Tag Archives: Elliott

December 6 – Day 63 – This one might get ugly

Another Wednesday, another day to sell any random matchup as a rivalry when it almost certainly isn’t worthy of such designation.

Such is life in the world of sports broadcasting, I suppose.

Today’s slate of action features four games, starting with Calgary at Toronto (SN/TVAS) at 7:30 p.m. and Chicago at Washington (NBCSN) at 8 p.m. In a similar setup, Philadelphia at Edmonton (SN1) is scheduled to drop the puck at 9:30 p.m., with tonight’s nightcap – Ottawa at Anaheim (RDS) – following suit half an hour later. All times Eastern.

Though C Nate Thompson is making his first return to The Pond after calling it home for three seasons, I’m much more attracted to the contest involving the other team from Ontario.

 

 

 

 

 

No, it’s no rivalry like the one between Chicago and Washington (I mean, they are obviously warring over who wears red better), but this could be a good game nonetheless.

If nothing else, it should be the most entertaining, as the 17-10-1 Maple Leafs are always capable of putting on a good show with their third-ranked offense that averages 3.5 goals-per-game.

It’s no surprise who spearheads the Leafs’ attack, as all C Auston Matthews has done this season is improve on his Calder Trophy-winning 40-29-69 effort from a year ago. Having already earned team-leading 13-13-26 marks through 24 games played this year, he’s on pace for an incredible 84 points this season.

For those wondering, F Patrick Kane followed up his Calder-winning season with 25-45-70 totals in 80 games played. If you that think Kane is a solid player (hint: that should be all of us), Matthews has a chance to make Showtime simply an opening act.

While Matthews’ increased goal production certainly merits praise (his goals-per-game is up to .54 this season from last year’s .49), I’m actually most impressed with how he’s settled into his role as a top-line center. I often got the impression from Matthews that he felt he was the only one on Toronto’s roster capable of scoring goals (which, assuming he’d been watching the Leafs while he was in Switzerland, wasn’t exactly a misguided conclusion), which has made apparent by his four-goal NHL debut.

In a real test for Matthews, Head Coach Mike Babcock took the training wheels off Saturday by moving F William Nylander – himself a tremendous talent with 5-15-20 totals – to the third line to fill in for C Tyler Bozak while he was sick. As a result, Matthews and linemates RW Connor Brown (8-5-13) and F Zach Hyman (5-9-14) did not find the scorecard in Toronto’s 2-1 loss in Vancouver.

Word on the street is Bozak will be ready to go this evening, but I wouldn’t put it past Babcock to continue to play with his lines while the Leafs are in no danger of falling out of playoff position.

Tonight’s game might be a tough one for the 14-12-1 Flames, because even though they’re currently only one point outside of the Western Conference playoffs, they’ve made a bad habit of allowing 3.25 goals-per-game, the eighth-most in the NHL.

Considering last campaign’s starter G Brian Elliott has managed only a .908 save percentage this season in Philadelphia, I suppose Flames General Manager Brad Treliving did make an upgrade by trading for 12-9-1 G Mike Smith. Unfortunately, Smith’s .916 season save percentage and 2.79 GAA, which rank seventh- and fifth-worst, respectively, among goalies with at least 20 starts, has not been enough to keep the Flames in the playoff position they earned last year.

Of course, goaltending is a tough job when you’re being pelted with 31.71 shots-per-start like Smith has. Overall, the Flames defense has allowed the 10th-most shots to reach their goaltender, averaging 32.37 per game.

To put it simply, this team is not committed to playing defensive hockey. Not only are their 354 blocks the fewest in the Western Conference and third-fewest in the league, but they’ve also thrown the fewest blocks at 437, 27 less than Carolina’s second-worst effort. It is fortunate that C Mikael Backlund has managed a league-leading 34 takeaways, or things might be even worse for Calgary.

Oh wait, it can get worse. Backlund was sick yesterday and missed practice. Unless D Mark Giordano can assume his ultimate form and block more than his already team-leading 2.2 shots-per-game, this game has a really good chance of getting ugly for the Flames.


The New Jersey Devils are now the top team in the Metropolitan Division after beating the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-1 at Nationwide Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Jersey never trailed in this game, due in large part to C Travis Zajac‘s (RW Stefan Noesen and F Marcus Johansson) first goal of the season, a backhanded shot 4:24 into the contest. The first period was also when the Blue Jackets got on the board, courtesy of a F Nick Foligno (RW Oliver Bjorkstrand and D Seth Jones) wrist shot with 6:14 remaining in the frame.

After that, this game belonged to the Devils, starting with Third Star of the Game F Taylor Hall‘s (Second Star C Nico Hischier and W Jesper Bratt) game-winning tip-in 4:47 into the second period. He was the benefactor of his own hard work, as it was Hall that won the scrum in his own defensive zone to get the puck to Hischier, who was off to the races after corralling the play. Once the rookie reached the right face-off dot, he pulled up and drew an additional defender before centering a pass to Hall, who tapped a one-timer past G Sergei Bobrovsky‘s blocker.

Noesen (LW Miles Wood and Hischier) also made sure to end the period with a bang, burying a wrister with 46 seconds remaining before the second intermission.

Bratt (Hall) tacked on the final insurance goal with 8:54 remaining in regulation with a tip-in.

First Star Cory Schneider earned the victory after saving 41-of-42 shots faced (.976 save percentage), leaving the loss to Bobrovsky, who saved 32-of-36 (.889).

December’s pattern of giving in the DtFR Game of the Day series continues, as hosts and visitors continue to exchange victories every other day. With last night being the road teams’ turn, they’ve now pulled back within 14 points of the home sides.

December 4 – Day 61 – They’re currently in line for the postseason, but…

For the second day in a row, the NHL has scheduled only four games in a row. While a limited schedule makes it easier to keep an eye on everything, it does make it a slow night for our fantasy teams, doesn’t it?

What’s really nice about tonight’s slate is that all four games have a different starting time, which should hopefully ensure that there’s at least one contest being actively played from 7 p.m. – when San Jose makes its yearly visit to Washington (NHLN) – until Philadelphia at Calgary, which drops the puck at 9 p.m., wraps up around midnight. Starting between those games are the New York Islanders at Florida at 7:30 p.m., followed by Boston at Nashville (SN/TVAS) half an hour later. All times Eastern.

The only game I had circled on my calendar since the start of the season is taking place in the Saddledome, as G Brian Elliott is making his return to Calgary – his home for the 2016-’17 season – but I can’t say that matchup gets me all that excited. Instead, I think we need to wander towards The Capital of the Free World.

 

Though both these clubs currently occupy playoff positions, I wouldn’t go so far as to assume they are two of the top 16 teams in the NHL.

