Tag Archives: Gallant

Both power plays roll, Vegas wins 4-3

 

 

 

 

 

Having suffered their first-ever playoff loss Saturday, the Vegas Golden Knights rebounded in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs’ Second Round to beat the San Jose Sharks 4-3 in overtime at SAP Center to reclaim a one-game advantage in their series.

Play was back-and-forth across all 200 feet of the rink in the opening 10 minutes, but San Jose certainly had the upper hand in terms of shots on goal. The Sharks’ nine scoring attempts easily eclipsed Vegas’ four, but First Star of the Game G Marc-Andre Fleury was more than up to the task of keeping that attack at bay.

Soon after, action turned decidedly in the Sharks’ favor as the Golden Knights struggled to get the puck into their attacking third. Starting at the 9:24 mark, the Knights went 5:54 without firing a shot on G Martin Jones in the second half of the first frame, due in large part to some stellar play by San Jose in the neutral zone. The only reason that skid came to an end is due to W Mikkel Boedker sending the puck over the glass, taking a delay of game penalty and giving Vegas a power play.

Further proving San Jose’s defensive abilities, it yielded only one shot against on that man-advantage.

However, no matter how well San Jose controlled play in the first period (the Sharks’ final shot differential for the frame read 16-10), the game remained scoreless at the first intermission. As such, the frame belonged to Fleury, who saved all 16 of those shots as a part of his 39-for-42 save performance (.929 save percentage).

That tie finally came undone at the 6:59 mark of the second period when W Timo Meier (C Chris Tierney and Boedker) scored a power play wrist shot. Taking advantage of W William Carrier committing a tripping penalty against Boedker 1:31 earlier, the Sharks completed some excellent one-time passes to set Meier up for a tic-tac-goal from the right face-off circle.

Meier’s was the first of three-consecutive power play goals scored in the third period, but unfortunately for the teal-clad fans, the next two belonged to the visiting Knights.

D Colin Miller (W James Neal and W David Perron) tied the game only 2:41 after Meier’s goal with a power play wrister, taking advantaged of D Brenden Dillon‘s holding penalty against Perron at the 7:56 mark.

Known for his scoring ability, Neal drew a lot of attention once he ended up with possession along the goal line to Jones’ left. With Sharks swarming towards him, he crossed a centering pass to Miller across the crease, who then returned a wrister towards the far post to give Vegas its first lead of the night.

With the Knights’ second power play unit striking gold for the club’s first goal, it was first unit that got its time to shine when Third Star F Tomas Hertl was caught roughing Neal with 7:13 remaining in the second period. F Jon Marchessault (RW Alex Tuch and W Reilly Smith) buried a wrister only 22 seconds after Hertl took his seat in isolation to give Vegas a 2-1 advantage.

The Golden Knights had one more trick up their sleeves in the third period, but this one they managed to pull off under even-strength conditions. Smith (Second Star C William Karlsson and Marchessault) set the score at 3-1 only 1:17 after Marchessault’s marker with a slick backhanded shot on Karlsson’s centering pass, his first marker of this postseason.

However, these Sharks were far from ready to turn their attention to Game 4 just yet. Though they officially failed to capitalize on D Jonathon Merrill‘s crosscheck against D Dylan DeMelo at the 5:45 mark of the third period, LW Evander Kane‘s (D Brent Burns and DeMelo) wrister 2:04 later was completed before the defenseman could rejoin play. Kane fired his shot from the right face-off dot, beating Fleury over his glove.

Vegas Head Coach Gerard Gallant challenged for goaltender interference against F Logan Couture, but it was ruled that the screening forward was outside the crease and enough time had passed since any previous contact that Fleury was able to recollect himself to prepare for the save on Kane’s wrister.

It also didn’t help that much of the previous contact was due to Fleury crosschecking Couture in the back when he had been in the crease, but those facts are neither here nor there since Fleury came out on the winning side of things.

As for forcing overtime, San Jose did that with 1:57 remaining in regulation when Hertl (D Justin Braun and RW Kevin Labanc) somehow sneaked a wrister past basically every skater on the ice and used them as screens against Fleury. After D Deryk Engelland blocked Braun’s shot from just above the crease, Fleury had no idea where the puck went until it ended up behind him.

In terms of shots on goal, overtime was an even affair considering both squads managed three shots on goal apiece. However, it was Vegas’ third and final offering that earned it the victory.

Karlsson (Neal and Marchessault) provided that breakaway snap shot at the 8:17 mark of the overtime period.

A quick stretch pass is all the Golden Knights needed to set up the league’s third-best goalscorer from the regular season. Marchessault’s pass from the right corner found Neal at Vegas’ defensive blue line, and the runner-up in last year’s Stanley Cup Final dumped a pass to the game-winner at the red line before sitting back and watching him do the rest of the work. Karlsson turned on the NOS to set up a one-on-one against Jones, firing his snapper from the top of the right face-off circle to beat the netminder to the far post.

Game 3 was an important match for the Golden Knights, as they’ve now reclaimed home-ice advantage in this playoff series. Jones and the Sharks now face the difficult task once again of needing to win a game at T-Mobile Arena – the very place they lost 7-0 in Game 1.

Puck drop for Game 4 from SAP Center in San Jose, Calif. is scheduled for May 2 at 10 p.m. Eastern. The match will be broadcast on CBC, NBCSN and TVAS.

Undisciplined Knights take first playoff loss

 

 

 

 

After losing Game 1 7-0, the San Jose Sharks have miraculously stolen home ice away from the Vegas Golden Knights after a Game 2 4-3 double-overtime victory at T-Mobile Arena.

Between its inability to stay out of the penalty box and lack of success at defensive zone face-offs, it’s almost a surprise Vegas was able to extend this game to the 85:13 it lasted.

As for the former note, no Golden Knight takes as much responsibility for his club playing shorthanded as W David Perron. He took a game-high six penalties in minutes, all for unruly infractions like slashing (against D Brenden Dillon with 3:56 remaining in the first period), holding the stick (against D Dylan DeMelo 1:56 into the second period) and roughing (against the aforementioned Dillon with 6:36 remaining in the second period).

Fortunately for Perron, only one of his infractions ended up costing the Knights a power play goal – but it was a big one, considering it started the Sharks’ trend of success off set plays. On the immediate face-off in Vegas’ defensive zone following Perron’s infraction against DeMelo, F Joe Pavelski won the scrum and fed the puck to Third Star of the Game D Brent Burns, who ripped a nasty slap shot from the blue line – with the help of a lucky bounce off F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare‘s skate – past G Marc-Andre Fleury‘s right pad, snapping the netminder’s perfect 144:04 goalless streak.

Burns’ goal set the score at 2-1, canceling out one of Second Star C William Karlsson‘s two markers. The Swede potted his first of the night (D Colin Miller and D Nate Schmidt) on a snap shot with 2:01 remaining in the first period, capitalizing on a missed slap shot-turned-assist by Miller that bounced off the endboards and right into his lap.

Karlsson’s offering was the Knights’ fifth and final shot of the first period, as the Sharks’ defense was doing an excellent job all night keeping the hosts’ attack at bay. In the more than 85 minutes played all night, Vegas managed only 29 shots on G Martin Jones – well below the (t)10th-most 32.8 shots on goal per game it averaged all regular season. Of those, he saved 26 for a .897 save percentage.

In a mirror image of registering his club’s last shot of the first frame, Karlsson also fired the Golden Knights’ first shot on goal of the second period, and he found just as much success. Only 26 seconds into the frame, he set the score at 2-0 with a snapper assisted by W Reilly Smith that probably should not have reached the back of the net. Jones was late sealing off the near post, allowing the puck to barely squeak past his arm to set off the T-Mobile Arena goal horn.

As for how Vegas overcame its shortcomings, one needs look no further than the goaltending crease. Though he is the only player judged by a personal win-loss record, Fleury absolutely stood on his head in this contest just like he has in his last five playoff showings. The man nicknamed “Flower” did not wilt under the Sharks’ pressure, as he saved 43-of-47 shots faced for a .915 save percentage.

That being said, the second period was a tough one for him, as it was in those 20 minutes that he let in all three of his regulation goals against. Not only was Burns’ marker part of that total, but so too was First Star F Logan Couture‘s (F Tomas Hertl) snapper with 8:52 remaining in the period and Burns’ (W Timo Meier and Pavelski) wrap-around 2:59 after.

Just like his first goal of the game, Burns’ second was also the result of another set play from the face-off dot. Pavelski won the draw and shoved the puck to Meier, who quickly dished to San Jose’s favorite defenseman so he could get to work. Burns rumbled up the right boards and into the trapezoid, eventually getting rewarded with a gaping cage when Meier literally crashed into Fleury’s left post. Head Coach Gerard Gallant challenged for goaltender interference, but it was ruled he was shoved by a Golden Knight and was not responsible for any contact he made with the netminder.

For those keeping score at home, Perron was also in the box for this goal against, but Dillon took a corresponding roughing penalty to even play at four-on-four.

Anyways, that left the score at 3-2 going into the second intermission (during which it was revealed the Buffalo Sabres will be drafting first overall and the Carolina Hurricanes won the lottery by jumping up nine spots into the second pick at the NHL Entry Draft), and that’s where it remained at the midway point of the third period.

Having yet to experience a playoff loss, the Vegas crowd was beginning to grow antsy – that is until Schmidt (D Shea Theodore and F Erik Haula) took a page out of Burns’ book and ripped an impressive clapper from the blue line following a resumption of play.

The play was a mirrored-image of Burns’ second tally, as Perron won the draw and shoved the puck to Haula along the boards, who returned the play to Theodore at the point. The defensemen quickly connected after that, allowing Schmidt to line up a perfect clapper past Jones’ blocker to tie the game at three-all.

Some excellent goaltending extended this game into the second overtime period. In total, 16 shots on goal were fired in the frame between the Golden Knights and Sharks, but none found the back of the net thanks to the incredible play of Fleury and Jones.

Well, that’s technically not true.

F Jon Marchessault thought he had scored the game-winning goal with 3:02 remaining in the first overtime period, but it was ruled he interfered with Jones in the blue paint and inhibited his ability to make a play on the shot. That took the score off the board and left the game raging on into the cool desert night.

The contest finally reached its end at the 5:13 mark of the second overtime when Couture (RW Kevin Labanc and Burns) took advantage of D Jonathon Merrill‘s hooking penalty against Meier to bury a power play wrister behind Fleury.

