Tag Archives: Ellis

Game of the week: October 29-November 4

As the calendar flips from October to November, the NHL’s powers are beginning to flex their muscles while the league’s less-talented members are already counting the days until April 6.

Some of that can be seen in the games already played this week (take a look at what a good Devils team suffered in its trip to Tampa), while there’s more than a few games coming up in the remaining four days that will help us better predict some teams’ playoff potentials.

NHL SCHEDULE: OCTOBER 29-November 4
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, October 29
7 p.m. Calgary Toronto 3-1
10 p.m. Minnesota Vancouver 2-5
Tuesday, October 30
7 p.m. Calgary Buffalo 2-1 (OT)
7 p.m. New York Islanders Pittsburgh Penguins 6-3
7 p.m. Boston Carolina 3-2
7 p.m. Detroit Columbus 5-3
7:30 p.m. Dallas Montréal 4-1
7:30 p.m. New Jersey Tampa Bay 3-8
8 p.m. Vegas Nashville 1-4
9 p.m. Minnesota Edmonton 4-3
10 p.m. Ottawa Arizona 1-5
10 p.m. Philadelphia Anaheim 3-2
10:30 p.m. New York Rangers San Jose Sharks 4-3 (SO)
Wednesday, October 31
10 p.m. Chicago Vancouver 2-4
Thursday, November 1
2 p.m. Winnipeg Florida NBCSN
7 p.m. Dallas Toronto
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Penguins New York Islanders SN360
7:30 p.m. Washington Montréal RDS, TSN2
7:30 p.m. Buffalo Ottawa RDS2
7:30 p.m. New Jersey Detroit
7:30 p.m. Nashville Tampa Bay
8 p.m. Vegas St. Louis
9 p.m. Colorado Calgary SN1
9 p.m. Chicago Edmonton
10 p.m. New York Rangers Anaheim Ducks
10:30 p.m. Philadelphia Los Angeles
10:30 p.m. Columbus San Jose
Friday, November 2
2 p.m. Florida Winnipeg NHLN
10 p.m. Colorado Vancouver NHLN
10 p.m. Carolina Arizona
saturday, November 3
2 p.m. Ottawa Buffalo RDS
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Montréal CITY, SN360, TVAS
7 p.m. Edmonton Detroit SN
7 p.m. New Jersey Devils New York Islanders
7 p.m. Toronto Pittsburgh CBC, NHLN, SN1
7 p.m. Dallas Washington
8 p.m. Minnesota St. Louis
8 p.m. Boston Nashville
10 p.m. Carolina Vegas
10 p.m. Chicago Blackhawks Calgary Flames CBC, CITY, SN, SN1, SN360
10:30 p.m. Columbus Los Angeles
10:30 p.m. Philadelphia San Jose
SunDay, November 4
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Ottawa NHLN, SN, TVAS
7 p.m. Buffalo Sabres New York Rangers
9 p.m. Columbus Anaheim

As usual, there’s more than a few tilts that caught my attention on this week’s slate. I’m always a big fan of rivalries (New York at Pittsburgh, Chicago at Vancouver, Pittsburgh at New York, Buffalo at Ottawa and Ottawa at Buffalo) and players returning to their former home arenas (W Tom Kuhnhackl and F Joakim Nordstrom made their first trips back to Pittsburgh and Carolina, respectively, on Tuesday, while D Roman Polak is heading back to Toronto tonight), but we also get the added benefits of this year’s NHL Global Series between Florida and Winnipeg in Finland as well as an Eastern Conference Quarterfinal rematch between New Jersey and Tampa Bay.

However, with all of that being said, there’s another huge matchup happening this Thursday that rivals last week’s Toronto-Winnipeg showdown.

The reigning regular season conference champions are going at it tonight, so grab your popcorn and settle in to enjoy a great game!

Wait, what? This showdown isn’t on national T.V. in either Canada or the States, but a game between two one-win NFL teams is?

This is lunacy.

I’m not saying to stream this tilt by any means necessary, but I’m not saying not to stream this tilt by any means necessary.

Regardless of the legality of your decision, it’s a choice you certainly won’t regret as both the Preds and Bolts are off to hot starts this season, surely inspired at least somewhat by dreams left unfulfilled during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Both were their respective conferences’ No. 1 seeds this spring, but they both got knocked off on home ice in a winner-take-all Game 7 (the Predators fell to Winnipeg in the Second Round, while Tampa lost to Washington in the Eastern Conference Final).

At least Smashville got the Presidents’ Trophy, right? Not to mention its prestigious “Regular Season Western Conference Champions” banner.

Sorry, that’s the last time I’ll point out the Predators’ unprecedented award that should probably be penalized for excessive celebration.

Hopefully.

Just as they did last season, the 9-3-0 Predators currently sit atop the Central Division, the Western Conference and the NHL with the best record of all 31 teams.

The major reason for the Preds’ success is undoubtedly their goaltending tandem of 3-1-0 Pekka Rinne and 6-2-0 Juuse Saros. Even though they do have the luxury of playing behind the league’s 11th-best defense in terms of shots against per game (W Viktor Arvidsson‘s 12 takeaways, D Ryan Ellis‘ two blocks per game and F Zac Rinaldo‘s 2.3 hits per game have been major factors in Nashville’s 29.92 shots against per game), both have been integral in keeping the Predators’ goals allowed per game at 2.42 – the (t)third-best mark in the league. Both boast save percentages better than .915 and GAAs at or below 2.5, not to mention a shutout apiece.

After being activated from Injured Reserve yesterday (G Troy Grosenick made room on the roster by heading back to Milwaukee), it seems likely that Rinne will be the starter this evening. In his first five starts this season before going down with an undisclosed ailment, the Finn posted a .929 save percentage and 2.1 GAA – both of which are top-six among the 36 netminders with at least five starts to their credit.

Regardless of who’s in net, don’t focus too much on that or you’ll miss Nashville’s outstanding offense that ranks second-best in the conference and (t)sixth-best in the league by averaging 3.5 goals per game. In particular, no Predator has been as dominant as F Filip Forsberg, who’s 10-4-14 totals leave no doubt as to who’s the best scorer in Tennessee.

Forsberg’s 10 goals are (t)third-most in the NHL, trailing league-leaders F Patrick Kane (CHI) and RW David Pastrnak (BOS) by only one marker. After scoring a hat trick against Edmonton on Saturday (he scored all of Nashville’s goals in a 5-3 loss), the Swede was totally kept off the scoreboard Tuesday against Vegas, so he’ll be extra motivated to notch another tally tonight.

The team the Predators are leading for the Presidents’ Trophy are none other than the 8-2-1 Lightning, last season’s preseason darlings that have been ignored – rather unwisely, I might add – by the media in favor of division-rival Toronto so far this year.

The Leafs might be getting all the attention, but it’s business as usual in central Florida as the Bolts are leading the Eastern Conference just like last campaign. Tampa still boasts a dominant offense, not to mention a stellar goaltender and overpowering special teams.

Led from the second line by F Brayden Point and his 7-7-14 totals – not to mention RW Nikita Kucherov and F Yanni Gourde‘s respective 5-7-12 and 4-8-12 efforts – Tampa’s attack is among the most feared in the league, scoring 3.64 goals per game to rank third-best.

Only two days ago against New Jersey in an 8-3 victory, Point notched an outstanding five-point game, but if recent performances are any indication, he likely won’t find the scorecard tonight: his last five games saw him score 5, 0, 1, 0 and 3 points respectively.

Defensively, there’s not much to talk about with the Lightning since D Victor Hedman is still on Injured Reserve. The Bolts’ blue line has suffered during his absence, allowing a 12th-worst 32.36 shots against per game for the season.

However, who needs a defense when you have 6-1-1 G Andrei Vasilevskiy playing for your team? Vasilevskiy has already been confirmed to be starting this game and will look to improve upon his .935 save percentage and 1.98 GAA that both already rank top-five among the 36 goalies with at least five starts to their names.

If this game boils down to special teams, there’s no way the Lightning aren’t coming away with two points. Tampa Bay leads Nashville in both statistics, including owning the league’s top-rated penalty kill (93.2 percent) that will be more than enough to counteract anything the Preds’ fourth-worst power play (13.3 percent) can muster.

Similarly, Tampa Bay’s power play will be a Halloween hangover to the Predators tonight, as a 29.3 success rate is good enough to rank sixth-best in the NHL – especially when it gets to go to work against the 10th-worst penalty kill (75 percent).

