Tag Archives: Eichel

Game of the week: October 15-21

It’s time for another DtFR Game of the Week!

First and foremost, let’s take a look at all the games I neglected earlier this week:

NHL SCHEDULE: OCTOBER 15-21
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, October 15
7:30 p.m. Los Angeles Toronto 1-4
7:30 p.m. Detroit Montréal 3-7
7:30 p.m. Dallas Ottawa 1-4
8 p.m. Minnesota Nashville 2-4
Tuesday, October 16
7 p.m. Dallas New Jersey 0-3
7 p.m. Colorado New York Rangers 2-3 (SO)
7 p.m. Florida Philadelphia 5-6 (SO)
7 p.m. Vancouver Pittsburgh 3-2 (OT)
7:30 p.m. Carolina Tampa Bay 2-4
8 p.m. Arizona Minnesota 1-2
8 p.m. Edmonton Winnipeg 5-4 (OT)
10 p.m. Buffalo Vegas 1-4
Wednesday, October 17
7 p.m. St. Louis Montréal 2-3
7 p.m. New York Rangers Washington 3-4 (OT)
9:30 p.m. Boston Calgary 2-5
10 p.m. New York Islanders Anaheim 1-4
Thursday, October 18
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Toronto 3-0
7 p.m. Colorado New Jersey 5-3
7 p.m. Philadelphia Columbus 3-6
7:30 p.m. Detroit Tampa Bay 1-3
8 p.m. Vancouver Winnipeg 1-4
8:30 p.m. Arizona Chicago 4-1
9 p.m. Boston Edmonton 2-3 (OT)
10:30 p.m. New York Islanders Los Angeles 7-2
10:30 p.m. Buffalo San Jose 1-5
Friday, October 19
7 p.m. Florida Washington 6-5 (SO)
8 p.m. Minnesota Dallas 3-1
9 p.m. Nashville Calgary 5-3
saturday, October 20
1 p.m. New Jersey Philadelphia 2-5
1 p.m. Colorado Carolina 3-1
3:30 p.m. Buffalo Los Angeles 5-1
4 p.m. Arizona Winnipeg 3-5
7 p.m. St. Louis Toronto 4-1
7 p.m. Montréal Ottawa 3-4 (OT)
7 p.m. Detroit Florida 4-3 (OT)
7 p.m. Chicago Columbus 4-1
8 p.m. Tampa Bay Minnesota 4-5 (OT)
10 p.m. Boston Vancouver 1-2 (OT)
10 p.m. Anaheim Vegas 1-3
10 p.m. Nashville Edmonton 3-0
10:30 p.m. New York Islanders San Jose 1-4
SunDay, October 21
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Chicago NHLN, TVAS
7 p.m. Calgary New York Rangers SN1
8 p.m. Buffalo Anaheim

This schedule was a little bit fuller than last week’s offerings, as there’s a solid 44 games I had to choose from as compared to last week’s 42.

While there were certainly some worthy candidates in terms of rivalries (Detroit at Montréal, Edmonton at Winnipeg, New York at Washington, New Jersey at Philadelphia and Montréal at Ottawa all took place this week) and player returns (D Marc Methot made his first trip back to Ottawa since being selected during the Vegas expansion draft and later traded to the Stars, four former Blackhawks – five if you include RW Marian Hossa – returned to the Madhouse on Madison as members of the Coyotes and C Tyler Bozak wore white in Toronto for the first time in his career playing for St. Louis), one game sticks out above all the rest even though I’m more concerned about what will be hanging above the ice than what will be taking place on it.

 

Without a doubt, the Ducks are having one of the better and more unexpected starts to the season. Meanwhile, the Sabres are trying their hardest to keep pace with the rest of the white-hot Atlantic Division that enters the day with five teams in playoff position (an extremely important accolade in October, to be sure).

But what really drew me to tonight’s tilt is the pregame festivities involving LW Paul Kariya, as his No. 9 is going to be retired and sent where it belongs – hanging above the Honda Center ice opposite RW Teemu Selanne‘s No. 8.

The fourth-overall pick in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, Kariya joined the then Mighty Ducks of Anaheim just in time for the 1994-95 season (well, if it had started on time, that is), signing a three-year deal on August 31, 1994.

Though the Mighty Ducks struggled before Selanne was brought on board via trade during the 1995-96 season, that’s not to say Kariya – who just celebrated his 44th birthday on Tuesday – was playing poorly. He posted 18-21-39 totals his 47-game debut season, earning a spot on the All-Rookie Team and finishing third in Calder voting behind Quebec’s C Peter Forsberg and Washington’s G Jim Carey.

Oh yeah, speaking of that 1995-96 campaign, Kariya’s second season ended with him boasting career-best numbers in goals (50, three of which were overtime game-winners – an Anaheim single-season record) and points (108) after a full 82-game schedule. That dominant performance earned him his first of three First All-Star Team accolades, his first of back-to-back Lady Byng Trophies and his first of seven appearances at the All-Star Game.

I guess he never heard of the sophomore slump.

Named the Mighty Ducks’ third captain in franchise history during the offseason (a title he held for a franchise-record eight years), Kariya barely missed a second-straight season hitting the 100-point plateau in 1996-97 as a result of missing 13 games with an upper-body injury and unrelated concussion, but a 44-55-99 performance in 69 games played qualifies as the best season of his career on a points-per-game standpoint. The 1.43 points per game he managed narrowly beats out his 1.41 in 1997-98 – another season hampered by concussion, as well as a contract dispute that lasted into December, limiting him to only 22 games played. Additionally, his +36 for the 1996-97 campaign is still an Anaheim single-season record.

Of course, the most important mark about the 1996-97 season for Kariya is not only his dazzling performance, but also the fact that Anaheim qualified for the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. The Mighty Ducks fought past the Phoenix Coyotes in seven games before getting swept by the eventual champion Red Wings in the second round of their postseason debut. Kariya posted 7-6-13 marks in those 11 games, including the overtime game-winning goal in Game 6 against Phoenix that forced Game 7.

To be certain, the most productive years of Kariya’s career were his first seven campaigns. In all, he played 442 regular season games for the Mighty Ducks from 1995-2001, managing 243-288-531 totals to average 1.2 points per game – not to mention his 8-9-17 marks in 14 career playoff games to that point.

However, that’s not to say the captain still wasn’t a guiding hand on his team. Kariya managed 57-81-138 totals in his final two seasons with the Mighty Ducks, and he led Anaheim all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in 2002-03 where his squad lost a hard-fought, seven-game series to the New Jersey Devils.

That Game 7 proved to be Kariya’s last with Anaheim, as he and Selanne both headed for the supposedly greener pastures of Denver (the Avs, of course, fell in the second round in Kariya and Selanne’s only season with the club) for the 2003-04 season. Kariya played five more seasons after that – two with Nashville and three with St. Louis – before retiring during the 2011 offseason as a result of the six concussions he sustained over the course of his 16-year, 15-season professional career.

Having been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame last summer, there are few awards left to be bestowed upon Karyia (provided he doesn’t get involved in coaching or management). However, this one will surely elicit quite the response from one of the greatest to have ever worn the eggplant and jade.