Completing the theme of the night, Couture’s play was the direct result of Hertl’s face-off victory only moments before. After the play was set up with Burns at the point, he dished to Labanc heading towards the right face-off dot. The sophomore would have been well within his rights to attempt a shot through traffic, but he instead elected to sling a pass through the zone to Couture at the opposite dot, who elevated his writer over Fleury’s blocker.

With the exception of another stellar performance by the three-time Stanley Cup champion, Vegas has only itself to blame for this loss. Perron and the Golden Knights will need to put an emphasis on staying out of the penalty box in their upcoming games, especially considering the next two are away from the comforts of home.

After a quick 90-minute flight from Sin City to San Jose, Game 3’s puck drop is scheduled for 10 p.m. Eastern on Monday, April 30. Hockey fans that can’t snag one of the 17,562 tickets into The Shark Tank that night should tune their televisions to CBC, NBCSN or TVAS.

March 12 – Day 152 – Roll low to Fly high

First and foremost, I want to sincerely thank @jdettro, @nlanciani53 and @vanekatthedisco for manning the “Game of the Day” post while I was – as Pete put it – on IR recovering from oral surgery. I strive to keep this series as lively and up to date as possible, and they performed those tasks marvelously. Hats off to them!

I must admit, I also earned the golden opportunity to return to the series on an action-packed day, as the NHL has scheduled a solid eight games for our viewing pleasure.

The festivities begin, like they do most weeknights, at 7 p.m. with four tilts (Carolina at the New York Rangers, Vegas at Philadelphia [SN], Winnipeg at Washington [TVAS] and Montréal at Columbus [RDS/TSN2]), followed half an hour later by Ottawa at Florida (RDS2). The next wave of games doesn’t start until 10 p.m. when St. Louis at Anaheim drops the puck, while tonight’s co-nightcaps – Vancouver at Los Angeles and Detroit at San Jose – wait 30 minutes before completing the night’s slate. All times Eastern.

Since F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare spent his first three NHL seasons in the City of Brotherly Love before being selected by Vegas in the Expansion Draft, we’ll head to Eastern Pennsylvania to take in a tilt between two teams expecting to play more than 82 games this season.

 

 

 

 

 

Hailing from Le Blanc-Mensil, France (a suburb northeast of Paris), Bellemare was not one of the highly touted European prospects in his draft class. Instead, his story is one of paying his dues and climbing the ladder all the way from Ligue Magnus – the top hockey league in France – all the way to the best team in the Pacific Division.

Bellemare’s professional career began with French side Dragons de Rouen way back during the 2002-’03 season when he was 17-years old, albeit he won the Jean-Pierre Graff Trophy (Ligue Magnus’ Calder Trophy) during the 2004-’05 season. His tenure with the Dragons was capped by a dominant 2005-’06 season that saw him score a then career-high 12 goals and 29 points to lead the club to first place in the regular season, as well as an undefeated run to the Magnus Cup. In three best-of-five playoff rounds (nine games total), Bellemare averaged a point-per-game with 2-7-9 marks.

That success earned Bellemare the opportunity to climb the professional ranks into the more competitive HockeyAllsvenskan, the second-best league in Sweden, with Leksands IF.

Similar to Bellemare’s tenure with Rouen, Leksand only showed improvement while he was on the roster. In three seasons with the club, it finished third, first and first in the regular season, but could never advance out of Kvalserien to earn promotion into Elitserien (the top league in the country, renamed the Swedish Hockey League in 2013).

During his 2008-’09 campaign with Leksand, Bellemare discovered the best scoring form of his career. He scored incredible 31-18-49 totals in 41 regular season games, and followed that up by posting 5-5-10 marks in the 10-game Kvalserien round robin.

Since it was obvious Bellemare was worthy of playing in a better league, he joined Skellefteå AIK in the SEL at the start of the 2009-’10 season, the club he would spend five seasons with. It took Bellemare a couple seasons to adjust to playing against the best competition he’d ever faced on a nightly basis, but he rediscovered his scoring touch by the 2011-’12 campaign to register 19-17-36 totals in 55 games played. Skellefteå advanced to the championship series that season before falling to W Jakob Silfverberg‘s Brynäs IF in six games.

After Bellemare’s first 20-goal season in 2013-’14 since his final year in HockeyAllsvenskan (Skellefteå won the regular season and lost only two games en route to its second of four-consecutive Le Mat Trophies, for those that are wondering), he finally earned the promotion many hockey players only dream of: at 29-years-old, he signed a one-year, $600 thousand NHL contract with the Flyers.

The Frenchman didn’t exactly light North America on fire when he showed up, posting only 6-6-12 marks in 81 games played during his “rookie” season, but Philadelphia was obviously impressed enough to sign him to two more seasons on a $1.425 million contract. Bellemare rewarded the Flyers’ loyalty in 2015-’16 by improving his performance to 7-7-14 totals in only 74 games played, but he regressed last season to lowly 4-4-8 marks even though he didn’t miss a game.

Even still, the Flyers extended his contract another two seasons, locking him up through the 2018-’19 season for $2.9 million on March 1, 2017.

Though Philadelphia had signed that extension, it was a no-brainer why the 32-year-old was left exposed for the Expansion Draft. Bellemare’s production on the offensive end was far from awe-inspiring, as his tenure in the NHL had become most known for his defensive play (he finished 48th in Selke voting in 2016-’17).

Leave it to Head Coach Gerard Gallant and General Manager George McPhee to have a plan for that defensive effort, and of course that plan came up spades for the Golden Knights.

Even at 33-years-old (he just celebrated his anniversaire on March 6), Bellemare is easily having his best season in the NHL with his new team. With only 59 games played, the Frenchman has posted 5-8-13 totals and a +6 rating, his first positive goal-differential since joining the NHL – due in large part to career-high 43 takeaways in the league. He’s also enjoying an impressive 51.3 face-off win percentage.

If I had to guess as to why Bellemare is finding so much success in Vegas, I’d argue Gallant’s system fits his style of play far better than Head Coach Dave Hakstol’s. Fitting the French stereotype to a T, Bellemare’s talent is found in his quality stick work and heady play – a style that is far different than the brash shot-blocking, hit-throwing strategy employed by the Broad Street Bullies. The more Bellemare got away from that style in Philadelphia, the more success he found. Now that his defensive responsibilities have completely changed, he’s showing why he was brought to the NHL in the first place.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to be playing on McPhee’s incredibly constructed brainchild known as the 44-19-5 Golden Knights. After a three-game losing skid, Vegas is back in the swing of things having posted a 3-1-0 record over its last four showings, all of which have been on the road.

Perhaps its just coincidence on a day where we’re featuring the defensively-minded Bellemare, but it’s been the Golden Knights’ effort in their own that has resulted in their turnaround. Whether it’s been the excellent play of C Cody Eakin (averaging one takeaway per game since March 4), D Deryk Engelland (1.5 blocks per game in his last four showings) or D Brayden McNabb (4.3 hits per game over this run), Vegas has limited 24-9-3 G Marc-Andre Fleury‘s workload to only 29 shots per game during this road trip, the ninth-best mark in the NHL since March 4.

Oh yeah: Fleury has been pretty incredible lately as well (in other news, grass is green). Taking advantage of his defense’s effort, Fleury has managed a solid .948 save percentage and 1.48 GAA over his last four starts, improving his season marks to unbelievable .929 and 2.16 heights.

Between Fleury and the Vegas defense, the Golden Knights have allowed only 1.75 goals per game since March 4, the (t)third-lowest  mark in the NHL in that time.

Meanwhile, the 35-23-11 Flyers are in a bit of a slump right now, as they’ve managed only a 1-4-1 record over their past six outings, though they might have turned a corner Saturday when they beat the visiting Jets 2-1.

The injuries to Philadelphia’s two primary goaltenders are absolutely driving it into the ground, because the Flyers are completely altering the style that has brought them so much success this season to sell out on the defensive end.

That’s not to say the Flyers aren’t playing defense well. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, as F Valtteri Filppula (seven takeaways in his last six games) and D Radko Gudas (3.7 hits and 2.2 blocks per game since March 1) have performed phenomenally to limit 12-10-4 G Petr Mrazek‘s workload to only 29.83 shots per game in the month of March, the (t)ninth-best mark in the league in that time.

However, that commitment to excellent defense has come at the cost of the Flyers’ usually imposing offense. For the entire regular season, Philly has averaged a solid 2.91 goals per game – the 13th-best mark in the league. However, that number has dropped to only 2.33 goals per game in March to be the sixth-worst mark in the NHL over the past 11 days.

To keep piling on the Flyers, it’s not like their defensive success has really slowed down opposing offenses all that much. With the exception of his 27-for-28 performance Saturday against Winnipeg, Mrazek has been rather uninspiring in his last five starts, posting a combined .874 save percentage and 3.75 GAA. With 21-11-7 G Brian Elliott and 8-7-3 G Michal Neuvirth no closer to returning to action, Mrazek needs to get his act in shape before he single-handedly destroys the Flyers’ playoff hopes.

With the Stanley Cup playoffs less than a month away, the Flyers’ future is still as cloudy as a smoggy Philadelphia day. In fact, though they’re currently in third place in the Metropolitan Division with a three-point edge on fourth-place New Jersey, only six points separate the Flyers from ninth-place Florida. As such, a win tonight could be very important – especially paired with a Capitals loss to Winnipeg, as it would pull Philly into a tie for second place that it would lose by only one more game played, keeping the pressure squarely on Washington to keep finding wins. Should the Flyers lose, they give the Devils a game in hand – a dangerous weapon should Mrazek continue playing the way he is.

As for Vegas, the top seed in the Western Conference has all but slipped out of its fingers considering the Predators have a five-point lead in 68 games played – one fewer than Vegas after tonight’s action. However, the Knights still have yet to lock up the Pacific Division, as the Sharks and Ducks are lurking with 81 and 80 points, respectively. As long as Vegas wins at least seven more games before the end of the regular season, it should clinch its first division title.

The way things have gone for the Golden Knights this season, I don’t think 14 points will be hard to come by.

We’ve heard stories of celebrities and bachelor parties trashing hotel rooms while in Vegas, and that’s kind of what the Flyers did when they visited T-Mobile Arena on February 11. Led in large part by C Sean Couturier‘s three-point night that included a game-winning assist in the second period, Philadelphia came away from the Silver State with a 4-1 victory.

