Tag Archives: Fiddler

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: Conference Finals – May 22

 

Anaheim Ducks at Nashville Predators – Game 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round – April 28

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 2

After dropping Game 1, St. Louis desperately needed a victory to salvage home ice at the start of the second round to level the series at 1-1. Thanks to First Star of the Game Vladimir Tarasenko‘s two goals, the Blues did just that by beating Nashville 3-2 Friday night at Scottrade Center.

Though the fourth-best (okay, tied for fourth-best) goalscorer of the 2016-17 regular season earned the spotlight, it was actually Nashville’s defense that performed the best all night. Spearheaded by Roman Josi‘s four blocks, St. Louis managed only 20 shots all game – led by Tarasenko’s six.

Making that effort even more impressive is the fact that the Predators served a whopping 23 penalty minutes. By comparison, St. Louis served only two and Patrik Berglund‘s interference corresponded with an embellishment penalty by Third Star Ryan Ellis, meaning Nashville did not earn a single man-advantage all game.

In all, the Preds faced five Blues power plays and yielded only one tally: a Tarasenko (Alex Pietrangelo and Alex Steen) wrist shot with 20 seconds remaining before the first intermission.

Most of those penalty minutes belonged to Vernon Fiddler, who was caught practicing questionable form when hitting Colton Parayko with 92 seconds remaining in the first period. The skaters made knee-to-knee contact as Fiddler hit the defenseman behind Jake Allen‘s net. It earned him a game misconduct and a major penalty, giving the Blues a five-minute unlimited power play that led to Tarasenko’s marker to tie the game at one-all.

All the shorthanded situations is also a major reason the Preds only managed 24 shots on goal of their own. It is difficult, even for the postseason’s third-best offense, to get any rhythm going when playing without a full fleet of weapons.

But even when faced with that self-imposed handicap, a defensive effort that impressive will eventually produce chances on the other end of the ice. That was no more apparent than when Ellis intercepted Vladimir Sobotka‘s attempted pass to Berglund at St. Louis’ blue line. Since both squads were advancing towards the Blues’ offensive zone, the defenseman had to steer his shot past only one possible defender to beat Allen’s glove 3:07 into the third period and set the score at 2-1.

James Neal (Colton Sissons and Ellis) accounted for Nashville’s other marker, a deflection scored on Ellis’ initial shot from the far point 7:49 into the game. It was only the Predators’ second shot on goal of the night.

Nashville’s lead lasted only 4:32 until Second Star Jori Lehtera (Berglund and Parayko) leveled the game once again for the Blues, but they had yet to lead in the contest.

Until, that is, Tarasenko (Joel Edmundson and Jaden Schwartz) buried his game-winning wrister with 3:51 remaining in regulation. Schwartz attacked up the far boards, traversing all three zones with the puck in his possession. Once he reached the face-off dot, he passed back towards the blue line to Edmundson, who kick-passed to St. Louis’ favorite right wing. Tarasenko dropped to a knee to get the proper contact on his shot to beat Pekka Rinne‘s right pad.

In a game dominated by defense, it’s only logical that a strong Blues stand at the end of the contest would be the reason they held on for victory. Even more fitting, the biggest play came from one of the biggest stars on the ice. With Rinne pulled for the sixth attacker, Ryan Johansen had a wrist shot cocked and ready to fire from the near face-off circle. But instead of sending a shot flying towards Allen, his stick met Tarasenko’s, who dove to knock the puck away from the center.

The now best-of-five series shifts a little over 300 miles southeast to Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. for Games 3 and 4. Speaking of Game 3, puck drop is set for Sunday at 3 p.m. Eastern time and will be broadcast on NBC in the United States of America or SN and TVAS in Canada.

 

Edmonton Oilers at Anaheim Ducks – Game 2

When the best player on the ice is the goaltender, the team attacking him faces an uphill battle. That’s exactly what happened to Anaheim Friday, as it fell 2-1 at the Honda Center to give the Oilers a two-game advantage in their Western Conference semifinal.

No matter what the Ducks threw at him, First Star of the Game Cam Talbot was absolutely electric in the crease. In all, he faced 40 shots in Game 2, and stopped all but one of them for a ..975 save percentage.

The opposite goaltender, John Gibson, played nowhere near Talbot’s level, but he didn’t necessarily need to be that often. He faced only 23 shots, but did let two by (91.3%).

Instead, Anaheim played an incredible defense to counter the Oil’s fantastic netminder, made evident by the few shots Gibson faced. Though Edmonton did give the puck away 13 times, the Ducks caused more than their fair share of turnovers by playing a very physical game. In total, Anaheim threw 32 hits, including five by Second Star Ryan Getzlaf to lead the club.

