Tag Archives: Flames

Colby’s Corner Top five Players Poised to Breakout

A new season starts today, so it’s time for me to jump in and tell you five players to keep an eye out for as they could have breakout seasons. I didn’t limit myself to just rookies; I was also looking for players who could fill some big shoes or become a standout on their team.

First up,

  1. Oliver Bjorkstrand

This one may surprise a few, but after a strong preseason performance, Bjorkstrand could really step up this season and have a big role with the Columbus Blue Jackets. As a highly rated prospect, I believe Jacket fans have been waiting for him to show up in a big way.

Bjorkstrand only has 38 games played over the past two seasons, recording 10 goals and 11 assists in that time. I remember watching him play in World Juniors a few years ago and he had the ability to take over a game and control his team’s offensive flow. If he can provide that for the Jackets, this would give them another weapon with a nice scoring touch. Bjorkstrand could be a name that you hear more of this season.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 10-15 goals with another 10-20 assists.

Next up,

  1. Matthew Tkachuk

I have been a huge fan of Tkachuk for a long time – if you have listened to podcasts you know this. Tkachuk had a solid rookie season, recording 13 goals and 35 assists. If that’s what you get from a 6th Overall pick in his first year, you are not going to complain if you are the Calgary Flames. Tkachuk’s physical game and willingness to get into dirty areas allowed him to find some extra points this past season.

Last season in four playoff games, Tkachuk was held pointless and I think that left a bitter taste in his mouth. If he used that as a motivator in his offseason, than he should come back as an even better player. Not to mention the Flames signed the ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr to a one-year deal. Jagr can show Tkachuk how to use his big body to his advantage and give him other tips to have a great season.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 20-25 goals with another 30-40 assists.

Next up,

  1. Alexander DeBrincat

Rookie Alert: Alex DeBrincat makes my list as a player that could be the next Artemi Panarin in the Chicago Blackhawks organization. DeBrincat has been one of the best junior players over the past few seasons trying to crack the Hawks roster, and has finally done that this season. Yes, he is a rookie – and a small one at that – but he has proven he knows were the net is. DeBrincat has scored over 100 points in three-straight OHL seasons, including his final year with the Erie Otters when he finished with 65 goals and 62 assists for a 127 points.

The argument that it won’t convert over is nonsense as junior players like Mitch Marner and Matthew Tkachuk are finding goals in this league. Another reason he is so high on my list is the opportunity he could have to play with some of the best players in the league in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. If he can learn from either of them, this kid could become a star in no time.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 20-25 goals with another 35-45 assists.

Next up,

  1. Jake Guentzel

Now you can say Jake Guentzel is already a star from his Stanley Cup-winning performance last season. I agree, but I think he can play even better than he was in the playoffs. Guentzel had 13 goals and 8 assists in 25 playoff games last spring. It was a performance so strong that he deserved the Conn Smythe Trophy – only have it ripped from him by Sidney Crosby. We haven’t seen Guentzel in playoff form for a whole season, but this is that season.

Thinking about Guentzel, Crosby, Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin all performing in top form has me believing this team could be looking at a three-peat without question, as they are probably the favorite in the East again. Guentzel’s scoring touch and being on the same page and line as Crosby could see his numbers sky rocket and he could be an even bigger star in Pittsburgh.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 30-35 goals with another 40-50 assists.

Finally,

  1. Jack Eichel

Jack Eichel will look to keep pace with fellow 2015 first-rounder Connor McDavid‘s scoring this year after missing the start of last season with a high ankle sprain. In addition to ruining Jack’s chance to shine for all 82 games, his injury was also a major contributor to the Buffalo Sabres’ slow start that potentially cost them their first postseason appearance since 2011. And the fact that Eichel had to watch his buddies Auston Matthews and McDavid in the playoffs last season was surely his motivator this offseason. Just watching a few preseason games, Jack looks faster and smoother this than he did last year.

Eichel was very open about how he missed out on  a $1 million bonus for his points-per-game percentage last season. Jack had 57 points in 61 games played, but he hovered around one point-per-game for most of the season before finishing the season in a slump to fall short of his goal. After signing an 8-year, $10 million AAV Tuesday and with the potential to assume captaincy of this Sabres team and lead them to the playoffs, I bet Eichel will earn every cent of his bonus this season.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 30-35 goals with another 40-50 assists.

Calgary Flames 2017-’18 Season Preview

Calgary Flames

45-33-4, 94 points, fourth in the Pacific Division

Eliminated in the First Round by Anaheim

Additions: D Travis Hamonic, G Eddie Lack, G Mike Smith

Subtractions: LW Brandon Bollig (signed with SJS), F Lance Bouma (signed with CHI), G Brian Elliott (signed with PHI), D Deryk Engelland (drafted by VGK), G Chad Johnson (signed with BUF), F Linden Vey (signed with Barys, KHL)

Offseason Analysis: In 2015, the Flames made it to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs after five years of ending their season at only 82 games played (well, 48 in 2012-’13). In 2016, Calgary failed to make the postseason. This most recent summer was a quick return to the postseason before the Flames were swiftly eliminated by the Ducks in four games.

If this pattern continues, Southern Albertans – and maybe a few old-timey Atlantans – could be in for a rough hockey season.

Though a postseason appearance usually rewards a strong regular season showing, the Flames did almost all their work in the two months after the All-Star Break. Starting with their dominant 5-1 victory over Minnesota on February 1, Calgary went an incredible 19-6-1 in February and March, a performance overshadowed only by Chicago’s 42 points and Pittsburgh’s 40 in that stretch. Elliott and his defensive corps are responsible for much of that effort, as they allowed the third fewest goals against at 61 (2.35 per game) to power the Flames from eighth place to sixth in the Western Conference.

In most cases, that would usually be reason enough to retain a goaltender after his contract year – even keeping in mind his 3-9-1 start. Instead, General Manager Brad Treliving elected to let 32-year-old Elliott and backup Johnson walk and replace them with 29-year-old Lack (8-7-3, .902 save percentage and 2.64 GAA in 2016-‘17) and 35-year-old Smith (19-26-9, .914 save percentage and 2.92 GAA), signing them to one- and two-year contracts respectively.

For a team that swapped out both its top netminders, the Flames managed to move as laterally as possible. They arguably made a minor improvement by hiring Smith (emphasis on minor) over Elliott, but the now-Flyer is three years younger. More than likely, Lack – the youngest of the four goaltenders in this conversation – will presumably start as Smith’s backup, but he’ll be able to use this season as an audition to be the Flames’ goaltender of the future. He’s performed best with regular action in the past, so he’ll need to perform the way he did the last time he was in the Pacific Division (.917 save percentage and 2.43 GAA in two seasons with Vancouver) instead of continuing his Carolinian ways (.902 save percentage and 2.75 GAA with the Canes) to earn starts and stake his claim for the Flames’ crease past this season.

Looking beyond the crease, the biggest change Calgary made was trading at least two draft picks to the Islanders for Hamonic. Though the defenseman scored a career-high 33 points in 2014-’15, the last two seasons at .29 points-per-game (he was limited to 49 games last season with a knee injury) have been a bit closer to what Calgary should expect from him.

Having been rumored to want to move closer to his native Manitoba in the past, the stay-at-home blue liner will be expected to continue averaging 2.2 blocks-per-game as he did a season ago in more familiar surroundings. If he can do that, then the Flames should be able to further improve on a defense that allowed only 28.7 shots to reach their net a season ago – the eighth-best mark in the NHL.

Offseason Grade: C+

Though their acquisitions were few, Calgary did relatively well to fill the holes on its roster. That being said, the Flames are still far from the top of the Pacific Division and will struggle to make the postseason. Their most important goal this year is to give Lack a good long look at being the goaltender of the future, or else they risk turning into West Philadelphia (born and raised?) with a turnstile in the crease. But if that happens, the most important question is this: which Calgary goaltender does the best Carlton?

NHL Schedule Analysis

Welcome to Down the Frozen River’s first-ever attempt at offering some schedule analysis of the upcoming NHL season.

I know what you’re thinking: these types of columns are usually associated with the NFL and not the NHL – or any other league, for that matter, where all teams play at least once per season. But when and where different clubs appear on the  schedule can still play a big role in a team’s success. An important home stand or an ill-timed extended road trip can determine if a club is a buyer or seller at the trade deadline, make or break a squad’s chances for playoff qualification in March or affect seeding in April.

For starters, I’d like to explain how I approach the season. Maybe it’s my varying degrees of affection for the NFL (the only other Big Four league in the United States that uses bye weeks), but I view a campaign in thirds.

Thirds?

Yes, thirds. They may not be perfect thirds, but each section takes on its own characteristics. Take a look at how the NFL arranges its 16-game, 17-week season. For example, during the 2017 season, the NFL’s byes will begin in Week 5 and extend to Week 11, effectively cutting the season into approximate thirds: (1) Weeks 1-4 featuring no byes, (2) Weeks 5-11 and (3) Weeks 12-17 (Week 12 corresponds with American Thanksgiving and the following Sunday/Monday, just to put things in perspective).

Now lets take that approach to the 2017-’18 NHL season, a campaign featuring 82 games for each of its 31 clubs. With the regular season beginning October 4, most teams will play approximately 21 games before American Thanksgiving, another 41 before the trade deadline and 20 to close out the season.

Pretty close to thirds, right? Well, maybe it’s fourths but the middle two are combined… Whatever. My degree isn’t in math.

But regardless of what they are, what do they mean?

Well, if you buy into the stat that teams in playoff position by American Thanksgiving qualify for the postseason over 75 percent of the time, that proves how important a quick start can be. If nothing else, it is certainly an early barometer of which teams are good and which should already be making plans for the 2018-’19 campaign.

Speaking of plans, that leads us to the second part of the season. It involves Christmas Break, the Winter Classic, bye weeks (more on those in a minute) and, of course, the All-Star Weekend in Tampa. Those are all fun and exciting, but most important are the transactions between clubs at this time, as contenders try to shore up chinks in their armor and the lesser clubs (*cough* Colorado *cough*) prepare for the future. This almost ho-hum, business-as-usual state of play is status quo for most of the season, which makes sense why this section is double the games of the other two phases of the year.

Then comes the final push. With the exception of the playoffs, this is some of the most exciting hockey of the season – night in, night out. Almost every game matters not only for playoff qualification and seeding, but also for fully integrating those deadline acquisitions before April 7,  the final day of the regular season, comes to a close.