I find that especially apparent with tonight’s visitors, the 14-9-2 Sharks. Even though they’re in third place in the Pacific Division, they sport an offense that manages a third-worst 2.56 goals-per-game, putting them in the same conversation as Anaheim, Arizona, Boston, Buffalo, Detroit and Philadelphia in terms of offensive inefficiency – all teams currently sitting on the outside looking in at the tournament for the Stanley Cup if it started today.

Of course, having a winning record with an offense as bad as San Jose’s makes the defense look really, really good. In fact, it’s because the Sharks allow only 2.24 goals against-per-game (second in the NHL) that this team is able to thrive.

A major player in that effort is 10-6-1 G Martin Jones, who has managed a solid .926 season save percentage for a 2.23 GAA to rank sixth and fourth, respectively, in those statistics among the 34 goaltenders with at least 10 starts to their names.

But it’s not simply Jones. The Sharks’ physical defense has also been among the league’s strongest, allowing only 29.7 shots against-per-game to rank second-best in the NHL. Stand-out skaters include D Justin Braun (2.2 blocks-per-game), F Logan Couture (team-leading 27 takeaways) and D Brenden Dillon (2.8 hits-per-game), but it’s the entire team’s commitment to excellence in their own zone that really makes this San Jose team a tough out.

Meanwhile, the best word to explain the 15-11-1 Capitals is “average” (we’ll be generous and not tack on any adverbs). Gone are the days of dominating both ends of the ice, as Washington manages the (t)13th-fewest goals (2.89 per game) while allowing the 12th-most against (3.07 per game).

If anyone is going to take the blame for Washington’s struggles, it’s not going to be its stars. W Alex Ovechkin has been stellar this season with his league leading 19 goals (ok, he’s tied for the with Tampa’s RW Nikita Kucherov), while F Evgeny Kuznetsov has been equally stellar on the second line with his 9-20-29 totals.

14-6-0 G Braden Holtby has also been solid, posting a .919 save percentage for a 2.63 GAA to rank (t)12th and 11th, respectively, among the group of 34 netminders mentioned when we discussed Jones.

Instead, what seems to be holding the club back is simply the absence of yesteryear’s stars, specifically those on the blueline. With the exception of D John Carlson and his stellar 2-18-20 totals, there are no defensemen contributing on the offensive end anymore.

Though D Kevin Shattenkirk has moved on to the Big Apple, I think the major reason for this decline is the departure of D Karl Alzner to Montréal. No, Alzner was never a major offensive threat: he managed only 19-98-117 totals in his nine seasons with the Caps (.2 points per game, 13 per campaign). But it’s the fact that Alzner can dominate the defensive zone almost single-handedly that allowed the offense – and his defensive partner – the freedom and versatility to take chances when they had the puck on offense.

Should the Capitals desire to hold on to their playoff spot, I bet they’ll find a way to bring in another solid defenseman of Alzner’s mold. Until then, the Caps are a living example of what can happen when you overpay too many players.

Apparently below average is enough to get by in the Eastern Conference right now, because Washington currently occupies seventh place in the conference and the second wild card position. That being said, I think Washington’s offense has enough in it to get past the Sharks’ vaunted defense and earn two points tonight.


The Dallas Stars didn’t skip a beat playing in back-to-back DtFR Game of the Days, as they beat the Colorado Avalanche 7-2 at the Pepsi Center.

Though it took him a moment to get going, the first period ended up being dominated by First Star of the Game F Tyler Seguin, who buried an unassisted backhanded shot with 5:16 remaining in the frame, followed 4:26 later (RW Alexander Radulov and Third Star D John Klingberg) by a tip-in to set the score at 2-0 going into the first intermission.

In my preview for this game, I commented on RW Mikko Rantanen scoring fewer goals since making the trip to Stockholm, Sweden. He apparently read the column (thanks for reading, Mikko), as he scored a wrist shot (F Nathan MacKinnon) 39 seconds into the second period to pull Colorado back within a goal.

C Jason Spezza (C Devin Shore and Klingberg) returned the two-goal advantage to the Stars 6:09 later with what proved to be the game-winning tally. For a contest clincher, it was far from an incredible marker, but more a reward for good work in the defensive zone. D Erik Johnson and Shore battled along the boards for a solid five seconds before the center was able to move the puck back to Klingberg in the left corner. When the defenseman returned the pass, Shore was off to the races, screaming up the boards before sliding a centering pass to Spezza, who redirected a the puck through G Jonathan Bernier‘s five-hole.

Another player I brought up in my preview was D Greg Pateryn, though it was for his efforts on the other end of the ice. This evening, he was rewarded for his hard work with his first goal of the season (Radulov and LW Jamie Benn), a slap shot scored at the 7:52 mark of the second period to set the score at 4-1. W Blake Comeau (W Matthew Nieto and F Carl Soderberg) was able to net a wrister with 7:15 remaining in the frame, but it proved to be the Avalanche’s final goal of the night.

Second Star RW Brett Ritchie (LW Curtis McKenzie), Shore and Ritchie (C Radek Faksa and D Esa Lindell) again for a second time provided the Stars’ three insurance goals in the final frame to set the 7-2 final score.

G Kari Lehtonen earned the victory after saving 25-of-27 shots faced (.926 save percentage), leaving the loss to Bernier, who saved five-of-nine (.556). Bernier was replaced by G Semyon Varlamov following Pateryn’s goal, who saved 16-of-18 (.889) for no decision.

Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series seem to be finding their groove again, as they’ve earned points in three-consecutive games. That being said, they’ll need quite a few more wins to catch up with the 34-21-6 hosts, who lead the series by 14 points.

November 27 – Day 54 – Battle of Pennsylvania

Welcome to the last week of November! I know you think you need to be doing your Christmas shopping, but you have all of December to do that. Instead, sit down this evening and watch some hockey.

If you’re wise and followed my instructions, the NHL has scheduled five games for your viewing pleasure. Two of them (Florida at New Jersey and Philadelphia at Pittsburgh [NHLN/SN/TVAS]) start at 7 p.m., followed by Columbus at Montréal (RDS/TSN2) half an hour later. Minnesota at Winnipeg continues the half-hour intervals by dropping the puck at 8 p.m., as does Anaheim at Chicago, which waits until 8:30 p.m. to close out the evening’s action. All times Eastern.

I know we just featured the Penguins Saturday, but there’s no way we can miss the season’s first iteration of the Battle of Pennsylvania.

 

To keep the story short, there’s only a few things these teams can agree on:

  1. Hockey is a good game.
  2. Pennsylvania is a good state commonwealth.
  3. Mark Recchi is a good guy.

Beyond that, there’s very little these rivals see eye-to-eye about. Of course, what should one expect from teams that have met 316 times in regular or postseason play (played to a 172-114-30 record in favor of Philadelphia, by the way).