Of course, once the ceremony is complete, there’s still a hockey game to be played. Both of tonight’s squads were in action last night, with Buffalo besting Los Angeles 5-1 at Staples Center and Anaheim falling in Vegas 3-1.

The 4-4-0 Sabres entered today’s action in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, but only one point behind Ottawa for fifth place in the Atlantic Division and the second wild card.

Gotta love early season standings.

Perhaps the brightest spot for Buffalo so far this season has been the outstanding play of 2-0-0 G Linus Ullmark, who has allowed only one goal in his two starts and boasts a .982 save percentage and .5 GAA that is best in the league among netminders with at least 33 minutes played.

While his emergence as a potential star is an encouraging sign for a franchise that has missed the playoffs for seven-straight seasons, the fact that he was the goalie in net for Buffalo yesterday up the road in Tinseltown has all signs pointing towards 2-4-0 G Carter Hutton manning the posts this evening.

Whether he’s being compared to Ullmark or his performance last season, Hutton is already drawing the ire of Upstate New Yorkers. Having signed a three-year, $2.75 million AAV contract this summer after posting a dominating .931 save percentage and 2.09 GAA with the St. Louis Blues last season, Hutton has managed only a .906 save percentage and 3.27 GAA so far this year.

Considering his offense has averaged only 2.25 goals per game thus far into the season (the fifth-worst mark in the NHL despite F Jeff Skinner‘s hat trick yesterday), Hutton is going to need to improve in a hurry if the Sabres want to stay in playoff contention much longer.

That being said, it should be acknowledged that Buffalo hasn’t exactly played incredible defense in front of Hutton. The Sabres’ 32.63 shots against-per-game is 12th-worst in the league, and that number climbs to 33.67 when Hutton is in net.

Considering former defenseman Phil Housley is the team’s head coach and the fact that the organization took D Rasmus Dahlin with the first overall pick, surely that number has to improve sooner or later? Right?

Consider me a doubter of Housley’s until it does.

One final note I have about the Sabres is in regard to their special teams. It was only a few seasons ago that Buffalo’s power play – led by C Jack Eichel – was among the most dangerous in the league. However, that has not been the case this season, as the Sabres’ 13.3 percent success rate with the man-advantage has been eighth-worst in the league through the first few weeks of the season. The penalty kill has also struggled, as Buffalo’s 69.2 kill percentage is third-worst in the NHL.

The Sabres have a lot of problems to figure out, but the best way to fix the special teams while they’re still on the road just might be to avoid the penalty box all together.

Did you hear that, RW Kyle Okposo? Stay out of trouble!

As for tonight’s hosts, the 5-2-1 Ducks have yet to see too many troubles so far this season, as they’re leading the division despite many fans and pundits pegging San Jose and Vegas as the Pacific’s powerhouses.

But how are they doing it?

Just like Buffalo, Anaheim’s best player to start the season has been none other than its goaltender, 4-2-1 G John Gibson. The 2016 Jennings Trophy winner (o.k., he shared it with G Frederik Andersen, now of the Toronto Maple Leafs) has been dynamite right out of the gates this season, as he has a solid .949 save percentage and 1.91 GAA to show for his first seven starts of the season.

However, to continue the comparisons to Buffalo, Gibson was also in net last night against the Golden Knights, so it looks like it could be none other than 1-0-0 G Ryan Miller, the winner of the 2010 Vezina Trophy, manning the crease this evening against his former club.

Though he is clearly the backup in Anaheim, Miller is in no way any easier to score upon than Gibson. With two appearances so far this year, Miller has a .946 save percentage and 1.51 GAA – all this despite a Ducks defense that allows an average of 37 shots against per game, the worst in the NHL.

Despite the backups being the logical starters tonight, this game has all the makings of a goaltending duel considering the struggles of both offenses and defenses. If that is the case, I’ll certainly take the Ducks to successfully honor Kariya and earn two points tonight. Miller is undoubtedly better than Hutton this year, and he has the benefit of special teams that will easily dominate the Sabres.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 18

Skater of the Week: Connor McDavid

It feels sort of wrong that he hadn’t won this until now. Just doesn’t seem possible, right?

Likely a byproduct of the abysmal season Edmonton is having, McDavid has been enjoying a solid if less-than-stellar season (he’s still put up 64 points in 54 games, we’re just talking about the arguable best player in the world) and hadn’t made this esteemed list until now. But with eight points in four games this week (including a four-goal, five-point performance against the almighty Lightning), Edmonton’s lord and savior has claimed the throne.

McDavid saw a five-game point scoring streak (seven goals, 11 points) come to an end in Edmonton’s final game of the week, but managed to put up eight points in the week’s three prior contests, so he definitely is worthy of the nod.

Tendy of the Week: Devan Dubnyk

In a week of slim standout goaltending performances (apart from Andrei Vasilevskiy making what might actually be the greatest save in the history of hockey), Dubnyk’s 2-0-1 record manages to stand out, particularly paired with his .950 save percentage and 1.96 GAA.

Apart from giving up four goals in the overtime loss to Arizona (which came on 40 shots, allowing Dubnyk to still manage a .900 save percentage), Dubnyk backstopped two victories over division rivals to cap a stellar week, turning aside 35-of-37 shots faced against St. Louis, and posting a 44-save blanking of Chicago.

The lanky Saskatchawinian (I have no idea if that’s a real word, but it was fun to say) hasn’t quite matched his ridiculous numbers from last season to this point, but he’s still been more than solid and has the Wild poised for another playoff run.

*Editor’s note: It’s “Saskatchewanian,” Pete. But close enough.*

Game of the Week: Detroit Red Wings 6 @ New York Islanders 7 (OT), Friday February 9th, 2018

Someone pick up the damn phone, the 1980s are calling.

This was one of those games that just made you laugh, because nothing about it made any sense. Three goaltenders played in the game, none of them posting a save percentage higher than .857 (Petr Mrazek had a frankly disturbing .759 and played for the team that DIDN’T switch goaltenders). Nine, count them, nine skaters had multi-point games, including a hat trick for Brock Nelson, a four-point outing for Henrik Zetterberg, and Mathew Barzal‘s five-assist performance making him the first rookie in 100 years to post three five-point games in a season.

But perhaps the zaniest stat of all was the way the goals were posted.

Detroit was all over the Isles early, dominating the first period and taking a 3-0 lead into the locker room. New York could only answer one time in the second period, before drawing to within one early in the third, only to have the Wings score twice more in a 2:12 span to regain a three-goal lead. But with about six minutes to play, Tyler Bertuzzi would attempt to chop off the leg of Cal Clutterbuck, giving the Islanders a five-minute major power play opportunity. An opportunity they would capitalize upon thoroughly.

Brock Nelson. 5-3. Anders Lee. 5-4. Nick Leddy. Tie game. Josh Bailey. The Isles now somehow lead this game 6-5 with 1:49 to play after scoring four times on a single power play. Who could have predicted this? Who could even believe this? Who is writing the script for this movie? Who’s got Mike Green in the slot? Oh, nobody does, and with 29 seconds to play the Red Wings complete the circus act to tie the game at six and force overtime.

Nelson would complete his hat trick to finally end the chaos 3:15 into the extra frame, but if we’re honest, everyone who watched this game were the real winners*.

