Tag Archives: Fiala

Game of the week: March 4-10

It’s hard to believe, but there’s less than one month remaining in the regular season. 16 clubs are none too concerned about that, but with the exception of Tampa Bay, we don’t officially know yet which teams those are.

Take a look at this week’s schedule that got us a little closer to figuring out the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

NHL SCHEDULE: March 4-10
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, March 4
7 p.m. Edmonton Buffalo 4-3
9 p.m. Toronto Calgary 6-2
Tuesday, March 5
7 p.m. Carolina Boston 3-4 (OT)
7 p.m. Columbus New Jersey 2-1 (SO)
7 p.m. Ottawa Senators New York Islanders 4-5 (SO)
7 p.m. Florida Pittsburgh 2-3 (OT)
7:30 p.m. Winnipeg Tampa Bay 2-5
8 p.m. Minnesota Nashville 4-5 (SO)
8:30 p.m. New York Rangers Dallas Stars 0-1
9 p.m. Detroit Colorado 3-4 (OT)
9 p.m. Anaheim Arizona 3-1
10:30 p.m. Montréal Los Angeles 3-1
Wednesday, March 6
7:30 p.m. Washington Philadelphia 5-3
9 p.m. Toronto Vancouver 2-3 (OT)
10 p.m. St. Louis Anaheim 5-4
10:30 p.m. Calgary Vegas 1-2
Thursday, March 7
7 p.m. Florida Boston 3-4
7 p.m. Columbus Pittsburgh 0-3
7:30 p.m. New York Islanders Ottawa Senators 4-2
7:30 p.m. New York Rangers Detroit Red Wings 2-3 (SO)
7:30 p.m. Minnesota Tampa Bay 3-0
8:30 p.m. Buffalo Chicago 4-5 (SO)
8:30 p.m. Colorado Dallas 0-4
9 p.m. Vancouver Edmonton 2-3
9 p.m. Calgary Arizona 0-2
10:30 p.m. St. Louis Los Angeles 4-0
10:30 p.m. Montréal San Jose 2-5
Friday, March 8
7 p.m. Minnesota Florida 2-6
7 p.m. New Jersey Washington 0-3
7:30 p.m. Winnipeg Carolina 8-1
10 p.m. Montréal Anaheim 2-8
Saturday, March 9
3 p.m. Buffalo Colorado  
4 p.m. St. Louis San Jose NHLN
7 p.m. Toronto Edmonton CBC, NHLN, SN
7 p.m. Ottawa Boston CITY, SN1, TVAS
7 p.m. Detroit Tampa Bay  
7 p.m. Philadelphia Flyers New York Islanders  
7 p.m. New Jersey Devils New York Rangers  
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Columbus  
8 p.m. Los Angeles Arizona  
8 p.m. Carolina Nashville  
8 p.m. Chicago Dallas  
10 p.m. Vegas Vancouver CBC, CITY, SN, SN1
Sunday, March 10
5 p.m. Detroit Florida  
7 p.m. Winnipeg Washington SN
7:30 p.m. Boston Pittsburgh NBCSN, TVAS
9:30 p.m. Vegas Calgary SN1
10 p.m. Los Angeles Anaheim NBCSN

As always, this week’s NHL schedule did not disappoint. We were given our regular serving of rivalries, starting with a throwback in Denver when Detroit visited Colorado on Tuesday. Wednesday also featured a derby, this one involving the Capitals heading to the City of Brotherly Love.

Columbus and Pittsburgh will square off twice this week, with the Pens taking Game 1 on Thursday before heading to Ohio for Game 2 this evening. Speaking of Thursday, the Rangers and Red Wings also matched up and honored Ted Lindsay with an extremely competitive game.

Finally, this weekend also features the previously-mentioned Penguins-Blue Jackets tilt and the Battle of the Hudson River today followed by the Freeway Face-Off tomorrow night.

In regards to momentous homecomings this week, there weren’t any. By my estimation, the most important was Kevin Fiala‘s return to Nashville. Fiala played 204 games with the Predators since being drafted by the organization in 2014 before being traded to Minnesota at this year’s deadline.

As to which game takes our attention this week, I’ve been drawn to the Columbus-Pittsburgh series. With six teams (Blue Jackets, Canadiens, Capitals, Hurricanes, Islanders and Penguins) fighting for five spots in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, one good side is going to see its season end at 82 games.

While not a season-ender, this series is a major step for both Columbus and Pittsburgh in determining their postseason fates. With two points already in the Pens’ pockets, how will tonight’s tilt go down?

