Tag Archives: Filip Forsberg

2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier Preview: Western Conference

Hockey’s back. In August!?! In this economy?!?

Yes, truer words have never been spoken. Hockey. Is. Back.

But not in the way you’re probably thinking if you’ve been under a rock for the last– let’s see, what month is it now?

The National Hockey League paused the 2019-20 regular season on March 12th due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic before canceling the rest of the regular season in late May and announcing a 24-team playoff format for 2020.

Make no mistake, whether you put an asterisk next to the winners of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final or not– it’ll be the hardest Cup to win since Lord Stanley of Preston announced he’d donate the silver rose bowl to the best hockey team in the world (so Canada) on March 18, 1892.

Despite all the training world class athletes do in contemporary times, nothing could prepare any athlete to stop playing, go through training camp after months of (in some cases) not being able to skate on any ice, then go full throttle for a championship tournament.

If anything, the asterisk next to the 2020 Stanley Cup champions will simply be a marker for the challenging times and remarkable feats of athleticism that team went through to put it all together and lift a 35-pound trophy at the end.

By now you’ve probably heard how the 2020 postseason will work– 24 teams vying for 16 spots, with eight teams (four in each conference) already locked into the playoffs, but fighting for the top-four seeds as the other 16 teams compete in a best-of-five series to punch a ticket into the playoffs.

Those 16 teams are in the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, which technically isn’t part of the 2020 postseason according to the NHL, but the individual player and team stats will count towards the playoffs in the record books.

So for Arizona Coyotes fans, the long standing playoff drought since 2012, technically isn’t over yet. They’d have to beat the Nashville Predators first.

With all of that in mind, let’s take a look at the Western Conference Qualifiers, while the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars sort themselves out.

All Western Conference games will be at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, including the Western Conference Final and all of the Stanley Cup Final.

(5) Edmonton Oilers (37-25-9, 83 points) vs (12) Chicago Blackhawks (32-30-8, 72 points)

Edmonton: 71 games played, .585 points percentage, 31 regulation wins.

Chicago: 70 games played, .514 points percentage, 23 regulation wins.

The Edmonton Oilers finished second in the Pacific Division with 83 points– three points behind the Vegas Golden Knights for the division lead. That’s how good the Oilers were at times and/or how far behind the Pacific Division was at times leading up to the premature end of the regular season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

One thing is for sure about the always home-ice even without fans in the bubble Oilers team, their top players were much better than they were last season.

2019-20 Art Ross Trophy winner and Hart Memorial Trophy finalist, Leon Draisaitl had 110 points this season in 71 games played. He was on pace for 126 points had the regular season reached its original conclusion.

That would’ve been 21 points better than his previous high of 105 points in 82 games last season. Luckily for Draisaitl, he still set a new career-high in a pandemic– two new career-highs, actually.

Though 43 goals this season did not top the 50 goals he scored in 2018-19, Draisaitl set career-highs in assists (67) and points (110)– and yet, somehow he still was a minus-seven on the season.

Is it worth exploring moving Draisaitl out of Edmonton? MY COLUMN:

(If you’re wondering, that’s four consecutive seasons of at least 70 points and back-to-back 100-plus point seasons for Draisaitl, so no, he’s not going anywhere.)

Oilers captain, Connor McDavid, had 34 goals and 63 assists (97 points) in 64 games this season, which was 19 points shy of his career-high 116-points last season in 78 games in 2018-19. McDavid was on pace for 124 points this season at the time of the stoppage.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was third in scoring for Edmonton with 22-39–61 totals in 65 games this season, then the next highest skater had 34 points in 59 games (Zack Kassian). This season marked back-to-back 60-point seasons for Nugent-Hopkins for the first time in his career.

In goal, Mike Smith (19-12-6 in 39 games played, 37 starts, 2.95 goals against average, .905 save percentage and one shutout) split time with Mikko Koskinen (18-13-3 in 38 GP, 34 starts, 2.75 GAA, .917 SV% and one shutout in that span) this season.

The 38-year-old veteran goaltender, Smith, has a 2.17 GAA, a .938 SV% and four shutouts over 24 career Stanley Cup Playoff games.

Meanwhile, 32-year-old Koskinen has yet to appear in a postseason NHL game.

Smith’s .938 SV% in the playoffs, however, is league-leading among active NHL goaltenders with a minimum of 20 Stanley Cup Playoff games played.

Oilers head coach, Dave Tippett, might be smart to start Smith over Koskinen in Game 1, considering Smith’s career playoff numbers, but he did post a 3.20 GAA and a .917 SV% in five games with the Calgary Flames in the 2019 First Round en route to Calgary’s defeat at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche.

Smith did record one shutout in last year’s playoffs, however, and faced 205 shots against in those five games against the Avs.

That was about 34% of the number of shots he faced (602) in 16 games with the then known as Phoenix Coyotes en route to their 2012 Western Conference Final appearance against the eventual 2012 Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.

At the other end of the rink, Patrick Kane led the way for the Chicago Blackhawks this season with 33-51–84 totals in 70 games, which was 24 points more than Jonathan Toews’ 60-point effort in 70 games for Chicago this season.

2019-20 Calder Memorial Trophy finalist, Dominik Kubalik, was third in Blackhawks scoring with 30 goals and 16 assists (46 points) in 68 games played.

For Kane, the pandemic shortened 2019-20 regular season marked five consecutive seasons with at least 70 points, while he was on pace for about 98 points had the regular season witnessed a full 82-game conclusion.

For Toews, he has never had a season with 82 games schedule below 50 points (though he had 48 points in 47 games in the lockout shortened 2012-13 season), but he did see a decrease in production from 81 points in 82 games last season to 60 points in 70 games this season. He was on pace for 70 points over an 82-game schedule in 2019-20.

In goal, Corey Crawford led the Blackhawks with a 16-20-3 record in 40 games played (39 starts), a 2.77 GAA, .917 SV% and one shutout this season.

Prior to being traded to the Vegas Golden Knights at the trade deadline via the Toronto Maple Leafs in a three-team trade– in which Chicago acquired, in part, Malcolm Subban– Robin Lehner served as Crawford’s tandem goaltender with a 16-10-5 record in 33 games played (31 starts), a 3.01 GAA, .918 SV% and no shutouts in that span with the Blackhawks.

Subban, on the other hand, made one appearance with Chicago after the trade and played in one minute as a Blackhawk. He had a 3.18 GAA and an .890 SV% in 20 games (19 starts) with the Golden Knights this season, however.

Should Blackhawks head coach, Jeremy Colliton, be given any reason not to opt for Crawford as his Qualifier starter, then there’s cause for concern as to whether or not Chicago can upset the Oilers if Subban can’t right the ship from his worst season as an NHL backup goaltender.

Four months off with plenty of rest to get in the right mindset might have been a good thing for his rhythm, however, as Crawford and Subban made a combined shutout effort in Chicago’s, 4-0, win over the St. Louis Blues in their exhibition matchup.

What’s more, the Blackhawks went 2-1-0 in three games against the Oilers this season, but before you start thinking there’s a chance Chicago upsets Edmonton with a sweep or anything, take caution as the Hawks had ten goals for and nine goals against in their season series.

This will be Colliton’s first appearance behind the bench as head coach in a postseason (but also not technically postseason) appearance for the Blackhawks– and Chicago’s first postseason action without Joel Quenneville at the reigns since before Quenneville was hired four games into the 2008-09 season.

It truly is a new era for Chicago, despite much of the core remaining from their three Cup championships in a five-year span.

Look for the Oilers to get the job done in four games with Tippett looking to punch his ticket back to the postseason since leading the Coyotes to the 2012 Western Conference Final, while The Hockey Gods favor Edmonton since the tragic loss of their teammate, Colby Cave, in April after the 25-year-old forward suffered a brain bleed and died days later after being placed in a medically induced coma.

Regular season outcomes:

3-1 CHI at United Center on Oct. 14th, 5-3 EDM at Rogers Place on Feb. 11th, 4-3 CHI at United Center on March 5th

Schedule:

8/1- Game 1 CHI @ EDM 3 PM ET on NBC, SN

8/3- Game 2 CHI @ EDM 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN

8/5- Game 3 EDM @ CHI in Edmonton 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN

8/7- Game 4 EDM @ CHI in Edmonton*

8/8- Game 5 CHI @ EDM*

*If necessary

(6) Nashville Predators (35-26-8, 78 points) vs (11) Arizona Coyotes (33-29-8, 74 points)

Nashville: 69 games played, .565 points percentage, 28 regulation wins.

