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January 24 – Day 109 – Heading in opposite directions

Gearing up for a full slate of 15 games tomorrow, the NHL scheduler applied the brakes today.

Only two games are on the schedule this evening, with the first – Toronto at Chicago (NBCSN/SN/TVAS) – dropping the puck at 8 p.m. Eastern time. Next up is Los Angeles at Calgary (SN360), which gets underway two hours later.

While it would certainly be fun to feature an Original Six rivalry for the first time in a week, the Pacific Division has an important contest taking place this evening. Off to the Saddledome with us!






You know that feeling when you’re driving down the road and you see your friend driving the other way?

That’s kind of what’s going on between these squads within the Pacific Division. For much of the season – as recently as January 4 – the 25-18-5 Kings were competing with Vegas for the division lead, but they’ve suffered a 1-7-0 stretch since then that has sent them to 10th-place in the Western Conference.

A team that drops from second in the division to outside the playoff picture in the span of less than 20 days surely has more than one issue. I’d argue they have two big ones: an anemic offense accented by a regression at the goaltending position.

There’s no other way to say it: Los Angeles’ offense has been terrible lately. Since January 4, the Kings have averaged only 2.13 goals per game – a mark that is better than only the efforts of division-rival Edmonton (two goals per game) and Columbus (1.5 goals per game) in that time.

As might be expected, more than a few Kings have seen a regression in their scoring since this skid began. However, the likes of C Anze Kopitar (19-31-50 totals) and D Jake Muzzin (4-23-27) are still maintaining their high level of play, as they both average a point-per-game since January 4.

Even still, their efforts are not enough to make up for the rest of the squad’s slump. In particular, Los Angeles is missing the usually solid play of W Dustin Brown (15-19-34 totals) and F Tyler Toffoli (18-12-30), two players among the top-five in point production for the Kings on the season that have managed only respective 0-3-3 and 1-0-1 totals in their last eight games played.

While pointing fingers at Head Coach John Stevens‘ offense is certainly a warranted charge, I do need to acknowledge that Los Angeles’ offense was never the class of the league. On the season, the Kings have scored an average of only 2.81 goals per game, the 13th-worst mark in the NHL.

But that bad-turned-worse regression only half the problem. 20-17-2 G Jonathan Quick has also been miserable in his last seven starts. After starting the season with Vezina-like numbers, he’s posted only an .876 save percentage and 3.65 GAA to drop his season marks to a .921 and 2.44.

Making his performance even more frustrating is that his defense is doing everything in its control to make his life easier. Led by Brown’s 3.1 hits per game, Kopitar’s six takeaways and D Alec Martinez‘ 3.3 blocks per game during this run, he’s faced an average of only 29.5 shots per game during this skid – the fifth-fewest in the league in that time.

Pair a flailing offense and a goaltender in a rut and you get a league-worst -12 goal differential since January 4. There’s a lot that needs to improve for this Kings team to get back into playoff position, much less beat the Flames tonight.

One thing that might see an immediate change this evening could take place in the crease. Quick was in net for 24:21 of yesterday’s 6-2 loss in Vancouver, but he was pulled after allowing his fifth goal on 19 shots faced (.737 save percentage). With 5-1-3 G Darcy Kuemper posting a .938 save percentage in his 35:39 of play, I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets the nod in this very important game today.

Meanwhile, 25-16-6 Calgary has taken advantage of the Kings’ struggles to surge into a top-three spot in the division after spending most of the season fading in and out of the second wildcard spot. They’ve been impressive since December 31, as that’s when the Flames started their current 7-0-2 run.

In a twist of cruel irony, the biggest reason for the Flames’ increased production rests on one man in particular: 20-13-5 G Mike Smith. Smith has been almost unbeatable since December 31, posting a .945 save percentage and 1.84 GAA to improve his season marks to .926 and 2.41 and lead his club to a 6-0-2 record while he’s been in net (4-1-1 G David Rittich earned the final victory on January 12 at Florida).

Smith’s performance has been of the utmost importance for the Flames, because his defense certainly doesn’t do him any favors having allowed a third-worst 35.11 shots against-per-game since December 31.

Of course, to continue the inverted allusion to the Kings, Calgary has also had the luxury of one of the better offenses in the league during this nine-game run. Scoring 3.22 goals per game since New Year’s Eve, the Flames have wielded the ninth-strongest attack in the NHL.

