Tag Archives: Gaudreau

December 14 – Day 71 – No sushi here

It’s another Thursday in the NHL packed with action, as all but seven teams will be lacing them up this evening.

Like they do most nights, the festivities find their start at 7 p.m. with the puck drop of three games (Washington at Boston [SN360], Buffalo at Philadelphia and the New York Islanders at Columbus), followed half an hour later by New Jersey at Montréal (RDS/TSN2). Three more puck drops (Anaheim at St. Louis, Toronto at Minnesota and Chicago at Winnipeg) are scheduled for 8 p.m., while a four-pack (Florida at Colorado, San Jose at Calgary, Nashville at Edmonton [TVAS] and Tampa Bay at Arizona) waits until 9 p.m. to get underway. Finally, Pittsburgh makes its first-ever visit to Vegas (NHLN/SN/SN360) at 10 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

For those that know me, or at least keep track of this column, you probably know which two teams I call my own (I know, I’m cheating by having two. That’s what you get when your dad pulls for a team far from where you live.). So, you’re probably guessing I’m leaning towards the Penguins-Golden Knights game to see the reunion of G Marc-Andre Fleury and his old Pens pals.

However, I’m far more interested in Fleury’s return to the Steel City when he gets greeted by his former home fans and receives his 2017 Stanley Cup ring (hint: look forward to my February 6 column).

In the meantime, let’s head to southern Alberta where there’s an important Pacific Division game taking place.

 

Tell me if you’ve read this as recently as yesterday’s column: these two teams are fortunate they play in the division they do, or their playoff hopes could already be in the trash.

While the Pacific Division has been full of surprises this season (the dominance of the Kings, the Golden Knights being way better than an expansion team should and the Oilers’ fall from incredible to dumpster fire), the middle of the pack has been nothing more than… well, average.

Take for example tonight’s visitors, the 16-10-3 Sharks. San Jose is average in a very special way, because it pairs one of the best defenses in the game with an offense that can’t seem to figure out why there’s goals at both ends of the rink.

Let’s start with the good: led by the impressive efforts of defensemen Justin Braun (team-leading 1.96 blocks per game), Brent Burns (33 takeaways) and Brenden Dillon (2.85 hits per game), the Sharks allow an average of only 29.13 shots to reach 5-3-1 G Aaron Dell – tonight’s probable starter, per Curtis Pashelka of Bay Area News Group due to the Sharks traveling to Vancouver for a game tomorrow night.

Though his eight starts and 11 appearances are a fairly small sample size at this point of the season, Dell has technically outperformed 11-7-2 G Martin Jones so far, posting a superior .939 save percentage and 1.72 GAA. In fact, of the 50 goaltenders in the league with at least eight starts, Dell has been the class of the NHL and led both statistical categories.

Of course, he’s also faced the fourth-fewest shots of any of those netminders, so maybe that’s a better reflection of his defense’s effort. Either way, the Sharks have allowed only 2.34 goals against per game this season, the second fewest in the league.

But with all that good comes an equal share of bad; specifically, an offense that averages only 2.68 goals per game, the seventh-fewest in the league. I wrote about why I think the Sharks’ attack isn’t working here (hint: looking at you, Burns), but one player that doesn’t deserve a nightly tongue lashing from Head Coach Peter DeBoer is F Logan Couture. He’s been a solid player this season on an unspectacular offense, posting 15-10-25 totals that puts even the likes of C Jack Eichel, W James Neal and F T.J. Oshie behind him on the league leader board.

The longer Burns and that offense struggles, the more opportunities it gives teams like the 16-12-3 Flames to climb into playoff position. Calgary currently occupies fourth place in the Pacific Division, but only 10th in the Western Conference, which means it is not even next in line for the second wild card.

That puts a big emphasis on these division games, and there’s no time like the present to play one for these Flames. They may have only won two of their last four games, but they’re riding a four-game point streak that includes three road contests, including visits to the Air Canada Centre and Bell Centre.

Over this decent run, 13-9-3 G Mike Smith has buckled down and put on some solid performances in the crease. Starting three of the four games, he’s posted a .947 save percentage and 1.26 GAA to go 1-0-2 and improve his season numbers to a .919 save percentage and 2.6 GAA.

Due to Calgary’s defense allowing an average of 31.8 shots per game (15th-most in the league), Smith needs to be on his game most nights to give his team a chance to win. That’s especially true considering the Flames’ offense averages only 2.8 goals per game – the 11th-fewest in the NHL – even though LW Johnny Gaudreau (12-26-38 points) and C Sean Monahan (17-13-30) have been putting on a show this season.

The Flames’ struggle this year had been depth scoring, but its no surprise that’s exactly what they’ve gotten during this little run they’re on. 14 different players have found the scorecard in the past four games, including Travis Hamonic (1-3-4 season totals) and Brett Kulak (0-4-4), defensemen not usually known for their offensive contributions. If this trend can continue, maybe – just maybe – Calgary can shape up into a decent team.

If nothing else can be said about the bottom five teams in the Pacific Division, it will certainly make for an exciting trade deadline and playoff push this March if all these teams are fighting for third place. We may not know who will square off in Vegas’ playoff debut until the last day of the regular season.

As for who will get two points closer to that goal this evening, I’m leaning towards the Flames. Smith has been playing spectacularly this season and should be able to quell the Sharks’ anemic offense, and I think Calgary’s depth can keep up its scoring streak.


Though they had to pull Second Star of the Game G Tuukka Rask for an extra attacker just to force overtime, the Boston Bruins were able to get past the Detroit Red Wings 3-2 at Little Caesars Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The first goal of this contest wasn’t struck until the 9:15 mark of the second period. That’s when F Tomas Tatar (D Niklas Kronwall and F Henrik Zetterberg) buried a power play wrist shot to give the Wings a 1-0 lead that would last into the second intermission.

Thanks to F Noel Acciari‘s (F Tim Schaller) second goal of the season, the Bruins leveled the game at the 3:02 mark of the third period, but Detroit once again took the lead 8:32 later on a special teams goal. Third Star F Dylan Larkin (F Darren Helm and D Trevor Daley) took advantage of RW David Pastrnak‘s indecisiveness to score a breakaway shorthanded backhanded shot. Pastrnak (First Star LW Brad Marchand and D Torey Krug) was provided the opportunity to redeem himself though, and he leveled the game at two-all with 86 seconds remaining in regulation with Rask pulled for the extra attacker.

Even though the Bruins never led in this game, Marchand (Krug) gave the Bruins their 15th win of the season with what our in-house Bruins expert @nlanciani53 is calling nothing more than “a typical Marchand breakaway backhander.”

We’ll take his word at it.

Rask earned the victory after saving 31-of-33 shots faced (.939 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to G Jimmy Howard, who saved 29-of-32 (.906).

Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have now won two-straight contests. As such, they’ve pulled within 14 points of the 39-23-9 hosts.

Weekly Bumblings for Week 8 with Special Guest Host, Cap’n Cornelius

While Peter is out enjoying a trip to see some hockey games in person, I’m filling in with a recap of the past week’s NHL action.

