Tag Archives: Game of the Week

Game of the week: December 3-9

It’s time once again for DtFR’s weekly featured matchup! Let’s take a gander at the NHL’s offerings for this edition, shall we?

NHL SCHEDULE: December 3-9
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, December 3
7 p.m. Tampa Bay New Jersey 5-1
8 p.m. Buffalo Nashville 1-2
8:30 p.m. Edmonton Dallas 1-4
Tuesday, December 4
7 p.m. Boston Florida 0-5
7 p.m. Winnipeg Jets New York Islanders 3-1
7 p.m. Colorado Pittsburgh 3-6
7 p.m. Calgary Columbus 9-6
7:30 p.m. Toronto Buffalo 4-3 (OT)
7:30 p.m. Ottawa Montréal 2-5
7:30 p.m. Tampa Bay Detroit 6-5 (SO)
10 p.m. Minnesota Vancouver 3-2
10 p.m. Washington Vegas 3-5
10:30 p.m. Arizona Los Angeles 2-1
Wednesday, December 5
8 p.m. Edmonton St. Louis 3-2 (SO)
10:30 p.m. Chicago Anaheim 2-4
10:30 p.m. Carolina San Jose 1-5
Thursday, December 6
7 p.m. Detroit Toronto 5-4 (OT)
7 p.m. Colorado Florida 5-2
7 p.m. Columbus Philadelphia 4-3 (OT)
7 p.m. New York Islanders Pittsburgh Penguins 2-6
7:30 p.m. Montréal Ottawa 5-2
7:30 p.m. Boston Tampa Bay 2-3
9 p.m. Minnesota Calgary 0-2
9 p.m. Washington Arizona 4-2
10 p.m. Nashville Vancouver 3-5
10 p.m. Chicago Vegas 3-4
10:30 p.m. New Jersey Los Angeles 6-3
Friday, December 7
8 p.m. San Jose Dallas 2-3
8 p.m. St. Louis Winnipeg 1-0
9 p.m. Minnesota Edmonton 2-7
10 p.m. Carolina Anaheim 4-1
Saturday, December 8
1 p.m. Philadelphia Buffalo 6-2
4 p.m. Vegas Los Angeles 1-5
7 p.m. Toronto Boston 3-6
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Ottawa 1-2 (OT)
7 p.m. New York Islanders Detroit Red Wings 3-2
7 p.m. Colorado Tampa Bay 1-7
7 p.m. New York Rangers Florida Panthers 5-4 (SO)
7 p.m. Washington Columbus 4-0
8 p.m. San Jose Arizona 5-3
10 p.m. Nashville Calgary 2-5
Sunday, December 9
3 p.m. Vancouver St. Louis
3 p.m. Philadelphia Winnipeg TVAS
5 p.m. Boston Ottawa RDS2
6 p.m. Montréal Canadiens Chicago Blackhawks NHLN, RDS, SN, SN1
8 p.m. New Jersey Anaheim
9 p.m. Dallas Vegas
9 p.m. Calgary Edmonton SN, SN1

This week’s rivalries included the Battle of the QEW (Toronto at Buffalo), Ottawa at Montréal, Detroit at Toronto, the Islanders at Pittsburgh, Montréal at Ottawa, Toronto at Boston, Montréal at Chicago and the Battle of Alberta (Calgary at Edmonton).

In a similar strain, there were also more than a few rematches of playoff fixtures from last spring. Tampa Bay continued its beat down of New Jersey on Monday, while Vegas exacted some revenge against Washington on Tuesday. The Bolts then headed home to host Boston on Wednesday, winning 3-2. Vegas is heading to Los Angeles this afternoon looking for its fifth-straight victory against the Kings, followed by tonight’s tilt between the Capitals and Blue Jackets.

Finally, in the “player returns” department, only two really stuck out among this week’s tilts. Now a member of the Avalanche, D Ian Cole made his first trip back to Pittsburgh Tuesday to take on the club he was a member of for the past four seasons. Then, Wednesday night, C Kyle Brodziak made his first return to St. Louis as a member of a visiting team, having spent three seasons with the Blues.

Of all those, the one I’m most interested in is the Battle of Alberta, so pack your coat and start heading to the City of Champions!

Don’t everyone look all at once (it’ll make the team self-conscious), but with last night’s 5-2 win over Nashville, the 19-9-2 Calgary Flames have claimed a one-point lead for first place in the Western Conference.

Not the Pacific Division, mind you. The Flames have been running that show for about a month now. We’re talking about the entire conference.

I guess Head Coach Bill Peters knows a bit more than we give him credit for around here.

A major reason Calgary is in the position it’s in right now is due to the impressive 9-1-1 record it’s riding right now – a stretch that started with a 4-2 victory over the Oilers on November 17.

A solid argument could be made that no team in the NHL has been better than the Flames in the past three weeks, as they are among the top-three in the league in goals per game, goals against per game and shots against per game.

Starting with the offense (a stat in which Calgary ranks sixth on the entire season, averaging 3.47 goals per game), the Flames have been the class of the conference since November 17, as their 4.45 goals per game in their past 11 outings tops the West and ranks second in the NHL, trailing only Tampa Bay’s 4.58 goals per game.

Leading the charge with 6-14-20 totals in those 11 games is exactly who you expected: LW Johnny Gaudreau. Only RW Nikita Kucherov (5-18-23) has registered more points in the past 22 days than Johnny HockeyTM , but he’s also had the benefit of one extra game played.

But don’t think Gaudreau has been doing it all on his own. C Sean Monahan (9-7-16), F Elias Lindholm (7-8-15), LW Matthew Tkachuk (4-8-12), suspended D Mark Giordano (1-10-11 in 10 games played) and even fourth-liner C Alan Quine (he scored a goal in his season debut last night) are all averaging a point per game or better over this run.

Defense has been a major strength of Calgary’s all season long (the Flames’ 28 shots against per game for the entire campaign ranks third-best in the NHL), and the same can be said for the Flames’ last 11 games. Led by D Rasmus Andersson and D Travis Hamonic (both averaging 1.5 blocks per game since November 17), RW Garnet Hathaway (2.6 hits per game in the past 22 days) and Monahan (his 16 takeaways in the past 11 games lead the club), the Flames have allowed only 27.18 shots against per game since November 17- the third-lowest mark in both the Western Conference and NHL in that time.

While Peters might say he appreciates that solid defensive play, no one is happier for the Flames’ success than 11-7-1 G Mike Smith. And even though the blue line is making his job easy, Smith is putting together one of the best runs of his season so far – especially in light of his season stats.

On the campaign as a whole, Smith boasts a lowly .894 save percentage and 2.88 GAA – both stats considerably worse than backup 8-2-1 G David Rittich’s .919 and 2.39, to the point that there were more than a few calling for the Czech to assume starting duties.

However, Smith’s past six appearances have been reminiscent of his incredible 2011-12 season with the Coyotes (he posted a .93 save percentage and 2.21 GAA and led the team to the Western Final), as he’s won six-straight games with a dominant .936 save percentage and 1.59 GAA in those showings.

Having been in net for last night’s home win over Nashville, Smith will likely ride the pine this evening with Rittich getting the start.

Though the 15-12-2 Edmonton Oilers currently sit in 10th place in the Western Conference, they only trail the second wild card Vegas Golden Knights by a point (with two games in hand, no less), so it is possible for tonight’s hosts to force themselves into the playoff picture with as little as an overtime or shootout loss.

Wait, I thought the Oilers were back to being bad again. I’m so confused.

Sometimes a change of voice from behind the bench is exactly what a team needs to get in shape, because the Oilers have been playing some solid hockey since hiring Head Coach Ken Hitchcock on November 20. Before Hitchcock arrived in Northern Alberta, the Oil boasted a record of 9-10-1, but they’ve gone on a solid 6-2-1 record since then to position themselves right on the playoffs’ doorstep.

Considering Hitchcock’s history, it wasn’t unexpected that his first goal upon taking over Edmonton was teaching his club how to play defense. Instead, the bigger surprise is that the team – one rarely known for its defensive play for its entire history – actually responded and is finding success.

Under Hitchcock, the Oilers have allowed only 29.11 shots against per game, the seventh-best mark in the NHL since November 20. Injured F Drake Caggiula (averaging 4.3 hits per game during this run), D Oscar Klefbom (averaging 2.6 blocks per game in the last 20 days) and C Connor McDavid (his 12 takeaways in his last eight appearances pace the team) have all been integral in leading this strategic shift, and the results are clearly showing in the standings.

Both G Mikko Koskinen and G Cam Talbot have shown considerable improvement playing behind this revamped defense, but Koskinen seems to have gained Hitchcock’s favor as the Oilers’ starting goaltender – at least for the time being. Though he has managed a decent .925 save percentage and 2.23 GAA for the entire season, Koskinen has posted a solid .934 save percentage and 1.82 GAA in his last six starts and will get the nod tonight.

For those wondering, Talbot’s .895 save percentage and 3.12 GAA for the season have been steadily improving under Hitch as well, as he’s managed a .925 save percentage and 2.29 GAA in his last three starts.

So, it’s time for that priceless question: who wins tonight?