Having more or less games in comparison to the rest of the league in any of the three sections can have its positives and negatives, but they’re impossible to predict given the unpredictability of hot or cold streaks, injuries and even the weather issues the league has had to deal with the past few years.

Another thing to keep in mind is the still relatively new change to the schedule: the addition of bye weeks. Making their debut only a season ago, the league has done a little tweaking to when each teams’ breaks occur on the calendar.

Last year, the first bye weeks began as early as New Year’s Day when the Islanders and Penguins began their five- and seven-day breaks, respectively, but Anaheim – the last club to take its 2017 hiatus – did not complete its vacation until early March.

What resulted was just over two months of action where fans had to keep track of which clubs had already taken their breaks and which hadn’t and trying to calculate how that affected the standings.

Sound like too much effort? Don’t worry, the league thought so too. This year, all bye weeks will take place in the span of two weeks in January, just before the All-Star Break.

I’m intrigued by this decision. With last year’s setup, the volume of games in a given week did not seem to change enough to be noticeable – which is good. Everybody wants to watch games all the time. But as I mentioned before, 2017’s situation required media, fans and teams to stay on top of which sides had or had not taken their week off.

Although condensing the bye week-schedule resolves that problem, it may also create a lull in the season only two weeks after Christmas Break and a week before the All-Star Break by having only 15 teams active at a time, potentially making January an overall anemic month. We’ll have to wait and see if that is the case, but if my prediction proves correct the NHL might have to find a happy medium between the two formats.

Perhaps the original reason the league condensed the bye week schedule was to account for the XXIII Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, but that is no longer the case as the NHL has elected not to release its players to their national federations for the February 10-25 tournament. Though some players have said they intend to participate in the tournament regardless of the NHL’s decision to abstain (whether they actually do or not remains to be seen), everyone’s favorite international tournament will certainly have a different flair – especially involving the rosters of usual favorites: Canada and the USA.

The last final major date on the calendar is always the previously hinted at trade deadline. This year, the deadline is scheduled for February 26 at the usual 3 p.m. Eastern time. Like most Mondays, the schedule is fairly light that evening with only five contests taking place (Washington at Columbus, Philadelphia at Montréal, Toronto at Tampa Bay, Vancouver at Colorado and  Vegas at Los Angeles).

After last year’s Cody McLeod episode that featured him fighting and scoring against the Avalanche only a day after being being traded from that very team (he didn’t even leave Denver, instead meeting up with the Predators when they arrived in town), I’m looking forward to even more excitement at this deadline.

For those that enjoy the days where every team is in action, I regret to inform you that the addition of Vegas has made that impossible. Instead, you’ll have to settle for dates that feature 15 contests and leave one club inactive.

Five such days exist this season: October 7 (first Saturday of the season), November 22 (day before American Thanksgiving), December 23 (day before Christmas Eve), January 25 (day before the All-Star Break) and April 7. On those dates, don’t expect to catch Boston, St. Louis, Calgary, Los Angeles or Pittsburgh – respectively – as they’ll be just as glued to their televisions as you will be, taking in all the day’s action.

ANAHEIM DUCKS – Campbell Cup runner-up, 105 points

Don’t tell anybody, but the Ducks have won the Pacific Division for five straight seasons. The main reason? An impressive 29-8-4 record at the Pond last season. But don’t let that distract you from a blemish growing in the Ducks’ armor: the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead they’re only 17-15-9 outside Orange County. That road trip to end November just so happens to occur right after Edmonton finishes a five-game home stand, meaning Anaheim may be forced to hold serve within the Pacific Division in an uncomfortable position.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 13 days (November 7-19)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 11 days (November 25-December 5)

BYE WEEK: January 7-12 (six days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. New Jersey, at Calgary, at Winnipeg, at Edmonton, at Vancouver, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Colorado, vs. Minnesota, vs. Dallas and at Arizona

ARIZONA COYOTES – 28th, 70 points

Remember in high school when the football team’s weakest opponent always aligned with homecoming? Keep that in mind when you realize that the Coyotes get to help the Golden Knights open T-Mobile Arena. Also keep in mind Arizona was 12-24-5 away from home last year.

BYE WEEK: January 7-11 (five days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 17 days (February 15-March 3)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in nine days (March 21-29)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Buffalo, at Carolina, at Florida, at Tampa Bay, at Vegas, at Los Angeles, vs. St. Louis, at Calgary, at Vancouver and vs. Anaheim

BOSTON BRUINS – eliminated in first round, 95 points

Usually, rivalry series are supposed to take place over the course of an entire season. Instead, the NHL has elected to schedule all four matchups of one of its premier rivalries in the span of seven weeks, including three meetings in eight days. The Bruins should be relatively happy though, as they’ll get their bye week to prepare for their first visit to the Bell Centre and the Canadiens will have games in Washington and Brooklyn the night before their January 20 and March 3 matchups, respectively, while the Bruins get the nights off.

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days (February 17-25)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 12 days (February 27-March 10)

LAST 10 GAMES: at St. Louis, at Dallas, at Minnesota, at Winnipeg, vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Florida, at Philadelphia, at Tampa Bay, at Florida and vs. Ottawa

BUFFALO SABRES – 26th, 78 points

Some teams simply struggle on the road. The Sabres were one of those squads last year, amassing only a 13-22-6 record away from Upstate New York. Though a four-game trip in early December doesn’t seem too taxing on the surface, Buffalo will be hard pressed to come back with more than two points as it’ll visit Pittsburgh (December 2), Colorado (December 5), Chicago (December 8) and St. Louis (December 10) before returning home to host Ottawa.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in nine days (December 2-10)

BYE WEEK: January 12-17 (six days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 14 days (March 10-23)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Arizona, vs. Montréal, at NY Rangers, at Toronto, vs. Detroit, at Nashville, at Toronto, vs. Ottawa, at Tampa Bay and at Florida

CALGARY FLAMES – eliminated in first round, 94 points

If only one team from the Western Conference gives up its playoff spot this season, I’d bet the house on it being the Flames. Last year’s side had an unimpressive 24-17-0 home record, including a 4-7-0 start over the first two months at the Saddledome. In a cruel bit of irony, the Flames’ longest home stand begins the last weekend of October, so Glen Gulutzan will need to get his troops in order in a hurry to avoid another backwards-step season similar to 2015-16.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 18 days (October 27-November 13)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 11 days (November 15-25)

BYE WEEK: January 15-19 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Vegas, at Arizona, vs. Anaheim, at San Jose, at Los Angeles, vs. Columbus, vs. Edmonton, vs. Arizona, at Winnipeg and vs. Vegas

CAROLINA HURRICANES – 21st, 87 points

In terms of off-season moves, last year’s Predators are this year’s Hurricanes. And, just like last year, everyone will be watching the Canes’ first few games to see if their new additions will be an immediate success. Carolina will certainly be put to the test in those contests, as their opening five matchups are against Minnesota (October 7), Columbus (October 10), Winnipeg (October 14), Edmonton (October 17) and Calgary (October 19). As long as Carolina can head to its sixth game in Dallas with at least five points on the table, I have no doubt the squad can come together and be a real threat in the Metropolitan Division.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 11 days (December 5-15)

BYE WEEK: January 15-19 (five days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Eight games in 15 days (January 30-February 13)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Edmonton, vs. Arizona, at Ottawa, vs. Ottawa, at New Jersey, at Washington, vs. NY Rangers, at Florida, at Philadelphia and vs. Tampa Bay

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS – Central Division Champion, 109 points

The Blackhawks have not missed the playoffs since 2008, and I don’t expect that to change this year. That being said, they’ll be tested early and often this year, starting with their first eight games – all against 2017 postseason clubs. In particular, Chicago will have October 14 circled on its calendar, as it represents an opportunity for the Hawks to avenge getting swept by the Predators in April.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 14 days (December 21-January 3)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 15 days (January 10-24)

BYE WEEK: January 15-19 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. St. Louis, vs. Colorado, vs. Vancouver, at NY Islanders, vs. San Jose, vs. Winnipeg, at Colorado, at St. Louis, vs. St. Louis and at Winnipeg

COLORADO AVALANCHE – 30th, 48 points

If only the schedule was the only thing holding the Avalanche back from finding success. Instead, their last five games represent a gimme two points for Chicago (March 30), Anaheim (April 1), Los Angeles (April 2), San Jose (April 5) and St. Louis (April 7) – all teams that will be finalizing either a qualification push or establishing their seeding.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 11 days (December 27-January 6)

BYE WEEK: January 7-12 (six days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 13 days (January 22-February 3)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Chicago, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Vegas, at Vegas, vs. Philadelphia, vs. Chicago, at Anaheim, at Los Angeles, at San Jose and vs. St. Louis

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS – eliminated in first round, 108 points

After last year’s dominant performance at the midway point of the season, Columbus won’t be taking any by surprise this campaign – especially with Artemi Panarin, 2016’s Calder Memorial Trophy winner, on the squad. The Jackets face an interesting schedule that doesn’t feature an extended West Coast trip in exchange for any home stand of much worth – their longest stay in Ohio is a measly nine days early in the season with only four games played. But, should this squad keep last year’s positive energy rolling through the summer and cash in on their frequent flyer miles, they could be the most prepared of any for a lengthy postseason and all the travel associated with it.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Four games in nine days (October 19-27)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Three games in five days – 2x (November 2-6; March 27-31)

BYE WEEK: January 13-17 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Boston, at NY Rangers, vs. Florida, vs. St. Louis, at Edmonton, at Calgary, at Vancouver, vs. Detroit, vs. Pittsburgh and at Nashville

DALLAS STARS – 24th, 79 points

A season ago, Dallas was a horrendous 12-24-5 away from the American Airlines Center. That’s what makes a potential late-season playoff push daunting, as the end of March has the Stars departing the Lone Star State for an Eastern road trip that also bizarrely includes a visit to Winnipeg in the middle. As if the travel wasn’t scary enough, all five of the Eastern opponents qualified for the playoffs last year, so Dallas would be very wise to take advantage of a fairly easy October schedule (includes Vegas, Detroit, Colorado twice, Arizona twice and Vancouver) to pad themselves some points in the standings ahead of time.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 16 days (December 29-January 13)

BYE WEEK: January 7-12 (six days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 10 days (March 11- 20)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Winnipeg, at Washington, vs. Boston, vs. Vancouver, vs. Philadelphia, at Minnesota, vs. Minnesota, at San Jose, at Anaheim and at Los Angeles

