Tag Archives: Eakin

Western Finals are Golden

 

 

 

 

 

With a shimmering defense that yielded only 28 shots against, the Vegas Golden Knights beat the San Jose Sharks 3-0 in Game 6 to advance to their first-ever Western Conference Finals.

What was so impressive about that defense is not only how it seemed to improve as the game wore on (San Jose’s best period was the first when it fired 11 shots on goal), but also how well it dominated the blue line. Almost every Sharks possession in the third period was forced to start with a dump-and-chase that, when paired with a slow forecheck, resulted in few possessions of any real worth.

However, the Golden Knights’ defense seemed to extend beyond simply D Brayden McNabb‘s five blocks and RW Ryan Reaves‘ eight hits (both the most of either team). On at least two occasions per period, San Jose would sling shots past First Star of the Game G Marc-Andre Fleury only to hear the deafening ping of the goalposts or crossbar.

One of those instances occurred in the first period, while the game was still a scoreless tie. With approximately 30 seconds remaining before intermission, LW Evander Kane deflected D Brent Burns‘ high shot from the point only to find the crossbar – and then the right goalpost – before the puck landed in the slot to be collected by the Knights.

Snapping that scoreless draw and scoring the game-winning goal was Second Star F Jon Marchessault (W Reilly Smith and C William Karlsson), who beat G Martin Jones at the 6:33 mark of the second period. Karlsson should get a lot of credit for the marker, as it was him that stole the puck off D Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s stick to prevent the puck from leaving Vegas’ offensive zone.

After that, the play was similar to an odd-man rush in that the Sharks were already making their way towards the neutral zone, leaving Marchessault with only one defender between him and Jones’ net. With little opposition, it’s all the former Panther could do but beat the netminder five-hole.

Turning our attention back to the iron, it wasn’t only Fleury’s defensive friend, but also Vegas’ offensive weapon. With 4:22 remaining in the second period, it appeared that Third Star D Nate Schmidt‘s (Erik Haula and David Perron) wrist shot had bounced off the crossbar behind Jones and back into play.

No light went on, no celebration and no signal. No harm, no foul right?

As San Jose was driving towards Fleury’s net, the horn blasted to signify that Toronto wanted the officials to take another look at the play. As it turned out, Schmidt’s shot didn’t hit the crossbar, but it instead slid underneath and ricocheted off the camera tucked into the top of the net.

After the crowd got done booing the referees for missing the goal call (or Toronto for requesting a second look), the Shark Tank fell deathly quiet. Surely not a confidence boost for the Sharks, the writing was on the wall for the remainder of that second period, requiring San Jose to find two goals in the final frame.

Cue the previously mentioned Vegas defense, which allowed only 10 shots on goal in the last 20 minutes. Considering San Jose’s playoff life was on the line, allowing only one shot against every two minutes is an impressive feat that, when paired with Fleury’s perfect 28-save effort, shows just how dominant the Knights’ defense was.

Without even a goal to show for his team’s effort, Head Coach Peter DeBoer was forced to pull Jones (who himself had an okay night with a 30-for-32 performance [.938 save percentage]) for the extra attacker with 2:14 remaining on the clock. 23 seconds later, C Cody Eakin (F Ryan Carpenter and Schmidt) scored a tap-in on an empty net to set the 3-0 final score.

Vegas’ next opponent still has yet to be determined, but the second half of that Western Finals matchup could be cemented as soon as tomorrow night. Winnipeg leads its series against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Predators 3-2 and has the opportunity to close them out at Bell MTS Place in Game 6. Puck drop for that game is scheduled for 9:30 p.m. Eastern and may be viewed on CBC, NBCSN and TVAS.

Regardless of opponent, the Golden Knights will not return to T-Mobile Arena until Game 3 of the Conference Finals due to both Nashville and Winnipeg having a better regular-season record.

March 12 – Day 152 – Roll low to Fly high

First and foremost, I want to sincerely thank @jdettro, @nlanciani53 and @vanekatthedisco for manning the “Game of the Day” post while I was – as Pete put it – on IR recovering from oral surgery. I strive to keep this series as lively and up to date as possible, and they performed those tasks marvelously. Hats off to them!

I must admit, I also earned the golden opportunity to return to the series on an action-packed day, as the NHL has scheduled a solid eight games for our viewing pleasure.

The festivities begin, like they do most weeknights, at 7 p.m. with four tilts (Carolina at the New York Rangers, Vegas at Philadelphia [SN], Winnipeg at Washington [TVAS] and Montréal at Columbus [RDS/TSN2]), followed half an hour later by Ottawa at Florida (RDS2). The next wave of games doesn’t start until 10 p.m. when St. Louis at Anaheim drops the puck, while tonight’s co-nightcaps – Vancouver at Los Angeles and Detroit at San Jose – wait 30 minutes before completing the night’s slate. All times Eastern.

Since F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare spent his first three NHL seasons in the City of Brotherly Love before being selected by Vegas in the Expansion Draft, we’ll head to Eastern Pennsylvania to take in a tilt between two teams expecting to play more than 82 games this season.

 

 

 

 

 

Hailing from Le Blanc-Mensil, France (a suburb northeast of Paris), Bellemare was not one of the highly touted European prospects in his draft class. Instead, his story is one of paying his dues and climbing the ladder all the way from Ligue Magnus – the top hockey league in France – all the way to the best team in the Pacific Division.

Bellemare’s professional career began with French side Dragons de Rouen way back during the 2002-’03 season when he was 17-years old, albeit he won the Jean-Pierre Graff Trophy (Ligue Magnus’ Calder Trophy) during the 2004-’05 season. His tenure with the Dragons was capped by a dominant 2005-’06 season that saw him score a then career-high 12 goals and 29 points to lead the club to first place in the regular season, as well as an undefeated run to the Magnus Cup. In three best-of-five playoff rounds (nine games total), Bellemare averaged a point-per-game with 2-7-9 marks.

That success earned Bellemare the opportunity to climb the professional ranks into the more competitive HockeyAllsvenskan, the second-best league in Sweden, with Leksands IF.

Similar to Bellemare’s tenure with Rouen, Leksand only showed improvement while he was on the roster. In three seasons with the club, it finished third, first and first in the regular season, but could never advance out of Kvalserien to earn promotion into Elitserien (the top league in the country, renamed the Swedish Hockey League in 2013).

During his 2008-’09 campaign with Leksand, Bellemare discovered the best scoring form of his career. He scored incredible 31-18-49 totals in 41 regular season games, and followed that up by posting 5-5-10 marks in the 10-game Kvalserien round robin.

