Tag Archives: Ellis

November 16 – Day 44 – Defense is a Boughner

Fantasy hockey players, consider this your alert: with a dozen games on the schedule, there’s tons of points to be earned tonight!

Like they do most nights, the festivities begin at 7 p.m. when two games (New Jersey at Toronto and Carolina at the New York Islanders), followed half an hour later by three more (Arizona at Montréal [RDS/TSN2], Pittsburgh at Ottawa [RDS2] and Dallas at Tampa Bay). 8 p.m. marks the start of two contests (Nashville at Minnesota and Philadelphia at Winnipeg) with another pair (Washington at Colorado and St. Louis at Edmonton) waiting an hour before getting underway. Vegas at Vancouver gets green-lit at 10 p.m. and tonight’s nightcaps – Boston at Los Angeles (SN) and Florida at San Jose – close things out half an hour later. All times Eastern.

There’s quite a few games that have caught my eye this evening. That list includes:

  • Pittsburgh at Ottawa: It’s the first of three rematches of last season’s Eastern Conference Finals.
  • Dallas at Tampa Bay: Welcome home G Ben Bishop; welcome home.
  • Vegas at Vancouver: D Luca Sbisa called British Columbia home for three seasons, but he’s traded his Vancouver digs for a pad in Sin City.
  • Florida at San Jose: For the last two years, Bob Boughner was an assistant coach for Head Coach Peter DeBoer in San Jose. Tonight, he’ll square off against him as the 15th head coach in Panthers history.

It’s a tough selection among those four, but I have a great way to determine which game is the DtFR Game of the Day: we’ve featured 30 of 31 NHL teams in the series so far, but the one club that escapes us is the Panthers. It’s time to resolve that today.

 

I don’t think you really understand how happy it makes me each year to say we’ve featured every club at least once in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Of course, the Panthers haven’t exactly done themselves any favors with 14 points in the standings…

Regardless of Florida’s current situation, there’s no doubt of Boughner’s ability as a coach. He’s been a head man before, even if his experience wasn’t in the NHL. For eight total seasons (two four-year terms) he was the skipper his hometown OHL team, the Windsor Spitfires. In particular, his first stint with the club was certainly noteworthy. After missing the playoffs in 2006-’07, his first season coaching the organization, he built the Spitfires into a team capable of winning back-to-back Memorial Cups in 2009 and ’10.

Of course, what can you expect from a team that featured the likes of D Ryan Ellis, D Cam Fowler, G Philipp Grubauer, F Taylor Hall, F Adam Henrique, RW Zack Kassian and F Austin Watson?

Winning two CHL championships is a good way to get noticed by the big kids in the hockey business, and Boughner was hired as an assistant coach to Scott Arniel with the Blue Jackets in 2010-’11 before returning to Windsor a year later.

His second four-year stint with the Spitfires was nowhere near as good as his first (given, winning back-to-back titles is a tough act to replicate), as he only qualified Windsor for the OHL playoffs two times – both times falling in the first round.

Following 2014-’15’s failure to reach the postseason, Boughner returned to the NHL as an assistant coach for DeBoer in San Jose, working primarily with D Brent Burns and the defense. The Sharks found much success in Boughner’s two years with the club, as they qualified for their first-ever Stanley Cup Finals in 2016.

And that brings us to present day. Since being hired as the Panthers head coach on June 12, he’s led the club to a not-so-great 6-9-2 record that – as I indicated in my season preview – I blame almost entirely on General Manager Dale Tallon.

As the saying goes, “If it walks like a duck, flies like a duck and sounds like a duck, it’s probably a duck.” Well, these Panthers are definitely no Anaheim Ducks. Even though I’m sure Boughner – a former defenseman with 10 seasons of NHL experience – is telling his blueliners all his tips and tricks, Florida is the worst defense in the NHL as measured by shots against-per-game, as their 36.6 is 1.1 more than second-worst New Jersey.

Given the obnoxious number of shots it allows, perhaps it’s no surprise Florida has registered the sixth-fewest blocks so far this season. I usually hold D Aaron Ekblad in high esteem, but as one of, if not the best defenseman on this team, his 1.5 blocks-per-game are definitely not cutting it.

Even D Andy Greene, who plays for a nominally better defense in Jersey, has managed 2.1 blocks-per-game this year. Good leaders lead by example, and Ekblad needs to do that if he wants any chance of a positive future for this Panthers organization – especially since he’s locked in with this team until the end of the 2024-’25 season.

Maybe the Panthers are a more violent team; maybe that’s how they are trying to play defense. Guess again, because Florida’s 320 hits are fifth-fewest in the NHL.

Making matters worse, F Derek MacKenzie, whose 37 hits lead the team, is currently listed as day-to-day and it is uncertain if he’ll be able to return to the ice for the first time since getting injured early in Saturday’s game against the Devils. If he’s not ready to play and D Alex Petrovic is still banished to the press box with his team-leading three hits-per-game, F Micheal Haley and his 1.8 hits-per-game would take over as the Panthers’ primary muscle.

What all of this means is 3-3-1 G Roberto Luongo should probably be commended for his .919 save percentage and 3.09 GAA. He’s doing the best he can to provide the league’s (t)ninth-best offense a chance every night he takes to the crease.

Last thing about the Panthers before we talk Sharks real quick: that offense, though. Jonathan Huberdeau (7-14-21 totals) and Vincent Trocheck (8-10-18) are absolute studs, as they’ve racked up all those points on separate lines. Snoozing on Florida’s offense is a recipe for disaster, and G Martin Jones would be wise to treat every attack from the top-two lines just like he would against the other team in the Sunshine State.

That’s actually as good a transition as any, because 10-6-0 San Jose makes a living out of rejecting even the best of offenses, allowing a league-leading 2.25 goals against-per-game.

Perhaps Boughner can use the Sharks’ defense – the same defense he helped build – as a teaching tool for his club, because there’s few blue lines in the league better than San Jose’s. Though 8-4-0 Jones has been solid with his .925 save percentage, it’s the fact that D Justin Braun (2.4 blocks-per-game), D Brenden Dillon (3.1 hits-per-game) and co. have allowed only 28.8 shots against-per-game that has earned the Sharks third place in the Pacific Division.

In my opinion, one of the best indicators of a really good defense is finding success with a man in the penalty box. The Sharks pass that test with flying colors (I can only assume those colors are teal and orange), as their 88.5 percent kill rate is second-best in the NHL. Considering the Panthers’ power play is (t)12th-worst in the league, they shouldn’t have too much trouble keeping those numbers up tonight.

Florida’s offense squares up rather nicely with San Jose’s defense, and the Sharks’ sixth-worst attack might find it in them to struggle against the Panthers’ defense. If that proves to be the case, I give the edge to San Jose since it’s playing at home and it has Jones at its disposal.