Arizona: 70 games played, .529 points percentage, 26 regulation wins.

There’s something in the water in Nashville– and it’s not just catfish. Predators defender– and 2019-20 James Norris Trophy finalist– Roman Josi led the Preds in scoring this season with 65 points (16 goals, 49 assists) in 69 games.

He was on pace for 77 points at the time of the stoppage and trailed Washington Capitals defender– and fellow Norris finalist– John Carlson by ten points for the most points by a defender this season.

It was a career-season for Josi in goals, assists and points, by the way.

Nashville’s top-three in scoring, in fact, nearly contained two defenders as Josi led the way and Ryan Ellis notched 38 points in an injury-riddled 49-game season (a 64-point pace had the full 82-game schedule been completed if the pandemic never happened).

Ellis trailed Filip Forsberg (21-27–48 totals in 63 games) and Matt Duchene (13-29–42 totals in 66 games) in scoring on the Predators roster.

Juuse Saros finally emerged as a de facto starting goaltender for Nashville after amassing a 17-12-4 record in 40 games played (34 starts), as well as a 2.70 GAA, .914 SV% and four shutouts on the season.

Pekka Rinne, meanwhile, had an 18-14-4 record in 36 games (35 starts), which wasn’t bad, but his numbers past his overall record were actually a career-worst with a 3.17 GAA and an .895 SV% in 2019-20.

Rinne previously had a 3.80 GAA in a season, but that was only when he played in two games in 2005-06.

This was a season to forget for Rinne, but perhaps a larger indicator of more worries to come for Nashville in the net– especially more so after Saros didn’t exactly light it up as a starter with a goals against average that would even make a backup goaltender look, well, average.

The Arizona Coyotes enter the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier with a new owner, as well as a new Interim General Manager in Steve Sullivan, as well as Nick Schmaltz leading the way in scoring with 11 goals and 34 assists for 45 points in 70 games played.

Not ideal, ideally speaking.

Clayton Keller had 44 points (17 goals, 27 assists) in 70 games and was on pace for 52 points had the pandemic not cut the regular season short.

Meanwhile, Conor Garland was third on the team in scoring with 39 points in 68 games, while establishing career-highs in goals (22), assists (17) and points (39) in the process.

Christian Dvorak and Phil Kessel each had 38 points in 70 games. Over an 82-game schedule, that’s about a 45-point pace, which would’ve still been a career-season for Dvorak and a disappointment for Kessel in his first season in the desert.

Granted, Kessel’s not playing with guys like Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin in his new home in Arizona.

He failed to reach the 20-goal plateau for the first time since the 2007-08 season, in which Kessel scored 19 goals in 82 games for the Boston Bruins in his sophomore season.

Kessel also failed to reach 30-assists for the first time since his first season as a Toronto Maple Leaf in 2009-10, in which he had 25 helpers in 70 games.

Finally, No. 81 on Arizona’s roster failed to amass at least 40 points in a season for just the third time in his career (29 points in 70 games while missing time battling testicular cancer with the Bruins in his rookie season in 2006-07, and 37 points in 82 games the following season in 2007-08 with Boston).

Granted, Kessel likely could have passed the 40-point plateau had the COVID-19 pandemic not interrupted plans for him and his Coyotes teammates.

In goal, Antti Raanta appeared in 33 games (32 starts) and had a 15-14-3 record, as well as a 2.63 GAA, a .921 SV% and two shutouts in that span.

Darcy Kuemper went 16-11-2 in 29 games played (all starts) and amassed a 2.22 GAA, while putting up a .928 SV% and two shutouts this season for the Coyotes.

If there’s any doubt Rick Tocchet has over deciding which goaltender to start in Game 1 against Nashville, there shouldn’t be any question– it has to be Kuemper.

Simply put, it’s Kuemper’s net to lose right now in Arizona and a little healthy competition isn’t a bad idea to try to spur Raanta in the right direction if he wants to be a starter in this league.

Boy, home ice advantage really would be something in this series by default, right? After all, each team won their only home game in their regular season matchups prior to the premature conclusion to the 2019-20 regular season due to the pandemic.

Since home ice is without fans in Edmonton for all Western Conference teams in the 2020 postseason, there’s not much to go off of in terms of these two clubs’ head-to-head meetings.

But the Predators have more than a few things going in their favor among their forwards and defenders who could also play forward, arguably.

The one thing Arizona has that Nashville hasn’t seen much of this season is a consistent starter in the crease.

If the Coyotes win the series, it’ll likely have something with Kuemper stealing a few games.

If the Preds sweep Arizona, it might have something to do with the sheer fire power in a last-ditch effort at what’s otherwise a closing window for a potential Cup contending roster.

At the very least John Hynes probably doesn’t have to worry about getting the same treatment as Peter Laviolette– who Hynes replaced in January– if the Predators dropped the ball in this series.

Let’s say Nashville in three, but give props to Kuemper for honing in his talents to tend the crease this well in his career. It hasn’t been easy, but he’s arrived and here to stay, unlike former Coyotes GM John Chayka.

Regular season outcomes:

5-2 ARI at Gila River Arena on Oct. 17th, 3-2 NSH at Bridgestone Arena on Dec. 23rd

Schedule:

8/2- Game 1 ARI @ NSH in Edmonton 2 PM ET on USA, NHL.TV, SN360

8/4- Game 2 ARI @ NSH in Edmonton 2:30 PM ET on NHLN, NHL.TV, SN1, SN360

8/5- Game 3 NSH @ ARI in Edmonton 2:30 PM ET on NHLN, NHL.TV, SN360

8/7- Game 4 NSH @ ARI in Edmonton*

8/9- Game 5 ARI @ NSH in Edmonton*

*If necessary

(7) Vancouver Canucks (36-27-6, 78 points) vs (10) Minnesota Wild (35-27-7, 77 points)

Vancouver: 69 games played, .565 points percentage, 27 regulation wins.

Minnesota: 69 games played, .558 points percentage, 30 regulation wins.

Entering the 2019-20 season, Vancouver Canucks General Manager, Jim Benning, added J.T. Miller to the fold in a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Benning then went out and got Tyler Toffoli from the Los Angeles Kings leading up to the 2020 trade deadline.

As a result, the Canucks are much improved from last season to this season.

Miller led the team in scoring with 27-45–72 totals in 69 games played and was on pace for about 86 points at the time of the stoppage due to the pandemic.

Elias Pettersson (66 points in 69 games), Bo Horvat (53 points in 69 games) and Quinn Hughes (53 points in 69 games) rounded out the top-three in scoring for Vancouver.

Horvat and Hughes were tied for the third most points on the team as Hughes left his mark on the 2019-20 season by earning Calder Memorial Trophy finalist honors.

Meanwhile, Jacob Markstrom led the Canucks in the crease with a 23-16-4 record in 43 games played (all starts), as well as a 2.75 GAA, a .918 SV% and two shutouts in that span.

Thatcher Demko made 27 appearances (25 starts) as the backup goaltender and went 13-10-2 on the season with a 3.06 GAA and a .905 SV% in that span.

Louis Domingue also appeared in one game (one start) in the regular season for the Canucks and had a 4.08 GAA and an .882 SV%.

Markstrom will be the starter for Vancouver’s postseason run, but he’ll have to be a tad better in cutting down his goals against average for a deep run.

For Canucks head coach, Travis Green, it’s more of the same game plan to try to spur the Canucks back into the playoffs for the first time since their 2015 First Round appearance and elimination at the hands of the Calgary Flames in six games.

The Minnesota Wild removed the “interim” tag from their head coach, Dean Evason’s title since the pause in play and are looking to upset the Canucks and get back into the playoffs since missing the postseason last season.

Kevin Fiala led the way for the Wild in scoring with 54 points (23 goals, 31 assists) in 64 games played. He was on pace for 69 points had the season gone all 82 games, but still established career-highs in goals, assists and points in the shortened season regardless.

Ryan Suter led defenders and was second in scoring on the roster with 48 points (eight goals, 40 assists) in 69 games, while Eric Staal was ahead of Zach Parise by one point for third in scoring with 47 points in 66 games.

In goal, Alex Stalock (20-11-4 in 38 games played, 36 starts, 2.67 goals against average, .985 save percentage, four shutouts) outplayed Minnesota’s usual starter Devan Dubnyk (12-15-2 in 30 GP, 28 starts, 3.35 GAA, .890 SV%, one shutout) and will likely backstop the team in Game 1 against Vancouver.