DETROIT RED WINGS – 25th, 79 points

Without even acknowledging the Red Wings’ roster troubles, they’re going to be hard pressed to get back into the playoffs this year given their extended trip away from Little Caesars Arena (that’s still weird to type) at the trade deadline. Between February 25 and March 18, Hockeytown will come to life only once when the Wings host Vegas on March 8. That contest splits what could have been a 10-game, 22-day road trip against steep competition into perfect halves, just for the Wings to get back on a plane to Columbus for another road game the next day.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 12 days (November 11-22)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 10 days – 2x (February 25-March 6; March 9-18)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Philadelphia, vs. Washington, at Toronto, at Montréal, vs. Pittsburgh, at Buffalo, vs. Ottawa, at Columbus, vs. Montréal and vs. NY Islanders

EDMONTON OILERS – eliminated in second round, 103 points

As if the Oilers weren’t already poised for greatness, their schedule is arranged in a way that they should be competing for the top seed in the Western Conference. Edmonton has three five-game home stands spread throughout its schedule, including one right after the Oil’s six-day bye week that also includes the All-Star Weekend. Add in the fact that their longest road trip is behind them by Thanksgiving and you find a team prepared for anything or anyone that makes the mistake of wandering into Rogers Place.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 17 days (January 20-February 5)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days (November 18-26)

BYE WEEK: January 14-19 (six days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Carolina, at Ottawa, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Anaheim, vs. Columbus, at Vancouver, at Calgary, at Minnesota, vs. Vegas and vs. Vancouver

FLORIDA PANTHERS – 23rd, 81 points

Florida opens up its season with a home-and-home series against Governor’s Cup rival Tampa Bay before hosting St. Louis and visiting Pittsburgh. It’s a tough start to what many expect to be another disappointing season for the Panthers, especially giving their awful 19-19-3 record in Sunrise a season ago.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days – 2x (December 11-19; February 12-20)

BYE WEEK: January 13-18 (six days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 11 days (February 22-March 4)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Columbus, vs. Arizona, at NY Islanders, at Toronto, at Ottawa, at Boston, vs. Carolina, vs. Nashville, vs. Boston and vs. Buffalo

LOS ANGELES KINGS – 22nd, 86 points

Especially for a club that missed out on the playoffs last year, there is nothing more exciting than seeing the Avalanche twice in the last 17 days of the season. Add in the fact that the Kings also drew Arizona in that stretch and the Kings could be a well-rested club in the first round of the playoffs – if they qualify.

BYE WEEK: January 7-12 (six days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Seven games in 12 days (February 9-20)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 12 days (March 1-12)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Minnesota, at Winnipeg, at Colorado, at Edmonton, vs. Calgary, vs. Arizona, at Anaheim, vs. Colorado, vs. Minnesota and vs. Dallas

MINNESOTA WILD – eliminated in first round, 106 points

On the fifth day of Christmas, the Scheduler gave to Minny… a tough, nine-game stretch!

Yes, I’m pretty proud of that.

In all seriousness, the Wild are certainly going to be looking forward to the three-day holiday break, as it will signal an end to the nine-game run of playing against eight playoff teams from a season ago. The gauntlet starts on December 8 in Anaheim, followed by a contest in San Jose on December 10 before returning home to host Calgary (December 12), Toronto (December 14) and Edmonton (December 16). The Wild take back to the road to play the Blackhawks (December 17), Senators (December 19), Panthers (Decmber 22) and Lightning (December 23) before hanging up their skates in exhaustion for a few days.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 12 days (October 24-November 4)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in seven days (December 17-23)

BYE WEEK: January 15-19 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Los Angeles, vs. Nashville, vs. Boston, at Nashville, vs. Dallas, at Dallas, vs. Edmonton, at Anaheim, at Los Angeles and at San Jose

MONTRÉAL CANADIENS – Atlantic Division champion, 103 points

March is looking like its going to be a taxing month on the Canadiens, a club that could lose control of a division its won twice in the past three seasons. After the Habs close out their season two-and-a-half month series with rival Boston on March 3, they’ll have to clean up a six-game road trip that involves visits to Tampa (March 10) and Columbus (March 12), host the Penguins (March 15), travel to Toronto (March 17), Pittsburgh (March 21) and Buffalo (March 23), host the Capitals (March 24) and travel to Pittsburgh again (March 31). That’s quite a gauntlet for an aging defense.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 12 days (November 7-18)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Seven games in 15 days (December 16-December 30)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Florida, at Pittsburgh, at Buffalo, vs. Washington, vs. Detroit, at Pittsburgh, vs. New Jersey, vs. Winnipeg, at Detroit and at Toronto

NASHVILLE PREDATORS – Campbell Cup winner, 94 points

Now that the Predators have cemented themselves as one of the big players in the NHL, they’ll need to back up last year’s postseason performance with a big target on their backs. That’ll be no more apparent than in their last 10 games (see below). With the exception of Florida, all of those clubs could be fighting for a playoff spot, making Nashville’s efforts to improve its seeding a difficult affair.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in seven days (November 1-7)

BYE WEEK: January 10-15 (six days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Four games in eight days (January 16-23)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Toronto, at Minnesota, at Winnipeg, vs. Minnesota, vs. San Jose, vs. Buffalo, at Tampa Bay, at Florida, at Washington and vs. Columbus

NEW JERSEY DEVILS – 27th, 70 points

Sometimes the scheduler has a cruel way of making a team a whipping post. That is the Devils’ fate over their last dozen games of the season. It’ll be no surprise that Jersey is solidly out of playoff contention by that time, but they’ll be squaring off with at least 10 teams (they play the Penguins twice) potentially in desperate need of two points to solidify a playoff spot or seed, which will make a tough season even harder for Jersey fans. Keep your heads up though, folks! Hopefully Nico Hischier can lead you back to the Promise Land!

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 15 days (December 15-29)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 14 days (March 10-23)

LAST 10 GAMES: at San Jose, at Pittsburgh, vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Carolina, vs. Pittsburgh, vs. NY Islanders, at Montréal, vs. NY Rangers, vs. Toronto and at Washington


NEW YORK ISLANDERS – 17th, 94 points

A year ago, the Islanders missed out on a playoff spot by only a point even though they ended their campaign on a six-game winning streak. The main reason? A slow, 8-10-4 start to the season (specifically a 1-6-1 road record through November) that eventually cost Jack Capuano his job. Surely Doug Weight is aware of this, so I expect him to have his club prepared for their California trip a week into the season. If the Isles aren’t up to snuff, Garth Snow may start fielding calls early.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in nine days (October 11-19)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 12 days (December 16-27)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Pittsburgh, vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Chicago, vs. Florida, at Ottawa, vs. Toronto, at New Jersey, vs. Philadelphia, vs. NY Rangers and at Detroit

NEW YORK RANGERS – eliminated in second round, 102 points

There’s some mean scheduling going on in the Metropolitan Division this season, and that is no more apparent than with the Rangers. The Blueshirts play their last regular season game at Madison Square Garden on March 30, a full eight days before their season finale in Philadelphia. Then again, is any team better prepared to complete its playoff push wearing white than New York? Last season, the Rangers won an impressive 27 games beyond the shores of Manhattan – three more than Chicago, the second-best road team. Making the four-game road trip even less frightening, the Rangers will still be able to sleep in their own beds for at least six of those nights as two of the games are against Jersey and the Islanders.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 13 days (October 14-26)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in eight days (March 31-April 7)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Columbus, at Philadelphia, vs. Buffalo, vs. Washington, at Washington, vs. Tampa Bay, at Carolina, at New Jersey, at NY Islanders and at Philadelphia

OTTAWA SENATORS – Prince of Wales Trophy runner-up, 98 points

And the winner of the second annual bye week lottery is… the Ottawa Senators! For being runner-up for the Prince of Wales Trophy a season ago, the Sens earned the longest bye week of any club in the league by at least a day. The vacation will be especially useful for the Senators, as they’ll be able to effectively prepare for their imposing five games before the All-Star Break: vs. St. Louis, vs. Toronto, at Minnesota, at St. Louis and vs. Boston.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 10 days (October 17-26)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Seven games in 14 days (November 29-December 12)

BYE WEEK: January 11-17 (seven days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Edmonton, vs. Carolina, at Carolina, vs. NY Islanders, vs. Florida, at Detroit, vs. Winnipeg, at Buffalo, at Pittsburgh and at Boston

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS – 19th, 88 points

It seems someone within the Flyers organization offended the schedule maker in the last year, because they have the unfortunate predicament of starting the season on a four-game Western road trip, culminating with a visit to Bridgestone Arena against the current owners of the Campbell Cup, the Nashville Predators. But every cloud has a silver lining, and Philly’s is twofold: not only is that (tied for) the club’s longest road trip, but they also come home to a nice long home stand.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in seven days (October 4-10)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 11 days (October 14-24)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Washington, at Detroit, vs. NY Rangers, at Pittsburgh, at Dallas, at Colorado, vs. Boston, at NY Islanders, vs. Carolina and vs. NY Rangers

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS – Stanley Cup Champion, 111 points

At this point, I think the Penguins are only concerned with what day the Stanley Cup Finals begin. For those wanting to dig a little bit deeper, we need to look no further than Pittsburgh’s first five games of the season against clubs with playoff aspirations, including one that may or may not feel as if it was robbed of a goal in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals (*hint* they definitely were).

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in eight days (October 28-November 4)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 10 days (December 2-11)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at NY Islanders, vs. Montréal, vs. New Jersey, vs. Philadelphia, at Detroit, at New Jersey, vs. Montréal, vs. Washington, at Columbus and vs. Ottawa

SAN JOSE SHARKS – eliminated in first round, 99 points

The Sharks have home stands aplenty throughout their schedule – but the best one may not be the one you’re thinking of. Sure, they get to spend the first half of March in the Bay Area and play six games, but I expect Brent Burns‘ club is licking its chops even more about its opening five games. Over the first two weeks of the season, San Jose hosts Philly, LA, Buffalo, the Islanders and Montréal – four teams that failed to qualify for the playoffs and one that fell in the first round. If the Sharks can find their rhythm early, they can carry that momentum into their Eastern road swing and try to stake their claim in the Pacific Division.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days (October 20-28)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 14 days (February 27-March 12)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. New Jersey, vs. Vegas, vs. Calgary, at Chicago, at St. Louis, at Nashville, at Vegas, vs. Dallas, vs. Colorado and vs. Minnesota

ST. LOUIS BLUES – eliminated in second round, 99 points

The Blues’ biggest games every year are against Chicago, and 2018 will be no different. This year the matchup earns added importance as the series is backlogged in the season schedule. Game 80 for both teams will take place at Scottrade Center (soon to be the Artist Venue Formerly Known as Scottrade Center), followed only two days later by another contest at the United Center. Given the fact that first and second place in the Central Division has been separated by an average of only 2.75 points over the last four seasons, first round home ice – and maybe even a banner – could be on the line.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 11 days (November 21-December 1)

BYE WEEK: January 10-15 (six days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in 10 days (March 3-12)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Boston, vs. Vancouver, at Columbus, vs. San Jose, at Vegas, at Arizona, vs. Washington, vs. Chicago, at Chicago and at Colorado

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING – 18th, 94th

As exciting as hosting the All-Star festivities is, there’s always one negative repercussion that sometimes gets overlooked: the extended time away from home. To allow arena staff and the NHL to prepare a venue for the event – and then return it to its original state – the Lightning will have to make two four-game road trips, before and after the event. That being said, they’ll be handsomely compensated for their time away from Amalie Arena with a long eight-game home stand for almost the entirety of March. But don’t mark those as wins yet, Bolts fans: six of those eight teams qualified for the playoffs last year.