With a third period hat trick by First Star of the Game F Artem Anisimov, the Chicago Blackhawks beat the New York Rangers 6-3 at the United Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Anisimov’s (F Patrick Kane and Second Star F Nick Schmaltz) first goal of the game wasn’t struck until the 1:07 mark of the third period, leaving him only 18:53 to complete his performance. After F John Hayden (D Cody Franson and D Duncan Keith) set the score at 3-1 46 seconds after Anisimov’s first goal, the Russian struck again (Franson and Schmaltz) at the 5:14 mark with a power play wrist shot.

Since his second goal proved to be the game-winner, I suppose we’ll let it be the most important of Anisimov’s night, but his tip-in with 3:48 remaining in regulation (Schmaltz and RW Richard Panik) to send headgear flying has to earn silver. That tally set the score at 5-3 and was followed 2:18 later by C Jonathan Toews‘ (Panik and D Brent Seabrook) fifth marker of the season to set the 6-3 final on an empty net.

Making tonight’s win even sweeter for the Hawks, it technically counts as a come-from-behind victory due to C Mika Zibanejad‘s (F Chris Kreider and W Pavel Buchnevich) wrister 9:58 into the first period. He gave the Rangers a one-goal advantage that lasted 29:10 before Third Star W Alex DeBrincat (Panik and Keith) sneaked a wrister past G Henrik Lundqvist with 52 seconds remaining in the second period to level the game.

The Blueshirts also put up a strong fight in the middle of the final frame, as they scored two goals between Anisimov’s second and third. F Kevin Hayes (W Mats Zuccarello and W Rick Nash) takes credit for the first at the 7:08 mark with a wrister, followed 4:48 later by an unassisted Nash backhanded shot to set the score at 4-3 in favor of Chicago. Momentum was certainly on New York’s side at that moment, but the fact that the Hawks’ defense allowed only nine shots on goal in both the second and third periods put a halt to that positive energy rather quickly.

G Corey Crawford earned the victory after saving 25-of-28 shots faced (.893 save percentage), leaving the loss to Lundqvist, who saved 30-of-34 (.882). King Henrik was lifted after Anisimov’s second goal in favor of G Ondrej Pavelec, who completed the game saving seven-of-eight (.875) for no decision.

Not only is this the second-straight 6-3 score in the DtFR Game of the Day series, but it’s also the third-straight victory by the now 23-16-5 home teams who now have a six-point advantage over the roadies.

November 3 – Day 31 – Campbell Bowl rematch

This had better be an exciting weekend of hockey, because Friday’s slate of games is extremely light. The action doesn’t start until 9 p.m. Eastern time when New Jersey visits Edmonton (NHLN/SN/TVAS), which is followed an hour later by tonight’s nightcap: Nashville at Anaheim.

There’s little more fun to feature than a rematch of last season’s playoffs, and that’s exactly what we get at the Honda Center this evening.

 

Who can forget last May’s thrilling Conference Finals series between these clubs? Even though C Ryan Getzlaf and the Ducks were the lone Western Conference team to escape Bridgestone Arena’s crazy atmosphere with a victory last postseason (a 3-2 overtime win in Game 4 to level the series at two-apiece), they could do nothing to break through G Pekka Rinne only two days later at the Honda Center, and even less to stop C Colton Sissons‘ Game 6 hat trick to send the Preds to their first-ever Stanley Cup Final.

And even though that was last season, don’t think for even one minute that the Ducks aren’t interested in exacting a little revenge against Nashville for stealing home ice away from them.

If 6-5-1 Anaheim wants to do that, it’ll need to improve on October’s limited chemistry. So far, the Ducks have struggled to find a good rhythm due to D Kevin Bieksa, W Patrick Eaves, D Cam Fowler, Getzlaf and F Ryan Kesler all being on injured reserve.

Yes, you read that correctly: all five of those players are injured right now. With the exception of Eaves, who was a trade deadline acquisition last February, all of those players have been staples of the Ducks’ lineup since at least the 2015-’16 season.

Getzlaf’s absence is certainly the most notable, as he’s been a member of the club since its Mighty Ducks days. If you put much stock in Hockey Reference’s point shares statistic, Getzlaf has been responsible for an average of 7.6 points in the standings per season since his 2005-’06 debut (to compare, Anaheim’s leading skater in point shares last season was Fowler, who individually accounted for 8.3 of the Ducks’ 105 points). Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Anaheim is only 2-3-1 when Getzlaf is not in the lineup this year.

Want something a little bit more tangible? Getzlaf has scored .95 points-per-game for his entire career. Considering Anaheim has managed only one goal in three of the four contests he’s missed, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to assume the captain could have provided a spark in at least one of those games.

Meanwhile, the Predators have had an even poorer start to the season with fewer excuses than the Ducks. C Nick Bonino and D Ryan Ellis are both on injured reserve, but I don’t think that’s the main source of Nashville’s problems.

Instead, I point to an anemic offense that has only managed 2.33 goals-per-game on 29 shots-per-game, both rates that are third-worst in the NHL.

Scoring was all W Viktor Arvidsson and F Ryan Johansen could do last season, as both registered an impressive 61 points to lead Nashville’s attack (Arvidsson won the goals-scored tiebreaker with his 31-30-61 totals). This year, they’ve combined for only 11 points – a total C Steven Stamkos and his 24 points are laughing at from atop the Art Ross Trophy leader board.

Last season, shooting the puck like it was going out of style was a patented trademark of this Predators club, as they fired 31.2 shots-per-game to rank sixth in the statistic. Considering Arvidsson leads the team in shots (he’s fired 43 in 12 games played), I’d bank on his .07 shooting percentage back towards last season’s 12.6 percent sooner than later.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that F Filip Forsberg, who has fired 32 shots this season to rank third on the team, is leading the squad with his 8-5-13 totals (yes, he’s rocking a wildly impressive .25 shooting percentage). I expect that if more Predators follow his lead – followed by linemates converging on the crease like a basketball team grabbing at a rebound – and fire the puck more often, Nashville should start seeing improvements.

Neither of these clubs are bad teams, they’re just not playing well right now. With the Predators riding a two-game losing skid right now and the Ducks being at home, I like Anaheim to pull this game out and earn two points.


In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Washington Capitals held on to beat the New York Islanders 4-3 at Capital One Arena.

With both clubs scoring at least one goal each period, Washington won this game in the first period, in one school of thought, by tickling the twine twice. The Caps were the first to get on the board courtesy of D Taylor Chorney‘s (F Chandler Stephenson and First Star of the Game C Lars Eller) first goal of the season, struck 5:55 into the contest. The Islanders’ Sandwich Line answered the goal 7:06 later when C John Tavares (Second Star F Anders Lee and F Josh Bailey) buried a power play wrist shot. The final goal of the period belonged to Eller (Stephenson and D Madison Bowey), who scored a slap shot with 3:41 remaining before the first intermission to set the score at 2-1.

