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Nashville Predators 2018-19 Season Preview

Nashville Predators

53-18-11, 117 points, Presidents’ Trophy winners

Lost in the Second Round to Winnipeg (4-3)

Additions: C Colin Blackwell, LW Connor Brickley, RW Rocco Grimaldi, D Dan Hamhuis, C Zachary Magwood, LW Zac Rinaldo, D Jarred Tinordi

Subtractions: C Cody Bass, LW Brandon Bollig, D Stefan Elliott, D Alexei Emelin, C Mike Fisher, D Petter Granberg, LW Scott Hartnell, G Anders Lindback, C Mark McNeil, G Matt O’Connor, D Rick Pinkston, D John Ramage, C Trevor Smith, D Scott Valentine, LW Harry Zolnierczyk

Re-signed: D Ryan Ellis, RW Ryan Hartman, W Miikka Salomaki, G Juuse Saros

Offseason Analysis: The Predators had all the ingredients of a Stanley Cup winner last year. The offense was solid, the defense was stifling, and the goaltending was world-class. They boasted largely the same group that had made it all the way to the Final in 16-17, so now they had the experience and know-how that allows teams to get to the promised land. They dominated the regular season and walked into the playoffs with a Vince McMahon-like strut. Mike Fisher was so confident in their abilities to win a Cup that he quite literally decided he’d rather get back into hockey shape and unretire to join them for the playoffs rather than stay home and be Carrie Underwood’s husband (she never did return my letters about being her fill-in husband while he was away).

After dispatching of the Avs in the First Round, though, the Preds encountered a problem. They encountered (arguably) the one team that was capable of beating them: the Winnipeg Jets. The knock-down, drag-out playoff matchup hockey fans and media were begging for was to be the downfall of the Preds. Winnipeg’s unrelenting physicality, superior offensive firepower and the shattering of Pekka Rinne‘s confidence were too much for the Preds to overcome, and they’d fall unceremoniously in a 5-1 home loss after managing to force a Game 7.

Luckily for the Nashville brass, the offseason they faced wasn’t supremely daunting. Apart from a few young RFA’s and some aging role players (plus the re-retirement of Fisher), they had no real NHL-level contract concerns. The core of the team was secure heading into the 18-19 campaign. But still the sting of defeat in back-to-back potential Cup-winning years hurt, and efforts to counter a potential third year of the same had to be made.

With no draft picks until the fourth round, GM David Poile instead focused on free agency to bring immediate help to his team. When things opened up on July 1, he first tasked himself with helping them from within, re-signing wingers Miikka Salomaki (two years, $750 thousand per) and Ryan Hartman (one year, $875 thousand) and young stud No. 2 goaltender Juuse Saros (three years, $1.5 million per) to very reasonable deals. He then snagged one of his former draft picks in Dan Hamhuis, inking the 35-year-old to a two-year, $2.5 million contract to replace the departed Alexei Emelin and solidify the defense. Poile then knocked a big task off of next year’s to-do list when he signed defenseman Ryan Ellis to an eight-year, $50 million contract extension ($6.25 million cap hit) that takes hold next summer. Ellis has grown into one of the Preds’ most versatile and reliable defenders, and Poile saw no reason to wait on locking him up for the foreseeable future.

Few other signings were notable names, mostly organizational depth, although newcomers Rocco Grimaldi, Zac Rinaldo, Colin Blackwell, and AHL-contracted Brian Cooper have made noise to this point in training camp and are all still on the preseason roster heading into the final days/cuts.

Up front, the lineup will look largely unchanged from last year’s group, with really only depth positions likely up for grabs. Winger Scott Hartnell was the only full-timer from last year to depart, and 2017 first round pick Eeli Tolvanen looks poised to inherit his place in the lineup. While lacking Hartnell’s snarl, Tolvanen is a deadly shooter and spent last year lighting up the Finnish Elite League as a rookie fresh out of the USHL. With success in a men’s league and experience on North American ice, Tolvanen should be ready for an NHL roster spot. The only other notable absence, at least to start the season, will be the lack of power forward winger Austin Watson. The 26-year-old was suspended for the first 27 games of the season after pleading no contest to charges of domestic battery over the summer. It comes after Watson finally solidified his place in the Predators lineup last season, and they’ll have to make due without his size and physicality for at least the first few months of the year.

In Watson’s absense, I have the opening night forward group looking like:
Forsberg – Johansen – Arvidsson
Fiala – Turris – Smith
Tolvanen – Bonino – Sissons
Salomaki – Jarnkrok – Hartman
Extra forwards Grimaldi and Frederick Gaudreau

The defense also only lost one regular from last year, and Hamhuis should step right into that slot. Really only the No. 6 slot to his right remains a question, and while Matt Irwin and Anthony Bitetto are more than capable, they both have an uphill battle to unseat Yannick Weber based solely upon the fact that he’s the only right handed shot among them. The only problem facing the Preds here is that none of the three are on two-way contracts, so basically they get to decide who they’re most comfortable putting on waivers. In the end I think Irwin’s NHL experience could give him the edge in that decision.

Defensive lineup should look like:
Josi – Ellis
Ekholm – Subban
Hamhuis – Weber
Extra defender Irwin

In goal, it’s Pekka Rinne and Jusse Saros. Sorry I couldn’t make that any more entertaining.

Er, well, it is a contract year for Rinne. So… umm… that’ll be interesting, I guess.

Offseason Grade: B

Less really was more, here.

Poile played it smart, as he often does. He kept his spending to a minimum (the Preds should enter the season with a smidge north of $8 million to play with) and used the depth he’s accumulated to still ice one of the better lineups in the league.

The defense is arguably the best (or at least top three) in the league, and none of the top seven are in contract years. (In fact, only four forwards likely to make the NHL club are to see free agency next year, and every one of them is still RFA eligible)

Rinne is likely looking at his last shot at a Cup as a No. 1 guy (he’ll turn 36 this year), so he’ll be leaving nothing on the table.

The forward group is solid, if not spectacular. But with all that aforementioned cap space available, scoring punch can certainly be brought in sometime before the deadline if it proves to be a concern heading towards the playoffs.