Player of the Week:  Blake Wheeler

Wheeler has been the definition of streaky, of late, but this week was the good side of the coin.  He broke a four-game pointless drought last Monday against Minnesota, getting one goal and two assists.

After being held without a point against Colorado, he put in another three-point performance (all assists) against Vegas.

But he would save his best for Sunday against the Ottawa Senators.  In a game that saw the Jets beat the Senators 5-0, Wheeler had a point on all but one of the goals, putting up one goal and three assists.  He had a beautiful cross ice pass to set up Mark Scheifele on the first goal of the night and the Jets never looked back tallying three of their goals on the power play.

Wheeler has passed Steven Stamkos to take the league lead in assists with 28 and has helped power the Jets to the top of the Western Conference, something few expected as the season began.

 Team of the Week: Los Angeles Kings

Just when it looked like the Kings might be fading after a hot start, they went 4-0 this week and moved six points ahead of the second-place Vegas Golden Knights in the Pacific Division, exactly as the media expected before the season began, right?  The Kings won the first three of those games by three goals each.

After one period of play in their Tuesday game in Detroit, the Kings found themselves down 1-0, but Dustin Brown, who has had a heck of a comeback season, evened it up at 1 and Anze Kopitar then put them ahead 2-1 before the second period was over.  LA would add two more in the third on goals from Adrian Kempe and Kopitar’s second of the night.

Next up for the Kings was another road game against the Caps.  Again, the Kings gave up an early lead on a goal from Evgeny Kuznetsov. Marian Gaborik would even it up, only for Kuznetsov to get a second goal.  Jonny Brodzinski would tie it again and nine seconds later Jussi Jokinen would put the Kings ahead.  After that, it was all Kings.

The Kings continued their road trip Friday with a visit to play the St. Louis Blues, one of the best teams in the league to this point in the season.  This time the Kings got the early lead on a Tyler Toffoli tally. Kopitar would then bang home a rebound to make it 2-0.  Before it was over, Kempe and Toffoli would add goals and the Kings would win 4-1 despite being outshot 40-28 on a stellar performance by backup goaltender, Darcy Kuemper.

The Kings finished their week and their road trip in Chicago on Sunday.  Through two periods the game was scoreless.  Christian Folin finally put the Kings up with just over 10 minutes left in the game.  Then things got a little weird with just over two minutes left in the game.  First, Brown would get an empty net goal.  Then the Hawks would answer on a goal from Jonathan Toews with 1:46 left to end Quick’s shutout bid.  But Kopitar would put the final nail in the coffin with 51.5 seconds left in the game with a final empty net goal.

As long as the Kings continue to get these types of performances from Brown, Kopitar and solid goaltending, they will have a very good chance to lock down the Pacific Division.

Game of the Week: Edmonton Oilers 7 @ Calgary Flames 5, Saturday, December 2, 2017

One of the first NHL games I can remember watching on TV was Wayne Gretzky’s Oilers against Lanny McDonald’s Flames.  This game was a throwback to that era when goalies for some reason spent much of their time standing up and, consequently, watching pucks go past them.  This is the type of game you hope to see with all of the offensive talent on these two teams and the reason you stay up to watch the late game on Hockey Night in Canada if you live in the Eastern Time Zone.

Connor McDavid skated around the Flames zone early and his persistence led to Jesse Puljujarvi cashing in on the rebound. The Oilers then had what looked like their second goal of the night from Patrick Maroon taken off the board as the goal was kicked.  Eric Gryba then set up Puljujarvi for his second of the night on a redirection of Gryba’s point shot.

Mikael Backlund then forced a turnover on the penalty kill that set up Michael Frolik for a short-handed goal to pull the Flames within one goal.  But the Oilers scored again before the first period ended to go up 3-1.  In the second period, Mark Letestu scored on a short-handed breakaway to expand Edmonton’s lead.  Gryba made another shot from the point which was tipped in, this time by Milan Lucic, to go up 5-1.

As the third period started, Mike Smith was replaced in net by David Rittich.  Unfortunately for the Flames, Rittich bungled a handoff behind the net and the Oilers capitalized to go up 6-1.  One might assume this is where the Flames might call it a night.  But Sam Bennett made a tough angle shot to get the score to 6-2.  Next, Micheal Ferland notched a power play goal to bring the Flames within three goals.  Bennett added a second goal on a 2-on-1 where he took the puck top shelf.  Suddenly the score was 6-4 with a lot of time left in the game.  Johnny Gaudreau then made another tough angled shot off a stretch pass, taking advantage of young Oilers netminder, Laurent Brossoit.  The impossible seemed possible with the score 6-5.  But Brossoit would make a key save on Gaudreau on a two-on-one to prevent the tying goal.

With 1:01 left, the Oilers’ Ryan Nugent-Hopkins tried to center a pass, but it bounced into the net off T.J. Brodie’s stick to salt away the win for Edmonton by a final of 7-5.  While the Flames couldn’t quite finish their comeback, it was the sort of game that reminded you why the Battle of Alberta was once such a big deal.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Trade Rumors seem to be starting earlier than normal and we have already seen one blockbuster and several smaller trades.

This past week saw Anaheim and New Jersey make a significant hockey trade if not a true blockbuster.  The Ducks sent right-handed defenseman Sami Vatanen and a conditional pick to the Devils in exchange for Adam Henrique, Joseph Blandisi and a third round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.  The move was a much-needed improvement on the back end for the Devils, who are one of the surprises of the early season.  As for the Ducks, with Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler still out, Henrique can help at center and, when they return, he can provide forward depth.

Who is next?

Well, the name that seemed to be coming up repeatedly during the past week was Pittsburgh’s Ian Cole.  The left-handed defenseman was a healthy scratch and several sources had stated that his relationship with Mike Sullivan had been rocky, leading the Pens to consider a trade.  However, their asking price may be higher than what a willing buyer will give them for Cole—Pittsburgh is still seeking an improvement at center for their third line after Riley Sheahan has failed to impress.  Toronto is a destination that has been mentioned with Tyler Bozak falling out of favor and the Leafs wanting to upgrade their defense, but to this point nothing seems imminent.

The Edmonton Oilers have also been frequently mentioned in trade rumors.  While Ryan Nugent-Hopkins name has probably been mentioned the most, more recently the Oilers have been mentioned in connection with smaller trades that might see them shipping out the likes of Pat Maroon.  It is hard to see how Maroon would produce the sort of return that might get the Oilers back into contention in the Western Conference.

Another name that has been brought up repeatedly is Evander Kane.  Buffalo is one of the few teams clearly out of the hunt at this early date, but it seems most likely they will wait until the deadline to move Kane when they might extract the highest possible return for the wing, who will be a free agent this summer.

November 7 – Day 35 – The day Western Canadians aren’t so friendly

It’s Tuesday in the NHL, so you know what that means: lots of games to be watched!