With another power play tally – this time by Lee (Bailey and C Mathew Barzal) – with 3:42 remaining in the second period, New York once again leveled the game, but this tie lasted even less time than the first as RW Alex Chiasson (Third Star D John Carlson and F Jay Beagle) buried a slapper only 12 seconds later to reclaim a 3-2 advantage for Washington.

Another new period, another opportunity for the Islanders to level the game. With his second goal of the night, Lee (D Thomas Hickey and Tavares) forced another tie seven minutes into the third period.

The game remained at three-all until only 3:21 remained in regulation. That’s when Eller (RW Tom Wilson and Carlson) scored his game-winning snap shot. Thanks to a quick leading pass into the neutral zone from Carlson to set up a breakaway opportunity for the Capitals, Eller had a clear shot from the top of the right face-off circle on G Jaroslav Halak. With that opportunity, he fired a snapper glove-side to beat the netminder to the near post.

Though the Sandwich Line took two more shifts to try to level the game in the remaining time, they could not beat G Braden Holtby to force overtime.

If the NHL gave out four stars, this game’s would absolutely be Holtby. Though he did give up three goals, he saved 35-of-38 shots faced (.921 save percentage) to earn the victory. That left the loss to Halak, who saved 15-of-19 (.789).

The Capitals’ home victory snapped a two-game winning streak by visiting teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, giving hosts a 17-10-4 record that is eight points better than the visitors’.

October 27 – Day 24 – They’re at it again

Thank goodness that work is finally done for the week. Time to sit back and take in the weekend’s hockey!

The weekend starts early in Vegas, as a 3 p.m. local start time against Colorado (TVAS) means a 6 p.m. puck drop on the East Coast. The usual starting time of 7 p.m. brings with it two contests (Ottawa at New Jersey [RDS2] and Winnipeg at Columbus), followed by St. Louis at Carolina half an hour later. Nashville pays a visit to Chicago (NHLN/TVAS) at 8:30 p.m., with tonight’s nightcap – Dallas at Calgary (SN360) – waiting until 9 p.m. to get underway.

All times Eastern unless otherwise noted.

I was going to complain about featuring the second Nashville at Chicago matchup of a season that is not even a month old, but upon remembering how competitive and entertaining their first meeting was, there’s no other choice! To the Windy City we go!

 

Now, with this being the second time in two weeks that this matchup has been featured, I’m sure I don’t need to rehash how the Predators swept the Hawks in four games by a combined score of 13-3 that included two shutouts. I’m sure I also don’t need to go over how the eighth-seeded Preds went on to win the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl.

Oh, I guess I just did anyways. As a fan of one of Chicago’s rivals, I guess I simply couldn’t help myself.

Whether or not that playoff elimination still motivates the Blackhawks against Nashville (I’d bet the house it does), we have more current data to help us preview and predict this game.

For starters, we know that the Hawks needed overtime to secure a 2-1 victory at the United Center the last time these squads met on October 14. You can read a slightly more in-depth recap here, but the main thing to know is, with the help of LW Scott Hartnell and D P.K. Subban, F Filip Forsberg got Nashville on the board late in the second period before F Patrick Sharp (F John Hayden and D Cody Franson) leveled the game in the closing six minutes of regulation and W Brandon Saad (F Patrick Kane and D Duncan Keith) cleaned things up in overtime.

If only everything in life was as simple as a one-sentence game recap.

That low scoring affair proved to be a sign of things to come, as both teams have scored only a total of nine goals in four games played since departing the United Center that Saturday night, tying them for the fourth-lowest goal production in that time span.

For Chicago, the downturn in scoring has been no fault of Kane’s. Showtime has averaged a point-per-game in those four games, including three goals. The Predators have also had their own offensive standouts in Forsberg and D Roman Josi, as both have 2-3-5 totals since October 15.

Instead, Chicago and Nashville have continued their strong defensive efforts to find wins.

The Predators in particular have been studs at keeping opponents off the scoreboard of late. In the past two weeks, they’ve allowed only seven goals against in four games, an effort that’s overshadowed only by Tampa Bay’s 10 goals against in six games played in the same stretch of time.

It’s no secret how good Smashville’s defense is, but D Alexei Emelin has been playing at another level since his last visit to Chicago. He’s blocked two shots-per-game to lead the team while also averaging 3.3 hits-per-contest. Through his bold leadership while D Ryan Ellis is recovering from an offseason knee surgery, the Predators have allowed only 29.8 shots against-per-game for the entire season, the fourth-best mark in the NHL.

Meanwhile, Chicago’s (t)eighth-best 2.6 goals against-per-game is due to the play of only one man: G Corey Crawford. Never before has Crawford posted a season save percentage over .93 percent, but he’s currently in possession of a .936 save rate that is second only to G Jonathan Quick‘s unbelievable .944. Considering the Blackhawks’ defense allows a 35.6 shots against-per-game that is second-worst in the league, Crawford being at the top of his game may be an integral piece to the success of this team both tonight and for the remainder of the campaign.

Even though the Blackhawks have a decent 3-1-1 record at home this season – including their victory over Nashville – I’m actually leaning towards the Preds taking this game. Thanks to Emelin, Nashville looks like it’s finally clicking without Ellis and will be a tough out for a Chicago team struggling to score.


In yesterday’s preview, I predicted a barn-burner would go the Senators’ way. In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Ottawa Senators beat the Philadelphia Flyers 5-4 at the Canadian Tire Centre.

There’s no better way to start a game than with three unanswered goals in the first period. That’s exactly what Ottawa did, starting with D Dion Phaneuf‘s (C Filip Chlapik and F Chris DiDomenico) power play slap shot only 91 seconds into the game (what D Brandon Manning was doing slashing DiDomenico only 36 seconds into the game, I’ll never know). D Mark Borowiecki (F Mike Hoffman and First Star of the Game C Jean-Gabriel Pageau) scored his first goal of the season 8:19 later to give Ottawa a 2-0 lead, followed by Pageau (Third Star D Erik Karlsson) burying one of his patented shorthanded wrist shots with 6:32 remaining in the frame to further extend the Sens’ advantage.

Whatever Head Coach Dave Hakstol screamed during the intermission certainly worked, because the Flyers were able to respond with two goals of their own in the second period. RW Jakub Voracek (Second Star C Sean Couturier and D Ivan Provorov) finally stashed his first goal of the season with 5:30 remaining in the second period, followed by F Travis Konecny (D Radko Gudas) only 53 seconds later to pull Philly back within a 3-2 deficit. Much to the delight of the home fans, RW Mark Stone (F Ryan Dzingel and Karlsson) was able to bury a backhanded shot with 2:23 remaining in the period to reclaim a two-goal advantage for the Senators going into the second intermission.