With both defenses playing as well as they are right now, my immediate reaction is to pick the team with the superior offense. As that is not the style Hitchcock is having the Oilers play, that leads me to lean towards Calgary earning two points despite playing yesterday and having to travel last night/this morning.

However, with so much for Edmonton to play for and the fact that this is one of the better rivalries in the league, the only thing we can truly predict is unpredictability!

Game of the week: November 26-December 2

If you’re the proud owner of an NHL-themed Advent calendar, hopefully you’ve got it ready to go for the official first day of the Christmas season this Sunday. As for the rest of us that don’t have such a beautiful possession, we’ll just have to use the NHL’s schedule.

Speaking of, here’s this week’s offerings:

NHL SCHEDULE: November 26-December 2
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, November 26
7 p.m. Boston Toronto 2-4
7 p.m. New Jersey Florida 3-4 (OT)
7 p.m. Washington Capitals New York Islanders 4-1
7 p.m. Ottawa Senators New York Rangers 2-4
7:30 p.m. Columbus Detroit 7-5
Tuesday, November 27
7 p.m. San Jose Buffalo 2-3 (OT)
7 p.m. Ottawa Philadelphia 4-3
7:30 p.m. Carolina Montréal 2-1
7:30 p.m. Anaheim Tampa Bay 3-1
8 p.m. Colorado Nashville 3-2
8 p.m. Arizona Minnesota 4-3
8 p.m. Pittsburgh Winnipeg 4-3
8 p.m. Vegas Chicago 8-3
9 p.m. Dallas Edmonton 0-1 (OT)
10 p.m. Los Angeles Vancouver 2-1 (OT)
Wednesday, November 28
7 p.m. St. Louis Detroit 3-4
7 p.m. Anaheim Florida 3-2
7:30 p.m. San Jose Toronto 3-5
9 p.m. Dallas Calgary 4-3 (OT)
9:30 p.m. Pittsburgh Colorado 3-6
Thursday, November 29
7 p.m. New York Islanders Boston Bruins 1-2 (SO)
7 p.m. Minnesota Columbus 2-4
7:30 p.m. New York Rangers Ottawa Senators 0-3
7:30 p.m. Buffalo Tampa Bay 4-5
8 p.m. Arizona Nashville 3-0
8 p.m. Chicago Winnipeg 5-6
9 p.m. Los Angeles Edmonton 2-3
10 p.m. Vegas Vancouver 4-3
Friday, November 30
7 p.m. Buffalo Florida 2-3 (OT)
7 p.m. New Jersey Washington 3-6
7:30 p.m. Anaheim Carolina 2-1 (OT)
9 p.m. St. Louis Colorado 3-2 (OT)
9 p.m. Los Angeles Calgary 1-4
Saturday, December 1
1 p.m. San Jose Ottawa TVAS
4 p.m. Dallas Vancouver
7 p.m. Toronto Minnesota CBC, SN1
7 p.m. Detroit Boston
7 p.m. New York Rangers Montréal Canadiens SN, TVAS
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Florida
7 p.m. Winnipeg New Jersey CITY, SN360
7 p.m. Columbus Blue Jackets New York Islanders
7 p.m. Philadelphia Pittsburgh NHLN
8 p.m. St. Louis Arizona
8 p.m. Chicago Nashville
10 p.m. Vegas Golden Knights Edmonton Oilers CBC, CITY, SN, SN1, SN360
Sunday, December 2
3 p.m. Anaheim Washington SN
6 p.m. Winnipeg Jets New York Rangers
7 p.m. Calgary Chicago NHLN
7 p.m. San Jose Montréal RDS, SN, SN1
7 p.m. Colorado Detroit
10:30 p.m. Carolina Los Angeles

Nothing rings in the holiday season quite like a good rivalry, and there was more than a few of those to choose from this week. A total of three Original Six matchups were contested (Boston at Toronto, Detroit at Boston and the Rangers at Montréal), not to mention six more feuds with slightly little less history (Washington at the Islanders, St. Louis at Detroit, Los Angeles at Edmonton, Philadelphia at Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay at Florida and Colorado at Detroit).

In a similar strain, there were also three rematches from last season’s playoffs. Beyond the already mentioned rivalries that were contested last postseason, Colorado made the trip to Nashville in a rematch of the Western Quarterfinals on Tuesday, avenging their series loss with a 3-2 victory.

For those that get excited about player returns, no game is bigger than the Sharks’ trip to Ottawa this afternoon, as D Erik Karlsson will be making his premier visit back the arena he called home for the first nine seasons of his career.

Finally, two numbers are being retired this week, both by teams in the Eastern Conference. On Thursday, the Boston Bruins hoisted RW Rick Middleton‘s No. 16 to the TD Garden rafters before their game against the Islanders, while the New York Rangers are extending the same honor to LW Vic Hadfield‘s No. 11 before tomorrow’s tilt against Winnipeg.

As usual, there’s more than a few excellent options for this week’s featured contest. As to not slight either Hadfield or Middleton, we’ll intentionally show no preference to one or the other. Instead, I think we’ll make a trip to the Big Apple for a homecoming of a different variety to Karlsson’s.

 

 

 

 

Before you start scouring the Blue Jackets’ roster for players that have donned blue and orange in the past (spoiler alert: no active Jackets have played for the Isles), I should probably let you know that this matchup is not being featured for any sort of player return.

Instead, we’re more worried about the Islanders returning to Nassau Coliseum (officially NYCB Live: Home of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, but that’s an obnoxious mouthful that I’m not willing to type again), their original home arena from 1972-2015.

The list of Islanders events the Coliseum has witnessed is surely a long list, but nothing shines quite as bright as New York’s four consecutive Stanley Cup championships from 1980-83. In fact, the Isles boast an unbelievable 11-1 record at the Coliseum in Stanley Cup Finals games, surely among the league’s best of any team at any particular arena.

The Coliseum has seen some real greats of the game take to its ice. RW Mike Bossy, LW Clark Gillies, RW Bob Nystrom, D Denis Potvin, G Billy Smith and C Bryan Trottier were all members of the Isles’ Stanley Cup-winning rosters, not to mention fellow Hall of Famer C Pat LaFontaine, who donned the blue-and-orange from 1983-91.

The club has run into more than its fair share of troubles – including attendance, a stat in which the Islanders rank dead-last in the NHL by almost 2000 patrons  – during its tenure at Barclays Center, but I’m optimistic that the team’s most devoted fans will have no trouble filling the almost 14,000-seat barn they used to call home.

However, one aspect where New York was expected to struggle this season was in its play on the ice. Without C John Tavares, the Islanders were expected to set up camp at the bottom of the NHL standings in a season focused on “Losing for Hughes.” Instead, new Head Coach Barry Trotz has led his team to a surprising 12-9-3 record that trails the rival Rangers by only one point (the Isles have two games in hand) for the East’s second wild card.

Looking more closely at their play over the last week (New York has posted a 2-1-1 record in its last four outings), the Islanders’ best player has been none other than 8-4-1 G Thomas Greiss. While his record may pale in comparison to 14-7-0 G Frederik Andersen‘s, Greiss boasts a .925 save percentage and 2.45 GAA for the entire season as a whole, not to mention managing a .924 save percentage and 2.31 GAA in his last three starts despite playing behind a defense that has yielded a (t)15th-worst 32.25 shots against per game since November 23.

Greiss owns a career 5-6-3 record against the Blue Jackets, due in large part to the current 0-3-1 skid he’s riding against tonight’s opposition dating back to February 25, 2017.

Speaking of the Blue Jackets, they enter tonight’s game with a solid 15-8-2 record that’s good enough for second place in the Metropolitan Division. Columbus has been riding high for the past month, as it has managed an impressive 8-2-2 record since November 4.

The main reason for that outstanding play has been the Jackets’ great defensive work. Led by RW Josh Anderson (2.9 blocks per game since November 4) and D Seth Jones (2.1 blocks per game during this run) – both of whom are tied at 10 takeaways apiece since November 4 – Columbus’ blue line has allowed only 30.42 shots against per game in its last 12 games, the 10th-best mark in the NHL in the past 27 days.

As might be expected, none are happier about that defensive play than 10-7-0 G Sergei Bobrovsky (yes, the goaltender is more appreciative than Head Coach John Tortorella – believe me). Behind this solid defense, Bobrovsky has posted a 7-1-0 record with an impressive .932 save percentage and 2.01 GAA – both numbers far better than his season marks of a .912 save percentage and 2.7 GAA.

This is the part where I usually pick my winner, but it should probably be stated that the real winners tonight are the Islanders fans getting to see a game in a historic venue designed to host an ice hockey game.

As for who will walk away with two points tonight, I’m strongly leaning towards Columbus. Both have netminders playing in peak form right now, but the Jackets boasting a defense keeping all but the best offerings away from Bobrovsky will likely be a major benefit to them this evening. Pair in the Jackets averaging 3.52 goals per game this season (compared to New York’s three goals per game), and any traveling fans from Ohio should leave happy.

Game of the week: November 19-25

The NHL’s unofficial deadline for playoff qualification has come and gone, but that doesn’t make this weekend’s games any less significant. Speaking of, let’s take a gander at all the tilts the NHL threw at us this week.