In total, there’s nine games on tonight’s schedule, starting with six (Washington at Buffalo [NBCSN], St. Louis at New Jersey, Edmonton at the New York Islanders [TVAS], Arizona at Pittsburgh, Florida at Carolina and Nashville at Columbus) at the usual 7 p.m. starting time. Vegas at Montréal (RDS/TSN2) waits half an hour after those games begin before dropping the puck, followed by Vancouver at Calgary at 9 p.m. Finally, tonight’s nightcap – Los Angeles at Anaheim (NBCSN) – finds its start at 10 p.m. to close out the evening’s action. All times Eastern.

What a slate of games! Just about every contest has a compelling reason to watch:

  • Edmonton at New York: For four seasons, F Ryan Strome called the Big Apple home. After an offseason trade, he’s wearing different shades of blue and orange.
  • Arizona at Pittsburgh: As assistant coach with the Penguins, Rick Tocchet won two-consecutive Stanley Cups. Now he’s trying to find a similar magic as the Coyotes’ head coach.
  • Nashville at Columbus: There’s few motivations stronger than playing against the team that cut you. Just ask LW Scott Hartnell.
  • Vancouver at Calgary: Ever since the Flames moved to Alberta, games against the Canucks have been circled in red.
  • Los Angeles at Anaheim: Round One of the Freeway Face-off goes down tonight on The Pond!

Somehow, the Flames have escaped being featured in the DtFR Game of the Day series for the past 34 days. With a rivalry game tonight, that number will not grow to 35.

 

Ever since the Flames’ first trip to Vancouver on February 1, 1981 representing the city of Calgary, the lore surrounding this rivalry has only grown by the game.

This matchup is far more than a simple Pacific Division rivalry. It’s a contest between coastal and midwest living; a battle between political parties; a war for the Art Ross Trophy.

If a hockey game could determine which way of life is superior, it would seem Calgary’s way of living has won out in the past. In all, the Flames, since moving to southern Alberta, have earned a 113-77-26-13 regular season record against their arch-nemeses that is further supported by their 21-17 postseason record.

In total, these clubs have met in the postseason seven times since 1982, with the Flames winning all but two of those series – including the last two. Their most recent playoff meeting occurred in the first round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs and was highlighted by Game 2’s 132 penalty minutes. D Deryk Engelland, now a member of the Vegas Golden Knights, was the primary on-ice offender in the fight, but the league eventually ruled that Flames Head Coach Bob Hartley played an even bigger role and fined him $50 thousand. Calgary won the series in six games.

That being said, the turn of the millennium was a positive one for the Canucks. They won seven-straight season series against Calgary starting with the 2007-’08 campaign – including sweeping the Flames 5-0-0 in 2013-’14. But, all good things must come to an end as the Flames have since regained an advantage and won the last three season series.

To make things even more exciting, this is also a fairly important early meeting between these clubs in regards to the Pacific Division, and even the Western Conference. Both squads have already earned 16 points in the standings to join the three-way tie for third place in the division and their also in a seven-way tie for fifth in the conference.

Technically, since the 7-5-2 Canucks have won only one game via shootout compared to the 8-6-0 Flames’ two, Vancouver is the superior team in the standings. As such, they currently occupy the West’s first wild card – an envious position only a month into the season, to be sure.

When things are going Vancouver’s way, it’s been one of the best in the league at preventing its opposition from finding the back of 4-4-2 G Jacob Markstrom‘s net. Though his .918 save percentage is far from being worth writing home to Gavle, Sweden about, he’s managed a 2.3 GAA that is sixth-best in the NHL among goaltenders with at least seven starts.

Of course, it doesn’t seem he’ll be writing home about tonight’s game anyways, as he lost 3-2 at home to the Red Wings last night. Instead, hockey sense leads me to believe 3-1-0 G Anders Nilsson will earn his fifth start of the season tonight. Though he’s had limited time, Nilsson has arguably been the stronger of the two netminders, as his .943 save percentage and 1.89 GAA are both second-best in the league among netminders with at least four starts.

Regardless of who starts, the Cancuks are going to rely on their solid defense to keep things under control. Whether it’s D Alex Biega, RW Derek Dorsett and D Erik Gudbranson‘s combined 80 hits or D Michael Del Zotto‘s 2.2 blocks-per-game – or, more likely, a sum of those parts – the Canucks are among the league’s best at keeping shots off their netminder, allowing a fourth-best 29.5 per game.

Meanwhile, everything seems to be coming up spades for the Flames of late, as they’re winners of their last three games, all against stiff Metropolitan competition.

The key to this winning streak: solid play in the defensive zone. Since October 29, Calgary has allowed only six goals in three games – the third-fewest in the NHL in that stretch.

That’s all the result of the incredible play by 8-5-0 G Mike Smith.

Yes, the same Smith that posted a rough 19-26-9 record in Arizona last year.

He’s been one of the top-three goaltenders in the NHL for the past nine days, as a .943 save percentage and 1.92 GAA earned him a perfect 3-0-0 record over that stretch. For the season, Smith has managed a solid .931 save percentage and 2.32 GAA to be in the discussion for top-10 goaltenders of the campaign so far.

Perhaps the key to Smith finding success is playing for a new team. During his first season with the Coyotes (who then represented simply the city of Phoenix from their arena in Glendale instead of the entire state of Arizona) in 2011-’12, Smith earned a 38-18-10 record on a .93 save percentage and 2.21 GAA for easily the best performance of his 12-season career.

For those Flames fans wondering, Smith is under contract through next season. Do with that information as you see fit.

These clubs have already met once this season, playing to a 5-2 Flames victory at Rogers Arena on October 14. LW Johnny Gaudreau, D Mark Giordano, D Dougie Hamilton, D Travis Hamonic and C Sean Monahan all registered goals for Calgary, while only RW Brock Boeser and Dorsett could find the scorecard for the Canucks.

Though the score of their last meeting may not indicate it, this game has a grind-it-out, defensive style written all over it. These types of games are my favorite without featuring a rivalry. Throw in the animosity and the fact that the Flames have already earned a win in the series away from the Scotiabank Saddledome, and this should be a nasty tilt. I like the Flames to hold on and win since the Canucks played last night, but we should be in for a thriller.


Thanks in large part to a three-goal explosion in the first period, the Winnipeg Jets beat the Dallas Stars 4-1 at the American Airlines Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that Winnipeg found success in Texas. After all, the arena is not only sponsored by the world’s largest airline, but also nicknamed The Hangar.

Whether that had anything to do with this game or not, the Jets didn’t take long to take control, as they had a one-goal lead after only 26 seconds of play courtesy of a C Mark Scheifele (First Star of the Game RW Blake Wheeler and LW Kyle Connor) wrist shot. With his fourth power play goal of the year (seventh overall), RW Patrik Laine (Wheeler and Scheifele) doubled Winnipeg’s advantage 4:46 later. Finally, only 57 seconds before heading to the dressing room for first intermission, Connor (Wheeler) scored a wrister to set the score at 3-0.

If not for F Bryan Little‘s hi-sticking penalty against C Jason Spezza, maybe Second Star G Connor Hellebuyck could have earned his first shutout of the season. Instead, Third Star LW Jamie Benn (D John Klingberg and RW Alexander Radulov) buried a backhanded shot 4:13 into the second period to pull the Stars back within a 3-1 deficit.