If Nashville’s penalty kill is going to have any success, it should probably try to keep F J.T. Miller under wraps as much as possible. Of his 3-7-10 totals on the year, 3-2-5 have occurred with the man-advantage. If those numbers don’t communicate just how potent he’s been, Miller’s .571 power play face-off winning percentage and .429 power play shooting percentage should do the trick.

An interesting note surrounding this game is its location. While it would be assumed that the Lightning would have the advantage considering they are at home, their 5-1-0 record at Amalie Arena is challenged by the Predators’ outstanding 5-0-0 road mark. With that in mind, there is no doubt Smashville is going to throw everything it has at tonight’s host.

There’s no doubt that this is going to be a showdown of the ages, just as should be expected from the top two teams in the league. But which one wins?

That’s the tough question.

I’m going to go out on a limb and take the Predators tonight. I think their offense is more than good enough to take advantage of the Lightning’s weakened defense corps. That being said, Vasilevskiy is going to be a difficult wall to break (as should Rinne be for the Bolts), so I’m predicting only a 2-1 victory for the visitors.

Nashville Predators 2018-19 Season Preview

Nashville Predators

53-18-11, 117 points, Presidents’ Trophy winners

Lost in the Second Round to Winnipeg (4-3)

Additions: C Colin Blackwell, LW Connor Brickley, RW Rocco Grimaldi, D Dan Hamhuis, C Zachary Magwood, LW Zac Rinaldo, D Jarred Tinordi

Subtractions: C Cody Bass, LW Brandon Bollig, D Stefan Elliott, D Alexei Emelin, C Mike Fisher, D Petter Granberg, LW Scott Hartnell, G Anders Lindback, C Mark McNeil, G Matt O’Connor, D Rick Pinkston, D John Ramage, C Trevor Smith, D Scott Valentine, LW Harry Zolnierczyk

Re-signed: D Ryan Ellis, RW Ryan Hartman, W Miikka Salomaki, G Juuse Saros

Offseason Analysis: The Predators had all the ingredients of a Stanley Cup winner last year. The offense was solid, the defense was stifling, and the goaltending was world-class. They boasted largely the same group that had made it all the way to the Final in 16-17, so now they had the experience and know-how that allows teams to get to the promised land. They dominated the regular season and walked into the playoffs with a Vince McMahon-like strut. Mike Fisher was so confident in their abilities to win a Cup that he quite literally decided he’d rather get back into hockey shape and unretire to join them for the playoffs rather than stay home and be Carrie Underwood’s husband (she never did return my letters about being her fill-in husband while he was away).

After dispatching of the Avs in the First Round, though, the Preds encountered a problem. They encountered (arguably) the one team that was capable of beating them: the Winnipeg Jets. The knock-down, drag-out playoff matchup hockey fans and media were begging for was to be the downfall of the Preds. Winnipeg’s unrelenting physicality, superior offensive firepower and the shattering of Pekka Rinne‘s confidence were too much for the Preds to overcome, and they’d fall unceremoniously in a 5-1 home loss after managing to force a Game 7.

Luckily for the Nashville brass, the offseason they faced wasn’t supremely daunting. Apart from a few young RFA’s and some aging role players (plus the re-retirement of Fisher), they had no real NHL-level contract concerns. The core of the team was secure heading into the 18-19 campaign. But still the sting of defeat in back-to-back potential Cup-winning years hurt, and efforts to counter a potential third year of the same had to be made.

With no draft picks until the fourth round, GM David Poile instead focused on free agency to bring immediate help to his team. When things opened up on July 1, he first tasked himself with helping them from within, re-signing wingers Miikka Salomaki (two years, $750 thousand per) and Ryan Hartman (one year, $875 thousand) and young stud No. 2 goaltender Juuse Saros (three years, $1.5 million per) to very reasonable deals. He then snagged one of his former draft picks in Dan Hamhuis, inking the 35-year-old to a two-year, $2.5 million contract to replace the departed Alexei Emelin and solidify the defense. Poile then knocked a big task off of next year’s to-do list when he signed defenseman Ryan Ellis to an eight-year, $50 million contract extension ($6.25 million cap hit) that takes hold next summer. Ellis has grown into one of the Preds’ most versatile and reliable defenders, and Poile saw no reason to wait on locking him up for the foreseeable future.

Few other signings were notable names, mostly organizational depth, although newcomers Rocco Grimaldi, Zac Rinaldo, Colin Blackwell, and AHL-contracted Brian Cooper have made noise to this point in training camp and are all still on the preseason roster heading into the final days/cuts.

Up front, the lineup will look largely unchanged from last year’s group, with really only depth positions likely up for grabs. Winger Scott Hartnell was the only full-timer from last year to depart, and 2017 first round pick Eeli Tolvanen looks poised to inherit his place in the lineup. While lacking Hartnell’s snarl, Tolvanen is a deadly shooter and spent last year lighting up the Finnish Elite League as a rookie fresh out of the USHL. With success in a men’s league and experience on North American ice, Tolvanen should be ready for an NHL roster spot. The only other notable absence, at least to start the season, will be the lack of power forward winger Austin Watson. The 26-year-old was suspended for the first 27 games of the season after pleading no contest to charges of domestic battery over the summer. It comes after Watson finally solidified his place in the Predators lineup last season, and they’ll have to make due without his size and physicality for at least the first few months of the year.

In Watson’s absense, I have the opening night forward group looking like:
Forsberg – Johansen – Arvidsson
Fiala – Turris – Smith
Tolvanen – Bonino – Sissons
Salomaki – Jarnkrok – Hartman
Extra forwards Grimaldi and Frederick Gaudreau

The defense also only lost one regular from last year, and Hamhuis should step right into that slot. Really only the No. 6 slot to his right remains a question, and while Matt Irwin and Anthony Bitetto are more than capable, they both have an uphill battle to unseat Yannick Weber based solely upon the fact that he’s the only right handed shot among them. The only problem facing the Preds here is that none of the three are on two-way contracts, so basically they get to decide who they’re most comfortable putting on waivers. In the end I think Irwin’s NHL experience could give him the edge in that decision.

Defensive lineup should look like:
Josi – Ellis
Ekholm – Subban
Hamhuis – Weber
Extra defender Irwin

In goal, it’s Pekka Rinne and Jusse Saros. Sorry I couldn’t make that any more entertaining.

Er, well, it is a contract year for Rinne. So… umm… that’ll be interesting, I guess.

Offseason Grade: B

Less really was more, here.

Poile played it smart, as he often does. He kept his spending to a minimum (the Preds should enter the season with a smidge north of $8 million to play with) and used the depth he’s accumulated to still ice one of the better lineups in the league.

The defense is arguably the best (or at least top three) in the league, and none of the top seven are in contract years. (In fact, only four forwards likely to make the NHL club are to see free agency next year, and every one of them is still RFA eligible)

Rinne is likely looking at his last shot at a Cup as a No. 1 guy (he’ll turn 36 this year), so he’ll be leaving nothing on the table.

The forward group is solid, if not spectacular. But with all that aforementioned cap space available, scoring punch can certainly be brought in sometime before the deadline if it proves to be a concern heading towards the playoffs.

We haven’t seen the last of Smashville playoff runs.

Crashville: Preds crumble after strong start, Jets take 2-1 series lead

 

So, uh, which one of these teams is supposedly the one with the roster full of seasoned vets that have been there before and can’t be rattled, again?

In a series that was just about as hyped as Avengers: Infinity War, we expected to see plenty of crazy, unexpected stuff. But, much like with the film, I’m not sure many people expected to see (spoilers) half of the cast crumble to dust. Or, at least not the half that did in this game.

After answering an anomalous Game 1 drubbing by taking a thrilling double-overtime victory in Game 2, it looked like the Preds were back on track as the series shifted to Winnipeg’s raucous home ice. Clearly now with the early stumble in the past, the defending Western Conference champs would be able to rely upon their experience and battle-tested mental toughness to grab a hold of the series against a young, unproven Winnipeg roster.

In the first period, that narrative seemed pretty well spot-on.

Quickly and effectively quieting the thunderous atmosphere in the early going (shoutout to the crowd for a mid-anthem ‘TRUE NORTH’ that I’m pretty sure I felt here in Ohio), the Preds found paydirt just 4:53 into the game with a new-look fourth line featuring Ryan Hartman, Mike Fisher, and Miikka Salomaki (in for a banged up Calle Jarnkrok) when 37-year-old Fisher banged home a loose puck as it squeaked out from underneath of Connor Hellebuyck after he thought he had made the stop on a quick point shot set up by Hartman (who got buried by Dustin Byfuglien for his troubles).

The Jets tried to answer a few minutes later, as Nikolaj Ehlers and Paul Stastny combined on a beautiful criss-cross play entering the zone, eventually setting up Stastny all alone behind the defense, but Pekka Rinne had the answer for his backhand attempt.