Since it was obvious Bellemare was worthy of playing in a better league, he joined Skellefteå AIK in the SEL at the start of the 2009-’10 season, the club he would spend five seasons with. It took Bellemare a couple seasons to adjust to playing against the best competition he’d ever faced on a nightly basis, but he rediscovered his scoring touch by the 2011-’12 campaign to register 19-17-36 totals in 55 games played. Skellefteå advanced to the championship series that season before falling to W Jakob Silfverberg‘s Brynäs IF in six games.

After Bellemare’s first 20-goal season in 2013-’14 since his final year in HockeyAllsvenskan (Skellefteå won the regular season and lost only two games en route to its second of four-consecutive Le Mat Trophies, for those that are wondering), he finally earned the promotion many hockey players only dream of: at 29-years-old, he signed a one-year, $600 thousand NHL contract with the Flyers.

The Frenchman didn’t exactly light North America on fire when he showed up, posting only 6-6-12 marks in 81 games played during his “rookie” season, but Philadelphia was obviously impressed enough to sign him to two more seasons on a $1.425 million contract. Bellemare rewarded the Flyers’ loyalty in 2015-’16 by improving his performance to 7-7-14 totals in only 74 games played, but he regressed last season to lowly 4-4-8 marks even though he didn’t miss a game.

Even still, the Flyers extended his contract another two seasons, locking him up through the 2018-’19 season for $2.9 million on March 1, 2017.

Though Philadelphia had signed that extension, it was a no-brainer why the 32-year-old was left exposed for the Expansion Draft. Bellemare’s production on the offensive end was far from awe-inspiring, as his tenure in the NHL had become most known for his defensive play (he finished 48th in Selke voting in 2016-’17).

Leave it to Head Coach Gerard Gallant and General Manager George McPhee to have a plan for that defensive effort, and of course that plan came up spades for the Golden Knights.

Even at 33-years-old (he just celebrated his anniversaire on March 6), Bellemare is easily having his best season in the NHL with his new team. With only 59 games played, the Frenchman has posted 5-8-13 totals and a +6 rating, his first positive goal-differential since joining the NHL – due in large part to career-high 43 takeaways in the league. He’s also enjoying an impressive 51.3 face-off win percentage.

If I had to guess as to why Bellemare is finding so much success in Vegas, I’d argue Gallant’s system fits his style of play far better than Head Coach Dave Hakstol’s. Fitting the French stereotype to a T, Bellemare’s talent is found in his quality stick work and heady play – a style that is far different than the brash shot-blocking, hit-throwing strategy employed by the Broad Street Bullies. The more Bellemare got away from that style in Philadelphia, the more success he found. Now that his defensive responsibilities have completely changed, he’s showing why he was brought to the NHL in the first place.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to be playing on McPhee’s incredibly constructed brainchild known as the 44-19-5 Golden Knights. After a three-game losing skid, Vegas is back in the swing of things having posted a 3-1-0 record over its last four showings, all of which have been on the road.

Perhaps its just coincidence on a day where we’re featuring the defensively-minded Bellemare, but it’s been the Golden Knights’ effort in their own that has resulted in their turnaround. Whether it’s been the excellent play of C Cody Eakin (averaging one takeaway per game since March 4), D Deryk Engelland (1.5 blocks per game in his last four showings) or D Brayden McNabb (4.3 hits per game over this run), Vegas has limited 24-9-3 G Marc-Andre Fleury‘s workload to only 29 shots per game during this road trip, the ninth-best mark in the NHL since March 4.

Oh yeah: Fleury has been pretty incredible lately as well (in other news, grass is green). Taking advantage of his defense’s effort, Fleury has managed a solid .948 save percentage and 1.48 GAA over his last four starts, improving his season marks to unbelievable .929 and 2.16 heights.

Between Fleury and the Vegas defense, the Golden Knights have allowed only 1.75 goals per game since March 4, the (t)third-lowest  mark in the NHL in that time.

Meanwhile, the 35-23-11 Flyers are in a bit of a slump right now, as they’ve managed only a 1-4-1 record over their past six outings, though they might have turned a corner Saturday when they beat the visiting Jets 2-1.

The injuries to Philadelphia’s two primary goaltenders are absolutely driving it into the ground, because the Flyers are completely altering the style that has brought them so much success this season to sell out on the defensive end.

That’s not to say the Flyers aren’t playing defense well. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, as F Valtteri Filppula (seven takeaways in his last six games) and D Radko Gudas (3.7 hits and 2.2 blocks per game since March 1) have performed phenomenally to limit 12-10-4 G Petr Mrazek‘s workload to only 29.83 shots per game in the month of March, the (t)ninth-best mark in the league in that time.

However, that commitment to excellent defense has come at the cost of the Flyers’ usually imposing offense. For the entire regular season, Philly has averaged a solid 2.91 goals per game – the 13th-best mark in the league. However, that number has dropped to only 2.33 goals per game in March to be the sixth-worst mark in the NHL over the past 11 days.

To keep piling on the Flyers, it’s not like their defensive success has really slowed down opposing offenses all that much. With the exception of his 27-for-28 performance Saturday against Winnipeg, Mrazek has been rather uninspiring in his last five starts, posting a combined .874 save percentage and 3.75 GAA. With 21-11-7 G Brian Elliott and 8-7-3 G Michal Neuvirth no closer to returning to action, Mrazek needs to get his act in shape before he single-handedly destroys the Flyers’ playoff hopes.

With the Stanley Cup playoffs less than a month away, the Flyers’ future is still as cloudy as a smoggy Philadelphia day. In fact, though they’re currently in third place in the Metropolitan Division with a three-point edge on fourth-place New Jersey, only six points separate the Flyers from ninth-place Florida. As such, a win tonight could be very important – especially paired with a Capitals loss to Winnipeg, as it would pull Philly into a tie for second place that it would lose by only one more game played, keeping the pressure squarely on Washington to keep finding wins. Should the Flyers lose, they give the Devils a game in hand – a dangerous weapon should Mrazek continue playing the way he is.

As for Vegas, the top seed in the Western Conference has all but slipped out of its fingers considering the Predators have a five-point lead in 68 games played – one fewer than Vegas after tonight’s action. However, the Knights still have yet to lock up the Pacific Division, as the Sharks and Ducks are lurking with 81 and 80 points, respectively. As long as Vegas wins at least seven more games before the end of the regular season, it should clinch its first division title.

The way things have gone for the Golden Knights this season, I don’t think 14 points will be hard to come by.