Even though Dallas fired a total of 23 shots in the final two periods, they could not sneak another goal past Hellebuyck. That fact became especially painful with 13 seconds remaining in the game, as Scheifele (Wheeler and D Jacob Trouba) slung a shorthanded snap shot from the blue line into an empty net to set the 4-1 final score.

Hellebuyck earned the victory after saving 33-of-34 shots faced (.971 save percentage), leaving the loss to G Ben Bishop, who saved 22-of-25 (.88).

Impressively, road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have won five of the last seven games to pull within four points of the 18-13-4 hosts.

Preds’ counterattack levels Cup Finals

2017 Stanley Cup Finals – Game 4

 

After losing the first two games of the Stanley Cup Finals, Nashville has done exactly what it needed to do by beating the Penguins 4-1 at Bridgestone Arena in Game 4 to level the series at two games apiece.

Entering Monday’s match, the Predators had averaged 32.3 shots-on-goal per game in the Finals, a lofty number compared to the Pens’ 22.3 average.

Even though it didn’t quite reach that number Monday, three offerings proved extremely important for Nashville in the 15th minute of the first period. The first was an Austin Watson wrist shot fired on Matthew Murray‘s net from beyond the far face-off circle with 5:11 remaining in the frame. The netminder was able to make the stop, but he couldn’t contain the rebound.

That’s where Calle Jarnkrok (Craig Smith and Watson) comes into play only two seconds later. He and Smith both crashed Murray’s crease to collect the rebound. Smith was the first to the loose puck and bat the puck out of the air over the goalie’s left leg. Murray deflected that offering too, but he couldn’t stop the third: a Jarnkrok wrister from the near corner of the crease to give the Preds a 1-0 lead.

Mike Sullivan elected to challenge the play for goaltender interference, but Toronto correctly ruled that Smith’s follow-through, though it made obvious contact with Murray, did not occur before  before the puck had entered the net.

Beyond that marker, offense – specifically offensive possession – was at a premium in Game 4. Don’t let a 4-1 final score fool you, as both clubs managed only 26 and 24 shots, respectively, due in large part to the strong defensive efforts by both squads.

Pittsburgh preferred to keep Murray’s workload to a minimum by blocking shots before they reached his crease. In total, the Penguins blocked 18 Nashville attempts, including an impressive four rejections by Brian Dumoulin.

Meanwhile, the Predators played with a bit more finesse in front of First Star of the Game Pekka Rinne, preferring to force and capitalize on turnovers. Not only did Matt Irwin lead that charge with two of the Preds’ eight takeaways, Nashville was a bigger beneficiary of the Penguins’ sloppy handling. Pittsburgh gave the puck away 16 times, including a miserable four by Ron Hainsey.

Regardless of how either team decided to play, this type of game makes a club’s ability to counter-strike paramount to its success.

The first of those breakaway tallies was struck only 66 seconds after Jarnkrok had finished celebrating his second goal of the playoffs, courtesy of Sidney Crosby (Dumoulin).

Given the events late in Game 3 and their interactions over the first 15:57 of play, P.K. Subban was definitely under Crosby’s skin early in the contest. Anytime they came in close contact, Crosby made sure to give the defenseman an extra shove.

But being under Crosby’s skin does not mean he cannot score. After Dumoulin laced a blue line-to-blue line pass to him at the top of his offensive zone, Pittsburgh’s captain took advantage of his one-on-one matchup with Rinne to patiently wait until the netminder committed to a forehand deke. Crosby then pulled the puck across to his backhand side to bounce the puck off the far post and then off the netminder’s left skate to level the game.

The score read 1-1 for the remainder of the opening frame, but the counterattack theme continued in the second period. This time, both goaltenders were up to the task… at least at first glance.

First up was Rinne, who saved a breakaway wrister fired from the crease by Chris Kunitz at the 3:29 mark. That attempt was followed only 16 seconds later by Murray batting Third Star Frederick Gaudreau‘s wrap-around offering back towards center ice just before it crossed the goal line.

Or so it seemed.

None in the building noticed it, but someone in Toronto did. From approximately 770 miles away, the NHL stopped play almost a full minute later to force a review of Murray’s seemingly miracle save. Video showed that the puck did barely completely cross the red goal line before Murray sent it the other way, meaning the Predators earned a 2-1 lead. Ryan Ellis and Harry Zolnierczyk provided the assists on Gaudreau’s tie-breaking – and what proved to be game-winning – tally.

Yet another Predators breakaway opportunity formed with seven minutes remaining before the second intermission. It started in Nashville’s defensive zone along the far boards when Roman Josi forced the puck towards the blue line. Though Ian Cole tried to separate James Neal from the puck, the former Penguin forced his way past the defenseman to advance it into the neutral zone to Second Star Mike Fisher. Fisher’s adversary was Evgeni Malkin, who knocked the Predators’ captain to the ice – but not before he batted a puck towards Viktor Arvidsson. Arvidsson beat Justin Schultz to the pass, and in doing so set up a one-on-one matchup with Murray. Arvidsson took the opportunity to line up a wrister towards the far post to beat the goalie’s suspect glove.

Trailing by two goals in the final period, the Penguins managed the best offense they could muster in attempts of tying the game. Even then, their 10 shots were not enough to get past Rinne. To further tilt the tables in its favor, Pittsburgh pulled Murray with 3:31 remaining before the final horn. The Pens were rewarded for that decision only eight seconds later when Filip Forsberg (Mattias Ekholm and Subban) scored a wrister from his defensive face-off circle to set the 4-1 final score.

The Stanley Cup Finals, now a best-of-three series, will recommence following a 90-minute flight from the Music City to the City of Bridges. Game 5 is scheduled for Thursday at 8 p.m. Eastern time at PPG Paints Arena and may be viewed on NBC in the United States and CBC, SN or TVAS in Canada.

Preds’ power play perplexes Pens

2017 Stanley Cup Final – Game 3

 

After returning home to the friendlier environment of Bridgestone Arena, Nashville dominated the Penguins Saturday night with a 5-1 victory to pull within a game of leveling the Stanley Cup Finals.

One of the biggest story lines coming into Game 3 was which goaltender Peter Laviolette would play: usual starter Pekka Rinne or Juuse Saros, who played the remaining 16:32 of Game 2. It should have been no surprise that Rinne maintained his position between the pipes, just as it was no surprise that the Penguins tried to test him early.

Though Pittsburgh fired only a half-dozen first period shots at Rinne, none were better than Jake Guentzel‘s (Ian Cole and Sidney Crosby) wrist shot 2:46 into the contest. The lone goal of the first period, he took advantage of Rinne being unable to contain the rebound off Cole’s slap shot from the near point and squeezed his five-hole attempt underneath the netminder for an early Pens lead.

With his 13th tally since April 12, Guenztel has surpassed Jeremy Roenick for second-most playoff markers by a rookie is only a goal short of tying Dino Ciccarelli‘s record for most all-time.

It was only Rinne’s second shot faced of the night and gave an early impression that he was still fighting the same demons he was in the Steel City. As it would turn out, he was more than deserving of his First Star of the Game honor.