Winnipeg’s momentum would be stifled shortly after, though, as the Predators would head to the power play. P.K. Subban (showered in the ever-present boos that I’m still not-at-all sure of the reason for) took a perfect one-time feed from Filip Forsberg at the top of the left circle and spanked it home through Hellebucyk. (It’s worth noting that the confusing boos became much less enthusiastic after this)

The energy of the play seemed to follow the energy of the building for the next few minutes, with very little of note outside of an unsuccessful Viktor Arvidsson breakaway attempt and a nearly-successful fake dump-in by Patrik Laine the only real highlights until Austin Watson picked up the puck on a bad Winnipeg change, walked in one-on-one against Josh Morrissey, and let go a seemingly-harmless wrister from a tough angle that eluded Hellebuyck, caught the far post and went in to give the Preds the 3-0 lead with 2:24 to play.

Rinne made a few solid stops in the waning minutes (including a stellar left pad stretch to deny Blake Wheeler as he picked up a deflected shot and tried to tuck it inside the left post) to preserve the lead and keep the crowd quiet heading into the first intermission. Predators leading 12-10 in shots after 20.

In the second period the tone changed immensely, and it began very early.

Jacob Trouba leveled Forsberg just inside the blueline in the first 30 seconds of the game to give the crowd some jump, and his team seemed to feed off of that. 3:38 into the period Winnipeg finally got on the board (although nobody besides Stastny noticed at the time) when a Byfuglien point shot caught Stastny’s skate and deflected past Rinne to bring the deficit to two goals.

Wheeler found himself staring at a yawning cage just under two minutes later when the puck came to him off of a Rinne misplay behind the net, but he fired the puck over the net trying to lift it over the top of a sprawling Rinne and Nick Bonino. As Wheeler tried to corral the puck along the boards, he was leveled by Watson, who got jumped by Mark Scheifele for his efforts. Both players went to the box, and just over 30 seconds into the resulting four-on-four it would be Big Buff blasting home the 3-2 goal after a beautiful zone entry and puck movement by Tyler Myers and Bryan Little. Then just 14 seconds later the roof came off of Bell MTS Place when Stastny, Wheeler, and Trouba connected for a gorgeous tic-tac-goal to tie the game at three with still over 14 minutes remaining in the second.

With his team rattled, Rinne seemed to take it upon himself to settle things back down, first gloving down a laser from Laine on a two-on-one, then later denying Wheeler on a point blank attempt on a beautiful passing play.

Despite the best efforts of the Nashville netminder, though, Winnipeg would take their first lead of the night with 44.7 seconds remaining in the period when Laine (locked and loaded taking a pass from Stastny who grabbed the puck on the rebound of a prior Laine shot) fooled everyone by firing the puck across the ice to Byfuglien who hammered home the one-timer from distance to put the Jets up 4-3. They’d carry that score (and a 16-6 shot advantage in the period) to the dressing room, looking to put away the Preds in the third.

The third period started with quite a few bangs. Trouba and Bonino got into a shoving match early on that eventually became a fairly lengthy fight between the two. Byfuglien just missed erasing Arvidsson from existence, then made up for it by stapling Hartman to the glass as the Nashville forward went to clear the puck out of his zone while killing a Winnipeg power play.

Unfortunately that hit would be about the only positive result for Winnipeg on their man advantage, and when Colton Sissons returned to the ice after serving his time, he immediately redeemed himself by drawing a penalty that would give the Predators the momentum swing they needed. Forsberg walked the line at the point before firing home a gorgeous wrist shot that beat a screened Hellebucyk and knotted the score at four with 12:20 remaining.

Nashville looked to have an opportunity to regain the lead shortly after the power play goal when Trouba mishandled the puck at his offensive blueline, giving Arvidsson a clear-cut breakaway. But Hellebuyck confidently and emphatically snagged the puck out of the air with his glove, bringing the arena back to life.

Byfuglien nearly had himself a hat trick a few minutes after the save (and resulting momentum switch), pouncing on a loose puck to create a two-on-one but having his bid denied by Rinne. He then once more narrowly missed demolishing a Predators player, this time being Subban who managed to avoid the hit at the last possible moment.

Ryan Ellis‘ tough series continued, this time taking a Byfuglien shot to the side of his face that didn’t get hacked open by a skate blade in Game 1. Luckily it was just a high-rising wrist shot without a ton of power behind it, and he’d shake it off fairly quickly.

Unfortunately for his team, though, it came when they were down a man and it took one of their best penalty killers off the ice. On the very next shift the Jets retook the lead for the final time when Wheeler buried the rebound of a Scheifele one-timer that he set up, giving Winnipeg the 5-4 lead with 4:59 to play.

Rinne was upset, as earlier in the sequence he had take a shot to the mask that seemed to break one of the straps of the helmet, but play was not called. Shortly after the goal, Adam Lowry attempted to steal the puck away from Rinne behind the net, and the Predators’ goaltender responded with a claymore-swing of his goal stick to the back of Lowry, putting Nashville down a man for the third time in quick succession in the final minutes of the game, this time when they were down a goal.

Bonino nearly played hero with a shorthanded goal, jumping on a loose puck in front of the Jets’ goal that no one but him seemed to be able to find, but Hellebucyk was able to blocker it away just in time.

Nashville was unable to mount much of an attack with the extra man after pulling Rinne, and Wheeler and Brandon Tanev (who extended his goal scoring streak to four games) added a pair of empty netters to seal a 7-4 Winnipeg victory in front of the hometown faithful.

In the end, it was Hellebucyk’s ability to settle down after a shaky start, and Nashville’s inability to counter momentum swings (and stay out of the box at crucial times) that played the biggest role in this one. It also didn’t hurt that Byfuglien may have played his best playoff game since his Cup run with the Blackhawks. What looks to be a very important Game 4 comes to you at 9:30 p.m. ET this Thursday (May 3) on NBCSN, and @nlanciani53 will have your DTFR recap coverage.

Hellebuyck steals Game 1 for Winnipeg

 

With 47 saves from First Star of the Game and Vezina finalist G Connor Hellebuyck, the Winnipeg Jets beat the Nashville Predators 4-1 at Bridgestone Arena in Game 1 of their Western Conference Semifinal.

Hockey is a bizarre, incredible game in that one side can absolutely dominate play by out-shooting the opposition 20-4 (yes, you read that correctly: only four shots on goal) in one period, yet it only takes one player to completely neutralize that assault.

Enter Hellebuyck, who came into the Second Round on the coattails of two consecutive shutouts to close out the Jets’ series against Minnesota.

Hellebuyck rejected every single offering that came his way in that first frame, including three power play shots while W Nikolaj Ehlers was in the penalty box for tripping Third Star W Kevin Fiala.

Admittedly, he benefited from the Predators failing to connect on at least two passes that would have provided the recipient a prime scoring opportunity on an open net, but it could also be argued that the Jets defense, though porous, did stand up at the biggest moments to help Hellebuyck keep the Preds at bay – especially by clearing most rebounds off the netminder’s pads.

Making things even better for the Jets, their fourth shot on goal of the game ended up being the first marker of this highly anticipated Central Division showdown series. With 5:09 remaining in the frame, W Brandon Tanev (F Bryan Little) collected the rebound of Little’s shot off G Pekka Rinne‘s stick and right skate, beating the netminder’s blade to the near post to give the Jets a one-goal lead.

A similar storyline continued in the second period. Hellebuyck was charged with making 16 more saves after the first intermission, and he performed beautifully – albeit with the help of his right post when F Filip Forsberg should have buried a power play slap shot on a gaping cage.

And just like in the first frame, the Jets rewarded him with goals at the other end of the rink. 9:01 into the second period, C Paul Stastny (RW Patrik Laine and Ehlers) completed Ehlers’ powerful drive into the offensive zone by scrapping out a wrister in the slot after two Rinne saves.

And only 1:22 after Forsberg missed his opportunity to snap Hellebuyck’s shutout, C Mark Scheifele (RW Blake Wheeler and LW Kyle Connor) turned Winnipeg’s successful penalty kill into a wrister with 2:09 remaining in the period. This goal was a stellar example of Winnipeg’s counterattack, as Wheeler sped into the offensive zone to give the Jets a three-on-three opportunity. After dropping a pass to Scheifele, it was all the center could do but rip his wrister past Rinne’s blocker for the Jets’ third goal.

Following the second intermission, Head Coach Peter Laviolette elected to lift Rinne – who’d saved 13-of-16 shots faced (.813 save percentage) through two periods – in favor of G Juuse Saros to try and send a message to his club.