Whether by a corps of blue liners or goaltender, what resulted was a grind-it-out, tough contest typical of a playoff matchup featuring the top two teams of a division.

Then again, that doesn’t well explain the first goal of the game, as Andrej Sekera buried a quick unassisted slap shot only 65 seconds into the game to give Edmonton an early one-goal lead. Hampus Lindholm was trying to pass to Jakob Silfverberg at the goal line and set up a breakaway opportunity, but his dish was too strong and sneaked to Sekera at the near point. Seeing no better option, the defenseman banged home his first goal of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs and only his second career postseason marker (his first was scored way back in 2011 with the Sabres).

The game-winning tally belongs to Patrick Maroon (Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) at the 6:41 mark of the second period, but his play started before he even took to the ice. 1:43 before he scored his tip-in, Korbinian Holzer was caught holding Zack Kassian‘s stick to earn himself a seat in the penalty box.

Similar to the Rangers-Senators game Thursday, hockey has a way of perfectly playing out the “what comes around, goes around” idiom. Only 8:34 after Maroon had scored the insurance goal, Darnell Nurse was sent to the sin bin for hi-sticking Jared Boll. Silfverberg (Third Star Cam Fowler and Ryan Kesler) didn’t wait long to capitalize on that mistake, waiting only 20 seconds before pulling the Ducks back within a goal.

Unfortunately for Anaheim, they could not manage to break through the might Talbot over the remaining 24:26 of regulation. The Ducks now face an intense uphill climb to the Western Finals, as they will need to win three of the next five games – and at least one in Canada – to simply force a deciding Game 7 on The Pond.

Their first chance to get back into the series will be this Sunday at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta. Puck drop is scheduled for at 7 p.m. Eastern time and the contest may be viewed on NBCSN in the USA and SN or TVAS in Canada.

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.

November 15 – Day 34 – The Devils went down to Dallas

As you might guess with only one game yesterday, there’s a ton going down tonight. It’s like your favorite bar – you know, the one that has all your favorite microbrews on tap? Perfect.

Anyways, we get started with three games at 7 p.m. (Ottawa at Philadelphia [RDS2], San Jose at Carolina and Washington at Columbus), followed half an hour later by another trio (Nashville at Toronto [TVAS], Florida at Montréal [RDS] and Tampa Bay at Detroit [NBCSN]). 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of a third triplet of games (Buffalo at St. Louis, Calgary at Minnesota and Chicago at Winnipeg), followed 30 minutes later by New Jersey at Dallas. Los Angeles at Colorado gets underway at 9 p.m., and the co-nightcaps – the New York Rangers at Vancouver and Edmonton at Anaheim – are an hour later.

Short list:

  • Tampa Bay at Detroit – Remember last year when the Lightning beat the Red Wings in the Eastern Quarterfinals in five games? Detroit does.
  • New Jersey at DallasVernon Fiddler wore green for five seasons, but he’ll be wearing white tonight at the American Airlines Center.
  • Edmonton at Anaheim – It’s a similar situation for Patrick Maroon. In his fifth year of service with the Ducks, he was traded to the Oil for a prospect and a draft pick.

Since he’ll only be making one visit to Big D this season, we’ll follow Fiddler back to his old stomping grounds.

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The amount of restraint it requires me every time we feature the Devils to not post this song is almost unbearable, but given the subject material’s name, there was no way I could contain myself.

After a couple seasons in Phoenix, Fiddler joined the Stars before the 2011-’12 season to begin his five-year tenure. While in town, the center played 366 games – the most he’s played with a single club, even though he had an extra season in Nashville‘s system – to score 112 points, 69 of which were assists.

Fiddler certainly served his time with the club. Although they entered last season projected to find much success, times were not always so fun in Dallas. He and the Stars went 145-119-30 in his first four seasons in Dallas, qualifying for the postseason only once to be eliminated by Anaheim.

Of course, last year made it all worth it. Well, at least the regular season. With a 50-23-9 record, the Stars took top regular season honors in the Western Conference, but were upset in the quarterfinals by St. Louis.

This off-season, he joined New Jersey in free agency, and they’ve gone 8-3-3 so far for fourth place in the Metropolitan Division. While the offense has left much to be desired, the Devils have been able to find success by keeping their opposition off the board.

Cory Schneider has started 11 games already this season for a 6-3-2 record on a .927 save percentage and 2.24 GAA, which ranks 11th and 14th-best, respectively, among goaltenders with six or more appearances.