Following the rough start to the evening, Rinne would save 26-straight Penguins shots to close the remaining 57:14 of play with an overall .964 save percentage.

But after allowing a goal early in the game, it does not matter how well a goalie performs if his offense cannot find the back of the opposition’s net.

Then again, who needs an offense when Nashville has such a productive defense?

With Justin Schultz in the penalty box for holding Harry Zolnierczyk at the 4:13 mark of the second period, Second Star Roman Josi (Calle Jarnkrok and Mattias Ekholm) fired a slap shot from the far face-off circle with 22 seconds remaining in the man advantage to level the game with the first of the game – but certainly not the last – to beat Matthew Murray‘s glove.

That power play goal, paired with the rejuvenated support from Nashville’s “Seventh Man,” proved to be exactly the spark the Preds needed. Only 42 seconds after Josi’s game-tying marker, Third Star Frederick Gaudreau (Austin Watson and Josi) found what proved to be the game-winner: a breakaway wrister that turned a defending Cole into a screen against his own netminder to beat him – once again – glove side.

The second period couldn’t end quickly enough for Pittsburgh, but it couldn’t get to the dressing room before getting officially reacquainted with an old friend. With 23 seconds remaining before the second intermission, former Penguin James Neal (Viktor Arvidsson and Josi) completed the Predators’ fantastic frame by banking an insurance wrister off the back of Murray’s glove and into the net.

Just as the night’s scoring began for the Predators, it would also find its conclusion on the power play. This time, Crosby (for boarding Ryan Ellis), Filip Forsberg (for cross checking Evgeni Malkin) and Malkin (for cross checking Forsberg) were all in their respective penalty boxes to set up a five-on-four opportunity for Nashville. Ekholm (Jarnkrok and Colton Sissons) waited only 27 seconds before ripping a slap shot top shelf over Murray’s stick shoulder.

Though Ekholm’s marker would prove to be the last yielded by Murray, the damage was more than done. He saved only 23-of-26 shots faced (.848 save percentage) for five goals allowed, but his most striking statistic is his performance against the power play.

Even though Murray faced only two shots while short a skater, both offerings found their way past him. The fact that the Penguins penalty kill allowed only two shots on three Predators power plays proves that it is Murray that needs to improve on this aspect of his game before Game 4.

Not all of Murray’s goals allowed were directly his fault though. The goaltender was able to stop the Preds’ first breakaway opportunity in the third period – an offering by Gaudreau 2:27 into the period – but he couldn’t save the second. After Chris Kunitz bounced the puck off Phil Kessel‘s skate to give it to Craig Smith at center ice, it was all the wing could do but attack Murray’s unreliable glove side with a wrister from between the face-off circles to set the score at 4-1 with 15:06 remaining.

Offensively for the Penguins, it should be very concerning to Mike Sullivan that his primary striking corps of Crosby, Kessel and Malkin managed only three shots on goal among them (all by Kessel). Though the story of Guentzel is exciting, it is these men that are expected to spearhead their club – not the rookie. If the Penguins cannot get this issue resolved, they could find the same fate awaiting them in Game 4.

If the Penguins did anything well, it was block shots. Though the Predators led the shots-on-goal statistic 33-28, that differential could have been much higher if not for Pittsburgh’s impressive 20 rejections. In particular, Olli Maatta stood out from the rest by leading his club with three blocks – a total matched in Game 3 only by Nashville’s Ellis.

Bridgestone Arena will come alive once again this Monday – country singers, catfish and all –  at 8 p.m. Eastern time. For those that don’t have tickets, you’re encouraged to tune your television to NBC if you reside in the United States or CBC, SN or TVAS in Canada.

March 31 – Day 163 – Keeping it in Alberta

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

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

Short list:

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hockey Birthday

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 6 – Day 83 – Surging Canucks

You did it. You made through your first week back to work after the long holiday. You deserve some hockey.

Fortunately, the NHL has you covered with six contests this evening, starting with two at 7:30 p.m. (Toronto at New Jersey and Nashville at Florida [TVAS]) and Carolina at Chicago (NHLN) an hour later. 9 p.m. marks the puck drop of the New York Islanders at Colorado, followed 60 minutes later by tonight’s co-nightcaps: Calgary at Vancouver and Arizona at Anaheim.

Short list:

  • Carolina at Chicago: Teuvo Teravainen played 115 games over three seasons in the United Center. Tonight, he wears white facing off against his old club.
  • Calgary at Vancouver: It’s rivalry night in British Columbia!

As badly as I want to feature the Hurricanes for the first time this season, Teravainen is not enough to pull me away from the rivalry taking place this evening in the ever-tightening Pacific Division.

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The Flames relocating from Atlanta to Cowtown in 1980 fulfilled a rivalry that needed only Canada’s best arena to be made complete: a hockey rink. The Rocky Mountains used to be the only thing separating these differing  cultural and political hubs of Western Canada, but the NHL has joined Calgary and Vancouver with the opportunity to claim superiority in the most definitive way possible.

Both all-time and as of late, Calgary has had the upper-hand in this matchup. In all regular and postseason meetings, the Flames have a 132-93-26-13 record against the rival Canucks, including a 111-76-26-13 record during the regular season.

Seven times these clubs have met up in the playoffs, and almost every time it has gone the Flames‘ way. Most recently, Calgary won their 2015 Western Conference Quarterfinals series in six games to improve their postseason-series record against the Canucks to 5-2.

Calgary enters tonight’s game on a two-game winning streak and with a 21-17-2 record, good enough for fourth place in the Pacific Division and, more importantly, seventh in the Western Conference. They’ve found that by playing a steady offense, scoring 107 goals – tied for 15th-most in the league.

Fourth-year player Johnny Gaudreau has been at the head of that effort, notching 26 points for the highest mark on the club. He beats Mikael Backlund by a lone point, but the center has something the left wing hasn’t: a dozen goals, the most on the squad by two tallies.

Part of that offensive success is due to a solid power play. The Flames are 10th-best with the man-advantage, burying 20.7% of their attempts. Gaudreau continues his excellent season in this department, with 10 power play points. Similarly, Backlund’s five extra-man goals is also still tops on the team.

Don’t overlook the Canucks this season. Blessed (#blessed?) with a weak Western Conference, 19-18-3 Vancouver sits only a point out of playoff position, thanks in part to their current five-game winning streak. What’s held them back so far this season has been some slightly leaky defense and goaltending that has allowed 115 goals, tying them for sixth-most tallies given up.

Although he’s seen only six more starts than Jacob Markstrom, 11-10-1 Ryan Miller has been the netminder of choice in Vancouver. In 23 starts, he’s notched a .912 save percentage and 2.65 GAA, the 29th-best effort in the league compared to the 47 other goalies with a dozen or more appearances.

While those numbers are far from exemplary, Miller can’t take full responsibility for the Canucks‘ struggles. The defense playing in front of him hasn’t given him much help, allowing 30.5 shots-per-game to reach his crease – tied for the 11th-highest average. It’s not that Vancouver doesn’t have good defensemen. In fact, Alexander Edler, Ben Hutton and Luca Sbisa all tie for the team lead in shot blocks, with 61 to their credit (Edler has been especially impressive, playing only 26 games compared to Hutton and Sbisa’s 40 appearances), tying them for 58th in the league.