*Except my father, who is still questioning how his team could score six goals and lose a hockey game.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Sidney Crosby scored the 400th goal of his career on Sunday against the Blues. I can only speak positively of him for so long at any given time, so I’ll just end this right here.

Lars Eller got himself a five-year, $17.5M extension with the Capitals, making him probably the highest-paid person in the world named Lars that doesn’t play drums.

Alexandre Burrows decided not to appeal his 10-game suspension for being an absolute piece of…err…I mean kneeing Taylor Hall in the head…a lot. Personally, I was really hoping he would appeal the suspension, and the league would respond by making it an 11-game suspension, just because it’s Alex Burrows.

Mark Scheifele is back off of IR, adding even more firepower to a Jets squad that might just screw around and grab a Presidents’ Trophy.

The Rangers basically announced in a letter to their fans that they are dropping the franchise on a landmine and starting over, which is probably disheartening to the fanbase, but New York was only one point behind my Blue Jackets when the letter was published so, like, I’m definitely not thinking about that when I try to go to sleep or anything.

Jack Eichel is out for at least a month after suffering a high-ankle sprain. This is devastating news for the Sabres, as they lose a key piece in their pursuit of a playoff spot. (Nobody say anything and let’s see if any Buffalo fans know that was sarcasm)

January 1 – Day 86 – Selections are slim, Vol. IV

First and foremost, allow me to speak for all of us at Down the Frozen River and wish each and every one of our faithful readers a Happy New Year! May you and your favorite club find great success in 2018!

Of course, it’s become tradition for the NHL to play its biggest outdoor game of the season, the Winter Classic, on this date, and today is no exception. In addition, the importance of today’s 1 p.m. Eastern festivities at Citi Field – home of the New York Mets – between the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres (NBC/SN/TVAS) is only increased by it being the lone NHL game on the schedule, making it our de facto DtFR Game of the Day.

 

You’ll notice the Rangers are listed as the road team in today’s Winter Classic even though it is the Sabres that traveled almost 400 miles to get to Queens. It’s a load of crock, but apparently a clause in the Blueshirts’ contract with Madison Square Garden stipulates that they aren’t allowed to host any games outside The World’s Most Famous Arena. Hence our situation today.

For those wondering, this is the only time the Rangers will “travel” to take on Buffalo this campaign, as the Sabres still have yet to make two visits to Manhattan in the three-game season series. If any of this strikes you as unfair or league favoritism for a particular team or general market, welcome to the National Hockey League.

Anyways, now that I’m mostly off my soapbox, the 20-13-5 Rangers certainly enter this afternoon’s contest the hotter of the two teams. They’ve earned points in six of their last seven games, including victories over current playoff-bound clubs like Anaheim, Boston, Los Angeles and Washington.

Just as it’s been all season, it’s been 17-9-4 G Henrik Lundqvist that has been the backbone of this team of late. Over its past seven games, New York’s defense has allowed a whopping 260 shots on goal (fourth-most since December 15), but Lundqvist has yielded only 13 goals for an incredible .943 save percentage that is fourth-best among goaltenders with at least four starts since the middle of the month.

Of course, it’s no surprise the netminder that has the (t)ninth-most victories and shutouts (two) on the season is performing well. This recent burst of success has only improved his season numbers to a .922 save percentage and 2.58 GAA that are the (t)seventh and (t)12th-best efforts, respectively, among the 31 netminders with at least 16 starts.

Meanwhile, life was supposed to be a lot better for the 10-20-8 Sabres this season, but they are the worst team in the Eastern Conference and only five points better than the miserable Coyotes, the worst team in the NHL. What’s worse is that what was easily the club’s best strength only a year ago – Buffalo’s offense – has been absolutely dreadful this season, averaging a league-worst 2.21 goals per game.

Considering the entire team’s inability to score, it’s hard to hold too much against C Jack Eichel (15-20-35 totals) and LW Evander Kane (15-19-34). They’re the only Sabres to be managing more than 24 points, as well as the only goalscorers with more than nine tallies to their credits.

Unfortunately, two players can’t save an entire team. D Rasmus Ristolainen (1-10-11 totals) in particular has not transitioned well into new head coach Phil Housley‘s – himself a Hall of Fame defenseman – system that requires active participation in the offensive zone by all five skaters. A year after posting solid 6-39-45 totals (a career-high in assists), he’s on pace for only a 2-25-27 effort that would be his worst since his 8-12-20 sophomore campaign in 2014-’15.

Of course, it is the Sabres that enter today’s game having won their most recent game in overtime 4-3 against a very strong Devils team. Perhaps that confidence could carry into this afternoon’s contest, but I personally doubt it. I’ll take the Rangers as a three-goal favorite in the 10th Winter Classic.


The Dallas Stars showed no mercy in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they beat the San Jose Sharks 6-0 at the American Airlines Center.

Dallas scored two goals in each period to absolutely dominate this game. First Star of the Game D John Klingberg (F Mattias Janmark and RW Alexander Radulov) scored the first at the 6:19 mark with a snap shot, followed 8:48 later by Third Star F Tyler Pitlick‘s (Second Star C Radek Faksa) wrist shot to set the score at 2-0.

The second period’s goalscorers included D Stephen Johns (Janmark and Faksa) at the 4:25 mark and F Tyler Seguin (Klingberg and LW Jamie Benn) with a power play wrister 5:08 later.

The final pair of goalscorers included F Devin Shore (Benn and D Dan Hamhuis) with 8:55 remaining in the third period and Pitlick (Faksa and LW Antoine Roussel) 50 seconds later to close the book on the evening.

G Ben Bishop earned his fourth shutout of the season by saving all 26 shots he faced, leaving G Martin Jones with the loss after he saved only 18-of-22 (.818 save percentage). Jones was lifted in favor of G Aaron Dell for the third period, and the backup saved eight-of-10 (.8) for no decision.

Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day are firing on all cylinders of late, as the Stars’ victory was the hosts’ third straight and a fourth-straight game earning points. The home clubs now have a 49-27-10 record in the series that is 24 points superior to the roadies’.

December 14 – Day 71 – No sushi here

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

We’ll take his word at it.

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

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

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 6

Player of the Week: Nathan MacKinnon

Remember that kid from the same town as Sidney Crosby that got drafted #1 overall by the Avs a few years ago? Yeah, I’m betting more of you than would care to admit didn’t.

MacKinnon has sort of fallen off the radar in recent years, though playing for a perennial also-ran in a smaller market can certainly take some blame. A promising rookie campaign was followed up by 3 less-than-stellar seasons, and MacKinnon sort of disappeared from the spotlight. Always producing enough to stay out of the doghouse, but never matching the lofty expectations, he seemed doomed to float around on a mediocre team and risk hearing the ‘bust’ associated with his name.

But this year MacKinnon has come out firing, and has helped the Avs to be…well, at least less bad than predicted. With 22 points in 19 games (in addition to eight on the power play, one shorthanded, and a rare +1 rating on a team that isn’t exactly the first word in positive goal differentials), he has shown flashes of the firepower that landed him that #1 draft spot.

In 3 games this week, MacKinnon tallied 2 goals and 5 assists for 7 points, including a 5 point night during the Avs’ 6-2 shalacking of Washington, and the game-winning OT goal against Detroit Sunday night. Take out a scoreless effort against Nashville, and it becomes an even more impressive week for the 22 year old.