Many players are performing exceptionally well, but four stick out above the rest. You likely guessed LW Johnny Gaudreau first, and with good reason: his 40 assists on the season are (t)fifth-best in the league, and his 55 points (t)sixth-best. The reigning Lady Byng-winner is continuing his career year by posting solid 2-12-14 totals since New Year’s Eve, but he’s not the only one averaging at least a point per game during this run: LW Matthew Tkachuk (6-4-10), C Sean Monahan (4-6-10) and W Micheal Ferland (4-5-9) join him in that feat, making both of Calgary’s top two lines a very imposing force for even the best defenses.

Tonight is Game 3 in a four-game regular season series between the Flames and Kings, and it’s a matchup Los Angeles is not excited about revisiting. Calgary has won both previous meetings this year, posting a 4-3 overtime victory at Staples Center (Monahan provided the game-winner) on October 11 and defending home ice on January 4 with a 4-3 regulation win (Ferland took First Star honors with a 1-1-2 night).

Since all the Kings need is a win tonight to get back into playoff position, maybe that will be enough motivation for them to rediscover their groove on the offensive end. However, I just don’t see it happening considering the Flames’ stellar play of late. Calgary should come away with two more points tonight.

Though Bridgestone Arena boasts an impressive home-ice advantage for the Nashville Predators, the Tampa Bay Lightning were able to emerge with a 4-3 overtime victory in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

If any Preds fans made the mistake of going to the restroom or buying concessions during the first period, there’s a chance they missed all four goals that were struck in the frame. W Chris Kunitz scored the opening goal of the contest with an unassisted wrist shot 6:24 into the period, but Nashville had the game all tied up only 1:04 later courtesy of a power play (F Cedric Paquette was in the box for hooking C Kyle Turris) slap shot from Second Star of the Game D Ryan Ellis (D Roman Josi and C Colton Sissons). The Predators then took their first lead of the night at the 9:11 mark thanks to W Viktor Arvidsson‘s (LW Pontus Aberg and D Matt Irwin) wrister, but the score was once again tied only 1:37 later on a F Vladislav Namestnikov (C Steven Stamkos and Kunitz) wrister.

In all, it took only 4:24 for all four tallies to be struck, yet the first period ended just as it began – with both teams tied.

Scoring substantially subsided in the remaining 40 minutes, as only two goals were struck – one in each period. The second period’s goal belonged to D P.K. Subban (D Mattias Ekholm and F Ryan Johansen), a power play clapper struck with only 50 seconds remaining before the second intermission.

The Bolts tempted fate by waiting until the waning minutes of regulation to find their game-tying goal, but Stamkos (D Slater Koekkoek and Kunitz) scored a clapper with 2:12 remaining on the clock to force three-on-three overtime.

Overtime is scheduled for five minutes, but First Star F Yanni Gourde (Namestnikov) didn’t want to wait that long. Only 105 seconds into extra time, he took advantage of Namestnikov’s deke-turned-pass across the crease to bury a wrister into Third Star G Juuse Saros‘ gaping cage.

G Louis Domingue earned the victory after saving 30-of-33 shots faced (.909 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Saros, who saved 27-of-31 (.871).

Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are rolling this week. The visitors’ four-game winning streak has pulled them within 18 points of the 59-36-14 hosts.

January 20 – Day 105 – Break out your synthesizer music

Every team’s bye has come and gone, so let’s get back to playing some hockey!

There’s four matinees on the schedule today: one pair (Dallas at Buffalo and New Jersey at Philadelphia) drop the puck at 1 p.m., and the other two (the New York Rangers at Colorado and Winnipeg at Calgary [CBC/NHLN/SN]) will follow suit two hours later. The next three tilts (Boston at Montréal [NHLN/SN/TVAS], Toronto at Ottawa [CBC/CITY/TVAS2] and Carolina at Detroit) drop the puck at the usual 7 p.m. starting time, followed by three more (Pittsburgh at San Jose, Arizona at St. Louis and Florida at Nashville) an hour later. 8:30 p.m. marks the beginning of the New York Islanders at Chicago, while Tampa Bay at Minnesota waits until the top of the hour to get underway. Finally, Vancouver visits Edmonton (CBC/SN) at 10 p.m. to close out the evening’s festivities. All times Eastern.

It’s so nice having the whole gang back together again. With so many games, I’m back to having at least four rivalry games that stand out above the rest.

  • New Jersey at Philadelphia: The Battle of the Turnpikes is never a dull affair, and tensions will only be heightened by the Flyers’ current hot streak.
  • Winnipeg at Calgary: Back in the 1980s, this was one of the best rivalries in the Western Conference. Perhaps more sparks will fly today.
  • Boston at Montréal: For the third time in basically one week, these historic rivals will tangle. This could get nasty.
  • Toronto at Ottawa: The Battle of Ontario rages on between Canada’s capital and its biggest city.