Instead, it’s been the other three skaters that haven’t contributed. Combined, Troy Stecher and Nikita Tryamkin have blocked only 64 shots. Chris Tanev gets a pass, as tonight’s game will be only his 18th of the season. When he’s on the ice, Vancouver has an 11-4-2 record.

Now that Edler and Tanev are back on the ice, Vancouver hopes to improve their lackluster penalty kill that ranks 10th-worst after neutralizing only 80.3% of opposing power plays. Even after missing so many games, Edler’s 16 shorthanded blocks are still best on the team by a wide margin.

If I’m Vancouver, I’m more concerned about my power play, or lack thereof. The Canucks are fourth-worst in the NHL with the man-advantage, potting only 13.9% of their opportunities. Both Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin have eight power play points to the their names, which is just fine. It’s the fact that who’s scoring the goals – Loui Eriksson, D. Sedin and Brandon Sutter – are predictable. Combined, their 11 power play goals account for 65% of the man-advantage tallies. More skaters need to take responsibility for lighting the lamp, and in doing so, they’ll help increase the numbers of their established scoring stars.

These clubs have already met twice this season, and Calgary already has a slight 1-0-1 advantage. They most recently met two days before Christmas at the Saddledome, where the Flames 4-1. Tonight’s game is the first-half of a home-and-home series that completes tomorrow night.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Calgary‘s Chad Johnson (three shutouts [tied for fifth-most in the league]) should he play and Vancouver‘s Bo Horvat (12 goals among 27 points [both lead the team]).

Vegas has given a slight edge to the Flames, putting a +102 next to Vancouver‘s name. I’m going to side with Vegas on this one. Even if the Canucks‘ defense starts to buckle down and prevent Calgary from finding any rhythm, the Flames‘ defense should still be able to prevent their rivals from scoring.

Hockey Birthday:

  • Dickie Moore (1931-2015) – You know you’re good when you have won the Stanley Cup six times. That’s the case with this Hall-of-Fame left wing, who also has just as many All Star selections. A 12 season-alumnus of Montréal, the Art Ross Trophy collected dust on his mantle, as he won it two-straight seasons with a combined 180 points.
  • Scott Ferguson (1973-) – Although undrafted, this defenseman played in seven NHL seasons before calling it quits. Most of that time was with Edmonton, the team that gave him a chance out of juniors. He ended up playing in 201 games for the Oilers, earning 288 penalty minutes.
  • Richard Zednik (1976-) – A 10th-round pick by Washington in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing proved to have a very good career given his draft position. Although he played seven seasons with the Capitals, he played most his 745 games with Montréal. He notched 379 points before he took his sweater off the last time.
  • Adam Burish (1983-) – Drafted in the ninth round of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft by Chicago, this right wing played a nine-year career. Spending most of his time with the club that drafted him, he was finally rewarded in 2010 with a Stanley Cup.

With two goals in the third period, the Oilers were able to escape Boston with a 4-3 victory in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

They got off to a hot start, capped by First Star of the Game Patrick Maroon‘s (Third Star Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl) wrister that lit the lamp only 1:08 into the game. That lead lasted only 6:08 before Colin Miller (Austin Czarnik and Torey Krug) leveled the score with a slap shot.

They remained tied until 9:17 remained in the second period. Second Star Patrice Bergeron (David Pastrnak and Kevan Miller) is charged with breaking the draw with a solid snap shot. Just like earlier, that lead did not last long. Maroon (Eric Gryba and McDavid) waited only 3:26 before burying another wrister, once again knotting the game at two-all.

That was the first of three-straight goals by the Oilers. 14 seconds into the final period, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Matthew Benning) gave Edmonton a 3-2 lead, followed 8:48 later by Maroon’s hat-trick and eventual game-clinching shot. Edmonton tried their hardest to let the Bruins back into the game, sending both Gryba and Benoit Pouliot to the penalty box to give Boston a five-on-three power play, but David Krejci (Bergeron and Brad Marchand) could only manage one goal on the opportunity.

Cam Talbot earns the victory after saving 33-of-36 shots faced (91.7%), leaving the loss to Tuukka Rask, who saved 21-of-25 (84%).

Edmonton‘s victory sets the DtFR Game of the Day series at 46-26-13 in favor of the home sides, who have a 12 point lead over the road sides.

October 14 – Day Three – Everyday I’m Russellin’

Yesterday’s Game of the Day between Washington and Pittsburgh was exactly what we’d hoped it would be. Exciting. Tight. Competitive. It took a shootout for Pittsburgh to earn two points on a 3-2 victory that improved their record in banner-raising games to 3-0-1.

Third Star of the Game Andre Burakovsky (Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson) scored five-hole on First Star Marc-Andre Fleury only 59 seconds after the opening puck drop to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead.

The Pens leveled 8:47 into the second frame with a power play tally when Patric Hornqvist (Kris Letang and Second Star Evgeni Malkin) deflected a shot from the point to score on Braden Holtby. With 1:08 remaining in the frame, they took the lead when Malkin (Conor Sheary) faked out Holtby to sneak the puck behind his left skate.

Washington returned the favor with another Burakovsky (Backstrom and Matt Niskanen) tally to level the game with 13:47 remaining in regulation. That score held until the clock read zeroes, forcing three-on-thee overtime and, thanks to some incredible saves by Fleury, the shootout.

Pittsburgh elected to shoot first.

  1. Nick Bonino found glass.
  2. T.J. Oshie? Bueno.
  3. Malkin: Tickled the twine, top-shelf.
  4. Evgeny Kuznetsov: Fleury makes the stop.
  5. Letang: Lit the lamp.
  6. Backstrom: Keeps the shootout going.
  7. Phil Kessel: Rang one off the post. Originally called no good, it bounced out that fast.
  8. Alex Ovechkin: Rejected to give the Penguins the win.

Fleury saved 39-of-41 (95.1%) in his first victory of the season, while Holtby saved 28-of-30 (93.3%) in the shootout defeat.

With that result, the home teams improve to 4-1-0 in the DtFR Game of the Day series.

There’s three games going on this evening – a nice, light schedule. Chicago at Nashville kicks things off at 8 p.m. (NBCSN/TVAS), followed an hour later by Edmonton at Calgary (SN1/SN360). Philadelphia at Los Angeles clean things up at 10:30 p.m. All times eastern.

All three are great contests, but I’m drawn to the Battle of Alberta for the second time in three days. Not only is it a serious rivalry (any rivalry that has a name is serious), but it’s also Kris Russell‘s first game in Calgary since being traded to Dallas at the deadline last season.

Unknown-5Unknown-4This is both teams’ second fixture of the season, as well as their second meting of the three-day-old season. Wednesday night, the Oilers defended home ice 7-4 with Leon Draisaitl (A), Jordan Eberle (G), Zack Kassian (G), Oscar Klefbom (A), Adam Larsson (A), Patrick Maroon (G), First Star of the Game Connor McDavid (2G/A), Darnell Nurse (A), Tyler Pitlick (G), Jesse Puljujarvi (G), Second Star Russell (2A) and Andrej Sekera (A) all getting on the score sheet.