We haven’t seen the last of Smashville playoff runs.

Calgary Flames 2018-19 Season Preview

Calgary Flames

37-35-10, 84 points, 5th in the Pacific Division

Additions: F Austin Czarnik, D Noah Hanifin, F Elias Lindholm, RW James Neal, RW Anthony Peluso, C Alan Quine, C Derek Ryan, LW Kerby Rychel

Subtractions: RW Troy Brouwer, LW Micheal Ferland, LW Tanner Glass, D Cody Goloubef, D Dougie Hamilton, C Rod Pelley, C Matt Stajan, RW Chris Stewart, RW Kris Versteeg

Re-signed: G Jon Gillies, RW Garnet Hathaway, C Mark Jankowski, LW Morgan Klimchuk, D Brett Kulak, G David Rittich

Offseason Analysis: Armed with one of the most potent top line/top defense pairing combos in the league, and with newly-acquired Mike Smith in net, hopes were high for the Flames to make some noise coming into the ’17-’18 campaign. Unfortunately, the noises they made were somewhat akin to a fish flopping around on the deck of a boat.

In a season that the term ‘streaky’ could possibly be defined by, Calgary often swung from appearing unbeatable to looking as if they had no idea what they were doing (and anywhere in between) on a game-by-game, week-by-week, and month-by-month basis. Managing to hang around in the wild card conversation through February, they’d finish the year with a dismal 6-13-1 record in their last 20 games, missing the playoffs for the seventh time in nine years.

Head coach Glen Gulutzan (along with assistants Dave Cameron and Paul Gerrard) was promptly sacked at season’s end and replaced with the newly-resigned Hurricanes coach Bill Peters. It wouldn’t be the only Carolina-linked theme of the offseason, either.

Faced with a draft stock that featured no picks until the 4th round, GM Brad Treliving had to use the phone at his table rather than his scouting staff to try and make an immediate impact on his team on draft weekend in Dallas. In one of the bigger trades in recent memory, Calgary dealt blue-chip defender Dougie Hamilton, hard-nosed winger Michael Ferland, and prospect Adam Fox to Carolina in exchange for young d-man Noah Hanifin and versatile scoring forward Elias Lindholm.

Now, I was one of few to take a stand in defending this trade as equal (most found it to be heavily in Carolina’s favor on face value). While I admittedly know little about Fox (I’m told he projects as possibly a decent complimentary player at the NHL level), everyone else in this trade is a fairly proven commodity. Hamilton is admittedly probably the better all-around defenseman, but Hanifin might be a better fit for Calgary, as his game is traditionally a bit more reliable. With Ferland’s departure, they do lose some grit and complimentary goal scoring, but they still have no shortage of snarl, and it’s doubtful his 21-goal, 41-point campaign last year will ever be bettered. Lindholm, while not a natural goal scorer, is a skilled playmaker and has already twice surpassed Ferland’s career-best numbers, while being three years his junior. His ability to play the right side if needed also bolsters a thin depth chart at the position.

Treliving would make another splash soon after the draft, snagging sniper James Neal on the opening day of free agency, and signing him to a five-year, $5.75 million contract. The contract is probably a bit long for a 31-year-old already showing signs of losing foot speed, and Neal’s production has dipped a bit in recent years, but he’s still a near-lock for 25 goals and 45-50 points. Plus, playing alongside Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau never hurt anybody.

The Flames would nab a few other pieces in free agency, in particular bolstering their center depth with adds like Tyler Graovac, Alan Quine, and Austin Czarnik. Perhaps their biggest under-the-radar move was acquiring another former Hurricane in Derek Ryan. The 31-year-old journeyman center finally found an NHL home in Carolina the past few years, blossoming into a solid 3C capable of consistent ~35 point production in addition to reliable PK work and a sublime faceoff record. With the departure of Matt Stajan, the Flames took advantage of Peters’ prior experience with Ryan to fill the hole. They also added some depth on the wings in Kerby Rychel (via trade) and Anthony Peluso, along with notable re-signings Garnet Hathaway, Morgan Klimchuk, and Mark Jankowski.

The prospect pool is a bit thin, but Morgan Klimchuk stands out as a threat to potentially grab himself a roster spot with a strong camp.

I have the forward corps looking something similar to this:
Gaudreau – Monahan – Neal
Tkachuk – Backlund – Lindholm
Bennett – Ryan – Frolik
Jankowski – Quine – Hathaway
Extra forwards Curtis Lazar and Austin Czarnik

On defense, things have shaken up a bit with the breakup of one of the league’s best pairings. Fleet-footed T.J. Brodie looks poised to grab the No. 2 defense slot next to captain Mark Giordano, though his sometimes-risky style of play could be of concern for top pair minutes.

Outside of the Hanifin/Hamilton deal, the Flames changed little about their defense corps in the offseason. Brett Kulak being awarded a one-year deal in arbitration was probably the biggest news. Longtime SHL stalwart Marcus Hogstrom was signed to a one-year, two-way deal to add some depth, and towering Viktor Svedberg, who saw some time with the Blackhawks last year, is heading to training camp on a PTO.

The defensive prospect pool is much deeper and more intriguing than the forwards. Juuso Valimaki is a highly touted prospect and Calgary’s ’17 1st round pick, but has yet to play North American pro hockey, so it’s likely he’ll spend the year in Stockton getting adjusted. Josh Healey brings a solid defensive game, but struggled to find the offensive touch he had at Ohio State in his first pro season last year. Oliver Kylington is a smart, if slightly undersized two-way defender that has shown well so far in the AHL. My personal pick to sneak his way onto the opening night roster, though, is Rasmus Andersson. He’s had no trouble adapting his offensive game to the pro level (nine goals and 39 points in Stockton last year) and his 215-pound frame bodes well for holding up to the rigors of the NHL. His right handed shot and offensive abilities bode well as a potential Hamilton replacement should the Flames find themselves in need of some extra defensive scoring.