BYE WEEK: January 12-17 (six days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Eight games in 17 days (January 20-February 5)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Eight games in 18 days (March 3-20)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Toronto, at NY Islanders, at New Jersey, vs. Arizona, at Boston, at NY Rangers, vs. Nashville, vs. Boston, vs. Buffalo and at Carolina

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS – eliminated in first round, 95 points

Remember last season when the Maple Leafs finally clinched their playoff spot in their penultimate game? That may be a bit harder to do this year as Toronto has only 18 contests following the trade deadline, tied with Anaheim for the lowest total over that stretch of time. Instead, Mike Babcock’s club will have to get their work done early this year with 23 games before Thanksgiving. Given Auston Matthews‘ four-goal debut a season ago, something tells me that won’t be too big a task.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 12 days (December 20-31)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 15 days (January 2-16)

BYE WEEK: January 11-15 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Tampa Bay, at Nashville, vs. Detroit, vs. Buffalo, vs. Florida, at NY Islanders, vs. Winnipeg, vs. Buffalo, at New Jersey and vs. Montréal

VANCOUVER CANUCKS – 29th, 69 points

Last season, Vancouver went a measly 12-26-3 away from Rogers
Arena, the second-worst road record in the league. That’s what makes January so frightening for the Canucks, even if their bye week occurs in the middle of their seven-game road trip. If Vancouver can survive that and is still in the playoff hunt at the end of March, it has a tough five-game home stand that should either more than properly prepare it for the playoffs or allow the squad to set up their April 8 tee times early.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 12 days – 2x (October 26-November 6; January 23-February 3)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Seven games in 16 days (January 6-21)

BYE WEEK: January 15-19 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Vegas, at Chicago, at St. Louis, at Dallas, vs. Anaheim, vs. Edmonton, vs. Columbus, vs. Vegas, vs. Arizona and at Edmonton

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS

What better way to build quick interest in the NHL’s newest market than by having not one seven-game home stand in its debut season, but two? The first should certainly be the more exciting of the two, as four of the Golden Knights’ seven opponents failed to make the playoffs a season ago. The better Vegas capitalizes on this …ahem… golden opportunity, the better its chance of achieving the club’s primary on-the-ice objective: finishing ahead of Colorado.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 18 days (October 10-27)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 10 days (January 30-February 8)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Vancouver, at San Jose, at Colorado, vs. Colorado, vs. Arizona, vs. St. Louis, vs. San Jose, at Vancouver, at Edmonton and at Calgary

WASHINGTON CAPITALS – Presidents’ Trophy winner, 118 points

Washington’s roster may have taken a hit, but that doesn’t mean the Capitals’ goal has changed. The first four games on their schedule should give us a good impression of what to expect from them this year, as they’ll visit Ottawa, host Montréal, travel to Tampa Bay and host Pittsburgh – four quality sides in seven days that also have their eyes on the postseason.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in nine days (November 30-December 8)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in nine days (December 19-27)

BYE WEEK: January 13-17 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Dallas, at Detroit, at Montréal, at NY Rangers, vs. NY Rangers, vs. Carolina, at Pittsburgh, at St. Louis, vs. Nashville and vs. New Jersey

WINNIPEG JETS – 20th, 87 points

After the All-Star festivities in Tampa have died down, make sure to turn your attention to Manitoba where Patrik Laine and the Jets could dominate the month of February. The club that missed the playoffs by only seven points a season ago will play 12 games before the trade deadline, the first 10 of which will be at The Phone Booth. If Winnipeg can’t improve on last year’s 22-18-1 home record over that stretch, it could signal an early end for the Jets’ quest to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2015.

BYE WEEK: January 14-19 (six days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: 10 games in 22 days (January 30-February 20)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 10 days (March 4-13)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Los Angeles, vs. Anaheim, vs. Nashville, vs. Boston, at Chicago, at Toronto, at Ottawa, at Montréal, vs. Calgary and vs. Chicago

Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round – April 15

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

Boston Bruins at Ottawa Senators – Game 2

By: DtFR Staff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toronto Maple Leafs at Washington Capitals – Game 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nashville Predators at Chicago Blackhawks – Game 2

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

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

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

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

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

Calgary Flames at Anaheim Ducks – Game 2

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

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

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

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

Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round – April 13

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

 

Toronto Maple Leafs at Washington Capitals – Game 1

Though it was an uphill battle, Washington managed to maintain home-ice advantage by beating the visiting Maple Leafs 3-2 in overtime at the Verizon Center.

Though the final score may not be indicative of a true goalie battle, that’s exactly what this game was. It’s well known how good both Washington’s and Toronto’s offenses are, but both Third Star of the Game Braden Holtby and Frederik Andersen were up to the task of keeping the opposition neutralized. The netminders combined for 76 saves on 81 shots faced, including 44 rejections by Holtby.

For anyone wondering if the Leafs were going to be content with simply qualifying for the playoffs this year, rookie Mitch Marner (James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak) proved otherwise. He buried a wrist shot only 95 seconds into the game, beating Holtby’s left skate.

Near the midway point of the first, the Caps were originally the beneficiary of a questionable goaltender interference call. Though Nazem Kadri was certainly in Holtby’s crease, the left wing’s skate barely restricted the netminder’s stick. Fortunately for Jake Gardiner, the NHL’s new review system for the playoffs ruled in his favor to give the youngsters an impressive two-goal lead on his unassisted strike.

Andersen played well all game, but his play and the Leafs’ two goals were not enough to daunt Second Star Justin Williams. The three-time Stanley Cup champion provided both goals to pull the Caps even, starting with his first (T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom) with 7:36 remaining in the opening frame. He scored his power play wrister two seconds after Brian Boyle returned to the ice from his interference penalty to end Washington’s five-on-three advantage.

Williams’ second tally was struck with exactly four minutes remaining in the second frame. Assisted by Matt Niskanen and Evgeny Kuznetsov, Williams collected the rebound, which was sitting right between Andersen’s legs, of the defenseman’s initial shot and buried it to level the game at two-all.

Though they needed overtime, the Capitals were able to complete their comeback. But instead of Williams being the goalscorer, it was First Star Tom Wilson, who managed to knock down Martin Marincin‘s attempted clear and rip his wrister from the near face-off circle top-shelf over Andersen’s glove for his first NHL playoff goal.

Win, lose or draw, the most impressive thing about Toronto’s play is it was not afraid of anything the Capitals threw at it. Washington tried early and often – made evident by Lars Eller‘s cross-check against Marincin early in the first – to get under the young Leafs’ skins, but Mike Babcock’s well-coached club would not be drawn into a dumb reactionary penalty. Do not count the Maple Leafs out simply because of their youth.

 

Nashville Predators at Chicago Blackhawks – Game 1

When First Star of the Game Pekka Rinne reaches peak performance, he’s tough to beat. Chicago learned that the hard way, as it fell 1-0 to the Predators at the United Center.

Though Chicago then led the shot count 5-3, Nashville took the opening – and only –  score in the ninth minute of play, courtesy of a quick tip-in from Second Star Viktor Arvidsson (Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen).

That proved to be the last tally of the game, though a total of 41 more shots were fired between the two offenses. Rinne was outstanding, as he saved all 29 shots he faced.

Though he gave up a tally, Third Star Corey Crawford was also solid, saving 19-of-20. But the real reason Chicago gave up only one score is found within Crawford’s stat line. His defense was exemplary, and allowed the second-fewest among all the first playoff games. Brent Seabrook was the brightest star, blocking four shots on the night.

 

Calgary Flames at Anaheim Ducks – Game 1

Though the Flames fired a dozen shots at John Gibson in the third period, Anaheim defended home ice with a 3-2 victory at the Honda Center.

The Ducks’ win is a result of one thing: their power play. Special team action was expected in this matchup, as these clubs were numbers one and two in times shorthanded during the regular season. This series already looks like it will be decided by the club that takes better advantage, as 24 total penalty minutes were assessed in only the first game.

Anaheim converted two of its seven extra-man opportunities, and Second Star of the Game Jacob Silfverberg played a role in both of them. The wing assisted First Star Ryan Getzlaf to the opening goal of the game, a wrister only 52 seconds into the contest, and buried the game-winning marker (Patrick Eaves and Shea Theodore) with 2:13 remaining in the second.

If Calgary can’t convert any more than one extra-man situation into a goal, their playoff run may see an untimely end. Sean Monahan (Kris Versteeg and T.J. Brodie) did manage one at the 8:43 of the first period to level the game, but the Flames couldn’t take advantage of their other four opportunities, including two in the third period (technically three, though the final power play lasted only a second before the end of regulation).

Another issue for the Calgary is Anaheim’s unrelenting offense, regardless of the number of players on the ice. Led by 17 attempts in the first period, the Ducks fired the puck on Brian Elliott‘s net 41 times. Not only will that wear out the 32-year-old goaltender, but it also means that the Flames do not have the puck in their offensive zone very often. Both those variables add up to early playoff exits.

April 6 – Day 169 – Pacific pandemonium

Buckle up for a wild Thursday.