We’ve heard stories of celebrities and bachelor parties trashing hotel rooms while in Vegas, and that’s kind of what the Flyers did when they visited T-Mobile Arena on February 11. Led in large part by C Sean Couturier‘s three-point night that included a game-winning assist in the second period, Philadelphia came away from the Silver State with a 4-1 victory.

Based on recent trends, this game is screaming to be two points for the Golden Knights. If Mrazek can build off Saturday’s victory and the Flyers can return to playing some solid offense, Philadelphia certainly has a shot at winning. However, I have my doubts about that happening considering the Golden Knights have F Jon Marchessault (22-43-65 totals), C William Karlsson (35-26-61) and W David Perron (16-45-61) at their disposal. Vegas should come away with the victory.


The New York Islanders showed no mercy in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they beat the Calgary Flames 5-2 at Scotiabank Saddledome.

By scoring three goals in the third period, the Isles registered their game-winning goal before departing for their dressing room for the first intermission. D Nick Leddy (C Casey Cizikas) opened the scoring with a wrist shot at the 2:14 mark, and Second Star of the Game D Johnny Boychuk (Cizikas and LW Ross Johnston) followed that up only 18 seconds later to give New York a 2-0 advantage.

Though LW Johnny Gaudreau (C Sean Monahan) was able to bury a wrister at the 7:29 mark to pull Calgary back within a score, RW Jordan Eberle (Boychuk and C John Tavares) apparently remembered his days with the Oilers and wanted to ensure he nipped any Flames comeback in the bud.

Only 3:02 after the horn stopped blaring for Gaudreau, Boychuk centered a pass from the left point to Eberle, who was camping in the slot in front of G Mike Smith‘s crease. Though the goaltender was able to make the initial save on Eberle’s initial redirection, he wasn’t able to catch up with the right wing’s recollect-turned-backhanded shot as he continued driving through the slot.

Though Eberle takes credit for the game-winning blow, F Anders Lee‘s (Boychuk and Leddy) clapper 50 seconds into the second period might have been the final blow to knockout the Flames. He set the score at 4-1, making any Calgary comeback a tall order.

Third Star D Mark Giordano (D Dougie Hamilton and Gaudreau) tried to get that comeback started at the 7:24 mark of the third period, but First Star G Christopher Gibson stopped the remaining 18 shots he faced in the third period to keep the Flames’ goal total at two. Lee (Tavares) capped the Isles’ scoring with with 11 seconds remaining in the game, burying a wrister into an empty net.

Gibson earned the victory after saving 50-of-52 shots faced (.962 save percentage), leaving the loss to Smith, who saved 22-of-26 (.846).

It’s been a bit of a resurgence of the road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day during my absence, as the past two featured tilts have gone the way of the squads wearing white. Because of that, the 83-49-19 hosts now have only a 31-point advantage in the series.

October 6 – Day Three – Welcome to the league

Man, a week goes by fast when there’s hockey involved. All of a sudden it’s Friday!

Speaking of, we have three games on the schedule tonight in anticipation of a 15-game Saturday. The action starts at 7 p.m. with the New York Islanders visiting Columbus, followed half an hour by Florida at Tampa Bay for Game 1 of the Governor’s Cup. Finally, Vegas heads to Dallas (NHLN/SN360/TVAS) to close out the night at 8:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

There’s only one chance for a franchise to play its first NHL game, so is there any doubt which game we’re featuring tonight?

 

 

 

 

 

Now that it is officially game day for the Golden Knights, allow us at Down the Frozen River to welcome Vegas to the NHL!

Officially, the process of bringing the NHL’s 31st team to Las Vegas began in late 2014 when Commissioner Gary Bettman allowed Bill Foley to test the season ticket market, though the league has had a presence in the city since the early 90s (not counting the bookies).

Over 13,000 season tickets and 18 months later, the Golden Knights were approved for business and preparing to start winning hockey games.

Unfortunately, history is not on their side in this contest. The last expansion franchises to win their opening games were Tampa Bay (7-3 against Chicago) and Ottawa (5-3 against Montréal) in the 1992-’93 season. Since then, expansion teams have gone a dreadful 0-6-1 in their first-ever regular season games, getting outscored 25-11 in the process.

Ouch. Maybe the Golden Knights can do better.

For them to buck the trend, they’ll need exemplary play from stars like G Marc-Andre Fleury, F Jon Marchessault and W Reilly Smith. Considering Vegas’ lack of an effective blue line and the prowess of the Stars’ forwards (more on them in a minute), Fleury’s job description is simple even though it’s not simply filled.

And it’s with that in mind that puts even more pressure on the Knights’ forwards. Given that Dallas doesn’t necessarily play the best defense in the league, Marchessault, and Smith will hopefully be able to find some chemistry on the top line with C Vadim Shipachyov to keep Vegas competitive.

In addition to playing their first game, the Knights are also bringing with them some the Stars’ old friends. In particular, C Cody Eakin spent the last five seasons in Dallas before being selected by Vegas in the expansion draft. During his tenure in the Lone Star State he registered solid 61-85-146 totals, but last season’s 3-9-12 performance was a drastic decline that forced General Manager Jim Nill to leave him exposed.

Speaking of Nill, now that Eakin is on the Golden Knights’ second line, he had the opportunity to make some much needed changes to the Stars’ roster. After finishing 15 points behind the eighth-seeded Predators last season, Nill was able to improve his team by adding the likes of G Ben Bishop, C Martin Hanzal, D Marc Methot and RW Alexander Radulov.

Pair that group of players, who should provide at least a 10-point improvement in the standings compared to last year’s team, with Dallas’ mainstays of LW Jamie Benn and F Tyler Seguin and you find a club that should have something to say about the Blackhawks winning the Central Division for a second-straight season.

Considering the poor history of expansion teams in their first regular season showing and the fact that RW David Clarkson, F Mikhail Grabovski, W James Neal and D Clayton Stoner are all on injured reserve, I’m not expecting much from the Golden Knights this evening. Instead, I’m going to be enthralled by what could be the best top-line in hockey (Benn-Seguin-Radulov) backed by the first number one goaltender Dallas has seen in years.


Of all the teams to make it a priority to defend their new home, I suppose I should have pegged Detroit, who beat Minnesota 4-2 at Little Caesars Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

After a scoreless first period, the Red Wings scored two goals in 23 seconds – both courtesy of their second power play unit. First Star of the Game W Anthony Mantha (RW Martin Frk and Third Star D Mike Green) claimed the honor of scoring the first goal in arena history by burying a five-on-three wrist shot with 5:20 remaining. Under normal power play conditions, that lead doubled 23 seconds later when F Dylan Larkin (Green and Mantha) tipped a loose puck past G Devan Dubnyk.