Kaapo Kahkonen also made his NHL debut this season in the crease for the Wild in five games– amassing a 3-1-1 record, as well as a 2.96 GAA and a .913 SV%.

Both teams had nine goals for and nine goals against one another in their season series. They also each had 89 total shots on goal against one another in the 2019-20 regular season.

Though the Wild made strides this season at potentially avoiding a rebuild, it’s still an uphill climb for Minnesota against the Canucks on paper– regardless of their head-to-head matchups from the season.

Vancouver has the right combination of speed, skill and youth to limit Minnesota’s chances and, at times, lackluster offense.

The Canucks core is more defined than Minnesota’s fluid situation as Wild GM Bill Guerin evolves the roster over the next season or two.

It’s a transition period, nonetheless.

Benning and the Canucks are emerging from their transition and look to be ready to get back into the playoff hunt with what should be a four-game series win against the Wild.

Regular season outcomes:

4-1 VAN at Xcel Energy Center on Jan. 12th, 4-2 MIN at Xcel Energy Center on Feb. 6th, 4-3 F/SO MIN at Rogers Arena on Feb. 19th

Schedule:

8/2- Game 1 MIN @ VAN in Edmonton 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN

8/4- Game 2 MIN @ VAN in Edmonton 10:45 PM ET on USA, NHL.TV, SN

8/6- Game 3 VAN @ MIN in Edmonton TBD

8/7- Game 4 VAN @ MIN in Edmonton*

8/9- Game 5 MIN @ VAN in Edmonton*

*If necessary

(8) Calgary Flames (36-27-7, 79 points) vs (9) Winnipeg Jets (37-28-6, 80 points)

Calgary: 70 games played, .564 points percentage, 25 regulation wins.

Winnipeg: 71 games played, .563 points percentage, 30 regulation wins.

The Calgary Flames were led in scoring this season by their hottest controversial player, Matthew Tkachuk. Tkachuk ruffled some feathers en route to re-igniting the “Battle of Alberta” and managed to amass 23-38–61 totals in 69 games played in 2019-20.

He was on pace for 72 points this season at the time of the stoppage, but still had back-to-back seasons with at least 60 points nonetheless.

Johnny Gaudreau was second on the roster in points with 58 points (18 goals, 40 assists) in 70 games played, which was down from his 99 points in 82 games last season. That said, Gaudreau was still on pace for about 68 points when the regular season was cut short by the ongoing pandemic.

Instead, his streak of consecutive 60-plus point seasons was over at five seasons thanks to the pandemic.

Finally, Elias Lindholm managed to set a new career-high in goals (29), while scoring 54 points in 70 games this season– ranking third on the team in scoring.

In the crease, Calgary was saved by David “Big Save Dave” Rittich, who went 24-17-6 in 48 games played (all starts), had a 2.97 goals against average, a .907 save percentage and two shutouts this season.

Actually, on second thought, maybe that’s not very good numbers to have for a *checks notes* starting goaltender.

Alright, let’s check the backup…

Cam Talbot went 12-10-1 in 26 games played (22 starts), had a 2.63 GAA, a .919 SV% and two shutouts this season. Hmm, not much better.

Oh and did you remember that interim head coach, Geoff Ward, replaced Bill Peters after everyone found out Peters is racist?

The Winnipeg Jets landed in fifth place in the Central Division with 80 points this season– two points behind the Dallas Stars, who were the fourth best team in the Western Conference by points percentage and have earned themselves home ice in at least the First Round, which only matters so much in a bubble, but still, this was meant to show how close the Jets came to being a Round Robin team instead of playing in a Qualifier series.

Anyway, Kyle Connor soared as a Jet this season– establishing new career-highs in goals (38), assists (35) and points (73) in the process while playing in 71 games until the pandemic cut the regular season short.

Connor was on pace for 84 points this season if the full 82-game schedule could’ve occurred uninterrupted.

Meanwhile, Mark Scheifele actually tied Connor for the most points on the roster with 73, as Scheifele tallied 29 goals and had 44 helpers in 71 games. Not quite a career-season, but still respectable after setting career-high totals (38-46–84) last season in all 82 games.

Winnipeg’s captain, Blake Wheeler, contributed more than just actions and words in defense of the Constitution and human rights this season, scoring 22 goals and amassing 43 assists for third place on the roster in points (65) in 71 games played.

Patrik Laine, for those wondering, was fourth on the team with 63 points, which was back to his usual self, albeit with more assists (35) than goals (28) in 68 games.

Laine hasn’t been a bust for the Jets– he’s never had a season with fewer than 50 points (last season, 82 games) and was on pace for about 76 points had the season been played in full.

This was, however, the first season he failed to reach the 30-goal plateau, but he only missed it by two goals and, hello, the pandemic? Remember it? Yeah, that’s why he missed the mark, otherwise he would’ve (probably) scored a pair of goals in the remaining 11 games for Winnipeg on the 2019-20 regular season schedule at the time of the pause.

In goal, Paul Maurice relied on old reliable to bail him out even more so in the wake of Dustin Byfuglien’s decision to sit out the 2019-20 season and eventual mutual termination of his contract with the club.

2019-20 Vezina Trophy finalist, Connor Hellebuyck, held the fort down with a 31-21-5 record in 58 games played (56 starts), amassed a 2.57 goals against average and had a .922 save percenrage– as well as a league-leading six shutouts this season.

Yeah, it was kind of a big season for Hellebucyk and if he’s not the favorite among the NHL GMs that vote for the Vezina, well, who knows what games they were watching (presumably their own).

Laurent Brossoit went 6-7-1 in 19 games (15 starts) this season and had a dismal 3.28 GAA and an .895 SV% in that span. Yikes.

The defense looks different without Byfuglien, but Hellebuyck remained stable as their primary alternative to keeping the puck away from their own net.

That might not pay off against some of the powerhouses in the league, but luckily the Jets have enough time to let Maurice come up with a plan and enact it to cut down on Hellebuyck’s workload in the Qualifier if they want a chance to advance.

Oh, speaking of the Winnipeg and Calgary series– nobody knows what to expect!

The Jets and Flames met once this season– back in the 2019 Heritage Classic outdoors at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Winnipeg won in overtime in comeback fashion that night, 2-1.

They peppered Rittich with 45 shots (43 saves) and kept Hellebuyck to an ideal workload of 30 shots faced (29 saves).

If the Jets don’t win this series, it’ll be a huge disappointment– perhaps even bigger than making the First Round and getting stomped out by their next opponent after the phenomenal performance by Hellebucyk in the crease all season.

Then again, momentum no longer exists since everyone had about five months off.

Let’s say this one goes all five games for one reason or another and that Winnipeg can pull it off and advance to the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Regular season outcomes:

2-1 F/OT WPG at Mosaic Stadium, Regina, Saskatchewan on Oct. 26th

Schedule:

8/1- Game 1 WPG @ CGY in Edmonton 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, CBC, SN

8/3- Game 2 WPG @ CGY in Edmonton 2:30 PM ET on NHLN, NHL.TV, SN

8/4- Game 3 CGY @ WPG in Edmonton 4:45 PM ET on NHLN, NHL.TV, SN

8/6- Game 4 CGY @ WPG in Edmonton*

8/8- Game 5 WPG @ CGY in Edmonton*

*If necessary


2020 Western Conference Round Robin Action

Here’s a quick glance at the Round Robin schedule for the top-four Western Conference teams if you’re not at all interested in the Qualifiers for some reason.

Again, all games in the Western Conference are in Edmonton this year and all times Eastern.

St. Louis Blues

42-19-10, 94 points, 71 GP, .662 PTS%, 33 RW

Aug. 2nd @ COL in Edmonton 6:30 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN360

Aug. 6th vs. VGK in Edmonton, TBD

Aug. 9th vs. DAL in Edmonton, TBD

Colorado Avalanche

42-20-8, 92 points, 70 GP, .657 PTS%, 37 RW

Aug. 2nd vs. STL in Edmonton 6:30 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN360

Aug. 5th @ DAL in Edmonton 6:30 PM ET on NHLN, NHL.TV

Aug. 8th vs. VGK in Edmonton, TBD

Vegas Golden Knights

39-24-8, 86 points, 71 GP, .606 PTS%, 30 RW

Aug. 3rd vs. DAL in Edmonton 6:30 PM ET on NHLN, NHL.TV, SN1

Aug. 6th @ STL in Edmonton, TBD

Aug. 8th @ COL in Edmonton, TBD

Dallas Stars

37-24-8, 82 points, 69 GP, .594 PTS%, 26 RW

Aug. 3rd @ VGK in Edmonton 6:30 PM ET on NHLN, NHL.TV, SN1

Aug. 5th vs. COL in Edmonton 6:30 PM ET on NHLN, NHL.TV

Aug. 9th @ STL in Edmonton, TBD

DTFR Podcast #202- What Are Your Qualifications?/Let’s Get Kraken

Using Qualifiers to enhance this postseason (it’s a breakdown of the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers and Round Robin action). Plus the Seattle Kraken!