There’s a dozen games on tap this evening, starting with four (Ottawa at Boston [NBCSN/RDS], Pittsburgh at New Jersey [SN360], the New York Islanders at Carolina and Winnipeg at Columbus) at 7 p.m. and another two (Tampa Bay at Toronto [TVAS] and St. Louis at Florida) half an hour later. 8:30 p.m. marks the puck drop of Nashville at Dallas, with Minnesota at Colorado waiting 30 minutes before getting underway. A pair of contests (Vancouver at Arizona and Chicago at Anaheim [NBCSN]) see their start at 10 p.m., with our co-nightcaps – Calgary at Los Angeles (SN360) and Edmonton at San Jose – dropping the puck half an hour later. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Ottawa at Boston: These clubs are tied at 94 points apiece for second and third place in the Atlantic Division.
  • Tampa Bay at Toronto: Tampa‘s postseason dreams are still alive, but they’ll be dashed with a loss this evening.
  • Chicago at Anaheim: Chicago has already clinched home ice throughout the Western Conference playoffs, but the Ducks still have some work to do within the Pacific Division.
  • Edmonton at San Jose: Speaking of the Pacific, these squads are tied at 97 points apiece for second and third place.

Of that list, the two tie-breaking games certainly stand out among the rest. It’s a tough choice between them, and I don’t think there’s really a wrong answer.

But…

Since Montréal has already clinched the Atlantic and both the Oilers and Sharks can still win their division, we have to turn our attention to The Tank for this episode Pacific Pandemonium!

 

No, not pandamonium. Pandemonium.

Though, come to think of it, that is a good representation of what is going on out West.

The top three teams in the Pacific are all over each other, and each still has a chance to advance into first place in the group. In fact, this panda .gif is so accurate, it even shows the fourth-place Flames leaving the tussle, as they’re already locked into one of the wild cards.

To continue with our panda metaphor, the bear at the bottom of the pile is certainly the 45-28-7 Sharks. Though tied with Edmonton on points, they’ve played one more game to put them in third place. Should they fall tonight, whether it be in regulation or extra-time, they will be unable to claim the top seed in the division.

The reason they’ve fallen from grace is their 1-8-0 record over the second half of March. As pointed out the last time we featured San Jose, it led the Pacific by five points at the beginning of the month. Now, the Sharks are simply fighting for home ice in the first round.

That article went on bemoaning the Sharks and their play of late. Somebody in San Jose‘s front office must have read it, because things have certainly changed since the beginning of April.

San Jose enters tonight’s game on a two-game winning streak (their first since March 12-14), and it’s all because 35-22-6 Martin Jones rediscovered his game. Over the second half of March, Jones posted an atrocious .862 save percentage and 3.85 GAA. Simply put, you’re not going to win many games that way.

Jones’ goaltending coach is Johan Hedberg, himself a former NHL goaltender.  Undoubtedly, Hedberg probably also went through tough patches like Jones did. Whatever he said or did with Jones has obviously worked, as the Sharks have their number one goalie back.

Jones hasn’t been just good in these last two games, he’s been great. He’s posted an incredible .969 save percentage and averaged only one goal-allowed, both numbers that are near the top of the league to start the month.

One of the best tests of a goalie is his performance against the power play, especially when the penalty kill in front of him manages only an average 80.9% kill rate on the campaign. Of all the goaltenders to have faced at least eight power play shots in the past four days, Jones is one of only six to have saved all of them.

There is still one remnant from the losing skid, though it’s no surprise given the Sharks‘ season success rate of only 16.7% on the power play that ties for sixth-worst in the NHL. San Jose has converted neither of its extra-man opportunities this month even though both Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski – the Sharks‘ best players on the man-advantage – have not missed any time.

With a game-in-hand on the Pacific-leading Ducks, 44-26-9 Edmonton still has its sights set on hoisting its first Division Champion banner since 1992. They can make a strong step in that direction with a win tonight.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Oilers did just that (win, that is), as they’ve earned a 9-2-0 record in their past 11 games – the third-best record in the league in that time.

The only thing better than Edmonton‘s record is its propensity for scoring the puck. 44 Oilers goals have been struck since March 14, the most in the league since then. I probably don’t need to tell you who’s behind most of those tallies, but would I be doing my job if I didn’t?

Simply put, Connor McDavid is really, really good at hockey. He’s registered 20 points in his past 11 games to pace the league since mid-March. What is truly impressive about McDavid’s late-season surge is that he’s calling his number more often. He’s only notched 29 goals on the season, a surprisingly low total since he’s effectively locked up his first Art Ross Trophy. But lately? He’s buried six of those tallies in the last 11 contests, a run that is matched by line-mate Patrick Maroon to co-lead the squad.

The Oil‘s offensive dominance continues on the power play, where it has converted an impressive 28.9% to rank sixth-best in the league since mid-March. McDavid is joined on this attack by Leon Draisaitl and Milan Lucic, as they’ve all notched five man-advantage points in the past 24 days. Lucic has been especially impressive during this run, as four of his points have been goals, which ties for the second-highest total in the NHL in that time.

Edmonton‘s penalty kill has also been excellent of late, as it’s properly defended and neutralized 85.7% of its infractions to tie for the sixth-best mark in the league since mid-March. Andrej Sekera deserves a lot of the credit for that success, as he’s blocked eight shots on the penalty kill in the past 11 games, which ties for second-most in the league.

The Oilers own a one-point lead in the series between these clubs this season, thanks to forcing overtime they first ran into the Sharks on December 23. These clubs last met March 30 in Edmonton, where the Oil bested San Jose 3-2 thanks to Maroon’s two-goal night.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Edmonton‘s Draisaitl (75 points [eighth-most in the league] on 47 assists [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]), McDavid (66 assists for 95 points [both lead the league] and a +25 [10th-best in the NHL]) and Cam Talbot (40 wins [third-most in the league], including seven shutouts [tied for third-most in the NHL]) & San Jose‘s Burns (74 points [ninth-most in the league]) and Jones (35 wins [seventh-most in the NHL]).

I’m surprised: Vegas favors the Sharks to win tonight on a -125 line. While Jones’ resurgence have helped to cool my doubts about San Jose going into the playoffs, I still don’t think it’s enough to fend off the Oilers‘ dominant offense.

Hockey Birthday

  • Connie Broden (1932-2013) – This center did the unthinkable by the standards of today’s game: he played only six regular season games in the NHL – all with the Canadiens – and scored only three points, but he hoisted two Stanley Cups. Talk about an effective career!
  • Michel Larocque (1952-1992) – This goaltender was selected sixth-overall by Montréal in the 1972 NHL Amateur Draft, and that’s where he played most of his 11 seasons. Amassing a career 160-89-45 record, he won four Vezina Trophies and the 1979 Stanley Cup.
  • Olaf Kolzig (1970-) – The only South African to play in the NHL to date, this goaltender was the 19th-overall pick by Washington in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft. All but one of his 17 seasons were spent with the Capitals, and he won the 2000 Vezina and 2006 King Clancy Memorial Trophies and played in two All-Star Games before retiring.
  • Hal Gill (1975-) – Another player to spend most of his career with the club that drafted him, this defenseman was selected by Boston in the eighth round of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft. He hoisted his lone Stanley Cup as a member of the Penguins‘ 2009 squad.
  • Ville Nieminen (1977-) – This NHL journeyman was picked by Colorado 78th-overall in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft. In only seven seasons, he played with seven different clubs, but before being shipped off from the Avalanche, he helped them to the 2001 Stanley Cup.
  • Travis Moen (1982-) – Calgary selected this left wing in the fifth round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, but he never played a game with the Flames. Instead, he spent half of his 12-year career in Montréal. Another Stanley Cup winner, he was a member of the 2007 Ducks.
  • Clarke MacArthur (1985-) – Buffalo selected this left wing 74th-overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, but he’s in his fourth season with the Senators. Due to suffering a concussion during training camp, he finally made his season debut Tuesday.

With a two-goal shutout victory over the Rangers in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, I present you your 2016-’17 regular season champion, the back-to-back Presidents’ Trophy-winning Washington Capitals!

With four prominent skaters healing up in the press box, the Rangers entered this contest over-matched. That being said, they managed to keep the Capitals off the board until only 5:11 remained in the second period. Alex Ovechkin (Second Star of the Game Evgeny Kuznetsov and Third Star Marcus Johansson) took advantage of a Brendan Smith holding penalty to score a deflected power play goal.

That was the only tally Washington managed before the second intermission, meaning the game’s lone insurance goal was struck in the third period. It came off Kuznetsov’s (Johansson and Justin Williams) stick, a wrist shot 5:42 into the frame.

First Star Braden Holtby earned the victory after saving all 24 shots he faced, leaving the loss to Henrik Lundqvist, who saved 23-of-25 (92%).

With the final playoff pushes seeing their last breaths, hosts in the DtFR Game of the Day series are truly taking advantage of their home-ice advantage. They’ve improved their records in the series to 87-59-25 (seven points better than the road teams) by winning six of the last seven games.

March 31 – Day 163 – Keeping it in Alberta

Welcome to the penultimate Friday in the NHL’s regular season. Unless you’re a fan of one of the 16 teams heading for the playoffs, there’s not much hockey left to be watched so make sure to catch the rest of this season’s games!

Tonight’s festivities start with Pittsburgh at the New York Rangers (SN) at 7 p.m., followed half an hour later by New Jersey at the New York Islanders. 8:30 p.m. marks the puck drop of Columbus at Chicago,  with two more (St. Louis at Colorado and San Jose at Calgary) getting underway at the top of the hour. Two contests – Los Angeles at Vancouver (SN360) and Washington at Arizona – share the role of nightcap and get started at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Pittsburgh at New York: Not only is it a rematch of last year’s Eastern Quarterfinals, but the Blueshirts could pull within four points of third place in the Metropolitan Division.
  • Columbus at Chicago: Two of the three best teams in the league? Yes please.
  • San Jose at Calgary: Thanks to the Sharks‘ loss last night, the Flames are only three points out of third place in the Pacific Division.

I’d love to watch the Hawks and Jackets square off, but it doesn’t have major playoff implications – and that’s what we’re all about this time of year. As much as I dislike repeating teams on back-to-back nights, it looks like we have to catch the Sharks‘ plane to Calgary for another important Pacific tilt.

 

If the Sharks can be happy about anything right now, it’s that today is the final day in what has been a dreadful March for them. Their 6-9-0 mark is tied with Arizona for the sixth-worst record in the month, and being compared to Coyotes in anything is usually a sign of trouble.

What makes the recent struggles an even harder pill to swallow is that it is spoiling an overall solid regular season. When the final game in February was played, San Jose was not only leading the Pacific Division by five points, but also trailed Minnesota by only seven points for the top seed in the Western Conference.

Thirty days later, the 43-27-7 Sharks sit alone in third place in the division, and four teams separate them from home ice throughout the conference playoffs. It leaves a club and fan base that entered the season on a quest to hoist its first Stanley Cup wondering if they can even escape what will be a very trying quarterfinals matchup against the Ducks, Flames, Oilers or possibly even the Blackhawks.