The defense looks a little something like this:
Giordano – Brodie
Hanifin – Hamonic
Kulak – Stone
Extra defender either Dalton Prout or the aforementioned Andersson

In net the depth chart looks to remain the same as last year after the re-signing of backup David Rittich to a one-year deal. Calgary will likely just hope for steadier play from Mike Smith (really from the entire team in general) to improve their fortunes as they continue to groom all-world prospect Jon Gillies for the eventual No. 1 job. Smith will turn 37 this year and is in the last year of his contract, so expect another year in the AHL for Gillies before taking the reigns in ’19-’20.

Offseason Grade: C-

They made a coaching change. They fired the coach of their 21st-place team and hired the coach of the 20th place team. C-

They got Noah Hanifin. They probably gave up a bit too much to get him. C-

They signed James Neal. They signed him for too long. C-

They didn’t lose most of their expiring contracts. They were all pretty average players. C-

March 11 – Day 151 – I’Monahan-d it to ya, today’s slate would be more interesting after a few glasses of Bailey’s.

For those of you who expected less cringe-inducing puns with @connorzkeith on the IR, these past 3 days have surely been painful. My gracious cohorts have blessed me with the weekend’s slimmest pickings on this 4-game Sunday, so let’s just have a rundown of the games on the slate, shall we?

At 12:30pm EST (so that’s 11:30am local, on the morning of the time change, so let’s see how well the legs get moving at a typical morning skate timeslot on short rest) we have the scorching-hot Boston Bruins taking on 2003’s Chicago Blackhawks (for those of us who can remember a time where they were a bad team). An Original 6 matchup at the Madhouse on Madison would normally get the nod for Game of the Day (NBC gave it to them) but the Hawks are a shell of their former selves and are limping home to lick their wounds in the offseason while Boston runs roughshod over nearly every opponent they come into contact with. I’m not expecting a barnburner here.

At 7:30pm EST we have a tilt that could be fun, with two high-flying offenses squaring off in Pittsburgh as the Penguins host the Dallas Stars. The Penguins’ balanced attack will attempt to counter the OP Benn-Seguin-Radulov combo in a showdown that wouldn’t actually shock me if the final score was 9-8. But the possibility of a blowout snoozer (in either direction) definitely persists with a pair of teams that occasionally lay absolute eggs defensively, so I’m going to pass on this one for today’s honor.

At 9:00pm EST we have the very, very bad Arizona Coyotes hosting the ‘so bad we traded Thomas Vanek for Jussi Jokinen and Tyler Motte‘ Vancouver Canucks in the ‘Duel for Dahlin’. I…I just cannot be bothered to care about this game.

So then we are left with just one option, and the matchup that has earned the nomination for my first (and hopefully only) Game of the Day matchup:

Yes the old bitter rivalry between the Islanders and Flames is well-documented, and this one should live up to all the hype! [/sarcasm]

Alright, but really, this has the potential to actually be sort of fun.

Calgary is returning home after winning two straight on the road (a 5-1 thumping of Buffalo and a 2-1 victory over the Sens) for the start of a brief homestand, and are currently neck-deep in an absolute knock-down, drag-out, bare-knuckle brawl for the Western Conference wild card spots (5 points seperate 5 teams) and also trail San Jose and Anaheim by just 3 and 2 points respectively for 2nd and 3rd in the Pacific division.

Meanwhile, in Long Island (Brooklyn), the Isles are clinging desperately to their playoff dreams, as they haven’t won a game since February 16th, but have managed to snag pity points in 4 of the 8 losses. They’re a solid distance off of the final wild card spot, but the Devils team they’re chasing has been a bit shaky recently, and with their next 4 games against divisional opponents, with 3 coming on home ice (in fact they play 7 of 10 at Barclays to close out March), they desperately need to use this game to grab some momentum if they hope to mount any sort of a charge at sneaking into the postseason.

In the ‘fun-to-watch’ department, both of these squads give you no shortage of reasons to tune into this tilt. Calgary boasts a trio of 20-goal men in Michael Ferlund, Johnny Gaudreau, and Matthew Tkachuk, along with 30-goal scorer Sean Monahan. The latter is probably the most underrated pure sniper in the league today, possessing the kind of shot that leaves jaws agape and goaltenders waving hopelessly at thin air. Gaudreau is as shifty and entertaining as anyone, and routinely makes plays that make you question his relationship with physics. Throw in the young trio of offensively talented spark plugs in Ferlund, Tkachuk, and Sam Bennett (55 goals, 111 points, and 134 penalty minutes between them), and you have a fun group up front.

Even on defense the Flames have no shortage of entertainers. Captain Mark Giordano continues to make his case for the best defenseman in the league that no one has heard of, joining the flashy TJ Brodie and power play specialist Dougie Hamilton as Calgary’s trio of 30+ point d-men. Plus you can always count on some bone-jarring hits from Travis Hamonic to liven things up.

For the Islanders, the offense borders on the overpowering. New York has 3 players at point-per-game paces (okay, fine, Tavares has 67 in 68 games, whatever) and a host of others scoring more than their fair share. Captain John Tavares and linemate Anders Lee are both sitting on 31 goals this year, with Tavares’ aforementioned 67 points slightly overshadowing Lee’s 51. Josh Bailey continues his breakout campaign posting 65 points in 64 games, while new addition Jordan Eberle has posted 47 points so far, himself. But the biggest story is without a doubt rookie sensation Mathew Barzal. The diminutive youngster has posted 69 points in 68 games and is the hands-down favorite for the Calder Trophy this year.

The Isles can’t boast the same defensive firepower as Calgary, but Nick Leddy‘s 38 points outdo any single member of the Flames’ big three (although his Mike Commodore ‘Green Jacket’-worthy -33 rating beggars belief). Ryan Pulock and his 105mm Howitzer of a point shot come 2nd on the team at 21 points, but possibly most impressive has been young Thomas Hickey, who’s 20 points are accompanied by a +15 rating. On a team with a -24 goal differential, that’s immensely impressive.

The biggest divider between the two squads comes in net.