Based on recent trends, this game is screaming to be two points for the Golden Knights. If Mrazek can build off Saturday’s victory and the Flyers can return to playing some solid offense, Philadelphia certainly has a shot at winning. However, I have my doubts about that happening considering the Golden Knights have F Jon Marchessault (22-43-65 totals), C William Karlsson (35-26-61) and W David Perron (16-45-61) at their disposal. Vegas should come away with the victory.


The New York Islanders showed no mercy in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they beat the Calgary Flames 5-2 at Scotiabank Saddledome.

By scoring three goals in the third period, the Isles registered their game-winning goal before departing for their dressing room for the first intermission. D Nick Leddy (C Casey Cizikas) opened the scoring with a wrist shot at the 2:14 mark, and Second Star of the Game D Johnny Boychuk (Cizikas and LW Ross Johnston) followed that up only 18 seconds later to give New York a 2-0 advantage.

Though LW Johnny Gaudreau (C Sean Monahan) was able to bury a wrister at the 7:29 mark to pull Calgary back within a score, RW Jordan Eberle (Boychuk and C John Tavares) apparently remembered his days with the Oilers and wanted to ensure he nipped any Flames comeback in the bud.

Only 3:02 after the horn stopped blaring for Gaudreau, Boychuk centered a pass from the left point to Eberle, who was camping in the slot in front of G Mike Smith‘s crease. Though the goaltender was able to make the initial save on Eberle’s initial redirection, he wasn’t able to catch up with the right wing’s recollect-turned-backhanded shot as he continued driving through the slot.

Though Eberle takes credit for the game-winning blow, F Anders Lee‘s (Boychuk and Leddy) clapper 50 seconds into the second period might have been the final blow to knockout the Flames. He set the score at 4-1, making any Calgary comeback a tall order.

Third Star D Mark Giordano (D Dougie Hamilton and Gaudreau) tried to get that comeback started at the 7:24 mark of the third period, but First Star G Christopher Gibson stopped the remaining 18 shots he faced in the third period to keep the Flames’ goal total at two. Lee (Tavares) capped the Isles’ scoring with with 11 seconds remaining in the game, burying a wrister into an empty net.

Gibson earned the victory after saving 50-of-52 shots faced (.962 save percentage), leaving the loss to Smith, who saved 22-of-26 (.846).

It’s been a bit of a resurgence of the road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day during my absence, as the past two featured tilts have gone the way of the squads wearing white. Because of that, the 83-49-19 hosts now have only a 31-point advantage in the series.

March 6 – Day 146 – Colorful adjectives

Nine games are on today’s schedule, so let’s jump right in!

Like most nights, the action finds its start at 7 p.m. with a quartet of games (Detroit at Boston [NBCSN/SN/TVAS], Montréal at New Jersey [RDS/TSN2], Winnipeg at the New York Rangers and Vegas at Columbus), followed half an hour later by the Governor’s Cup featuring Florida at Tampa Bay. A pair of tilts drop the puck at 8 p.m. (Dallas at Nashville and Carolina at Minnesota), with Colorado at Chicago waiting 30 minutes before getting underway. Finally, Washington at Anaheim (NBCSN) closes out the evening’s schedule at 10 p.m. All times Eastern.

Some of the games I circled before the start of the season include…

  • Detroit at Boston: Original Six matchup, anyone?
  • Vegas at Columbus: Remember that C William Karlsson guy the Blue Jackets left exposed for the expansion draft? Turns out he’s pretty good at hockey.
  • Florida at Tampa Bay: Given the Panthers’ recent surge, this season’s Governor’s Cup is turning out to be a big deal.

Of those three, the game in Ohio looks like it will be the most competitive. Off to Nationwide Arena!

 

 

 

 

 

Though selected by the Ducks in the second round of the 2011 Entry Draft, Karlsson played only 18 NHL games with Anaheim before it shipped him, RW Rene Bourque and a 2015 second round pick to Columbus (the Jackets used to select C Kevin Stenlund, if you’re wondering) at the 2015 trade deadline for D James Wisniewski and Detroit’s 2015 third round pick (the Ducks chose F Brent Gates, for those keeping score at home).

Though it seems hard to believe in light of this season, Wild Bill was far from the main attraction in this transaction. The Ducks were rolling as the Western Conference’s top seed, and they brought in the experienced 30-year-old Wisniewski to shore up their defensive end. Ultimately, Anaheim fell in the Western Finals in seven games to Chicago, even though it rolled through the first two rounds by suffering only one loss.

But this isn’t about those Ducks. It’s about Karlsson.

After only one offseason in the Columbus system, Karlsson earned a permanent spot on the NHL roster for the 2015-’16 season. He improved nominally on his 3-2-5 totals in 21 games during the 2014-’15 season, managing 9-11-20 marks in 81 games played in what was technically his rookie campaign. Of note, Karlsson also earned 10 votes for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy that season, finishing 32nd behind award-winner and former rival C Anze Kopitar.

We started to get glimpses of Karlsson’s new normal last season, as he improved his season marks to 6-19-25 in 81 regular season games played. Though far from exemplary, Karlsson was still showing growth and reason for optimism.

Then the postseason started, and Karlsson officially earned his “Wild Bill” nickname.

The Blue Jackets lasted only five games in last season’s playoffs against the Penguins, but boy was the Swede impressive. He posted dominant 2-1-3 totals (tying RW Cam Atkinson and F Boone Jenner for most goals and forcing a four-way tie for most points [W Brandon Saad]) in his five showings, while also tying W Matt Calvert for a team-leading +4 goal-differential.

This is the return General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen was hoping for when he traded Wisniewski!

Well… maybe not.

Not only was Karlsson left exposed to the Golden Knights for the expansion draft, but Kekalainen also traded a 2017 first round pick (Vegas flipped that pick to Winnipeg, who selected W Kristian Vesalainen) and a 2019 second round pick to General Manager George McPhee to ensure Karlsson was the Jacket selected to relocate to Sin City.

There’s no telling if McPhee and Head Coach Gerard Gallant always had their eye on Karlsson or if they considered him at Kekalainen’s request, but considering how everything has gone their way this season, I wouldn’t doubt it. I’m sure they saw Wild Bill’s coming out party in April and dreamed of playing him on their top line with much success.

Of course, even with his playoff performance, who could have expected this explosion? Karlsson has played in every game this season for the Golden Knights, posting 35-24-59 totals in 65 showings. His 35 goals are (t)fourth-most in the league, and he’s only five short of Richard Trophy-leader W Alex Ovechkin. Additionally, his +39 goal differential on the season is far and away the best in the NHL, as he has a +5 advantage on linemate W Reilly Smith.

Karlsson is slated to become a restricted free agent this summer, but I have an inkling he’ll be a Golden Knight for the considerable future considering Vegas has almost $28.5 million in cap space next season.

Even though they’re still leading the Pacific Division by 10 points, the 42-18-5 Golden Knights don’t necessarily come to Columbus in top form. A win against the Devils Sunday snapped a three-game losing skid that saw Vegas earn only one point.

Vegas’ biggest struggle right now seems to be on the defensive end. Since February 26, the Knights have allowed 36.75 shots against per game, the fourth-most of any team in the league in that time. That mark is well off the 30.6 shots the Golden Knights have allowed per game all season, which is sixth-best in the NHL.

However, unlike a couple teams in the Metropolitan Division, Vegas’ defense isn’t poor due to a lack of effort. D Brayden McNabb in particular has been leaving everything on the ice lately, as his five hits-per-game and 2.5 blocks per game over the past week are both the best marks on the team in that time.

Of course, additional shots have made life a bit more difficult for 22-8-3 G Marc-Andre Fleury. Though he’s managed a decent enough .914 save percentage in his last three starts, the added shots mean that he’s posted a rather unattractive 3.31 GAA. For the season, Fleury has now earned a .928 save percentage and 2.24 GAA.

Tonight’s tilt will be 33-28-5 Columbus’ first since getting back from a three-game Californian road trip that saw the Jackets earn only two points (a 4-2 win in San Jose).

While away from home, the Jackets’ usually solid defense failed them miserably. With 28-21-5 G Sergei Bobrovsky accustomed to facing only 31.3 shots per game (the [t]eighth-best mark in the league), Columbus’ defense has allowed 34.67 in its past three games – the ninth-worst mark in the NHL since March 1.

Just like McNabb has been doing all he can to keep the Knights’ defense together, D Jack Johnson has been doing the same for the Ohioans. Johnson’s 2.7 hits per game and two blocks per game since March 1 are both tied for the team leads (F Brandon Dubinsky and D Ian Cole, respectively) as he is making his presence known all over the ice.

If you’ve reached this paragraph expecting talk about Bobrovsky, you have another think coming as the Russian will be unavailable tonight due to illness. Instead, that forces 5-7-0 G Joonas Korpisalo into the spotlight with his .899 season save percentage and corresponding 3.3 GAA, as he’ll be tonight’s starter. Korpisalo’s last showing was in Los Angeles on March 1, where he saved 29-of-34 shots faced (.853 save percentage) for five goals against.

When the Blue Jackets made their inaugural trip to Vegas on January 23, they joined the long list of teams that have suffered at the hands of the Golden Knights. With a two-goal night from none other than Karlsson, Vegas dominated Columbus to a 6-3 victory.

As for which of these teams needs the points in the standings more, the answer has to be Columbus. Currently occupying the Eastern Conference’s second wild card, the Jackets are in a dog fight with at least three other teams for two playoff spots, meaning every point is important. In fact, if Columbus does not win tonight, it runs the risk of dropping behind the Panthers if they can best the Lightning.

Playoff qualification is all but assured for the Golden Knights at this point, and the same might be able to be said for a Pacific Division banner soon enough. However, they’ve fallen behind the Predators for the conference’s top seed, meaning a potential Game 7 in the Western Finals is currently slated to be played at Bridgestone Arena. Trailing by four points with the same number of games played, this will be a very tight race to keep an eye on.

With two defenses struggling, there’s a big chance this game can turn into a barn burner. If that proves to be the case, there’s no doubt the Golden Knights will earn the victory, as their offense easily outclasses that of the Blue Jackets and should definitely be able to take care of Korpisalo.


The Calgary Flames had an answer for almost everything the Pittsburgh Penguins could throw at them, but it was the hosts that won 4-3 in overtime in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at PPG Paints Arena.