With Matt Duchene gone, the Avs will look to MacKinnon to continue to carry the offensive load, so let’s see if he can pull that spotlight back his way and remind a few people of his existence.

Team of the Week: Winnipeg Jets

*insert horrible cliche’ something akin to ‘flying high’ here*

What has gotten into these guys, eh?

Winnipeg soared (oh no) through their three-game week with a perfect 3-0-0 record on the back of a ridiculous string of “Iceman” (stop) Connor Hellebuyck performances. Stopping 97 of 102 shots faced, and never allowing more than two goals in any game, the young netminder backstopped his team right to fourth place in the league. Patrik Laine (1G, 2A) and Joel Armia (1G, 3A) carried point streaks through the week (resisting “Maverick” and “Goose” reference), but perhaps more impressive was the balance of scoring throughout the team, as only three players that played in all three contests were held scoreless over the week.

The Jets are in the discussion for Canada’s best team. I’m not actually sure why that’s significant, but I’ll (barrel) roll with it. Hard to say whether or not the success will continue, I mean, at some point they have to use Steve Mason in net again, but Winnipeg has the afterburners lit (please help) for now.

Fans are just hoping that things don’t end up going inverted.

Game of the Week: Buffalo Sabres 4 @ Pittsburgh Penguins 5 (OT), Tuesday November 14th, 2017

In a game that saw nine goals, 77 shots, 63 hits, eight power plays (with three resulting goals), and the winning team never officially having the lead for an actual amount of time, the Sabres gave the defending Cup champs all they could handle.

Only 3:45 into the first period it would be Evander Kane converting on a 2-on-1 with Jack Eichel that would set the tone of Pittsburgh chasing the game. Sam Reinhart would add to the Penguins’ deficit later in the period when, while on the power play, he would jump on a rebound created by Marco Scandella‘s shot hitting the end boards at approximately 17,000 mph. But with just 19 seconds remaining in the first Patric Hornqvist would capitalize on a weird bounce of his own, collecting a misplayed puck from Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner and firing it off the Ryan O’Reilly‘s leg and into the net to halve the Buffalo lead.

But just 16 seconds into the second Sidney Crosby would make a drop pass to no one behind his own net, allowing Jack Eichel to pick up the puck and deposit it into the Pittsburgh net before Matthew Murray had any inkling of impending doom. Conor Sheary would draw the Pens back to within one just over four minutes later, before Crosby would atone for his earlier sin to even the score with a PPG at the 17:15 mark of the middle frame. In the dying minutes of the second, however, Ryan Reaves would take an elbowing penalty, and Benoit Pouliot would capitalize on the power play with just seven seconds remaining in the period to regain the Buffalo lead.

Lehner and the Sabres spent most of the third period trying to hold onto their lead, getting outshot 13-6 in the final frame, but with just over six minutes to play Evgeni Malkin would send the most picture-perfect saucer pass you could ever hope to witness across the ice to Phil Kessel who would make no mistakes and draw the game even. Conor Sheary would then win the game just 16 seconds into overtime, after Crosby dominated board play behind the Buffalo goal and sent a feed directly to his tape, sending the Pittsburgh fans into a frenzy and this Jackets fan who remembers last year’s first round series-clinching goal far too clearly into the fetal position.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Radko Gudas got a 10-game suspension for being Radko Gudas, Luke Witkowski got a 10-game suspension for being Luke Witkowski, and Matthew Tkachuk got a two-game suspension for being Matthew Tkachuk.

The NHL announced that the 2019 Winter Classic will feature the Chicago Blackhawks hosting the Boston Bruins at Notre Dame Stadium. This, partnered with the Flyers hosting the Penguins in the first announced Stadium Series game, goes to further prove that Gary Bettman acknowledges the existence of approximately 7-8 of the 31 teams in the league.

Speaking of underperforming teams that Gary Bettman loves, holy smokes are the Canadiens a dumpster fire. Complete disarray from the product on the ice all the way up to upper management, it’s almost like having possibly the worst defense corps in the league suddenly becomes extremely worrisome when you can no longer rely on the best goalie in the world to win every game for you because his limbs are falling off.

Some guy that apparently makes rap music (to steal a line from Dave Mustaine: “Two words combined that can’t make sense”) did a hockey-themed thing on SNL. I didn’t know who he was so I didn’t care.

Editor’s note: Poor Chance the Rapper.

Jason Zucker still hasn’t stopped scoring goals, but rest assured now that I’ve realized that he had been on the bench of my fantasy team throughout this entire hot streak, he’s 110% guaranteed to go colder than Red Deer in January.

Edmonton and LA made waves by trading Jussi Jokinen and Mike Cammalleri straight up for one another, in an absolute blockbuster of a deal circa 2009.

The Blue Jackets signed winger Cam Atkinson to a seven-year deal, mere hours after Aaron Portzline reported the two sides were apparently nowhere even remotely close to a deal. (This is newsworthy/funny to me, Cap’n, and pretty much no one else)

The Golden Knights used their 5th goalie of the season on Tuesday night, as Maxime Lagace seemed to be dealing with an injury during a blowout loss to the Oilers. WHL emergency call-up Dylan Ferguson played the final 9:14 of the 3rd period, allowing one goal, but living a dream in the process. Ferguson was all of us, citing that he was starstruck when Connor McDavid went out of his way to give the 19 year old netminder a tap on the pads and a “Good job, kid” at the end of the game. Lagace has played since, and Malcolm Subban is back off of IR, so it’s likely…okay, fairly likely…that Ferguson has seen the last of his NHL experience, at least for the time being.

October 25 – Day 22 – The former Foligno face-off

It’s been a slow hockey week in terms of games played, hasn’t it? There was only one game Sunday, two Monday and now only two today. Thank goodness for yesterday’s 11-game slate.

Both of tonight’s contests are scheduled for 8 p.m. Eastern time, but only one game will be broadcast in either Canada or the USA. Via SN360, Canadians will have the opportunity to watch Calgary at St. Louis, while NBCSN will televise Buffalo at Columbus to those of us in the 50 States.

Unfortunately, there’s no major draw to either of these games (dang that soft tissue for landing RW Jaromir Jagr on injured reserve), so we’re just going to go with the matchup that features the teams separated by fewer points in the standings.

 

According to my highly scientific decision-making process, Central Ohio is the spot to be tonight.

But before we go any further, I need to clear the air about this tilt. Though NBCSN is advertising this game as a part of its “Wednesday Night Rivalry” series, Buffalo General Manager Jason Botterill ruined any sense of a rivalry this offseason.

I’m sure you’re asking yourself, “How does a GM ruin a rivalry? Surely the teams would continue disliking each other even after an individual player is gone.”

In truth, ‘rivalry’ might be a strong word for the relationship between these clubs. But, if one existed, it started in the 2013′-14 season, a year after the lockout-shortened 2012-’13 season. It was in that lockout campaign that F Nick Foligno, now captain of the Blue Jackets, began his tenure in Columbus and younger brother LW Marcus Foligno earned a permanent spot on the Sabres’ roster.