Not to be outdone, the Wild had a scoring blitz of their own, starting with C Joel Eriksson Ek‘s (W Chris Stewart and LW Marcus Foligno) wrister two minutes into the third period, followed by Stewart’s (F Tyler Ennis and D Kyle Quincey) wrister only 48 seconds later to level the game at two-all.

The tie lasted 4:19 before F Henrik Zetterberg (Green and F Tomas Tatar) found the game-winning snap shot on his stick. From between the face-off circles, he collected a Green pass deflected off W Jason Zucker‘s skate and fired it five-hole on Dubnyk to set the score at 3-2.

Frk (Mantha and Green) secured the win by burying a slap shot with 9:21 remaining in the contest, setting the 4-2 final score.

Second Star Jimmy Howard earned the victory after saving 37-of-39 shots faced for a .949 save percentage, leaving the loss to Dubnyk, who saved 27-of-31 (.871 save percentage).

After three games, road teams have a slight one-point advantage in the DtFR Game of the Day series with a 2-1-0 record.

St. Louis at Dallas – Game 7 – Blues score six en route to Western Finals

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Led by the Troy Brouwer, Second Star of the Game Robby Fabbri and Third Star Paul Stastny line scoring three goals, the St. Louis Blues beat the Dallas Stars 6-1 to advance to the Western Conference Finals.

The first power play of the night was caused by Alex Goligoski at the 4:31 mark for hooking Vladimir Tarasenko in front of Kari Lehtonen’s net.  Fabbri made him pay 52 seconds later when he forced the puck across the goal line through a scrum in the crease, assisted by Brouwer and Stastny (his fifth helper of the playoffs).

Jori Lehtera returned the favor at the 9:38 mark, as a cross check against John Klingberg earned him a seat in the sin bin.  Klingberg seemed to be injured on the play after taking a David Backes clear off an ankle, but returned to the ice for his next shift.  First Star Brian Elliott only needed to make one save on the Stars‘ man-advantage, catching the puck right when Lehtera exited the box, ending the power play.

The Blues headed to their second power play with 5:01 remaining in the frame when Radek Faksa cross checked Steve Ott following another of his violent, but legal hits.  This time, the Stars‘ penalty kill was up to the task, allowing only one shot to reach net that was saved by Lehtonen.

The Blues thought they had scored 40 seconds after Dallas returned to even-strength, but would-be goalscorer Tarasenko was ruled to be offside after taking his skate off the ice an instant too soon.

They obviously weren’t phased though, as Stastny scored on a wrister with 1:38 remaining in the frame, assisted by Brouwer and Fabbri (his ninth helper of the playoffs).  Stastny collected a pass along the near boards from Fabbri and advanced to the goal line before dumping behind the goal to Fabbri again.  The rookie rounded the net and passed to a waiting Brouwer in front of the crease, who dumped to Stastny along the goal line ready to fire over Lehtonen’s stick shoulder.

With four seconds remaining, Patrik Berglund scored again for the Notes on a wrist shot, assisted by Lehtera and Backes (his sixth helper of the postseason).  Berglund received a pass at the point and quickly rifled his shot past Lehtonen’s stick side.

Through one period, St. Louis led not only on the scoreboard, but also at the face-off dots (57%), shots (eight to seven), blocks (10 to two) and giveaways (one to two).

An always important statistic for the Blues is their hits (even though they trailed the first period 11 to 10), and Ott threw quite a few of them.  Somehow, the official stat sheet only gave him credit for one, but he was flying across the ice and making his presence known.

After giving up three goals in the opening 20 minutes, Lehtonen was replaced by Antti Niemi.  He waited 3:50 before giving up a goal, a Backes wrister (his sixth tally of the playoffs) assisted by Berglund and Colton Parayko.  Bergluned received Parayko’s at center ice and flipped into the offensive zone for his captain, who collected and advanced on Niemi’s net from the near face-off dot to set the score at 4-0.

Five seconds before the halfway point of the contest, Ott’s aggressive plays caught up with him, as he earned a seat after being called for interference against Jamie Benn, but the Blues held strong to keep them scoreless.

St. Louis scored yet again with 4:54 remaining in the period on a quick transition attack.  Brouwer gets credit for the tally, assisted by Fabbri and Stastny.  Stastny collected a listing puck at center ice and attacked the offensive zone along the far boards.  He dumped a pass back to Fabbri, who crossed the puck in front of the crease for Brouwer, beating Niemi glove side to set the score at 5-0.

The Stars headed back to the power play with 3:49 remaining in the frame when Jaden Schwartz was charged with hooking Cody Eakin, but St. Louis made it three for three in successful penalty kills.

After two periods, it was actually Dallas playing the more aggressive game, firing 18 shots to set their game total at 25 in addition to winning the face-off dot (63%), takeaways (nine to eight) and hits (17 to 16).

Dallas finally got on the board after 45:15 of play when Patrick Eaves connected on a wrister, assisted by Goligoski and Johnny Oduya.  After a save rebound, Oduya received the puck along the blue line and passed to Goligoski across the point.  Goligoski fired a slap shot at Elliott, who made another save, but this rebound was collected by Eaves on the far side of the crease, who easily buried the puck in a virtually empty net.

With 4:40 to go and an empty net ahead of him, Tarasenko set the score at 6-1 with an wrister, assisted by Schwartz and Lehtera.  Schwartz flipped the puck into the neutral zone for a streaking Tarasenko, who had only one Star to beat before reaching the empty net to easily score.

Elliott earns the victory after saving 31 of the 32 shots he faced (96.9%), while Lehtonen takes the loss, saving five of eight (62.5%).  For no decision, Niemi saved eight of 10 (80%) in the remaining 40 minutes.

The Blues have advanced to the Western Finals, but don’t yet know who they’ll be playing.  That side will be determined tomorrow night at 9 p.m. eastern when Nashville makes their final visit of the year to San Jose for another Western Game 7.  That game may be viewed on NBCSN, SN or TVAS.

Dallas at St. Louis – Game 4 – Eakin’s overtime winner levels the series for the Stars

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First Star of the Game Cody Eakin’s first goal of the playoffs was a big one, as the Stars beat the Blues 3-2 in overtime to level the series at two-all.