Mike Smith has been everything the Flames and their flashy-but-risky style of play could have hoped for. Posting a .921 save percentage and 2.53 GAA on the year, he has been just the steadying influence the Flames have asked him to be.

Now…for the Islanders…basically the entirety of their problems can be traced to their goaltending situation. As I wrote in my season preview article many months ago, for New York it was going to come down to either Jaroslav Halak takes over the net and leads them to success, or they’re going to have a bad time.

They’re having a bad time.

Halak has managed just a .908 save percentage with a 3.23 GAA in 47 contests this year, and while backup Thomas Greiss does possess a seemingly-fine 11-7-2 record, many of his appearances have been in relief and his numbers are even more abysmal at .891 and 3.84. If the Islanders had even average goaltending, that offense would have them firmly in the playoff picture. Instead, they’re clinging to hopes and dreams.

Two hungry teams with flashy offenses and risky styles of play should make for a fun game, so I’ll put my stamp on Islanders @ Flames for today’s DTFR Game of the Day.

In yesterday’s Game of the Day segment, @nlanciani53 told you that you should watch the Washington Capitals attempt to right the ship on their west coast swing against the San Jose Sharks.

I assume he’d like me to apologize for that.

On a day full of fun games, the Sharks and Caps played to a bit of a snoozer, with Washington eventually winning 2-0 in the Shark Tank.

Philipp Grubauer managed a 23-save shutout, but teammate Alex Ovechkin was also shutout once again in his pursuit of 600 career goals. In fact, aside from Nick Backstrom tally in the final 2 minutes of the 2nd period, nobody managed to beat a goaltender the entire game, as Lars Eller‘s 2-0 dagger was scored into an empty net in the 3rd.

March 5 – Day 145 – Tastes like chicken

It’s another fun-filled Monday in the NHL, as five games are on tonight’s schedule.

The action finds its start at 7 p.m. with Calgary at Pittsburgh (SN/TVAS), followed half an hour later by Toronto at Buffalo (NBCSN). Next up is Ottawa at Dallas (RDS) at 8:30 p.m., with Arizona at Edmonton waiting 30 minutes before dropping the puck. Finally, the New York Islanders visit Vancouver at 10 p.m. as tonight’s nightcap. All times Eastern.

I’d marked the Battle of the QEW on my calendar before the season started, but the Sabres have been just too disappointing this season to merit our honing in on that game.

Instead, let’s see what the Flames have to offer against the two-time defending champions.

 

After enjoying the thrills of an eight-game point streak and six-game winning streak, the last four tilts have not been a pleasurable experience for the 37-25-4 Penguins. Since February 24, Pittsburgh has earned a lowly 1-3-0 record, with that lone victory being a 3-2 overtime win over the defensively-inept Islanders on Saturday.

For those wondering, the problem has not been the Penguins’ offense. In fact, even through three loss, Pittsburgh’s offense is still managing 3.5 goals per game since February 24, the (t)11th-best attack in the NHL in that time. F Evgeni Malkin (2-4-6 totals in his last four games) and RW Phil Kessel (1-4-5 in that same time) have both been brilliant to average more than a point per game in spite of the team’s struggles, and their efforts are made only more impressive by the fact that they rarely share time on the same line except on the power play.

Instead, the issues have clearly been in net, which makes sense considering 23-13-2 G Matt Murray sustained a concussion (yes, Pens fans: another one) after taking a puck to the head in practice on February 26.

Assuming Murray will be unable to play today, a flip of a coin might be the best way to figure out if 3-4-0 G Casey DeSmith or 11-5-2 G Tristan Jarry is going to earn the nod tonight considering they’ve effectively alternated during this run (if that trend continues, expect DeSmith tonight since Jarry was in net for the overtime win on Saturday).

Statistically speaking, neither has given Head Coach Mike Sullivan a compelling reason to start either lately, as DeSmith has posted an .86 save percentage and 5.65 GAA in his last two starts while Jarry has only an .855 save percentage and 4.5 GAA to his credit in his last three appearances. Comparing them for the entire season, both have posted identical .913 save percentages, but Jarry’s 2.68 GAA is slightly better than DeSmith’s 2.73.

Fortunately for the Pens, 32-25-9 Calgary does not come to the Steel City in their top form – largely facing the same troubles currently harassing the Penguins: an injury to its starting goaltender.

23-16-6 G Mike Smith has been on injured reserve with a strained groin since February 11, which has forced 2-2-0 G Jon Gillies and 6-5-3 G David Rittich into the spotlight. Given the circumstances, they’ve performed moderately well, as Gillies has managed a .906 save percentage and 2.61 GAA in his two most recent starts, while Rittich posted an .879 save percentage and 4.13 GAA last Wednesday in Colorado.

With both netminders having fewer than 15 NHL starts under their belts, it makes sense that the skaters are doing all they can to lighten the workload for their patchwork goaltending tandem that has been put in a tough spot. Their defensive work has certainly paid off in these last few games, as D Travis Hamonic (1.7 blocks per game since February 27) and RW Garnet Hathaway (2.3 hits per game in the last three games) have led the way to allowing an average of only 29 shots against per game since February 27, the sixth-fewest in the league.

However, that attention to detail in the defensive end has come at a major cost to Calgary’s attack. In their past three games, the Flames have scored only three goals, or one per game – the fewest in the league since February 27 and an average that requires a shutout effort from those inexperienced goaltenders. Currently riding a four-game pointless skid due to focusing on defense while playing on the opposite wing, W Johnny Gaudreau‘s scoring touch is desperately needed for this Flames team.

Calgary has already hosted its half of the annual home-and-home series between these inter-conference foes. The score read 1-1 at the end of regulation, but overtime lasted only 2:19 before D Mark Giordano scored the overtime game-winner for the Flames to earn them the bonus point.

It goes without saying that both teams can benefit from earning two points this evening. Should the Pens add another win to their record, they’d advance into second place in the Metropolitan Division – one point ahead of Philadelphia (Philly will have a game in hand) and one point behind Washington (the Caps will have two games in hand).