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple PodcastsStitcher and/or on Spotify.

Bruins score touchdown in Nashville, win, 6-2

Six different players scored goals in the Boston Bruins’, 6-2, victory over the Nashville Predators Tuesday night at Bridgestone Arena.

B’s netminder, Tuukka Rask (16-4-6 record, 2.29 goals against average, .924 save percentage in 26 games played) stopped 33 out of 35 shots faced for a .943 SV% in the win.

Predators goaltender, Pekka Rinne (14-9-3, 3.06 GAA, .894 SV% in 26 games played) made 30 saves on 35 shots against for an .857 SV% in the loss.

Boston remained in command of the Atlantic Division with a 25-8-11 record this season and 61 points. Meanwhile, Nashville fell to 19-16-7 (45 points), but remained in 6th place in the Central Division.

The Bruins improved to 11-6-2 on the road this season and snapped a three-game losing streak.

Kevan Miller (knee) has yet to make his season debut and missed his 44th game this season due to complications stemming from an injury last season.

Meanwhile, the Bruins were also without the services of Connor Clifton (upper body) and Joakim Nordstrom (illness) against the Predators.

Steven Kampfer was assigned to the Providence Bruins (AHL) on Sunday before being recalled on Monday likely for cap reasons and as a result of Clifton’s extended stay in the press box with an injury.

Boston’s head coach, Bruce Cassidy, made a few minor moves to his lineup entering Tuesday night in Nashville– most notably moving up Anders Bjork to the second line right wing with Jake DeBrusk at left wing and David Krejci at center.

Danton Heinen, Charlie Coyle and Brett Ritchie comprised of the third line, while Sean Kuraly moved over to the left wing of the fourth line with Par Lindholm at center and Chris Wagner on the right side.

On defense, Zdeno Chara remained paired with Charlie McAvoy on the top pairing, while Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo rounded out the top-four defenders as usual.

John Moore was back on the left side of the third pairing with Matt Grzelcyk on his right side.

David Backes and Kampfer were the only healthy scratches for the B’s on Tuesday.

While Boston made line changes, Nashville made a head coaching change prior to their meeting with the Bruins.

After losing to the Ducks, 5-4, in a shootout on Sunday night in Anaheim, the Predators fired Peter Laviolette on Monday and hired John Hynes as just their third head coach in franchise history Tuesday afternoon.

Kevin McCarthy was also let go by the Preds and Rob Scuderi was hired as an assistant coach in place of McCarthy.

Brad Marchand cross checked Viktor Arvidsson 14 seconds into the first period, but Arvidsson also cut a rut to the penalty box for embellishment on the delayed call.

The two teams played 4-on-4 for two minutes and were almost unscathed except for when David Pastrnak (32) glided through the neutral zone, skated around Calle Jarnkrok and blasted a shot past Rinne just a couple of feet after entering the offensive zone to give Boston the, 1-0, lead at 1:36 of the first period.

McAvoy (14) and Grzelcyk (10) had the assists on Pastrnak’s goal.

Moments later, Kuraly hit Matt Duchene from behind along the glass and received a two-minute minor for boarding at 6:10.

Nashville did not convert on their first power play opportunity of the night.

Entering the first intermission, the Bruins led the Predators, 1-0, on the scoreboard and, 13-8, in shots on goal.

Boston also held the advantage in blocked shots (3-1) and faceoff win percentage (53-47), while the Preds led in giveaways (3-2) and hits (8-2).

Both teams had four takeaways aside and the Predators were 0/1 on the skater advantage heading into the middle frame. Boston had yet to see any action on the power play.

Nashville thought they had tied the game up 61 seconds into the second period when Nick Bonino batted the puck out of the air and over the goal line while the net was knocked off its moorings, but after review it was determined that the actions of a Predators player had caused the net to come off– therefore negating the goal.

Rocco Grimaldi bumped McAvoy and sent the Bruins defender barreling into the post– knocking the net off its pegs as Bonino worked his magic.

The score remained, 1-0, for Boston at 1:01 of the second period.

About a minute later, the B’s had too many skaters on the ice and were assessed a bench minor penalty that was served by Ritchie.

Once more the Preds couldn’t convert on the ensuing legal skater advantage.

Almost midway through the second period, Heinen (7) sniped a shot over Rinne’s blocker side and into the corner pocket of the twine to score his first goal in eight games and give the Bruins a two-goal lead.

Grzelcyk (11) and Coyle (14) tallied the assists on Heinen’s goal at 8:21 of the second period and Boston led, 2-0.

But less than a minute later the Bruins found themselves shorthanded yet again as Carlo tripped Arvidsson at 9:01– resulting in a 5-on-4 advantage for Nashville.

Things escalated to a 5-on-3 power play for the Predators after Grzelcyk caught Craig Smith with a high stick at 10:28.

A short, 33-second, two-skater advantage would be followed by an abbreviated standard power play, but the Preds didn’t need that long to connect on the 5-on-3 advantage.

A bang-band play led to Filip Forsberg (15) rocketing the puck behind Rask with assists from Duchene (20) and Roman Josi (31).

With the secondary assist on Forsberg’s power play goal, Josi extended his scoring streak to 11-games and Nashville cut Boston’ lead in half, 2-1, at 10:54 of the second period.

The B’s escaped the remainder of the penalty kill unharmed.

Late in the middle frame, Nashville lost track of basic numbers and had too many skaters on the ice at 16:29.

Kyle Turris took the long skate across the ice to serve the bench minor infraction and the Bruins capitalized on their first power play of the night.

Patrice Bergeron (18) followed up on a second-effort and sent a shot over Rinne’s blocker to once again give the Bruins a two-goal lead.

DeBrusk (10) and Marchand (41) had the assists on Bergeron’s power play goal and Boston led, 3-1, at 17:42.

Through 40 minutes of play in Nashville, the Bruins (and their moms– as it was Boston’s moms trip) led the Preds, 3-1, on the scoreboard and, 26-24, in shots on goal despite trailing in the second period shots on net alone– 16-13.

Boston also maintained the advantage in blocked shots (9-2), takeaways (5-4) and faceoff win% (51-49).

Nashville led in giveaways (5-3) and hits (13-6).

The Predators were 1/4 on the skater advantage, while the B’s were a perfect 1/1 on the power play heading into the final frame of regulation.

Wagner (4) kicked off the third period with a quick goal as he unintentionally redirected a shot after he was pushed by a Predators defender into Rinne at 2:51.

Lindholm (1) and Krug (24) notched the assists on Wagner’s goal and the Bruins extended their lead, 4-1.

Almost a minute later, Grimaldi tripped Chara and was assessed a minor infraction at 3:52 of the third period.

Boston’s ensuing power play was not successful.

Midway through the third period, Yakov Trenin tried to engage Chara in a fight and got the Bruins captain to exchange fisticuffs at 11:40.

Chara received an extra minor for roughing while both received majors for fighting and thus the Predators were headed on the power play after just the 8th fight this season for Boston– and 3rd in a row for their captain.

Four seconds later, Moore hooked Arvidsson and joined Ritchie (serving Chara’s roughing minor) and Chara in the box as the B’s faced Nashville’s 5-on-3 advantage at 11:44.

The Predators weren’t able to get anything done with the two-skater advantage and took a penalty of their own at 15:38 when Josi hooked Lindholm.

Shortly after Boston’s resulting power play expired, Coyle tripped Mikael Granlund at 17:46 and presented the Preds with their seventh power play opportunity of the night.

Just as the saying goes “the seventh time’s a charm”, the Predators managed to squib a puck through Rask and just over the line while chaos ensued in the crease at 18:06.