Only 3:05 into the first period, the Penguins had already earned a two-goal advantage. D Chad Ruhwedel (RW Phil Kessel) provided Pittsburgh’s first tally at the 2:10 mark, followed only 55 seconds later by an unassisted wrist shot by F Evgeni Malkin. However, Calgary wasn’t going to let this game get away that easily, as D Mark Giordano (Third Star of the Game W Troy Brouwer and C Matt Stajan) buried a wrister at the 6:14 mark, followed by a C Mikael Backlund (F Michael Frolik and D Travis Hamonic) backhanded shot to level the game at 2-2 – the score that would hold into the first intermission.

The second period would also end with a tied score, but not without a flurry of goals in the final three minutes. Second Star D Kris Letang (Malkin and LW Carl Hagelin) returned a one-goal advantage to Pittsburgh with 2:59 remaining in the frame, but Brouwer (D T.J. Brodie and LW Johnny Gaudreau) buried a wrister with only three seconds remaining before the break to pull the Flames back even at three goals apiece.

With no goals being struck in the third period, that set up a five minute three-on-three overtime period, but First Star D Justin Schultz (Kessel and Malkin) needed only 2:36 of that to provide the Pens’ game-winner.

By removing four players from action, there’s a lot of free space on the ice to execute some deadly passes. That’s exactly what happened in this situation, as Kessel drove towards G Jon Gillies‘ net from the right face-off circle to draw the netminder’s attention – as well as that of Backlund and Frolik. That left Schultz with exactly zero people paying attention to him, leaving the defenseman with more than enough time to bury his snap shot into the gaping cage.

G Tristan Jarry earned the victory after saving 35-of-38 shots faced (.921 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Gillies, who saved 28-of-32 (.875).

Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have been unstoppable this week, as they’re currently riding a six-game winning streak. With that success, the 80-47-19 hosts have earned a 29-point advantage over the series’ roadies.

January 19 – Day 104 – Skeletons in the closet

There may not be many games going on today, but at least they’re all being broadcast nationally.

Most of the night’s action drops the puck at 7:30 p.m. this evening, as two (Vegas at Florida [SN360/TVAS] and Montréal at Washington [NHLN/RDS/TSN2]) of the three games get underway. Finally, Los Angeles at Anaheim (NBCSN) closes out the night’s festivities with a rivalry game at 10 p.m. All times Eastern.

Teams on the bye: Calgary, Carolina, Chicago, Edmonton, Minnesota, Vancouver and Winnipeg.

Now, I know that the Freeway Face-Off is taking place today and both teams are on the cusp of playoff position, but there’s one game that has really attracted my attention.

 

 

 

 

 

Featuring this game provides us the enjoyable opportunity of looking back at the Panthers’ decisions over the past year and judging them.

If that doesn’t sound like fun, I don’t know what is.

Gerard Gallant was named the head coach of the Florida Panthers before the 2014-’15 season. The season before, Florida had posted an ugly 29-45-8 record to finish seventh in the Atlantic Division, a whopping 27 points behind Detroit for the second wild card.

While the Panthers didn’t do much climbing in the division standings (they only advanced to sixth in the Atlantic), Gallant’s first year as head coach saw the club improve to 38-29-15, their first winning record since claiming the Southeast Division in 2011-’12.

That growth continued into the 2015-’16 campaign, which was easily his best during his tenure in Florida. The Panthers exploded to a 47-26-9 record to raise their second division banner in franchise history and finish third in the Eastern Conference. One of Florida’s major acquisitions that season was trading RW Jimmy Hayes to Boston for W Reilly Smith. Smith was an instant success in the Sunshine State, as he posted a career-best 25 goals en route to 50 points, finishing sixth on the team in scoring.

Though the young Panthers fell in six games to C John Tavares‘ Islanders in the first round, excitement surrounded the team for their future.

With the Panthers seemingly on the rise, they signed then 26-year-old F Jon Marchessault to a two-year, $1.5 million deal after not being offered a contract by Tampa Bay following three years with the organization. As indicated by where Marchessault plays now (the same almost certainly applies to Smith, but more on that in a minute), it seems Gallant saw potential in a player that had posted only 8-11-19 totals in 49 NHL games, which was realized by Marchessault’s impressive 2016-’17 campaign.

However, a simple slow start of 11-10-1 in 2016 is all it took for Florida General Manager Tom Rowe to fire Gallant and literally desert him at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. after the Panthers lost to the Hurricanes 3-2. How firing the winningest coach in franchise history a year after he led the team to its highest heights since the improbable run to the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals, not to mention that he coached the Atlantic All-Star team, makes sense still baffles the imagination of many outside the Panthers’ front office.

At the time of Gallant’s firing, Marchessault had posted solid 10-7-17 totals through 22 games played, well better than Smith’s 4-3-7 effort in the same amount of time. Even with Rowe assuming coaching duties for the remainder of the season, Marchessault would score a team-high 30 goals and tack on 21 assists for a third-best 51 points in 75 games – all career bests for a player in only his second full season in the NHL. However, Florida returned to sixth in the Atlantic Division with only a 35-36-11 record, 14 points behind second wildcard Toronto. Obviously, the decline was on Gallant and Smith’s shoulders, as Smith finished with only 15-22-37 totals.

After going unsigned for the remainder of the 2016-’17 season, Gallant was hired as head coach of the Vegas Golden Knights on April 13, 2017, allowing him the opportunity to work with General Manager George McPhee to build the exact team he wanted from a blank slate – a luxury afforded to very few in the world of professional sports.

Having recent experience with the Panthers’ system, it’s no surprise that Gallant would do everything in his power to get his favorite players from that team. However, I’d bet that even he didn’t predict his good fortune when General Manager Dale Tallon – the same person responsible for signing Gallant to the Panthers in 2014 – agreed to trade Smith to Vegas in exchange for the Golden Knights drafting Marchessault in the 2017 Expansion Draft and a measly fourth-round draft pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.

Call me crazy, but perhaps it shouldn’t have ever been a surprise that 30-11-3 Vegas is doing so well. Marchessault (16-26-42 totals) and Smith (12-24-36) are both among the top-four point earners for the Knights with the same head coach that led them to glory on the opposite side of the country. Marchessualt has since signed a six-year, $30 million extension with the Golden Knights. That means he and Smith, who came to Vegas with five years remaining on a five-year, $25 million deal will be together through the 2021-’22 season.

Compare that to 18-19-6 Florida’s situation in fourth to last in both the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference and it makes clear sense why Rowe is no longer the Panthers’ general manager (however, he’s still in Florida’s front office… I wish I had that kind of job security).

Imagining what could have been for the Panthers if Rowe hadn’t screwed everything up by chasing some analytical dream is truly disparaging (and I’m not even a Panthers fan!), and that point will be made even more clear this evening with all the former Panthers in town.

After losing in regulation Tuesday, the Western Conference-leading Golden Knights are looking forward to getting their next winning streak started. Vegas has earned points in four of its past five games, and it owes all its success to 10-3-2 G Marc-Andre Fleury and his defense.

Fleury has been stellar all year. After all, his .945 season save percentage and 1.72 GAA are both best in the league among all 66 netminders with at least four starts to their credit (okay, St. Louis’ 10-3-1 G Carter Hutton has matched Fleury’s GAA on the year). However, Fleury has somehow found an even higher level to play at, as he’s posted an incredible .948 save percentage and 1.51 GAA in his last four starts.

While Fleury has been so good that the word solid doesn’t do him justice, he’s also had the luxury of playing behind an impressive defense. Over their last five games, the Golden Knights have allowed an average of only 29.4 shots against, the seventh-best mark in the NHL since January 5. Whether its been LW William Carrier and D Brayden McNabb‘s 3.6 hits-per-game, D Deryk Engelland‘s two blocks-per-game or C William Karlsson‘s six takeaways over this stretch – or simply the Knights’ impressive offense keeping the puck out of the defensive zone – Vegas is making it easy for the face of their franchise to shine like a jewel in the desert.

Of note, Fleury led the Golden Knights to a 4-1 victory yesterday in Tampa Bay, so it would seem likely that 11-2-0 G Malcolm Subban will draw the start this evening. Subban has posted a .918 save percentage and 2.38 GAA in 13 starts this season.

Meanwhile, the struggle continues for the Panthers, who have posted only a 1-3-1 record over their past five games. While they haven’t been very impressive on either end of the ice, the biggest issues of last have been on the defensive end of the rink.

With 6-6-1 G Roberto Luongo still on injured reserve with a lower-body injury, 12-12-5 G James Reimer has started every game since the December 4. Before this rough patch since January 2, he’d actually been having success to the point that he had earned a 7-3-1 record since assuming starting duties – including a five-game winning streak.

However, the new year has not treated him well, as he’s managed only a .894 save percentage and 3.46 GAA in the Panthers’ last five games.

The reason for Reimer’s decline is obvious. The line about him starting every game since the beginning of December was not hyperbole: he’s literally started Florida’s last 16 games, including both ends of two back-to-backs. Fortunately for the Panthers, this is their first game coming off a six-day bye, so Reimer will be well-rested and ready to go.

However, if they’re going to continue riding their backup so hard, perhaps the Panthers’ defense could help him out and keep pucks away from him. Since January 2, Florida’s defense has allowed an average of 33.4 shots against per game, the 10th-highest in the league in that time.

D Aaron Ekblad may average two blocks per game over this run, D Alex Petrovic 2.8 hits per game and F Vincent Trocheck five takeways since January 2, but something has to change to keep Reimer alive until Luongo returns – especially since rookie G Harri Sateri is currently serving as backup. In essence, this fourth-worst 3.8 goals against-per-game since January 2 falls on the Panthers’ defense.

Florida has already made its trip out to T-Mobile Arena on December 17, and Rowe was justifiably embarrassed as his Panthers lost 5-2. Oh, and who led the way scoring in that game? First Star of the Game Marchessault (1-2-3 totals) and Smith (0-2-2).

We didn’t even talk about Vegas’ well-documented offense. With that corps going against the Panthers’ defense, it’s hard to believe the Panthers will be able to put up much of a fight tonight.


On the night of C Eric Lindros‘ number retirement, the Philadelphia Flyers completed their season sweep of the Toronto Maple Leafs, beating them in overtime 3-2 at Wells Fargo Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

This contest was a defensive affair at the start, as neither club could register more than nine shots on goal in the first period. As a result, the score read the same during the first intermission as it did at the opening puck drop: 0-0.