Coming into tonight’s game with a 36-22-9 record, the Pittsburgh Penguins are currently holding down third place in the Metropolitan Division.

While that is certainly an improvement from where this team was just a few weeks ago, the Pens’ job is still not finished as they only have a four-point cushion separating them from ending their season at 82 games.

Pittsburgh isn’t looking back these days, though. It’s riding a solid six-game point streak (4-0-2) that includes two wins against tonight’s opponent (more on that later) and a 5-1 victory in Québec.

Pittsburgh fans will know that this string of games started with the Stadium Series overtime loss in Philadelphia. That was a game that cost the Penguins two defensemen (D Brian Dumoulin has since returned to action on Tuesday) and has forced them to reexamine their defensive game, involving each and every skater on the ice.

While this new strategy has certainly paid major dividends for Head Coach Mike Sullivan‘s side, there is one player who has still shined brighter than the rest: 22-10-3 G Matt Murray.

Despite the new defensive strategies, Pittsburgh is still yielding an average of 31 shots per game during this run – the NHL’s middle-of-the-road since February 23. Despite that, the Penguins are also yielding an average of only 2.17 goals against per game, the fifth-best mark in that time.

Murray has been in net for all of the Penguins’ last six games and claims a commanding .93 save percentage and associated 2.12 GAA for those outings (both eighth-best in the league among the 28 netminders with at least four starts since February 23). Those outstanding numbers boost his season statistics to a .916 save percentage and 2.79 GAA, the 10th and 19th-best marks in the league, respectively, among the 43 goaltenders with at least 24 starts to their credit.

With a home game against the Bruins tomorrow night, it remains to be seen which goaltender Sullivan starts this evening. If I had my druthers, Murray would be in action this evening considering the importance of beating a division rival in a tightly contested playoff race. With 12 points (and two games-in-hand against the Habs) separating Boston from the a wildcard spot, Pittsburgh cannot worry about the Bruins until it runs into them in a potential playoff matchup (whether that would be the Conference Semifinals or Final remains to be seen).

Of course, it would be highly irresponsible to talk about the Penguins and not mention their potent offense. Averaging 3.45 goals per game for the season, Pittsburgh has been operating at a slightly higher level lately, as it has averaged 3.67 goals per game during this six-game run (again, I emphasize slightly) – the (t)sixth-best mark in the league since February 23.

Pittsburgh’s top line has carried most of that charge, which of course means C Sidney Crosby has been the star of the show. In his past six games, the captain has managed an outstanding 6-8-14 effort to lead the league in scoring in that time (well, he’s technically tied with Florida’s F Jonathan Huberdeau on points, but Crosby has played fewer games and scored more goals to take the title in my book).

Joining Crosby in averaging a point per game for the Pens during this run are linemates F Jake Guentzel (5-3-8 totals) and F Jared McCann (3-3-6).

Since all of 37-27-3 Columbus’ moves at the trade deadline, everything it has done from then until the end of the season has taken on a new life.

Unfortunately for the Blue Jackets, that new light isn’t all that positive, as they’ve gone on a 2-4-0 run since then to find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, trailing Montréal by two points for the East’s second wild card.

Though Columbus has struggled to keep opponents off the board during this six-game run (the Jackets have allowed 3.5 goals against per game since February 26, the eighth-worst mark in the NHL in that time), an even bigger problem has been its offense.

With the exception of fellow Metropolitan member New Jersey, no team has struggled more on the attack since the trade deadline than Columbus. The Blue Jackets are averaging only 1.5 goals per game in their last six outings, compared to the 11th-best 3.04 they’ve averaged for the season.

Surely, much of this can be attributed to all of the Jackets’ deadline additions. In fact, the second line has been entirely revamped and now features Oliver Bjorkstrand and former-Senators Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel (who’s celebrating his 27th birthday today). Fortunately for Columbus, Duchene and Dzingel regularly played together in Ottawa, so it is just a matter of Head Coach John Tortorella finding the right person to complete their line.

However, a lack of familiarity cannot be the excuse for Columbus’ top line, as Cam Atkinson, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Artemi Panarin have spent the entire season together. Instead, all three combine for only 3-6-9 totals in the past six games.

Dubois in particular is struggling the most. He’s only registered one assist since the trade deadline, well off the .81 points per game average he’s managed for the entire season. As his club’s top center, Dubois’ performance can often dictate his team’s success. The sooner he breaks out of his funk, the sooner, Columbus will begin finding success once again.

In addition to cleaning up Columbus and Pittsburgh’s home-and-home, tonight’s game also concludes the four-game regular season series between the two clubs. The Penguins have won the first three meetings 4-2 on November 24, 5-2 on February 26 and 3-0 on Thursday.