Granlund (7) notched the power play goal for Nashville and the Preds cut the lead back to, 4-2. Mattias Ekholm (19) and Forsberg (15) had the assists on Granlund’s goal.

With 1:07 remaining in the game, Hynes pulled his goaltender for an extra attacker, but things didn’t go quite as planned when Krejci (9) received the puck on a pass from Rask and fired the rubber biscuit into the empty goal frame about 170-feet away from where he was standing at 19:05.

Rask (1) picked up his first assist of the season and the only assist on Krejci’s empty net goal as Boston all but confirmed the win, 5-2.

It only took another 22 seconds for the Bruins to rub salt in the wounds of Smashville– adding one more tic-toc-goal from Coyle (8) at 19:27 as Boston pulled ahead to a four-goal lead with seconds remaining in the action.

Ritchie (4) and Heinen (10) were credited with the assists on Coyle’s goal and the B’s sealed the deal on a, 6-2, win in Nashville.

Boston finished the night leading in shots on goal (36-35), blocked shots (15-6) and faceoff win% (56-44), while Nashville wrapped up the night with the advantage in giveaways (7-3) and hits (15-8).

The Predators wrapped up Tuesday night’s action 2/7 on the power play and the B’s finished the game 1/3 on the skater advantage.

The Bruins improved to 16-4-2 when leading after the first period, 14-0-5 when leading after two periods and 18-6-7 when scoring the game’s first goal this season.

Boston returns home to face the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday before venturing on the road to visit the New York Islanders on Jan. 11th, the Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 13th and the Columbus Blue Jackets on Jan. 14th.

Predators top Bruins, 4-3, in OT

Roman Josi and Patrice Bergeron scored a pair of goals for their respective teams, but Ryan Ellis scored the game-winning goal in overtime as the Nashville Predators topped the Boston Bruins, 4-3, at TD Garden on Saturday night.

Pekka Rinne (12-5-3 record, 2.98 goals against average, .895 save percentage in 20 games played) made 29 saves on 32 shots against for a .906 SV% in Nashville’s win.

Boston goaltender, Jaroslav Halak (8-3-4, 2.37 GAA, .924 SV% in 15 games played) stopped 25 out of 29 shots faced (.862 SV%) in the overtime loss.

The Bruins fell to 21-7-9 (51 points) on the season, but remained in command of 1st place in the Atlantic Division.

Meanwhile, the Predators improved to 17-12-6 (40 points) on the season and moved into 5th place in the Central Division.

Boston fell to 12-1-8 at home this season as a result of the loss.

Once more the Bruins were without the services of Kevan Miller (knee) and Karson Kuhlman (fractured tibia) on Saturday.

John Moore was also out of the lineup for the second game in a row after missing Thursday night’s, 3-2, shootoutloss to the New York Islanders with an illness.

B’s head coach, Bruce Cassidy, opted to keep Connor Clifton in the lineup in place of Moore, while switching up his entire fourth line– scratching Joakim Nordstrom and David Backes in exchange for Par Lindholm and Brett Ritchie.

Lindholm centered the fourth line while Sean Kuraly slid over to the left wing and Ritchie fit in on the right side.

Nordstrom, Backes and Moore made up Boston’s short list of healthy scratches against Nashville.

Less than a minute into the action on Saturday night, Viktor Arvisson was penalized for holding against Brad Marchand in Arvidsson’s first game back since missing the last 12 games with an injury.

Boston’s first power play of the night at 26 seconds of the first period was unsuccessful.

Almost midway through the opening frame, Anders Bjork slashed Ellis and presented Nashville with their first power play opportunity of the night at 7:13.

The Predators did not convert on the ensuing skater advantage and the Bruins managed to kill off Bjork’s minor.

Late in the period, David Krejci tripped up Matt Duchene and was charged with an infraction at 15:10, but Nashville’s power play was powerless through one period.

After 20 minutes of action on Saturday, the Bruins and Predators entered the first intermission tied, 0-0, with Boston leading in shots on goal, 11-8.

Nashville was 0/2 on the power play and Boston was 0/1 on the skater advantage heading into the second period.

Dan Hamhuis jumpstarted the middle frame with a tripping minor at 4:23 of the second period, but the Bruins couldn’t convert on the ensuing power play.

Boston did catch Nashville in the vulnerable minute after special teams play, however, as Lindholm (2) bumped into a loose puck off a rebound while being checked by a Predators defender and the rubber biscuit tumbled into the twine.

Ritchie (3) and Kuraly (9) had the assists on Lindholm’s first goal in 16 games as the Bruins took the, 1-0, lead at 7:30 of the second period.

Midway through the second period, Matt Grzelcyk slashed Duchene and presented the Predators with another power play at 10:19.

Nashville’s skater advantage was short lived, however, as Craig Smith tripped up Boston blue liner, Brandon Carlo, at 11:27.

The two clubs played 52 seconds of 4-on-4 hockey before the Bruins had an abbreviated 5-on-4 power play.

Shortly after making the kill, the Preds capitalized on the vulnerable minute after special teams action as Josi (12) snaked his way from the point to the slot and let go of a backhand shot that floated past Halak as Arvidsson acted as a fly-by screen in front of the Boston netminder.

Ryan Johansen (15) had the only assist on Josi’s first goal of the game at 12:14 and the Predators tied the game, 1-1.

Moments later, Filip Forsberg was penalized for roughing at 17:56 and the Bruins went back on the power play.

Late in the ensuing skater advantage, Bergeron (12) acted as the bumper and one-timed a shot past Rinne from point blank to give Boston the lead with a power play goal.

Torey Krug (20) had the only assist on Bergeron’s first goal of the night at 19:12 and the B’s led, 2-1.

Heading into the second intermission, Boston was ahead in the scoreboard, 2-1, but tied in shots on goal, 19-19, after Nashville rallied to an, 11-8, advantage in shots on goal in the second period alone.

Boston held the advantage in blocked shots (11-10) and hits (22-14), while Nashville led in takeaways (14-5), giveaways (9-7) and faceoff win percentage (62-38).

The Predators were 0/3 on the skater advantage and the Bruins were 1/4 on the power play heading into the third period.

Midway through the final frame of regulation, the Preds took the game by storm.

Forsberg (13) poked home a loose puck through Halak’s short side while on a delayed call against Boston (that was ultimately negated by Nashville’s goal) and tied the game in the process, 2-2, at 7:35 of the third period.

Johansen (16) and Mattias Ekholm (14) notched the assists on Forsberg’s goal.

Just 35 seconds later, Josi (13) added his second goal of the night on an unassisted effort when Halak skated out of his crease and misplayed the puck in the high slot, effectively turning the rubber biscuit over to the Predators captain– leaving an empty goal frame for Josi to bury the puck in.

Josi’s goal at 8:10 of the third period gave Nashville their first lead of the night, 3-2, but the Bruins wouldn’t go down without a fight just yet.

After using his timeout after the Josi goal mishap, Cassidy pulled his goaltender for an extra attacker with about two minutes left in regulation.

David Pastrnak unloaded a shot towards the goal that Bergeron (13) redirected for his second goal of the game– tying the game, 3-3, in the process.

Pastrnak (23) and Marchand (34) tallied the assists as Boston evened things up at 18:55 of the third period.

At the horn, the Bruins required extra time for the ninth time in their last 13 games as Boston and Nashville were knotted, 3-3, with the B’s leading in shots on goal, 30-26, after regulation.

Boston also held the advantage in blocked shots (14-13), giveaways (12-10) and hits (28-23), while Nashville led in takeaways (15-8) and faceoff win% (53-47).

There were no penalties called in the third period or overtime period, so the Preds finished 0/3 on the skater advantage, while the B’s went 1/4 on the power play Saturday night.

In overtime, Peter Laviolette, started Duchene, Mikael Granlund and Josi for the Predators while Cassidy opted for Charlie Coyle, Bjork and Charlie McAvoy.

With less than a minute separating the two teams from going to a shootout, Nashville pounced on a wacky bounce in the attacking zone while the Bruins scrambled out of position.

Johansen flipped a quick pass to Ellis (6) as the Predators defender snuck in unnoticed and wired a one-timer into the twine– winning the game in the process.

Johansen (17) and Kyle Turris (11) notched the assists as the Preds picked up the, 4-3, overtime victory at 4:05 of the overtime period.

Boston finished the night leading in shots on goal (32-29), blocked shots (15-14), giveaways (13-10) and hits (29-24), while Nashville left the Hub with the advantage in faceoff win% (52-48) and the final result.