Looking at the overall numbers, the Flyers have certainly had their way with this series. In addition to already owning the overall series by almost 60 games, they’ve also beaten Pittsburgh in four of their six playoff series, including winning three-straight from 1989-2000.

You’d think Pittsburgh having players like C Sidney Crosby and F Evgeni Malkin would have had a way of leveling the playing field for the Pens of late, but every good rivalry has a way of dulling stars’ impact. Even though the Pens swept Philadelphia 8-0-0 during Malkin’s rookie season in 2006-’07, the Flyers have amassed a slightly superior 34-27-8 regular season record against the Penguins since Crosby first donned the black-and-gold.

The difference? Two points.

That’s right, a win by the Penguins tonight at PPG Paints Arena would level the Battle for Pennsylvania series during the Crosby Era – as if 12-10-3 Pittsburgh needed more motivation than it already had sitting a point outside of the playoff picture.

When we featured the Pens’ game against the Eastern Conference-leading Lightning a couple days ago, I mentioned that one of their problems seemed to be a dry spell by Crosby. Of course, he went out and proved me wrong, as he scored two goals and tacked on another assist to lead G Tristan Jarry to his first-ever NHL victory.

But there’s still another wound to poke on this squad: defense. Pittsburgh has allowed 3.4 goals-per-game this season, which is the fourth-highest in the entire NHL.

That being said, it seems even that problem might slowly be resolving itself. The Penguins search for a backup goaltender has been well documented, with offseason signing Antti Niemi failing miserably and already playing for his third team of the year. Since Jarry has been called up, the goaltending duo of him and starter 11-7-1 G Matthew Murray has found much more consistent play, as they’ve combined for a 2.89 season GAA.

Of course, it still seems probable that General Manager Jim Rutherford will eventually pursue a trade that allows him to send Jarry back to the AHL and resume playing consistently alongside fellow prospect Casey DeSmith, but his solid play has allowed management to take its time and find a good deal instead of rush into a bad decision.

Of course, that’s a discussion for another day, because it’s likely that Murray resumes starting duties this evening.

Compared to his rookie campaign and his 13 starts in 2015-’16, he’s left much to be desired in his first season as Pittsburgh’s undisputed number one, as he’s managed only a .906 save percentage and 2.94 GAA that ranks 14th and 11th-worst, respectively, among the 34 goalies with at least 10 starts.

But Murray is not the only contributor to Pittsburgh’s defensive woes. Even though D Kris Letang leads the team with 17 takeaways and RW Ryan Reaves throws 3.1 hits-per-game, Murray has already faced 595 shots this season, the eighth-most among that group of 34 goalies.

One of the odder things going on in Pittsburgh nowadays is D Ian Cole being a healthy scratch, as he leads the team with 1.8 blocks-per-game. He hasn’t dressed for the past two games, and word on the street from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Jason Mackey is that he’ll watch tonight’s game from the press box.

It’s peculiar that a defenseman so committed to keeping pucks away from his netminder that he’s only managed three points this season is the one being punished. Head Coach Mike Sullivan has yet to publicly show his hand (he claims Cole needs to improve his game), but the longer this goes on, the transaction rumors will only increase.

As for the 8-9-6 Flyers, they wish they were in as enviable a position as Pittsburgh to be unhappy with only being a point outside playoff position. For the umpteenth season in a row, Philly burst out of the starting gate to only find itself six points from the bottom of the conference.

A major reason for this slide has been the Flyers’ play over the second half of November. After beating the Blackhawks 3-1 on November 9, Philadelphia has earned only an 0-3-4 record since.

While the offense hasn’t been very good over this stretch (they’ve managed only 2.14 goals-per-game), it’s been the play on the defensive end that has been the true burden, as the Flyers have allowed 25 goals against in their past seven games.

Much of the responsibility for this struggle falls on the shoulders of 6-5-5 G Brian Elliott, who has started all but one of the games in this stretch for a .909 save percentage and 2.77 GAA that is actually better than his season marks of .905 and 2.85.

Unfortunately, that nominal improvement is simply not good enough behind an offense that scores only 2.83 goals-per-game on the season. Until the other three lines behind Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek decide to play hockey, General Manager Ron Hextall can only look forward to a trip to Dallas for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft to see if he can find a skater that can actually contribute (shots fired, F Nolan Patrick).

The reason Murray can put up comparable numbers to Elliott and still win is because of the goal support he receives from RW Phil Kessel, and it’s for that reason that I believe Pittsburgh will snap its two-game losing skid to the Flyers and beat them for the first time since February 25.


Though they needed the shootout to do it, the New York Rangers were able to beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-3 at Madison Square Garden in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Vancouver’s offense was ticking throughout this entire game, as it managed a goal in all three frames. W Loui Eriksson (C Henrik Sedin) took credit for the first period’s marker, burying a wrist shot 7:54 into the game.

The Canucks doubled their lead at the 7:21 mark of the second period courtesy of RW Jake Virtanen‘s third goal of the season, an unassisted wrister. However, this tally did not go unanswered, as Second Star of the Game RW Jesper Fast (D Nick Holden and D Brendan Smith) scored a wrister with 2:20 remaining before the second intermission to pull the Rangers back within a goal.

All the offensive action that ultimately mattered in the third period occurred in the opening 5:05 of the frame. W Michael Grabner (W Mats Zuccarello and D Kevin Shattenkirk) took his turn first, bagging a wrister only 19 seconds after emerging from the dressing room to level the game at two-all. The Rangers weren’t even for long though, as Third Star F Sam Gagner (W Thomas Vanek) returned the lead to Vancouver only 41 seconds later. First Star LW Jimmy Vesey (W Rick Nash and F Kevin Hayes) scored the final goal of regulation at the 5:05 mark, and it was an important one: Vesey’s backhanded shot tied the game at three-all and forced three-on-three overtime and, ultimately, the shootout.

As for how the shootout went down…

  1. Vanek took the opening attempt for the Canucks, but his wrister was saved by G Henrik Lundqvist.
  2. That provided Zuccarello an opportunity to earn a mini-break, but just like Vanek, his wrister was saved by G Jacob Markstrom.
  3. Vancouver’s second shooter was C Bo Horvat, but the shootout remained tied thanks to Lundqvist’s save.
  4. C Mika Zibanejad apparently grew tired of seeing all these saves, as he ensured Markstrom couldn’t get his mitts on his shot by sending it wide of the net.
  5. RW Brock Boeser finally found the first goal of the shootout for the Canucks, which forced a miss-and-lose situation for New York.
  6. Put in a pinch, Head Coach Alain Vigneault turned to Shattenkirk, who hadn’t scored a shootout goal since the 2015-’16 season. The defenseman ended that skid to continue the tiebreaker.
  7. Now in a sudden death situation, F Markus Granlund was sent out to win the game for the Canucks. Lundqvist had other ideas and was there to make the save.
  8. W Pavel Buchnevich‘s offering met the same fate: saved by Markstrom.
  9. LW Sven Baertschi started round five with a bang, as he beat Lundqvist to force New York’s second miss-and-lose situation.
  10. Cool under pressure, Nash sent the shootout on to the sixth round by beating Markstrom.
  11. Though he was able to score in regulation, Gagner couldn’t beat Lundqvist in the shootout.
  12. F J.T. Miller hasn’t scored a goal since November 2, and his luck didn’t change here. His offering was saved by Markstrom.
  13. Another skater, another save: this time, Lundqvist stopped D Ben Hutton in round seven.
  14. He was the one to force overtime, and he was the one to end the shootout: Vesey beat Markstrom to earn two points for the Blueshirts.