Unfortunately for Columbus, I don’t see that script changing tonight. The Penguins have been playing incredibly well lately now that they’ve bought into their new strategy, and that doesn’t pair well with the Blue Jackets’ offensive struggles.

I don’t think the Jackets will be shutout for the second game in a row, but I do think the Pens will win 3-1.

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.

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’.

December 27 – Day 81 – Back in business

Is that what summer was like? No hockey for three days was terrible!

Let’s get back into the swing of things tonight with 11 games to watch. As it usually does on a weeknight, the action starts at 7 p.m. with five games (Ottawa at Boston [TVAS], Detroit at New Jersey, Buffalo at the New York Islanders, Columbus at Pittsburgh, Carolina at Montréal [RDS/TSN2]), followed by four more (Nashville at St. Louis, Dallas at Minnesota, Edmonton at Winnipeg [SN] and Washington at the New York Rangers [NBCSN]) an hour later. Arizona at Colorado drops the puck at 9 p.m., and tonight’s nightcap – Vegas at Anaheim – gets underway an hour after to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

As usual, I have a headline for more than a few of the games being played tonight.

  • Ottawa at Boston: Few things are more fun than a playoff rematch. The Sens won the first round matchup in six games.
  • Columbus at Pittsburgh: A rivalry and a first round rematch? Sign us up!
  • Nashville at St. Louis: Another playoff rematch, but this one took place in the Western Semifinals. The Predators won 4-2.
  • Edmonton at Winnipeg: An old-timey rivalry is renewed with the coming of age of RW Patrik Laine and C Connor McDavid.
  • Washington at New York: Rivalries are all the rage tonight, because yet another one is taking place in the Big Apple.

Of all of these excellent matchups, only one can be our Game of the Day. Considering the Blues and Predators are playing for the Central Division lead, there’s no place I’d rather be than the Gateway City!

 

Let me know if we’ve come back from a holiday break with this matchup before…

Oh wait, this is exactly the game we came back to after the one-day break for American Thanksgiving. The Blues and Predators opened their four-game season series at Scottrade Center last month, but it was the visiting Preds that took two points after posting a two-goal shutout victory (way to go, G Pekka Rinne).

Since these teams are separated by only a point in the standings, I’d expect a similar contest today.

The biggest story line surrounding the 23-13-2 Blues is still F Jaden Schwartz‘ ankle injury, and that won’t change until he returns in mid- or late-January. With 14-21-35 totals before he went down with a right ankle injury, he still leads the team with a +23 that is second-best in the NHL.

Fortunately for St. Louis, it knows how to play on both ends of the ice. Allowing only 2.47 goals against-per-game, the Notes play the fourth-best defense in the league. Led by the efforts of D Joel Edmundson (87 blocks, [t]fourth-most in the league), W Dmitrij Jaskin (89 hits), D Colton Parayko and F Brayden Schenn (27 takeaways apiece), St. Louis allows an average of only 30.24 shots to reach 18-10-2 G Jake Allen, the sixth-fewest in the NHL.

Schenn in particular has been absolutely stellar, as he’s been able to turn his 27 takeaways into 17 goals ([t]seventh-most in the league) and 40 points([t]10th-most in the NHL) for a +21 rating (third-best in the league). It’s amazing that a player that joined the team only half a year ago has been such a dominant force, and I think it’s safe to say he’s been the Blues’ most valuable player so far.

Of course, it’s hard to look too bad with RW Vladimir Tarasenko as a linemate. The Russian has posted 15-21-36 totals this season alongside his new best friend to earn a +16 rating that is eighth-best in the NHL. Tarasenko immediately moved to the top line following Schwartz’ injury, but struggled to find much rhythm with C Paul Stastny (whose 32nd birthday is today). Perhaps it’s no surprise St. Louis beat Vancouver 3-1 before the holiday break by promoting Schenn to the top line to play with Tarasenko!

Anyways, back to the defensive zone. Anyone that is lucky enough to get by Schenn and the Blues’ defense still has to deal with Allen, whose 18 wins are the (t)fourth-most in the league. He’s posted a .913 save percentage and 2.55 GAA in 31 appearances, which are the (t)19th- and and 10th-best efforts, respectively, among the 32 goalies with at least 14 starts.

Of course, if we’re comparing goaltenders, 21-9-5 Nashville takes the cake with 18-6-3 Rinne. Though he’s one of the three other netminders tied with Allen at 18 wins, Rinne has earned his success in large part by his own accord. He’s posted a .923 save percentage and 2.49 GAA that are both among the top nine efforts in the NHL, and his three shutouts are (t)second-most as well.