As I mentioned yesterday, it’s been an nearly all-inclusive collapse (defense notwithstanding) by the Sharks that has resulted in their horrendous run over the past 15 games.

Since 33-32-6 Martin Jones was in net last night, I’d assume 10-6-1 Aaron Dell will start in goal tonight (of course, I tabbed Dell to start yesterday and I was wrong, so who knows?). Dell has actually been a solid backup all season, as his .928 save percentage and 2.09 GAA are not only better than Jones’ effort, but also rank (t)third and fourth-best in the league among the 56 netminders with at least 16 appearances.

Whether we get that Dell or the Dell that has seen his save percentage drop to .915 in March remains to be seen, but you can plan on Justin Braun and San Jose‘s defense playing as strong as ever.

All season the goal has been to keep pucks off Dell and Jones’ crease as much as possible, and they’ve done an excellent job in achieving just that. All year, they’ve allowed only 27.5 shots-against per game – the third-best rate in the league – and they’ve actually been slightly better of late, allowing only 27.1 per game in March.

No Shark deserves more credit for that than Braun. He’s been the defensive stalwart of the club all year, and it shows in his team-leading 154 shot blocks. Another that has done well defensively is Joe Thornton, but he does his work before the opposition even thinks about firing at the net. He leads the squad in takeaways with 64 (tied for eighth-most in the league), including 13 this month.

The goaltending issues have proven to be especially detrimental to San Jose‘s penalty kill. Since it has been only an average effort on the season as a whole (80.8% kill rate is 15th-worst in the NHL), taking away the luxury of a usually-reliable backstop has dropped the Sharks to ninth-worst in March, neutralizing only 78% of their infractions. Dell has saved only 85% of the power play shots that have come his way this month, the 14th-worst effort among the 38 goalies with at least six March appearances.

Special teams seem to be a struggle for Peter DeBoer’s squad this year, as his power play has actually been worse than his penalty kill. The Sharks rank seventh-worst on the season with their 17.1% success rate with the man-advantage.

It’s surprising that San Jose has been so poor, mostly because they have one weapon few can match: Brent Burns. The offensive-minded blueliner has notched 24 points on the power play this campaign, which ties for 16th-most in the NHL.

Perhaps the Sharks‘ mojo has relocated itself to Cowtown. Currently in possession of a 43-30-4 record and the West’s first wild card, the Flames have earned a 15-4-1 record since February 15. That ties Columbus for the best mark in that time, though I’d argue the Flames have been better with one fewer game played.

I may actually be on to something regarding San Jose‘s mojo, as Brian Elliott has been fantastic during this run. After a rocky start to the season, he’s reclaimed the starting job in Calgary and made it his own. Since mid-February, he’s earned a .933 save percentage and a 1.97 GAA, the fourth and fifth-best marks in the league, respectively, among the 33 goalies with at least nine appearances in that time.

Tonight is the fourth of five games between these clubs this season, and the Flames have the opportunity to clinch the series victory with a win tonight. They’ve gone 2-1-0 so far against San Jose, including the last time they met on January 11. It was a closely contested affair, but Dougie Hamilton scored with 2:19 remaining in regulation to earn a 3-2 win for the Flames in the Saddledome.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Calgary‘s Johnny Gaudreau (42 assists for 59 points [both lead the team]) and Mark Giordano (176 blocks for a+22 [both lead the team]) & San Jose‘s Burns (73 points [eighth-most in the league]) and Jones (33 wins [seventh-most in the NHL]).

It’s hard to argue with recent success. Vegas has marked the Flames a -130 favorite to win tonight. Just like I said yesterday, the Sharks‘ rebound has to start in the crease. While Calgary certainly doesn’t pose the offensive threat the Oilers did a night ago, the Flames‘ confidence should be enough to get past whichever goaltender DeBoer decides to go with.

Hockey Birthday

  • Bud MacPherson (1927-1988) – For seven seasons MacPherson roamed along Montréal‘s blueline, and he was rewarded with one All-Star Game and the 1953 Stanley Cup.
  • Gordie Howe (1928-2016) – There’s no discussion: this right wing is one of the greatest players the world has ever seen. Named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972 – seven years before his last season in the league – he played in 23 All-Star Games over 26 NHL seasons (all but one with Detroit) and won both the Hart Memorial and Art Ross Trophies six times apiece, not to mention his four Stanley Cups.
  • Bob Pulford (1936-) – Another Hall of Famer, this left wing played all but two seasons of his 16-year career in Toronto. He won four Stanley Cups in the process, including three-straight from 1962-’64.
  • Bill Hicke (1938-2005) – Spending most of his time in Montréal, this right wing played 13 seasons in the NHL. The three-time All-Star was good for almost as many penalty minutes as points contributed, but that didn’t stop him from being a two-time Stanley Cup champion.
  • Gilles Gilbert (1949-) – Selected by the North Stars 25th-overall in the 1969 NHL Amateur Draft, this goaltender played 416 games over his 14-year career. Spending most of his time in Boston, he earned a 192-143-60 record before hanging up his pads.
  • Tom Barrasso (1965-) – Buffalo selected this goaltender fifth-overall in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft, but he played a majority of his career for the Penguins. He played well for both clubs, as he earned the 1984 Calder Memorial and Vezina Trophies and the 1985 William M. Jennings Trophy with the Sabres and back-to-back Stanley Cups in Pittsburgh.
  • Pavel Bure (1971-) – Though only selected in the sixth round of the 1989 NHL Entry Draft by Vancouver (his longest-tenured club), this right wing had a highly successful career. In addition to six All-Star Game appearances, he won two Maurice Richard Trophies and the 1992 Calder. All of that added up to a Hall of Fame induction in 2012.
  • Michael Ryder (1980-) – Montréal selected this right wing in the eighth round of the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he played most of his 11 seasons. That being said, he was wearing the crest of the arch-rival Bruins when he hoisted his lone Stanley Cup.
  • David Clarkson (1984-) – A longtime right wing for the Devils, this Toronto-native played 10 seasons in the NHL. He could’ve been playing his 11th this year with Columbus, but he was denied the opportunity to practice with the club due to failing his physical.
  • Steve Bernier (1985-) – The 16th-overall selection in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft by San Jose, this right wing has played 633 games over 11 seasons in the league. His longest -tenured club is New Jersey, with whom he scored 28 goals for 65 points.
  • Jakob Chychrun (1998-) – This rookie defenseman was the 16th-overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft by Arizona. He shows promise on the offensive end of the ice, as he’s provided 19 points already this year, the third-most among Coyotes blueliners.

Thanks to Second Star of the Game Cam Talbot‘s 38-save effort, Edmonton was able to best the Sharks 3-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day to improve into second place in the Pacific Division.

Though Talbot had a strong night, it didn’t start off the best way. He allowed Jannik Hansen (Paul Martin) to score only his eighth goal of the season 1:01 into play to allow the Sharks to take an early lead. Fortunately for him, Third Star Patrick Maroon (First Star Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl) provided a game-tying goal 9:21 later. Though Zack Kassian was sent off the ice for hooking birthday boy Marc-Edouard Vlasic with 3:24 remaining in the period, McDavid (Oscar Klefbom and Drake Caggiula) was able to score a shorthanded backhander only 52 seconds later to give the Oil a 2-1 lead it would not yield.

Maroon (Kris Russell) provided what proved to be the game-winning goal 7:51 into the third period with a tip-in. It became the winner with 6:01 remaining in regulation when Joe Pavelski (Vlasic and Hansen) scored a tip-in of his own, but the Sharks were unable to find another tally before the final horn.

Talbot earned the victory after saving 38-of-40 shots faced (95%), leaving the loss to Jones, who saved 19-of-22 (86.4%).

We’re all squared up once again in the DtFR Game of the Day series, as both home and away teams in the series have an identical 189 points. Road sides still have more wins with their 83-59-23 record.

March 29 – Day 161 – Bird is the word

Though there’s only four games on today’s schedule, there’s at least two that should provide some captivating play.

The action starts a little later this evening as Chicago at Pittsburgh (NBCSN/TVAS) doesn’t drop the puck until 8 p.m., followed an hour later by Los Angeles at Calgary (SN). 10 p.m. marks the beginning of Washington at Colorado, preceding tonight’s nightcap – St. Louis at Arizona (SN360) – by half an hour. All times eastern.

Since the Kings‘ playoff chances took a significant hit last night with their loss in Edmonton, let’s catch the action in the Steel City.

 

Quick, tell me the best team in the NHL since the beginning of February. Calgary? Nope. Pittsburgh? Nada. Washington? Guess again.

You’ve probably figured it out, but the correct answer is the best team in the Western Conference, the 48-21-7 Blackhawks. In the past two months, Chicago has earned an impressive 18-4-2 record on the back of its elite offense.

On the season as a whole, the Hawks rank seventh-best in goals-per-game, but February and March have been an absolute clinic. Led by Patrick Kane‘s 33 points (the fourth-most in the league over that stretch), Chicago has buried 84 goals in that time, trailing only Nashville for most in the NHL.

Kane has been absolutely magnificent of late. 19 of his 34 goals on the season have been struck since the beginning of February, and both totals are tops in the Windy City. But the main reason Chicago is playing so well is they’ve stayed extremely healthy. Only 25 different skaters have donned a Blackhawks sweater in their past 24 games, an extremely impressive total that perfectly explains the club’s synergy.

That compatibility is most evidenced when the Hawks take to the power play. Though they actually rank 14th-worst on the season as a whole, Chicago has converted 22.4% of its man-advantages in the past month – the 10th-best effort in that time.

Captain Jonathan Toews gets to take a lot of credit for that success. Though he’s only registered one power play point in his past six games, Toews has nine on his resume since February to lead the club. Most of those have been assists to the other star of the first power play unit: Kane. He’s buried five power play goals in the past two months to headline the team and tie for fourth-most in the NHL.

If there’s one spot the Hawks are still trying to improve, it has to be their penalty kill. Stopping only 77.4% of opponents’ power plays all season, they rank fifth-worst in the league. The issue is not 30-16-3 Corey Crawford, but the defense playing in front of him. Crawford has faced the 12th-most power play shots against in the league (among netminders with 30 or more appearances) due to Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brent Seabrook being the only two players with more than 22 shorthanded shot blocks.

Though two games ended in a shootout, the last three games have been tough for the 46-18-11 Penguins, the third-best team in both the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference.