That message was more than received, as Fiala (C Kyle Turris and D Ryan Ellis) finally squeaked a wrister past Hellebuyck 1:23 into the third frame to end his perfect run. Fiala was the recipient of a stellar centering touch pass from Turris along the goal line, quickly potting his second goal of this postseason to set the score at 3-1.

However, Nashville couldn’t build any positive energy from that tally. Even though the Preds fired another 10 shots at Hellebuyck in the remaining 18:37 of regulation, they simply couldn’t replicate that winning formula to pull any closer to Winnipeg.

That led to Saros departing his crease for an extra attacker, which allowed Scheifele (Wheeler) to close out the match by burying an empty-netter with 36 seconds remaining in regulation.

Statistically, there’s few things the Predators did wrong in this game. They dominated the face-off dot (Nashville won 66 percent of draws) and threw more hits (29-22) even though they easily out-shot Winnipeg 48-19.

Instead, Nashville’s focus should be on duplicating Fiala’s goal if it wants any chance of besting Hellebuyck and his 47-of-48 (.979 save percentage) in Game 2.

Speaking of, that contest is scheduled for 7 p.m. Eastern on Sunday, April 29. For those that don’t have the pleasure of being in attendance at Bridgestone Arena that night, they may view the game on CBC, NBCSN and TVAS.

Avs score three in first period, take Game 3

 

The old saying goes that a team is never behind in a playoff series until it loses a home match. With that in mind, the Colorado Avalanche beat the Nashville Predators 5-3 to win Game 3 and pull within a victory of leveling their First Round series.

The good news for the Predators is that G Juuse Saros saved all 18 shots he faced in his 33:34 of action.

The bad news is, of course, that he didn’t start the game.

Instead, that honor was bestowed upon G Pekka Rinne, who saved only 11-of-15 (.733 save percentage) before being lifted at the 4:25 mark of the second period.

Going back to the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals, this was the third-consecutive road playoff game that saw Rinne get chased from the crease, not to mention his fourth-consecutive road playoff loss.

The Avs have made a living in this series pouncing on Rinne early, and that trend was only magnified with the luxury of home ice when they buried three markers before the first intermission.

Just like in Games 1 and 2, the Avs scored the first goal when Third Star of the Game W Blake Comeau (F Carl Soderberg and W Matthew Nieto) buried a tip-in only 1:50 into play – Colorado’s first shot on net in the contest. That advantage doubled to two goals with 6:36 remaining in the frame when W Gabriel Bourque (D Patrik Nemeth and F J.T. Compher) scored another tip-in from a similar position as Comeau’s tally: right in front of Rinne’s crease.

Not to be outdone by his own bottom-six, First Star F Nathan MacKinnon made sure to get on the scoreboard 4:43 after Bourque’s marker by scoring a wrist shot with a breakaway-springing assist from Second Star LW Gabriel Landeskog.

MacKinnon’s next act not only proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back for Rinne, but it also ended up as the game-winning goal by the time the Predators’ comeback attempt was said and done.

4:22 into the second period, RW Mikko Rantanen did his best Serge Savard spin-o-rama impression to fire a centering pass from along the goal line. However, Landeskog was not able to corral the pass and the puck trickled towards the high slot. C Kyle Turris had an opportunity to take possession of the loose puck, but it bounced over his stick to MacKinnon, who was sure to pocket his wrister over Rinne’s right shoulder.

Now with a comfortable 4-0 advantage, Colorado made it its job to weather whatever resurgence Nashville was going to assuredly muster up. Unfortunately, that plan didn’t work to perfection when Nemeth and D Nikita Zadorov were both sent to the penalty box at the 9:27 mark of the second frame for respective cross checking and hooking penalties.

Handed a full two minutes of five-on-three play, the Preds did exactly what any good squad would do and took advantage of that opportunity. Nashville finally got on the scoreboard with 9:37 remaining in the second period to pull within a 4-1 deficit courtesy of a F Ryan Johansen (F Filip Forsberg and D Ryan Ellis) wrister.

While Nemeth was serving up the remainder of his penalty, G Jonathan Bernier decided it would be really neat to make a save with his neck. Ellis’ shot rode up on him and would have sneaked by had the netminder not squeezed the puck between his head and shoulder pads. As would be expected, Bernier took a second to recover from the play, but he stayed in the game.

Even though no more scoring occurred in the second frame after Johansen’s marker, Pepsi Center’s scoreboard operator still had much to do. Four more penalties occurred before the second intermission. Three of those infractions were against the Predators, including negating holding penalties between MacKinnon and D P.K. Subban. What doesn’t make the scorecard is why MacKinnon was holding Subban in the first place, as the Nova Scotian was on the receiving end of a questionable elbow. These teams are growing increasingly displeased with each other, and that is made even more apparent when the heavily-favored Predators struggle to get past Bernier and the Avs.

The closest Nashville got to a third period comeback occurred at the 7:12 mark when F Colton Sissons (D Roman Josi and Ellis) buried a wrister, but the Predators couldn’t make anything more out of that positive energy. That forced Head Coach Peter Laviolette to pull Saros for an extra attacker, allowing Landeskog (Rantanen and D Mark Barberio) to score an empty-netter with 1:36 remaining in regulation.

F Austin Watson did score a wrister 21 seconds later that was challenged for goaltender interference, but Toronto ruled it to be a good goal. Of course, it didn’t ultimately matter, as the Predators were unable to score two goals to level the game.

The Avalanche’s comeback is far from done, however. Game 4 is still an important match in this playoff series, as the Predators could go home with either a 2-2 tie or needing only one more win to advance to the Western Conference Semifinals. Game 4 is scheduled for 10 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday, April 18 at Pepsi Center. Fans can catch the game on NBCSN, SN and TVAS.

March 8 – Day 148 – Home ice advantage

Thursdays in the NHL never disappoint, as there’s a whopping 12 games on the slate this evening!

Like most nights, the action finds its start at 7 p.m. this evening with three games (Philadelphia at Boston [NHLN/SN], Winnipeg at New Jersey and Colorado at Columbus), followed half an hour later by four more (Buffalo at Ottawa [RDS2], Vegas at Detroit, the New York Rangers at Tampa Bay [TVAS] and Montréal at Florida [RDS]). Next up is Anaheim at Nashville, which drops the puck at 8 p.m. and is trailed half an hour later by Carolina at Chicago and the New York Islanders at Edmonton at 9 p.m. Finally, tonight’s co-nightcaps – Washington at Los Angeles (SN) and St. Louis at San Jose – drop the puck at 10:30 p.m. to close the evening out. All times Eastern.

More than a few of tonight’s games were circled on my calendar at the start of the year, including…

  • Philadelphia at Boston: The Flyers are playing their second rivalry game in as many days, traveling into snow-covered Boston.
  • Buffalo at Ottawa: The Sabres and Senators enjoyed a healthy rivalry in the mid-2000s. Let’s see if it gets revived tonight.
  • Vegas at Detroit: After spending his first seven seasons in Hockeytown, F Tomas Tatar is making his return with the Golden Knights tonight.
  • New York at Tampa Bay: Another deadline deal sent F Vladislav Namestnikov from Tampa – where he’s spent the first five seasons of his NHL career – to the Rangers.
  • Anaheim at Nashville: If playoff rematches get you excited, this is the game for you. The Predators beat the Ducks in six games last May.
  • Carolina at Chicago: G Scott Darling and D Trevor van Riemsdyk were both Blackhawks last season, but tonight they’ll be wearing white at United Center.
  • New York at Edmonton: D Brandon Davidson and RW Jordan Eberle swapped in their blue-and-orange Oilers sweaters for blue-and-orange Islanders sweaters.

What a selection of games! However, only one can be our focus tonight. Since the postseason is just around the corner, let’s look back to the Ducks and Predators’ playoff matchup from a season ago just in case it gets repeated this year.

 

If you’ll remember, Bridgestone Arena was an impassable fortress in favor of the Predators last postseason. They won both home games in the first round to complete their sweep of the Blackhawks and followed it up with three more wins – including the series-clinching Game 6 – against St. Louis to advance to the Western Conference Finals.

Then Anaheim showed up and spoiled the fun.

Though they’d surely heard the whispers roars about The Stone, the Ducks didn’t seem too daunted by one of the most impressive home ice advantages in recent memory. Having split the opening two games at Honda Center, the Ducks and Predators played a tight Game 3 to a 2-1 Nashville victory that saw D Roman Josi score the game-winner with 2:43 remaining in regulation, setting up an extremely important Game 4.