NHL SCHEDULE: November 19-25
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, November 19
7 p.m. Columbus Toronto 2-4
7 p.m. Dallas Stars New York Rangers 1-2
7 p.m. Buffalo Pittsburgh 5-4 (OT)
7:30 p.m. Washington Montréal 5-4 (OT)
7:30 p.m. Florida Ottawa 7-5
8 p.m. Los Angeles St. Louis 2-0
8 p.m. Tampa Bay Nashville 2-3
9 p.m. Vegas Calgary 2-7
10 p.m. Winnipeg Vancouver 6-3
Tuesday, November 20
10:30 p.m. Edmonton San Jose 4-3 (OT)
Wednesday, November 21
7 p.m. Montréal New Jersey 2-5
7 p.m. New York Islanders New York Rangers 0-5
7 p.m. Dallas Pittsburgh 1-5
7 p.m. Chicago Washington 2-4
7 p.m. Toronto Carolina 2-5
7:30 p.m. Philadelphia Buffalo 2-5
7:30 p.m. Boston Detroit 2-3 (OT)
7:30 p.m. Florida Tampa Bay 3-7
8 p.m. St. Louis Nashville 1-4
8 p.m. Ottawa Minnesota 4-6
9 p.m. Vegas Arizona 3-2 (OT)
10 p.m. Vancouver Anaheim 3-4
10 p.m. Winnipeg Calgary 3-6
10:30 p.m. Colorado Los Angeles 7-3
Thursday, November 22
No Games Scheduled – American Thanksgiving
Friday, November 23
1 p.m. New York Rangers Philadelphia Flyers 0-4
4 p.m. Edmonton Anaheim 1-2 (OT)
4 p.m. Winnipeg Minnesota 2-4
4 p.m. Montréal Buffalo 2-3 (OT)
4 p.m. New York Islanders New Jersey Devils 4-3 (OT)
4 p.m. Detroit Washington 1-3
6 p.m. Calgary Vegas 0-2
7 p.m. Toronto Columbus 2-4
7:30 p.m. Pittsburgh Boston 1-2 (OT)
7:30 p.m. Chicago Tampa Bay 2-4
7:30 p.m. Florida Carolina 1-4
8 p.m. Colorado Arizona 5-1
8 p.m. Nashville St. Louis 2-6
8 p.m. Ottawa Dallas 4-6
9 p.m. Vancouver San Jose 0-4
saturday, November 24
2 p.m. Washington Capitals New York Rangers NHLN
7 p.m. Winnipeg St. Louis CITY, SN360
7 p.m. Philadelphia Toronto CBC, NHLN, SN1
7 p.m. Boston Montréal SN, TVAS
7 p.m. Buffalo Detroit
7 p.m. Chicago Florida
7 p.m. Carolina Hurricanes New York Islanders
7 p.m. Columbus Pittsburgh
9 p.m. Dallas Colorado
10 p.m. San Jose Vegas
10 p.m. Vancouver Canucks Los Angeles Kings CBC, SN, SN1, SN360
Sunday, November 25
3 p.m. Calgary Arizona SN
7 p.m. New Jersey Tampa Bay
8 p.m. Anaheim Nashville NHLN
10:30 p.m. Edmonton Los Angeles

I’m a sucker for rivalries, and there was certainly more than a few of those on this week’s slate. The Battle of New York and Governor’s Cup were waged on Wednesday, not to mention an Original Six tilt and two untitled rivalries (Vegas at Arizona and Winnipeg at Calgary). The action continued yesterday when the Rangers visited Philadelphia, followed by today’s schedule of Washington at the Rangers, Boston at Montréal and Columbus at Pittsburgh. One last rivalry is on tomorrow’s schedule when Edmonton heads to Los Angeles (once a rivalry, always a rivalry).

In a similar strain to rivalries, there were also a few playoff rematches from the 2018 postseason scheduled. Winnipeg visited Minnesota yesterday, San Jose is in Vegas today and New Jersey will square off with Tampa Bay tomorrow.

Finally, in the “Homecoming” category, there was perhaps no bigger story than F Mike Hoffman – now a member of the Florida Panthers – making his first trip back to Ottawa since being traded this offseason in the middle of a kinda super weird controversy involving his fiancée. Hoffman was a Senator for seven seasons.

D Calvin de Haan and LW James van Riemsdyk are both celebrating homecomings tonight after spending six seasons with the Islanders and Maple Leafs, respectively, while Jim Montgomery – head coach of the Dallas Stars – is making his first return to the Rockies since being hired from the University of Denver Pioneers this summer.

But of all these great games, which one is worthy of being this week’s featured tilt?

 

Is it any surprise?

I mean, really: this is one of the best rivalries the NHL has to offer regardless of where these teams are in the standings, but the intensity is only ratcheted up with both teams separated by one point and fighting to keep up with Toronto for third in the Atlantic Division or one of the two wild cards.

Mix all that together, and the sparks that were all but certain are now guaranteed.

Currently occupying the Eastern Conference’s first wild card, the 12-6-4 Bruins enter this game riding a four-game point streak – a solid effort considering how many injuries they’ve suffered in the first two months of play. C Patrice Bergeron, D Brandon Carlo, D Zdeno Chara, D Charlie McAvoy and D Urho Vaakanainen (that’s right: four five defensemen [I think we have to count four-time Selke winner Bergeron as a defenseman, given these circumstances]) all find themselves on the injury report, meaning the youngsters from Providence are having to do their best filling in.

Fortunately for Boston, 8-2-2 G Jaroslav Halak has been playing like a machine despite all these injuries to his teammates. In his past two starts, Halak has managed a dominating .917 save percentage and .98 GAA to account for both of the Bruins’ last two wins. Making that all the more impressive, Boston has been allowing 33.5 shots against per game since November 16, the (t)10th-worst in the NHL in that time.

That being said, with Halak getting the start in last night’s overtime victory against the Penguins, all signs are pointing towards 4-4-2 G Tuukka Rask manning the crease this evening at Bell Centre. Rask’s last two outings have shown signs of improvement (he’s managed a .938 save percentage and 1.96 GAA in his last two appearances, both overtime losses), however his .909 save percentage and horrid 2.8 GAA for the season still cast doubts in the minds of more than a few Boston supporters.

Rask owns a 13-19-4 combined regular and postseason record against the Habs. He last beat the Canadiens on January 20 – a sixth-straight victory against his bitter rival – in a game that just so happened to take place in the same barn as tonight’s contest.

Meanwhile, the 11-7-5 Canadiens are also riding a decent run lately, as they’ve pulled off a 2-1-2 record over their last five outings.

Perhaps the brightest facet of Montréal’s game during this five-game run has been its power play. Converting on three of its past 13 opportunities, the Habs’ 23.1 percent success rate is good enough for 13th-best in the NHL since November 15.

Yup, that’s the best I’ve got.

In all honesty, there’s not much about the Canadiens’ recent play that indicates they should still be holding on to the East’s second wild card. Since November 15, Montréal’s offense has averaged only 2.8 goals per game while allowing 3.4 against ([t]11th-worst and ninth-worst in the league, respectively, in that time) – not to mention a defense that’s allowed a whopping 37 shots against per game in that stretch ([t]third-worst in the NHL).

Boston and Montréal have already squared off once this season, and it was far from a pleasurable experience for the Bruins as they were shutout 3-0 on home ice on October 27. RW Brendan Gallagher provided the game-winning goal at the 9:18 mark of the first frame, while F Max Domi and D Jordie Benn provided the two insurance goals. 7-5-4 G Carey Price, Montréal’s starter for tonight’s game, earned the shutout by saving all 33 shots he faced.

So, if neither team is playing particularly well lately, which team is going to snag two points?

Considering Price’s season stats (.895 save percentage and 3.17 GAA) are considerably worse than Rask’s and the fact that the Hab has allowed five goals in each of his last two appearances, I like the Bruins’ chances this evening. This may not be a pretty game, but Rask should be able to lead Boston to victory in Québec.