It seems all but certain that Pittsburgh will be in the Stanley Cup playoffs this April, but the same cannot be said of the Flames, who currently trail second wild card Los Angeles by four points. With Colorado and St. Louis both ahead of Calgary in the standings, it will be a heated race between those four teams for the West’s eighth seed, meaning the Flames can’t afford to drop many points in their remaining 16 fixtures if they want to play more than 82 games this season.

In games like this one, its going to boil down to which goaltender can make the most saves, as I’m fully confident in both offenses when they put the pedal to the medal. If that proves to be the case, this game favors the Penguins heavily, as it will be tough for either Gillies or Rittich to completely shutdown Pittsburgh’s mighty attack.


The Florida Panthers’ winning ways continued in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they beat the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 at BB&T Center.

It took only 2:41 of action for the Panthers to find their first goal, and it was largely due to D Radko Gudas‘ interference penalty against W Jamie McGinn. With the Flyer in the penalty box, Second Star of the Game C Aleksander Barkov (D Keith Yandle and First Star G Roberto Luongo) scored a power play backhanded shot to set the score at 1-0. 12:08 later, Third Star W Evgeni Dadonov (F Nick Bjugstad and D Aaron Ekblad) provided what proved to be the game-winning goal.

The play started in Florida’s defensive zone with Ekblad and F Travis Konecny scrapping for possession in the corner to Luongo’s left. While they were preoccupied with roughing each other up, Bjugstad sneaked into the play to take control of the puck and sling it towards center ice for Dadonov, who had read the play perfectly to set up a one-on-one situation with G Petr Mrazek. Once he was inside the left face-off circle, Dadonov used a snap shot to beat the goaltender glove side.

Only one tally was registered in the second period, and it belonged to Florida to set the score at 3-0. With 1:54 remaining before the second intermission, Dadonov (Barkov and D Alexander Petrovic) scored his second goal of the game with a snapper.

F Jonathan Huberdeau (McGinn and D Mark Pysyk) provided the Panthers their final goal of the game with a backhander at the 2:47 mark of the third period. Though Konecny (D Brandon Manning and F Claude Giroux) was able to help Philadelphia escape being shutout by scoring a wrist shot with 3:21 remaining in regulation, his marker did little to influence the final result of this afternoon tilt.

Luongo earned the victory after saving 39-of-40 shots faced (.975 save percentage), leaving the loss to Mrazek, who saved 22-of-26 (.846).

Not only are the Panthers rolling, but so too are the home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Yesterday’s victory was the fifth-straight by the 79-47-19 hosts, who now own a dominant 28-point lead over the roadies.

February 28 – Day 140 – Volcanic eruption

Almost every game  being played tonight is being televised nationally in Canada, so I want no complaints about nothing to watch this evening. I’ll hear none of them!

As it so often does, today’s action finds its start at 7 p.m. with a pair of matchups (the New York Islanders at Montréal [RDS/SN] and Buffalo at Tampa Bay [TVAS]), followed an hour later by Detroit at St. Louis (NBCSN). Next up is Calgary at Colorado (SN360) at 9:30 p.m., trailed half an hour later by tonight’s nightcap: the New York Rangers at Vancouver. All times Eastern.

It is true that the Blues and Red Wings are reviving their former rivalry tonight, but there’s much more pressing matters taking place in the Rocky Mountains.

 

Currently sitting a point behind second wild card Anaheim, the 32-22-9 Flames are trying their hardest to stay within an arm’s reach of the playoff picture. They’ve posted a 2-1-1 record in their last four showings, due in large part to the solid play of their defense.

Since February 19, Calgary has allowed an average of only 30 shots against per game. That’s the (t)seventh-best mark in the league in that time, and the Flames owe it all to LW Johnny Gaudreau (averaging 1.8 takeaways per game since February 19), D Travis Hamonic (2.6 blocks per game in his last five showings) and F Curtis Lazar (averaging three hits per game over this run).

Gaudreau’s effort in particular stands out to me, as he’s usually known for his production on the offensive end of the ice considering he’s managed only a +12 goal-differential with his 20-53-73 season totals. However, with 23-16-6 G Mike Smith still recovering from his groin injury, Johnny Hockey has led the charge in making life as easy as possible for 2-1-0 G Jon Gillies while he fills in for the former Coyote.

Another way to keep the pressure off a young goalkeeper thrust into the limelight is by providing some attacking support on the other end. That’s where LW Matthew Tkachuk (3-2-5 totals since February 19) and Gaudreau (1-4-5 in his last four showings) come into play, as they’ve both averaged a point per game recently to spearhead an attack that has managed 2.8 goals per game since last Monday – the 10th-best scoring average in the league in that time.

Every year keeps getting better for Tkachuk. He posted impressive 13-35-48 totals in 76 games during his rookie season to finish seventh in voting for the Calder Trophy, and he’s only improved to post 24-23-47 marks this year. If the Flames can do nothing else, they certainly know how to identify talent at the left wing position.

Meanwhile, 33-24-5 Colorado – only a season removed from one of the worst campaigns in NHL history – is just three points behind the Ducks for the eight seed in the Western Conference. Similar to Calgary, the Avalanche are 2-1-1 in their past four showings, but Colorado has been finding its success largely on the offensive end.

There is a chiropractor in Denver making a whole lot of money off F Nathan MacKinnon, because the 22-year-old has put this entire team on his back since returning from injury. He’s averaged two points per game in his last four showings, managing 4-4-8 totals in that time.

Okay, so maybe it hasn’t been all MacKinnon. D Tyson Barrie (1-5-6 totals since February 20) and RW Mikko Rantanen (2-3-5) have also been pretty solid during this run. Together, they’ve willed the Avs to scoring 2.75 goals per game over the past eight days – the (t)11th-best scoring rate in the NHL in that time.

What’s been most impressive about Colorado lately is its unstoppable power play. Posting only a middle-of-the-pack 20.1 percent success rate for the entire season, the Avalanche have boasted 46.2 conversion percentage in their past four showings.