Who else to seal the Oil‘s first victory of the year than newly-christened Captain McDavid. His second goal of his sophomore season was an unassisted breakaway goal during four-on-four play in the middle frame.

Scoring for Calgary in the game was Third Star Mikael Backlund (2A), Lance Bouma (A), T.J. Brodie (A), Troy Brouwer (G), Alex Chiasson (G), Michael Frolik (G), Mark Giordano (A), Matt Stajan (A) and Dennis Wideman (G).

The shared province of Alberta is physically represented this season by defenseman Russell, who as of Wednesday has played for both clubs. Three seasons ago, Russell moved from St. Louis to Calgary. While there, he helped lead that 2014-15 Flames team to the Western Semifinals, a team that turns more into an aberration instead of foreshadowing by the game. He scored two goals and seven points that postseason, the most of any playoff appearance in his career, but the Flames were unable to build off that success and missed the playoffs last year.

Some players to keep an eye on tonight include Calgary‘s John Gaudreau (78 points last season [tied for sixth-most in the league]) and Edmonton‘s McDavid (two goals [tied for second in the league] and three points [tied for fifth in the NHL]), Russell (+3 [tied for seventh in the league]) and Cam Talbot (a win [tied for second-best in the league] on a .902 save percentage [10th-best in the NHL]).

Calgary enters the game favored by Vegas anywhere from -125 to -130, but I have a hard time thinking the Flames can pull out the win given the seven goals McDavid and co. put up the other night. Oilers improve to 2-0-0.

Hockey Birthday

  • Dave Schultz (1949-) – The Hammer was not simply an enforcer, he was an enforcer on the Philadelphia FlyersBroad Street Bullies teams of the 70s. An enforcer for enforcers, if you will. It’s not something he puts on his résumé anymore, even if he still holds the distinction of most penalty minutes in a season (472).  Nowadays, he’s a successful businessman.
  • Sylvain Lefebvre (1967-) – Most known for his days in Colorado, the defenseman played 14 seasons and hoisted one Stanley Cup. He’s still involved in hockey, specifically coaching the St. John’s IceCaps within Montréal‘s system, the first club he played for.

February 19 – Day 127 – Days Gone By

Washington‘s 3-2 victory over the Islanders was the second this week in the Game of the Day series that required overtime to determine the recipient of the two points.

It was actually New York who scored the first and only goal of the first period, courtesy of John Tavares’ wrister at the 15:41 mark, assisted by Nick Leddy (his 23rd helper of the season).

Washington leveled the score only 1:25 after returning from the intermission with a goal from Alex Ovechkin.  His wrister was assisted by Evggeny Kuzetsov (his 42nd helper of the season) and Justin Williams.  They took the lead only 1:37 later with another goal from Ovechkin, this time a snap shot on the power play.  This goal was assisted by Nicklas Backstrom (his 37th helper of the season) and T. J. Oshie.  The Capitals held the 2-1 lead into the second intermission.

New York leveled the game with only 1:44 remaining of the game.  Frans Nielsen takes credit, assisted by Kyle Okposo (his 30th helper of the season) and Travis Hamonic.

Washington had no interest in going to a shootout, so Williams made sure his slap shot with only 46 seconds remaining in overtime was pure, as he was assisted by John Carlson (his 25th helper of the season) and Matt Niskanen.

Braden Holtby earns the win after saving 20 of 22 (90.9%), while Thomas Greiss takes the loss after saving 32 of 35 (91.4%).

The Game of the Day series now stands at 56-29-12, favoring the home squads by 32 points over the roadies.

It’s not a very busy schedule this evening, as there’s only five games on the docket.  As usual, the action gets started at 7 p.m. eastern with three games (the New York Islanders at New Jersey, San Jose at Carolina and Buffalo at Columbus), while Philadelphia at Montréal (NHLN) dropping the puck half an hour later.  The final game of the night drops the puck at 9 p.m. eastern, when Vancouver visits Calgary.

There are only two divisional rivalries being played this evening (New York at New Jersey and Vancouver at Calgary), and none of the games are between teams currently qualifying for the playoffs.

Since Vancouver and Calgary met in the playoffs last season, let’s take a trip down memory lane and watch that game.

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Tonight’s game will be Vancouver‘s fifth in the Game of the Day series, where they currently own a 2-2-0 record.  Their most recent time featured was January 15 when they beat the Hurricanes 3-2 in overtime in Raleigh.  Calgary has been featured much more recently, as we focused on their game against the Ducks on Monday, which they lost 6-4.  That game was their second in the series, and they have yet to earn even a point when featured.

The 22-23-12 Vancouver Canucks currently sit in fifth place in the Pacific Division and 11th in the Western Conference, eight points out of a playoff position.  They play the 12th worst defense in the league, which is made even worse by being backed by the second-worst offense.

Even with Chris Tanev’s team-leading 124 blocks, Vancouver has still allowed 1759 shots to reach 12-17-9 Ryan Miller and co., of which they’ve saved 91.8% for 157 goals against, 12th-most in the league.  Although the defense has not played as well, the penalty kill has been slightly above average, killing 81.11% for 34 power play goals against, 14th-best in the league.

That being said, the Canucks‘ offense makes their defense look best in the league.  Even with Daniel Sedin’s 190 shots, Vancouver has only fired the puck 1607 times, with 8% finding the back of the net for 133 goals (led by Sedin’s 22 tallies), second-worst in the NHL.  Much of Vancouver‘s issues can be found by the lack of success on the power play, which ranks fifth-worst in the league by connecting on only 16.96% of extra-man opportunities for 29 power play goals (led by Sedin’s six).  To add insult to injury, Vancouver has allowed five short-handed goals, one more than the league average.

Vancouver is currently riding a three-game losing skid, with their most recent being a 5-2 loss to the Ducks last night in Rogers Arena.  A win this evening would pull the Canucks within two points of the Coyotes for fourth in the division and only six points out of a playoff position.

The 25-28-3 Calgary Flames currently sit in sixth in the Pacific Division and 13th in the Western Conference.  They play the 13th best offense in the league, paired with the fourth-worst defense.  A more in-depth analysis of Calgary‘s game can be found within Monday’s post.

Calgary is also riding a three-game win streak, with their most recent being a 5-3 loss to the Wild on Wednesday.  Should the Flames end their losing skid, they would move past Winnipeg into 13th position in the conference.

Calgary currently leads the season series against the Canucks 2-1-0, with their most recent meeting on February 6 in Vancouver, where the Flames won 4-1.

These teams also met in last season’s Western Conference Quarterfinal playoffs, where the Flames won the series 4-2 with a deciding 7-4 victory.

Some players to keep an eye on in tonight’s game include Calgary‘s Johnny Gaudreau (55 points [tied for seventh-most in the league]) and Vancouver‘s Sedin (46 points, with 22 goals, 16 of which were at even-strength and six were on the power play, with another six being game-winners, all on 190 shots [all lead the team]).