The Predators improved to 2-4 in overtime this season, while the Bruins fell to 2-4.

Boston has lost eight of their last nine games and are 1-4-4 in that span. But the B’s still have a nine-point lead over 2nd place in the Atlantic Division.

The Bruins fell to 5-1-5 when tied after one period, 14-5-5 when scoring the game’s first goal and 11-0-3 when leading after two periods this season.

They have now lost eight out of their last nine games and are 1-4-4 in that span.

Boston wraps up their four-game homestand (0-0-3) on Monday night (Dec. 23rd) as they host the Washington Capitals before the league-wide holiday break kicks in from Dec. 24th through the 26th.

The Bruins travel to Buffalo to take on the Sabres in a home-and-home on Dec. 27th before hosting Jack Eichel and his teammates on Dec. 29th. The B’s finish off the month of December in New Jersey on Dec. 31st.

DTFR Podcast #164- The Free Agency Mega-Hour

Nick, Cap’n and Pete recap the last two weeks of trades and first few days of free agency 2K19.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round Preview: Western Conference

In continuation with Monday’s Eastern Conference preview, here’s the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round preview many of you have been waiting for.

In the past, Down the Frozen River has covered every game of every series. This year, DtFR is changing things up a bit with a preview of every round and continued excellence in analysis on the DTFR Podcast as well as some Instagram Live sporadic thoughts throughout the playoffs.

P1 Calgary Flames (50-25-7, 107 points) vs WWC2 Colorado Avalanche (38-30-14, 90 points)

The Calgary Flames reached the 50-win plateau for the first time since the 1988-89 season (and just the second time in franchise history). For those of you who might be younger than 30-years-old, that’s also the last time the Flames won the Stanley Cup.

Yes, the Flames won a Cup. Also, it’s been 15 years since Calgary’s appearance in the 2004 Stanley Cup Final or as it’s known to Johnny Gaudreau, “ten years before [his] birth.”

Only kidding.

Scotiabank Saddledome is ready to rock again as the Flames are fiery hot this season. So hot, they’re going to wear their throwback sweaters at home to rekindle the 1989 Cup run flame that burns deep inside the heart and soul of the C of Red.

Anyway, puns aside, Calgary is good. Very good.

Head coach, Bill Peters, has gotten the most out of his goaltenders, Mike Smith (23-16-2 record, 2.73 goals against average, .898 save percentage in 42 games played) and David Rittich (27-9-5, 2.61 GAA, .911 SV% in 45 GP), as they’ve racked up the wins.

Led by Gaudreau (36-63–99 totals in 82 games played), Sean Monahan (34-48–82 totals in 78 GP), Elias Lindholm (78 points), Matt Tkachuk (77 points) and potential 2018-19 Norris Trophy finalist, Mark Giordano (74 points), the Flames rose to the top and stayed there, laying claim to home ice all the way through the Western Conference Final– if not Stanley Cup Final, should the Tampa Bay Lightning be eliminated prior to then.

For Jared Bednar and the Colorado Avalanche, the Avs head coach rode the rollercoaster of injuries, out-of-this-world performances and pedestrian play as Colorado reached the top of the Central Division, fell to 6th place and resurfaced to playoff contention, snagging the 2nd wild card spot in the Western Conference.

Nathan MacKinnon finished one-point shy of the 100-point plateau with 41 goals and 58 assists (99 points) in 82 games this season, centering captain, Gabriel Landeskog (34-41–75 totals in 73 GP), and Mikko Rantanen (31-56–78 totals in 74 GP) on one of the best lines in hockey throughout the year.

Rantanen, of course, has been out of commission since March 22nd with an upper body injury, and remains a question mark for Game 1 against Calgary.

Back to MacKinnon for a moment, the 23-year-old sensation became the third 40-goal scorer since the Quebec Nordiques relocated to Colorado, joining current General Manager, Joe Sakic, and Milan Hejduk as the only players to do so.

Tyson Barrie led the Avs defenders with 59 points from the blue line.

In net, Semyon Varlamov (20-19-9, 2.87 GAA, .909 SV% in 49 GP) stole most of the games this season from Philipp Grubauer (18-9-5, 2.64 GAA, .917 SV% in 37 GP), who– despite getting off to a slow start– has really turned his play around as of late, notching three wins in his last five appearances.

Calgary swept the season series, 3-0-0, but the Avalanche kept every game close.

Both teams have hot hands and solid defenses, but there’s one common theme for each club– goaltending. Who’s going to get the starts? Who will rise above? And who’s going to flounder in the First Round?

Because of this, Calgary will likely get stretched to taking the series in six games, with or without a return of Rantanen to Colorado’s lineup.

Regular season outcomes:

5-3 CGY at Scotiabank Saddledome on Jan. 9th, 6-5 CGY at Scotiabank Saddledome on Nov. 1st, 3-2 F/OT CGY at Pepsi Center on Oct. 13th

Schedule:

4/11- Game 1 COL @ CGY 10 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

4/13- Game 2 COL @ CGY 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

4/15- Game 3 CGY @ COL 10 PM ET on CNBC, CBC, TVAS2

4/17- Game 4 CGY @ COL 10 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS

4/19- Game 5 COL @ CGY*

4/21- Game 6 CGY @ COL*

4/23- Game 7 COL @ CGY*

*If necessary

P2 San Jose Sharks (46-27-9, 101 points) vs P3 Vegas Golden Knights (43-32-7, 93 points)

The San Jose Sharks quietly lurked the waters working their way diligently to 2nd place in the Pacific Division this season after acquiring Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators and not destroying teams out of the gate as everyone expected.

Still, San Jose was led by Brent Burns (83 points) in what was yet another Norris Trophy worthy performance this season. The Sharks leading scorer among forwards was 25-year-old Tomas Hertl (35-39–74 totals in 77 GP), while Logan Couture (27-43–70 totals in 81 GP) continued to be a presence in the lineup.

There’s no question surrounding San Jose’s explosive offense and their world class defense. Rather, the Sharks goaltending seems to be the club’s only weakness.

Martin Jones (36-19-5, 2.94 GAA, .896 SV% in 62 GP) posted career-worsts in goals against average and save percentage, while backup goaltender, Aaron Dell (10-8-4, 3.17 GAA, .886 SV% in 25 GP) didn’t look so hot either.

For the Vegas Golden Knights, a slow start and a lot of injuries almost decimated their inaugural season success, but in true Golden Knights fashion, the comeback got rolling and Vegas stormed into a divisional spot for the postseason.

Granted, it doesn’t come with home ice, but still.

Vegas didn’t have a 40-goal scorer like last season, but Jonathan Marchessault still led the way with 59 points (25 goals, 34 assists), while his teammate, William Karlsson amassed 24-32–56 totals in 82 GP.

Reilly Smith put up 53 points in a “down” season, but Alex Tuch (20-32–52 totals) had a breakout year, so everything evens out in the end.

In the crease, Marc-Andre Fleury (35-21-5, 2.51 GAA, .913 SV% in 61 GP) remained in control of the Golden Knights starting job, but fell victim to the increased scoring around the league– notching his worst GAA and SV% in a season where he was the starting goaltender since his 2.65 GAA and .905 SV% in 67 games played with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009-10.

For Malcolm Subban (8-10-2, 2.93 GAA, .902 SV% in 21 GP) it was a season to forget for the backup goalie. The sophomore slump is real.

The Sharks lost to the Golden Knights in the Second Round last year and it’s not hard to imagine Vegas pulling out another improbable postseason run.

But this time around feels different.

San Jose split the season series, 2-2-0, but was outscored by Vegas, 18-10, in that span. Though the Sharks should be able to batten down the hatches and outlast the Golden Knights in what’s sure to be quite the entertaining matchup in the First Round, there’s no way it won’t go seven games.

Regular season outcomes:

4-3 F/OT SJS at SAP Center on March 30th, 7-3 VGK at SAP Center on March 18th, 3-2 SJS at T-Mobile Arena on Jan. 10th, 6-0 VGK at T-Mobile Arena on Nov. 24th

Schedule:

4/10- Game 1 VGK @ SJS 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS2

4/12- Game 2 VGK @ SJS 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS2

4/14- Game 3 SJS @ VGK 10 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, SN360, TVAS

4/16- Game 4 SJS @ VGK 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS2

4/18- Game 5 VGK @ SJS*

4/21- Game 6 SJS @ VGK*

4/23- Game 7 VGK @ SJS*

*If necessary

C1 Nashville Predators (47-29-6, 100 points) vs WWC1 Dallas Stars (43-32-7, 93 points)

A year removed from winning the President’s Trophy, the Nashville Predators entered the final day of the regular season with the chance to grab the 1st seed in the Central Division. The Preds did just that, of course, and will promptly hold a banner ceremony worthy of AFC Finalists.