However, that all changed in the blink of an eye in the second frame. RW Connor Brown (F Zach Hyman) broke the draw on a wrist shot with 7:03 remaining in the period, followed only 28 seconds later by C Frederik Gauthier‘s (W Matt Martin and D Jake Gardiner) first goal of the season to set the score at 2-0.

Philadelphia finally got on the scoreboard at the 1:33 mark of the third period, courtesy of an unassisted wrap-around shot by Third Star of the Game F Nolan Patrick. Though F Jori Lehtera tried to give the game away by interfering with Gauthier only 34 seconds later, W Wayne Simmonds (F Valtteri Filppula and D Andrew MacDonald) found a way to bury a shorthanded snap shot at the 3:25 mark, leveling the score at two-all.

Though neither team was able to score in the remainder of regulation, it didn’t take long for First Star C Sean Couturier (F Travis Konecny and Second Star G Michal Neuvirth) to win the game in overtime. The play started when Neuvirth made a pad save on C Auston Matthews. Konecny corralled the loose puck and began racing up the right boards. With two Maple Leafs closing in on him near the right face-off dot, he split his defenders with a pass to Couturier in the left face-off circle, setting up Philly’s leading scorer with a one-on-one opportunity against G Frederik Andersen. Couturier slung his wrist shot to the far post, ending the game in the Flyers’ favor.

Neuvirth earned the victory after saving 29-of-31 shots faced (.935 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Andersen, who saved 34-of-37 (.919).

The 58-34-12 home teams are reestablishing their dominance in the DtFR Game of the Day series, as they’re now riding a three-game winning streak. They now hold a 23 point lead on the visitors in the series.

Hey, why isn’t (insert NHL team here) playing?

Still trying to figure out why your favorite team has games all next week, but your rival gets to take five-straight days off? Or maybe you’re most concerned about your fantasy hockey team? Either way, *NSYNC has the answer:

The NHL is in Year 2 of its experiment with bye weeks. Some things – like the average length of each team’s break – stayed the same. 19 of the 31 clubs are taking the minimum five days off, while 11 others get an extra sixth before returning to action. Of course, the winners of the bye week lottery are the Ottawa Senators, who get a whopping seven days to rest, regroup and rediscover the art of ice hockey before hosting St. Louis.

But there are a few differences from last year, most notably where these breaks occur within the league schedule. Last season when the bye weeks debuted, the Islanders and Penguins had already started and finished their breaks by now, while others wouldn’t see the gap in their schedule until well beyond the All-Star Break or even the trade deadline. In fact, the Ducks didn’t take their week off until the beginning of March.

It was probably because Anaheim is on Pacific Time. That’s how time zones work, right?

Anyways, all 31 bye weeks this season – whether five, six or seven days – will start and end in the span of the 18 days between today and January 19.

Though initial thoughts were that the bye weeks were consolidated in anticipation of the NHL potentially releasing its players to their respective national federations for the XXIII Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, it instead will simply be an opportunity for the league’s scheduler to determine which format is better for business.

But we’re not worried about attendance, advertising dollars or TV ratings here at Down the Frozen River (actually, that’s a lie: we love to talk about that stuff during podcasts). Let’s talk about who’s going to be off when. Teams are presented in order of the league table as it stands entering play January 7, and you might find some notes from myself and @nlanciani53.

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

29-9-3, 61 points, leading Presidents’ Trophy race

Final game before the bye: Hosts Calgary on January 11

Bye week: January 12-17 (six days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Vegas on January 18

Nick’s Notes: A hot team must cool off a bit and then play the Vegas Golden Knights on their first night back to action? Talk about a prison sentence. At least they’ve still got the Presidents’ Trophy (lead) as consolation.

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS

28-10-2, 58 points, leading the Western Conference

Final game before the bye: Hosts the NY Rangers on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Edmonton on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Son, where the Golden Knights are from, they don’t need no breaks. Polar opposites of the Tampa Bay Lightning bye week, Vegas plays a good team before taking time off. Then they play Edmonton. Next!

Connor’s Notes: That may be true, but there’s surely some concern among Gerard Gallant and his staff that the Knights just might lose some of this positive energy over the break. They’ve posted a 9-1-0 record over their last 10, and it’d be a shame if the only reason this club drops from Cloud 9 to Cloud 8 is just five little days off.

WINNIPEG JETS

24-11-7, 55 points, leading the Central Division

Final game before the bye: At Minnesota on January 13

Bye week: January 14-19 (six days)

First game out of the bye: At Calgary on January 20

Nick’s Notes: The Winnipeg Jets are vying for first place in the Central Division this season after missing the playoffs last year. Their second best point-scorer (that’s right, point-scorer, not goal-scorer, Patrik Laine), Mark Scheifele‘s been nursing an upper body injury and this break won’t hurt the team for a week while he remains out of the lineup.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

24-11-6, 54 points, second in the Central Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Edmonton on January 9

Bye week: January 10-15

First game out of the bye: Hosts Vegas on January 16

Nick’s Notes: Most people think the party never stops in Vegas, but they’re wrong. The party never stops in Smashville and let’s just hope none of the Predators players get carried away on Broadway in their week off.

ST. LOUIS BLUES

26-16-2, 54 points, third in the Central Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Florida on January 9

Bye week: January 10-15 (six days)

First game out of the bye: At Toronto on January 16

Connor’s Notes: Any way to avoid playing games while Jaden Schwartz‘ ankle is still healing is a good thing. While he won’t be ready to go until the end of the month, the Blues will hope to get out of a rut that has led to them posting a 4-6-0 record over their last 10 games entering Sunday.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS

25-13-3, 53 points, leading the Metropolitan Division

Final game before the bye: At Carolina on January 12

Bye week: January 13-17 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At New Jersey on January 18

Nick’s Notes: It’s not that Braden Holtby‘s been bad, but he’s having his worst season since 2013-14, so like, maybe send him to a remote mountain top or whatever it takes for Holtby to regain his form and focus (a water bottle usually does the trick). Seriously though, his 2.68 GAA and .917 save percentage is not great, Bob.

LOS ANGELES KINGS

24-13-5, 53 points, second in the Pacific Division

Final game before the bye: Hosted Nashville on January 6, lost 4-3

Bye week: January 7-12 (six days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Anaheim on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Best of luck to the Los Angeles Kings who will smash bodies against the boards with Nashville leading into their bye week and then smash bodies all over again with the Anaheim Ducks fresh off their vacations. It’s a grueling game. Ice those bruises.

BOSTON BRUINS

23-10-6, 52 points, second in the Atlantic Division

Final game before the bye: At Pittsburgh on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At Montréal on January 13

Connor’s Notes: Similar to Vegas’ current run of success, with an 8-0-2 record over their last 10 games played entering Sunday, the Bruins arguably have the most positive energy to lose by going on break of any team in the Eastern Conference. Fortunately for them, they’ll play in what I expect to be a rivalry game that’s even more heated than usual given the Habs’ position in the standings to get right back into the swing of things.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

25-16-2, 52 points, third in the Atlantic Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Ottawa on January 10

Bye week: January 11-15 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts St. Louis on January 16

Connor’s Notes: While the Leafs aren’t currently certain he’ll be ready to go by then, the original hope was that sophomore defenseman Nikita Zaitsev‘s lower-body injury would be healed by the time Toronto returned to action against the Notes. If St. Louis’ offense is ticking that day, his presence in the defensive zone will be a big help to Frederik Andersen

NEW JERSEY DEVILS

22-11-7, 51 points, second in the Metropolitan Division

Final game before the bye: At the NY Islanders on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Philadelphia January 13

Nick’s Notes: The New Jersey Devils have been quietly good as of late. They’re this year’s biggest surprise outside of the Golden Knights. Nico Hischier just turned 19, so unless he’s going outside of the United States for his break, he can’t (legally) party hard.

DALLAS STARS

24-16-3, 51 points, fourth in the Central Division – first wild card

Final game before the bye: Hosted Edmonton on January 6, won 5-1

Bye week: January 7-12 (six days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Colorado on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Wouldn’t it be mean if nobody tells Kari Lehtonen when the break is so he just drives up to the practice rink on the first day like “where’d everybody go”? Just a thought.

NEW YORK RANGERS

22-14-5, 49 points, third in the Metropolitan Division

Final game before the bye: At Vegas on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts the NY Islanders on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Great, another week off means Henrik Lundqvist has to wait even longer for a Stanley Cup.

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

23-16-3, 49 points, fourth in the Metropolitan Division – first wild card

Final game before the bye: Hosts Vancouver on January 12

Bye week: January 13-17 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Dallas on January 18

Nick’s Notes: The Columbus Blue Jackets have been the St. Louis Blues of the Eastern Conference this season. One week they’re amazing, the next week they’re losing. A lot.

Connor’s Notes: Nick is right, and the Jackets are in one of their losing funks right now. Entering Sunday, they’ve posted a 3-5-2 record over their last 10 games played. They won’t regain any of their four injured players during the break, but perhaps John Tortorella can find a way to regroup his troops before they lose any more ground in the Metro.

SAN JOSE SHARKS

21-12-6, 48 points, third in the Pacific Division

Final game before the bye: At Winnipeg on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Arizona on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Joe Thornton should use this break to regrow that part of his beard that got torn off his face by Nazem Kadri in Toronto.

COLORADO AVALANCHE

22-16-3, 47 points, fifth in the Central Division – second wild card

Final game before the bye: Hosted Minnesota on January 6, won 7-2

Bye week: January 7-12 (six days)

First game out of the bye: At Dallas on January 13

Connor’s Notes: Goaltender Semyon Varlamov should be prepared to return to action following the bye week after suffering a lower body injury on January 2, and there’s a possibility J.T. Compher get back into the lineup too. However, considering the Avs’ unbelievable position in the standings, does Jared Bednar even think about pulling Jonathan Bernier?

MINNESOTA WILD

22-17-3, 47 points, sixth in the Central Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Vancouver on January 14

Bye week: January 15-19

First game out of the bye: Hosts Tampa Bay on January 20

Nick’s Notes: Oft-injured and finally healthy, the Minnesota Wild should place everyone in bubblewrap for their bye week. Just a suggestion.

ANAHEIM DUCKS

19-15-9, 47 points, fourth in the Pacific Division

Final game before the bye: At Calgary on January 6, lost 3-2

Bye week: January 7-12

First game out of the bye: At Los Angeles on January 13

Connor’s Notes: With Corey Perry returning to action last night against the Flames, Anaheim is effectively at 100 percent once again after losing basically every star at one point or another this season. After seeing what an injured Ducks team was capable of, the Pacific Division should get ready, because a rested and healthy Ducks team just might wreck havoc against weak competition.