Since the lockout forced the schedule to be restricted to only intra-conference play and the Blue Jackets were then a member of the Western Conference, the brothers did not compete against each other for the first time as members of their respective clubs until October 10, 2013.

While we’re on subject, the Foligno Brothers are, of course, the sons of former Sabre RW Mike Foligno. The senior Foligno, undoubtedly the best of the trio, enjoyed 10 seasons in Buffalo, scoring 247 of his 355 career goals in a blue-and-gold sweater to help the franchise to seven playoff appearances in his tenure (eight if you count the 1990-’91 season when he was traded to Toronto in December).

But all that history doesn’t matter anymore thanks to the move Botterill made on June 30. In a trade with the Minnesota Wild, Marcus and teammate F Tyler Ennis were exchanged for D Marco Scandella and former Sabre RW Jason Pominville.

None of this is a knock on Botterill’s decision making. GMs can’t concern themselves with things as petty as media storylines, and he certainly hasn’t. In fact, his offseason efforts are finally starting to show results, as his Sabres team that started the season 1-5-2 has now won it’s last two games.

During this little run, it’s been the offense that has stood out most to me. Though far from pretty (Buffalo has fired 74 shots in its past two games, the second-most by any team since Saturday), it’s been effective as the Sabres have averaged three goals-per-game during this run, well above their 2.6 goals-per-game average for the season.

What all these shots have created is a wildly unpredictable attack, and there’s nothing a defense and goaltender (G Sergei Bobrovsky in this case) like less than unpredictability. In fact, all eight players on the Sabres’ roster to have fired the puck at least four times in the past two games has registered a minimum of one point.

Among that group of eight, none have been more accurate than F Benoit Pouliot. Though only a lowly fourth-liner, Pouliot has found the back of the net on a quarter of his shots during this run to take credit for his first two goals of the season, including last night’s game-winner against the Red Wings.

Of course, no matter how accurate Pouliot has been, there’s no replacing Buffalo’s top-line as the primary source of offense. Both C Jack Eichel (four goals) and LW Evander Kane (six goals) have registered 11 points in 10 games played this season, managing four and six goals, respectively, apiece.

Before discussing what the Blue Jackets bring to the table, a major hat tip is due to G Robin Lehner, who has allowed only four goals in the past two games even though he’s faced a total of 63 shots (.936 save percentage). Since he shutout the Red Wings last night, I expect 1-2-1 G Chad Johnson, who’s sporting a .881 save percentage and 3.84 GAA, to be in net this evening.

While the Sabres enter tonight’s game on a two-game winning streak, Columbus’ two-game losing skid is the negative inverse of that.

Of course, you can’t blame them after going through the gauntlet of hosting Tampa Bay and Los Angeles, the top-two teams in the league right now, in the span of three days.

When things are going the Jackets’ way, they have the incredible talent of absolutely shutting down opposing offenses. Whether it’s by a defense headlined by Jack Johnson, Seth Jones and David Savard‘s combined 6.5 blocks-per-game or Bobrovsky and his 2.16 GAA that’s fourth-best in the NHL, only three offenses have come away from games against Columbus with three or more goals.

In particular, the Jackets have been pretty darn good on the penalty kill this season. Stopping 83.3 percent of opposing extra-man opportunities, the Jackets are among the 10 best teams in the league when shorthanded. Considering the Sabres bring a measly 13.9 power play success rate into tonight’s game, the Blue Jackets should have no problem snuffing out any attacks on that front.

You know what they say: defense wins championships. That’s not a Stanley Cup pick from me, but it is a pick for this game – especially since Johnson will be in net for the Sabres. Columbus should have two more points by the end of the night.


Earning the second win of his career in his first-ever NHL start, First Star of the Game G Oscar Dansk led the Vegas Golden Knights to a 4-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks at T-Mobile Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Though his night ended the way he wanted it to, the beginning of the game was not necessarily kind to Dansk. Even though D Duncan Keith was in the penalty box for tripping W James Neal, F John Hayden was able to score an unassisted shorthanded wrist shot only 3:33 into the contest to give the visiting Hawks an early lead. That lead lasted only 26 seconds though, as C William Karlsson (D Colin Miller and D Brad Hunt) took advantage of that very power play opportunity to level the game with a deflected goal. F Tomas Nosek (D Deryk Engelland and D Brayden McNabb) completed the scoring blitz at the 5:46 mark of the period with a wrister to give the Knights a lead they would not yield for the remainder of the game.

With his first goal of the season, Second Star F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (Nosek and LW William Carrier) provided Vegas’ game-winning goal with 106 seconds remaining in the second period.

This play started as a botched dump-and-chase by the Golden Knights, as Chicago’s D Jordan Oesterle was the first to reach the puck in the corner to G Corey Crawford‘s left. Unfortunately for him, he absolutely fanned on his clearing attempt, leaving the loose puck to be collected by Carrier and dumped into the trapezoid to Nosek. The forward carried the puck behind the goal line to Crawford’s right before seeing a waiting Bellemare and centering him a pass. Firing a one-timer from the slot, Bellemare directed his snap shot past Crawford’s glove.

With 9:40 remaining in regulation, F Jon Marchessault (D Nate Schmidt and D Luca Sbisa) provided an insurance tally with a power play wrister to set the score at 4-1 in favor of the Golden Knights. Though F Patrick Kane (W Brandon Saad and Oesterle) tried valiantly to pull Chicago back into the game with 65 seconds remaining, the Hawks could not alter the 4-2 score in the remaining time.

Dansk earned the victory after saving 29-of-31 shots faced (.935 save percentage), leaving the loss to Crawford, who saved 29-of-33 (.879).

That’s two-straight victories by home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. After a solid run by the road teams over the weekend, the 12-6-4 hosts have now reclaimed a six-point advantage over the roadies in the series.

October 21 – Day 18 – Time to right the ship

In the words of Sir Elton John, “Saturday night’s alright for fighting.” If there’s a lyric that better describes hockey, I have yet to hear it.

To take it a step further, Saturday afternoon must not be too bad either, as Nashville visits the New York Rangers (SN) at 12:30 p.m. and Philadelphia hosts Edmonton half an hour later. After the matinees are complete, five contests (Buffalo at Boston, Toronto at Ottawa [CBC/CITY/TVAS], Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay, San Jose at the New York Islanders and Los Angeles at Columbus) find their start at the usual time of 7 p.m., followed by Florida at Washington (NBCSN) 30 minutes after. Carolina makes its yearly visit to Dallas at 8 p.m., with Chicago at Arizona waiting an hour before dropping the puck. The stroke of 10 p.m. brings with it the start of Minnesota at Calgary (CBC), half an hour before tonight’s nightcap: St. Louis at Vegas. All times Eastern.

It’s nights like these that are hard to pick just one game to focus on, as there’s a good reason to watch at least half of them. Here’s a few that stick out to me…

  • Buffalo at Boston: Rivalry night in Beantown is always a worthwhile experience.
  • Toronto at Ottawa: Speaking of rivalries, the Battle of Ontario is another good one.
  • Chicago at Arizona: Don’t tell anybody, but D Connor Murphy played his first four NHL seasons with the Coyotes.
  • St. Louis at Vegas: W Chris Thorburn was one of Vegas’ expansion draft selections, but he ended up signing with the Blues instead.