In that tilt, Anaheim survive a two-goal third period comeback (capped by F Filip Forsberg‘s game-tying marker with 36 seconds remaining in regulation) by Nashville that eventually led to a W Corey Perry overtime goal that snapped Nashville’s home winning streak and leveled the series at two games apiece.

A home loss like that can take the legs out from under a team, or it can reignite the fire in their competitive drive. It did the latter for the Predators in the conference final, as they headed back west to win 3-1 in Anaheim and pull within a victory of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Home ice didn’t disappoint for the Predators in Game 6, as they cruised to a 6-3 victory on the back of a C Colton Sissons hat trick.

That dominance that got 43-14-9 Smashville to the championship round a season ago is in full swing right now, as the Predators are currently riding an impressive nine-game winning streak.

It’s hard to argue with the offense Nashville has been exhibiting during this winning streak. Since February 19, the Predators have averaged a whopping 4.33 goals per game, the best mark in the NHL.

Managing 6-6-12 marks over this run to improve his season totals to 24-25-49, W Viktor Arvidsson has been a major part of this Nashville attack. However, he’s also had the support of the injured Josi (1-11-12 totals in his last six games played) and D Ryan Ellis (3-8-11 since February 19), as all three are currently averaging at least a point per game.

It is here where we find the dominance of the Predators, as only three of Ellis’ last 12 points have coincided with Arvidsson getting on the scorecard, meaning these two players have played in a combined 21 goals in the past nine games.

Talk about the entire team getting involved on the offensive attack.

Of course, all those goals do no good if the opposition can keep up on the scoreboard. Fortunately for Nashville, it has 36-9-4 G Pekka Rinne at its disposal.

Even though he’s been faced with an average of 32 shots per game during this run (16th in the NHL since February 19), Rinne has performed phenomenally to keep opposing offenses under his thumb. The Finn has posted an incredible .942 save percentage and 1.86 GAA in his last seven starts, improving his season marks to a .928 save percentage and 2.29 GAA.

However, Nashville is not the only team in tonight’s game currently riding a win streak. The 34-21-12 Ducks are rolling too, as they’ve won their last three games and have earned points in four-straight.

Just like with the Preds’ winning streak, Anaheim’s has also been sparked by some stellar offense. In all, seven players have averaged at least a point per game since February 25 – none of which have been better than C Ryan Getzlaf, who’s posted unbelievable 1-8-9 totals in his last three games played (he missed Friday’s win over the Blue Jackets due to illness) to average three points per game during this run. Linemate F Rickard Rakell has also been exemplary lately, as his 6-2-8 totals average out to two points per game in his last four showings.

In all, the 4.75 goals per game Anaheim has averaged since February 25 is tops in the NHL in that time.

The similarities between tonight’s opponents continues when we look towards the goal crease, as 25-15-6 G John Gibson has been in peak form in his last three starts. Since last Sunday, Gibson has posted an incredible .955 save percentage for a 1.67 GAA in spite of a defense that has allowed a dismal 38.5 shots against per game (third-worst in the NHL since February 25), improving his season marks to a .927 save percentage and 2.46 GAA.

Even though the Ducks will be in action again tomorrow night in Dallas, it has to be all but assured that Head Coach Randy Carlyle will deploy his best netminder against the best team in the Western Conference and save 8-5-6 G Ryan Miller for the Stars.

Much to the pleasure of the Ducks, who have yet to beat Nashville this season, tonight’s matchup is the finale of the three-game series between these clubs. Their first meeting was on November 3 at Honda Center, where the Preds won 5-3 in large part due to Josi’s one-goal, two-point night. Smashville followed up that victory with a much more competitive 3-2 shootout win at Bridgestone Arena, the site of tonight’s game, on December 2 (W Kevin Fiala took First Star honors).

With the top seed in the Western Conference (and therefore the Central Division) currently in their grasp, there is only one thing left for the Predators to compete for: the Presidents’ Trophy. Nashville’s 95 points are only one point fewer than Tampa’s, and the Preds have a game in hand. In other words, hold off on inscribing this year’s regular-season champion into the record books.

The Ducks could care less about a trophy they’ve never seen, as their sole focus is on holding on to second place in the Pacific Division. Four teams (Anaheim, San Jose, Los Angeles and Calgary) are competing for two division spots and are separated by only four points entering tonight’s action, and the Ducks have no wiggle room given the Sharks and Kings both have a game in hand on the team from Orange County.

This preview started with a recap about home dominance, and I think that’s where the preview must also end. Though the Ducks have been playing well lately – well enough, in fact, to upset many good teams in their own barns – Smashville is an entirely different animal. With their fans behind them, the Predators will simply be too strong tonight for the Ducks to beat them.


With a three-assist night from First Star of the Game C Sidney Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Philadelphia Flyers 5-2 at Wells Fargo Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Even though a total of seven goals were struck in this game, only one was registered in the first period. It belonged to RW Phil Kessel (F Evgeni Malkin and Crosby) and was a power play wrist shot with 1:25 remaining in the frame.

Facing a 1-0 deficit, the Flyers pulled back even 2:07 into the second period when Third Star RW Jakub Voracek (F Nolan Patrick) scored a tip-in, followed only 3:52 later by F Travis Konecny (F Claude Giroux and D Andrew MacDonald) setting the score at 2-1 with a wrister.

Unfortunately for Philadelphia, that was all the offense it could muster, meaning D Jamie Oleksiak‘s (D Justin Schultz and F Jake Guentzel) slap shot at the 9:24 mark leveled the game at 2-2. 5:01 later, Pittsburgh found its game-winner courtesy of Second Star W Conor Sheary (Crosby and Oleksiak).

After Oleksiak slung a pass his way from the left face-off circle in his own zone, Crosby did most of the work setting up a two-on-one advantage while advancing into the Flyers’ zone. The captain fired an initial wrister that G Petr Mrazek blocked, but Sheary was there to collect the rebound and complete the play with a backhanded shot.

The third period ended with a 4-2 score when Sheary (Guentzel and Crosby) scored a wrister 40 seconds before the second intermission. Malkin (LW Carl Hagelin and C Riley Sheahan) completed the game’s scoring with 1:41 remaining in regulation by burying a wrister into an empty net.

G Tristan Jarry earned the victory after saving 26-of-28 shots faced (.929 save percentage), leaving the loss to Mrazek, who saved 23-of-27 (.852).

Pittsburgh’s road victory snapped a seven-game winning streak by the 81-48-19 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The hosts now have only a 29-point advantage in the series.

February 27 – Day 139 – Atop the Central

The GMs had their fun yesterday. Now it’s time to see how their decisions pan out, as most teams have only 20 games separating them from the end of the regular season.

It’s a Tuesday in the NHL, so you know it’s going to be busy. Today’s slate of games includes nine fixtures, including three at 7 p.m. (Carolina at Boston, New Jersey at Pittsburgh [SN/TVAS] and Ottawa at Washington [RDS]) and Toronto at Florida half an hour later. A pair of tilts (St. Louis at Minnesota [NBCSN] and Nashville at Winnipeg) drop the puck at 8 p.m., while Calgary at Dallas waits 30 minutes before getting underway. Finally, tonight’s co-nightcaps – Los Angeles at Vegas (NBCSN) and Edmonton at San Jose – close out the night at 10:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

There’s two playoff rematches on tonight’s schedule, both involving the Western Quarterfinals from a year ago. The Blues eliminated the Wild in five games last year, while the Oilers needed six to knock off the Sharks.

However, last playoffs are in the rear-view  mirror at this point. Instead, the only game that can qualify as today’s featured is matchup is going down in Manitoba! To Canada we go!

 

Things have certainly been going 38-14-9 Nashville’s way lately, as it is currently riding a four-game winning streak.

The reason? The most imposing offense in the Western Conference since February 19 paired with the indomitable G Pekka Rinne.

Let’s start on the offensive end, where D Roman Josi (1-6-7 totals in his past four games) and D Ryan Ellis (1-5-6) are headlining an offense that has averaged an unbelievable 4.75 goals per game for the past week.

Of course, those first pair blueliners are just providing assists. Important as they may be, someone has to complete those plays.

Enter W Viktor Arvidsson, who’s posted 4-1-5 totals since February 19 to elevate his season marks to 22-20-42 – the best numbers of any forward in Nashville (of course, he has 12 more games played with the same number of points as F Filip Forsberg, but who’s keeping track of those kinds of things?).

What’s most inspiring about Arvidsson is knowing he has so much more to give. In only his third full season in the NHL, he’s coming off a 31-30-61 campaign last season that is statistically superior to the marks he’s earned so far this year in terms of points per game. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Arvidsson that scored 13 points in last season’s run to the Stanley Cup Final still has yet to show up, and the rest of the league should be very concerned when the Swede puts his foot firmly on the gas.