The reason for Pittsburgh‘s struggles is not on the ice, but off it. Nine players were listed on the Penguins‘ most recent injury report, though Jake Guentzel (concussion), Ron Hainsey (upper body) and Conor Sheary (lower body) skated yesterday. If any are cleared before tonight’s game, I’d bet on Sheary since Guentzel and Hainsey wore non-contact sweaters.

Usually one of the elite squads in the game, the holes in the lineup has most effected Pittsburgh‘s offense. Usually averaging a league-high 3.4 goals-per-game, the Pens have scored only six goals in their past three games, which ironically ties with Chicago for fifth-fewest since Thursday.

If able, Sheary will be a welcome addition to the lineup to rejuvenate the offense. He’s averaged .91 points-per-game this season, which is the third-best average in Pittsburgh. Of course, he’s no Evgeni Malkin, another member of the club spending more time in the training room than he’d like. His 33 goals are second-most on the team (and 10th-most in the league) behind Sidney Crosby‘s 42, as is his 1.16 points-per-game average (good for the ninth-most points in the NHL).

One thing that hasn’t suffered is the power play. Scoring on a third of its attempts, Pittsburgh is tied for sixth-best in the league since March 23 – well above its 22.4% success rate on the season. What’s most impressive about this effort is that the power play scoring has come from five different players, and none of them were drafted first overall.

Instead, the special team that has taken a step back is the one that was already poor to begin with. The Pens‘ penalty kill has blocked only one power play shot (courtesy of Tom Kuhnhackl) en route to only a 75% kill rate, which ties for eighth-worst in the league in the last week.

When the Penguins visited the United Center four weeks ago, they seemed to forget about one major detail: Kane.

Not Kahn, Captain Kirk; Kane. Notching his second hat trick in three games, the right wing teamed with Scott Darling and his 36-save effort to lead Chicago to a 4-1 victory.

Some players to keep an eye on in tonight’s game include Chicago‘s Crawford (30 wins [tied for eighth-most in the NHL]) and Kane (82 points [tied for second-most in the league] on 34 goals and 48 assists [both tied for sixth-most in the NHL]) & Pittsburgh‘s Crosby (42 goals [leads the league] for 82 points [tied for second-most in the NHL]), Matthew Murray (.923 save percentage [seventh-best in the league]), Justin Schultz (+27 [eighth-best in the NHL]) and Sheary (+26 [tied for ninth-best in the league]).

No matter how busy Chris Stewart – the Penguins‘ head athletic trainer –  is, Vegas still favors Pittsburgh to win with a -125 line. Unfortunately, I don’t feel quite so optimistic for the home team. Chicago has been on an absolute tear over the past 56 days and doesn’t look like its stopping now.

Hockey Birthday

  • Brad McCrimmon (1959-2011) – Selected 15th-overall by the Bruins in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft, this defenseman spent most of his 18 seasons in Philadelphia. The late 80s were an incredible year for this Saskatchewanian, as he not only made his lone All-Star Game appearance in ’88, but also hoisted the Stanley Cup with the Flames a year later.
  • Maxim Lapierre (1985-) – Though currently playing in Switzerland, this center has 10 seasons of NHL experience. Due to being selected 61st-overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft by the local Canadiens, most of his playing time came in Montréal. A consistent enforcer, he spent 130 minutes in the penalty box in 2011-’12 as a Canuck.

Three of Boston‘s four lines found the back of the net to lead the Bruins to a 4-1 victory over the Predators in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Patrice Bergeron (Zdeno Chara and Brad Marchand) got the scoring started early with a wrist shot 2:28 into the game to give the Bruins an early lead. With 6:08 remaining in the first period, Second Star of the Game David Krejci (David Pastrnak and Drew Stafford) doubled that lead with a wrister of his own, the score that proved to be the game-winner.

The visiting Preds finally got on the scoreboard with 8:44 remaining in regulation when Craig Smith (Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis) tipped the puck into Tuukka Rask‘s net, but Third Star Noel Acciari (Riley Nash) neutralized that tally 4:31 later with the first goal of his NHL career. David Backes (Dominic Moore) took advantage of an empty net in the waning moments of the contest to set the final 4-1 score.

Rask earned the victory after saving 24-of-25 shots faced (96%), leaving Pekka Rinne with the loss, who saved 27-of-30 (90%).

Boston‘s home victory was a big one in the DtFR Game of the Day series, as road and home teams in the series have both earned an equal 187 points. Visitors do have the most wins though at 82-58-23, compared to the hosts’ 81-57-25.

March 28 – Day 160 – The golden touch

Tuesday is one of those moving days in the NHL when the standings can look vastly different after all the games have been played.

Eleven contests in total will be held this evening, starting with five (Winnipeg at New Jersey, Nashville at Boston [SN1/TVAS], Ottawa at Philadelphia [RDS2], Detroit at Carolina and Buffalo at Columbus) at 7 p.m., followed by two more (Florida at Toronto and Dallas at Montréal [RDS]) half an hour later. Washington at Minnesota (NHLN) drops the puck at 8 p.m., and Los Angeles at Edmonton follows at 9 p.m. The West Coast gets involved at 10 p.m. when Anaheim visits Vancouver, and tonight’s nightcap – the New York Rangers at San Jose – drops the puck 30 minutes after. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Winnipeg at New Jersey: Thanks to the Nor’easter that blew through earlier this month, this game is being played two weeks late.
  • Nashville at Boston: You have to fall to get back up. Matt Irwin fell while playing for the Bruins organization, but has gotten up in Nashville.
  • Los Angeles at Edmonton: The Kings‘ postseason hopes are hanging by a thread, but an old-timey rivalry might be just the trick to get a playoff push started.

Given the vast playoff implications a win or loss could have for the Bruins or Predators, let’s catch tonight’s activity at the TD Garden.

 

For starters, let’s tackle Irwin’s story real quick.

Undrafted out of the University of Massachusetts, the defenseman began his professional hockey career in 2010 in nearby Worcester with the Sharks‘ AHL affiliate.

He scored 73 points over his first two seasons of AHL play, which prompted an NHL contract from the parent club after injuries to Brent Burns and Jason Demers.

Irwin finally got his opportunity to play in the big league in 2013, and he made the most of his opportunity. Though he did return to Worcester for most of February 2013, he quickly rejoined the Sharks by the end of the month. He never returned to the DCU Center.

Instead, he spent the remainder of the 2012-’13 season in San Jose, as well as the following two campaigns. In all, he played 153 games for the Sharks, earning 50 points on 16 goals. Additionally, he also appeared in 13 playoff games, registering two points.

Though originally from British Columbia, Bay Staters seemed to have fallen in love with the blueliner – or so Don Sweeney thought. The Bruins general manager signed Irwin to a one-year, two-way deal last season, yet it only felt like a one-way since he played only two games for Boston before being sent down to Providence for the remainder of the year. The biggest reason? He registered a -5 goal-differential over those two games, an absolutely horrid mark for a defender.

Some would not have taken the demotion well. Instead, Irwin seemed to retool his game while in Rhode Island. Fortunately for him, someone took notice.

That someone would be David Poile (okay, it was probably a Predators scout; but that’s not quite as fun a story, now is it?). Irwin has been an effective addition this season, as he’s claimed 14 points on three goals and a +14 goal differential in 66 games played.

What remains to be seen is if his 39-25-11 Predators can continue this impressive run they’re on. Currently occupying third place in the Central Division, the Preds have won their last four games and are 7-1-2 since March 7.

Just like it has been all season, offense has been the name of the game over this stretch. Tied for seventh-most goals on the season, Smashville has scored 33 goals in their last 10 games to tie for fourth-most in that time-span. The culprit? None other than Viktor Arvidsson, who has nine points since early March, including six goals – a top-10 effort over that stretch.

That success shouldn’t come as a surprise. He and Filip Forsberg have been the dominant strikers for the Preds all season, as both have 29 tallies to their credit to co-lead the club.

After beating the Islanders on Saturday to end their four-game losing skid, the 39-30-6 Bruins will get back to work defending their playoff position tonight. When Boston has found success this season, it’s usually been on the offensive end of the ice, as its 212 goals is the 12th-highest total in the NHL.

If you haven’t heard, Brad Marchand is pretty good. Actually, he’s an offensive machine with his team-leading (and fourth-best in the league) 80 points. 37 of those points have been goals, which – you guessed it – also leads the team.

To put things in perspective, since you flipped your calendar to March, Marchand has struck nine goals. Nine! That’s tied for third-most in the league this month, better than scorers of the likes of Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, T.J. Oshie, Joe Pavelski and Vladimir Tarasenko – just to name a few.

Playing into that, the Bruins‘ power play has also been playing very well. Though only the third-best effort in the Atlantic Division, David Pastrnak has led Boston to a 26.5% conversion rate in March with his three power play goals this month.

The penalty kill has been extremely solid for the entire season. Boston is third-best in the league with its 84.9% kill rate, led by 33-20-4 Tuukka Rask. Though he’s faced the 10th-most power play shots among the 39 goaltenders with at least 30 appearances, he’s saved .884 percent of them –  the 14th-best effort of the group.

The Bruins‘ visit to Bridgestone Arena on January 12 did not go the way they wanted to. Though they fired 36 shots on Juuse Saros‘ net, he saved all but Torey Krug‘s second period power play goal to lead Nashville to a 2-1 victory.

Should a Boston win be paired with regulation loss by the Maple Leafs, the Bruins will jump into third place in the Atlantic if only for a day.

As for the Predators, they are also in a fight for third place in their division with St. Louis. Since the Blues are inactive tonight, Nashville is giving them a game-in-hand by playing tonight. A win puts the pressure on the Notes to hold serve, while a loss would put the Preds in limbo until St. Louis plays the extra contest.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Boston‘s Marchand (37 goals [third-most in the NHL] for 80 points [fourth-most in the league]) and Rask (six shutouts [fifth-most in the NHL] among 33 wins [sixth-most in the league]) & Nashville‘s Pekka Rinne (30 wins [tied for eighth-most in the NHL]).

As much as I want to pick the Bruins since they’re playing at home, I like the Predators‘ offense too much to pick against them. Boston has not been playing well on the defensive end of late, and I think Smashville will be able to take advantage.

Hockey Birthday

  • Keith Tkachuk (1972-) – A longtime member of the Jets/Coyotes franchise (though his longest-tenured city was St. Louis), this 18-year NHL veteran was selected 19th-overall by Winnipeg in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft. The five-time All Star scored 1065 points before calling it quits, including 538 goals. His son, Matthew Tkachuk, is a rookie with the Flames this season.