Somehow, the Jets have not been featured in the DtFR Game of the Day series since the holiday break. Let’s resolve that by seeing how they handle a red-hot Calgary club.


The streaky 25-16-4 Flames have jumped in and out of playoff position all season, and this seven-game winning streak they were riding before their five-day bye has propelled them all the way into third place in the Pacific Division.

Calgary has been dominant on both ends of the ice during this run. Since New Year’s Eve, the Flames have employed the league’s third-best offense – averaging 3.86 goals per game – and the (t)fourth-best defense – averaging only two goals against per game.

On the defensive end, the answer is simple: 20-13-3 G Mike Smith. The (t)eighth-most winningest goaltender of the season started all but one of the Flames’ past seven games, posting an impressive .941 save percentage and 1.99 GAA. Those numbers are already good in comparison to his season marks of .924 (the [t]eighth-best mark in the league) and 2.46, but what makes his effort in his last six starts really stand out is the fact that his defense is allowing a fifth-worst 35.43 shots against per game during this winning streak. Without Smith playing at the top of his game, this Flames team is a totally different – and far uglier – product.

However, it’s not just Smith that is performing above expectations. With the offense managing only 2.87 goals per game for the entire season, Calgary is producing a full goal better thanks to the positive energy of its goaltender.

It shouldn’t be a surprise, but the Flames’ leader during this surge has been none other than LW Johnny Gaudreau. The very player that has 39 assists ([t]third-most in the league) and 54 points ([t]fourth-most in the league) to his credit has continued his play-making ways to post 2-11-13 totals during this seven-game winning streak, averaging almost two points per game.

Gaudreau makes everyone around him better, which makes sense why linemates W Micheal Ferland (19-10-29 totals) and C Sean Monahan (21-21-42) have both posted four goals since New Year’s Eve. However, the scorer that really takes the cake during this run is sophomore LW Matthew Tkachuk (13-18-31). The 20-year-old has already matched his goal total from his rookie season, and that’s due in large part to his team-leading five tallies in the last seven games.

As Calgary is proving, when both the top lines are firing on all cylinders, this club is a very tough out. After all, the Flames just handled the Lightning in Tampa Bay on January 11, winning 5-1.

Of course, one of the toughest outs all season has been 26-13-7 Winnipeg, the second-best team in the Central Division. Today marks the Jets’ first game after their six-day bye week, and they’ll be looking to get back to their winning ways.

Though Winnipeg was technically riding a two-game losing skid going into the bye, the Jets are actually 6-2-1 in their last nine games. A major reason for that success is Winnipeg’s offense, which has averaged 3.56 goals per game since December 27.

Just like Gaudreau has led his team both during its winning streak and the overall season, the same can be said for F Blake Wheeler. The captain has posted impressive 5-7-12 totals in the last five games to improve his season marks to 14-39-53, the (t)third-most assists and (t)seventh-most points in the NHL.

Making Wheeler’s performance even more impressive, he’s been able to maintain his performance even while C Mark Scheifele (15-23-38 totals) has been on injured reserve with an upper-body injury. Of course, what should we expect when the captain has linemates like RW Patrik Laine (20-17-37), who’s filling in for Wheeler as the top-line right wing while he slides into Scheifele’s vacated center position, and LW Kyle Connor (15-13-28)? Both Connor and Laine have provided eight points over the last nine games, and Wheeler has provided six primary assists since December 27.

On the defensive end, no name is greater in Manitoba than G Connor Hellebuyck. He’s posted a 23-6-6 record this season (the third-most wins in the league) that includes three shutouts – the (t)fourth-mots in the NHL. He’s started all but one of the past nine games, posting a .93 save percentage and 2.24 GAA in the process to raise his season numbers to .922 and 2.4 (the ninth-best GAA in the league).

Calgary and Winnipeg have tangled only once before this season, and it was at the Saddledome – the site of today’s matchup – way back on October 7. The Flames performed perfectly to defend home ice, as D T.J. Brodie registered a 2-2-4 night to lead Calgary to a 6-3 victory after it had trailed 3-1 through the first period.

With both teams coming into this game well-rested, it’s hard to tell which will have the upper hand. Since the Flames have home ice, I’m leaning towards Calgary taking this one, but I truly believe its anyone’s guess.