CALGARY FLAMES

21-16-4, 46 points, fifth in the Pacific Division

Final game before the bye: At Carolina on January 14

Bye week: January 15-19 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Winnipeg on January 20

Nick’s Notes: Whoever’s running the airport gates in Calgary should make sure that wherever the player’s are going doesn’t actually say “Seattle” on their ticket. Unless the gate agent is originally from Seattle. *dramatic Twin Peaks music plays in the background*

CAROLINA HURRICANES

19-14-8, 46 points, fifth in the Metropolitan Division – second wild card

Final game before the bye: Hosts Calgary on January 14

Bye week: January 15-19 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At Detroit on January 20

Nick’s Notes: One thing’s for sure, even with their potential new majority owner, none of the Carolina Hurricanes players are going back to Hartford for their break. What a shame.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

21-19-3, 45 points, sixth in the Metropolitan Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Boston on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Detroit on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Phil Kessel doesn’t like time off (remember the 2016 World Cup of Hockey?) and Matthew Murray should probably go to the same place as Braden Holtby for a week. Murray’s goals-against average is almost a 3.0.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

19-15-6, 44 points, last in the Central Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Detroit on January 14

Bye week: January 15-19 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts the NY Islanders on January 20

Nick’s Notes: Jeff Glass is the feel good story of 2018 so far, so why would anyone want to see him take five nights off? *Checks standings* Oh, right, this team isn’t in playoff worthy right now.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

18-15-8, 44 points, seventh in the Metropolitan Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Buffalo on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At New Jersey on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Someone make sure the Philadelphia Flyers don’t try to move to the Atlantic Division over their bye week. They’ll do anything to make the playoffs this season.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS

20-18-4, 44 points, last in the Metropolitan Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts New Jersey on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At the NY Rangers on January 13

Connor’s Notes: The reason the Islanders have been making by with their horrendous defense, which was made worse by Calvin de Haan requiring a season-ending shoulder surgery, has been their explosive offense. Josh Bailey should be back at 100 percent following New York’s bye to reunite the BLT Line, allowing the Isles to get back to their version of Russian Roulette: finding out which goaltender is going to allow just one more goal than the other.

DETROIT RED WINGS

17-16-7, 41 points, fourth in the Atlantic Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Tampa Bay on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At Pittsburgh on January 13

Nick’s Notes: If the Detroit Red Wings were a young, rebuilding, team I’d recommend a five-day long pizza party at The Pizza Box (Little Caesar’s Arena). Maybe they can figure out the right way to tank during their time off instead of winning a lot before the break.

FLORIDA PANTHERS

17-18-5, 39 points, fifth in the Atlantic Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Calgary on January 12

Bye week: January 13-18 (six days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Vegas on January 19

Connor’s Notes: Just as James Reimer is beginning to run out of steam, Roberto Luongo is expected to return to the Panthers’ crease with his club seven points outside playoff position. Whether he resumes his starting job before or after the bye, the break allows both of them to be fully rested.

EDMONTON OILERS

18-21-3, 39 points, sixth in the Pacific Division

Final game before the bye: At Vegas on January 13

Bye week: January 14-19 (six days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Vancouver on January 20

Nick’s Notes: Peter Chiarelli can’t possibly figure out how he’s going to save his team in six days when he spent $21 million on Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in about that amount of time over the summer.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

16-19-6, 38 points, seventh in the Pacific Division

Final game before the bye: At Minnesota on January 14

Bye week: January 15-19 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At Edmonton on January 20

Nick’s Notes: Like Mark Scheifele and the Winnipeg Jets, Bo Horvat and the Vancouver Canucks haven’t seen each other in a little while due to injury. Take some time and rest up.

MONTRÉAL CANADIENS

17-20-4, 38 points, sixth in the Atlantic Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Vancouver on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Boston on January 13

Nick’s Notes: I’m pretty sure you can’t trade players during your bye week, so don’t try to move Max Pacioretty while nobody’s paying attention, Montreal.

OTTAWA SENATORS

14-17-9, 37 points, seventh in the Atlantic Division

Final game before the bye: At Toronto on January 10

Bye week: January 11-17 (seven days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts St. Louis on January 18

Nick’s Notes: The Ottawa Senators will find a way to lose games over their seven day break. Meanwhile, Eugene Melnyk will have just enough time to figure out an escape plan while nobody’s at Canadian Tire Centre.

BUFFALO SABRES

10-22-9, 29 points, last in the Eastern Conference

Final game before the bye: Hosts Columbus on January 11

Bye week: January 12-17 (six days)

First game out of the bye: At the NY Rangers on January 18

Nick’s Notes: The Sabres should hold an exhibition matchup with some bantam teams while on their break. You know, so they can get better.

ARIZONA COYOTES

10-27-6, 26 points, last in the NHL

Final game before the bye: Hosted the NY Rangers on January 6, won 2-1 in a shootout

Bye week: January 7-11 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Edmonton on January 12

Nick’s Notes: Wait, you mean Arizona hasn’t already been taking time off all season?


Final notes: I strongly dislike how the NHL is abandoning entire markets for a week at a time. This is most noticeable in the United States’ two biggest cities: New York and Los Angeles. All five teams that play in those markets will be dormant for the same five days (January 8-12). Why didn’t they stagger these byes so those important markets would still have at least one squad active at all times? After all, if there’s one thing Devils fans love to see as much as a Jersey win, it’s a Rangers loss. Whether they take in that loss at Madison Square Garden or from their couch doesn’t ultimately matter. The fact that those markets could turn their attention away from the NHL to either the Clippers, Knicks or Friends reruns on TBS does.

But this extends further. The entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will be shut off from NHL hockey from January 8-12 (The same days as New York and Los Angeles? Who is making these decisions?), as neither the Flyers nor Penguins will be in action. Boston and Montréal? Nope, they’re both on the bye at the same time too (you guessed it, January 8-12). The Blues and Predators can vacation together as well – though I doubt they’d want to – as they are both out of action from January 10-15.

I’m sure the league’s competition committee is going to claim that they’re trying to reduce the possibility of one particular team getting too much of an advantage, but this just seems silly from a business perspective. If that is truly the case, perhaps one day when the league reaches 32 teams it will simply shut down an entire conference for five days and then the other (the odd number of teams right now makes scheduling a little… interesting in that scenario), or – the more likely of these two options – perchance expand the distribution of byes over the course of three weeks instead of just two. Who knows?

Beyond this issue, while I don’t necessarily like where it is in the schedule, I do like that the NHL has condensed the time period for bye weeks in the season. Keeping track of which teams had and hadn’t taken their week off last season was a bother, and this system eliminates that. Of course, we’ll know how NBC and Sportsnet react based on how these byes are arranged next year.

As for my final complaint, the byes have the possibility of creating a very staggered January. We just got out of the three-day holiday break 12 days ago. Each team has played an average of only 5.4 games since then. Now we have these bye weeks of at least five days, and the four-day All-Star Break (January 26-29) is only 20 days out. If those sentences were confusing, I’m concerned that’s how the month of January is going to feel – scattered hockey thoughts until Groundhog’s Day.

The NHL Players’ Association demanded these bye weeks in return for the league turning the All-Star Game into the divisional three-on-three format we have had for the past two years. They’re not going anywhere: the players obviously like the idea of getting some time off, and putting it near the midway point of the season seems like a logical idea.

However, how this change is impacting the league’s product is still being understood. Unless we could see a plausible situation where bye weeks don’t happen until the end of February or March (remember, that’s likely after the trade deadline), the existence of the midway-point byes could be yet another reason the NHL could axe the All-Star Game, eliminating that break altogether.

Throw in the fact that the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement could expire as soon as 2020’s offseason – should either party opt out early – and no later than the summer of 2022 and we could be looking at a whole heap of changes  – or a whole heap of no hockey – within the next four years.

December 28 – Day 82 – Show your shield

I love when the NHL feels guilty. The league went dormant for three days, and it’s trying to make up for it by playing scheduling lots of games this week.

I’m not complaining.

There’s seven games on the schedule today, starting with three (Boston at Washington [NBCSN/SN360/TVAS], Montréal at Tampa Bay [RDS/TSN2] and Philadelphia at Florida) at 7:30 p.m. The next game, Toronto at Arizona, doesn’t drop the puck until 9 p.m., but it starts the chain reaction of contests, as two (Chicago at Vancouver [SN360] and Vegas at Los Angeles [NBCSN]) get underway an hour later and tonight’s nightcap – Calgary at San Jose – clean things up at 10:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

Three matchups in particular have caught my eye this evening…

  • Montréal at Tampa Bay: Welcome back to Cigar City, F Jonathan Drouin. How Bolts fans greet him will be… interesting, to say the least.
  • Chicago at Vancouver: In days gone by, these teams fiercely battled for Western Conference supremacy. This season, they’re simply trying to qualify for the postseason.
  • Vegas at Los Angeles: For three seasons, D Brayden McNabb called Hollywood home. Now he’s a top-two defenseman for the Golden Knights.

While I wouldn’t exactly say that McNabb’s return is exactly headline worthy, the fact that these teams are [playing for the lead in both the Pacific Division and the Western Conference] definitely is. Off to Staples Center with us!

 

 

 

 

 

 

If Goal No. 1 was being better than the Avalanche this season, Goal No. 2 must have been leading the Western Conference, because that’s exactly what the 24-9-2 Golden Knights are doing right now.

It’s no secret how Vegas is finding its wins, as the Knights’ offense has managed a whopping 3.46 goals-per-game for the best mark in the conference.

Head Coach Gerard Gallant‘s favorite player from their days in Florida has kept right on ticking, as F Jon Marchessault, who’s riding a four-game point streak, leads the team with his 12-21-33 totals from his spot on the second line. That line as a whole has been phenomenal, as C William Karlsson (17-12-29), Marchessault and W Reilly Smith (9-17-26) have combined for 38 of the Knights’ 123 goals on the season (30.9 percent).

But if we want to get really picky, Marchessualt is not among the best scorers in the league. After all, his 33 points are only (t)31st among all skaters, and his 1.03 points-per-game are (t)17th. But it is that very fact that tells the true strength of this Vegas attack. A whopping 14 players have earned at least 10 points on the season, including five defensemen.

With only an average power play success rate of 19.5 percent ([t]14th-best in the league), every single player on the Knights’ roster has bought into Gallant’s system, and it’s obviously coming back spades.