Rinne’s excellent play is a major reason Head Coach Peter Laviolette‘s game plan works. Knowing their goaltender can stop basically everything that comes his way, Nashville’s defensive corps – led by Mattias Ekholm (6-15-21 totals), Roman Josi (7-14-21) and P.K. Subban (7-18-25) – is able to contribute extensively on the offensive end of the rink. In fact, the Predators’ defensive corps has combined for 87 points, which is only three points short of Tampa’s league-leading blue line.

They bolster an already impressive group of forwards – headlined by F Filip Forsberg (15-18-33 totals) and second-liner W Kevin Fiala (10-16-26) – that averages 3.23 goals-per-game, the sixth-most in the league.

Fiala in particular was on fire leading up to the holiday break. Before being held off the scorecard against Dallas on December 23, he had been riding a nine-game point streak that included eight goals. He has an unfortunate connection to tonight’s arena after breaking his femur and rupturing an artery in his left thigh during the playoffs last year, and after being held pointless in his first return to St. Louis last month, I’m sure he’d like to finally put the injury behind him by earning a point tonight.

As pointed out by Jim Thomas, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s new Blues reporter, the Notes are one of two teams to have already played their 38th game this season – two more than the median (thank your third grade teacher for knowing what that means!) 36 played by nine clubs. This three-day break was especially important for them, and we’ll probably see a well rested and much improved St. Louis team because of it. As such, I think the Blues can find a way to beat the Predators this evening.

November 24 – Day 51 – Fastest guns in the West

While I’m sure yesterday’s break was enjoyed by hockey players and fans alike, I think I’m safe in assuming that we’ve been looking forward to resuming play today since the end of Wednesday’s games in Southern California.

Making up for yesterday’s lost time, the NHL has scheduled a whopping 14 games scheduled over the course of eight hours. The action starts at 1 p.m. when Pittsburgh visits Boston (NBC), followed three hours later by a trio of contests (Winnipeg at Anaheim, Colorado at Minnesota and the New York Islanders at Philadelphia [SN]). Tampa Bay at Washington (NHLN) drops the puck at 5 p.m. and San Jose at Vegas finishes up the matinee slate an hour after. The normal starting time of 7 p.m. brings with it a four-game set (Edmonton at Buffalo, Vancouver at New Jersey, Detroit at the New York Rangers and Ottawa at Columbus [RDS]), with Toronto at Carolina waiting half an hour before dropping the puck. Nashville visits St. Louis (TVAS) at 8 p.m., with tonight’s co-nightcaps – Los Angeles at Arizona and Calgary at Dallas – cleaning up the festivities 60 minutes later. All times Eastern.

Let’s see what games I had circled on my calendar…

  • Detroit at New York: Nothing gets me in the holiday spirit like a nasty, old-fashioned Original Six rivalry.
  • Toronto at Carolina: The man, the myth, the legend D Ron Hainsey is back in Raleigh for the first time since being shipped to Pittsburgh at last season’s trade deadline, taking on a Hurricanes team he played with for four seasons.
  • Nashville at St. Louis: If last year’s Western Semifinals matchup is any indicator, this game has a chance of getting nasty.
  • Calgary at Dallas: While this game should be exciting in and of itself, the real treat is happening pregame when RW Jere Lehtinen‘s 26 is retired to the American Airline Center’s rafters.

It’s been a while since we’ve featured either the Blues or Predators. What better way to kick start the second third of the season than a contest between two of the top three teams in the Western Conference?

 

For those that can’t remember all the way back to the last week of April and the first week of May, this was a physical playoff series between these two clubs. In six games, both squads combined to throw 365 total hits, or 60.8 hits-per-game. While I wouldn’t argue that it’s the reason the Predators were able to win the series 4-2, they did technically out-hit the Blues 184-181.

Of course, one of the major motives for the violence – beyond being Central Division rivals, of course – was W Kevin Fiala breaking his leg as a result of one of those hits, a check from D Robert Bortuzzo in Game 1 at Scottrade Center.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that, given the extra motivation to avenge their fallen comrade, the Preds were able to claim the only road victory of the series in that game. Though the next five games never had goal-differentials of more than two goals (barring F Calle Jarnkrok‘s empty-netter with a minute remaining in Game 6), Nashville’s imposing home advantage at Bridgestone Arena was enough to earn it a ticket to the Western Conference Finals and, ultimately, the Stanley Cup Finals.