Neither team was able to capitalize of their lone man-advantage in the frame, but Vladimir Tarasenko did find the back of the net with a wrister at the 10:17 mark, assisted by Jaden Schwartz.  Schwartz completed a steal by Carl Gunnarsson along the near boards in Dallas‘ offensive zone and was able to find Tarasenko already streaking towards Third Star of the Game Kari Lehtonen’s net.  The winger collected the pass near center ice with no defensemen in his path, allowing him to advance between the dots before going five hole on Lehtonen.

In addition to leading on the scoreboard, the Blues also owned the face-off dot (61%), blocks (three to one), giveaways (none to three) and hits (16 to 10).

Radek Faksa leveled the game 4:05 into the second period, with an assist from… Joel Edmundson (that’s a joke, just in case you were wondering). Edmundson was trying to find a teammate in the neutral zone, but Faksa easily intercepted that pass to advance on Brian Elliott’s crease and score on his five hole.

16 seconds after Faksa’s goal, David Backes found himself in the penalty box for tripping Mattias Janmark.  It proved to be costly, as 53 seconds later Patrick Sharp scored the Stars‘ first power play goal of the series with a quick wrister past Elliott’s right skate.  He was set up by Jamie Benn (his eighth helper of the playoffs) and Jason Spezza.  John Klingberg passed the puck along the blue line to Spezza, who found Benn along the far side of the goal line.  Benn was forced to the top of the crease, but he found a crashing Sharp to take the lead.

Backes earned himself another trip to the penalty box at the 11:11 mark, but he took Kris Russell with him this team, as both were charged with penalties (roughing and slashing, respectively).  The four-on-four circumstances lasted only 1:27 before the Notes earned a four-on-three when Eakin took a seat for slashing Schwartz.

St. Louis converted on that infraction when Paul Stastny scored his first goal of the playoffs, a tip-in on Tarasenko’s initial shot to level the game at two-all.  He was also assisted by Alexander Steen.  Steen took a pass from Tarasenko near the blue line, but quickly returned the puck back to his possession outside the near face-off circle.  Tarasenko fired a wrister right at Stastny’s stick at the top of the crease, which he angled just the right way to get the puck over Lehtonen.

Alex Goligoski sent the Blues right back to the playoffs at the 13:55 mark when he hooked Patrik Berglund, but Steen returned the ice to four-on-four after only 24 seconds when he interfered with Faksa’s advance on the puck.  Dallas was unable to convert on their end of the 24 second power play when Goligoski returned to the ice.

Although an exciting second period, this game certainly needed a third, as the score was two-all after 40 minutes.  St. Louis continued to lead the game in face-off wins (53%), blocks (four to three) and hits (25 to 19).

Unlike the first two periods, there were no goals or penalties committed in the final 20 minutes.  Elliott and Lehtonen deserve credit for forcing overtime, as they both saved all seven shots they faced.  Through regulation, St. Louis continued to lead in face-offs (56%), blocks (seven to four), giveaways (four to six) and hits (34 to 30).

Only 2:58 into overtime, Eakin scored the winner with his first goal of the postseason, assisted by Sharp and Benn.  Benn collected a pass at his defensive blue line and advanced the puck to center ice before passing to Sharp along the far boards.  Eakin received a cross-ice pass at the near face-off dot, which he wristed over Elliott’s glove shoulder to level the series at two-all.

Lehtonen earns the win after saving 24 of the 26 shots he faced (92.3%), while Elliott takes the overtime loss after saving 25 of 28 (89.3%).

With the win, the Stars reclaim home ice for the now effectively three game series.  The important Game 5 will occur Saturday at 1 p.m. eastern in the American Airlines Center, and may be viewed on NBC, SN or TVAS.

Dallas at St. Louis – Game 3 – Steen headlines St. Louis’ 6-1 victory

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Three goals in the second period proved to be too much for the Stars, as St. Louis won 6-1 to take a 2-1 lead in the series.

Until approximately the 2:15 mark, the beginning of the game took place almost entirely in the neutral zone before the Blues finally registered a shot on net.  Any momentum they tried getting off those attempts ended though, but it wasn’t due to anything the Stars did – the same pane of glass damaged in Game 7 of the Chicago series proved to be an issue.

In fact, that delay in play actually benefited Dallas, who quickly fired two quick shots following the return to play.  Soon after, they scored the first goal of Game 3 – a Colton Sceviour wrister at the 4:44 mark.  His second tally of the postseason was assisted by Jason Spezza (his sixth helper of the playoffs) and Johnny Oduya.

Fifty-seven seconds later, First Star of the Game Alexander Steen leveled with a wrister of his own, assisted by Paul Stastny and Troy Brouwer.

Scottie Upshall committed the first penalty of the night when he hi-sticked Oduya in front of Antti Niemi’s net with 6:52 remaining in the period.  Dallas entered the night 0 for seven on the power play in the Western Semifinals, and once again the Blues completed the kill.

Thirty-seven seconds after completing the kill, Vernon Fiddler and the Stars returned the favor by committing a slashing penalty against Jaden Schwartz, which St. Louis converted not even half a minute later when Third Star David Backes connected on a tip-in to give the Blues a 2-1 lead, assisted by Kevin Shattenkirk and Second Star Vladimir Tarasenko.

The Stars almost tied the game again with 1:19 remaining in the period when Jason Demers collected the rebound of an Elliott save, but the puck hit the crossbar and did not cross the red line, leaving the Blues with the one-goal differential going into the dressing room.

Not only did St. Louis end the frame with the lead on the scoreboard, but they were also winning the dot (58%), blocked shots (eight to four), takeaways (three to two) and, most importantly for their game, hits (19 to eight).

2:34 after returning to the ice for the second period, Brouwer scored his third goal of these playoffs on a wrister, assisted by Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo (his sixth helper of the postseason).  That tally is the one that chased Niemi, who was replaced by Kari Lehtonen for the remainder of the game.

St. Louis continued the onslaught 1:16 later when Tarasenko scored a wrister assisted by Patrik Berglund and Robby Fabbri (his seventh helper of the playoffs).

Jamie Benn began taking his frustrations out Blues skaters, and was sent to the box after tripping Bouwmeester at the 4:47 mark.  The ensuing power play did not go St. Louis‘ way, so the score remained at 4-1 when Benn returned to the ice.

The Blues returned to the power play at the 8:47 mark when two Stars (Demers and Fiddler) were sent to the box, but it was a five-on-four due to Ryan Reaves also earning two minutes in the sin bin for responding with a roughing penalty of his own against Fiddler.  St. Louis‘ power play fell to one for three in the game as they were unable to score with the advantage.