It is largely with the man-advantage where Barrie comes into play, as it’s on the power play where he registered his most recent goal and four of his last five assists. In fact, Barrie and MacKinnon have combined on five of the Avs’ six power play goals scored during this run. Calgary’s penalty kill has been good lately (neutralizing 85.7 of its infractions since February 20), but the Flames would still be wise to avoid the sin bin at all costs tonight.

Tonight’s game is the finale of the three-game regular season series between the Avs and Flames. Calgary has already clinched victory in the first two matchups, winning 3-2 in Denver on November 25 (C Mikael Backlund provided the game-winner in the second period) and 5-1 in Alberta four days ago (Backlund took First Star honors with his 1-2-3 performance).

With Anaheim being dormant this evening, a Calgary win of any variety would propel the Flames past the Ducks into the second wild card (technically, Calgary would tie Los Angeles for third in the Pacific, but lose a games played tiebreaker). Should Colorado be the club to come away with a regulation win, the Avs would jump from 11th in the Western Conference to ninth, only one point behind the Ducks.

It is true that the Avalanche have home ice this evening, but I feel confident the Flames can earn two points tonight. However, if they can’t keep D Nikita Zadorov – the club’s leader in penalty minutes – out of trouble, Colorado’s power play will show no mercy en route to a victory.


Have yourself a game, First Star of the Game D Roman Josi! He registered five assists in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, leading the Nashville Predators to a 6-5 victory over the Winnipeg Jets at MTS Bell Centre.

Unbelievably, a game that ended with 11 combined goals featured no goals in the first period even though the Preds and Jets fired 24 shots on goal altogether.

The second period made up for that offensive drought with a whopping seven goals.

The scoreless draw wasn’t broken until the 2:45 mark of the second period, courtesy of a F Matt Hendricks (RW Joel Armia and C Andrew Copp) wrist shot. Winnipeg’s advantage lasted 6:10 before Third Star F Craig Smith (Josi) leveled the game, but C Mark Scheifele (F Jack Roslovic and LW Kyle Connor) returned the advantage to the Jets and provided a brace (Second Star C Paul Stastny and RW Blake Wheeler) by the 14:23 mark – all in the span of 1:42.

The Preds saw Winnipeg’s two-straight goals and matched them with two of their own. Only 44 seconds after Scheifele’s second goal, C Kyle Turris (W Viktor Arvidsson and Josi) pulled Nashville back within a 3-2 deficit, followed by D Mattias Ekholm (F Calle Jarnkrok and Josi) leveling the game with a power play snap shot with 2:54 remaining in the frame. W Nikolaj Ehlers (RW Patrik Laine and D Ben Chiarot) scored the final goal of the period 33 seconds after Ekholm’s marker, setting the score at 4-3 going into the intermission.

Winnipeg earned its second two-goal lead of the night at the exact midway point of the third period when Stastny (Ehlers and Laine) scored a wrister – his first goal as a Jet – but the Preds proved they are more than capable of staging even the biggest of comebacks. Only 55 seconds after Stastny’s goal, Smith (D Yannick Weber) pulled Nashville back within a goal with a wrister, followed by F Ryan Johansen (Arvidsson and Josi) burying a wrister to level the game at 5-5 with 6:03 remaining in regulation.

Just like Stastny made his presence known with his new team, W Ryan Hartman (Josi) also built some serious rapport with his new squad by providing the game-winning goal with one minute remaining on the clock.

A player hanging out near the crease almost always yields a positive result. That proved to be the case in this instance, as Hartman was able to redirect Josi’s initial slap shot from the left face-off dot – that G Connor Hellebuyck moved towards in attempt to make a save – into the gaping cage after it crossed through the crease untouched.

The most points Josi had scored in any game all season before last night was two, and he’s a major reason no team in the NHL wants to play the Predators right now. If he continues playing like this in the playoffs, there’s little doubt that his club will be well on its way to its second-consecutive Stanley Cup Final.

G Pekka Rinne earned the victory after saving 34-of-39 shots faced (.872 save percentage), leaving the loss to Hellebuyck, who saved 26-of-32 (.813).

For the fourth straight day in the DtFR Game of the Day, a road team has earned at least a point. As such, the 74-47-19 hosts now have only an 18-point advantage on the visitors in the series.

February 8 – Day 120 – Fire and brimstone

Welcome to the best day of the hockey work week!

Like it usually does, the action begins at 7 p.m. this evening with three games (the New York Islanders at Buffalo [TVAS], Calgary at New Jersey and Montréal at Philadelphia [RDS/TSN2]), followed half an hour later by two more (Nashville at Ottawa [RDS2] and Vancouver at Tampa Bay). Another pair of fixtures (Colorado at St. Louis and Arizona at Minnesota) find their starts at 8 p.m., while Dallas at Chicago waits 30 minutes before getting underway. Finally, tonight’s nightcap – Vegas at San Jose (SN360) – drops the puck at 10:30 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

Two games were circled on my calendar…

  • Nashville at Ottawa: C Kyle Turris called Ottawa home for seven years, but that all changed in November when he was traded to Nashville.
  • Vegas at San Jose: I circled this one to celebrate the return of F Ryan Carpenter to The Tank, but I think the standings will be a bigger deal in this contest.

We just featured the Predators yesterday, so we’re not going to follow them east. Additionally, we just featured the Golden Knights two days ago and we’re not going to hop on their flight west.

Instead, I say we head to Newark to check in on a Devils team that has been a bit streaky of late as they square off against the Kings of the Streak, the Calgary Flames.

 

The 27-17-8 Devils are holding on to third place in the Metropolitan Division, but they’re certainly not making life easy on themselves of late. Jersey is only 2-2-0 in its last four home games (including a loss to the Red Wings) and 3-5-0 overall in its last eight contests (including a loss in Ottawa).

However, it we just look at what has happened since the All-Star Break, it seems the Devils were just running a little bit low on steam. Before Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to the Senators, the Devils had won all three of their first games since resuming play.

The reason for Jersey’s return to form lies squarely on its defense, which has been playing incredibly over its last four games. Led by the efforts of F Blake Coleman (3.5 hits per game since January 30) and D Andy Greene (2.5 blocks per game during this run), the Devils have allowed only 25.25 shots against per game since the All-Star Break, the best mark in the league.