It’s fine for the local fan base to take pride in their team. It’s also fine for others in the league to poke a little fun at other organization’s unique quirks.

For Nashville, it’s catfish (see, this classic moment from Puck Soup animated— fair warning, language) and banners (see, “Regular Season Western Conference Champions 2017-18”).

Anyway, real talk, the Preds are a legitimate team.

Their defense is still a colossal stronghold with Roman Josi (2nd in points on the roster, 15-41–56 totals in 82 GP), Mattias Ekholm (44 points and a team leading, plus-27 rating), Ryan Ellis and P.K. Subban.

Their offense was led by Ryan Johansen (14-50–64 totals in 80 GP) this season with Filip Forsberg chipping in 50 points and Viktor Arvidsson reaching the 30-goal plateau (he finished with 34).

Their goaltending… oh. Is this when Juuse Saros (17-10-2, 2.62 GAA, .915 SV% in 31 GP) takes over for Pekka Rinne (30-19-4, 2.42 GAA, .918 SV% in 56 GP) as the regular starter?

Oh. Again. Never mind.

While Rinne has had the better year, statistically speaking, his goals against average and save percentage rank 10th and 13th, respectively, among goaltenders who played at least 20 games this season.

In the same respect, there were only eight goaltenders with a goals against average below 2.40.

Saros ranked 21st in GAA (among goalies with 20 GP) and 20th in SV%.

This is only relevant in the head-to-head aspect with the Dallas Stars, which, let’s take a look at their organizational depth this season, shall we?

Dallas’s forwards went from being “f—ing horse—-” to… well, at least Tyler Seguin reached the 80-point plateau this season with 33 goals and 47 assists. Alexander Radulov still had 72 points and Jamie Benn ranked third on the team with 27-26–53 totals.

On the blue line, John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen made a case for Sergei Zubov to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and reached 10-35–45 and 12-21–33 totals, respectively as Klingberg continued to emerge as a veteran and Heiskanen made quite an impression in his rookie season.

Not to be outdone, Esa Lindell notched 32 points from the backend this season.

But in the crease, the Stars had two quality stars.

Starting goaltender, Ben Bishop (27-15-2, 1.98 GAA, .934 SV% in 46 GP) put up a career-best season while fighting a lower body injury at times and backup goaltender, Anton Khudobin (16-17-5, 2.57 GAA, .923 SV% in 41 GP) split time with Bishop– taking on more time while the starter was injured– and had almost a mirror image in wins (16) and goals against average from last season.

As long as Bishop (1st in the league in SV% and 2nd in GAA among goaltenders who played at least 20 games) is healthy, yeah, the Stars take home that advantage. Big time.

Nashville has never won the Cup. Dallas won it 20 years ago.

Both franchises have a thirst to quench for their respective markets. Both clubs split the series with two wins and two losses– never winning or losing by more than two goals.

It’s anybody’s guess, but the Stars should upset the Predators in a seven-game stunner.

Regular season outcomes:

5-3 NSH at American Airlines Center on Feb. 19th, 3-2 F/OT NSH at Bridgestone Arena on Feb. 7th, 3-1 DAL at Bridgestone Arena on Feb. 2nd, 2-0 DAL at Bridgestone Arena on Dec. 27th

Schedule:

4/10- Game 1 DAL @ NSH 9:30 PM ET on USA, SN1, TVAS

4/13- Game 2 DAL @ NSH 6 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS2

4/15- Game 3 NSH @ DAL 9:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS

4/17- Game 4 NSH @ DAL 8 PM ET on USA, SN, TVAS2

4/20- Game 5 DAL @ NSH*

4/22- Game 6 NSH @ DAL*

4/24- Game 7 DAL @ NSH*

*If necessary

C2 Winnipeg Jets (47-30-5, 99 points) vs C3 St. Louis Blues (45-28-9, 99 points)

After a surprising run to the Western Conference Final last season, the Winnipeg Jets struggled at times to find scoring from their top-six forwards, as well as the mythical runway that let their goaltending soar beyond expectations.

This season, the Jets had their ups and downs, while coming back to Earth in other areas.

Blake Wheeler (20-71–91 totals) led Winnipeg in scoring and established a franchise record– dating back to their days as the Atlanta Thrashers– for most assists in a season, while Mark Scheifele (84 points) and Kyle Connor (66 points) rounded out the top-three scorers.

Despite a stretch of games without a goal, Patrik Laine still reached the 30-goal plateau and had 50 points on the season in 82 games played.

On defense, Jacob Trouba picked up the slack with 8-42–50 totals from the blue line while Dustin Byfuglien was limited to 42 games and 31 points due to injury.

In goal, Connor Hellebuyck (34-23-3, 2.90 GAA, .913 SV% in 63 GP) posted a career-worst goals against average (2.90) topping his previous worst 2.89 GAA in 2016-17 (56 GP).

Hellebuyck had his 2nd worst save percentage since his .907 SV% in 2016-17 as well.

Laurent Brossoit (13-6-2, 2.52 GAA, .925 SV% in 21 GP) posted decent numbers as a backup goaltender in his first season with the Jets, since joining the organization in free agency last July.

Winnipeg missed a major part of their defense for most of the season in Byfuglien and to some respects, that’s hampered their goaltending as a result. Tending the net is never solely about one person tending the crease, but rather a team keeping the puck out of their own zone.

However, Hellebuyck has shown signs of a “good year, bad year, good year, bad year” pattern in the past and might have just been victim to a bad year– statistically speaking.

The St. Louis Blues missed the playoffs last year, losing the final game of the regular season to the Colorado Avalanche and the last wild card spot in the process.

This year, the Blues redeemed themselves after almost completely embarrassing themselves. St. Louis was last in the Central Division, then they fired Mike Yeo and hired Craig Berube as interim head coach.

Berube began to right the ship, then Jordan Binnington (24-5-1, 1.89 GAA, .927 SV% in 32 GP) came along.

Binnington lifted the Blues to a franchise record 12-game winning streak and established the franchise record for most wins by a rookie goaltender (24)– surpassing the previous mark (22 wins) set by teammate and presumably the backup goaltender in the postseason, Jake Allen (19-17-8, 2.83 GAA, .905 SV% in 46 GP).

Don’t try to mess with what’s working.

Ryan O’Reilly led St. Louis in scoring with 28-49–77 totals in 82 games played. Meanwhile, Vladimir Tarasenko (68 points) and Brayden Schenn (54 points) compiled respectable totals in 76 and 72 games played, respectively.

Captain, Alex Pietrangelo, provided more than just leadership from the defensive zone. He added 13 goals and 28 assists (41 points) from the point to help guide St. Louis to a divisional playoff berth.

For the first time in franchise history, Winnipeg is making consecutive playoff appearances. Though they tied in points (99) in the standings, the Jets had the advantage in the regulation-plus-overtime wins tiebreaker, leading the Blues, 45-42, in that department.

Winnipeg won the season series 3-1-0, but is facing a Blues team that has completely shifted gears in the second half of the season. For that reason alone, it’s not impossible to predict St. Louis will be the series winner in five games as Binnington cements his status as a goaltender in the NHL– if not a Calder Memorial Trophy candidate at least.

Regular season outcomes:

1-0 STL at Bell MTS Place on Dec. 7th, 8-4 WPG at Enterprise Center on Nov. 24th, 5-4 F/OT WPG at Bell MTS Place on Oct. 22nd, 5-1 WPG at Enterprise Center on Oct. 4th

Schedule:

4/10- Game 1 STL @ WPG 8 PM ET on NHL Network, SN, TVAS3

4/12- Game 2 STL @ WPG 9:30 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS

4/14- Game 3 WPG @ STL 7:30 PM ET on CNBC, CBC, SN, TVAS2

4/16- Game 4 WPG @ STL 9:30 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS

4/18- Game 5 STL @ WPG*

4/20- Game 6 WPG @ STL*

4/22- Game 7 STL @ WPG*

*If necessary

DTFR Podcast #144- (The Other) Auston City Limits

Auston Matthews signed an extension with the Toronto Maple Leafs. What does this mean for the Leafs? Alex Stalock, Jordan Martinook and Pheonix Copley all signed extensions with their clubs, as Tuukka Rask became the winningest goaltender in Boston Bruins history, Alex Ovechkin became the highest scoring Russian-born NHL player and Paul Maurice reached 1,500 games behind the bench as a head coach.