Thanks to First Star of the Game D Aaron Ekblad‘s overtime game-winner, the Florida Panthers beat the Vegas Golden Knights 4-3 at BB&T Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

W Jamie McGinn (F Nick Bjugstad) opened the scoring for the Panthers, burying a backhanded shot only 3:15 into the contest. That 1-0 advantage lasted 11:07 before W David Perron (D Brad Hunt and F Erik Haula) leveled the game with a snap shot, but Second Star C Aleksander Barkov (F Vincent Trocheck) would return the lead to Florida with 4:05 remaining in the frame on a shorthanded backhander.

Vegas would once again tie the game, but C William Karlsson (D Shea Theodore and W Reilly Smith) would not score his tip-in until the 6:54 mark of the second period. That tally proved to be the lone marker of the middle frame, meaning the score read 2-2 through the second intermission.

Staying true to the pattern, the Panthers were next up to tickle the twine. W Evgeni Dadonov (Barkov and D Keith Yandle) was the guilty party, burying a wrist shot 3:35 into the third period. Third Star W James Neal (Haula) waited until 2:09 remained in regulation to score his wrister and level the game at three-all. As neither the Golden Knights nor Panthers could level the game in the remaining time, their final tilt of the regular season advanced into three-on-three overtime.

As stated before, Ekblad (Barkov and F Jonathan Huberdeau) provided the game-winner (his first winner of the season), but it’s arguably more notable that he needed only 40 seconds to score it. The Panthers dominated the overtime frame to out-shoot Vegas 2-0, and that was no more noticeable than when Ekblad fought off D Nate Schmidt in his own defensive zone to eventually set up Huberdeau for a breakaway opportunity. The forward raced into the offensive zone, passing around Smith to Barkov. Barkov’s backhander couldn’t beat G Malcolm Subban, but the puck flew into the air and eventually ended up in the high slot – perfectly centered for Ekblad. The defenseman one-timed a slap shot over Subban’s glove, earning the bonus point for the Panthers.

G James Reimer earned the victory after saving 33-of-36 shots faced (.917 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Subban, who saved 22-of-26 (.846).

There’s no stopping the 59-34-12 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series lately. They’ve won four-straight contests to reclaim a 24-point advantage over the roadies in the series.

Weekly Bumblings for Week 8 with Special Guest Host, Cap’n Cornelius

While Peter is out enjoying a trip to see some hockey games in person, I’m filling in with a recap of the past week’s NHL action.

Player of the Week:  Blake Wheeler

Wheeler has been the definition of streaky, of late, but this week was the good side of the coin.  He broke a four-game pointless drought last Monday against Minnesota, getting one goal and two assists.

After being held without a point against Colorado, he put in another three-point performance (all assists) against Vegas.

But he would save his best for Sunday against the Ottawa Senators.  In a game that saw the Jets beat the Senators 5-0, Wheeler had a point on all but one of the goals, putting up one goal and three assists.  He had a beautiful cross ice pass to set up Mark Scheifele on the first goal of the night and the Jets never looked back tallying three of their goals on the power play.

Wheeler has passed Steven Stamkos to take the league lead in assists with 28 and has helped power the Jets to the top of the Western Conference, something few expected as the season began.

 Team of the Week: Los Angeles Kings

Just when it looked like the Kings might be fading after a hot start, they went 4-0 this week and moved six points ahead of the second-place Vegas Golden Knights in the Pacific Division, exactly as the media expected before the season began, right?  The Kings won the first three of those games by three goals each.

After one period of play in their Tuesday game in Detroit, the Kings found themselves down 1-0, but Dustin Brown, who has had a heck of a comeback season, evened it up at 1 and Anze Kopitar then put them ahead 2-1 before the second period was over.  LA would add two more in the third on goals from Adrian Kempe and Kopitar’s second of the night.

Next up for the Kings was another road game against the Caps.  Again, the Kings gave up an early lead on a goal from Evgeny Kuznetsov. Marian Gaborik would even it up, only for Kuznetsov to get a second goal.  Jonny Brodzinski would tie it again and nine seconds later Jussi Jokinen would put the Kings ahead.  After that, it was all Kings.

The Kings continued their road trip Friday with a visit to play the St. Louis Blues, one of the best teams in the league to this point in the season.  This time the Kings got the early lead on a Tyler Toffoli tally. Kopitar would then bang home a rebound to make it 2-0.  Before it was over, Kempe and Toffoli would add goals and the Kings would win 4-1 despite being outshot 40-28 on a stellar performance by backup goaltender, Darcy Kuemper.