Big hits like those during last year’s playoff series usually imply an active and effective defense. While I have no doubt in the of this year’s blue line, the 13-6-2 Predators of the 2017-’18 season seem to have a much better handle of the game when they are controlling things offensively.

That has been made no more evident than during the three-game winning streak they’re currently riding, as the Predators’ 12 goals are the (t)second-most in the NHL since November 18. While that’s a problem in-and-of itself for the Blues, figuring out who is scoring the goals is another issue entirely.

During this three-game winning streak, the only staple in Nashville’s production has been D P.K. Subban, who has provided five assists since November 18 to lead the team in points. As for who he’s assisting, your guess is as good as 12-5-1 G Jake Allen‘s. 10 different skaters have scored goals in this trio of contests, with only D Mattias Ekholm and F Filip Forsberg scoring more than one.

If St. Louis is going to pick only one forward to stop tonight, they’d probably be best off eliminating Forsberg. Not only has he scored a team-high 11 goals on the season, but he’s also tacked on another dozen assists for a club-leading 23 points.

Unfortunately for the Notes, Forsberg is a tough man to keep under wraps, because he does most of his work while Nashville has the man-advantage. Seven of his goals and 12 of his points have come on the power play, and as such the Preds’ 25.3 percent success rate with the extra man is the third best in the NHL. With St. Louis managing a below-average penalty kill (its 78.6 percent kill rate is [t]11th-worst in the NHL) Forsberg could be well on his way to adding to his season totals tonight if F Brayden Schenn and F Vladimir Sobotka can’t stay out of the penalty box.

Of course, Forsberg and the Predators aren’t going to show up in St. Louis and simply be handed two points, as they are going up against a team that is riding a three-game winning streak of its own: the Western Conference-leading 16-5-1 Blues.

As you’d expect from a squad in their position in the table, it’s hard to find too many issues with the Blues game (ok, beyond the penalty kill). After all, they rank fifth best in the NHL in both goals-for (3.45 per game) and goals-against (2.64 per game) on the season.

That being said – and with no disrespect to Allen’s .909 save percentage and 2.74 GAA for the season – offense has been the name of the game during this little winning streak the Notes have going. In the past three games, the Blues have managed an impressive 16 goals that is (t)second-most in the league since November 16. In fact, considering most teams have played four games in that span, St. Louis’ 5.33 goals-per-game effort has actually been the best performance in the league for the second half of the month.

Now, before we go any further, it should probably be mentioned that two of the Blues’ last three games were played against a struggling 8-12-2 Oilers team that was never known for their defense even in last year’s return to the postseason. St. Louis won both games by a combined score of 12-4, but the biggest takeaways from those games (beyond four points, obviously) was the positive momentum, rhythm and confidence built by seeing what this team is truly capable of.

Whether we’re looking at just this three-game run or the entire season, there’s few names on the Blues’ offense that shine like Schenn and F Jaden Schwartz. While Schwartz has been truly spectacular on the season as a whole with his 11-19-30 totals (he’s on pace for 41 goals and 112 points), first-year Note Schenn has been stealing most of the headlines of late. In only his past three games, the former Flyer has earned 5-3-8 totals to lead the team and bolster his season marks to 10-20-30. Schenn is currently riding an eight-game point streak that includes seven goals.

Of course, this all ignores that RW Vladimir Tarasenko – the third member of St. Louis’ first line – is also on this team, the man who effectively carried the Blues’ entire offense on his back only a season ago with his 39-36-75 totals.

It’s the very fact that he’s not the lone goal provider that is making this Blues team so dangerous. With his linemates scoring like there’s no tomorrow, a potent second line of Sobotka, Paul Stastny and Alex Steen backing them up and a defensive corps that includes the likes of Joel Edmundson (6-2-8 totals), Colton Parayko (2-8-10) and Alex Pietrangelo (7-13-20), Tarasenko is able to settle into his original role as the Notes’ goal-sniper extraordinaire. Considering his 12.1 shooting percentage is (t)second-best in the league among players with at least 85 shots on goal, I’d say he’s gotten back into the swing of things rather nicely.

And if there’s one thing 12-3-2 G Pekka Rinne doesn’t want to see tonight, it’s Tarasenko lining up one of his deadly wrist shots with the option to pass to an equally potent forward. In addition to his dozen goals on the season, Tarasenko has also assisted on 14 other St. Louis tallies, making that top line one of the most intimidating in the conference, if not the entire league.

With two extremely talented offenses going at it, it would seem likely that the better defense should be able to come out on top after everything is all said and done. If I’m right in that prediction, it should be the Blues that see their winning streak continue, as their 2.64 goals against-per-game is lower than Nashville’s 2.9.