Lastly, 6-1-1 G Marc-Andre Fleury will get the start in net this evening after 9-2-0 G Malcolm Subban earned a 4-1 victory in Anaheim last night. Though Subban was stellar while Fleury was recovering from his concussion (he’s among the top six goaltenders in the league in both save percentage [.926] and GAA [2.18]), there’s no doubt who owns the Knights’ starting role.

Fleury has a 6-3-2 record against the Kings from his time in Pittsburgh, including a 3-2-1 record at Staples Center. However, his last three outings against Los Angeles have all been losses, even though he forced overtime in two. He comes into tonight’s game with a .938 save percentage and 1.97 GAA on the season.

If there’s only one thing the second place 22-11-4 Kings have in their favor, it’s that they will be playing tonight’s game on four days of rest since the Golden Knights were in action last night.

However, I’d venture to say that Los Angeles has a bit more going for it than simply full bellies and time off the ice – namely 17-11-1 G Jonathan Quick. Quick has been among the league’s best this season, as his .928 save percentage, 2.23 GAA, 17 wins and two shutouts are all among the top eight efforts in the NHL.

But these Kings aren’t only about Quick. W Dustin Brown, D Drew Doughty and C Anze Kopitar have also been studs this campaign. Brown (+15 rating) and Doughty (+18) have been most prevalent on the defensive end, as their ratings are both among the top eight efforts in the NHL, while Kopitar’s 17 goals are (t)eighth-most in the league.

The Kings and Knights have already tangled once this season at T-Mobile Arena. Vegas won that game 4-2 on a two-goal performance by Karlsson that chased Quick from the Nevadan crease. Of everybody involved in that contest, he’ll certainly be looking to show the most improvement.

In medieval times, kings outranked knights regardless of how many colorful adjectives they added. Though we’ve come a long way since castles and crusades, I think that organizational chart will still apply tonight as Los Angeles defends home ice.


Yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day was exactly the competitive matchup we expected, as the Nashville Predators beat the St. Louis Blues 2-1 at Scottrade Center.

Just like in the first contest between these clubs, First Star of the Game G Pekka Rinne dominated conversation. Even though the Blues fired a total of 22 shots on his net over the first two periods, it was his team that scored a goal in each frame.

The first of those tallies belonged to F Craig Smith (D Roman Josi), as he scored a tip-in with 9:23 remaining in the first period. Third Star F Calle Jarnkrok (F Filip Forsberg and D Matt Irwin) followed that up with a slap shot with 3:11 remaining in the second period, and it was that goal that proved to be the game-winner.

What made Jarnkrok’s goal spectacular is its blazing speed. Forsberg set him up for a one-timer from the left face-off dot, but it didn’t originally look as if the play had much chance of success. There were no skaters in front of Second Star G Jake Allen to act as screens, and he appeared to be in the right position to make an easy save. However, Jarnkrok ripped his blitz of a clapper over Allen’s shoulder before the netminder could even move.

St. Louis did eventually manage to sneak a goal past Rinne, as F Vladimir Sobotka (F Kyle Brodziak and D Alex Pietrangelo) bagged a tip-in with 6:23 remaining in regulation, but the Notes – even with Allen pulled for the last 1:53 of the game – could not find a way to level the game.

In all, Rinne saved 29-of-30 shots (.967 save percentage) in the victory, while Allen took the loss after saving 24-of-26 (.923).

With the Predators wearing white, they pull the visitors in the DtFR Game of the Day series back within 19 points of the 46-27-9 home teams.

December 17 – Day 74 – Another Wild Hawks game

It’s Sunday Funday in the NHL, as there’s four games on today’s schedule.

The action starts at 6 p.m. in Manitoba when St. Louis visits Winnipeg, followed an hour later by Minnesota at Chicago. Tonight’s co-nightcaps (Calgary at Vancouver [SN] and Florida at Vegas) find an early start this evening, as their opening puck drops are slated for 8 p.m. All times Eastern.

Believe it or not, I can come up with a reason to watch each and every one of tonight’s contests:

  • St. Louis at Winnipeg: Not only is this an important Central Division showdown, but it’s also Chris Thorburn‘s first return to Winnipeg – his home for the past six years – since joining the Blues.
  • Minnesota at Chicago: This rivalry has provided some thrillers in the past, and I expect more of the same tonight between these playoff hopefuls.
  • Calgary at Vancouver: With both teams trailing the Sharks in the standings, this rivalry is even bigger than usual.
  • Florida at Vegas: Connor Brickley was a Golden Knight for 10 days this offseason, so I suppose this counts as an awkward homecoming, but this game is more about Head Coach Gerard Gallant, Jon Marchessault and Reilly Smith showing the Panthers how silly they were for letting them leave.

Since we featured the Blues and Jets yesterday, that matchup that is calling my name today is taking place at the United Center. Off to the Windy City!

 

As the standings currently stand, the 16-11-5 Blackhawks currently occupy eighth place in the Western Conference and the second wild card position. Though they’ve struggled the last few times we’ve featured them in the DtFR Game of the Day series, it seems they’re finally figuring things out, as they’re currently riding a four-game winning streak.

The biggest reason for this recent success has been the dominating play of 15-7-2 Corey Crawford. Having been in net for all four games, he’s managed an impressive .952 save percentage and 1.45 GAA since December 8, both efforts among the top five of the 27 goaltenders with at least three starts in that time span.

If not for Crawford, the Hawks might not have been on this hot streak considering his defense has allowed him to face 125 shots over the last four games. Averaging out to 31.25 per game, its the fifth-highest total any netminder has faced since December 8.

Crawford’s considerable work load certainly isn’t the fault of John Hayden, Nick Schmaltz or Brent Seabrook. During this streak, they’ve respectively thrown a team-leading 14 hits, managed five takeaways and blocked nine shots. While those efforts have been impressive, it obviously hasn’t inspired their teammates all that much.

For a team to move into playoff position, another has to fall out of the picture. That team was 17-12-3 Minnesota, a team who just had a four-game winning streak of their own snapped yesterday by the Oilers.

Just like Chicago, the Wild have been finding most of their success of late with some incredible goaltending. Unfortunately, 12-8-2 starter Devan Dubnyk suffered a lower body injury on December 12, so it’ll be interesting to see how 9-5-4 Alex Stalock performs in his stead.

If his play since December 12 has been any indicator, it seems the Wild should be just fine. Since replacing Dubnyk in Tuesday’s game against the Flames, he’s posted a .946 save percentage that includes a shutout against the Maple Leafs’ potent offense.

Even with how well he’s played so far, I have concerns that he’ll start regressing to the mean due to the average-at-best defense playing in front of him. The Wild have allowed an average of 31.84 shots against per game this season, and most of that was before Jared Spurgeon and his team-leading 2.21 blocks-per-game went down with a groin injury.

This is the third of five meetings this season between these two clubs. The last time they met was November 4 at the Xcel Energy Center, and they played to a 2-0 Hawks victory. Given Minnesota’s defense, I have to lean towards the Blackhawks duplicating that success and earning two points this evening.


Earning his first shutout of the season, First Star of the Game Carter Hutton led the St. Louis Blues to a 2-0 victory against the Winnipeg Jets at Scottrade Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Hutton performed brilliantly in only his seventh start of the season. Though Kyle Connor and Blake Wheeler led the Jets to firing 48 shots on goal, Hutton, was able to keep them off the scoreboard.

Meanwhile, Steve Mason also posted a solid effort by saving 28-of-30 shots faced (.933 save percentage) – including all 18 at even strength – but two power play offerings were able to sneak past him.

The first, which proved to be the game-winner, was buried 9:16 into the contest courtesy of Second Star Vladimir Tarasenko (Alex Steen and Colton Parayko). With Andrew Copp in the penalty box for tripping Brayden Schenn, Steen slung a wrist shot at Mason from the right face-off dot that was deflected towards the opposite dot. Unfortunately for the netminder, Tarasenko was waiting to collect the rebound, and he elevated his wrister over the diving Mason to give the Notes a 1-0 lead.

After that, Mason kept the Blues off the board until only 2:26 remained in regulation. Third Star Vince Dunn (Tarasenko and Schenn) took advantage of Patrik Laine‘s double minor penalty for hi sticking Robert Bortuzzo to sneak a wrister past the netminder and set the 2-0 final score.

For the first time since December 6-7, home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have won consecutive games. That elevates their record to 41-24-9, which is 16 points better than the roadies’ record.

December 8 – Day 65 – James Neal loves gold

Welcome to your favorite day of the work week: Friday. Time to settle in for a weekend of online Christmas shopping while watching hockey.

There’s a small, but solid, selection of five games to watch this evening, starting with two (Columbus at New Jersey and the New York Rangers at Washington [NHLN/SN/TVAS]) at 7 p.m., followed by Vegas at Nashville at 8 p.m. and Buffalo at Chicago half an hour later. Finally, this evening’s nightcap, Minnesota at Anaheim (SN1), drops the puck at 10 p.m. to close the night out. All times Eastern.

I had two of these games circled on my calendar at the start of the season…

  • New York at Washington: Not only is this a rivalry game in the ultra-competitive Metropolitan Division, but it’s also F Paul Carey and D Kevin Shattenkirk‘s first trip back to the capital since signing with the Blueshirts this offseason.
  • Vegas at Nashville: Welcome back to Music City, W James Neal!

…but I’m also very interested in Columbus and Jersey’s rematch of a game that happened only three days ago.

Here’s what we’ll do: if you want a preview of the Jackets-Devils game, go here (you should also probably read the recap of that game here). Otherwise, we’re going to feature a different game instead.

 

 

 

We haven’t featured either of these clubs yet this December, and there’s no time like the present.

The Golden Knights enter this game with a solid 17-9-1 record that is good enough for second place in the Pacific Division. Much of that success has been due to their imposing offense, which has managed a Western Conference-leading 3.44 goals-per-game.

There are few on the Knights’ roster that has had a bigger part of those goals than Neal, whose 21 points-per-game are tied for third-most on the squad. Of those 21 points, 13 of them have been goals – a total that is only one short of C William Karlsson‘s team-leading 14 mark.

What makes Neal a surprise is that Head Coach Gerard Gallant is getting even more than he expected when the Knights drafted him out of Nashville. For his career, he’s managed only .72 points per game, of which he’s directly produced .38 goals per game.  Assuming he plays a full 82-game season, that would translate into 31-28-59 totals, well above his 23-18-41 marks from last season.