Neither team’s defense has played well at all this season, but Calgary seems to be the only team of these two prone to take advantage of that fact.  Expect the Flames to get two points.

February 15 – Day 123 – Happy Grammy Day!

Once again, the Bruins proved me wrong in my prediction, as they fell 6-5 in Detroit in yesterday’s Game of the Day.

Although they took the loss, Boston did set a positive franchise record, as Brad Marchand’s goal only eight seconds into the game, his 28th of the season, is the fastest-ever Bruins goal.  He was assisted by Brett Connolly.  Detroit leveled the game only 2:36 later with a Henrik Zetterberg backhander, his 11th tally of the season, assisted by Justin Abdelkader and Danny DeKeyser.  Again, Boston quickly broke the tie, when Zach Trotman scored his second of the season at the 2:58 mark with a slap shot.  Goal scoring subsided for a little while before the Bruins set the score at 3-1 with a Loui Eriksson tip-in, his 19th tally of the season, assisted by David Krejci and Jimmy Hayes.  The Wings got a goal back 1:47 later on the power play, scored by Pavel Datsyuk, assisted by Abdelkader (his 17th helper of the season) and Brad Richards.  The 3-2 Boston lead held into the intermission.

The Wings leveled the score only 3:13 into the second period with a goal from Darren Helm, assisted by Xavier Ouellet and Alexey Marchenko.  They followed that up with another goal only 3:25 later, courtesy of Datsyuk, who was assisted by Richards and Zetterberg (his 29th helper of the season).  The Wings‘ lead expanded to two with another goal from Helm, assisted by Marchenko and Kyle Quincey.  The Bruins got one back with Dennis Seidenberg’s first goal of the season at the 11:23 mark, assisted by Ryan Spooner (his 29th helper of the season).  The 5-4 Red Wings lead held into the second intermission.

Boston leveled the game only 38 seconds into the final period with a score from Joonas Kemppainen, assisted by Marchand and Krejci (his 31st helper of the season), but Detroit earned the last laugh with a deflection goal from Zetterberg, assisted by DeKeyser and Datsyuk (his 22nd helper of the season).

Petr Mrazek earns the win by saving 17 of 22 (77.3%), while Jonas Gustavsson, who replaced Tuukka Rask after he gave up the fifth goal (19 for 24, 79.2%), takes the loss after saving 10 of 11 (90.9%).

The Game of the Day series now stands at 55-27-11, favoring the home squad by 36 points over the roadies.

Happy Presidents’ and Grammys Day!  In honor of both of these “holidays,” we’ll try to keep the theme going in the schedule run-down.  The first game of the day is between the Motown Red Wings and the “New York State of Mind” Islanders at 1 p.m. eastern (NHLN), followed by Marcus Mumford’s Anaheim Ducks at “(Marie’s the Name) His Latest” Calgary Flames three hours later.  7:30 p.m. eastern brings with it the beginning of the “Black and Yellow” Pittsburgh Penguins and the “Pocketful of Sunrise Panthers (yeah, I know, just work with me), followed half an hour later by Switchfoot’s Dallas Stars at the “Crazy Town” Predators.  Drake’s Toronto Maple Leafs are “Goin’ to (the) Chicago” Blackhawks at 8:30 p.m. eastern (NHLN), and the Canadiens are almost “A Million Miles from Montréal,” visiting the Arizona Coyotes.  The “Born to be” Minnesota Wild getting ready for a Vancouver Shakedown” against the Canucks represents tonight’s nightcap at 10 p.m. eastern.

Only two of today’s seven games are between divisional rivals (Anaheim at Calgary and Dallas at Nashville), while another set of two are between teams currently qualifying for the playoffs (Detroit at New York and Dallas at Nashville).

While I’d usually go with the DallasNashville game, especially since they’re slated to meet each other in the first round, but we’re already committed to the Grammys spiel.  Because of that, and since Kendrick Lamar, the most nominated artist, is from Compton, Calif., we’ll go with the team he was born closest to (that’s playing today, the Kings are technically closer…): the Anaheim Ducks.

UnknownCalgary Flames Logo

 

 

 

Today’s game will be Anaheim‘s sixth in the Game of the Day series, where they currently own a 2-1-2 record.  Their most recent featured game was Saturday’s game in Chicago, a 3-2 overtime victory.  The only other time Calgary was featured was featured was their trip to Madison Square Garden on October 25, where they lost 4-1.

The 27-19-8 Anaheim Ducks currently occupy third in the Pacific Division and sixth in the Western Conference.  They have gotten themselves into playoff position with the second-best defense in the league, which has been more than necessary to cover for the worst offense in the NHL.  A more in-depth analysis of Anaheim‘s game can be found within Saturday’s post.

As the Ducks were off yesterday, their most recent game was Saturday’s 3-2 overtime victory in Chicago.  A win in today’s game pushes Anaheim past San Jose and back into second place in the division by a point.

The 25-26-3 Calgary Flames currently sit in sixth in the Pacific Division and 12th, or third worst, in the Western Conference.  The main reason they are in that position is because of their fifth-worst defense, as the offense actually ranks 15th-best.

The Flames, led by John Gaudreau’s 143 shots, have fired only 1555 shots, of which 9.3% have found the back of the net for 144 goals (led by Gaudreau’s 21 tallies), 15th best in the league.  That could actually be better if it wasn’t for the power play, which is second worst.  Calgary has only optimized on 14.86% of opportunities for only 26 extra-man goals (led by Mark Giordano’s five power play tallies), seven fewer than the league average.

The problems for Calgary have been on the other end.  Thanks in part to Kris Russell’s team-leading 174 blocks, only 1572 shots have made their way to the injured 17-18-1 Karri Ramo and co., of which they’ve collectively saved only 90.3% for 160 goals against, fifth-most in the league.  While it is not completely the problem, part of the issue has been the Flames‘ penalty kill which, just like the power play, ranks second-worst in the league.  The Flames have neutralized only 75% of opposing power plays for 35 extra-man goals against.

Calgary‘s most recent game was a 4-1 loss in Arizona on Friday.  Should Calgary win today, they will move only a point behind 11th place in the Western Conference, and six points behind the second wildcard position.

Today’s game will be the third in the season series, which Anaheim currently leads 2-0-0.  Their most recent meeting was way back on December 29 in this building, where the Ducks won 1-0.

This game is also special in the sense that it is a rematch of one of last season’s Western Conference Semifinals, which the Ducks ultimately won in five games before falling to the Blackhawks in the conference finals.

Some players to keep an eye on include Anaheim‘s Ryan Getzlaf (36 assists [tied for seventh-most in the league]) and John Gibson (four shutouts [tied for fourth-best in the league] and 2.11 GAA [fifth-best in the league]) & Calgary‘s T.J. Brodie (+15 and two short-handed assists [both lead the team]) and Gaudreau (30 assists, nine of which were on a power play, and 21 goals, 18 of which were at even-strength and six were game-winners, for 51 points on 143 shots [all lead the team]).

Anaheim has been in control of this series of late, and I don’t expect anything to change now.  As long as Anaheim‘s defense continues to play lights-out like they have been all season, they should be all set for two points.