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.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round – April 26

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

 

Nashville Predators at St. Louis Blues – Game 1

The Predators’ record in the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs reads 5-0 after beating St. Louis 4-3 Wednesday at Scottrade Center.

Even before Colin Wilson (First Star of the Game P.K. Subban and Ryan Ellis) scored his power play tip-in 11:24 after puck drop to open the scoring, this series was already showing its true colors.

If the character of the game can be summed up in one hockey buzzword, it would have to be gritty. Of course, a tip-in tally would qualify for that adjective too, but it’s more defined by the violent interactions between the skaters. In that first period alone, a combined 28 hits were thrown between the two clubs. In total? 70 blows were thrown before the final horn, with the Blues leading the total by only two hits.

Then again, what should have been expected in a series featuring Cody McLeod (eight hits) and Ryan Reaves (10 hits)?

Unfortunately, that commitment to contact can sometimes have unintended results. 1:43 into the second period, Kevin Fiala got smashed into the boards by Robert Bortuzzo with his legs spread in an unnatural position. Fiala could not get back to his skates and remained on the ice.

The injury (trainers focused exclusively on the upper part of his left leg) was severe enough that he laid on the ice for more than five minutes and had to be stretchered off the ice and taken by ambulance to a St. Louis hospital for further evaluation and treatment. Wilson moved into Fiala’s left wing spot on the second line, but the Predators have since stated Fiala is in stable condition. His status for Game 2 on Friday is unknown.

Though Fiala’s condition and treatment was far more important, his injury certainly had an impact on the contest. The most immediate effect was the amount of downtime between play. Even after he was removed from the ice, play was further delayed until another ambulance arrived per NHL rules. In all, over 15 minutes elapsed between Matt Irwin‘s shot at the 1:45 mark to Ryan Johansen‘s face-off victory at the 1:46 mark.

After sitting inactive for that long with nothing but a serious injury on the mind, both the Blues’ and Predators’ response out of the break would be extremely important. Nashville’s reaction was by far the better of the two, made evident by Subban’s slap shot (Johansen) from the point 36 seconds after resuming play to set the score at 2-0.

Not all contact is legal, though – especially when it involves a netminder. David Perron forced St. Louis to learn the tough “If you knock their goalie down, you’re going to pay” lesson 9:38 into the game when he was caught interfering with Pekka Rinne. It was that penalty that yielded Wilson’s game-opening marker 1:46 later.

Blues penalties were certainly trendy in the second period. After Second Star Colton Parayko (Joel Edmundson and Kyle Brodziak) pulled the Notes back within a five-hole wrist shot at the 8:04 mark of the second period, all three ended up in the sin bin for individual infractions. Before the end of the frame. Though Nashville couldn’t take advantage four-on-three or five-on-three situations, Filip Forsberg (Subban and Roman Josi) did score a power play goal with his skate with 7:49 remaining in the second frame, setting the score at 3-1.

Whether it was St. Louis’ offense truly coming alive or a coach seeing something in the Predators’ play during intermission, Scottrade Center’s scoreboard came alive in the final frame. 6:48 after resuming play, Third Star Jaden Schwartz (Paul Stastny and Edmundson) scored the Blues’ second five-hole goal to pull the home team back within a tally, followed 2:34 later by a Vladimir Sobotka (Magnus Paajarvi) wrist shot that found the top shelf of Rinne’s net.

The crowd tried as hard as it could to spur its team to another goal, but Vernon Fiddler (Austin Watson) had other plans – though the goal was more a mistake by Jake Allen than the center’s hard work. After receiving a pass from Watson along the far boards, Fiddler drove towards Allen’s crease. The puck started to get away from him, so the netminder tried to dive and bat the puck away with his stick. But Allen’s stick never made contact with the puck, so it slid underneath him and into the back of the net for the game-winning goal.

As hinted before, Game 2 will be contested Friday at 8 p.m. Eastern time at Scottrade Center. Americans intending to watch the game can do so on NBCSN, while Canadian viewers will find the contest on CBC and TVAS.

 

Edmonton Oilers at Anaheim Ducks – Game 1

With a thrilling third period, the Oilers beat previously unbeaten-in-the-playoffs Anaheim 5-3 Wednesday at the Honda Center.

Through the first two periods, it was a great goaltending matchup. If not for Second Star of the Game Ryan Getzlaf (Cam Fowler and Ryan Kesler) and Third Star Mark Letestu (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl) both scoring power play goals in the second frame to set the score at one-all, both John Gibson and Cam Talbot would have perfect shutouts on 20 shots faced apiece.

