as Niklas Hjalmarsson from the Chicago Blackhawks).
Look, neither of the trades the Coyotes made around the 2017 NHL Entry Draft were going to make them contenders for the Cup, but they should’ve at least made them move out of the basement and onto the first floor of the league.
Arizona will be selling once again and unless your last name is Hjalmarsson, Raanta or Stepan and you’re over the age of 24, there’s a good chance you could be packing a bag out of the desert (unless you get traded to Vegas, in which case, you’ll still be in the desert– only cooler because of all of the attractions around T-Mobile Arena, oh and the whole “Cup in one” mentality currently for the Golden Knights).
Potential assets to acquire: Draft picks, F Zemgus Girgensons (BUF), F Sam Reinhart (BUF), D Tyson Barrie (COL), G Petr Mrazek (DET), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), D Nick Holden (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Klim Kostin (STL), F Jordan Kyrou (STL), F David Perron (VGK)
Nick and Connor breakdown the news and notes from the latest week in the NHL leading up to the 2018 NHL All-Star break. Mike Smith is going back to the All-Star Game and we’re celebrating with #DTFRMissionAccomplished.
Listen to this week’s podcast on our Libsyn page (and/or on your favorite podcast listening app that snags our RSS Feed).
It’s Saturday, and a lot of the teams in action today are well rested and ready to roll. This should be a good one!
The action sees an early start today, as there’s two (the New York Islanders at the New York Rangers and Detroit at Pittsburgh [NHLN/SN]) 1 p.m. matinee games. Next up are the three contests (Winnipeg at Minnesota [CITY/SN1], Boston at Montréal [CBC/NHLN/SN/TVAS] and Philadelphia at New Jersey) dropping the puck at the usual 7 p.m. starting time, followed by Colorado at Dallas two hours later. Edmonton at Vegas (CBC/SN) will get underway at 10 p.m., followed half an hour later by tonight’s co-nightcaps: Anaheim at Los Angeles and Arizona at San Jose. All times Eastern.
Teams on the bye: Buffalo, Columbus, Florida, Nashville, Ottawa, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Toronto and Washington.
More than a few of these games caught my eye…
- New York at New York: It’s the Battle of New York! Which borough is supreme:
QueensBrooklyn or Manhattan?
- Detroit at Pittsburgh: Not only is this the rivalry of two consecutive Stanley Cup matchups, but it’s also the first returns of D Trevor Daley and F Scott Wilson to PPG Paints Arena since joining the Red Wings.
- Boston at Montréal: One of the NHL’s most storied rivalries finally gets started for the 2017-’18 season.
- Philadelphia at New Jersey: The Battle of the Turnpikes is always solid, and both these teams are coming off five days rest.
- Anaheim at Los Angeles: It’s a Freeway Face-Off night in Tinseltown!
Now that the Ducks are rested and healthy, there’s no way we can miss this rough-‘n’-tough rivalry game!
Both of these teams enter today well-rested, as they were both enjoying their six-day bye weeks from January 7-12. Hopefully we get a high-energy contest and not one that features two rusty clubs.
The similarities between these clubs extend beyond that. Besides the simple fact that they both call Southern California home, they both entered the bye week losing week, even though they both play some of the best defense in the league.
Let’s start with the 24-13-5 Kings, who are currently in second place in the Pacific Division. With the exception of the active losing streak, most things have gone Los Angeles’ way this season, and a lot of it has to do with the dominant play of 19-13-2 G Jonathan Quick.
Quick has been solid in his first full season back from his 2016 groin injury. His .926 season save percentage is (t)fifth-best in the league among qualified goaltenders, and his 2.31 GAA is sixth-best. Only six netminders have more wins than Quick on the season, and this three shutouts are (t)fourth-best in the NHL.
Oh yeah, it also doesn’t hurt that D Drew Doughty wears the black and silver. He’s been solid this season to post a (t)third-best in the league +21 rating on 7-23-30 totals. Doughty’s point totals are (t)third-most on the Kings’ roster.
It’s highly doubtful that much will change for the Kings coming out of the bye, but the same can’t be said for 19-15-9 Anaheim. Though the Ducks sit three points outside the playoff picture coming into today’s action, they’re poised for a surge since almost their entire roster is now healthy.