This season, Neal is on pace for 39-25-64 totals, which would go down as his best season since his 40-41-81 effort in 2011-’12 with the Penguins.

Trying to slow Neal and co. down this evening are the 18-7-3 Predators, who are also second place in their division. They’ve found their success by playing some solid defense.

Of course, it’s hard to fail with 16-4-2 G Pekka Rinne as your goaltender. He’s managed a solid .92 save percentage and a 2.38 GAA to rank sixth-best in both statistics among all goaltenders with at least eight starts.

While I wouldn’t exactly say the Predators’ defense puts a major effort towards keeping pucks off Rinne (Nashville allows a seventh-worst 32.57 shots against per game), their strength is truly shown on the offensive end. Defensemen Mattias Ekholm (6-12-18 totals), Roman Josi (6-13-19) and P.K. Subban (4-14-18) are all among the league’s top 19 blueliners in points, and Nashville’s top pair of Ekholm and Josi are both in the top 10 in goals scored by defensemen.

With strength squaring off against strength, this game will likely come down to which team wins the battle in Nashville’s offensive/Vegas’ defensive end. Considering the Preds’ offense, which ranks eighth in the league (3.17 goals-per-game), is going against the 11th-worst defense (3.11 goals against-per-game), I’m leaning towards the hosts taking this contest.


Though the New York Islanders were able to level the game after trailing by two goals with five minutes remaining to force overtime, the Pittsburgh Penguins held on to win 4-3 at PPG Paints Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Much of this game’s action took place in the third period, but it was set up by the two goals that were struck in the opening two frames. F Jake Guentzel (D Kris Letang and F Evgeni Malkin) scored a power play tip-in with 7:43 remaining in the first period, followed by RW Jordan Eberle (D Ryan Pulock and D Nick Leddy) burying a wrist shot at the 5:53 mark of the second to level the game at one-all.

Just like the first period belonged to Pittsburgh and the second to New York, the first half of the third period belonged to the Pens while the Isles took the second half.

RW Phil Kessel (Letang and C Sidney Crosby) got the frame started with a power play snap shot at the 7:29 mark to return a one-goal lead to the Pens, followed 32 seconds later by Second Star of the Game C Riley Sheahan (LW Carl Hagelin) scoring his second goal of the season.

Then it was New York’s turn to play. Third Star C Mathew Barzal (D Scott Mayfield and C Casey Cizikas) started the Isles’ comeback with 4:53 remaining in regulation by burying a wrister, but it was F Brock Nelson‘s (LW Andrew Ladd and D Thomas Hickey) wrister with 70 seconds left on the clock that forced three-on-three overtime.

Confidence was certainly on the Islanders’ side at the end of regulation, but the short break before overtime allowed Head Coach Mike Sullivan an opportunity to regroup his troops. Whatever pep talk he gave obviously worked, because First Star D Matt Hunwick (W Bryan Rust) was able to end the game at the 1:29 mark with a gritty wrister.

There was nothing sexy about Hunwick’s goal, but it was certainly a nice reward for doing some dirty work in the slot. The defenseman was the one to enter the offensive zone with the puck, but he handed possession off to Rust once he was across the blue line. Once the [position] reached G Jaroslav Halak‘s goal, he tried to drag the puck across the crease for a backhander, but it was stopped by a combination of pads and defensive sticks.

Since Halak was unable to cover up the puck, it trickled towards Hunwick – who had been camping out waiting for such an opportunity – and before the netminder could react, the defenseman had tapped his wrister past Halak’s right skate and into the net.

G Tristan Jarry earned the victory after saving 23-of-26 shots faced (.885 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Halak, who saved 28-of-32 (.875).

For the first time this month, the home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have won consecutive games. As such, they now own a 37-22-6 record that is 16 points superior to that of the visitors.

November 19 – Day 47 – “Silver and gold”

As if 13 games on Saturday wasn’t enough, the NHL is keeping the party going today with five more contests to close out the weekend.

The action starts at 5 p.m. when the New York Islanders visit Carolina, followed an hour later by Colorado at Detroit. Ottawa at the New York Rangers (SN/TVAS) drops the puck at the usual 7 p.m. starting time, with tonight’s co-nightcaps – Los Angeles at Vegas and Florida at Anaheim – waiting 60 minutes before finishing the weekend’s activities. All times Eastern.

Two of today’s games have been scheduled on my calendar since the schedule was released this summer…

  • Colorado at Detroit: Hockey fans from the 90s probably vividly remember the games between these teams, with the most infamous of course being “Fight Night at the Joe” in 1997.
  • Ottawa at New York: Remember last year’s Eastern Conference Semifinals? The Rangers sure do.

…but neither of them strike my fancy like tonight’s activity out in the desert. Brush up on your poker, because we’re headed to Sin City!

 

 

 

 

 

 

In what may be the unlikeliest of scenarios, today’s matchup features the top-two teams in the Pacific Division. You know, the same teams that either have missed the playoffs two out of the past three seasons or didn’t exist this time last year.

Probably the most unexpected is the success of the 11-6-1 Golden Knights in only their first two months of play. No matter what bizarre situations they’ve been thrust into – including not one, not two but three goaltenders landing on IR in the month of October – the Knights have responded with the fighting spirit of a team with decades of history and prestige.

Most notably, Vegas plays some good offense. Like, really good. So good, in fact, that it tops the Western Conference and ranks fourth-best in the NHL overall in scoring, managing 3.56 goals-per-game. For those wondering, that makes the Knights’ offense better than those of Winnipeg, Chicago, St. Louis and a heap of other clubs not named the Lightning, Maple Leafs or Islanders.

The man behind it all? Probably Head Coach Gerard Gallant, but since he wears a suit instead of skates, we’ll bestow the honor upon second-liner W David Perron. The former Blue has scored a team-high 17 points to average .94 per game, due in large part to finding is way onto the scorecard in each of his last six games.

However, with 6-11-17 totals, Perron is largely a facilitator for the rest of his line. Instead, it’s been linemate W James Neal that has taken credit for a team-high 10 goals. Though not as hot as Perron, Neal is certainly feeling his offensive game of late, as he’s scored a goal in two of his last three games and is riding a three-game point streak.

Attempting to slow down this stellar offense tonight (well, this afternoon if you’re in Vegas considering it’s a 5 p.m. puck drop local time) are the division-leading 12-6-2 Kings. Fortunately for Los Angeles, it’s a team that hangs its hat on squelching opposing attacks, as it allows only a second-best 2.3 goals against-per game.

I’m pretty sure I say it every time we focus on the Kings, but the biggest reason for their success this season is the incredible play of 9-6-1 G Jonathan Quick. I’d change the story to keep things fresh, but it’s hard to take away from a netminder that has managed a .93 season save percentage and 2.31 GAA to rank in the top-six of his position.

Unfortunately for Quick, looking at his season stats hides the fact that he’s currently riding a four-game losing skid that goes back to November 9.  Over the course of these games, Quick has allowed a dozen goals – all at home, mind you – on a .91 save percentage.

Head Coach John Stevens definitely had this game on his mind this week, because he purposefully rested Quick in yesterday’s game against Florida – another strong offense, though nowhere near as good as Vegas’ – in favor of 3-0-1 G Darcy Kuemper. The first half of that decision paid off when the Kings beat the Panthers 4-0 at the Staples Center yesterday, so it will be interesting to see how Los Angeles travels.

The reason for Kuemper’s strong record is that the Kings’ defense plays differently with him in net compared to their usual starter. Kuemper has faced only 111 shots this season, which is 27.75 per start. Compare that to Quick’s 33.25 shots against-per-start and we see part of the problem. To help Quick get out of his rut, I think Stevens’ defense will play back this evening to alleviate some of the pressure off Quick and allow him to rebuild the confidence he may have lost over the past 10 days.

If that is the case, expect to hear W Dustin Brown and D Alec Martinez‘ names said a lot tonight. Though he’s no blueliner, Brown has managed three hits-per-game all season to lead the team and knows how to slow down opposing scorers. In addition, even if those goalscorers get a shot off, Martinez averages a league-high 3.4 blocks-per-game, so very little gets past him. If their efforts can motivate their club to take their defensive zone a little more seriously than they usually do with Quick in net, this Kings team should be fine tonight.

G Malcolm Subban was just activated Thursday from injured reserve, so it is possible he’s in net tonight. If he is, there’s a possibility he’ll show a little bit of rust – and I’d expect the Kings’ offense to pounce. If G Maxime Lagace holds his starting job for one more day, Los Angeles will need all of its (t)11th-ranked offense to get the job done.


Thanks to an offensive explosion in the second period, the Winnipeg Jets beat the New Jersey Devils 5-2 at Bell MTS Place in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Usually it’s a bad thing to score all your goals in one period, but the Jets seemed to do just fine by burying five tallies in the span of 12:27, four of which in only 3:50. Making the onslaught even more fun, all five Winnipeg markers were struck by a different goalscorer.

LW Kyle Connor (RW Blake Wheeler and C Mark Scheifele) got the party started at the 5:51 mark of the second period with the first goal of the game. Though F Brian Gibbons (F Blake Coleman and D Will Butcher) was able to level the score for the Devils 61 seconds later, it did little to dampen the Jets’ energy.

RW Patrik Laine (W Nikolaj Ehlers and F Bryan Little) reclaimed a one-goal lead for Winnipeg at the 8:06 mark, followed only 35 seconds later by D Jacob Trouba (Connor and Scheifele) burying his first goal of the season for what proved to be the game-winner.

Exactly a minute after the celebration for Trouba’s goal had ended, the Phone Booth erupted again for F Matt Hendricks‘ (F Mathieu Perreault and RW Joel Armia) wrist shot to set the score at 4-1. Perreault (Hendricks and Armia) completed the Jets’ score fest with a deflection 1:42 before the second intermission.

Butcher (C Nico Hischier and F Taylor Hall) registered the first goal of his career in the third period, but even the 12:46 remaining in regulation was not enough for Jersey to pose any more of a threat.

G Connor Hellebuyck earned the victory after saving 34-of-36 shots faced (.944 save percentage), leaving the loss to G Cory Schneider, who saved 17-of-22 (.773). He was lifted in favor of G Keith Kinkaid for the third period, who saved all 12 shots he faced.

Winnipeg’s victory is the second-straight by a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series. That improves the hosts’ record to 25-17-5, which his eight points better than the roadies.