What makes Schneider’s efforts more impressive is that the defense playing in front of him is only average, if not slightly worse. He faces an average 30.86 shots per game, which is a touch over the league average. Captain Andy Greene takes the most credit for limiting his netminder’s workload with 28 blocks to his credit, but he is the only Devil with more than 23 blocks.

That success has not translated well to the defensive special team. New Jersey ranks eighth-worst in the NHL on the penalty kill, negating only 79.5% of their infractions. To their credit, they have tried their hardest to limit trips to the penalty box this season, as Fiddler leads the club with only 13 minutes in the sin bin.

Jersey‘s power play is indicative of their offensive struggles this season. Successful on only 14% of their attempts, the Devils rank ninth-worst in the league and are about as far from being a threat as Newark is from Dallas. Damon Severson has been most active on the man-advantage with five points to his credit in that situation.

After a five game road trip throughout western Canada, the Stars return home with a 6-6-4 record on the season. While the offense has not performed like they did a season ago, the defense and goaltending is responsible for Dallas not being higher in the Western Conference table.

Kari Lehtonen has started nine games this season for a 3-4-3 record on a .891 save percentage and 3.18 GAA, which ranks fifth and ninth-worst among goaltenders with five or more appearances.

He may be the last line of defense, but Dallas‘ situation doesn’t lie directly on Lehtonen’s shoulders. Even with Johnny Oduya‘s 36 blocks, the Stars‘ netminders face 31.125 shots per game, which exceeds the league average by almost a full shot. It doesn’t sound like much, but it only takes one shot to become a goal and effect the outcome of a game, and even if it doesn’t trickle into the net, it is still another shot Lehtonen has to save.

As you’d expect, the penalty kill hasn’t treated the Stars very nicely either. Dallas faces 3.75 man-advantages per game (almost half a penalty more than the league average), but have only defended 76.7% to rank fourth-worst in the NHL. Either the kill has to improve or Dallas needs to find a better way to impose their will, because this combination is not working.

Some players to keep an eye on tonight include DallasTyler Seguin (20 points [leads the league] on 13 assists [tied for second-most in the NHL]) and New Jersey‘s Taylor Hall (12 points [leads the team]).

It looks are bets are off in Vegas for this one, so hopefully that indicates a competitive game. Although I do believe that Dallas will be the better of these two teams come April, I think Jersey is able to get out of Dallas with the victory due to the Stars‘ poor netminding and their offense still searching for their identity.

Hockey Birthday

  • Yannick Tremblay (1975-) – The defensman was the 145th-overall pick in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft. Selected by Toronto, he only appeared in three seasons with the Leafs before five campaigns with Atlanta.

The Tampa Bay Lightning beat the New York Islanders 4-0 in the only game played yesterday – thereby our Game of the Day.

J.T. Brown (Cedric Paquette and Braydon Coburn) takes credit for the first, and thus winning, score with 2:02 remaining in the opening period with a wrist shot. Ryan Callahan (Andrej Sustr and Victor Hedman) also scored in the remaining 20 seconds of the frame.

Two more goals were scored in the second period by Nikita Kucherov (First Star of the Game Steven Stamkos) and Vladislav Namestnikov (Stamkos and Kucherov) to seal the victory.

Second Star Andrei Vasilevskiy earns the shutout victory after saving all 34 shots he faced, while Jaroslav Halak takes the loss, saving 27-of-31 (87.1%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series stands at 21-12-3, favoring the home sides by nine points over the roadies.

Dallas at St. Louis – Game 6 – Early mistakes too much for Blues; Stars force Game 7

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The Stars‘ three first period goals were all they needed to force a Game 7 in Dallas, as they won in St. Louis 3-2.

The Blues didn’t get a shot on goal until almost five minutes into the game, but it was Dallas‘ second shot that stole the show when Mattias Janmark connected on a wrist shot at the 4:53 mark (his second tally of the postseason), assisted by Valeri Nichushkin.  It was a breakaway goal caused by Colton Parayko when his pass from the blue line to the center of the offensive zone was intercepted by Nichushkin, who immediately found a steaking Janmark who had already cleared both St. Louis defensemen to set up a one-on-one with Brian Elliott.  After advancing to approximately the far face-off dot before firing over Elliott’s stick shoulder.