Game of the week: November 12-18

It’s once again time for the DtFR Game of the Week. Let’s take a look at our options for these seven days:

NHL SCHEDULE: November 12-18
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, November 12
7 p.m. Vancouver Canucks New York Rangers 1-2
7 p.m. Chicago Carolina 2-3 (OT)
8:30 p.m. Columbus Dallas 2-1
10 p.m. Nashville Anaheim 1-2 (SO)
Tuesday, November 13
7 p.m. Pittsburgh New Jersey 2-4
7 p.m. Vancouver Canucks New York Islanders 2-5
7 p.m. Florida Philadelphia 2-1
7:30 p.m. Tampa Bay Buffalo 1-2
7:30 p.m. Arizona Detroit 1-6
8 p.m. Washington Minnesota 5-2
9 p.m. Montréal Edmonton 2-6
10:30 p.m. Toronto Los Angeles 5-1
10:30 p.m. Nashville San Jose 4-5
Wednesday, November 14
8 p.m. St. Louis Chicago 0-1
8 p.m. Washington Winnipeg 1-3
10 p.m. Boston Colorado 3-6
10:30 p.m. Anaheim Vegas 0-5
Thursday, November 15
7 p.m. New York Rangers New York Islanders
7 p.m. New Jersey Philadelphia
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Pittsburgh TVAS
7 p.m. Florida Columbus
7:30 p.m. Detroit Ottawa RDS2
8 p.m. Vancouver Minnesota
9 p.m. Montréal Calgary RDS, TSN2
9 p.m. Nashville Arizona
10:30 p.m. Toronto San Jose
Friday, November 16
8 p.m. Boston Dallas TVAS
8 p.m. Buffalo Winnipeg
8:30 p.m. Los Angeles Chicago NHLN
9 p.m. Washington Colorado
10 p.m. St. Louis Vegas
10 p.m. Toronto Anaheim SN
saturday, November 17
1 p.m. Detroit New Jersey
1 p.m. Tampa Bay Philadelphia NHLN, SN
6 p.m. Buffalo Minnesota
7 p.m. Montréal Vancouver CBC, SN1, TVAS
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Ottawa CITY, SN
7 p.m. Florida Panthers New York Rangers NHLN
7 p.m. Columbus Carolina
8 p.m. Boston Arizona
8 p.m. Los Angeles Nashville
10 p.m. Edmonton Calgary CBC, SN, SN1
10:30 p.m. St. Louis San Jose
Sunday, November 18
1 p.m. Dallas Stars New York Islanders SN
5 p.m. New Jersey Carolina
6 p.m. Minnesota Chicago NHLN
8 p.m. Colorado Anaheim
8 p.m. Vegas Edmonton SN, TVAS

As I point out every in every column, there were more than a few superb offerings in this week’s NHL schedule. There were a solid half-dozen rivalries (St. Louis at Chicago, New York at New York, New Jersey at Philadelphia, Los Angeles at Chicago, Edmonton at Calgary and Minnesota at Chicago) to choose from, not to mention a long list of players returning to their former stomping grounds (G Cam Ward heading back to Raleigh – his former team of 13 seasons – headlined that list, though the “homecoming” of D Brooks Orpik to Denver will surely generate at least a few conversations).

However, this week’s selection has nothing to do with any sort of rivalry or player return. Instead, this week’s brightest matchup features two teams having unexpected success to start the season squaring off in what could end up being an important tie-breaking game should they be competing for wild card spots this spring.

 

We first turn our attention to tonight’s visitors, the 10-8-2 Vancouver Canucks. To the surprise of many, British Columbia’s beloved hockey side finds itself in second place in the Pacific Division, a far cry from last year’s position in the table (second to last in the Western Conference).

In particular, the biggest story coming out of the Canucks so far this season has been the exciting play of their forward corps, specifically that of youngster F Elias Pettersson. In only 14 games played, he’s already hung up 10-7-17 totals to lead all rookies in goals and points (he’s tied with Chicago’s F Dominik Kahun for second in assists behind leader D Henri Jokiharju – also of Chicago).

Led by Pettersson (not to mention C Bo Horvat, who has a matching 17 points to his credit), the Canucks’ offense currently ranks 13th-worst in the NHL, averaging 3.1 goals per game.

13th-worst and 3.1 goals per game may not sound like much, but the smart Canucks fans are excited by the growth they’ve seen from this year’s edition of the team It should be remembered, of course, that last year’s roster only scored 218 goals, or 2.66 goals per game (the Canucks are currently on pace for 254 this season).

Unfortunately for Vancouver, its hot start looks like it could be coming to an end as a result of the disastrous six-game eastern road trip (I suppose all road trips for the Canucks are eastern, aren’t they…) it’s finishing tonight. In their last five games, the Canucks have posted only a 1-2-2 record – posting both regulation losses in their last two outings – and have ceded control of the division to San Jose. That being said, Vancouver could jump back into first place in the Pacific with a win tonight and a regulation loss by the Sharks to Toronto.

While the Canucks might be cooling down, nothing has been able to stop the 11-5-2 Minnesota Wild just yet this season, as they’ve soared all the way into second place in the Central Division after many pegged them to miss the playoffs this season altogether.

Offense is the name of the game for the team in white, but Minnesota has found much of its success in its own zone.

While the defense does deserve some credit (the Wild have allowed 31.6 shots against per game this season, the 14th-highest average in the league), it’s specifically been the play of 8-4-2 G Devan Dubnyk that has made them so dominant. Dubnyk has posted a .927 save percentage and 2.34 GAA in 14 starts this season, both of which are top-six in the NHL among the 25 goalies with at least 10 starts.

The Wild just finished up an extended West Coast road trip of their own, going 5-2-0 (including a 5-2 loss at Vancouver on October 29) before returning home and losing to the Capitals on Tuesday, snapping a three-game win streak.

If tonight’s game becomes a battle of special teams, look for the Wild to take control easily. While both teams have comparable power plays (both convert under 19 percent of their extra-man opportunities), Minnesota boasts a penalty kill far superior to that of Vancouver. The Wild’s penalty kill escapes unscathed a division-leading 85.7 percent of the time, while Vancouver can only make that claim after 80.3 percent of its penalties (14th-worst in the NHL).

Even if this game doesn’t boil down to special team situations, I’m still leaning towards the Wild claiming two points tonight. The Canucks are tired from their long road trip, not to mention the fact that G Richard Bachman making his season debut this evening. Look for the Wild’s offense (led by F Mikael Granlund‘s 10-8-18 totals) to pounce early and put the pressure on Vancouver’s young, tired offense.

Game of the week: November 5-11

The first full week of November already has me looking forward to the NHL’s unofficial, yet statistically backed playoff qualification cutoff coming up only a couple weeks from now when the United States celebrates Thanksgiving.

Which teams are and aren’t among the league’s 16 best by November 22 will be heavily influenced by the 50 games taking place this week and the 48 on tap in the second half of this fortnight.

NHL SCHEDULE: November 5-11
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, November 5
7 p.m. Dallas Boston 1-2 (OT)
7 p.m. Montréal Canadiens New York Islanders 4-3 (SO)
7 p.m. New Jersey Pittsburgh 5-1
7 p.m. Edmonton Washington 2-4
9 p.m. Philadelphia Arizona 5-2
Tuesday, November 6
7 p.m. Vegas Toronto 1-3
7 p.m. Montréal Canadiens New York Rangers 3-5
7 p.m. Dallas Columbus 1-4
7:30 p.m. New Jersey Ottawa 3-7
7:30 p.m. Vancouver Detroit 2-3 (SO)
7:30 p.m. Edmonton Tampa Bay 2-5
8 p.m. Carolina St. Louis 1-4
10:30 p.m. Anaheim Los Angeles 1-4
10:30 p.m. Minnesota San Jose 3-4
Wednesday, November 7
7:30 p.m. Pittsburgh Washington NBCSN, SN, TVAS
10 p.m. Nashville Colorado NBCSN
10:30 p.m. Calgary Anaheim
Thursday, November 8
7 p.m. Vancouver Boston
7 p.m. Edmonton Florida
7 p.m. Arizona Philadelphia
7:30 p.m. Buffalo Montréal RDS, TSN2
7:30 p.m. Vegas Ottawa RDS2
7:30 p.m. New York Islanders Tampa Bay Lightning
8:30 p.m. Carolina Chicago
8:30 p.m. San Jose Dallas
10:30 p.m. Minnesota Los Angeles SN
Friday, November 9
7 p.m. New Jersey Toronto TVAS
7 p.m. Columbus Washington NHLN, SN1
7:30 p.m. New York Rangers Detroit Red Wings
8 p.m. San Jose St. Louis
8 p.m. Colorado Winnipeg
10 p.m. Minnesota Anaheim SN
saturday, November 10
1 p.m. Vancouver Buffalo SN
1 p.m. Chicago Philadelphia NHLN
2 p.m. Nashville Dallas
7 p.m. Toronto Maple Leafs Boston Bruins CBC, NHLN, SN360
7 p.m. Vegas Montréal SN, TVAS
7 p.m. Ottawa Tampa Bay CITY
7 p.m. New York Islanders Florida Panthers
7 p.m. Arizona Pittsburgh
7 p.m. Detroit Carolina
7 p.m. New York Rangers Columbus Blue Jackets
10 p.m. Calgary Los Angeles CBC, SN, SN360
Sunday, November 11
3 p.m. Minnesota St. Louis SN1
5 p.m. Ottawa Florida TVAS
5 p.m. Arizona Washington
7 p.m. New Jersey Winnipeg NHLN, SN
7 p.m. Vegas Boston
9 p.m. Calgary San Jose SN360
9:30 p.m. Colorado Edmonton SN1

Just like every week, there’s more than a few solid options to choose from. There was at least five rivalries (Montréal at New York, Anaheim at Los Angeles, Pittsburgh at Washington, New York at Detroit and Toronto at Boston), three playoff rematches (Pittsburgh at Washington, Nashville at Colorado and Columbus at Washington) and more than a handful of player returns (LW Max Pacioretty potentially returning to Montréal with Vegas highlights that list, but don’t forget about G Anton Khudobin and D Brandon Manning heading back to Boston and Philadelphia, respectively) to choose from this very attractive list.

However, only one game can be chosen, so I might as well go with a contest that can check two boxes, right?