The storm rages on in Carolina, as a 4-3 overtime loss to the Red Wings in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day extends its point streak to 11 games.

The Hurricanes found the ice-breaking goal relatively quickly with Jeff Skinner (Jaccob Slavin and Lee Stempniak) scoring a slap shot only 5:15 into the game to give them an early lead. The 1-0 score held to the intermission.

At Carolina‘s 10:30 a.m. practice today, I expect Bill Peters to be harping on his guys about limiting the opposition’s breakaway opportunities, because the Red Wings – specifically First Star of the Game Anthony Mantha – absolutely torched them in that situation. Mantha scored twice in 70 seconds (Third Star Andreas Athanasiou and Danny DeKeyser assisted on the second tally) to give Detroit the lead. But it didn’t end the period with that lead. Instead, Second Star Justin Faulk (Slavin and Derek Ryan) tied the game with a snap shot 58 seconds before heading to the dressing room for the second intermission.

Tomas Tatar (Gustav Nyquist and Henrik Zetterberg) buried a power play snapper 8:30 into the third period to reclaim the lead for the Red Wings, and they nearly held it to the end of regulation. Once again: “instead, Faulk.” With six skaters on the ice and only 52 seconds remaining in regulation, he scored a snapper (Noah Hanifin and Victor Rask) to force three-on-three overtime.

After 1:59 of overtime play, Athanasiou (Nyquist) scored a backhanded shot to win the game, but that quickly became of lesser importance. As the center dove towards Eddie Lack‘s crease, he made contact with the netminder in the head and neck area.

Lack remained nearly motionless on the ice, moving only his legs. He had to be stretchered off the ice and transported to the hospital for further evaluation. Fortunately, he tweeted around midnight that he was discharged with a clean bill of health.

Petr Mrazek earned the victory after saving 39-of-42 shots faced (92.9%), forcing Lack to take the overtime loss after saving 23-of-27 (85.2%).

Within the DtFR Game of the Day series, the Wings‘ victory has expanded the 82-57-23 road teams’ lead over the hosts to two points.

March 16 – Day 148 – Now the East is wild

It’s Thursday once again, my favorite day of the week. There’s a dozen games taking place tonight, starting with five (Philadelphia at New Jersey [TVAS], Winnipeg at the New York Islanders, Nashville at Washington [NHLN], Minnesota at Carolina and Florida at Columbus [TVAS]) at 7 p.m. Another pair of contests (Chicago at Ottawa [RDS] and Toronto at Tampa Bay) drop the puck half an hour later, followed by Boston at Edmonton at 9 p.m. The West Coast gets involved at 10 p.m. with two matches (Dallas at Vancouver and Detroit at Arizona), followed half an hour later by tonight’s co-nightcaps: Buffalo at Los Angeles and St. Louis at San JoseAll times eastern.

Short list:

  • Philadelphia at New Jersey: It’s the second rivalry game in as many nights for the Flyers.
  • Toronto at Tampa Bay: Not only is it the return of Brian Boyle to Amalie Arena, but it’s also an important game in the race for the Eastern Conference’s second wildcard.
  • St. Louis at San Jose: These teams combined to create a thrilling six-game series for the Campbell Bowl last postseason.

To put things simply, there’s a lot on the line in the TorontoTampa game that we just can’t miss.

 

 

 

 

 

Although Philadelphia‘s victory over the Penguins last night gave the Flyers a bit of playoff hope, it’s really a three-team race for the Eastern Conference’s second wild card going into the final 14-ish games of the season.

After last night’s action, the Isles have a one-point lead on 10th-place Toronto, and win the regulation+overtime victories tiebreaker against ninth-place Tampa Bay.

To keep math simple in regards to how tonight’s featured matchup effects the standings, know this: As long as the Islanders don’t beat Winnipeg tonight, the winner of this game will move into the second wild card in the Eastern Conference – at least for a day.

Even if all three clubs finish the night with 78 points (that happens if the Isles and Lightning both fall in overtime), Toronto takes over eighth-place with a game in-hand. In that situation, New York and Tampa Bay would remain in the order they’re in right now, but fall a step in the standings.

Clear as mud? Good.

With the most to gain this evening, the Maple Leafs enter tonight’s game with a 31-23-14 record, which is already the most wins they’ve had since their 38-36-8 season in 2013-’14 (man, the East was stacked that year too). The main reason Toronto is having to work so hard for a playoff spot is due to its lackluster defense, which has allowed 198 goals against in 68 games –  the seventh-worst rate in the NHL.

More often than not, 27-15-13 Frederik Andersen has been the man between the pipes for the Leafs, and he’s done a better job than his .916 season save percentage and 2.73 GAA indicate. Although those statistics rank only (t)13th and (t)29th in the league, respectively, among the 37 goalies with at least 28 appearances, he’s performed well under the circumstances.

Those circumstances being, of course, a defense that allows 32.7 shots against per game, the third-highest rate in the entire NHL and worst among playoff hopefuls.

If there’s anything to get excited about regarding Toronto‘s defensive corps, its that Nikita Zaitsev, one of the seven rookies on the roster that gets regular playing time, is the leading shot blocker on the team, having registered 117 already this season. Not only will the 25-year-old continue to develop, but more high-class free agents will be attracted to Toronto this offseason to better bolster the blueline.

That being said, the Leafs‘ defense repeatedly shows they’re potential when they’re forced into a shorthanded situation. By rejecting 82.9% of opposing power plays, Toronto ranks eighth-best in the league on the penalty kill. Much of that credit belongs to Roman Polak, who leads the team with 31 shorthanded blocks.

Given the fact that the Maple Leafs drafted potentially the next greatest player in hockey (or at least the next greatest forward), it’s no surprise that they’re really, really good on the power play. What is surprising, though, is that it’s not Auston Matthews heading that attack. Instead, it’s fellow rookie William Nylander, whose team-leading 22 power play points have sparked a 23.5% penalty-conversion rate, the second-best mark in the NHL. Nazem Kadri has been responsible for a bunch of those goals – 11, to be accurate, which is the most in Toronto.

With arguably the most to lose tonight, Tampa Bay plays host this evening with a 34-26-9 record. Just like with Toronto, there is one main reason Tampa finds itself on the outside of playoff picture looking in – but it’s on the opposite end of the ice (or the same end, depending on how you look at it). Winners of their last four, the Lightning‘s biggest worry is offense, as they have managed only 187 goals this season – the 13th-fewest in the league.

No matter how hard Nikita Kucherov tries, he just can’t seem to pull the Bolts along. He’s having a solid season with his team-leading 69 points and 31 goals (both totals already career highs with 13 games to go), but his team simply will not follow him.

The fact that Tyler Johnson is the second-best forward on the team is all the proof I need: behind Kucherov, his 44 points and 19 goals are most in Tampa Bay. Those totals do not even break into the top-50 in the NHL. Simply put, more than one player needs to provide offense for a club to find true success, and I don’t trust Johnson to truly step up to fill that secondary role.

Of course, I can rail against the Bolts‘ offense all I want, but it’s hard to argue with a power play that is successful on 22.4% of attempts (fourth-best in the league). Kucherov is at the head of that attack too with his 14 goals, but it’s actually Victor Hedman who leads the team in power play points with 27 to his credit.

For division rivals (we’re using that term loosely right now), it’s surprising this is only the third meeting of the season between these two clubs. With both teams beating the other once this season, the Bolts have a slight edge in the series due to forcing overtime in their 3-2 loss on December 29 – the last time they met the Leafs.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Tampa Bay‘s Peter Budaj (seven shutouts [second-most in the league] and a 2.15 GAA [fifth-best in the NHL] for 28 wins [tied for ninth-most in the league]), Hedman (45 assists [tied for fourth-most in the NHL]) and Kucherov (31 goals for 69 points [both tied for eighth-most in the league]) & Toronto‘s Jake Gardiner (+25 [leads the team]), Mitch Marner (37 assists [leads the team]) and Matt Martin (254 hits [leads the team]).

With a -128 line, Vegas seems reasonably confident that the Lightning will pull out a victory this evening with home ice. I don’t feel as confident in that pick, since I believe Toronto‘s offense is superior to Tampa‘s defense. It’ll be a good contest, but I like to Leafs to earn the victory.

Hockey Birthday

  • Roger Crozier (1942-1996) – The first two years of this goaltender’s 14-year career were phenomenal. Making his debut in Detroit in the 1963-’64 season, he won the 1965 Calder Trophy on a 2.42 GAA, followed a year later by hoisting the Conn Smythe with seven shutouts.
  • Duane Sutter (1960-) – Players selected 17th-overall are expected to produce. By winning four Stanley Cups in a row for the Islanders, this right wing did just that. He marked 45 points in those four Cup runs, including 20 goals.
  • Riley Cote (1982-) – This right wing appeared in four NHL seasons – all with the Flyers. An enforcer by trade, he now earns his paycheck as an assistant coach with Philadelaphia‘s AHL farm team.
  • Brandon Prust (1984-) – Calgary selected this left wing 70th-overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, but his longest tenured team is the Rangers. He is still playing hockey professionally, but with Nürnberg in the DEL.

Scoring a goal every 10 minutes is usually a good way to earn a victory. That’s what the Bruins did for the final two periods to beat Calgary 5-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day. That loss snaps Calgary‘s 10-game winning streak.

It was actually the Flames that opened the scoring, courtesy of an Alex Chiasson (Lance Bouma and Matt Stajan) wrist shot 9:23 into the game. Third Star of the Game David Pastrnak (Zdeno Chara) pulled Boston even 2:24 later with a wrister that proved to be the final tally of the opening frame.

6:04 after returning from the break, the score read 2-1 in favor of the visitors. First Star Brad Marchand continued his impressive season by scoring his 36th goal of the year, an unassisted backhanded shot. 70 seconds later, Dougie Hamilton scored an unassisted marker of his own, a wrister, to once again tie the score. Yet it proved to be Calgary‘s final goal of the night, meaning David Backes‘ (David Krejci) wrister with 8:57 remaining in the second period proved to be the winning-tally.

Matt Beleskey (Ryan Spooner and Drew Stafford) and Pastrnak (Marchand and Patrice Bergeron) provided two insurance goals in the third period to ensure Boston‘s victory.

Anton Khudobin earned the victory after saving 21-of-23 shots faced (91.3%), leaving the loss to Chad Johnson, who saved 27-of-31 (87.1%).

The back-and-forth between home and away teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series continues. After tonight’s victory by the club in white, the 75-53-22 road teams now have a one-point lead over the hosts in the series.