Since we haven’t had the opportunity to feature the Bruins or the Sabres yet this season, what better way to make up for our transgression than by focusing on their rivalry tonight?

 

Let’s just put things simply: both these clubs have much higher aspirations for their seasons than the first two-and-a-half weeks have indicated.

The 1-5-2 Sabres have especially had a tough run of things, as they’re currently riding a two game losing skid after falling in overtime to Vegas on Tuesday and losing outright to Vancouver last night.

Since the Bruins don’t play for a city that starts with a ‘V’, maybe Buffalo has a chance this evening.

Averaging .8 points-per-game after his first two seasons in the NHL, C Jack Eichel was expected to lead the Sabres to one of the best offensive efforts in the league. Instead, Buffalo’s attack has averaged a (t)fourth-worst 2.5 goals-per-game effort, forcing the Sabres to be discussed in the same breath as the likes of Arizona.

Unless we’re talking about logo and sweater designs at a franchise’s debut, it’s rarely good to be compared to the Coyotes.

Though I threw Eichel under the bus, the Sabres’ struggles are certainly no fault of their first line. In fact, if not for the production of Eichel, LW Evander Kane and RW Jason Pominville, Buffalo might as well not have an offense at all. All three are averaging at least 1.13 points-per-game this season and they combine for 12 of the Sabres’ 20 goals. While it is nice to know that one line is capable of producing 60 percent of a team’s offense, I’ll bet the house that Head Coach Phil Housley would love for F Ryan O’Reilly‘s line to find their form sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, little has gone well on the Sabres’ defensive end either. Due at least in part to Buffalo’s 49.9 face-off winning percentage (11th-worst in the league), neither G Chad Johnson nor G Robin Lehner can claim a GAA under three. Lehner has certainly been the superior of the two netminders so far with his .9 save percentage and 3.14 GAA, and he’s likely to be tonight’s starter since Johnson was responsible for last night’s 4-2 loss to the Canucks.

If anything has gone well so far for the Sabres, it’s certainly been their penalty kill. Successfully rejecting 83.3 percent of opposing power plays, Buffalo ties for eighth-best in the NHL. Defensemen Josh Gorges and Jake McCabe have played exceptionally when shorthanded, as both have five shot blocks to their credit in that situation. But there’s an asterisk next to Gorges’ name: he’s hit that total in only four games played as compared to McCabe’s eight.

Alright, that’s enough laying into one team. Time to take on the 3-3-0 Bruins.

There’s little to complain about on the Bruins’ offensive end. Averaging 3.33 goals-per-game, Boston is tied for the ninth-best offense in the NHL. It’s been the LW Brad Marchand show so far this season, as his 4-5-9 totals are easily among the top-25 performances in the league so far.

Then again, that was before C Patrice Bergeron returned to action from his lower body injury. In only one game played against Vancouver on Thursday, the 32-year-old managed one goal and three assists for a four-point night, tying him for sixth-most points on the team with players that have five more games played.

Regarding Bergeron, I have two guesses: (1) he’s one of those guys that’s good at his job, and (2) last season’s not-so-great 53 points could be eclipsed rather easily.

Whether it’s Bergeron or Marchand leading the charge, the Bruins’ power play is one of the most intimidating in the league. Boston has found success on eight-of-27 extra-man opportunities for a fourth-best 29.6 percent success rate, including C David Krejci‘s team-leading four power play points.

Of course, for an offense to be clicking along as well as the Bruins’ has been and the club only have a .500 record, there might be a problem on the other end of the ice.

That problem’s name is G Tuukka Rask. Though he’s certainly been one of, if not the league’s best netminder since his debut in the 2007-’08 season (his .922 career save percentage is tied for best in the NHL since then among goalies with at least 50 starts, and his 2.25 career GAA is second-best in that group), he’s struggled mightily in his four starts to open this campaign, managing an ugly .882 save percentage and 3.3 GAA.

Could it simply be that he’s getting sprayed with pucks every time he takes to the crease? Unfortunately, not really. He’s seen an average of only 25.5 shots-per-game so far this season, which is right in line with the (t)fourth-best 29.2 shots allowed by the Bruins’ defense per game.

It’s a fact Bruins fans may not want to admit, but Rask has only seen his save percentage drop since his .93 performance in the 2013-’14 season, with the lone exception of last year when he matched his .915 effort from the 2015-’16 campaign.

This drop in play began at the same time Rask started seeing 50-60 starts per season, which hearkens back to a statement I’ve made countless times about the Bruins’ goaltender: you can only work a mule so much. He’s been overworked for the past four seasons to the point that his play is suffering. Hopefully with G Anton Khudobin in the picture, Head Coach Bruce Cassidy will be able to relieve some of the pressure off his starter so he can rediscover his true form before his best playing days are behind him. If not, the Bruins are in a deeper hole than even the most dire of pessimists could have predicted.

Of course, all that writing may have been for naught with Rask currently listed as day-to-day with a concussion after a collision with rookie F Anders Bjork Wednesday. Expect Khudobin and his .927 save percentage to start this evening.

The Sabres are just waiting for a breakout game, but they have yet to earn it. I truly do believe in their offense, but I have concerns about the defense going up against an elite scoring club in Boston. Though the TD Garden hasn’t exactly been friendly to its residents for the past few years, I expect the Bruins to win this game by dominating the scoreboard.


For the second-straight night, the DtFR Game of the Day required more than 60 minutes to determine a winner. This time, it was First Star of the Game W Alex Ovechkin scoring the overtime winner for the Washington Capitals to beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-3.

Featuring four total goals, the third period was absolutely wild. It was set up by a two-goal second period, as both F Darren Helm and W Andre Burakovsky (D Dmitry Orlov and W Tom Wilson) found goals to set the score at one-all. Helm’s wrist shot at the 4:31 mark of the frame was particularly noteworthy, as it was his first shorthanded goal since April 9, 2015.

Eighty-five seconds after the second intermission ended, the flurry of third period goals began when F Jay Beagle (RW Alex Chiasson) scored a shorthanded wrister to give the Capitals the lead. It was a lead that lasted only 3:59 though, as Second Star F Tomas Tatar (F Dylan Larkin and D Mike Green) leveled the contest with a tip-in. Scoring subsided until Tatar (F Henrik Zetterberg and D Niklas Kronwall) buried his second of the game, a power play snap shot, with 7:15 remaining in regulation to take a 3-2 lead for the Red Wings.

Detroit almost managed to earn the victory, but Larkin’s delay of game penalty for sending the puck over the glass set up a power play opportunity for the Capitals. Held off the scorecard in his last game played, F T.J. Oshie (Burakovsky and C Evgeny Kuznetsov) was sure to take advantage, scoring his wrister with 61 seconds remaining in regulation to level the game at three-all.

The Red Wings apparently didn’t learn their lesson when Oshie forced overtime. 68 seconds into three-on-three play, D Trevor Daley earned himself a seat in the penalty box for tripping Ovechkin. Ovi didn’t seem to like that very much, as he ended the game only 48 later with a game-winning slap shot from his usual spot in the face-off circle to Third Star G Petr Mrazek‘s right, assisted by C Nicklas Backstrom and D John Carlson.