With 9:27 remaining in regulation, F Tom Pyatt (C Nate Thompson and Pageau) scored what proved to be a very important goal. Though Pageau earned the hockey assist, this breakaway goal was almost entirely set up by Thompson. After receiving Pageau’s pass at his own blue line, Thompson immediately connected with Pyatt in the neutral zone, who was screaming up the far boards towards G Michal Neuvirth. With no help, D Shayne Gostisbehere was forced to eliminate the passing lane between Pyatt and Thompson, leaving the forward in a one-on-one situation with the netminder. Pyatt didn’t miss on that opportunity, beating Neuvirth with a pinger off the right post

Pyatt’s tally ended up converting from a brace into the game-winner due to the tremendous comeback effort by the Flyers. With 4:42 remaining in regulation, Provorov (Konecny and Couturier) buried a slapper on G Craig Anderson to pull Philadelphia back within a 5-3 deficit. The comeback became even more realistic when Couturier (Gostisbehere and Voracek) scored a deflection to set the score at 5-4 with 106 seconds remaining before the final horn. But, even with Neuvirth pulled for the extra attacker, the Flyers could not find a leveling goal.

Anderson earned the victory after saving 36-of-40 shots faced (.9 save percentage), leaving the loss to Neuvirth, who saved 23-of-28 (.821).

Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day are a win away from the business week streak, as they’ve won the last four games. That elevates their record to 14-6-4, which is a solid 10 points better than the visitors.

October 12 – Day Nine – The Kevin Peter Hall game

If you have no idea who the title is referring to, maybe today’s selection can help.

Action is slightly delayed this evening, as our first two contests (Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay [SN360/TVAS] and St. Louis at Florida) don’t drop the puck until 7:30 p.m. Dallas pays a visit to Nashville at 8 p.m., followed by Minnesota at Chicago half an hour later. Another pair of contests (Winnipeg at Vancouver and Detroit at Arizona) get the green light at 10 p.m., with tonight’s nightcap – Buffalo at San Jose – getting underway 30 minutes later. All times Eastern.

There’s two games from that selection that have drawn my eye. The Wild-Blackhawks rivalry is always fun to take in, but I’m surprisingly more drawn to a meeting between between two 1-2-0 clubs.

 

Still can’t figure it out? Hall was the person in the Predator suit in the first two Predator movies. He’s the star of Predator!

Sure, I could have gone with Arnold Schwarzenegger, but that would have been too easy.

Anyways…

Coming off an offseason of high expectations, both of these teams had a tough opening week to their campaigns. They both lost their opening two games (including an embarrassing 4-0 loss by the Predators to Pittsburgh in a rematch of the Stanley Cup Finals) before winning their contests on Tuesday.

Starting with visiting Dallas, this was supposed to be an offense that eclipsed that of 2015-’16, yet the Stars have averaged only 2.33 goals-per-game to start the season ([t]third-worst in the league).

Part of the problem has been the goaltending they’ve squared off against. Both Jake Allen (.93 save percentage and 2.58 GAA) and Marc-Andre Fleury (.963 save percentage and 1.32 GAA) have yet to lose a game in three starts and – especially Fleury – have been among the league’s best.

Even though the super line of Jamie BennTyler SeguinAlexander Radulov didn’t find the back of the net, Dallas proved what it is truly capable of Tuesday against G Petr Mrazek. With the exception of the top power play unit scoring late in the first period, the middle two lines began flexing their muscles by scoring the remaining three goals (shh, no one needs to know that C Martin Hanzal‘s first goal of the year was an empty netter).

While the offense assumes its form, it’s been the superb play of G Ben Bishop that has been keeping the Stars competitive in all their games. So far this season he’s posted a .955 save percentage and 1.15 GAA, including what could have been a shutout if he hadn’t been forced from the Vegas game on opening night.

Of the numerous signings made across the league, few improved a team as immensely as this one did for Dallas. Add in the fact that the Stars also added D Marc Methot to a formerly flimsy defensive corps and you find a Dallas team ready to shoot for the stars (that was so lame).

As for the Predators, they’re just trying to live up to qualifying for last year’s Stanley Cup Finals. No big deal, right?

That postseason effort was largely dependent on a defensive corps that also had a scoring touch as golden as their sweaters, and maybe it’s the absence of that flair that has held Nashville back so far this young season. Beyond D P.K. Subban and his four assists, only two other blue liners have contributed on offense. Even more noticeable is that none of those defensive points are goals.

It would seem D Ryan Ellis‘ absence is certainly being felt, as he posted 16-22-38 totals last season for .54 points-per-game. He would have notched at least one point by now.

And as dependable as Bishop has been for the Stars, G Pekka Rinne has been below-average to star the season. He’s managed only an .869 save percentage for an atrocious 4.16 GAA – and he didn’t even play in the four-goal loss to Pittsburgh.

With such an offensively-minded D-corps, elite play from Rinne is an absolute necessity. To put it bluntly, forcing the defense to actually focus on playing defense (that’s not a knock on this group, but we all know they’re almost always planning their next attack) takes such a major weapon away from this Nashville team. Head Coach Peter Laviolette cannot afford for this solid team to be in the wrong year of Rinne’s “good year, bad year” routine.

If anything is starting to go right for the Predators, it’s their power play. The man-advantage, specifically the top unit, played an integral role in the Preds’ comeback win Tuesday from a 4-3 deficit in the third period. Nashville has converted 31.3 percent of its man-advantages, which ties with the Rangers for the second-best effort in the NHL.

Though it was great to get that win over Philadelphia, I still don’t think all the Preds are mentally back from summer vacation. Having said that, I’m leaning towards Dallas pulling off the victory tonight, whether the game is over after 60 minutes or requires a shootout.


The machine that is the Pittsburgh Penguins seems to have rediscovered its groove, as they beat the Washington Capitals 3-2 at the Verizon Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The Penguins employed a goal-per-period strategy last night that the Caps nearly matched, failing to score in the first period. Because of that, does that make D Kris Letang‘s (W Bryan Rust and First Star of the Game RW Patric Hornqvist) first goal of the season, a power play wrist shot 5:22 into the game, the game-winner?

Unfortunately for Letang, we all know the answer to that question is technically ‘no.’ Sorry, buddy.

Pittsburgh registered its second power play goal of the night 8:20 into the second period, courtesy of Hornqvist (W Tom Kuhnhackl and C Sidney Crosby), another first-time goalscorer for the 2017-’18 season. The Penguins almost took a two-goal advantage into the second intermission, but Second Star D Christian Djoos (C Lars Eller and W Brett Connolly) sneaked a slap shot past G Matthew Murray with 53 seconds remaining in the frame to pull Washington back within a goal. Just like the goalscorers before him, Djoos’ marker was his first of the season, but this one was extra special: tonight was also his NHL debut.

Apparently Head Coach Mike Sullivan was none too pleased about Djoos’ late marker, as Third Star W Conor Sheary (D Justin Schultz and D Olli Maatta) provided what proved to be the true game-winner 38 seconds into the third period.