C Ryan Getzlaf has played only 19 games this season. F Ryan Kesler only six. Tonight will be D Hampus Lindholm‘s 31st contest, and only D Cam Fowler‘s 32nd. Even W Corey Perry has played fewer than 35 games.
But tonight, they’ll all be back and ready to roll, bringing with them a combined 3.4 points-per-game. Add in the fact that Anaheim allows a seventh-fewest 2.67 goals per game, and this Ducks team should be in business to inflict some damage in the Pacific Division.
These teams have already squared off twice this season, and both games took place back in November. Even though the Kings won both meetings, don’t think they had an easy time of it. Los Angeles needed an overtime game-winning goal from C Nick Shore to beat the Ducks on The Pond 4-3 on November 7, and November 25’s meeting in Hollywood required a four-round shootout to declare the Kings the 2-1 winners.
Considering the Kings are playing at home this evening, you’d be led to believe they should have what it takes to beat the rival Ducks. However, it’s still unknown just how good this Anaheim team can be. Regardless of who wins, I think it’s a safe assumption that this will be a physical, closely contested match.
With four goals in the second period, the Vancouver Canucks beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-2 at Nationwide Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
Though the game would ultimately belong to Vancouver, the Jackets took credit for the game-opening tally at the 4:33 mark courtesy of a power play slap shot from Third Star of the Game D Seth Jones (F Nick Foligno and LW Artemi Panarin). With First Star C Henrik Sedin in the box for holding F Boone Jenner, Jones’ eighth goal of the season proved to be the lone marker of the first frame.
After the first intermission, it didn’t take the Canucks long to level the game. LW Sven Baertschi (Second Star W Thomas Vanek and F Sam Gagner) took advantage of D Zach Werenski earning a seat in the sin bin for tripping W Loui Eriksson late in the first period to tie the game-at one-all with a power play snap shot at the 1:19 mark. 4:19 later, D Erik Gudbranson (Eriksson and Sedin) scored his first goal of the season to give Vancouver the lead.
Scoring subsided for almost 10 minutes, but the next goal to be struck proved to be the game-winner. With 5:29 remaining in the second period, F Brendan Gaunce (Vanek and D Michael Del Zotto) scored Vancouver’s second power play goal of the night to set the score at 3-1. With C Lukas Sedlak in the box for hooking Sedin, Vanek entered his offensive zone along the right boards before D Jack Johnson got in his way and forced him back towards the blue line. To avoid the Canucks getting caught offsides, he shoved a pass across the zone to Gaunce, who was undefended. Every stick wants to die a warrior, and this one did – Gaunce’s wrist shot found the back of G Sergei Bobrovsky‘s net three seconds before Sedlak was to be released from the box.
After that scoring explosion by Vancouver, the Jackets were in desperate need of a goal. However, they would not find the back of the net until only 7:25 remained in regulation courtesy of a LW Matt Calvert (D Scott Harrington and Foligno) clapper. Facing a two-goal deficit, Head Coach John Tortorella pulled Bobrovsky in hopes of turning the tides for his offense. However, he allowed RW Jake Virtanen (F Markus Granlund) to score an empty-netter to set the 5-2 final score.
G Jacob Markstrom earned the victory after saving 27-of-29 shots faced (.931 save percentage), leaving the loss to Bobrovksy, who saved 24-of-28 (.857).
The road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are starting to feel it, as they’re now riding a three-game winning streak. This streak has pulled them within 20 points of the 54-32-12 hosts.
The Original Trio reunite for a very fun-filled podcast. The Carolina Hurricanes were sold, Jaromir Jagr is soon to be unsigned, All-Star Rosters were scrutinized, US and Canada men’s national teams were analyzed and more in this action packed episode. #HealthBeforeHockey
I love when the NHL feels guilty. The league went dormant for three days, and it’s trying to make up for it by playing scheduling lots of games this week.
I’m not complaining.
There’s seven games on the schedule today, starting with three (Boston at Washington [NBCSN/SN360/TVAS], Montréal at Tampa Bay [RDS/TSN2] and Philadelphia at Florida) at 7:30 p.m. The next game, Toronto at Arizona, doesn’t drop the puck until 9 p.m., but it starts the chain reaction of contests, as two (Chicago at Vancouver [SN360] and Vegas at Los Angeles [NBCSN]) get underway an hour later and tonight’s nightcap – Calgary at San Jose – clean things up at 10:30 p.m. All times Eastern.