As a result, that stellar play has made 17-11-6 G Cory Schneider‘s groin injury far less noticeable. While he’s been gone, 10-5-2 G Keith Kinkaid has assumed starting duties. Though he’s only posted an .899 save percentage in his last four starts, the fact that his defense is playing so marvelously has kept his GAA at 2.59, good enough to earn him three victories.

Currently in 10th place in the Western Conference (well, technically a three-way tie for ninth, but the Flames’ 53 games played are one more than Colorado’s and two fewer than Anaheim’s), 27-18-8 Calgary has all but assumed the title of the NHL’s streakiest team. Since their well-documented seven-game winning streak, the Flames proceeded to lose six-straight games – albeit four required extra time.

However, it seems the Flames are back on the upswing, as they swept the Blackhawks in a home-and-home series. Even more in their favor, the Flames have traveled exceptionally well lately, posting a 5-0-1 record in their last six games away from the Saddledome.

But let’s keep our comparisons constant: How have the Flames fared since the All-Star Break?

Considering Calgary has only posted a 2-2-0 record since the break, I suppose the answer is simply “average,” if not arguably worse.

The most glaring hole in the Flames’ play since resuming play has been on the defensive end, where they’ve allowed a 12th-worst 32.5 shots against per game and (t)fourth-worst goals against per game in that time.

The defensive effort is basically a given at this point in the season. Calgary has averaged 32.1 shots against per game for its entire campaign, 22-15-6 G Mike Smith is seeing no more work lately than he’s seen all season.

However, that means that the biggest decline in the defensive end actually belongs to him. Having averaged a .922 save percentage and 2.5 GAA for the season, Smith has not been impressive in his last four starts, managing only an .888 save percentage and 3.7 GAA.

With that in mind and the fact that the Flames play in Madison Square Garden tomorrow night, Smith will take the night off this evening and cede his crease to 4-1-2 G David Rittich, who’s posted a .926 save percentage and 2.23 GAA in eight appearances this season.

Fortunately for Rittich, he has two things going for him in tonight’s game. The first is, thanks to Schneider being out, Jersey is pulling back to play stellar defensive hockey, meaning he may see fewer shots this evening.

The second is his own offense is pretty handy with the puck, able to score with regularity to earn him wins.

Since the All-Star Break, Calgary has posted a (t)12th-best 3.25 goals-per-game. That success is thanks in large part to LW Johnny Gaudreau (2-3-5 totals since the break, 17-45-62 overall), D T.J. Brodie (0-5-5, 3-22-25 overall), C Sean Monahan (3-1-4, 25-22-47 overall) and D Dougie Hamilton (1-3-4, 9-18-27 overall). All four have averaged at least a point per game in their last four showings, and they’ll need to continue their success tonight against a stingy Jersey defense for a chance to win their third-straight game.

The Flames have already hosted the Devils this season, and the fans in attendance at the Saddledome were treated to a heck of a game. The November 5 contest went back-and-forth before reaching the end of regulation with a 4-4 tie. That eventually forced a shootout that LW Matthew Tkachuk won in the final round, earning the Flames the bonus point.

For me, this game boils down to which goaltender can perform better. Can Rittich do his best Smith impression tonight, or will it be Kinkaid that makes the few saves his defense requires him to make? I’m leaning towards the Kinkaid option as being the more probable.

However, that pick does come with a caveat: if Calgary can force overtime, I think the Flames’ offense can earn the bonus point.


After a seven-round shootout, the Toronto Maple Leafs finally knocked off the Nashville Predators 3-2 at Air Canada Centre in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Let me be the first to say that if we get a Stanley Cup Finals between these teams, we’ll all be glued to our televisions for every second. This game had everything: goals, solid defense, superb goaltending… all the things you want in the final round of a championship.

As for the goal scoring, that started with 3:54 remaining in the first period when Second Star of the Game LW James van Riemsdyk (RW Connor Brown and D Travis Dermott) buried a slap shot to give the Maple Leafs a one-goal lead.

Goal number 2 also belonged to Toronto, but this one was a shorthanded wrist shot struck by RW Kasperi Kapanen (F Dominic Moore and D Ron Hainsey) 9:38 into the second frame. Facing a 2-0 hole, the Predators finally found their scoring prowess with 1:50 remaining before the second period. C Colton Sissons (LW Pontus Aberg and D Ryan Ellis) took credit for the late period charge, burying a snap shot.

Whatever motivational speech Head Coach Peter Laviolette gave in the dressing room obviously worked, because the Predators leveled the game only 25 seconds after returning to the ice when W Viktor Arvidsson scored an unassisted wrister.

Arvidsson’s game-tying effort proved to be the final goal scored in regulation, and none were added to the total in five minutes of three-on-three overtime. That forced every hockey fan’s favorite thing: the shootout.

As home team, Toronto had the option of going first or second. Head Coach Mike Babcock elected to go first.

  1. C Auston Matthews usually seems like a good first choice in these shootout situations, but not when he’s squaring off against Third Star G Pekka Rinne. The Finn made the save.
  2. That provided Turris an opportunity to give the Preds an advantage, but he sent his shot wide of the net.
  3. F William Nylander apparently saw what Turris did and liked it, because he also didn’t force Rinne to make a save.
  4. Once again Nashville was provided with a major opportunity, but W Kevin Fiala‘s snap shot was saved by First Star G Frederik Andersen to keep the shootout tied at zero.
  5. Finally, someone found a goal! C Tyler Bozak scored in the third and final round, setting up a miss-and-lose situation for the visiting Preds.
  6. Ellis apparently likes these situations where his club is trailing, because he duplicated his success from regulation to even the shootout and force sudden death.
  7. F Mitch Marner was the fourth Leafs shooter to approach Rinne’s goal, but he found the same fate as Matthews: saved by the Finn.
  8. F Craig Smith tried to get a little too fancy for his own good, as Andersen was able to make the save on his backhanded shot.
  9. Get in line, F Patrick Marleau. You’re not the first to get stopped by Rinne today.
  10. Another Predators backhander – this one from D Roman Josi. Another Andersen save.
  11. Rinne just wasn’t a very nice house guest, was he? Brown’s snapper was also saved by the visiting netminder.
  12. In the same turn, Andersen wasn’t exactly a benevolent host. F Ryan Johansen tried to beat him with a backhander (Nashville’s third in a row), but the former Duck was more than up to the challenge.
  13. Apparently, van Riemsdyk saw that it was almost his bedtime, so he decided to do something about it. He beat Rinne to set up a miss-and-lose situation for the Preds.
  14. Though Arvidsson was the one that got this game into the shootout, he couldn’t extend it as his snapper was saved by Andersen.