The play truly started with five seconds remaining in the second period when RW Alex Chiasson earned himself a seat in the penalty box for getting caught holding D Brian Dumoulin. As far as action on the ice is concerned, the scoring play began with Maatta at the blue line. Seeing Schultz undefended – due to the Capitals being shorthanded – in the face-off circle to G Braden Holtby‘s right, he passed to his fellow defenseman who quickly centered a pass to Sheary waiting in Holtby’s crease. Though the 25-year-old began falling while performing his tip-in, the redirection was just enough to beat Holtby to the post.

W Alex Ovechkin (Djoos and C Nicklas Backstrom) did pull Washington back within a goal with 7:09 remaining in regulation, but neither he, F T.J. Oshie nor any of the other Capitals could complete the comeback in the remaining time.

Murray earned the victory after saving 20-of-22 shots faced (.909), leaving the loss to Holby, who saved 33-of-36 (.917).

Pittsburgh’s road victory snaps what was a four-game winning streak for the 5-3-1 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. That being said, hosts still have a two-point advantage over roadies in the competition.

Nashville Predators 2017-’18 Season Preview

Nashville Predators

41-29-12, 94 points, fourth in the Central Division

Eliminated in the Stanley Cup Finals by Pittsburgh

Additions: C Nick Bonino, D Alexei Emelin, LW Scott Hartnell

Subtractions: D Matt Carle (retired), F Vernon Fiddler (retired), C Mike Fisher (retired), D Brad Hunt (signed with VGK), LW Mike Liambas (signed with ANH), G Marek Mazanec (signed with Slovan), W James Neal (drafted by VGK), F Colin Wilson (traded to COL)

Offseason Analysis: Let’s get this out of the way: yes, the Predators can make a second-straight Stanley Cup Finals appearance.

Oh, you’re expecting something more in-depth?

Usually this is where we talk signings and other roster moves, but I think the biggest focal point for Nashville has been a constant member of its squad since 2008, a player that’s been among the top-nine at his position (measured by save percentage and GAA) since starting regularly.

In 2012-’13, G Pekka Rinne posted a solid .91 save percentage for a 2.43 GAA, but followed up that performance a season later with .902 and 2.77 numbers. 2014-’15 was a return to form for the Finn, earning himself .923 and 2.18 marks, but ’15-’16 was another lapse in play (.908, 2.48).

That brings us to last year’s performance to earn Nashville’s first-ever Campbell Cup. 31-19-9 Rinne posted impressive .918 save percentage and 2.42 GAA efforts, the (t)seventh- and (t)ninth-best performances, respectively, among netminders with 50+ starts.

What’s alarming about this not-very-well-hidden pattern is we’re coming upon an even-numbered playoff year. Last season was undoubtedly a good performance, so is this recurrence a forecast for this campaign or can Rinne buck the trend?

The answer to that question lies in Nashville’s defense, and what a corps it has in Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and co. Not only is this defense more than capable of providing an offensive presence (Nashville tied San Jose with 181 points from defensemen last season, tops in the league), but they were also adept at limiting Rinne’s workload. He faced an average of 30.1 shots-per-game, tying for 13th-fewest in the NHL.

No discussion about Nashville’s defense is complete without acknowledging Ryan Ellis’ offseason knee surgery that has him sidelined until January. He plays a vital role on this defense, having posted 16-22-38 totals and a +17 rating last season to go with his team-leading 137 blocks and 37 takeaways (second-most among Predators defensemen).

Providing only .19 points-per-game during his six seasons in Montréal, Emelin is no replacement for Ellis’ scoring contributions, but he’ll hold his own blocking shots having rejected 127 last season. Besides, Emelin likes to make his presence known in other ways than scoring – specifically by providing a nasty physical defensive force.

Considering he’s in a place nicknamed “Smashville,” he’ll fit in beautifully.

Offensively, Nashville signed two-time Stanley Cup champion Bonino from Pittsburgh (Like I always say: “If you can’t beat ‘em, sign their players.”) and Hartnell to replace Fisher and Neal, respectively.

This is Hartnell’s second stint in Nashville after being its first-round pick in the 2000 draft and wearing gold through the 2006-’07 season. Posting only .47 points-per-game last season, 2016-’17 was a down year for the 16-year veteran, so his one-year deal is relatively low-risk, high-reward for a club with over $6 million in cap space – especially considering youngsters Pontus Aberg and Kevin Fiala exist.

Instead, I’m intrigued by Bonino’s four-year deal to be Nashville’s second line center. It seems to make sense statistically to play Bones (.46 points-per-game for his career) at the position instead of Calle Jarnkrok (.35 points-per-game), but Bonino found his success on the Pens’ third line.

The difference between playing on the second and third lines is far superior to that between the first and second. So really, the question is if Bones is top-six material.

Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t. With Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in his way, Bonino never had consistent opportunities to play on a second line and showcase his ability. I think he’s best suited for the third line, but maybe he has a few tricks up his sleeve.

Offseason Grade: C+

Like students allowed to retake a test, this grade has the potential to improve after seeing the Preds’ final product. I will be the first to admit I’m wrong about Bonino’s second line abilities, but I want to see evidence that he is capable of playing the position. Beyond that, Nashville had very little it needed to improve. As long as they can successfully adjust to playing without Ellis – and then readjust when he returns – the sky should be the limit for this Predators squad.

Pens repeat as Stanley Cup Champs

2017 Stanley Cup Finals – Game 6

 

Thanks to Sunday’s 2-0 Game 6 win against Nashville at Bridgestone Arena, the Penguins have retained the Stanley Cup for the second-straight year.

The Finals had been waiting all series for a true battle between the opposing goaltenders. It got what it wanted in Game 6, as Matthew Murray (27-for-27) and Second Star of the Game Pekka Rinne (.964 save percentage) combined to allow only one goal against on 55 shots against.

Play started out predominantly in Rinne’s end for the early minutes of the game, due in large part to the Pens dominating the face-off dot at that time. However, as Nashville began to take control of resumptions of play, the ice began to tilt more in their favor. In fact, the Predators ended the first period trailing the Penguins in shots on goal only 9-8.

The Predators had a much stronger start in the second period, and almost earned the first goal of the game 74 seconds into the frame. Filip Forsberg fired a shot on Murray that he was able to deflect, but not control. Colton Sissons collected the loose puck and fired it into the net, but the goal was disallowed because the referee had blown his whistle for incorrectly thinking Murray had possession of the puck.

But that did little to rattle the still-technically-a-rookie goaltender. He went on to save the remaining 10 shots he faced in the second period to maintain the scoreless draw.

Of all the saves made in the game, the biggest were in the third period. Though only a combined 15 shots were fired in the frame, it seemed the best scoring chances arose in the final 20 minutes. But as had been true for the first two periods, Murray and Rinne kept the opposition searching for its first marker in almost every situation.