Three matchups in particular have caught my eye this evening…
- Montréal at Tampa Bay: Welcome back to Cigar City, F Jonathan Drouin. How Bolts fans greet him will be… interesting, to say the least.
- Chicago at Vancouver: In days gone by, these teams fiercely battled for Western Conference supremacy. This season, they’re simply trying to qualify for the postseason.
- Vegas at Los Angeles: For three seasons, D Brayden McNabb called Hollywood home. Now he’s a top-two defenseman for the Golden Knights.
While I wouldn’t exactly say that McNabb’s return is exactly headline worthy, the fact that these teams are [playing for the lead in both the Pacific Division and the Western Conference] definitely is. Off to Staples Center with us!
If Goal No. 1 was being better than the Avalanche this season, Goal No. 2 must have been leading the Western Conference, because that’s exactly what the 24-9-2 Golden Knights are doing right now.
It’s no secret how Vegas is finding its wins, as the Knights’ offense has managed a whopping 3.46 goals-per-game for the best mark in the conference.
Head Coach Gerard Gallant‘s favorite player from their days in Florida has kept right on ticking, as F Jon Marchessault, who’s riding a four-game point streak, leads the team with his 12-21-33 totals from his spot on the second line. That line as a whole has been phenomenal, as C William Karlsson (17-12-29), Marchessault and W Reilly Smith (9-17-26) have combined for 38 of the Knights’ 123 goals on the season (30.9 percent).
But if we want to get really picky, Marchessualt is not among the best scorers in the league. After all, his 33 points are only (t)31st among all skaters, and his 1.03 points-per-game are (t)17th. But it is that very fact that tells the true strength of this Vegas attack. A whopping 14 players have earned at least 10 points on the season, including five defensemen.
With only an average power play success rate of 19.5 percent ([t]14th-best in the league), every single player on the Knights’ roster has bought into Gallant’s system, and it’s obviously coming back spades.
Lastly, 6-1-1 G Marc-Andre Fleury will get the start in net this evening after 9-2-0 G Malcolm Subban earned a 4-1 victory in Anaheim last night. Though Subban was stellar while Fleury was recovering from his concussion (he’s among the top six goaltenders in the league in both save percentage [.926] and GAA [2.18]), there’s no doubt who owns the Knights’ starting role.
Fleury has a 6-3-2 record against the Kings from his time in Pittsburgh, including a 3-2-1 record at Staples Center. However, his last three outings against Los Angeles have all been losses, even though he forced overtime in two. He comes into tonight’s game with a .938 save percentage and 1.97 GAA on the season.
If there’s only one thing the second place 22-11-4 Kings have in their favor, it’s that they will be playing tonight’s game on four days of rest since the Golden Knights were in action last night.
However, I’d venture to say that Los Angeles has a bit more going for it than simply full bellies and time off the ice – namely 17-11-1 G Jonathan Quick. Quick has been among the league’s best this season, as his .928 save percentage, 2.23 GAA, 17 wins and two shutouts are all among the top eight efforts in the NHL.
But these Kings aren’t only about Quick. W Dustin Brown, D Drew Doughty and C Anze Kopitar have also been studs this campaign. Brown (+15 rating) and Doughty (+18) have been most prevalent on the defensive end, as their ratings are both among the top eight efforts in the NHL, while Kopitar’s 17 goals are (t)eighth-most in the league.
The Kings and Knights have already tangled once this season at T-Mobile Arena. Vegas won that game 4-2 on a two-goal performance by Karlsson that chased Quick from the Nevadan crease. Of everybody involved in that contest, he’ll certainly be looking to show the most improvement.
In medieval times, kings outranked knights regardless of how many colorful adjectives they added. Though we’ve come a long way since castles and crusades, I think that organizational chart will still apply tonight as Los Angeles defends home ice.
Yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day was exactly the competitive matchup we expected, as the Nashville Predators beat the St. Louis Blues 2-1 at Scottrade Center.
Just like in the first contest between these clubs, First Star of the Game G Pekka Rinne dominated conversation. Even though the Blues fired a total of 22 shots on his net over the first two periods, it was his team that scored a goal in each frame.