 

It’s a rivalry! It’s a playoff rematch! It’s everything we could ever dream of!

Maybe not the last part, but there’s no explanation needed these days to get excited for this matchup. Sidney Crosby versus Alex Ovechkin has been a hot ticket ever since they began playing against each other 13 years ago, as they’ve rekindled a rivalry that had been dormant since the turn of the millennium.

Tonight’s participants enter this game with identical 6-4-3 records, but they seem to be heading in opposite directions.

Currently occupying third place in the Metropolitan Division due to earning all six of their victories in regulation or overtime, the Pens are the team trending down at the moment. They’re riding a four-game losing skid, including two (one in regulation, another in a shootout) to the red-hot division-leading Islanders and a 5-0 home blanking at the hands of the Auston Matthews-less Maple Leafs.

In fact, if we add in the 5-1 home loss at the hands of the Devils on Monday, the Penguins have been outscored 10-1 in their last two games and 18-6 during this skid.

Yikes.

What makes this slump all the more puzzling is Pittsburgh just returned from a four-game road trip through Canada against three teams currently in playoff position that saw it bring home all eight possible points.

As evidenced by a -12 goal differential over their past four games (by far the worst in the NHL during this run), problems abound for the Penguins. However, the one that is most glaring to me is Pittsburgh’s anemic offense. Usually among the league’s best (it still is, statistically speaking – Pittsburgh is tied with St. Louis for the fourth-best attack for the entire season), the Pens are averaging only 1.5 goals per game since October 30 – tied with Carolina for worst in the league in that time.

If any one person is the problem, it’s certainly not D Jamie Oleksiak. The former Star has posted impressive 1-2-3 marks in his last four outings, all of which were registered at even-strength.

Instead, I think a major hole in the lineup is at the third-line center position, as Derick Brassard has landed himself another seat in the press box with a lower-body injury. In the eight games he’s played this season, he’s managed decent 1-4-5 totals, but his replacement, Riley Sheahan, has not done well filling in, as he has no points to his credit in his last four games.

To resolve this problem, Head Coach Mike Sullivan has returned Phil Kessel to his usual spot on the third line, as well as added in Jake Guentzel to try to spread the scoring across the lineup. Since Guentzel has been demoted to the bottom six as a result of not shooting enough on the top line, Sheahan having two eager goal scorers on his wing should hopefully help his production.

Meanwhile, the Capitals – the fourth-best team in the Metropolitan Division after taking tiebreakers into account – look like they could be starting to break out of the slump they seem to have started the season in. Washington has posted a 2-1-1 record in its past four games, earning points against current playoff teams in Calgary and Dallas.

Though defense was the name of the game this spring when the Caps claimed their first Stanley Cup, this recent winning run is a direct result of some stellar Washington offense. Weighing in as the ninth-best offense in the league since October 27 alongside Los Angeles, Washington has been averaging 3.5 goals per game.

Leading that charge has been exactly who you’d expect: Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ovechkin. Even without the incredible .266 points per game Tom Wilson has averaged for his career, Washington’s top line has reclaimed its rightful spot among the league’s best, as Kuznetsov and Ovechkin are averaging an assist and point per game, respectively.

If there’s still a problem with Washington’s offense, it’s that a lot of its work is being done on the power play. While it it is certainly impressive that the Caps have a 33.3 percent power play to show for their last four games (that’s fourth-best since October 27), the fact that Kuznetsov and Ovechkin have registered five of their combined nine points with the man-advantage shows that Washington still isn’t finding as much success in five-on-five situations that Head Coach Todd Reirden would like.

That’s an important thing for Pittsburgh to keep in mind this evening, especially since they’re sending 2-0-2 G Casey DeSmith into the fray. Since October 30, the Pens’ penalty kill has ranked seventh-worst with a 69.2 success rate, so it would be in their best interest to stay as far from the penalty box as possible.

Speaking of goaltenders, 4-3-2 G Braden Holtby is expected to be between the pipes tonight for Washington. He’ll pit his .888 save percentage and 3.62 GAA against DeSmith’s .932 and 2.25.

To say that either of these clubs has me feeling extremely comfortable would be a blatant lie. While Washington has certainly shown the better form of late, Holtby has been a far cry from the reliable starter he was only a couple seasons ago and the 2018 playoffs. Conversely, I think DeSmith playing for Pittsburgh could be just the change the Pens need to start getting their game back in line.

As such, I’ll take the Capitals to win a tight, 4-3 game that could require overtime.

Game of the week: October 29-November 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is lunacy.

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

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

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

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

Hopefully.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s the tough question.

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

Game of the week: October 22-28

Week 3 of the DtFR Game of the Week series is due today, so let’s take a look at our options!

NHL SCHEDULE: OCTOBER 22-28
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, October 22
7 p.m. Colorado Philadelphia 4-1
7:30 p.m. Carolina Detroit 3-1
8 p.m. St. Louis Winnipeg 4-5 (OT)
10 p.m. Washington Vancouver 5-2
Tuesday, October 23
7 p.m. Florida Panthers New York Rangers 2-5
7 p.m. Arizona Columbus 4-1
7:30 p.m. Calgary Montréal 2-3
7:30 p.m. Boston Ottawa 4-1
8 p.m. San Jose Nashville 5-4
8:30 p.m. Anaheim Chicago 1-3
8:30 p.m. Los Angeles Dallas 2-4
9 p.m. Pittsburgh Edmonton 6-5 (OT)
Wednesday, October 24
7 p.m. Toronto Maple Leafs Winnipeg Jets NBCSN, SN1, SN360, TVAS
7 p.m. Florida Panthers New York Islanders
9:30 p.m. Tampa Bay Colorado NBCSN
10 p.m. Vancouver Vegas SN360
Thursday, October 25
7 p.m. Philadelphia Boston SN360, TVAS
7 p.m. Montréal Buffalo RDS, TSN2
7 p.m. Nashville New Jersey
8 p.m. Columbus St. Louis
8 p.m. Los Angeles Minnesota
8:30 p.m. New York Rangers Chicago Blackhawks
8:30 p.m. Anaheim Dallas
9 p.m. Pittsburgh Calgary
9 p.m. Washington Edmonton SN1
10 p.m. Vancouver Arizona
Friday, October 26
6 p.m. Tampa Bay Vegas TVAS
7:30 p.m. Winnipeg Detroit NHLN
7:30 p.m. San Jose Carolina
9 p.m. Ottawa Colorado RDS2
saturday, October 27
noon Florida New Jersey
1 p.m. New York Islanders Philadelphia Flyers SN
3 p.m. Edmonton Nashville
4 p.m. Washington Calgary SN1
7 p.m. Montréal Canadiens Boston Bruins CITY, NHLN, SN1, TVAS
7 p.m. Winnipeg Toronto CBC, SN360
7 p.m. Buffalo Columbus
8 p.m. Chicago St. Louis
8 p.m. Colorado Minnesota
9 p.m. Tampa Bay Arizona
10 p.m. Pittsburgh Penguins Vancouver Canucks CBC, CITY, SN1, SN360
SunDay, October 28
3:30 p.m. New York Rangers Los Angeles Kings
5 p.m. Dallas Detroit
5 p.m. New York Islanders Carolina Hurricanes
6 p.m. Edmonton Chicago NHLN, SN360
8 p.m. Ottawa Vegas SN1, TVAS
8 p.m. San Jose Anaheim

As usual, there’s more than a few compelling matchups this week. Just like every week, there’s the rivalries (Philadelphia at Boston, New York at Chicago, Montréal at Boston, Chicago at St. Louis and San Jose at Anaheim) and the player returns (F Matt Duchene‘s first trip back to Denver steals most of the headlines in this department, even though F Valtteri Filppula and G Louis Domingue are headed back to Philly and Arizona, respectively, on Saturday), but this week is different in a way that we could have only dreamed of during the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.

 

Patrik Laine hosting C Auston Matthews was already must-see T.V. based on their individual talents alone, but now that both of their clubs are looking to the top of the league standings, this just might qualify as a Stanley Cup preview.

Toronto has exploded out to a 6-3-0 record in its first nine games and was pacing the Eastern Conference until Montréal’s victory over the Flames last night (the top three teams in the Atlantic are tied with 12 points, but the Habs own the games-played tiebreaker over Toronto while the Leafs best Boston in regulation+overtime wins).

The main reason for this early season dominance? You guessed it: Toronto’s dominant offense. The Maple Leafs are averaging 3.78 goals per game so far this season, which trails only Washington and Tampa Bay for tops in the league, in addition to boasting the second-best power play with a 37.5 percent conversion rate.

Even though the big story during free agency in July was Toronto signing C John Tavares (who himself has posted imposing 6-5-11 totals so far this season), this team still belongs to the No. 1 overall pick in 2016: Matthews. Playing on the second line, Matthews has potted a whopping 10 goals already this season, not to mention his six assists.

Fans of the podcast know I predicted Matthews to win the Rocket Richard Trophy this season, due in large part to the opposition Matthews is going to be playing against as a member of the Leafs’ second line instead of on its top unit. Especially at the center position, it is usually a given team’s best offering getting the start on the first line, and that No. 1 center is usually one of the better players on the team and can exhibit a solid two-way game (after all, the Leafs are in the Atlantic Division with Boston’s C Patrice Bergeron… are any more examples necessary?).