The Stars doubled their lead 20 seconds later, courtesy of Vernon Fiddler, who was assisted by Third Star of the Game Colton Sceviour and Kris Russell (his fourth helper of the playoffs), caused by yet another Blues turnover.  Elliott was attempting to clear the puck, but his dump was intercepted by Russell, who immediately sent the puck back behind goal for Sceviour.  Sceviour had intentions of a wrap-around attempt, but Robert Bortuzzo, playing in his first game of the Western Semis, forced him into a backhanded centering pass that Fiddler redirected past Elliott’s stick shoulder.

The Blues had a great opportunity to get a goal back just past the 10 minute mark, as they fired three different shots that First Star Kari Lehtonen only blocked but did not freeze, but the important thing for the Stars is that none found the back of the net.

Jason Demers committed the first penalty of the night for a hi-stick on Jori Lehtera with 7:59 remaining in the frame.  The Blues certainly applied some pressure, but the Dallas penalty kill stood strong to keep the Notes scoreless.

Troy Brouwer returned the favor with 3:46 remaining with a blatant cross check against Radek Faksa.  Unlike the first power play, this one counted as Jason Spezza connected on a wrister, assisted by Jamie Benn and John Klingberg.  Klingberg made a kick steal on an attempted pass from Dmitrij Jaskin, collected and dumped back towards his offensive zone for Benn.  Benn completed the advance along the near boards under pressure from Jay Bouwmeester… until he fell down, allowing Benn to center the puck for Spezza, who advanced towards Elliott’s crease and scored through traffic over the netminder’s glove.

It was the needle that broke the camel’s back, as Ken Hitchcock pulled Elliott in favor of Jake Allen, earning his first minutes of the 2016 playoffs.  He completed the frame without giving up any goals, leaving the score at 3-0.

Although they trailed on the scoreboard, the Blues actually played a decent period beyond their mistimed mistakes, leading the Stars in shots (nine to seven), face-off wins (57%), takeaways (four to two), giveaways (one to three) and hits (11 to nine).

St. Louis finally got on the board at the 7:29 mark of the second period with a Second Star Alexander Steen wrister, assisted by Bortuzzo and Vladimir Tarasenko.  The left wing’s initial shot was blocked by Demers and eventually sent towards the near boards by Tarasenko where it was collected by Bortuzzo, who immediately fired a slap shot on Lehtonen’s net.  With Lehtonen still collecting himself, Steen collected the rebound and scored on the basically empty net.

It was the lone tally of the back and forth period, leaving the Stars with a 3-1 lead going into the final period.

After 40 minutes, the Blues had a commanding lead in shots on goal (23 to 12) in addition to leading face-off wins (51%), takeaways (nine to six), giveaways (four to five) and hits (19 to 15).

2:41 into the third period, Russell earned a seat in the sin bin for a delay of game penalty, giving the Blues their second power play opportunity of the contest, but just like the first it yielded no goal.

The Notes pulled within a goal at the 8:59 mark when Patrik Berglund scored his third goal of the postseason, assisted by Lehtera and David Backes (his fifth helper of the playoffs).  Backes received a pass from Alex Pietrangelo and then found Lehtera hanging around near Lehtonen’s crease.  Lehtera turned with the puck and passed between his legs to Berglund, who tipped-in his score past the goalie’s right skate.

St. Louis was unable to level in the remaining 11:01, which means these teams will meet one more time in North Texas on Wednesday.

In summary, after a poor first period for the Blues, this was an incredible game by St. Louis, as they fired 37 shots on goal to Dallas‘ 14 (the most they ever had in one period was seven), earned 17 takeaways and threw 21 hits.  Given how well they handled the Stars in the final 40 minutes, it is difficult to tell who carries the momentum into the deciding game.

Lehtonen earns the win after saving 35 of 37 shots faced (94.6%), while Elliott takes the loss, saving four of seven (57.1%).  After coming into the game as relief, Allen saved all seven shots he faced for no decision.

Wednesday’s game at the American Airlines Center will drop the puck at 8 p.m. eastern, and may be viewed on NBCSN, SN or TVAS.

Dallas at St. Louis – Game 3 – Steen headlines St. Louis’ 6-1 victory

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Three goals in the second period proved to be too much for the Stars, as St. Louis won 6-1 to take a 2-1 lead in the series.

Until approximately the 2:15 mark, the beginning of the game took place almost entirely in the neutral zone before the Blues finally registered a shot on net.  Any momentum they tried getting off those attempts ended though, but it wasn’t due to anything the Stars did – the same pane of glass damaged in Game 7 of the Chicago series proved to be an issue.

In fact, that delay in play actually benefited Dallas, who quickly fired two quick shots following the return to play.  Soon after, they scored the first goal of Game 3 – a Colton Sceviour wrister at the 4:44 mark.  His second tally of the postseason was assisted by Jason Spezza (his sixth helper of the playoffs) and Johnny Oduya.