G Braden Holtby earned the victory after saving 34-of-37 shots faced (.919 save percentage), forcing Mrazek to take the overtime loss, saving 37-of-41 (.902).

Not only was this the second-straight overtime game, but it was also a second-straight victory for road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Visitors now trail the 10-5-3 home teams by only five points.

Buffalo Sabres 2017-2018 Season Preview

Buffalo Sabres

33-37-12, 78 points, 8th in Atlantic (‘16-‘17)

Key Additions: Viktor Antipin, Nathan BeaulieuSeth GriffithChad JohnsonJacob JosefsonJason PominvilleBenoit PouliotMarco Scandella, Phil Housley (Coach), Jason Botterill (GM)

Key Subtractions: Tyler Ennis (Traded to Minnesota), Marcus Foligno (Traded to Minnesota), Dmitry Kulikov (Signed with Winnipeg), Dan Bylsma (Fired), Tim Murray (Fired)

Unsigned: Cody Franson

Offseason Analysis: The Buffalo Sabres had a busy offseason to say the least, as both General Manager Tim Murray and Head Coach Dan Byslma were fired following the club’s sixth-straight season missing the playoffs. The search for a new GM led Owner Terry Pegula to former player Jason Botterill, who continued the trend of hiring former players by offering former Sabres great Phil Housley his first NHL head coaching job. Housley was an assistant coach with the Nashville Predators for the past four seasons, helping to lead the club to its first Stanley Cup Finals appearance. This was a smart move to hire a former blue liner to lead the team, as he should bring Buffalo a smooth-skating team that allows the defensemen, Rasmus Ristolainen in particular, to carry the puck up ice similar to Nashville’s style.

The Sabres have struggled defensively for years now, so it was no surprise that Botterill’s first goal was to fix that issue. He started by signing KHL free agent defenseman Viktor Antipin, but didn’t stop there: he also acquired Nathan Beaulieu from Montreal for a 3rd round pick. Botterill still saw the need for a top pair defenseman, so he traded Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno and a 3rd round pick to the Minnesota Wild for Marco Scandella, fan-favorite Jason Pominville and a 4th round pick.

Although Botterill addressed the Sabres’ defensive issues early in summer, he didn’t neglect his other positions. Among his most important additions are Benoit Pouliot, Chad Johnson and Jacob Josefson.

All in all, the Sabres’ offseason look pretty solid. They didn’t go out and overspend on any major free agents.

That being said, they still have a big hole among their top 6 forwards. Specifically, the need for a left wing is paramount, and it has top prospects Justin Bailey, Nicholas Baptiste and Alexander Nylander all itching for the chance to play with the big boys. I personally believe Nylander stands the best chance. He is a natural left wing and has added some needed muscle this offseason. A solid camp from him could see him playing on the left with Jack Eichel or Ryan O’Reilly.

Offseason Grade: B+

Overall, the Sabres had a tremendous offseason and I think the fans will see a better product on the ice this season. With a healthy Eichel and strong defense, I think the Sabres should be a playoff team.

New Jersey Devils 2017-’18 Season Preview

New Jersey Devils

28-40-14, 70 points, last in the Eastern Conference

Additions: F Brian Boyle, C Nico Hischier, F Marcus Johansson, W Drew Stafford

Subtractions: W Beau Bennett (signed with STL), F Mike Cammalleri (signed with LAK), W Patrik Elias (retired), F Jacob Josefson (signed with BUF), D Jonathon Merrill (drafted by VGK), W Devante Smith-Pelly (signed with WSH)

Offseason Analysis: Ignoring the lockout-shortened seasons of 1994-’95 and 2012-‘13, last year’s 70-point effort was the Devils’ worst campaign since 1988-’89. That ensuing draft, New Jersey selected future four-time All-Star RW Bill Guerin, who eventually contributed 11 points in the Devils’ 1995 run to the Stanley Cup – including an assist on C Neal Broten’s Cup-clinching goal.

Especially in light of recent draft standouts at the center position (think Jack EichelAuston Matthews, Connor McDavid, etc.), General Manager Ray Shero is hoping last year’s struggles that allowed him to draft Hischier with the first overall pick will yield similar results in the near future as he works to rebuild the club back to the level of success it’s experienced for most of the past three decades.

The speedy Swiss 18-year-old brings 38-48-86 totals from his time with QMJHL side Halifax last year, but he alone won’t be enough to significantly improve the third-worst offense in the league. That’s where former first-rounder Johansson and his career-high 24-34-58 totals from a season ago with the Capitals comes into play. Since both C Jesper Boqvist and W Fabian Zetterlund – the Devils’ second and third selections in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft – are expected to spend at least one more season in their native Sweden, it’ll be up to them to spearhead any attacking improvements for Head Coach John Hynes’ club alongside Taylor Hall (20-33-53) and Kyle Palmieri (26-27-53), last season’s co-leaders in points for the team.

Since the addition of 2017 Hobey Baker Award winner D Will Butcher on August 27, the situation along Jersey’s blue line could be evolving even though the Devils did little more than draft D Reilly Walsh with their second third-round pick, but it remains to be seen if Butcher will join Captain Andy Greene and co. on the senior team or if he’ll be assigned to Binghamton on AHL assignment.

Of note in this situation are the contracts, or lack thereof, of two Devils defensemen of the same mold: 26-year-old John Moore (12-10-22) and 23-year-old Damon Severson (3-28-31). Moore will be an unrestricted free agent following this season, while Severson is currently a restricted free agent. Should the Devils be unable to agree to terms with Severson – which would seem unlikely, given their almost $18 million in cap space – Butcher would be a lock to make Jersey’s 23-man roster, if not earn regular playing time. And in the predictable case Severson remains with the Devils, Butcher would almost certainly be an improvement over D Dalton Prout, who is eligible to be demoted to the AHL without hitting the waiver wire.

The same two goaltenders return from last year, and Cory Schneider – co-winner of the 2011 William M. Jennings Trophy – will be expected to return to his previous form. For his entire NHL career, Schneider has managed a .922 save percentage and 2.28 GAA, but those numbers fell to .908 and 2.82 last season. In large part, that may have been due to his defense allowing 31.4 shots to reach his crease per game (tied for ninth-worst in the NHL), but he cannot expect that to change given the Devils’ inactivity in changing personnel along the blue line. If New Jersey plans to end its rebuild now (*hint* it shouldn’t), it will have to fall on Schneider to shore up the defensive end.

Unfortunately, I don’t expect Devils fans to witness immediate progress noticeable in a final score. Instead, they should be looking for improved fundamentals from all skaters, a rebound season for Schneider and another solid entry draft to shore up the defensive corps. Rasmus Dahlin or Jared McIsaac, anyone?

Offseason Grade: B

Make no doubt about it: the Devils are in full rebuild mode and would be unwise to believe they are retooled enough to emerge from the bottom of the Eastern Conference this season. But, they have made many of the right steps in improving their forward corps with talented youths and could begin making their resurgence in a few years if they stick with #TheProcess.

April 3 – Day 166 – One more! For Queen Elizabeth!

Seven more days of the regular season remain, making this the last Monday of the NHL year. I know it’s difficult, but enjoy it as best as you can.