Then the final 20 minutes happened.

First Edmonton had its spurt. Letestu (Draisaitl and Connor McDavid) buried a power play wrist shot 6:23 into the frame to give the Oil their first lead of the night, followed 100 seconds later by First Star Adam Larsson‘s (Draisaitl and Patrick Maroon) wrister that flew past Gibson.

But the Ducks were more than able to hold serve after that strike with one of their own. 79 seconds after Larsson was finished celebrating the second playoff goal of his career, Patrick Eaves (Getzlaf and Brandon Montour) scored a wrister and pulled Anaheim back within a tally of the young Oilers. Jakob Silfverberg (Andrew Cogliano and Kesler) completed the comeback on a tip-in with 9:13 remaining in regulation, tying the contest at three-all.

The first time Larsson scored a goal in the postseason was his first-ever playoff game: May 1, 2012 with New Jersey. That nearly five-year-old weight could not be lifted soon enough, as Larsson scored his third postseason goal (Oscar Klefbom and Maroon) on a wrister only 7:17 after his second.

Making it all the sweeter, it proved to be the contest’s game-winner, as the Ducks could not find a way to get another goal past Talbot in the remaining 4:40 of action. When that looked not to be the case, Draisaitl (Milan Lucic and Larsson) scored on an empty net to ensure the victory.

The match closed like many in the playoffs do: with many skirmishes. In all, three Ducks (Getzlaf, Kesler and Corey Perry) and three more Oilers (Drake Caggiula, Zack Kassian and Andrej Sekera) were sent to their dressing rooms four seconds early for roughing penalties. What’s interesting is that these types of fights are already happening in Game 1. The rest of this series will be physical and scrappy.

Game 2 will be right back at the Honda Center Friday at 10:30 p.m. Eastern time. Residents of the USA will find the game on NBCSN, while Canadians can watch the contest on SN and TVAS.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round – April 15

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

Boston Bruins at Ottawa Senators – Game 2

By: DtFR Staff

After trailing 3-1 in 3rd period, the Ottawa Senators completed the comeback with a 4-3 victory on an overtime goal from Dion Phaneuf shortly after the Boston Bruins killed off a delay of game penalty against captain Zdeno Chara.

Boston’s Tuukka Rask made 25 saves on 29 shots faced for an .862 save percentage in the loss, while Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson made 26 saves on 29 shots against for an .897 SV% for the win.

Still tied 0-0 entering the 2nd period, the Bruins struck first on a goal from Drew Stafford (1) at 9:47 of the period. Stafford’s goal was challenged by the Senators, who thought it was offsides, but after review it was determined that there was not enough evidence to overturn the call on the ice. David Backes (1) and Chara (1) tallied the assists on Stafford’s goal.

Clarke MacArthur (1) hit the twine for his first playoff goal since his comeback from injury (and first in two years) on a power play at 10:57 of the 2nd period. MacArthur’s goal tied the game, 1-1, and was assisted by the hot hands of Bobby Ryan (1) and Derick Brassard (1).

Tim Schaller (1) picked up his first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal on a shorthanded opportunity at 12:39 in just his 2nd career NHL playoff appearance to give the Bruins a 2-1 lead. Dominic Moore (1) recorded the only assist on Schaller’s goal.

With 3:59 remaining in the 2nd period, it looked like Boston had the game all but put away as Patrice Bergeron (1) redirected a shot from David Pastrnak past Anderson for a two-goal lead for the Bruins. Pastrnak (2) and Ryan Spooner (1) were credited with the assists on Bergeron’s goal.

Boston went into the second intermission with a 3-1 lead, but came out looking flat for the final twenty minutes of regulation. And it ultimately cost them.

Chris Wideman (1) fired a shot past Rask— who had been partially screened by his own rookie defenseman, Charlie McAvoy— to make it a one goal game just 5:28 into the 3rd period. Phaneuf (1) had the only assist on the goal and recorded his first point of a three-point night (one goal, two assists).

A mere 2:20 later, Brassard (1) received a pass from Erik Karlsson and sent it behind Rask on a one-timer goal. Karlsson (2) and Phaneuf (2) notched the assists on the game-tying tally not even halfway into the final period of regulation.

After Chara sent the puck over the glass and earned an automatic two-minute minor penalty for delay of game, the Bruins managed to kill off 1:48 of the remaining time on the penalty kill that had carried over into overtime.

Eleven seconds later, it was all over, however, as the B’s were caught in their own zone, while the Sens pressured their will onto their opponent.

Phaneuf (1) sent one behind Rask on a pass from Mark Stone (1) almost two minutes into overtime and tied the series 1-1 with his game winning overtime goal.