Lundqvist earned the victory after saving 29-of-32 shots faced (.906 save percentage), leaving the shootout loss to Markstrom, who saved 17-of-20 (.85).

After being on the wrong end of a two-game winning run two days ago, home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are now riding a two-game winning streak of their own. That has elevated their record to 29-19-6, 10 points better than the visitors’.

Calgary Flames 2017-’18 Season Preview

Calgary Flames

45-33-4, 94 points, fourth in the Pacific Division

Eliminated in the First Round by Anaheim

Additions: D Travis Hamonic, G Eddie Lack, G Mike Smith

Subtractions: LW Brandon Bollig (signed with SJS), F Lance Bouma (signed with CHI), G Brian Elliott (signed with PHI), D Deryk Engelland (drafted by VGK), G Chad Johnson (signed with BUF), F Linden Vey (signed with Barys, KHL)

Offseason Analysis: In 2015, the Flames made it to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs after five years of ending their season at only 82 games played (well, 48 in 2012-’13). In 2016, Calgary failed to make the postseason. This most recent summer was a quick return to the postseason before the Flames were swiftly eliminated by the Ducks in four games.

If this pattern continues, Southern Albertans – and maybe a few old-timey Atlantans – could be in for a rough hockey season.

Though a postseason appearance usually rewards a strong regular season showing, the Flames did almost all their work in the two months after the All-Star Break. Starting with their dominant 5-1 victory over Minnesota on February 1, Calgary went an incredible 19-6-1 in February and March, a performance overshadowed only by Chicago’s 42 points and Pittsburgh’s 40 in that stretch. Elliott and his defensive corps are responsible for much of that effort, as they allowed the third fewest goals against at 61 (2.35 per game) to power the Flames from eighth place to sixth in the Western Conference.

In most cases, that would usually be reason enough to retain a goaltender after his contract year – even keeping in mind his 3-9-1 start. Instead, General Manager Brad Treliving elected to let 32-year-old Elliott and backup Johnson walk and replace them with 29-year-old Lack (8-7-3, .902 save percentage and 2.64 GAA in 2016-‘17) and 35-year-old Smith (19-26-9, .914 save percentage and 2.92 GAA), signing them to one- and two-year contracts respectively.

For a team that swapped out both its top netminders, the Flames managed to move as laterally as possible. They arguably made a minor improvement by hiring Smith (emphasis on minor) over Elliott, but the now-Flyer is three years younger. More than likely, Lack – the youngest of the four goaltenders in this conversation – will presumably start as Smith’s backup, but he’ll be able to use this season as an audition to be the Flames’ goaltender of the future. He’s performed best with regular action in the past, so he’ll need to perform the way he did the last time he was in the Pacific Division (.917 save percentage and 2.43 GAA in two seasons with Vancouver) instead of continuing his Carolinian ways (.902 save percentage and 2.75 GAA with the Canes) to earn starts and stake his claim for the Flames’ crease past this season.

Looking beyond the crease, the biggest change Calgary made was trading at least two draft picks to the Islanders for Hamonic. Though the defenseman scored a career-high 33 points in 2014-’15, the last two seasons at .29 points-per-game (he was limited to 49 games last season with a knee injury) have been a bit closer to what Calgary should expect from him.

Having been rumored to want to move closer to his native Manitoba in the past, the stay-at-home blue liner will be expected to continue averaging 2.2 blocks-per-game as he did a season ago in more familiar surroundings. If he can do that, then the Flames should be able to further improve on a defense that allowed only 28.7 shots to reach their net a season ago – the eighth-best mark in the NHL.

Offseason Grade: C+

Though their acquisitions were few, Calgary did relatively well to fill the holes on its roster. That being said, the Flames are still far from the top of the Pacific Division and will struggle to make the postseason. Their most important goal this year is to give Lack a good long look at being the goaltender of the future, or else they risk turning into West Philadelphia (born and raised?) with a turnstile in the crease. But if that happens, the most important question is this: which Calgary goaltender does the best Carlton?

Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round – April 13

For at least the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writer is Connor Keith.

 

Toronto Maple Leafs at Washington Capitals – Game 1

Though it was an uphill battle, Washington managed to maintain home-ice advantage by beating the visiting Maple Leafs 3-2 in overtime at the Verizon Center.

Though the final score may not be indicative of a true goalie battle, that’s exactly what this game was. It’s well known how good both Washington’s and Toronto’s offenses are, but both Third Star of the Game Braden Holtby and Frederik Andersen were up to the task of keeping the opposition neutralized. The netminders combined for 76 saves on 81 shots faced, including 44 rejections by Holtby.

For anyone wondering if the Leafs were going to be content with simply qualifying for the playoffs this year, rookie Mitch Marner (James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak) proved otherwise. He buried a wrist shot only 95 seconds into the game, beating Holtby’s left skate.

Near the midway point of the first, the Caps were originally the beneficiary of a questionable goaltender interference call. Though Nazem Kadri was certainly in Holtby’s crease, the left wing’s skate barely restricted the netminder’s stick. Fortunately for Jake Gardiner, the NHL’s new review system for the playoffs ruled in his favor to give the youngsters an impressive two-goal lead on his unassisted strike.

Andersen played well all game, but his play and the Leafs’ two goals were not enough to daunt Second Star Justin Williams. The three-time Stanley Cup champion provided both goals to pull the Caps even, starting with his first (T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom) with 7:36 remaining in the opening frame. He scored his power play wrister two seconds after Brian Boyle returned to the ice from his interference penalty to end Washington’s five-on-three advantage.

Williams’ second tally was struck with exactly four minutes remaining in the second frame. Assisted by Matt Niskanen and Evgeny Kuznetsov, Williams collected the rebound, which was sitting right between Andersen’s legs, of the defenseman’s initial shot and buried it to level the game at two-all.

Though they needed overtime, the Capitals were able to complete their comeback. But instead of Williams being the goalscorer, it was First Star Tom Wilson, who managed to knock down Martin Marincin‘s attempted clear and rip his wrister from the near face-off circle top-shelf over Andersen’s glove for his first NHL playoff goal.