Matthews has already proven through the first two seasons of his career that he’s capable of making any other player in the league look silly (yes, even Bergeron!) with his scoring touch, but now that he’s going up against opposing second lines and second defensive pairs, it’s bound to be open season on opposing goaltenders all year.

D Morgan Rielly (4-10-14 totals) and F Mitch Marner (4-8-12) also join Matthews and Tavares in scoring better than a point-per-game, so consider that your warning G Connor Hellebuyck.

As for 6-2-1 Winnipeg – the third-best team in the Central Division and Western Conference as things stand right now –  the 2016 NHL Entry Draft has treated it just as well as Toronto in regards to Laine. Though the Finn has managed only 3-2-5 totals so far this season, his 83-56-139 totals through 164 career games is nothing to scoff at.

Laine’s offensive struggles thus far are not limited to just him, as the entire Jets roster (save C Mark Scheifele‘s 4-5-9 totals making him the only player averaging a point-per-game) has had trouble finding the back of the net. Averaging only 3.22 goals per game, Winnipeg’s offense is tied with Carolina for only 15th best in the NHL.

So, if offense isn’t winning games for the Jets, it must be their goaltending or defense, right?

Well, it’s definitely not the defense. Allowing an an uninspiring 34.22 shots against per game (eighth-worst in the NHL) is certainly not getting it done and is putting a lot of work on Hellebuyck’s shoulders.

But hey, Hellebuyck finished second in Vezina voting last year, so he must be more than up to the challenge of keeping these Jets in the air, right?

Once again, not so much. Even with a 4-2-1 record in his first seven starts, he only boasts a .909 save percentage and 2.83 GAA (t17th and 21st, respectively, among the 35 goaltenders with at least four starts). Instead, the most inspiring goaltender in Manitoba has been backup 2-0-0 G Laurent Brossoit and his .955 save percentage and 2.01 GAA.

So, how exactly are the Jets in third place in the ultra-competitive Central Division?

The answer can be found in both of Winnipeg’s special teams, with the power play doing some serious heavy lifting with a 32 percent conversion rate that is fourth-best in the NHL.

While Laine has struggled to find the back of the net at even-strength, he has absolutely dominated the power play. Of his 3-2-5 totals so far this season, he’s earned 3-1-4 of those marks while playing with the extra man. In fact, much of the top power play unit has been solid, as Scheifele and RW Blake Wheeler have both registered four power play points in nine games played.

But the Jets’ special teams dominance doesn’t end with the power play. Winnipeg’s penalty kill has also been excellent, as its 82.3 percent kill rate is tied with Minnesota for ninth-best in the league. W Brandon Tanev in particular has been very solid while one of his teammates has been in the penalty box (his four shorthanded hits and three shorthanded blocks both pace the club), and his dominant play has made life much easier on Hellebuyck.

Though an .895 save percentage against the man-advantage doesn’t exactly sound impressive, Hellebuyck ranks (t)eighth-best in the statistic among the 35 goalies with at least four starts.

Talk about flipping a switch.

The next step, of course, is finding success on both ends of the ice at even strength. It is often these big games that brings that best play out of a team with as much potential as the Jets, so I’ll be very interested to see if Winnipeg can rise to the occasion against the Leafs.

So, it’s time for the big question: who’s winning this game?

First and foremost, it should probably be mentioned that Winnipeg boasted the best home-ice advantage in the entire NHL last season with a 32-7-2 record. Knowing that such a highly touted opponent is coming to town, there’s no way Bell MTS Place won’t be rocking tonight.

However, I have my concerns about Hellebuyck being able to stop Matthews and Toronto’s attack, especially since the Leafs join Winnipeg in dominating special team-play (Toronto’s power play and penalty kill rank second and seventh in the league, respectively). As such, I see the Maple Leafs cruising to a 5-3 victory in Manitoba.

Game of the week: October 15-21

It’s time for another DtFR Game of the Week!

First and foremost, let’s take a look at all the games I neglected earlier this week:

NHL SCHEDULE: OCTOBER 15-21
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, October 15
7:30 p.m. Los Angeles Toronto 1-4
7:30 p.m. Detroit Montréal 3-7
7:30 p.m. Dallas Ottawa 1-4
8 p.m. Minnesota Nashville 2-4
Tuesday, October 16
7 p.m. Dallas New Jersey 0-3
7 p.m. Colorado New York Rangers 2-3 (SO)
7 p.m. Florida Philadelphia 5-6 (SO)
7 p.m. Vancouver Pittsburgh 3-2 (OT)
7:30 p.m. Carolina Tampa Bay 2-4
8 p.m. Arizona Minnesota 1-2
8 p.m. Edmonton Winnipeg 5-4 (OT)
10 p.m. Buffalo Vegas 1-4
Wednesday, October 17
7 p.m. St. Louis Montréal 2-3
7 p.m. New York Rangers Washington 3-4 (OT)
9:30 p.m. Boston Calgary 2-5
10 p.m. New York Islanders Anaheim 1-4
Thursday, October 18
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Toronto 3-0
7 p.m. Colorado New Jersey 5-3
7 p.m. Philadelphia Columbus 3-6
7:30 p.m. Detroit Tampa Bay 1-3
8 p.m. Vancouver Winnipeg 1-4
8:30 p.m. Arizona Chicago 4-1
9 p.m. Boston Edmonton 2-3 (OT)
10:30 p.m. New York Islanders Los Angeles 7-2
10:30 p.m. Buffalo San Jose 1-5
Friday, October 19
7 p.m. Florida Washington 6-5 (SO)
8 p.m. Minnesota Dallas 3-1
9 p.m. Nashville Calgary 5-3
saturday, October 20
1 p.m. New Jersey Philadelphia 2-5
1 p.m. Colorado Carolina 3-1
3:30 p.m. Buffalo Los Angeles 5-1
4 p.m. Arizona Winnipeg 3-5
7 p.m. St. Louis Toronto 4-1
7 p.m. Montréal Ottawa 3-4 (OT)
7 p.m. Detroit Florida 4-3 (OT)
7 p.m. Chicago Columbus 4-1
8 p.m. Tampa Bay Minnesota 4-5 (OT)
10 p.m. Boston Vancouver 1-2 (OT)
10 p.m. Anaheim Vegas 1-3
10 p.m. Nashville Edmonton 3-0
10:30 p.m. New York Islanders San Jose 1-4
SunDay, October 21
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Chicago NHLN, TVAS
7 p.m. Calgary New York Rangers SN1
8 p.m. Buffalo Anaheim

This schedule was a little bit fuller than last week’s offerings, as there’s a solid 44 games I had to choose from as compared to last week’s 42.

While there were certainly some worthy candidates in terms of rivalries (Detroit at Montréal, Edmonton at Winnipeg, New York at Washington, New Jersey at Philadelphia and Montréal at Ottawa all took place this week) and player returns (D Marc Methot made his first trip back to Ottawa since being selected during the Vegas expansion draft and later traded to the Stars, four former Blackhawks – five if you include RW Marian Hossa – returned to the Madhouse on Madison as members of the Coyotes and C Tyler Bozak wore white in Toronto for the first time in his career playing for St. Louis), one game sticks out above all the rest even though I’m more concerned about what will be hanging above the ice than what will be taking place on it.

 

Without a doubt, the Ducks are having one of the better and more unexpected starts to the season. Meanwhile, the Sabres are trying their hardest to keep pace with the rest of the white-hot Atlantic Division that enters the day with five teams in playoff position (an extremely important accolade in October, to be sure).

But what really drew me to tonight’s tilt is the pregame festivities involving LW Paul Kariya, as his No. 9 is going to be retired and sent where it belongs – hanging above the Honda Center ice opposite RW Teemu Selanne‘s No. 8.

The fourth-overall pick in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, Kariya joined the then Mighty Ducks of Anaheim just in time for the 1994-95 season (well, if it had started on time, that is), signing a three-year deal on August 31, 1994.

Though the Mighty Ducks struggled before Selanne was brought on board via trade during the 1995-96 season, that’s not to say Kariya – who just celebrated his 44th birthday on Tuesday – was playing poorly. He posted 18-21-39 totals his 47-game debut season, earning a spot on the All-Rookie Team and finishing third in Calder voting behind Quebec’s C Peter Forsberg and Washington’s G Jim Carey.

Oh yeah, speaking of that 1995-96 campaign, Kariya’s second season ended with him boasting career-best numbers in goals (50, three of which were overtime game-winners – an Anaheim single-season record) and points (108) after a full 82-game schedule. That dominant performance earned him his first of three First All-Star Team accolades, his first of back-to-back Lady Byng Trophies and his first of seven appearances at the All-Star Game.

I guess he never heard of the sophomore slump.

Named the Mighty Ducks’ third captain in franchise history during the offseason (a title he held for a franchise-record eight years), Kariya barely missed a second-straight season hitting the 100-point plateau in 1996-97 as a result of missing 13 games with an upper-body injury and unrelated concussion, but a 44-55-99 performance in 69 games played qualifies as the best season of his career on a points-per-game standpoint. The 1.43 points per game he managed narrowly beats out his 1.41 in 1997-98 – another season hampered by concussion, as well as a contract dispute that lasted into December, limiting him to only 22 games played. Additionally, his +36 for the 1996-97 campaign is still an Anaheim single-season record.