In total, six players are averaging at least a point-per-game during this winning streak: Josi, Ellis, Arvidsson, W Kevin Fiala (2-2-4 totals), F Ryan Johansen (1-3-4) and F Craig Smith (1-3-4).

Speaking of excellent players, 32-9-4 Rinne undoubtedly qualifies. He’s started three of Nashville’s last four games and posted an incredible .97 save percentage for a 1 GAA in spite of his defense allowing a (t)13th-worst 33.75 shots against per game since February 19. Not only has he improved his season numbers to a .928 save percentage and 2.27 GAA, but he’s also led the Preds to allowing only 1.25 goals against per game over this run, the best in the NHL in that time.

The 37-16-9 Jets have been pretty good themselves lately, as attested by their 5-1-0 record over their past six tilts.

Just like in Nashville, the primary reason for Winnipeg’s recent success has been an incredible offense. Since February 13, no attack in the Western Conference has been better than the Jets’, as they’ve averaged an impressive 4.82 goals per game in that time.

In that time span, no Jet has been better than American RW Blake Wheeler, who’s earned 4-8-12 totals in his last six showings and is riding an eight-game point streak.

Though Wheeler has been good, it hasn’t been just him providing the offensive sparks. D Dustin Byfuglien (1-10-11), C Mark Scheifele (4-6-10), RW Patrik Laine (6-3-9), D Tyler Myers (1-6-7) and W Nikolaj Ehlers (3-3-6) join the captain in averaging a point per game since February 13, forming three powerful lines of forwards and two stellar blueline pairs.

Where Winnipeg sets itself apart from its Central Division rival is on the defensive end, as the Jets have allowed only 31.17 shots against per game since February 13, the ninth-fewest in the league in that time. F Matt Hendricks (2.5 hits per game in the Jets’ last six games) and D Josh Morrissey (2.2 blocks per game during this run) have played major roles in that effort, and their success has made life very easy on 32-9-8 G Connor Hellebuyck, who’s been able to post a .934 save percentage and 2 GAA with his lighter work load to improve his season numbers to a .924 save percentage and 2.32 GAA.

There’s a lot on the line in this game. Not only are the Predators interested in putting some distance between themselves and the second-place Jets, but they’re also eyeing the Western Conference’s top seed. Should Smashville win and Vegas lose to Los Angeles in regulation, the Predators will pull into a tie for first place in the West. After taking tiebreakers into account, the Preds would take the lead in the conference based on their game in hand on the Knights.

As for Winnipeg, it can’t take the Central lead with a win tonight, but two points would certainly put even more pressure on the Predators than is already present. The Jets currently trail Nashville by only two points in the standings, but the Preds have a game in hand.

The Predators and Jets have squared off twice already this season, and they’ll meet up two more times after tonight before the end of the regular season. This is Nashville’s first trip to Manitoba this season, as it hosted the first two tilts. Home ice was indeed an advantage on November 20, as the Preds won 5-3 (Johansen took First Star honors with his two-point effort), but the Jets managed to win December 19’s tilt 6-4 (injured F Brandon Tanev scored the game-winner with 1:26 remaining in regulation) to level the season series at 1-1-0.

Big games like these come down to the small details and which team limits the opposition’s opportunities. With that in mind, I think Winnipeg’s defense will play a major role in leading the Jets to a home victory.


Though they needed a shootout to get the job done, the Tampa Bay Lightning defended Amalie Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day by beating the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3.

Whatever the second round of the playoffs looks like for the Atlantic Division, it’s sure to be a thriller. That much was apparent through only one period of action as a combined 18 shots were fired on goal. Three of those ended up on the scoreboard, starting with LW Chris Kunitz‘ (D Andrej Sustr and C Steven Stamkos) tip-in only 101 seconds into the game. Toronto pulled the score back even 7:08 later when LW James van Riemsdyk (D Ron Hainsey and D Morgan Rielly) buried a backhanded shot, followed by Second Star of the Game F Mitch Marner (D Jake Gardiner and D Nikita Zaitsev) setting the score at 2-1 at the 9:52 mark.

No more goals were struck until the 3:52 mark of the second period when C Tyler Johnson (First Star F Yanni Gourde) leveled the game with a wrap-around shot, and Third Star LW Adam Erne completed the frame’s scoring with an unassisted wrist shot with 4:42 remaining on the clock.

C Tyler Bozak‘s (Marner and Rielly) game-tying wrister was set up by D Braydon Coburn holding F Zach Hyman at the 4:40 mark of the third period. Only 47 seconds later, Bozak was taking advantage of the man-advantage to force three-on-three overtime.

Even the overtime frame lived up to the hype, as a total of seven shots on goal were fired between the two clubs. However, neither G Frederik Andersen nor G Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed one by, leading the game into the dreaded shootout.

  1. As home team, Tampa elected to take the first shot of the shootout, sending RW Ryan Callahan to center ice. Tried as he might, he wasn’t able to beat Andersen.
  2. F William Nylander met a similar fate when challenging Vasilevskiy, leaving the shootout score at 0-0 through the first round.
  3. F Brayden Point went five-for-seven in the shootout during his rookie season. Though he hasn’t quite found that success this year, he did beat Andersen this time to give Tampa the lead.
  4. Though he only has six points to show for his NHL career, RW Kasperi Kapanen was Head Coach Mike Babcock’s choice to level the shootout. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the youngster’s attempt was saved by Vasilevskiy.
  5. That set up a score-to-win situation for the Bolts, and it’s no surprise they turned to Gourde. However, his offering missed the net, setting up a miss-and-lose for Toronto.
  6. Van Riemsdyk was tasked with forcing extra frames, but he met the same fate as his teammates: saved by Vasilevskiy.

Vasilevskiy earned the victory after saving 27-of-30 shots faced (.9 save percentage), leaving the shootout loss to Andersen, who saved 39-of-42 (.929).

Last night’s Game of the Day was the third-consecutive featured matchup to require more than 60 minutes to determine a winner. With the 74-46-19 hosts winning, they’ve now earned a 20-point advantage over the roadies in the series.

February 7 – Day 119 – Caterpillars are Leaf Predators

Congratulations! You made it half-way through the work week. You deserve to celebrate, and there’s no better way to do it than by kicking your feet up and watching some hockey.

The evening’s festivities get a little bit later start than usual, as Nashville at Toronto (SN/TVAS) is waiting until 7:30 p.m. for its opening puck drop as compared to the usual 7 p.m. However, that means there’s only a half-hour wait for NBCSN’s Wednesday Night Rivalry, as Boston at the New York Rangers will get started at 8 p.m. Finally, tonight’s nightcap will see the green light at 10:30 p.m., featuring Edmonton at Los Angeles. All times Eastern.

Ironically, I circled…

  • Boston at New York: The Bruins are playing their second Original Six game in as many days. Tonight’s opponent: the hapless Rangers.
  • Edmonton at Los Angeles: Over two separate stints, F Mike Cammalleri has played six seasons with the Kings. Tonight marks his first return to Staples Center since being traded to the Oilers.

…earlier in the year, but the game I’m most drawn to tonight has to be the Predators vs. the Maple Leafs. Looks like we’re headed to Ontario for the second time in three days!

 

There’s no ignoring the Atlantic Division’s third-best team lately, as the 31-19-5 Maple Leafs are sporting an offense that can’t be stopped and pairing it with some exemplary play in net.

Since January 24, Toronto has posed a 5-1-0 record, and the offense has been a major reason for that. Averaging four goals per game, the Leafs are tied with Edmonton for the second-best attack in the league in that time.

Of course, what else should be expected of a group of forwards that features the talents of F William Nylander, C Nazem Kadri and C Auston Matthews? Nylander and Kadri in particular have been exceptional of late, as both have posted team-leading 3-5-8 totals over this run to improve their respective season marks to 12-29-41 and 17-16-33. However, it’s never wise to forget about Matthews, as he’s also posted 4-3-7 totals since January 24 to average more than a point-per-game over his past six appearances.

In addition to their stellar contributions, D Jake Gardiner is also doing more than his fair share from the blue line. In his past six games, he’s provided the Leafs’ attack with eight assists – all but one of which were at even-strength. In Monday’s game against the Ducks, he provided the lone assist on both of Nylander’s goals – one of which proved to be the game-winner.

After being forced from Monday’s game after suffering a collision with W Corey Perry, 25-15-4 G Frederik Andersen will be in net this evening. There was concern Andersen would be forced to miss time after the hit, but he seems ready to go.