Win, lose or draw, the most impressive thing about Toronto’s play is it was not afraid of anything the Capitals threw at it. Washington tried early and often – made evident by Lars Eller‘s cross-check against Marincin early in the first – to get under the young Leafs’ skins, but Mike Babcock’s well-coached club would not be drawn into a dumb reactionary penalty. Do not count the Maple Leafs out simply because of their youth.

 

Nashville Predators at Chicago Blackhawks – Game 1

When First Star of the Game Pekka Rinne reaches peak performance, he’s tough to beat. Chicago learned that the hard way, as it fell 1-0 to the Predators at the United Center.

Though Chicago then led the shot count 5-3, Nashville took the opening – and only –  score in the ninth minute of play, courtesy of a quick tip-in from Second Star Viktor Arvidsson (Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen).

That proved to be the last tally of the game, though a total of 41 more shots were fired between the two offenses. Rinne was outstanding, as he saved all 29 shots he faced.

Though he gave up a tally, Third Star Corey Crawford was also solid, saving 19-of-20. But the real reason Chicago gave up only one score is found within Crawford’s stat line. His defense was exemplary, and allowed the second-fewest among all the first playoff games. Brent Seabrook was the brightest star, blocking four shots on the night.

 

Calgary Flames at Anaheim Ducks – Game 1

Though the Flames fired a dozen shots at John Gibson in the third period, Anaheim defended home ice with a 3-2 victory at the Honda Center.

The Ducks’ win is a result of one thing: their power play. Special team action was expected in this matchup, as these clubs were numbers one and two in times shorthanded during the regular season. This series already looks like it will be decided by the club that takes better advantage, as 24 total penalty minutes were assessed in only the first game.

Anaheim converted two of its seven extra-man opportunities, and Second Star of the Game Jacob Silfverberg played a role in both of them. The wing assisted First Star Ryan Getzlaf to the opening goal of the game, a wrister only 52 seconds into the contest, and buried the game-winning marker (Patrick Eaves and Shea Theodore) with 2:13 remaining in the second.

If Calgary can’t convert any more than one extra-man situation into a goal, their playoff run may see an untimely end. Sean Monahan (Kris Versteeg and T.J. Brodie) did manage one at the 8:43 of the first period to level the game, but the Flames couldn’t take advantage of their other four opportunities, including two in the third period (technically three, though the final power play lasted only a second before the end of regulation).

Another issue for the Calgary is Anaheim’s unrelenting offense, regardless of the number of players on the ice. Led by 17 attempts in the first period, the Ducks fired the puck on Brian Elliott‘s net 41 times. Not only will that wear out the 32-year-old goaltender, but it also means that the Flames do not have the puck in their offensive zone very often. Both those variables add up to early playoff exits.

March 31 – Day 163 – Keeping it in Alberta

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

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

Short list:

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hockey Birthday

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 15 – Day 147 – The Flames are red hot

Only four games are on the schedule tonight, so let’s dive right in. The action starts at 7:30 p.m. with Pittsburgh at Philadelphia (NBCSN/TVAS), followed 90 minutes later by Boston at Calgary (SN). Detroit visits Colorado at 9:30 p.m. and St. Louis at Anaheim (NBCSN), tonight’s nightcap, drops the puck half an hour later. All times eastern.

If it was certain Mark Streit would be available for tonight’s game, I’d be much more inclined to feature the Battle for the Keystone State. But with the injury he sustained Monday night, I’m much more interested in the Bruins‘ visit to the Saddledome.

 

Winners of its past three contests, Boston enters tonight’s game with a 37-26-6 record good enough for third place in the Atlantic Division. The Bruins may not be dominant on either end of the ice, but they play a solid overall game. Specifically, I’m most impressed with a defensive effort that has yielded only 177 goals against, which ties for the 10th-fewest in the NHL.

Of course, that always starts with the goaltender, and Boston has a good one in 33-16-4 Tuukka Rask. Yet even the best goaltenders need a night off every once in a while, and that’s where 4-5-1 Anton Khudobin comes into play. He’s registered a .895 season save percentage and 2.76 GAA, the 56th and 42nd-best marks, respectively, among the 68 goalies with at least five appearances this year.

While neither stats are worth writing home to Russia about (I mean, we need to factor in the price of postage), he’ll be receiving considerable help from his blueline tonight. Led by Captain Zdeno Chara‘s 116 short blocks (narrowly beating out Adam McQuaid‘s contributions), the Bruins have allowed only 26.5 shots to reach their goalies’ crease, the second-best rate in the NHL.

That play is especially impressive in light of last season’s performance, which forced Bruins goaltenders to shrug off more than 30 shots-per-game. As rookie Brandon Carlo continues to grow, Boston‘s defense could become one of the stingiest in the league.

Speaking of stingy, that’s exactly what the Bruins‘ top-rated penalty kill is. Thanks in large part to McQuaid’s 32 shorthanded shot blocks, the Bruins escape opponents’ power plays unscathed 86.2% of the time.

Boston is also the proud home of a solid power play. While not as successful as their penalty kill, the Bruins do tie for 10th-best in the league with a power play that finds the back of the net 20.5% of the time. That attack is twin-led by first-unit members Torey Krug and David Pastrnak, both of whom have 20 power play points. Pastrnak also shares the extra-man goal-scoring lead, but this time with Brad Marchand. Both of them have buried the puck eight times on the power play.

In a surprising turn of events since December and January, defense has become the name of the game for the 39-26-4 Flames, who currently occupy second place in the Pacific Division and are easily the hottest team in the league (pun intended). Winners of their past 10 games, they’ve allowed only 183 goals against so far this season, the 13th-fewest in the NHL.

For the second season in a row, 21-13-3 Brian Elliott has righted the ship for another playoff-hopeful club. Although his .91 season save percentage isn’t the best on the team (that belongs to Chad Johnson and his .913), his 2.51 GAA is, and those rank (t)33rd and (t)17th-best in the league, respectively, among the 51 goalies with at least 18 appearances.

Those numbers aren’t exactly impressive, but they don’t have to be when Elliott plays behind one of the better defensed in the league. Allowing only 28.7 shots to reach his crease per game, Calgary ranks eighth-best in the NHL. That success is due in large part to Mark Giordano, whose 154 shot blocks not only pace the Flames, but are sixth-most in the NHL.

Thanks to Johnson’s incredible night in net (he saved 35-of-36 – 97.2%!), the Flames were able to stave off the Bruins‘ offense for a 2-1 victory when they made their annual visit to Boston on November 25.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Boston‘s Marchand (35 goals [tied for most in the NHL] for 74 points [tied for third-most in the league]) and Calgary‘s Giordano (+17 on 154 blocks [both lead the team]).