Of course, the most important mark about the 1996-97 season for Kariya is not only his dazzling performance, but also the fact that Anaheim qualified for the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. The Mighty Ducks fought past the Phoenix Coyotes in seven games before getting swept by the eventual champion Red Wings in the second round of their postseason debut. Kariya posted 7-6-13 marks in those 11 games, including the overtime game-winning goal in Game 6 against Phoenix that forced Game 7.

To be certain, the most productive years of Kariya’s career were his first seven campaigns. In all, he played 442 regular season games for the Mighty Ducks from 1995-2001, managing 243-288-531 totals to average 1.2 points per game – not to mention his 8-9-17 marks in 14 career playoff games to that point.

However, that’s not to say the captain still wasn’t a guiding hand on his team. Kariya managed 57-81-138 totals in his final two seasons with the Mighty Ducks, and he led Anaheim all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in 2002-03 where his squad lost a hard-fought, seven-game series to the New Jersey Devils.

That Game 7 proved to be Kariya’s last with Anaheim, as he and Selanne both headed for the supposedly greener pastures of Denver (the Avs, of course, fell in the second round in Kariya and Selanne’s only season with the club) for the 2003-04 season. Kariya played five more seasons after that – two with Nashville and three with St. Louis – before retiring during the 2011 offseason as a result of the six concussions he sustained over the course of his 16-year, 15-season professional career.

Having been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame last summer, there are few awards left to be bestowed upon Karyia (provided he doesn’t get involved in coaching or management). However, this one will surely elicit quite the response from one of the greatest to have ever worn the eggplant and jade.

Of course, once the ceremony is complete, there’s still a hockey game to be played. Both of tonight’s squads were in action last night, with Buffalo besting Los Angeles 5-1 at Staples Center and Anaheim falling in Vegas 3-1.

The 4-4-0 Sabres entered today’s action in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, but only one point behind Ottawa for fifth place in the Atlantic Division and the second wild card.

Gotta love early season standings.

Perhaps the brightest spot for Buffalo so far this season has been the outstanding play of 2-0-0 G Linus Ullmark, who has allowed only one goal in his two starts and boasts a .982 save percentage and .5 GAA that is best in the league among netminders with at least 33 minutes played.

While his emergence as a potential star is an encouraging sign for a franchise that has missed the playoffs for seven-straight seasons, the fact that he was the goalie in net for Buffalo yesterday up the road in Tinseltown has all signs pointing towards 2-4-0 G Carter Hutton manning the posts this evening.

Whether he’s being compared to Ullmark or his performance last season, Hutton is already drawing the ire of Upstate New Yorkers. Having signed a three-year, $2.75 million AAV contract this summer after posting a dominating .931 save percentage and 2.09 GAA with the St. Louis Blues last season, Hutton has managed only a .906 save percentage and 3.27 GAA so far this year.

Considering his offense has averaged only 2.25 goals per game thus far into the season (the fifth-worst mark in the NHL despite F Jeff Skinner‘s hat trick yesterday), Hutton is going to need to improve in a hurry if the Sabres want to stay in playoff contention much longer.

That being said, it should be acknowledged that Buffalo hasn’t exactly played incredible defense in front of Hutton. The Sabres’ 32.63 shots against-per-game is 12th-worst in the league, and that number climbs to 33.67 when Hutton is in net.

Considering former defenseman Phil Housley is the team’s head coach and the fact that the organization took D Rasmus Dahlin with the first overall pick, surely that number has to improve sooner or later? Right?

Consider me a doubter of Housley’s until it does.

One final note I have about the Sabres is in regard to their special teams. It was only a few seasons ago that Buffalo’s power play – led by C Jack Eichel – was among the most dangerous in the league. However, that has not been the case this season, as the Sabres’ 13.3 percent success rate with the man-advantage has been eighth-worst in the league through the first few weeks of the season. The penalty kill has also struggled, as Buffalo’s 69.2 kill percentage is third-worst in the NHL.

The Sabres have a lot of problems to figure out, but the best way to fix the special teams while they’re still on the road just might be to avoid the penalty box all together.

Did you hear that, RW Kyle Okposo? Stay out of trouble!

As for tonight’s hosts, the 5-2-1 Ducks have yet to see too many troubles so far this season, as they’re leading the division despite many fans and pundits pegging San Jose and Vegas as the Pacific’s powerhouses.

But how are they doing it?

Just like Buffalo, Anaheim’s best player to start the season has been none other than its goaltender, 4-2-1 G John Gibson. The 2016 Jennings Trophy winner (o.k., he shared it with G Frederik Andersen, now of the Toronto Maple Leafs) has been dynamite right out of the gates this season, as he has a solid .949 save percentage and 1.91 GAA to show for his first seven starts of the season.

However, to continue the comparisons to Buffalo, Gibson was also in net last night against the Golden Knights, so it looks like it could be none other than 1-0-0 G Ryan Miller, the winner of the 2010 Vezina Trophy, manning the crease this evening against his former club.

Though he is clearly the backup in Anaheim, Miller is in no way any easier to score upon than Gibson. With two appearances so far this year, Miller has a .946 save percentage and 1.51 GAA – all this despite a Ducks defense that allows an average of 37 shots against per game, the worst in the NHL.

Despite the backups being the logical starters tonight, this game has all the makings of a goaltending duel considering the struggles of both offenses and defenses. If that is the case, I’ll certainly take the Ducks to successfully honor Kariya and earn two points tonight. Miller is undoubtedly better than Hutton this year, and he has the benefit of special teams that will easily dominate the Sabres.

Game of the week: October 8-14

Observant, loyal fans of Down the Frozen River have probably noticed the absence of the Game of the Day series to start this season.

For that, as well as the fact that this trend will likely continue throughout the month of October, I apologize.

However, I can offer the next best thing as a replacement until my schedule frees up: instead of a Game of the Day, how about a Game of the Week?

In that case, let’s take a look at all the contests we have/had to choose from this week!

NHL SCHEDULE: OCTOBER 8-14
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, October 8
1 p.m. Ottawa Boston 3-6
1 p.m. San Jose New York Islanders 0-4
3 p.m. Vegas Buffalo 2-4
10 p.m. Detroit Anaheim 2-3 (SO)
Tuesday, October 9
7 p.m. San Jose Philadelphia 8-2
7 p.m. Vancouver Carolina 3-5
7 p.m. Colorado Columbus 2-5
8 p.m. Calgary Nashville 3-0
8 p.m. Los Angeles Winnipeg 1-2
8:30 p.m. Toronto Dallas 7-4
Wednesday, October 10
7:30 p.m. Philadelphia Ottawa SN, TVAS
8 p.m. Vegas Washington NBCSN
10 p.m. Arizona Anaheim
Thursday, October 11
7 p.m. Edmonton Boston TVAS
7 p.m. Colorado Buffalo
7 p.m. Columbus Florida
7 p.m. Washington New Jersey
7 p.m. San Jose New York Rangers
7 p.m. Vegas Pittsburgh
7:30 p.m. Los Angeles Montréal RDS, TSN2
7:30 p.m. Toronto Detroit
7:30 p.m. Vancouver Tampa Bay
8 p.m. Calgary St. Louis
8 p.m. Winnipeg Nashville
8 p.m. Chicago Minnesota
Friday, October 12
No games scheduled
Saturday, October 13
1 p.m. Edmonton New York Rangers
1 p.m. Vegas Philadelphia SN
2 p.m. Los Angeles Ottawa RDS
6 p.m. Carolina Minnesota
7 p.m. Detroit Boston
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Montréal CITY, TVAS
7 p.m. Columbus Tampa Bay
7 p.m. Vancouver Florida SN1
7 p.m. Toronto Washington CBC, NHLN
8 p.m. New York Islanders Nashville
8 p.m. Anaheim Dallas
8:30 p.m. St. Louis Chicago
9 p.m. Buffalo Arizona
10 p.m. Calgary Colorado CBC, CITY, SN1
SUNday, October 14
1 p.m. San Jose New Jersey SN
7 p.m. Anaheim St. Louis
7 p.m. Carolina Winnipeg NHLN, SN1, SN360

Out of a list of 42 matchups, surely we can find at least one tilt to take in.

There’s a collection of some great rivalry games (Toronto at Detroit, Chicago at Minnesota, Detroit at Boston and St. Louis at Chicago) and some players returning to their former home arenas (W Matt Calvert and D Dion Phaneuf heading back to the respective capitals of Ohio and Canada stick out in particular), but I’m most drawn to playoff rematches during these opening months of the season.

Yes, the Jets are traveling to Tennessee tomorrow to take on the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Predators, but that rematch is going to take place three more times this season.

Instead, I’m much more excited to see how the Golden Knights’ pent up frustrations from falling in the Stanley Cup Final come into play tonight. Let’s make the trip to the American Capital and dive into that exciting early-season matchup.