The DTFR Duo also reviewed all 31 NHL teams as buyers and/or sellers at the 2019 trade deadline.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes), Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

Game of the week: January 21-27

Whether you measure by games played or the All-Star Break, the middle of the season is upon us. Are you an optimist and see all the hockey remaining on the schedule? Or is the glass half empty, formerly full with games now gone by? While you’re figuring that out, here’s the NHL’s offering of games this week.
NHL SCHEDULE: January 21-27
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/ Result
Monday, January 21
3 p.m. Nashville Colorado 4-1
4 p.m. St. Louis Los Angeles 3-4
6 p.m. Minnesota Vegas 4-2
7 p.m. San Jose Florida 2-6
Tuesday, January 22
7 p.m. San Jose Washington 7-6 (OT)
7:30 p.m. Arizona Ottawa 3-2
8:30 p.m. New York Islanders Chicago Blackhawks 2-3 (SO)
9 p.m. Carolina Calgary 2-3 (OT)
9 p.m. Detroit Edmonton 3-2
Wednesday, January 23
7:30 p.m. Washington Capitals Toronto Maple Leafs NBCSN, SN, SN360, TVAS
7:30 p.m. Arizona Montréal RDS, SN1
9:30 p.m. Minnesota Colorado
10 p.m. Nashville Vegas NBCSN
10 p.m. St. Louis Anaheim
10:30 p.m. Carolina Vancouver ESPN+
Thursday, January 24
No games scheduled – All-Star Break
Friday, January 25
No games scheduled – All-Star Break
Saturday, January 26
NHL All-Star Game from San Jose, Calif.
Sunday, January 27
No games scheduled – All-Star Break
As you can see, the fun we gain in having the All-Star festivities in San Jose scheduled for this weekend is largely negated by this week’s half-serving of fixtures. Them’s the breaks, I suppose. As for some of this week’s biggest games, we needed to look no further than Monday’s matchup between Nashville and Colorado, a rematch of the First Round from last April’s playoffs. Also, F Alex Galchenyuk is making his first trip back to Montréal tonight, his former home of six seasons. W Micheal Ferland and D Dougie Hamilton were in the same boat last night in Calgary, their home for four and three seasons, respectively. While Galchenyuk will surely receive a warm welcome this evening, I’m much more interested in a tilt taking place in the Mojave Desert between two Western Conference foes.
Boasting the second-best record in the Central Division, the 29-18-4 Nashville Predators enter tonight’s game with a bit of a limp. Though they won their last tilt against Colorado 4-1, they’ve only managed a 2-3-1 record in their past six outings – a mark that makes Nashville fortunate it has built up a nine-point lead on third-place Minnesota. What is most alarming about this rough patch for the Preds is that their latest struggles are usually among the team’s greatest strengths. Since January 10, Nashville has allowed an average of 3.67 goals per game and 32.5 shots per game. Those both rank seventh-worst in the NHL in that time – a far cry from the Preds’ season marks of 2.61 goals against per game ([t]second-best) and 29 shots against per game (fifth-best). Is this just a case of the Predators being worn out after 51 games so far this season? Considering the Predators’ entire defensive corps is healthy right now, I’d say this very well could be the answer. They’ll take a four-day bye period in addition to the four-day All-Star Break to recuperate for the final 30 games if that is the case. However, eight days off doesn’t do Head Coach Peter Laviolette any good tonight. He needs to find a way to get his troops to perform better tonight, especially since they’re heading into one of the toughest arenas in the league and taking on a hot team in the Golden Knights. On the season, Nashville’s defense has been headed by D Ryan Ellis (two blocks per game and a team-high 42 takeaways) and W Austin Watson (three hits per game). Watson has maintained his role as the team’s leading hit-thrower during this stretch, but his production has dropped to 2.2 hits per game since January 10. Similarly, Ellis’ blocks-per-game production has dropped to 1.5 in his last six outings, falling behind D Mattias Ekholm and D Roman Josi‘s matching 1.8 blocks per game. With only four takeaways in his last six games, Ellis is still a dominant threat in that department considering his position. However, the Predator that really been creating steals lately is F Filip Forsberg, who has averaged a takeaway per game since January 10. Mix in the fact that he’s averaging almost a point per game during this run, and you find a player who’s not at fault for his club’s recent defensive inefficiencies and lack of results. Regardless of who is taking the blame, one player who definitely isn’t happy about the situation is 18-12-3 G Pekka Rinne. Even though Rinne has been having a solid campaign (made evident by his .915 save percentage and 2.47 GAA on the season, the latter of which is tied for sixth-best in the NHL), he’s been a terrible victim of his team’s defensive effort of late. Rinne has only won one of his last four starts, posting a horrendous .878 save percentage and 4.27 GAA in those outings. Rinne has faced the Golden Knights twice in his career, but is still looking for his first victory against the second-year franchise. In the previous two matchups, he has managed a .928 save percentage and 2.44 GAA, highlighted by a 36-save performance on December 8, 2017 that ended in a 4-3 six-round shootout victory for Vegas. Rinne earned
After rattling off a seven-game winning streak, the 29-18-4 Vegas Golden Knights have propelled themselves into third-place in the Pacific Division with 10 points separating them from Vancouver. However, those winning ways have gone by the wayside in the last two weeks, as Vegas has alternated results in its last five outings for a 2-3-0 record. Vegas lost to the Sharks 3-2 on January 10, followed two days later by a 4-3 overtime win in Chicago. January 15 saw the Golden Knights lose 4-1 in Winnipeg, but a trip home was just the medicine they needed to beat the Penguins 7-3. Most recently (Monday, to be precise), the Wild came to T-Mobile Arena and emerged with a 4-2 win. Does this pattern mean the Knights are ensured two points tonight? If Vegas wants to take its fate into its own hands, it should surely continue what it is doing on the defensive end. Despite the consistently inconsistent results, one thing that has remained constant is the Golden Knights’ blue line, which has allowed only 27.2 shots against per game since January 10 – the fourth-best mark in the league in that time. Leading that defensive charge is none other than F Tomas Nosek (seven takeaways in Vegas’ last five games), RW Ryan Reaves (4.4 hits per game since January 10) and D Nate Schmidt (two blocks per game during this run), despite the fact that injured LW William Carrier (five hits per game), D Brayden McNabb (1.9 blocks per game) and D Shea Theodore (49 takeaways) lead the team in their respective statistics for the season. A major reason for these inconsistent results is the Golden Knights’ scoreboard does not reflect their positive defensive performance. A major reason for that has been the lackluster play by G Marc-Andre Fleury in his last five starts. Even though he boasts a .911 save percentage and 2.5 GAA (tied for ninth-best in the NHL) for the entire season, he’s managed only a .895 save percentage and 2.85 GAA in his last five starts. In fact, Fleury has allowed at least two goals per game in his last seven outings – a surprising statistic for the netminder whose six shutouts double the eight players’ marks that are tied for second place. If history will decide this tilt, Fleury will certainly bring his A-game against Nashville. He boasts a 9-5-1 record against the Predators, bolstered largely by five-straight wins between 2010-14 during his tenure with Pittsburgh. In those 15 appearances, he owns a career .927 save percentage and 1.95 GAA – dominant marks for any netminder against any one club. Of course, those marks are in the past. Which team enters the All-Star Break with two more points to their credit? Since both teams have managed approximately equal offense since January 10 (the Preds’ 3.33 goals per game is slightly higher than Vegas’ 3.2), I’ll consider that a wash. Instead, I’ll lean towards the Golden Knights earning tonight’s victory on the backs of their solid defensive play.

DTFR Podcast #139- They Ran Out Of Beer!

A bunch of minor trades were made in the last week, the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Game rosters were released, as well as the 2019-20 outdoor game schedule. Nick and Connor also discuss the legacy that was the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic and the 2019 IIHF World Junior Quarterfinal upsets.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

*Editor’s Note: Of course, after recording this week’s episode, the Philadelphia Flyers claimed G Mike McKenna off waivers from the Vancouver Canucks.

Game of the week: October 29-November 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is lunacy.

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

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

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

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

Hopefully.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s the tough question.

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