Calgary is narrowly favored to win tonight’s game by Vegas with a -105 line. I can certainly see why the oddsmakers are concerned, but I also know the Flames have beaten some solid teams over this winning streak. I like the Bruins to win tonight, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if Calgary can keep the magic going again this evening.

Hockey Birthday

  • Punch Imlach (1918-1987) – It goes without saying, but a coaching career that features four Stanley Cups, including three in a row from 1962-’64, is probably a good one. Imlach did just that with the Maple Leafs, the team he coached for 12 of his 14 seasons. He completed his career in the 1979-’80 season with a 402-337-150 record.
  • Craig Ludwig (1961-) – Montréal selected this defenseman 61st-overall in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he played the first eight years of his career and won his first Stanley Cup. Following a year with the Islanders, he joined the (North) Stars organization in 1991-’92, with whom he played the last eight years of his career  – and won his second Stanley Cup.
  • Darcy Tucker (1975-) – Another Montréal pick, this right wing was selected in the sixth round of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft. Although drafted by the Canadiens, he actually spent most of his 14-year career with Toronto, where he scored 148 of his 215 career goals.
  • James Reimer (1988-) – Speaking of the Maple Leafs, they selected this goaltender 99th-overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. He spent six seasons in Toronto before being traded to the Sharks at the deadline last year. He now plays in Florida, where he’s earned a 12-12-5 record.

Although the Wild scored two goals in the third period, it wasn’t enough to get past the Capitals in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day. Washington defended the Verizon Center to a 4-2 victory.

Although both clubs combined for 29 shots in the first period, this game almost reached the first intermission scoreless. The operative word there is almost, as Nate Schmidt (Second Star of the Game Alex Ovechkin and First Star Nicklas Backstrom) scored only his second goal of the season with a dozen seconds remaining on the clock to give Washington a one-goal lead.

February 19. 11 games ago. That was the last time Ovechkin scored before tonight’s tally. Assisted by John Carlson and Backstrom, he buried a wrist shot with 5:08 remaining in the second period to double the Caps‘ lead and end his scoreless skid. The game-winner belongs to Evgeny Kuznetsov (Backstrom and Carlson) on a power play wrister 2:16 later that set the score at 3-0.

Whatever Bruce Boudreau said in the dressing room during intermission, it seems Matt Dumba (Mikael Granlund) took it to heart, as he buried a backhanded shot 37 seconds after play resumed to get the Wild on the board. Eric Staal (Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter) followed that four minutes later with a power play wrister to pull Minnesota within a goal, but they couldn’t find another tally. Jay Beagle (Dmitry Orlov) made the Wild‘s comeback even more difficult by burying a wrister with 5:41 remaining in the game, setting the 4-2 final score.

Third Star Braden Holtby earned the victory after saving 30-of-32 shots faced (93.75%), leaving the loss to Devan Dubnyk, who saved 36-of-40 (90%).

While losing first place in the division and conference is obviously the bigger issue for the Wild, they are also responsible for allowing the 75-53-21 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series to have a one-point lead over the visitors.

December 2 – Day 51 – Wildfires usually aren’t fun, but this one is an exception

Congratulations! You made it through the work week! You know what you deserve? Hockey.

Unfortunately, there’s only two games occurring this evening, and the action doesn’t start until 9 p.m. with Minnesota visiting Calgary. An hour and a half later, the second game – Montréal at San Jose (RDS) – drops the puck. All times eastern.

Tonight is the night our Minnesota fans have been waiting for: their Wild are finally being featured in the DtFR Game of the Day!

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Making their first of two visits to the Saddledome this season are the 11-8-3 Minnesota Wild, good enough to currently occupy third place in the Central Division. They’ve gotten to that position with excellent play from their goaltending, which allows the fewest goals in the league (46).

Devan Dubnyk has been nothing short of incredible this season. He’s only earned a 9-6-2 record over his 17 starts, but his record is not indicative of how well he’s played. His .946 save percentage and 1.66 GAA both rank second-best in the league among all goaltenders with nine or more appearances.

His exemplary play has been necessary, because Minnesota‘s blueline has not done much to help him. So far this season, they’ve allowed opponents to fire an average of 31.1 shots per game, the ninth-highest in the NHL. Jared Spurgeon‘s 39 blocks leads the team, but him and Jonas Brodin are the only two skaters for the Wild that have more than 30 blocks to their credit.

Hosting the Wild this evening are the 11-13-2 Flames, who currently sit in fifth place in the Pacific Division. The main reason Calgary has not found success this season has been their poor goaltending and defense, which has allowed 76 goals already – the third-most in the NHL.

Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson have split time between the pipes almost perfectly this year – separated by only 5:33 – at 13 starts apiece. Johnson has certainly found more success, earning a 8-4-1 record on a .93 save percentage and 2.06 GAA – the t-ninth and 10th-best effort among the 48 netminders with seven or more appearances.

Part of the reason Johnson has been able to play so well has been due to the defense playing in front of him. The Flames have allowed an average of only 29.5 shots against per game, the ninth-fewest in the league. That effort has been headlined by Mark Giordano, who has 64 blocks to his credit, the second-most in the entire league.

The defensive Achilles heel for Calgary has been on the penalty kill. Giordano’s 20 shorthanded blocks lead not only the Flames, but also the entire league, but it hasn’t done much to improve a 77.3% kill rate, tied for third-worst in the NHL.

It’s frightening, but the penalty kill has actually been the better of the two special teams. The Flames‘ power play is worst in the league, successful on only 10.1% of opportunities. Dennis Wideman has done his best to lead the man-advantage with four power play points, including two goals, but he’s one of only 11 skaters who have earned a point under those circumstances. It goes without saying that the Flames need to work on this aspect of their game if they want to return to their 2014-’15 form.

These squads have already met up once this year, with Calgary notching a 1-0 victory at the Xcel Energy Center. Gaudreau took credit for the lone tally.

Some players to keep an eye on tonight include Calgary‘s Johnson (three shutouts [tied for second-most in the league] on a 2.06 GAA and a .93 save percentage [both 10th-best in the NHL]) & Minnesota‘s Dubnyk (four shutouts [most in the league] on a 1.66 GAA and a .946 save percentage [both second-best in the NHL]) and Jason Zucker (+12 [tied for fifth-best in the league]).

It’s never a good sign for the home team when they have a line with a plus, but that’s the case this evening. I agree with Vegas’ prediction, based mostly on Calgary‘s ineptitude on special teams. Although Minnesota‘s effort on either the power play or the penalty kill does not dazzle, it should be more than enough to hold the Flames at bay.