Those penalties are just one example of how Fiddler and the Stars have been trying to get under Reaves’ skin since he has entered the series.  Known for being an aggressive enforcer, When he entered play, an opposing physical Dallas skater was usually quick to follow, and almost every stoppage was followed by a skirmish along the boards.  Even when Fiddler wasn’t on the ice, Reaves was still a focus for the Stars, hoping for any attempt to get their first power play goal of the series.

Antoine Roussel made his fourth trip to the penalty box in the last two games for a delay of game penalty, and the Blues made sure to make him pay.  Only 10 seconds after the infraction at the 17:53 mark, Steen scored his second goal of the night with a power play wrister to set the score at 5-1, assisted by Tarasenko and Schwartz.

Bouwmeester earned himself a break with 63 seconds remaining in the second period when he tripped Spezza in the corner, but the period ended with the Blues leading 5-1.

After two periods, the Blues still led on shots (26-19), as well as face-offs (59%), blocks (12 to five), takeaways (seven to four) and hits (28-17).

St. Louis killed the remaining 57 seconds of the power play at the beginning of the third period to continue their streak of penalty kills at eight straight over the Stars.

Benn committed the first penalty of the final period at the 9:07 mark when he cross checked Pietrangelo, and the Blues followed suit 3:35 later when Colton Parayko was caught roughing Radek Faksa.  Dallas ended their power play 41 seconds early when Cody Eakin hooked Shattenkirk.  After all of that, neither team altered the 5-1 score.

Reaves finally got tired of the Stars late in the third and scrapped with Curtis McKenzie with three minutes to go.  After his bout, he blew a kiss to the Dallas bench before heading to the dressing room, probably not making many friends in the process.

Backes’ fifth goal of the playoffs and second of the game was a shorthanded wrister, due to a Brouwer slash against Faksa, with 1:54 remaining in the game to seal the deal at 6-1.  He was assisted by Carl Gunnarsson.

Elliott earns the win after saving 25 of the 26 shots he faced (96.2%), while Niemi takes the loss, saving nine of 12 (75%).  The goaltending questions continue for Dallas, as Niemi’s replacement saved 24 of 27 (88.9%) for no decision.

After taking a 2-1 lead in the series, the Blues will once again host the Stars Thursday at 8 p.m. eastern.  That contest can be viewed on CBC, NBCSN or TVAS.

St. Louis at Dallas – Game 2 – Backes and the Blues make it a five game series

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The St. Louis Blues may have only managed 25 shots on goal, but they were able to level their series against the Dallas Stars by beating them 4-3 in overtime, thanks to Captain David Backes.

Only 3:36 into Game 2, Cody Eakin collected a puck along the near boards and passed to Second Star of the Game Jamie Benn, who was positioned behind Brian Elliott’s net.  He set up a centering pass towards the left face-off dot for Alex Goligoski, who top shelfed his slap shot into the back of the net.

The Blues took offense to that, and 35 seconds later Third Star Backes carried the puck into the neutral zone before passing to Patrik Berglund, who completed the advance into the attacking zone before passing off to Robby Fabbri.  Fabbri dumped back to the attacking Berguland, who scored a slap shot past Kari Lehtonen’s glove hand to level the game at a goal apiece.

At the 7:02 mark, First Star Troy Brouwer and Scottie Upshall connected with Joel Edmundson to give him his first goal of the playoffs, and more importantly, a St. Louis lead.

With 80 seconds remaining in the opening frame, Brouwer scored the Blues‘ final goal of regulation on a power play wrister, assisted by Kevin Shattenkirk and Fabbri.

At the beginning of the second period, it was not Lehtonen in Dallas‘ net, but instead Antti Niemi, who did not yield a goal on 10 shots faced in his opening 20 minutes of work.  Similarly, Elliott saved all six shots he faced, holding the score at 3-1 going into the final frame.

The fifth goal of the game wasn’t scored until the 4:35 mark of the final frame, courtesy of Mattias Janmark, his first of the playoffs.  His wrister was assisted by Eakin and Colton Sceviour.  Eakin dumped the puck out of the defensive zone to Janmark, who had only one Blue to beat on his way to the crease before sneaking the puck past Elliott’s left skate.

Dallas‘ offensive push was certainly made evident 13 seconds later, when a Dallas power play shot was fired so hard it broke Elliott’s mask, but he made the save to maintain the one-goal differential.

With 2:36 remaining in regulation, Benn scored a wrister to level the game, assisted by Eakin and Kris Russell.  Eakin won the face-off from the far dot, which he sent back to the blue line for Russell to collect and fire on net.  Elliott made the save, but Benn collected the rebound to slide the puck past the sprawling goaltender’s glove hand.

Neither team was able to break the draw before the clock struck zeroes, so the game required 10:58 of overtime before Backes’ power play wrister proved to be the winner.  After providing the screen on Alexander Steen’s initial shot and literally jumping over the puck, he collected the rebound and scored behind Niemi’s left skate.

Elliott earns the win after saving 31 of 34 shots faced (91.2%), while Niemi takes the overtime loss, saving 19 of 20 (95%).  Lehtonen takes credit for the poor first period, where he saved only two of five (40%).

Now a best-of-five series, the locale shifts to Scottrade Arena in St. Louis, MO.  Game 3 will occur on a busy Tuesday, May 3 at 9:30 p.m. eastern and can be viewed on NBCSN, SN or TVAS.

Minnesota at Dallas – Game 2 – Scandella’s power play goal can’t cover his rough defensive night, Stars take 2-0 series lead

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The best in the west are continuing their winning ways in the postseason, as they now have a two-game lead on Minnesota after winning 3-2.

Although both teams had over three minutes of power play action in the first period (we had a little bit of 4-on-4 action), they both went 0-for-2 with the advantage to end the frame scoreless.  That being said, the Stars were the clear offensive leaders, just like you’d expect, as their 14 first period shots doubled those of the Wild.

Period Two finally saw the first goal, as Ales Hemsky’s initial “shot” at the 3:54 mark was deflected into the back of the net by Third Star of the Game Antoine Roussel to give the Stars the lead.  Roussel brought the puck into the zone from the left boards, under pressure from Matt Dumba, forcing him to dump it behind the cage. Marco Scandella attempted to track it down, but his attempt to get it out of the zone was right on target… for Hemsky’s ankle.  The force sent the puck back behind Devan Dubnyk’s cage, which Hemsky somehow deflects over the net and into the crease.  Already beginning to crouch, the puck was actually above Dubnyk, but below the bar, allowing Roussel to get around the net to force the puck over Dubnyk’s back and into goal.