Fifty-seven seconds later, First Star of the Game Alexander Steen leveled with a wrister of his own, assisted by Paul Stastny and Troy Brouwer.

Scottie Upshall committed the first penalty of the night when he hi-sticked Oduya in front of Antti Niemi’s net with 6:52 remaining in the period.  Dallas entered the night 0 for seven on the power play in the Western Semifinals, and once again the Blues completed the kill.

Thirty-seven seconds after completing the kill, Vernon Fiddler and the Stars returned the favor by committing a slashing penalty against Jaden Schwartz, which St. Louis converted not even half a minute later when Third Star David Backes connected on a tip-in to give the Blues a 2-1 lead, assisted by Kevin Shattenkirk and Second Star Vladimir Tarasenko.

The Stars almost tied the game again with 1:19 remaining in the period when Jason Demers collected the rebound of an Elliott save, but the puck hit the crossbar and did not cross the red line, leaving the Blues with the one-goal differential going into the dressing room.

Not only did St. Louis end the frame with the lead on the scoreboard, but they were also winning the dot (58%), blocked shots (eight to four), takeaways (three to two) and, most importantly for their game, hits (19 to eight).

2:34 after returning to the ice for the second period, Brouwer scored his third goal of these playoffs on a wrister, assisted by Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo (his sixth helper of the postseason).  That tally is the one that chased Niemi, who was replaced by Kari Lehtonen for the remainder of the game.

St. Louis continued the onslaught 1:16 later when Tarasenko scored a wrister assisted by Patrik Berglund and Robby Fabbri (his seventh helper of the playoffs).

Jamie Benn began taking his frustrations out Blues skaters, and was sent to the box after tripping Bouwmeester at the 4:47 mark.  The ensuing power play did not go St. Louis‘ way, so the score remained at 4-1 when Benn returned to the ice.

The Blues returned to the power play at the 8:47 mark when two Stars (Demers and Fiddler) were sent to the box, but it was a five-on-four due to Ryan Reaves also earning two minutes in the sin bin for responding with a roughing penalty of his own against Fiddler.  St. Louis‘ power play fell to one for three in the game as they were unable to score with the advantage.

Those penalties are just one example of how Fiddler and the Stars have been trying to get under Reaves’ skin since he has entered the series.  Known for being an aggressive enforcer, When he entered play, an opposing physical Dallas skater was usually quick to follow, and almost every stoppage was followed by a skirmish along the boards.  Even when Fiddler wasn’t on the ice, Reaves was still a focus for the Stars, hoping for any attempt to get their first power play goal of the series.

Antoine Roussel made his fourth trip to the penalty box in the last two games for a delay of game penalty, and the Blues made sure to make him pay.  Only 10 seconds after the infraction at the 17:53 mark, Steen scored his second goal of the night with a power play wrister to set the score at 5-1, assisted by Tarasenko and Schwartz.

Bouwmeester earned himself a break with 63 seconds remaining in the second period when he tripped Spezza in the corner, but the period ended with the Blues leading 5-1.

After two periods, the Blues still led on shots (26-19), as well as face-offs (59%), blocks (12 to five), takeaways (seven to four) and hits (28-17).

St. Louis killed the remaining 57 seconds of the power play at the beginning of the third period to continue their streak of penalty kills at eight straight over the Stars.

Benn committed the first penalty of the final period at the 9:07 mark when he cross checked Pietrangelo, and the Blues followed suit 3:35 later when Colton Parayko was caught roughing Radek Faksa.  Dallas ended their power play 41 seconds early when Cody Eakin hooked Shattenkirk.  After all of that, neither team altered the 5-1 score.

Reaves finally got tired of the Stars late in the third and scrapped with Curtis McKenzie with three minutes to go.  After his bout, he blew a kiss to the Dallas bench before heading to the dressing room, probably not making many friends in the process.

Backes’ fifth goal of the playoffs and second of the game was a shorthanded wrister, due to a Brouwer slash against Faksa, with 1:54 remaining in the game to seal the deal at 6-1.  He was assisted by Carl Gunnarsson.

Elliott earns the win after saving 25 of the 26 shots he faced (96.2%), while Niemi takes the loss, saving nine of 12 (75%).  The goaltending questions continue for Dallas, as Niemi’s replacement saved 24 of 27 (88.9%) for no decision.

After taking a 2-1 lead in the series, the Blues will once again host the Stars Thursday at 8 p.m. eastern.  That contest can be viewed on CBC, NBCSN or TVAS.