The first of those tallies belonged to F Craig Smith (D Roman Josi), as he scored a tip-in with 9:23 remaining in the first period. Third Star F Calle Jarnkrok (F Filip Forsberg and D Matt Irwin) followed that up with a slap shot with 3:11 remaining in the second period, and it was that goal that proved to be the game-winner.
What made Jarnkrok’s goal spectacular is its blazing speed. Forsberg set him up for a one-timer from the left face-off dot, but it didn’t originally look as if the play had much chance of success. There were no skaters in front of Second Star G Jake Allen to act as screens, and he appeared to be in the right position to make an easy save. However, Jarnkrok ripped his blitz of a clapper over Allen’s shoulder before the netminder could even move.
St. Louis did eventually manage to sneak a goal past Rinne, as F Vladimir Sobotka (F Kyle Brodziak and D Alex Pietrangelo) bagged a tip-in with 6:23 remaining in regulation, but the Notes – even with Allen pulled for the last 1:53 of the game – could not find a way to level the game.
In all, Rinne saved 29-of-30 shots (.967 save percentage) in the victory, while Allen took the loss after saving 24-of-26 (.923).
With the Predators wearing white, they pull the visitors in the DtFR Game of the Day series back within 19 points of the 46-27-9 home teams.
Nick and Connor discuss the hullabaloo regarding the fallout of the Ottawa Senators and whether or not they should trade Erik Karlsson (thereby tanking and rebuilding). A quick look around California reveals contenders and pretenders, while All-Star talent and rookies are also reviewed.
Given what day this is of the season and the number of games on today’s schedule, there’s only one thing that can be said:
You know what, I’ll let you figure it out.
Anyways, there’s nine contests on the slate for today, beginning with five (Ottawa at Buffalo [RDS], Los Angeles at New Jersey, Toronto at Philadelphia [TVAS], Colorado at Washington and Edmonton at Columbus) at the usual 7 p.m. start time. Next up are the two 8 p.m. games (Tampa Bay at St. Louis [NBCSN] and Calgary at Minnesota), followed by Florida at Chicago (SN) half an hour later. Finally, Carolina makes its first annual trip to Vegas at 10 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.
There were two games I had circled at the beginning of the season…
- Ottawa at Buffalo: It’s rivalry night in the Queen City between the Eastern Conference’s two worst teams! Get excited Upstate!
- Carolina at Vegas: For a combined three days, C Marcus Kruger and D Trevor van Riemsdyk were Golden Knights. Does this count as a homecoming?
… but they pale in comparison to tonight’s action in the Gateway to the West.
What a gauntlet the league-leading 21-6-2 Lightning have faced of late. It was only Saturday that they escaped with an overtime victory against an impressive Jets squad that plays a similar style to them.
There’s no denying how dominant the Bolts have been through their first 29 games, and that’s especially apparent when they have the puck on their own sticks. Tampa averages 3.75 goals-per-game to lead the league, thanks in large part to the incredible efforts of its top line. RW Nikita Kucherov (20-21-41 totals), F Vladislav Namestnikov (12-15-27) and C Steven Stamkos (12-30-42) have been nothing short of incredible, and it doesn’t hurt that they have F Brayden Point (12-14-26) and company backing them on the second line.
As I pointed out this weekend, this offense is also acting as the Lightning’s best defense, because it’s keeping pucks off 19-4-1 G Andrei Vasilevskiy – not that he needs much help, as his .93 season save percentage and 2.24 GAA are both among the top four performances of any goaltender in the league with at least nine starts.
But we discussed all this this weekend. Let’s talk about Tampa’s special teams, which – as you would probably guess – are among the best in the NHL.
The Lightning are the league’s deadliest when they have the man-advantage, as they convert a 28.44 percent of opposing penalties into goals, a mark that is over two percent better than Nashville’s second-best effort.
Just as they do at even strength, Kucherov, Namestnikov and Stamkos have led the charge on the power play with their combined 46 extra-man points. Makhail Sergachev has also made his presence known on the Bolts’ second unit, as he’s managed 2-8-10 totals – the fourth-best effort on the team.
Perhaps one of Tampa’s biggest weaknesses is when it is on the penalty kill. If that is the case the rest of the league should be alarmed, because the Lightning successfully defend 82.6 percent of their infractions to rank eighth-best in the NHL. Vasilevskiy in particular has performed spectacularly when his club is shorthanded, managing a .924 save percentage against the power play to rank (t)fourth-best among the 32 goaltenders with at least 14 starts.