The series shifts to TD Garden in Boston on Monday night with Games 3 and 4 hosted by the Bruins before the now necessary Game 5 will occur in Ottawa on Friday, April 21st.

Again, Game 3 is Monday at 7 p.m. ET and can be seen nationally on CNBC in the United Stats and SN/TVAS in Canada.

Toronto Maple Leafs at Washington Capitals – Game 2

Led by First Star of the Game Kasperi Kapanen‘s two-goal night, the Maple Leafs were able to level their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series against the Captials at one-all with a 4-3 double-overtime victory at the Verizon Center.

When a playoff game requires overtime, some believe that most of the regulation action doesn’t matter. Kapanen probably doesn’t prescribe to that theory, as his first career postseason goal was almost as important as his second.

With 5:35 remaining in the second period, the rookie right wing (Matt Martin and Brian Boyle) scored a turn-around backhander five-hole on Braden Holtby from right in front of his crease. That tally pulled then the Leafs even at two-goals apiece.

Of course, the one he’ll remember for a long time is the first game-winner of his short NHL career – playoffs or otherwise. To beat the current holder of the Vezina Trophy, you have to be quick, and that’s exactly what Kapanen and co. were. The play started when Martin won a battle near the far corner behind Holtby’s net. He managed to force a pass behind the goal to Boyle, who one-touched the puck with a backhander back towards to far post. Kapanen was streaking towards the crease, so he was more than able to collect the pass and pound it home behind an unsuspecting Holtby, who thought Boyle still had the puck.

This series is turning nasty in a hurry. Though it’s only two games deep, 32 penalty minutes have been served between these two clubs – 24 of which were Saturday night.

All those opposing power plays put pressure on goaltenders, but both Frederik Andersen and Holtby performed rather amicably. Andersen saved 47-of-50 (94%) on the night for the victory, leaving the overtime loss to Holtby, who stopped 47-of-51 (92.2%).

Nashville Predators at Chicago Blackhawks – Game 2

As far as seeding is concerned, the Central Division is an absolute mess in the first round, as the Predators beat Chicago 5-0 Saturday at the United Center to take a two-game lead in their Western Conference Quarterfinals matchup as the series transitions to Nashville.

Nashville is playing the Blackhawks like a fiddle right now. Led by Austin Watson and his eight blows, the Predators threw 48 hits to get under the top seed in the West’s skin. And as you’d expect, that’s yielded penalties, and lots of them. The Hawks served 16 penalty minutes – almost all of them in the all-important third period.

Nashville was able to convert one of its three power plays into a goal, though it was the ultimately unimportant fifth goal – a Kevin Fiala (Second Star of the Game Ryan Johansen and P.K. Subban) wrist shot from the far face-off dot to beat Corey Crawford stick-side with 107 seconds remaining in the game.

No, the winner came off Third Star Ryan Ellis‘ (Johansen and Roman Josi) stick. Only 3:44 into the contest, he fired a one-timer from the blueline so hard the rebound off Crawford’s pad came right back to him. If at first you don’t succeed… Ellis went right back to work, firing another slap shot to beat the netminder glove side.

Even when Chicago was able to run its offense, it ran into one major problem: First Star Pekka Rinne. The goaltender saved all 30 shots he faced for the third postseason shutout of his career, and second straight.

Calgary Flames at Anaheim Ducks – Game 2

Thanks to a power play tally late in the third period, Anaheim beat the Flames 3-2 at the Honda Center to take a two-game lead in their Western Conference Quarterfinals matchup.

No penalty is a good penalty when it turns into a power play goal. Just ask Dougie Hamilton, who was caught holding Corey Perry‘s stick with 5:27 remaining in regulation. Only 41 seconds later, First Star of the Game Ryan Getzlaf (Ryan Kesler and Patrick Eaves) miraculously ricocheted a pass-turned-shot off Lance Bouma‘s skate for the freak game-winning goal.

Those Calgary mistakes were further compounded when T.J. Brodie cross-checked Kesler with 2:38 remaining in regulation. Though Mikael Backlund (Michael Frolik) managed to bury a shorthanded wrist shot with 96 seconds remaining in the first period to then pull Calgary back within a 2-1 deficit, goals while down a skater are tough to come by – especially at the end of games.

If not for their 17 penalty minutes and miserable 41% face-off percentage, the Flames were doing a lot of the right things to win. They matched the Ducks’ physicality by throwing 34 hits to their 38, while also managing almost 40 shots on goal. Though it has yet to win a game, Calgary still is a dangerous foe for the Pacific champions.