Hockey Birthday

  • Rich Sutter (1963-) – This Sutter brother was drafted 10th-overall in the 1982 NHL Entry Draft by Pittsburgh, but his longest tenure with a club was from 1986-’90 with Vancouver.
  • Ron Sutter (1963-) – The ’82 Draft treated this Sutter a little better, as he was picked fourth-overall by, go figure, the Flyers. Nothing like a little sibling rivalry, especially between twins. Unlike Rich, Ron spent much of his career with the club that drafted him.
  • Sergei Zholtok (1972-2004) – This center was the 55th-overall pick in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft by Boston, but he played 210 of his 588 career games (35.7%) with Minnesota. Unfortunately, the Latvian’s life was cut short by cardiac arrhythmia.

Edmonton absolutely dominated the second period to seal a 6-3 victory over the Jets in yesterday’s Game of the Day.

The scoring started only shortly after the game did. Bryan Little (Blake Wheeler and Drew Stafford) waited only 35 seconds before scoring his first goal of the season. 1:56 later, Mark Letestu (First Star of the Game Leon Draisaitl and Andrej Sekera) pulled the Oil even at one-all with a power play goal. Winnipeg resumed the lead with 9:46 remaining in the opening frame with a power play goal of their own, courtesy of rookie Third Star Patrik Laine (Toby Enstrom and Nikolaj Ehlers). The Jets held that 2-1 lead into the first intermission.

Quick scoring seemed to be the theme of the night, as Draisaitl (Milan Lucic and Second Star Connor McDavid) buried a power play wrister to tie the game for Edmonton. The Oilers took their first lead of the night – a lead they would not yield – only 4:15 later when Letestu (Lucic and McDavid) buried yet another power play wrister. Patrick Maroon (Zack Kassian and Letestu) takes credit for the game-winning goal, as he buried a wrist shot with 8:17 remaining in the second period to give Edmonton a 4-2 lead going into the second intermission.

Another quick goal was struck in the final frame by Laine (Dustin Byfuglien and Wheeler) at the 1:44 mark, but it was all the Jets could muster for their comeback attempt. Draisaitl (McDavid and Adam Larsson) and Benoit Pouliot (Sekera and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) notched two insurance goals for the Oil to seal the victory.

Cam Talbot earned the victory after saving 22-of-25 (88%)shots faced, leaving the loss for Connor Hellebuyck, who saved 23-of-29 (79.3%). He was replaced after Pouliot’s goal by Michael Hutchinson, who saved all four shots he faced for no decision.

The road teams have been staging quite the comeback in the DtFR Game of the Day series, earning 11 points in the last seven games. That being said, the home squads still have the advantage with their 28-18-7 record, leading the visitors by four points.

November 10 – Day 29 – Great Stars of fire

The bartender just walked by. He asked if anybody wanted another hockey game. Considering how good yesterday was, I got a whole round for tonight. Hope that’s okay.

In all seriousness, we have quite a selection of games this evening, starting with three at 7 p.m. (Columbus at Boston, Minnesota at Pittsburgh and Anaheim at Carolina), followed half an hour later by four more (Los Angeles at Montréal [RDS/SN360], Vancouver at Detroit, the New York Islanders at Tampa Bay and San Jose at Florida). St. Louis at Nashville drops the puck at 8 p.m., and tonight’s co-nightcaps get underway an hour later (Dallas at Calgary and Winnipeg at Arizona). All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Los Angeles at Montréal: Tom Gilbert played the last two seasons in The City of Saints, but now he works in The City of Angels.
  • New York at Tampa Bay: It’s a rematch of the Eastern Conference Semifinals from last year.
  • St. Louis at Nashville: Carter Hutton heads back to Nashville, where he played the previous three seasons, and with a chance to play to boot.
  • Dallas at Calgary: Jiri Hudler spent four seasons in the Saddledome, but now he wears white in that building.

We haven’t watched the Stars yet this season, so let’s head to Alberta with them.

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Hudler joined Calgary before the 2012 season via free agency, and the center’s impact was noticed immediately in the lockout-shortened season as he notched 27 points.

His final full season with the Flames was easily the best campaign of his career. In 78 games played during the 2014-’15 season, he narrowly missed averaging a point a game with 76 to his credit.

This was also the season that Calgary qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2009. Although his club fell in the Western Conference Semifinals, it was no fault of Hudler’s. He continued his success with eight points in 11 games, split evenly between goals and assists.

Following his career year, Hudler was awarded the Lady Byng Trophy, the first Flame since Joe Mullen of the 1989 Stanley Cup winning team to earn the honor.

He was traded from Calgary to Florida at last year’s trade deadline, but was not offered another contract this off-season. He signed with Dallas in August, only 21 days before the start of the season. He has not had the start to the season that he would’ve liked, with no points, or even a shot, to show for an hour’s work. He has been facing an illness so severe that he was placed on injured reserve, but he has the chance to be activated this evening.

Those Stars enter the night riding a 4-6-3 record, a far cry from their expectations entering this campaign. While the goaltending is on par with last season’s (be careful, I don’t want you to read that as good), it has been Dallas‘ offensive drought that has caused their current predicament.

So far this season, the Stars have managed only 33 goals in 13 games, the 11th-worst scoring average in the game. Dallas‘ struggles can’t be pinned on Tyler Seguin, who has 14 points to his credit evenly split between goals and assists, but the rest of the team – including great forward like Jamie Benn – has yet to break the 10-point mark.

While I wasn’t planning on thoroughly discussing Dallas‘ defense, there’s one major pitfall that must be acknowledged: the penalty kill. The Stars‘ 75% kill rate ranks fourth-worst in the league. When paired with a team that struggles to keep the puck out of their own net at even-strength, they are not doing themselves any favors by committing 52 penalties – four per game!

The Flames play tonight’s game with the same record as the Stars but with the added note of riding a two-game losing skid. That’s where the similarities end though, as Calgary‘s inability to prevent the opposition from scoring is putting them in quite a hole.

Having already allowed 50 goals against this season, the Flames give up an average of 3.57 tallies against per game – tied for the third-worst rate in the NHL with Philadelphia. The blame rests solely on the goaltenders, who have been under no more or less pressure than the average netminder in the league in terms of shots faced per game. Brian Elliott has started nine games so far this season for a 3-6-0 record. In those games, he’s saved a poor 88.7% of shots faced for a whopping 3.33 GAA to rank worst and third-worst in the league, respectively, among the 24 goalies who have appeared in as many contests.

Offensively, the Flames badly need to focus on one important aspect of their game: the power play. Successful on only 8.3% of attempts, Calgary ranks dead last in the NHL in the category. On the bright side, it means that most of their goals have come against more difficult conditions, so at least they have that going for them.

Ahh, Caddyshack.

Continuing the thread of special teams, you would be wise to assume the Flames‘ penalty kill is equally as bad as their power play given the goaltending situation. For those who had second-to-last in the league, you win bonus points, as the Flames have stopped 72.4% of opposing extra-man advantages to rank better than only Chicago‘s horrendous efforts on the kill.