Of course, if I’m a Predators forwards, I don’t necessarily know if I’d rather square off against Andersen or 6-4-0 G Curtis McElhinney, as both have been absolutely incredible of late – even behind a defense that has allowed a seventh-worst 33.83 shots against per game since January 24. In that time, both goalies have posted save percentages above .93 and GAAs under 2.3 – not to mention one shutout apiece.

Of note, Andersen has an 8-4-0 all-time record (regular and postseason) against Nashville and is currently riding a two-game winning streak against the club.

If the Leafs are bringing the offense, 32-12-7 Nashville is certainly capable of providing the defense. Since January 4, the second-best team in the Central Division has earned a 9-1-2 record by holding its opponents to a measly two goals per game, the second-best effort in the league in that time.

Let’s start with the defensive skaters, who’ve been playing absolutely out of their minds for the past month. Led by C Nick Bonino and W Kevin Fiala (both averaging a takeaway-per-game since January 4), D Ryan Ellis and D Roman Josi (both with two blocks per game in their past 12 showings) and D Alexei Emelin (2.8 hits-per-game over this stretch), Nashville has limited its opponents to a fourth-fewest 29.17 shots against per game.

There’s lots to like about the Preds’ defense, but what is most impressive to me is that it’s a total team effort that is leading to their success. Five players are leading three statistical categories, and many of their teammates are right behind them in production. Everybody buying into Head Coach Peter Laviolette‘s system is what makes this team great and a heavy favorite to qualify for at least the Western Finals.

Of course, it’s not like 27-8-3 G Pekka Rinne usually needs all that much help to keep the scoreboard clean anyways. After all, he has a solid .926 save percentage and 2.32 GAA on the season.

As can be expected with the defense in front of him playing so well lately, Rinne has been even better over his last eight starts. Since January 4, the Finn has posted a .932 save percentage and 1.85 GAA, both of which rank in the top-four in the league in that time.

Making this Predators team an even more daunting foe, the offense has provided the (t)eighth-best attack in the league over its past dozen games. With D P.K. Subban at the helm, averaging a point per game over this run with 4-8-12 marks to improve his season totals to 13-28-41, the Predators are scoring an average of 3.08 goals per game.

So, the important question is which team is going to come out on top of this high-flying matchup?

Nashville has been playing better, longer. As such, I’m leaning towards the Predators earning two points tonight at Air Canada Centre, even if they need overtime or the shootout to get the job done.


Though the Vegas Golden Knights staged an impressive third period comeback in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at PPG Paints Arena, they couldn’t get past the Pittsburgh Penguins, who won 5-4.

Even though Vegas would end up a goal short, it actually had a one-goal advantage going into the first intermission. C William Karlsson (F Jon Marchessault and W Reilly Smith) registered the lone marker of the frame, a power play snap shot 2:09 into the game.

6:34 into the second period, the Knights doubled their lead to 2-0 courtesy of a W James Neal (D Nate Schmidt and W David Perron) backhanded shot. However, the Knights couldn’t hold the Penguins’ offense at bay forever, and RW Ryan Reaves (C Riley Sheahan) finally broke through 4:34 after Neal’s tally to pull Pittsburgh back within a goal. The list of unpredictable goalscorers continued with 2:36 remaining in the period when D Ian Cole (W Bryan Rust and Second Star of the Game C Sidney Crosby) buried a snapper to level the game at 2-2, but he was followed by the more conventional striker F Jake Guentzel (Crosby and D Brian Dumoulin) only 1:16 later, who scored a slap shot to give the Pens their first lead of the game.

Pittsburgh came out firing in the third period, and with good reason considering Vegas’ eventual comeback. First Star F Evgeni Malkin (RW Phil Kessel) buried what was then an insurance goal 3:09 into the frame, and he was followed by a Kessel (Malkin and LW Carl Hagelin) brace that proved to be the game-winner.

Kessel may get credit for the goal, but his scoring opportunity was a direct result of some stellar puck moving by the Penguins’ offense. Hagelin carried the puck across the blue line into the offensive zone before passing to Kessel along the left boards. Since Hagelin continued driving towards Third Star G Marc-Andre Fleury‘s crease, Kessel proceeded to dump the puck behind the goal into the trapezoid for his fellow winger. Hagelin spotted a wide-open Malkin in the right face-off circle and set him up for a clean shot on Fleury’s cage, but the red-hot Russian instead elected to draw two defenders towards him before sneaking a pass behind C Cody Eakin to Kessel. Since Fleury had set up to save a shot from Malkin, he left the left side of his goal wide open, leaving an easy target for Kessel’s snapper to set the score at 5-2.

However, the action didn’t end there. Only 18 seconds after the horn stopped blaring for Kessel, a F Ryan Carpenter (RW Alex Tuch and F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare) wrist shot pulled the Knights back within a 5-3 deficit. The comeback became even more real when Marchessault (Smith) scored a wrister with 7:59 remaining in regulation to pull Vegas back within a goal, but G Matthew Murray refused to concede a fifth goal to ensure a Pens victory.

Murray earned the victory after saving 21-of-25 shots faced (.84 save percentage), leaving the loss to Fleury, who saved 33-of-38 (.868).

For the second straight night in the DtFR Game of the Day series, the home team allowed four goals but still earned the victory. As such, the hosts in the series have improved their record to 66-38-15, a whopping 27 points better than the visitors’.

January 16 – Day 101 – Bring your brooms

It’s Tuesday in the NHL! Let’s go!

The action starts at 7 p.m. with three contests (St. Louis at Toronto, New Jersey at the New York Islanders and Philadelphia at the New York Rangers [NBCSN/TVAS]), followed half an hour later by Dallas at Detroit. Next up is Vegas at Nashville (SN) at 8 p.m., trailed by San Jose at Arizona – tonight’s nightcap – an hour after. All times Eastern.

Teams on the bye: Buffalo, Calgary, Carolina, Chicago, Columbus, Edmonton, Florida, Minnesota, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Vancouver, Washington and Winnipeg.

There’s no doubt that the Flyers-Rangers rivalry will be in full swing this evening with both of them currently outside playoff position, but the game I’m most attracted to is taking place in Tennessee.

 

 

 

 

Hey Vegas: let’s take this show on the road.

The Western Conference-leading 29-10-3 Vegas Golden Knights begin their four-game eastern road trip this evening with a stop Music City.

While I’m sure a player or two might have forgotten something as simple as a pair of boxers or toothpaste, one thing I’m sure wasn’t left in the Silver State was the Knights’ winning ways. Since the beginning of December, Vegas has posted an incredible 14-2-2 record that includes an eight-game winning streak.

Go figure, but the Golden Knights have been really, really good during this impressive streak. They’ve scored a fourth-best 3.33 goals per game since the beginning while allowing a fourth-fewest 2.33 goals per game.

And it’s a wonder St. Louis and Winnipeg were able to beat Vegas in regulation.

Offensively, eight players have scored at least 10 points in Vegas’ last 18 games played. Of those, F Jon Marchessault has been the Knights’ stoic leader, posting 7-12-19 points over this run for a +15 rating. Of course, it’s hard to struggle with C William Karlsson and W Reilly Smith as linemates. Karlsson hs scored 10 goals during this run to lead the team, giving him a sixth-best 23 goals and third-best +22 on the season. Smith has also been impressive, as his +21 rating is (t)fourth-best in the NHL.

One of the reasons Vegas’ offense works so well is its blueliners are getting involved in plays. Led by D Colin Miller‘s 10 points, four defensemen have provided at least five points on the offensive end during this run.

To continue building, the main reason the defensemen can play like they do is because of 9-2-2 G Marc-Andre Fleury, who has been absolutely stellar. In his nine starts since the beginning of December, he’s posted an incredible .95 save percentage for a 1.54 GAA – the best marks in the league since then among the 47 netminders with at least six starts to their credit.

In the home corner, no one is writing home about 25-11-6 Nashville’s offense. Over their past five games since December 30, the Preds – who currently occupy second place in the Central Division – have managed only a fifth-worst 2.2 goals per game. However, with a defense that allows a (t)third-best two goals per game, that’s more than enough to earn points in four of those five contests.

With no disrespect to 21-8-3 G Pekka Rinne, all the credit for this success belongs to Head Coach Peter Laviolette‘s defensive corps. Led by D Ryan Ellis (2.5 blocks-per-game since December 30), W Miikka Salomaki (3.3 hits-per-game over his past four games) and F Craig Smith (four takeaways since December 30), Smashville has allowed a league-best 28 shots against per game since December 30.

Of course, with such a light workload, it’s hard to Rinne to struggle. Though his .929 save percentage and 2.03 GAA over his past three starts isn’t anything gravity-defying, the fact that he’s allowed only six goals in that time is more than enough to get the job done.