In particular, the Predators had an excellent opportunity at the midway point of the period. Due to Olli Maatta tripping Viktor Arvidsson at the 7:19 mark, Nashville earned its third power play of the contest. That advantage grew even larger 1:28 later when Trevor Daley was caught roughing Ryan Ellis. What resulted was a 3:28 extra-man situation for the Preds that included 32 seconds of five-on-three play.

That proved to be the turning point of the game – but not for the original beneficiaries of the infractions. It’s been rumored by players and analysts that a successful penalty kill can reinvigorate a club in a way not even a power play goal could dream of.

That was exactly what happened for Pittsburgh. It played from the 7:19 mark until 9:13 remained in regulation with at least one defenseman in the penalty box and made it look easy. Not only did the Pens not allow a goal in that time, but they only yielded three shots to reach Murray.

7:38 after Daley returned to action, the Penguins began their attack.

The play started with Chris Kunitz behind Rinne’s net chasing the puck towards the far corner. He caught up with the rubber even with the face-off dot along the wall before getting it to Third Star Justin Schultz at the far point. The defenseman slightly slid towards the top of the zone before slinging a wrist shot towards the goal.

Schultz’ attempt missed its mark wide of Rinne’s glove to careen into the boards, but First Star Patric Hornqvist – who was acting as a screen on the blue liner’s shot – was not ready to give up on the play. The former Predator worked his way past the netminder to reach the puck near the far goalpost and smack a wrister off Rinne’s left elbow and into the twine.

Peter Laviolette challenged the goal for goaltender interference (Hornqvist and Rinne did make contact as the scorer dove towards the puck), but it was ruled he was capable of playing his position, therefore a good goal, leaving Nashville only 95 seconds on the clock to respond.

With his club facing elimination, Laviolette was forced to pull his goaltender almost immediately after Mike Fisher won the ensuing face-off  at center ice. But the Penguins defense would not give an inch. No shots reached Murray with Rinne off the ice, and Carl Hagelin (Brian Dumoulin) was able to ensure the Penguins’ fifth Stanley Cup by scoring an empty-netter with 14 ticks remaining on the clock.

Captain Sidney Crosby laid claim to his second-straight Conn Smythe Trophy for scoring 27 points, the second-highest total among all participants (Evgeni Malkin notched 28). With the exception of the Eastern Conference Finals, he registered seven points per round, but it was against Ottawa that he scored three goals – his highest total in a 2017 playoff series.

While the Penguins’ hoisting the Stanley Cup is an impressive feat – they’re they first club to do it since the 1997 and ’98 Detroit Red Wings – Crosby winning back-to-back Smythe Trophies is arguably even more impressive. He is the first to repeat as playoffs MVP since former Penguins player-turned owner Mario Lemieux claimed the trophy in both 1991 and ’92.

Looking ahead, the next big event on the NHL calendar is the NHL Awards Ceremony on June 21 – only 10 days away. Not only will numerous honors be distributed, but the Vegas Golden Knights’ Expansion Draft selections will be announced.

Home ice continues to pay off; Pens a win away

2017 Stanley Cup Finals – Game 5

 

After giving up its two-game advantage on the road, Pittsburgh stomped the Predators 6-0 at PPG Paints Arena Thursday to pull within a victory of hoisting its second-straight Stanley Cup.

Whether it was the friendly confines of the Steel City or the extra day of rest, everything went right for the Penguins. Pittsburgh’s most noticeable success was converting a quarter of its 24 shots on goal into tallies, especially when six different skaters scored the markers.

One of those proved especially important – and not only because it proved to be the game winning-goal. With a slap shot from the blue line, Justin Schultz (First Star of the Game Sidney Crosby and Patric Hornqvist) revived the Penguins’ dormant power play only 91 seconds into the contest by scoring between Austin Watson and Pekka Rinne‘s legs.

The extra-man opportunity was a direct result of the Pens’ early offensive onslaught. Even though Rinne faced only two shots on goal before Schultz’ marker, the first 50 seconds of play all took place in Nashville’s defensive zone. That prolonged Penguins possession directly led to Ryan Ellis holding Crosby to stop play at the cost of a seat in the penalty box. 31 seconds later, the Pens found themselves with a lead.

That man-advantage goal proved to simply be the tip of the iceberg for the Penguins. Bryan Rust (Chris Kunitz and Trevor Daley) doubled Pittsburgh’s lead 5:12 after Schultz’ marker, and Evgeni Malkin (Second Star Phil Kessel and Third Star Ron Hainsey) took advantage of a four-on-four situation with 11 seconds before the first intermission to set the score at 3-0.

The cause of the four-on-four play was another chapter in the Crosby-P.K. Subban saga. With 1:32 remaining in the first period, both were officially charged with coincidental holding penalties when they fell to the ice behind Matthew Murray‘s net and – instead of getting up and rejoining play – continued their shenanigans.

First it was Crosby repeatedly shoving Subban’s head into the ice. Once the defenseman finally could separate himself, he did his best to repay the favor before play was stopped and they received early dismissal to their respective dressing rooms.

More than simply scoring pucks was involved in this effort. Aside from giving the puck away five times (due in large part to Smashville living up to its name and throwing 41 hits, including seven by Watson), the defense also played a major role in stopping a Predators club that was trailing for basically the entire game.

Led by Mattias Ekholm‘s four shots on goal, Nashville managed just as many shots on Murray as the Pens did against Rinne: 24. That number could have been significantly larger in favor of the Preds if not for the excellent play of the blue liners. Led by Schultz’ three rejections, the Pens blocked an impressive 16 shots to keep Murray’s workload relatively minimal.

Not that Murray needed much help. He saved all 24 shots he faced – including a few stops with his suspect glove – for his second shutout of the postseason. Pittsburgh has now won four games by shutout – two apiece by Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury – to double the effort of any other 2017 playoff team.

Murray’s solid play in net, especially in comparison to his performances in Nashville, was more than enough motivation for the Penguins to keep applying pressure offensively. After notching three goals in the opening frame to chase Rinne, Pittsburgh matched its effort in the second with tallies from Conor Sheary (Crosby and Jake Guentzel), Kessel (Olli Maatta and Crosby) and Hainsey (Malkin and Kessel) against Juuse Saros.

In particular, Sheary’s tally was important due to rookie Guentzel’s involvement in the play. With another secondary assist for his 21st point, the youngster has tied Dino Ciccarelli and Ville Leino for most playoff points by a rookie.

He’ll have at least one more opportunity to break the record and help his club hoist the Stanley Cup in Game 6 this Sunday at Bridgestone Arena. Just like all the others in this Finals series, that contest is scheduled for 8 p.m. Eastern time and will be televised on NBC in the United States and CBC, SN or TVAS in Canada.

Preds’ counterattack levels Cup Finals

2017 Stanley Cup Finals – Game 4

 

After losing the first two games of the Stanley Cup Finals, Nashville has done exactly what it needed to do by beating the Penguins 4-1 at Bridgestone Arena in Game 4 to level the series at two games apiece.