Some players to keep an eye on include Calgary‘s Michael Frolik (nine points on five goals [both lead the team]) and Dallas‘ Seguin (seven goals [tied for sixth-most in the league]).

Las Vegas favors the home team with a -125, but I don’t like that the NHL’s most potent offense last season is coming to town to face one of the worst goaltending situations. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that the Stars start getting things pulled together against a prone opponent.

Hockey Birthday

  • Don Saleski (1949-) – This right wing was the 64th overall selection in the 1969 NHL Entry Draft. He ended up playing 543 games in the league, all but 67 of which were with the team that drafted him: the Philadelphia Flyers, including the 1973-’74 and ’74-’75 Stanley Cup winning teams.
  • Mike Leclerc (1976-) – On the opposite wing, Leclerc was drafted 55th overall in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft by Anaheim. He ended up playing 341 games over his career, 85.3% of which were with the club that drafted him.
  • Kristian Huselius (1978-) – Another left winger like Leclerc, Huselius was drafted 47th overall in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft by Florida, the club he spent 38.8% of his career with.

The Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Anaheim Ducks 3-2 in the first overtime game in our Game of the Day series since October 28.

Columbus struck quickly last night, scoring both their regulation goals within the opening 5:30. Second Star of the Game Boone Jenner (Scott Hartnell and Cam Atkinson) takes credit for the first goal with a snap shot only 1:23 after the opening puck drop. 4:06 later, Brandon Saad (Ryan Murray and Third Star Jack Johnson) scored a snapper of his own to give the Jackets a 2-0 lead, which held into the first intermission.

Anaheim‘s comeback began with 2:39 remaining in the second period when Rickard Rakell (Cam Fowler and Josh Manson) scored his fourth goal of the season. It was the lone tally of the second period, meaning Columbus still had a one-goal lead going into the final 20 minutes of play.

That lead lasted only 1:25 after resuming play before Nick Ritchie (Joseph Cramarossa) scored a wrap-around to level the score for the Ducks.

Three-on-three overtime lasted only 1:21 before First Star Zach Werenski (Alexander Wennberg and Saad) scored the winner with a wrister.

Sergei Bobrovsky earns the victory after saving 30-of-32 shots faced (93.75%), while John Gibson takes the overtime loss saving 15-of-18 (83.3%).

With that victory, Columbus improves the home squads’ record in the DtFR Game of the Day series to 18-10-3, favoring the homers by nine points over the roadies.

November 6 – Day 25 – One more before heading back east

For a Sunday, we have quite a few games on the schedule. What’s pro football? I’ve never heard of it.

Two games drop the puck at 5 p.m. (Colorado at St. Louis and Edmonton at Detroit), followed an hour later by New Jersey at Carolina. The usual starting time of 7 p.m. marks the beginning of a couple of contests (Dallas at Chicago [TVAS] and Winnipeg at the New York Rangers [SN/SN360]) and tonight’s nightcap, Calgary at Anaheim, goes underway at 9:30 p.m. All times eastern.

We’ve had a nice weekend out on the west coast. There’s no games out here tomorrow, so let’s catch one more game before heading back east.

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It’s our third game on the Pond in five days, and if this one follows the scoring of the last two, the winner should cruise to a 5-1 victory.

Enter the visiting 5-7-1 Calgary Flames. Just last night the Flames were up the freeway in the Staples Center, but they lost 5-0 to the Kings. While their offense is certainly capable of scoring, Calgary is held back by the large quantities of goals they allow.

Brian Elliott has started nine of the Flames‘ games, including last night’s contest. Before the puck was dropped yesterday, Elliott had a .889 save percentage for 3.12 GAA – a far cry from the .93/2.07 he notched last year with the Blues. Chad Johnson, Elliott’s backup, has better stats – .908 save percentage for a 2.67 GAA – but on a small sampe size, with only four starts to his credit this season.

Regardless of who starts in net for the Flames, they need to do better.  Plain and simple. Led by Mark Giordano‘s 37 blocks, Calgary‘s defenders have allowed the average number of pucks to reach Elliott and Johnson, so the fault does not lie along the blueline.

One way to take pressure off the last line of defense needs to be avoiding the penalty box. Calgary is home to the second-worst penalty kill in the, neutralizing only 73.1% of opposing power plays.

Defending home ice this evening are the 5-5-2 Anaheim Ducks. They play a well rounded game for a +2 goal differential.

A strong suit I’ve liked out of the Ducks has been their commitment to special teams. Successful on 24.4% of power plays, Anaheim ranks sixth-best in the NHL with the man-advantage. They back that with the 10th-best penalty kill, refusing to yield a power play goal on 83% of opposing attempts.

Some players to keep an eye on tonight include Anaheim‘s John Gibson (one shutout [tied for sixth-most in the league]) and Calgary‘s Michael Frolik (nine points on five goals [both lead the team]).

Vegas marks Anaheim as a -190 favorite coming into tonight’s game, one of the most uneven lines on today’s schedule. Given Calgary‘s inability to stop the Ducks‘ power play, much less their standard offense, I think Anaheim easily defends home ice for the victory.

Hockey Birthday

  • Erik Cole (1978-) – The 71st overall selection in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, this left wing is still technically active in the league even though he hasn’t played since the 2014-’15 season. He’s most known for his two stints in Carolina, playing 557 games over nine seasons.
  • Brad Stuart (1979-) – The third overall pick of that draft is in the same situation as Cole. The defenseman was drafted by San Jose, and played 486 games over eight seasons with the Sharks.
  • Andrew Murray (1981-) – Drafted 242nd overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft by Columbus, Murray’s career has taken him away from North America to the KHL from 2013-’15.

The Penguins are taking no prisoners as of late, as their 5-0 victory over San Jose in yesterday’s Game of the Day is the fifth in their last six games.

Chris Kunitz (Evgeni Malkin and Ian Cole) takes credit for the game-winning tally, a snap shot only 4:22 after initial puck drop. Second Star of the Game Sidney Crosby (Third Star Carl Hagelin and Conor Sheary) tacked on the second-and-final goal of the first period with 1:32 remaining in the frame.

Crosby (Hagelin and Brian Dumoulin), Eric Fehr (Matt Cullen and Sheary) and Nick Bonino (Trevor Daley and Hagelin) scored the three remaining goals during the second period.

First Star Matt Murray earns the shutout victory after saving all 32 shots he faced, while Martin Jones saved four-of-seven (57.1%) for the loss. He was replaced following Crosby’s second goal, only 13 seconds into the second period, by Aaron Dell, who saved 16-of-18 (88.9%) for no decision.

With that victory by the visiting Penguins, the DtFR Game of the Day series stands at 14-10-3, favoring the home squads by only two points.

Bonus stat: Five of our last seven Game of the Days have been won by a five-goal offense, beginning with Pittsburgh in Philadelphia October 29.