The Kings finished their week and their road trip in Chicago on Sunday.  Through two periods the game was scoreless.  Christian Folin finally put the Kings up with just over 10 minutes left in the game.  Then things got a little weird with just over two minutes left in the game.  First, Brown would get an empty net goal.  Then the Hawks would answer on a goal from Jonathan Toews with 1:46 left to end Quick’s shutout bid.  But Kopitar would put the final nail in the coffin with 51.5 seconds left in the game with a final empty net goal.

As long as the Kings continue to get these types of performances from Brown, Kopitar and solid goaltending, they will have a very good chance to lock down the Pacific Division.

Game of the Week: Edmonton Oilers 7 @ Calgary Flames 5, Saturday, December 2, 2017

One of the first NHL games I can remember watching on TV was Wayne Gretzky’s Oilers against Lanny McDonald’s Flames.  This game was a throwback to that era when goalies for some reason spent much of their time standing up and, consequently, watching pucks go past them.  This is the type of game you hope to see with all of the offensive talent on these two teams and the reason you stay up to watch the late game on Hockey Night in Canada if you live in the Eastern Time Zone.

Connor McDavid skated around the Flames zone early and his persistence led to Jesse Puljujarvi cashing in on the rebound. The Oilers then had what looked like their second goal of the night from Patrick Maroon taken off the board as the goal was kicked.  Eric Gryba then set up Puljujarvi for his second of the night on a redirection of Gryba’s point shot.

Mikael Backlund then forced a turnover on the penalty kill that set up Michael Frolik for a short-handed goal to pull the Flames within one goal.  But the Oilers scored again before the first period ended to go up 3-1.  In the second period, Mark Letestu scored on a short-handed breakaway to expand Edmonton’s lead.  Gryba made another shot from the point which was tipped in, this time by Milan Lucic, to go up 5-1.

As the third period started, Mike Smith was replaced in net by David Rittich.  Unfortunately for the Flames, Rittich bungled a handoff behind the net and the Oilers capitalized to go up 6-1.  One might assume this is where the Flames might call it a night.  But Sam Bennett made a tough angle shot to get the score to 6-2.  Next, Micheal Ferland notched a power play goal to bring the Flames within three goals.  Bennett added a second goal on a 2-on-1 where he took the puck top shelf.  Suddenly the score was 6-4 with a lot of time left in the game.  Johnny Gaudreau then made another tough angled shot off a stretch pass, taking advantage of young Oilers netminder, Laurent Brossoit.  The impossible seemed possible with the score 6-5.  But Brossoit would make a key save on Gaudreau on a two-on-one to prevent the tying goal.

With 1:01 left, the Oilers’ Ryan Nugent-Hopkins tried to center a pass, but it bounced into the net off T.J. Brodie’s stick to salt away the win for Edmonton by a final of 7-5.  While the Flames couldn’t quite finish their comeback, it was the sort of game that reminded you why the Battle of Alberta was once such a big deal.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Trade Rumors seem to be starting earlier than normal and we have already seen one blockbuster and several smaller trades.

This past week saw Anaheim and New Jersey make a significant hockey trade if not a true blockbuster.  The Ducks sent right-handed defenseman Sami Vatanen and a conditional pick to the Devils in exchange for Adam Henrique, Joseph Blandisi and a third round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.  The move was a much-needed improvement on the back end for the Devils, who are one of the surprises of the early season.  As for the Ducks, with Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler still out, Henrique can help at center and, when they return, he can provide forward depth.

Who is next?

Well, the name that seemed to be coming up repeatedly during the past week was Pittsburgh’s Ian Cole.  The left-handed defenseman was a healthy scratch and several sources had stated that his relationship with Mike Sullivan had been rocky, leading the Pens to consider a trade.  However, their asking price may be higher than what a willing buyer will give them for Cole—Pittsburgh is still seeking an improvement at center for their third line after Riley Sheahan has failed to impress.  Toronto is a destination that has been mentioned with Tyler Bozak falling out of favor and the Leafs wanting to upgrade their defense, but to this point nothing seems imminent.

The Edmonton Oilers have also been frequently mentioned in trade rumors.  While Ryan Nugent-Hopkins name has probably been mentioned the most, more recently the Oilers have been mentioned in connection with smaller trades that might see them shipping out the likes of Pat Maroon.  It is hard to see how Maroon would produce the sort of return that might get the Oilers back into contention in the Western Conference.

Another name that has been brought up repeatedly is Evander Kane.  Buffalo is one of the few teams clearly out of the hunt at this early date, but it seems most likely they will wait until the deadline to move Kane when they might extract the highest possible return for the wing, who will be a free agent this summer.