Entering Monday’s match, the Predators had averaged 32.3 shots-on-goal per game in the Finals, a lofty number compared to the Pens’ 22.3 average.

Even though it didn’t quite reach that number Monday, three offerings proved extremely important for Nashville in the 15th minute of the first period. The first was an Austin Watson wrist shot fired on Matthew Murray‘s net from beyond the far face-off circle with 5:11 remaining in the frame. The netminder was able to make the stop, but he couldn’t contain the rebound.

That’s where Calle Jarnkrok (Craig Smith and Watson) comes into play only two seconds later. He and Smith both crashed Murray’s crease to collect the rebound. Smith was the first to the loose puck and bat the puck out of the air over the goalie’s left leg. Murray deflected that offering too, but he couldn’t stop the third: a Jarnkrok wrister from the near corner of the crease to give the Preds a 1-0 lead.

Mike Sullivan elected to challenge the play for goaltender interference, but Toronto correctly ruled that Smith’s follow-through, though it made obvious contact with Murray, did not occur before  before the puck had entered the net.

Beyond that marker, offense – specifically offensive possession – was at a premium in Game 4. Don’t let a 4-1 final score fool you, as both clubs managed only 26 and 24 shots, respectively, due in large part to the strong defensive efforts by both squads.

Pittsburgh preferred to keep Murray’s workload to a minimum by blocking shots before they reached his crease. In total, the Penguins blocked 18 Nashville attempts, including an impressive four rejections by Brian Dumoulin.

Meanwhile, the Predators played with a bit more finesse in front of First Star of the Game Pekka Rinne, preferring to force and capitalize on turnovers. Not only did Matt Irwin lead that charge with two of the Preds’ eight takeaways, Nashville was a bigger beneficiary of the Penguins’ sloppy handling. Pittsburgh gave the puck away 16 times, including a miserable four by Ron Hainsey.

Regardless of how either team decided to play, this type of game makes a club’s ability to counter-strike paramount to its success.

The first of those breakaway tallies was struck only 66 seconds after Jarnkrok had finished celebrating his second goal of the playoffs, courtesy of Sidney Crosby (Dumoulin).

Given the events late in Game 3 and their interactions over the first 15:57 of play, P.K. Subban was definitely under Crosby’s skin early in the contest. Anytime they came in close contact, Crosby made sure to give the defenseman an extra shove.

But being under Crosby’s skin does not mean he cannot score. After Dumoulin laced a blue line-to-blue line pass to him at the top of his offensive zone, Pittsburgh’s captain took advantage of his one-on-one matchup with Rinne to patiently wait until the netminder committed to a forehand deke. Crosby then pulled the puck across to his backhand side to bounce the puck off the far post and then off the netminder’s left skate to level the game.

The score read 1-1 for the remainder of the opening frame, but the counterattack theme continued in the second period. This time, both goaltenders were up to the task… at least at first glance.

First up was Rinne, who saved a breakaway wrister fired from the crease by Chris Kunitz at the 3:29 mark. That attempt was followed only 16 seconds later by Murray batting Third Star Frederick Gaudreau‘s wrap-around offering back towards center ice just before it crossed the goal line.

Or so it seemed.

None in the building noticed it, but someone in Toronto did. From approximately 770 miles away, the NHL stopped play almost a full minute later to force a review of Murray’s seemingly miracle save. Video showed that the puck did barely completely cross the red goal line before Murray sent it the other way, meaning the Predators earned a 2-1 lead. Ryan Ellis and Harry Zolnierczyk provided the assists on Gaudreau’s tie-breaking – and what proved to be game-winning – tally.

Yet another Predators breakaway opportunity formed with seven minutes remaining before the second intermission. It started in Nashville’s defensive zone along the far boards when Roman Josi forced the puck towards the blue line. Though Ian Cole tried to separate James Neal from the puck, the former Penguin forced his way past the defenseman to advance it into the neutral zone to Second Star Mike Fisher. Fisher’s adversary was Evgeni Malkin, who knocked the Predators’ captain to the ice – but not before he batted a puck towards Viktor Arvidsson. Arvidsson beat Justin Schultz to the pass, and in doing so set up a one-on-one matchup with Murray. Arvidsson took the opportunity to line up a wrister towards the far post to beat the goalie’s suspect glove.

Trailing by two goals in the final period, the Penguins managed the best offense they could muster in attempts of tying the game. Even then, their 10 shots were not enough to get past Rinne. To further tilt the tables in its favor, Pittsburgh pulled Murray with 3:31 remaining before the final horn. The Pens were rewarded for that decision only eight seconds later when Filip Forsberg (Mattias Ekholm and Subban) scored a wrister from his defensive face-off circle to set the 4-1 final score.

The Stanley Cup Finals, now a best-of-three series, will recommence following a 90-minute flight from the Music City to the City of Bridges. Game 5 is scheduled for Thursday at 8 p.m. Eastern time at PPG Paints Arena and may be viewed on NBC in the United States and CBC, SN or TVAS in Canada.

Preds’ power play perplexes Pens

2017 Stanley Cup Final – Game 3

 

After returning home to the friendlier environment of Bridgestone Arena, Nashville dominated the Penguins Saturday night with a 5-1 victory to pull within a game of leveling the Stanley Cup Finals.

One of the biggest story lines coming into Game 3 was which goaltender Peter Laviolette would play: usual starter Pekka Rinne or Juuse Saros, who played the remaining 16:32 of Game 2. It should have been no surprise that Rinne maintained his position between the pipes, just as it was no surprise that the Penguins tried to test him early.

Though Pittsburgh fired only a half-dozen first period shots at Rinne, none were better than Jake Guentzel‘s (Ian Cole and Sidney Crosby) wrist shot 2:46 into the contest. The lone goal of the first period, he took advantage of Rinne being unable to contain the rebound off Cole’s slap shot from the near point and squeezed his five-hole attempt underneath the netminder for an early Pens lead.

With his 13th tally since April 12, Guenztel has surpassed Jeremy Roenick for second-most playoff markers by a rookie is only a goal short of tying Dino Ciccarelli‘s record for most all-time.

It was only Rinne’s second shot faced of the night and gave an early impression that he was still fighting the same demons he was in the Steel City. As it would turn out, he was more than deserving of his First Star of the Game honor.

Following the rough start to the evening, Rinne would save 26-straight Penguins shots to close the remaining 57:14 of play with an overall .964 save percentage.

But after allowing a goal early in the game, it does not matter how well a goalie performs if his offense cannot find the back of the opposition’s net.

Then again, who needs an offense when Nashville has such a productive defense?

With Justin Schultz in the penalty box for holding Harry Zolnierczyk at the 4:13 mark of the second period, Second Star Roman Josi (Calle Jarnkrok and Mattias Ekholm) fired a slap shot from the far face-off circle with 22 seconds remaining in the man advantage to level the game with the first of the game – but certainly not the last – to beat Matthew Murray‘s glove.