Tonight’s contest is the finale of the three-game series between the Predators and Golden Knights. Vegas is certainly looking forward to this one, as it has the opportunity to complete its first season sweep in franchise history. Though they needed the shootout, the Knights beat the Preds 4-3 in their first trip to Bridgestone Arena on December 8, but they did much better defending T-Mobile Arena. Led by First Star Fleury’s shutout, Vegas claimed a 3-0 victory on January 2.

There’s no stopping Vegas lately. Given their success on the season already against the Predators, I have a no doubts the Golden Knights will earn yet another victory tonight.


In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the San Jose Sharks beat the Los Angeles Kings 4-1 at Staples Center.

First Star of the Game C Chris Tierney (RW Joonas Donskoi and Second Star D Dylan DeMelo) took credit for the lone goal of the first period, a wrist shot buried 4:38 into the frame.

8:52 into the second frame, F Barclay Goodrow (DeMelo and D Brenden Dillon) provided the game-winning marker. After receiving a pass from Dillon at the blue line, DeMelo began his attack on G Darcy Kuemper‘s net from along the right boards. He ripped a wrister from near the face-off dot that Kuemper easily deflected, but Goodrow – who was following the play by driving towards the crease – was able to collect the rebound and send his wrister towards the near post.

San Jose’s goal-per-period scoring rate continued in the third period when W Mikkel Boedker (Donskoi and Tierney) buried a backhanded shot 9:11 into play. The 3-0 hole was apparently enough to light a fire in F Trevor Lewis‘ (W Marian Gaborik and F Adrian Kempe) belly, as he scored with 7:18 remaining in regulation to pull the Kings back within a two-goal deficit, but C Joe Thornton (D Justin Braun and D Marc-Edouard Vlasic) eliminated any chance of a Los Angeles comeback with a wrister into an empty net with 20 ticks remaining on the clock.

Third Star G Martin Jones saved 35-of-36 shots faced (.972 save percentage) to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Kuemper, who saved 29-of-32 (.906).

In the DtFR Game of the Day series, road teams reign supreme of late. They’ve won five of the last six games to pull within 18 points of the 55-34-12 hosts.

January 2 – Day 87 – Ellis in, Forsberg out

After yesterday’s boring schedule with only one game, it’s time to get the league back in action with a dozen contests tonight.

As it usually does on a weeknight, the action starts at 7 p.m. with four matchups (Tampa Bay at Toronto [TVAS], Boston at the New York Islanders [SN], Pittsburgh at Philadelphia [NBCSN] and Washington at Carolina), followed half an hour later by San Jose at Montréal (RDS/TSN2). 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of the next two games (New Jersey at St. Louis and Florida at Minnesota), while Columbus at Dallas waits 30 minutes before getting underway. Winnipeg at Colorado is the next contest to get started at 9 p.m., followed half an hour later by Los Angeles at Edmonton (NBCSN) and tonight’s co-nightcaps – Anaheim at Vancouver and Nashville at Vegas – at 10 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

There’s more than a few of today’s contests that stick out…

  • Pittsburgh at Philadelphia: If rivalries are what get you going, this is the game for you.
  • Los Angeles at Edmonton: Maybe F Jussi Jokinen‘s trade can reignite this C Wayne Gretzky-era rivalry? That’s probably super optimistic.
  • Anaheim at Vancouver: Speaking players making a return to a former home arena, G Ryan Miller spent the last three seasons calling Rogers Arena home.
  • Nashville at Vegas: D Alexei Emelin was a Golden Knight for 10 days this summer, so does this count as a homecoming?

Of that list, there’s no matchup more exciting than the Predators’ visit to Sin City!

 

I know we’ve featured both these clubs in the past seven days, but how can we possibly ignore a matchup between two of the top four teams in the NHL?

If there’s one thing to expect from this game, it’s offense. The 26-9-2 Golden Knights and 23-10-5 Predators are both among the top-seven offenses in the league, averaging more than three goals per game.

For Vegas, which averages a second-best 3.51 goals per game and has won seven-straight games, that attack is led by none other than F Jon Marchessault and his team-leading 14-22-36 totals. Although he started the season with only a 3-3-6 effort in eight October games, he’s exploded in the past two months to be the only Knight to average more than a point-per-game on the season.

Of course, that does disrespect C William Karlsson at least a little, because he’s been absolutely exemplary himself. No one on Vegas’ roster has scored more goals than Karlsson, and his 20 tallies are good enough to put him in sixth-place in the race for the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy.

Meanwhile, the Predators’ offense – which is usually very strong and manages a seventh-best 3.16 goals-per-game – may be in disarray this evening with F Filip Forsberg on injured reserve with an upper-body injury. Forsberg still leads the team with his 15-19-34 totals, but his departure leaves D P.K. Subban as the club’s active leading scorer with 9-20-29 totals.

Fortunately for the Preds, they have already played a game without Forsberg against Minnesota. Nashville was able to win that game 3-0 at Bridgestone Arena on Saturday, but the Wild are definitely an inferior opponent in comparison to Vegas. The main reason for that victory was undoubtedly the stellar play of 4-3-2 G Juuse Saros (he saved all 29 shots he faced), and 19-7-3 G Pekka Rinne may need to duplicate that performance for Nashville to earn points from tonight’s contest.

Of course, if anybody can do it, I’d put my money on Rinne. After all, he’s already managed three shutouts this season ([t]fourth-most in the league) in addition to his other 16 wins (fifth-most in the NHL) on the back of his .924 save percentage (seventh-best in the league) and 2.47 GAA (10th-best in the NHL).

I’ll just let all those stats sink in for a moment. Yes, he’s good.

But don’t think Rinne is the only solid goaltender in today’s game. G Marc-Andre Fleury is the one that comes in with three Stanley Cup rings and a 7-1-1 record on the season. He’s posted a .938 save percentage for a 1.96 GAA on the season, both of which are superior to Rinne’s numbers.

These teams have already tangled once before this season, and that contest was a real thriller. In W James Neal‘s first game back in Nashville on December 8, he and W Reilly Smith led the Golden Knights to a 4-3 shootout victory. I feel safe in saying we might be in line for an equally competitive game tonight.

With Forsberg being out of the lineup, I question if Nashville’s offense will be able to keep up with the Golden Knights. Even with D Ryan Ellis making his season debut tonight, unless Rinne simply plays out of his mind – which is certainly a possibility – all signs are pointing towards a Vegas victory.


The New York Rangers needed overtime, but they beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 in the Winter Classic yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Citi Field.

The Blueshirts exploded out of the gate, as they scored both their regulation goals in the first period. F Paul Carey (RW Jesper Fast and F Boo Nieves) opened the scoring 4:09 into the period and W Michael Grabner (Third Star of the Game F Kevin Hayes and First Star F J.T. Miller) set the score at 2-0 only 4:11 later.

The next two goals were struck by Buffalo, and both tallies took place within the first minute of each of the remaining periods. F Sam Reinhart (RW Kyle Okposo and D Rasmus Ristolainen) was the first Sabre to find the back of the net, but he got some help from D Nick Holden when he was caught hooking Okposo with 23 seconds remaining in the first period. 56 ticks into the middle frame, Reinhart buried a power play wrist shot to pull the Sabres back within a goal.

Ristolainen (F Ryan O’Reilly and Okposo) needed no such advantage when he scored 27 seconds into the third period. It wasn’t exactly a strong wrister from the blue line, but it was enough to get past G Henrik Lundqvist and level the game.

It seems power play goals were the way to take control of scoring in this game, because New York found its game-winner while on the man-advantage. At the 2:15 mark of the five minute three-on-three overtime period, F Jacob Josefson was caught tripping W Jimmy Vesey to earn himself a seat in the penalty box.

That’s what set up the four-on-three advantage that led to Miller’s (D Kevin Shattenkirk and W Mats Zuccarello) backhanded goal that beat Second Star G Robin Lehner. Only 28 after play had resumed from Josefson’s infraction, Shattenkirk fired a wrist shot on goal that Lehner was able to deflect with ease. However, he wasn’t able to contain the rebound, which allowed Miller to collect the puck and tap it into a gaping cage.

Lundqvist earned the victory after saving 31-of-33 shots faced (.939 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Lehner, who saved 39-of-42 (.929).

Even though the game was played in Queens and not the Queen City, the Rangers played the role of road team in this season’s Winter Classic, meaning they snapped the three-game winning streak DtFR Game of the Day hosts were riding in the series. However, those home teams still lead the series by 23 points with a 49-27-11 record.