Before we jump into talking about the 21-8-2 Blues, it needs to be noted that they’ll be without three players this evening. In addition to D Jay Bouwmeester missing tonight’s game to rest an injury, F Jaden Schwartz and D Alex Pietrangelo are both on injured reserve with respective ankle and lower body injuries suffered blocking shots.
It certainly wouldn’t be without reason if the Notes’ offense struggles with these injuries, as they average a 3.29 goals-per-game average that ranks sixth-best in the league.
On that end, the biggest injury is certainly to Schwartz, who is posting career-best 12-21-35 totals. In his place, RW Vladimir Tarasenko moves up onto the top line with F Vladimir Sobotka and
Vladimir C Paul Stastny. While Schwartz is a tough act to follow, there’s little reason to believe Tarasenko won’t thrive in that role, as his 14-19-33 performance from playing on the second line is already the third-best on the team. Instead, I’ll be interested to see if F Brayden Schenn, St. Louis’ leading scorer with a 16-37-37 effort, can turn W Dmitrij Jaskin (4-7-11) into a real scoring threat while filling in for Tarasenko.
Of course, this offense is not simply reliant on spectacular play from its forwards. Pietrangelo is also very active in the attacking zone, as his 7-16-23 totals are not only the most among St. Louis blueliners, but also the fourth-best marks on the entire team. In fact, Pietrangelo ranks fifth in defensive scoring across the league, behind only the likes of Drew Doughty, John Klingberg, Kris Letang and Nick Leddy (for what its worth, the Blue Notes’ captain has scored more goals than any of those players).
Fortunately for St. Louis, it has just the player to slide into his role as the top two-way defenseman on the team: D Colton Parayko. Currently owning 3-14-17 marks, the third-year player has put his arguable sophomore slump behind him and is well on his way to surpassing his solid 9-24-33 rookie performance. Should he continue on his current pace, Parayko is on track to post 8-37-45 totals that would exceed Pietrangelo’s effort in his third year in the league (yes, that was the lockout season – we’re going off points-per-game in this instance).
As far as defense, not much should change for the team that features the reigning Second Star of the Week in 17-6-2 G Jake Allen. Allen is riding a four-game winning streak and has not lost in regulation since December 1 against the Kings, posting a .939 save percentage over the five games since then. As long as the Blues don’t see a significant drop in its defense that has allowed an average of only 29.45 shots against-per-game (the third-fewest in the NHL), Allen should be able to keep his end of the ice under control.
Now, what makes this contest extremely exciting is that the winner will take the lead in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy. Both are tied at 44 points currently, but the Bolts do own a “games played” tiebreaker, having laced up their skates two fewer times than St. Louis. Considering the Lightning already beat the Blues 2-1 on October 14, St. Louis will no doubt want to exact revenge on home ice.
As for if that actually happens, I’m having a tough time making that prediction. With their injuries, I’m concerned the Blues’ lackluster special teams will take too much of a hit this evening, so I think Tampa Bay will come away with the road victory.
The New York Islanders exploded out of the gates to beat the Washington Capitals 3-1 at the Barclays Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
When facing a goaltender of the likes of G Braden Holtby, quick passes become a necessity. That’s exactly what provided Ladd the opportunity for his eighth goal of the season. de Haan collected a drop pass from Eberle at the blue line and began crashing towards the goal line. But, instead of throwing a wrist shot on Holtby from an angle with low odds of success, he instead slid a centering pass across the crease to Ladd, who was camping out near the left goal post. Before the netminder could slide across his crease, Ladd had already buried his wrister.
The Capitals finally got on the scoreboard at the 8:23 mark of the third period courtesy of D Dmitry Orlov (F Chandler Stephenson and F Jay Beagle), but they couldn’t claw any further back into the game before the end of regulation.
First Star G Jaroslav Halak earned the victory after saving 31-of-32 shots faced (.969 save percentage), leaving the loss to Holtby, who saved nine-of-12 (.75) before being pulled following Tavares’ tally. G Philipp Grubauer saved all 17 shots he faced for no decision.
New York’s regulation win is the first in six games in the DtFR Game of the Day series, snapping a five-game run of contests requiring more than 60 minutes. Hosts in the series now own a 39-22-8 record that is 17 points better than the roadies’ efforts.