 

 

 

 

 

There’s nothing quite like a Stanley Cup Finals rematch, especially when it takes place within the first week or two of the season.

For those that were in a coma for all of last hockey season – or those that simply live under a rock – the Vegas Golden Knights were one of the greatest stories in North American Big Four sports history last season.

After not existing during the 2016-17 season, the expansion Knights rallied around their hurting city and the idea of being a disorganized band of misfits that their former clubs no longer wanted to soar to an unlikely Pacific Division title and unprecedented Western Conference Championship.

A team consisting of the complete package, Vegas regularly scored with ease while G Marc-Andre Fleury was on the shelf with an upper-body injury. Upon his return, the Golden Knights continued winning even when the offense slowed down, as Fleury posted an incredible .927 save percentage in 46 starts – aided in large part by playing behind a defense that yielded only 30.7 shots against per game for the entire 2017-18 season, a mark that ranked seventh-best in the NHL.

Meanwhile, 2017-18 was the first season in a while that the Capitals entered their campaign with outsiders not pegging them to succeed. Too many players were lost as a result of management having to make moves to stay under the cap, and W Alex Ovechkin just didn’t seem to have the ability to get his team past the Pittsburgh Penguins or the Second Round of the playoffs.

Or so we thought. The Caps told the pundits where to shove it as they raced to their third-consecutive Metropolitan Division title behind their scoring prowess (Washington averaged 3.12 goals per game last season, good enough for ninth-best in the league), followed by getting past the dreaded Penguins and preseason darling Lighting to secure their second-ever Prince of Wales Trophy.

The Final itself was a quick, but exciting affair. With only a +6 goal differential in the final round, Washington defeated Vegas in five games to get a 44-year-old monkey off its back and hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history.

But all the banners have been raised and all the champagne has been popped. That was last season, and tonight is all about working towards the 2019 championship.

Making the trip to D.C. are the 1-2-0 Golden Knights, the reigning winners of the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl even though they currently reside in 11th place in the Western Conference.

If any one part of Head Coach Gerard Gallant‘s team is responsible for it’s lone win (notched in Minnesota on Saturday courtesy of the shootout), it’s surely Vegas’ squelching defense. Even with D Nate Schmidt – the club’s best blueliner, if I do say so myself – twiddling his thumbs while serving a 20-game suspension for PEDs, the Golden Knights have continued last season’s stellar play in their own end, allowing only 24 shots per game to reach Fleury.

That effort, which is good enough to tie Montréal for third-best in the league, has been headlined not by defensemen, but by fourth-liners LW William Carrier‘s conference-leading 18 hits and F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare‘s team-leading four takeaways.

There’s no denying that Carrier’s efforts have been felt by opposing teams, but Bellemare’s lack of scoring touch (as well as that of linemates Carrier and RW Ryan Reaves) has made his puck-snatching abilities a little less exciting. Though he scored a goal on a takeaway against the Flyers last Thursday, that marker is still the only point in his account for this season.

Of course, Bellemare is not the only one not finding the scorecard. Vegas has registered only five goals in three showings so far this season, pinning it as the fifth-worst attack in the entire league.

With 2-2-4 totals in 19:51 average time on ice, F Jon Marchessault is doing all he can to keep the Knights competitive, but he’s going to need far more assistance from the rest of the top-six forwards if Vegas wants to climb back to the heights it achieved last season. In particular, I’m waiting for some breakout games from Vegas’ second line, consisting of LW Max Pacioretty (227-222-449 career totals in 629 games), C Paul Stastny (220-426-646 in 827 career games) and F Erik Haula (posted a career-best 29-26-55 line in 76 games last season).

The Golden Knights will have exactly the attack to emulate in tonight’s opponent, as offense has been king for the 1-0-1 Capitals through their first two games. Averaging a whopping 6.5 goals per game, Washington is topping the NHL’s scoring charts so far this season and currently resides in seventh place in the Eastern Conference because of it.

A total of six players on Washington’s roster are currently averaging at least a point per game, but none have been quite as spectacular as F T.J. Oshie. In only two games, he’s posted dominant 3-2-5 totals, not to mention a .429 shooting percentage that will surely have Fleury quivering in his skates. The Caps’ top line has been just as lethal too, as C Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ovechkin have posted matching 2-1-3 totals to start the season and look to already be in mid-season form.

To top things off, Washington’s attack isn’t limited just to forwards. Just like the fourth line is getting involved defensively for Vegas, Capitals defensemen John Carlson (2-2-4 totals) and Brooks Orpik (1-1-2) have also been deadly, as both are averaging at least a point per game in their first two showings.

In strength against strength, I’m leaning towards the hosts’ offense being able to earn its fifth-straight win against Fleury and Vegas’ defense.

However, if the Golden Knights’ attack can show some life, G Braden Holtby has not looked very solid with his .894 save percentage and 3.46 GAA. If Pacioretty and Stastny can find some rhythm tonight – not to mention C William Karlsson rediscovering last year’s breakout form – Washington could be in line for another high-scoring affair like its last outing against the Penguins.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 1…and a half

As the season’s first full week has come to a close, it’s time for the first installment of my incessant weekly ramblings. Yes I know we’re basically 2 weeks into the schedule, but lumping that first half-week in with this seriously helps my desire to be only as productive as absolutely necessary. So, without further adieu, let’s get caught up on all those things you already saw and/or knew about, and find out the selections of your humble, know-nothing Midwesterner of an author for the best player/team/game of the week.

Player of the Week: Alex Ovechkin

It just is. Did you see the things he did? Go watch the things he did. They were silly. He has 9 goals in 6 games. At one point he had 7 goals in 2 games. Those…those aren’t real stats, those are video game stats. Stop arguing with me, and somebody give that man a cookie.

Team of the Week: New Jersey Devils

Alright, who had Jersey atop the ridiculous Metropolitan Division on their predictions lists? Nobody, that’s who. Although technically in a tie with Columbus atop the division, and with Toronto (who the Devils lambasted 6-3) atop the conference, those teams were supposed to be good. Same goes for the only team in the entire league the Devils currently trail in the standings, Chicago. The New Jersey roster basically reads “Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, Cory Schneider, and some other hockey players” yet here they are handing out Stone Cold Steve Austin-sized cans of whoop-@$ nightly. Hischier mesmerizes nightly, the makeshift forward group is scoring like it’s going out of style, 22-year-old former 5th-round pick defenseman Will Butcher has put up 8 points in 5 games (with 5 of them on the PP), and Schneider and Keith Kinkaid have both played very well in net. Nobody saw this coming, and anyone who says they did is a liar.

Game of the Week: Capitals 3 @ Lightning 4 (OT), Monday October 9th

When two of the league’s most dangerous offenses come together, you generally expect a good show, and this one didn’t disappoint. A comeback OT win, some sweet saves, 30+ hits, a goal of the year candidate… This game wasn’t lacking much. Even with Andrei Vasilevskiy and Philipp Grubauer trading highlight reel stops, a penalty-filled contest led to 3 total PP goals, including the Nikita Kucherov GWG in OT, and no shortage of even-strength offense to boot. Tampa spent most of the game chasing the Caps on the scoreboard, but with just over 9 minutes remaining in regulation Kucherov received a beautiful tic-tac-toe outlet courtesy of Anton Stralman and Alex Killorn, danced his way across the Washington blueline, and with the puck on his backhand (and Taylor Chorney on his back) roofed a bottle-popper over the glove side shoulder of the Washington netminder to tie it up at 3-3. If you don’t feel like watching the full game highlights, at least go dig up this goal, just have an extra pair of shorts on hand to change into afterwards.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

More than a few teams are currently not where they were expected to be in the standings, and that goes for both ends of the spectrum. The aforementioned upstart Devils are accompanied at 4-1-0 by the Red Wings, and followed closely by the Avs (4-2-0) and the “Nobody told us expansion teams are bad” Golden Knights at 3-1-0. Things get even crazier down at the more lackluster end of the standings, with the Rangers (1-5-0), Sharks/Oilers/Habs (1-3-0), and Wild (1-1-2) all notably underperforming. The Rangers and Habs are both particularly surprising, in that the bulk of their respective troubles can be attributed to their usually-stalwart goaltenders being…well, less than stalwart.

Opening night in Vegas was quite a thing to behold, with a beautiful pre-game ceremony honoring the victims and heroes of the Las Vegas terror attack just a few weeks ago. The Knights fed off the raucous crowd and cruised to a 5-2 victory over their desert-dwelling counterparts from Arizona.

Unfortunately for Vegas, their hot start could be quickly simmered by injuries to Marc-Andre Fleury (concussion) and Jon Marchessault (lower body). Both players were placed on IR and are expected to miss “at least a week” so Vegas now has to rely on its slim organizational depth to step in for the time being. Marchessault is certainly an important piece of the team (he’s coming off of a 30-goal campaign with Florida), but it’s the Fleury injury that could really hurt them, as they really don’t have any proven goaltenders beyond ‘Flower’. But, given I watched young Malcolm Subban earn a 3-1 victory for the Knights as I typed this article, perhaps they have less to worry about than originally feared.

Oh and Jaromir Jagr is back, so the mullet wig I bought a few years ago is still relevant.