That was the only goal of the second period, even though Minnesota provided the Stars two power plays.

Dallas proved an important insurance goal, which proved to be the game winner, with 9:37 remaining in regulation when, thanks to an assist from Cody Eakin, Second Star Jamie Benn backhanded a breakaway goal past Dubnyk.  This one doesn’t fall as much on Scandella’s shoulders, as it was him who fired the shot at First Star Kari Lehtonen, but the deflection was corralled in the right corner of the zone by Eakin, who found a streaking Benn to create a one-on-one matchup with the goaltender that he almost always wins.

Thirty-six seconds later, Johnny Oduya was caught holding Charlie Coyle’s stick, which earned him a two-minute break.  Scandella and Minnesota finally capitalized on their fourth power play of the night when he fired a slap shot at the 12:42 mark, assisted by Dumba and Jason Zucker.  Any chances of completing the comeback were effectively nullified when Jason Pominville tripped Stephen Johns with 2:52 remaining in regulation, making them play almost the remainder of the contest a man down.

Lehtonen earns the victory after saving 25 of the 26 shots he faced (96.2%), while Dubnyk takes the loss, saving 26 of 28 (92.9%).

Minnesota will need to capitalize on home ice if they wish to get back in this series.  Their first shot at doing just that will be Monday at 8:30 p.m. eastern, and can be viewed on CNBC, SN or TVAS2.

 

March 11 – Day 148 – Central Shootout

Well, I don’t think anyone expected that one.  The Edmonton Oilers won 2-1 in Minnesota in yesterday’s Game of the Day.

Edmonton‘s first goal was the lone tally of the first period.  Lauri Korpikoski was responsible, as his wrister, assisted by Mark Letestu (his 11th helper of the season) and Adam Clendening, found the back of the net at the 9:55 mark.

The Wild did the same thing in the second period, as Zach Parise’s 19th score of the season leveled the score at the 11:04 mark of the frame.

The Oilers‘ winner found the back of the net with 7:29 remaining in regulation, scored by the first pick of this season’s entry draft, Second Star Connor McDavid, who was assisted by Zack Kassian and Andrej Sekera (his 19th helper of the season).

First Star Cam Talbot earns the win after saving 29 of 30 shots faced (96.7%) while Third Star Darcy Kuemper takes the loss, saving 23 of 25 (92%).

After tonight’s Wild loss, the DtFR Game of the Day series stands at 65-38-15, favoring the home squad by 27 points over the roadies.

Five games will be played this evening, beginning with Pittsburgh visiting Columbus at 7 p.m. eastern, followed by Philadelphia at Tampa Bay half an hour later.  The Anaheim at St. Louis game drops the puck at 8 p.m. eastern, trailed 30 minutes later by Chicago at Dallas (NHLN).  Finally, Arizona at Calgary, this evening’s nightcap, gets its start at 9 p.m. eastern.

Most of tonight’s games are divisional rivalries (Pittsburgh at Columbus, Chicago at Dallas and Arizona at Calgary), and two contests are between teams currently qualifying for the playoffs (Anaheim at St. Louis and Chicago at Dallas).

Chicago and Dallas are currently tied for the Central Division and Western Conference lead, so you gotta believe we’re keeping an eye on that one!

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This will be Chicago‘s 20th appearance in the Game of the Day series, where they own a 10-7-2 record.  Their most recent showing in our series was February 25, a 3-1 loss on home ice to the Predators.  Dallas has been featured a little more recently, as they fell to the Red Wings 3-2 in overtime on February 29.  That was their ninth game in our series, and set their series record at 5-0-4.

The 41-21-6 Chicago Blackhawks are currently the best in both the Central Division and Western Conference, and trail only Washington for the distinction of best in the league.  To get to that position, they’ve played one of the most well-rounded games – the sixth best in both offense and defense.

Led by Patrick Kane’s 239 shots, the Hawks have fired the puck 2096 times, with 9.2% finding the back of the net for 193 goals (led by Kane’s 38 tallies), the sixth most in the NHL.  The offense has been spearheaded by the power play, as their 24.15% success rate, good for 50 goals (led by Kane’s 15 extra man tallies), ranks best in the league.

The defense has been just as good.  Even with Trevor van Riemsdyk’s 135 blocks,  Chicago has allowed 2094 shots to reach 35-16-4 Corey Crawford and co., but they’ve been nothing short of remarkable, collectively saving 92.6% for only 163 goals allowed, the sixth fewest in the league.  The Blackhawks aren’t perfect though.  Their special teams only neutralize 78.65% of their penalties – allowing 41 opposing power play goals in the process – the seventh worst rate in the league.  Never fear though, they do help themselves by having scored seven shorthanded goals so far this year, two more than the league average.

Chicago‘s last game was a 3-2 shootout loss in St. Louis on Wednesday.  As they are tied on points with the Stars, a win this evening is important as the season comes down to the wire, as the Hawks would like to clinch home ice throughout the Western Conference tournament.

The 40-20-8 Dallas Stars occupy second place in both the Central Division and Western Conference due to losing a regulation+overtime tiebreaker to this evening’s competition.  It has been the offense that has led the way, as the Stars have scored the most goals in the league, but they’ve also given up the eighth most goals against.

Led by Tyler Seguin’s 261 shots, the Stars have fired the puck an incredible 2195 times, with 9.8% finding the back of the net for 218 goals, the most in the NHL.  That success starts with the power play, as their 21.96% success rate, good for 47 power play goals (led by Jamie Benn’s 14 extra man tallies), ranks seventh best in the NHL.

It has been the defense, specifically the goaltending, that has held Dallas back this season.  Led by Johnny Oduya’s 146 blocks, the Stars have allowed 1980 shots to reach 22-12-6 Antti Niemi and co., of which they’ve saved only 90.4% for 196 goals against, the eighth most in the league.  The penalty kill hasn’t helped matters, defending only 79.9% of their infractions for 41 power play goals against, the 11th worst rate in the NHL.  To help make up for those goals, the Stars have scored nine shorthanded goals (led by Cody Eakin’s three shorties), four more than the league average.

Dallas lost their most recent game 4-3, a Tuesday night contest in Montréal.  With a win tonight, the Stars would reclaim the division and conference lead, but a loss could allow the Blues to take their second place position.

Dallas currently leads the season series 2-1-0, but is 1-1-0 on home ice.  The Stars won the most recent meeting 4-2 in Chicago on February 11.