That power play goal, paired with the rejuvenated support from Nashville’s “Seventh Man,” proved to be exactly the spark the Preds needed. Only 42 seconds after Josi’s game-tying marker, Third Star Frederick Gaudreau (Austin Watson and Josi) found what proved to be the game-winner: a breakaway wrister that turned a defending Cole into a screen against his own netminder to beat him – once again – glove side.

The second period couldn’t end quickly enough for Pittsburgh, but it couldn’t get to the dressing room before getting officially reacquainted with an old friend. With 23 seconds remaining before the second intermission, former Penguin James Neal (Viktor Arvidsson and Josi) completed the Predators’ fantastic frame by banking an insurance wrister off the back of Murray’s glove and into the net.

Just as the night’s scoring began for the Predators, it would also find its conclusion on the power play. This time, Crosby (for boarding Ryan Ellis), Filip Forsberg (for cross checking Evgeni Malkin) and Malkin (for cross checking Forsberg) were all in their respective penalty boxes to set up a five-on-four opportunity for Nashville. Ekholm (Jarnkrok and Colton Sissons) waited only 27 seconds before ripping a slap shot top shelf over Murray’s stick shoulder.

Though Ekholm’s marker would prove to be the last yielded by Murray, the damage was more than done. He saved only 23-of-26 shots faced (.848 save percentage) for five goals allowed, but his most striking statistic is his performance against the power play.

Even though Murray faced only two shots while short a skater, both offerings found their way past him. The fact that the Penguins penalty kill allowed only two shots on three Predators power plays proves that it is Murray that needs to improve on this aspect of his game before Game 4.

Not all of Murray’s goals allowed were directly his fault though. The goaltender was able to stop the Preds’ first breakaway opportunity in the third period – an offering by Gaudreau 2:27 into the period – but he couldn’t save the second. After Chris Kunitz bounced the puck off Phil Kessel‘s skate to give it to Craig Smith at center ice, it was all the wing could do but attack Murray’s unreliable glove side with a wrister from between the face-off circles to set the score at 4-1 with 15:06 remaining.

Offensively for the Penguins, it should be very concerning to Mike Sullivan that his primary striking corps of Crosby, Kessel and Malkin managed only three shots on goal among them (all by Kessel). Though the story of Guentzel is exciting, it is these men that are expected to spearhead their club – not the rookie. If the Penguins cannot get this issue resolved, they could find the same fate awaiting them in Game 4.

If the Penguins did anything well, it was block shots. Though the Predators led the shots-on-goal statistic 33-28, that differential could have been much higher if not for Pittsburgh’s impressive 20 rejections. In particular, Olli Maatta stood out from the rest by leading his club with three blocks – a total matched in Game 3 only by Nashville’s Ellis.

Bridgestone Arena will come alive once again this Monday – country singers, catfish and all –  at 8 p.m. Eastern time. For those that don’t have tickets, you’re encouraged to tune your television to NBC if you reside in the United States or CBC, SN or TVAS in Canada.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals – May 22

 

Anaheim Ducks at Nashville Predators – Game 6

Though the Ducks led in almost every statistical category, it was Nashville that won 6-3 Monday to claim its first-ever Clearance Campbell Bowl and a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Game 6 had a sour start for Anaheim before the puck was even dropped. With John Gibson sidelined with a lower body injury, Randy Carlyle and the Ducks were forced to turn to backup Jonathan Bernier, making his first Stanley Cup playoffs start.

Unfortunately for Bernier, it was baptism by fire. He faced only four shots in the first period, but he gave up two goals. The first was struck only 81 seconds into the contest by Second Star of the Game Austin Watson (Yannick Weber and Matt Irwin), his first faced of the game. Two shots and 7:26 later,  a wrist shot from First Star Colton Sissons (Third Star Pontus Aberg) set the score at 2-0.

Following Sissons’ marker, the tides turned largely in favor of the visiting Ducks. Though they didn’t find the back of Pekka Rinne‘s net in the first frame, they did fire an impressive shots on net compared to Nashville’s four. That dominance continued in the second period when Anaheim fired 13 shots, nine more than Nashville.

Even more impressive, the Ducks could have registered even more shot offerings. Led by Watson’s six rejections, the Predators blocked a total of 22 shots in the game. A large reason for Anaheim’s strong possession time was a result of its work at the face-off circle. Thanks in large part to Ryan Getzlaf‘s 73% face-off win rate, the Ducks won 62% of play resumptions.

The most important thing the Ducks ensured by keeping puck in their offensive zone? They kept pucks off Bernier.

The Ducks were finally rewarded for their hard work at the 4:45 mark of the second period courtesy of Ondrej Kase‘s (Getzlaf and Sami Vatanen) wrister on a gaping cage due to Rinne blocking a previous shot at the near post.

With the comeback halfway complete, Anaheim looked to be well on its way to forcing a Game 7 at the Pond – but that was before Sissons (Aberg and Filip Forsberg) squeezed a backhanded shot between Bernier’s wickets to reclaim a two-goal lead for the Preds.

But the Ducks weren’t dead yet. Only two minutes after Aberg’s tally, Chris Wagner (Nicolas Kerdiles and Antoine Vermette) bounced a wrister off Rinne’s head to pull Anaheim back within a goal, and Cam Fowler (Vatanen) leveled the game at three-all 8:52 into the third period.

Fowler’s goal was not without controversy though, as Rinne felt Corey Perry‘s screen was a little too snug. Though Peter Laviolette challenged the play, but the referees sided with the Ducks and decided that Perry did not interfere with the netminder.

But whether the goal counted or not didn’t matter, the Ducks could not find a fourth marker. Unfortunately for them, the Predators could – and what a series-winner it was.

After receiving a pass from Calle Jarnkrok in the neutral zone, Sissons flew up the near boards into his offensive zone. Fowler ripped the puck off Sissons’ stick, but Jarnkrok was following close enough behind to maintain Nashville’s possession in the near slot. Once Jarnkrok saw Bernier had committed to sealing the near post, he crossed a pass to Sissons, who completed his hat trick with a nasty top shelf wrister.

As the clock was winding down and the Ducks still trailed by a tally, Carlyle was forced to pull Bernier for the extra attacker to try to continue his club’s season with 2:33 remaining in regulation. Forsberg (Vernon Fiddler) took advantage only 11 seconds later to set off the loudest cheers Bridgestone Arena had ever heard.

Watson (Ryan Ellis) tacked on yet another empty netter with 1:34 remaining in the game to set the final 6-3 score.

Regardless of the Predators’ opponent, they’ll be on the road for Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Puck drop for the series opener is scheduled for Monday, May 29. Though a starting time has yet to be announced, it is expected to be at 8 p.m. Eastern time.