To help you do that, there’s three games on the schedule tonight. A pair of those (Toronto at Buffalo [NHLN/SN/TVAS] and Ottawa at Detroit [RDS2]) drop the puck at 7 p.m., followed half an hour later by Montréal at Florida (RDS) – tonight’s early nightcap. All times eastern.

Since none of these games are matchups of playoff teams, what better contest to watch than the Battle for the Queen Elizabeth Way?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Though divided by a national border, the fact that these towns are separated by only 89 miles/145 kilometers has yielded quite the rivalry. That hatred has only increased this season as both the Maple Leafs and Sabres are returning to form and promise to be strong clubs next season and for years to come.

The future has come early in Toronto, as the Maple Leafs have a 38-24-15 record that is good enough for third place in the Atlantic Division. Winners of their past three games, the Leafs have been especially good since March 16, as they’ve gone 7-1-1 since then, which ties for the fourth-best run in the league in that time.

Just like it’s been all season, the reason for Toronto‘s success over this run has been its incredible offense. The Leafs have scored 32 goals since mid-March, a total that ties for second-most in the league in that time.

The man behind this attack? Exactly who it’s been all year: rookie phenom Auston Matthews. Not only has the kid scored seven goals for 11 points in the last nine games, but he’s also tied at 38 with Nikita Kucherov for third-most tallies all season.

It goes without saying, but this Leaf is absolutely special. He is the number one reason Toronto is currently in playoff position going to be in the playoffs, and potentially could be reasons two and three as well.

Reason four just might be Toronto‘s power play. Converting 30.4% of  their opportunities of late, the Maple Leafs‘ man-advantage has been fourth-best in the NHL since March 16. While Matthews has been effective during this specific stretch (he’s scored three power play goals for four points in his last nine games), fellow rookie William Nylander has been the true stud on the man-advantage. He’s notched 25 points with the extra man all season, nine of which have been tallies off his stick, to lead all first-year players.

To complete our perfunctory list, reason number five has to be Toronto‘s penalty kill. Thanks in large part to 32-15-14 Frederik Andersen and his .897 power play save percentage (fourth best in the league among the 37 netminders with at least 32 appearances), the Maple Leafs have rejected 83% of opposing man-advantages to rank eighth-best in the NHL.

Don’t tell anybody, but that lone regulation loss Toronto has suffered recently came at the hands of the 32-34-12 Sabres, the second-worst team in the Atlantic. Unfortunately, that win is one of only four the Sabres have earned in their past seven games.

You’ve got to score to win, and that’s been Buffalo‘s main struggle of late. Although Jack Eichel has averaged a point-per-game over this stretch (including three goals) to lead the team, he and Ryan O’Reilly (six points) have been the only two forwards really contributing to the attack lately.

Of course, that’s looking at the offense as a whole. When you start breaking things down, you find Buffalo‘s problem truly lies in even-strength play, as its power play has been the best in the league since mid-March.

Yes, even better than Washington‘s vaunted attack.

The Sabres have converted 46.7% of their man-advantage opportunities in the last two weeks, and it is on this assault where more of the team has participated. 15 different players have contributed at least a point on even-strength play since March 17, compared to 10 on the power play in that time.

Five more players were involved? Great! Bottom line, it means the Sabres are scoring!

True, but unfortunately it’s not that easy. Buffalo has spent a combined 22:16 on the man-advantage over 15 opportunities in its past seven games. Both those totals are the lowest in the league over that stretch. That means much of the team has effectively wasted the remaining (approximately) 400 minutes they’ve played, as they’ve only scored nine goals during five-on-five play, or a goal every 44 minutes.

One goal per 44 minutes of even-strength play does not win hockey games. If that’s not apparent by Buffalo‘s recent record, I don’t know what is.

Fortunately, the Sabres have remained competitive due to performing the opposite special team as well as they execute the power play. 22-24-8 Robin Lehner deserves much of the credit for that success, as his .926 power play save percentage ranks sixth-best in the NHL among the 39 goalies with at least four appearances since March 17.

Though the Sabres will miss the postseason for the sixth-straight season, this is an important game for Buffalo. Due to their two-game winning streak against Toronto, the Sabres have tied the season series against the Maple Leafs at 2-2-0, making this contest a true rubber match.

They last squared off on March 25 at the KeyBank Center – the same site of tonight’s game – where the Sabres won 5-2 on Eichel’s two-goal, three-point night.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Buffalo‘s Lehner (.921 save percentage [tied for ninth-best in the NHL]) & Toronto‘s Andersen (32 wins [tied for eighth-most in the league], including four shutouts [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]), Jake Gardiner (+26 [10th-best in the league]) and Matthews (38 points [tied for third-most in the NHL]).

Uh oh, that’s not good for the home team. Vegas has marked this game with a +140 line, meaning the odds-makers favor the Leafs. Unfortunately for the Sabres, so do I. While both clubs are almost evenly matched on special teams, the Toronto‘s offense is far superior at even-strength, which is where they should earn the victory.

Hockey Birthday

  • Ray Getliffe (1914-2008) – Though originally a Bruin, this forward spent most of his 10-year career in Montréal. A two-time Stanley Cup champion, he hoisted the trophy once with both clubs.
  • Bernie Parent (1945-) – Another player to start his career in Boston, this Hall-of-Fame goaltender played most of his 13 NHL seasons with the Flyers. He was a five-time All Star and won two Conn Smythes, Vezinas and – most importantly – Stanley Cups.
  • Brent Gilchrist (1967-) – Drafted by Montréal 79th-overall in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft, this left wing  played 15 seasons in the league – most of which with the Stars organization. He hoisted his lone Stanley Cup in 1998 with the Red Wings.
  • Shawn Bates (1975-) – The Boston-theme continues with this center, as the Bruins selected him in the fourth round of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft. He actually spent most of his 10-year career with the Islanders, with whom he notched 170 of his 198 career points.
  • Stephen Weiss (1983-) – The fourth-overall selection in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft by Florida, this center spent all but two of his 13 seasons with the Panthers. He notched 423 points before hanging up his skates, including 156 goals.

The Predators had the chance to not only clinch their postseason berth with a victory, but also surpass the Blues for third place in the Central Division. Instead, St. Louis beat Nashville 4-1 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

St. Louis didn’t wait long to get on the board, courtesy of a Vladimir Tarasenko (Jaden Schwartz and First Star of the Game David Perron) wrist shot 5:22 after the initial puck drop. Ryan Johansen (Filip Forsberg and P.K. Subban) and the Preds responded exactly six minutes later to tie the game at one-all with a power play wrister, the score that held into the first intermission.

Alex Steen (Perron) provided the game-winner early in the second period. He buried a wrister only 55 seconds after resuming play from the first intermission, followed only 5:52 later by a Perron (Alex Pietrangelo) wrister. Those tallies set the score at 3-1, which held into the second intermission.

The lone score of the third belonged to Third Star Joel Edmundson, an unassisted wrister 8:11 into the frame.

Second Star Jake Allen saved 35-of-36 shots faced (97.2%) to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Juuse Saros, who saved 21-of-25 (84%).

Nashville did qualify for the playoffs yesterday by virtue of Arizona beating ninth-place Los Angeles.

For four straight days now, home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have earned two points in the standings. Within the series, that has given hosts a 85-58-25 record, five points better than the roadies.