Some players to keep an eye on in tonight’s game include Chicago‘s Crawford (seven shutouts [leads the league], .929 save percentage [tied for the league lead], 35 wins [second most in the league] and 2.21 GAA [tied for seventh best in the league]), Kane (89 points [leads the league], 51 assists [second most in the league] and 38 goals [second most in the league]) and Artemi Panarin (62 points [10th most in the league]) & Dallas‘ Benn (73 points [second most in the league], 32 goals [tied for fourth most in the league] and 41 assists [tied for ninth most in the league]), John Klingberg (43 assists [seventh most in the league]) and Seguin (68 points [tied for fourth most in the league] and 32 goals [tied for fourth most in the league]).

Choosing a winner in tonight’s game is tough.  Both squads have exceptional offenses, which doesn’t exactly play into Dallas‘ favor, but should the Blackhawks commit a lot of penalties, this game can stay tight.  The overall better team is the visitors, so I’ll pick the Blackhawks.

February 29 – Day 137 – Detroit returns the favor to Dallas

The Tampa Bay Lightning took sole ownership of second place in the Atlantic Division by winning 4-1 in Boston in yesterday’s Game of the Day.

The Bruins‘ lone goal was struck only 6:01 into the game, courtesy of  a Kevan Miller wrister, assisted by Joonas Kemppainen and Landon Ferraro.  Tampa leveled the game 5:18 later with a power play wrister from Alex Killorn, who was assisted by Anton Stralman (his 20th helper of the season) and First Star of the Game Ryan Callahan.  The Bolts took a lead they would not yield with their game-winning goal at the 14:39 mark, courtesy of Callahan, who was assisted by Killorn’s 21st helper of the season.

It was another two-goal period for the Bolts in the second, with their first coming at the 8:18 mark.  It was Callahan’s second of the evening, assisted by Second Star Steven Stamkos (his 23rd helper of the season) and Stralman.  1:46 later, Stamkos’ wrister (his 28th tally of the season) found the back to set the score at the 4-1 final.

Third Star Ben Bishop earns the win after saving 32 of 33 shots (97%), while Tuukka Rask takes the loss after saving 26 of 30 (86.7%).

Tampa Bay’s win sets the DtFR Game of the Day series at 61-34-12, favoring the home squads by 31 points over the roadies.

Six games will be played this Monday night, with half of them getting started at 7 p.m. eastern (Columbus at the New York Rangers [NHLN], Calgary at Philadelphia and Arizona at Pittsburgh), with Tampa Bay at Toronto dropping the puck half an hour later.  8:30 p.m. eastern brings with it the beginning of Detroit at Dallas, and Montréal at San Jose, this evening’s nightcap, gets started at 10:30 p.m. eastern.

A third of tonight’s games are divisional rivalries (Columbus at New York and Tampa Bay at Toronto), and Detroit at Dallas is the only game between teams currently qualifying for the playoffs.

Although it is not the nationally televised game this evening, the most exciting is definitely the DetroitDallas game.

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Both sides have been featured eight times in the Game of the Day series before this evening’s game, but it is Dallas with the better record in such games (5-0-3 and 5-2-1, respectively).  Detroit was most recently featured in their 1-0 overtime loss in Madison Square Garden on February 21, while Dallas last saw action in the series on February 16 in their 2-1 overtime loss in St. Louis.

The 31-20-11 Detroit Red Wings are, to put it plainly, an intriguing team, as they currently occupy fourth place in the Atlantic Division and seventh in the Eastern Conference (good enough for the first wildcard spot), but don’t play either end of the ice exceptionally well.

For starters, even with Danny DeKeyser’s 83 blocks leading the squad to allowing 1829 shots (exactly the league average) to reach 24-11-6 Petr Mrazek and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 92%, they’ve allowed 161 goals, only the 14th-fewest in the league.  The penalty kill is barely better, as their 81.86% kill rate ranks 13th-best, allowing 37 extra-man tallies.

The offense hasn’t done them any favors.  Rookie Dylan Larkin has a team-leading 164 shots to his credit and helped lead the squad to 1804 attempts, of which 8.6% have found the back of the net for 158 scores (led by Larkin’s 19), 10th-fewest in the league.  The offense gets even worse on the power play, as they are successful on only 17.17% of attempts for 34 extra-man goals, sixth-worst in the league.

All of that being said, the Wings are currently riding a two-game winning streak, with their most recent occurring Saturday in Denver, a 5-3 victory.  Should Detroit pull off a win tonight, they would advance past Boston for third in the division and trail second place Tampa Bay by only a point.

The 38-19-6 Dallas Stars are currently in second place in both the Central Division and the Western Conference.  To get to that position, they’ve played the best offense in the NHL, but they’ve been held back by also fielding the eighth-worst defense.

Led by Tyler Seguin’s 241 shots, the Stars have fired the puck 2033 times, of which an incredible 9.9% have found the back of the net for 204 goals, most in the NHL.  The offense has actually slowed down when on the power play, as Dallas‘ 22.11% success rate for 44 extra-man tallies (led by Jamie Benn’s 14) is only fourth-best in the league.

The major pitfall for the Stars this season has been in the defensive zone, specifically the goalie crease.  Led by Johnny Oduya’s team-leading 132 blocks, Dallas has allowed 1841 shots to reach 22-11-5 Antti Niemi and co., of which they’ve collectively saved only 90.5% for 181 goals against, eighth-most in the league.  The penalty kill has been even worse, as the Stars kill only 79.26% of opposing power plays for 39 goals against, seventh-worst in the league.  However, those numbers are slightly improved by the eight short-handed goals (led by Cody Eakin’s three) to their credit.

Dallas is currently riding a two-game losing skid, with their most recent being their 3-2 loss on Saturday to the Rangers.  Should the Stars defend home ice this evening, they would reclaim the top spot in both the division and conference by a point over the Blackhawks.

The Red Wings and Stars have already played once this season, but it was way back on November 8.  Dallas won that game 4-1 in Detroit.

Some players to keep an eye on in tonight’s game include Dallas‘ Benn (70 points [second-most in the league], 32 goals [tied for third-most in the league] and 38 assists [10th-most in the league]), John Klingberg (42 assists [tied for fifth-most in the league]) and Seguin (68 points [third-most in the league] and 32 goals [tied for third-most in the league]) & Detroit‘s Larkin (+20 [tied for ninth-best in the league]) and Mrazek (2.1 GAA [tied for second-best in the league], four shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the league] and .927 save percentage [tied for fifth-best in the league]).

Although Mrazek has been impressive in net at times this season, it’s not often he’s seen an offense as proficient as the one in Dallas.  The Stars should easily hold home ice.