Andersen earned the victory after saving 44-of-46 shots faced (.957 save percentage), leaving the shootout loss to Rinne, who saved 30-of-32 (.938).

The 67-38-15 home teams are flexing their muscles in the DtFR Game of the Day series, as they’ve now won seven of the past eight games. Toronto’s shootout victory gives the hosts a 28-point lead over the roadies in the series.

January 30 – Day 111 – New Engelland

The Skills Competition and All-Star Game were fun, but it’s time to get back to business. After all, the trade deadline is only 27 days away!

We have a full Tuesday schedule, as only seven teams are inactive this evening. As usual, the action begins at 7 p.m. with a half-dozen games (Anaheim at Boston [SN1], New Jersey at Buffalo, Florida at the New York Islanders, San Jose at Pittsburgh, Ottawa at Carolina [RDS2] and Minnesota at Columbus), followed an hour later by three more (Montréal at St. Louis [RDS/TSN2], Chicago at Nashville [NBCSN/TVAS] and Tampa Bay at Winnipeg). 8:30 p.m. marks the puck drop of Los Angeles at Dallas, while Vegas at Calgary waits half an hour before getting underway. Finally, Colorado visits Vancouver at 10 p.m. to close out the night’s festivities. All times Eastern.

Coming into the season, two of tonight’s games stood out above the rest…

  • Chicago at Nashville: Who can forget the Preds’ run to the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals? It all began with a four-game sweep of the Hawks.
  • Vegas at Calgary: Before becoming the unofficial captain of the Golden Knights, D Deryk Engelland was a three-year member of the Flames. Tonight is his first return to the Saddledome since being selected in the Expansion Draft.

Considering how important Engelland was during the opening weeks of the season in Las Vegas and that he’s the Golden Knights’ unofficial captain – not to mention that it should be a strong matchup – I think we need to make a trip to Southern Alberta.

 

 

 

 

 

Though the Golden Knights have existed for only this season, Engelland’s history in the city of Las Vegas extends well beyond that.

The defenseman was selected in the sixth round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft by New Jersey, but he never signed a contract with the Devils. Instead he played five total seasons with the Moose Jaw Warriors in the WHL until he aged out and turned pro during the 2003-’04 season, signing with the Las Vegas Wranglers, Calgary’s brand-new ECHL affiliate.

That’s right, Engelland has been a part of two Sin City expansion teams. Players can play their entire career without seeing a single franchise added to the NHL, but he’s had the pleasure of greeting one city for the first time twice.

Engelland played a total of 107 games for the Wranglers in two seasons – including helping them to second in the Pacific Division in their inaugural season – before moving on to the South Carolina Stingrays and Hershey Bears in the Capitals’ system for the 2005-’06 season. However, he undoubtedly looks back on his time in Vegas fondly not only because of the start of his career, but also because he met his wife during his first stint in the desert.

Engelland eventually made his NHL debut during the 2009-’10 season with Pittsburgh at 27-years-old, and he secured a full-time spot on the Penguins’ roster from 2010 through the 2013-’14 season, after which he elected to sign a three-year, $8.75 million contract with the Flames as a free agent.

What a naughty thing for a boy born in Edmonton to do.

Engelland’s first season in Calgary was almost certainly one of the worst years of his career (double agent for the Oilers, maybe?). He posted only .14 points per game (tied with his 42-game 2012-’13 season in Pittsburgh for the worst of his career) and he provided only one point of the Flames’ 97 in the standings according to Hockey Reference’s point share statistic.

Things could only go up from there, and they certainly did. Engelland’s offensive production increased every season he wore the flaming C, to the point that he also earned a flaming A as a temporary alternate captain last season. In all, he posted 4-12-16 totals in 81 games last season with the Flames and was directly responsible for 3.9 of Calgary’s 94 points in the standings according to Hockey Reference.

As for how he ended up back in Vegas, the free agent was selected in the Expansion Draft by the Golden Knights and signed to a one-year, $2 million contract (he signed a one-year, $2.5 million extension earlier this month to remain with the club through next season), but that’s not what makes his impact on the team and community important.

There’s no doubt Engelland has been doing his share on the ice to make the Knights the best expansion team ever, but he’s also been a big part of why the community has embraced the club so well.

After the horrendous events on the Las Vegas Strip on October 1 (only three days before the NHL’s Opening Day), the Golden Knights turned their home debut on October 10 into an emotional and empowering memorial for the over 900 victims, as well as honoring the all the first responders.

Given his connections with the city, there was no one better to play a pivotal role in that ceremony than Engelland, who assured everyone in attendance that the team was with the citizens of Las Vegas in being Vegas Strong.


Saying 25-16-8 Calgary is red hot might be the most overused joke in the game, but it doesn’t make the fact any less true. The Flames earned points in all 11 games leading up to the All-Star Break with a 7-0-4 record, and that success has propelled them into third place in the Pacific Division.

I’ve said it the last few times we’ve featured the Flames, but it bears repeating: 20-13-6 G Mike Smith is the biggest reason for this surge. Even though his defense corps has allowed a fifth-worst 34.55 shots against-per-game since New Year’s Eve, he’s managed a .943 save percentage and 1.84 GAA during that stretch – both of which rank in the top-four in the league among the 27 goalies with at least seven starts – to improve his season marks to .926 and 2.39 (the sixth and ninth-best marks in the NHL, respectively).

That’s meant that Calgary has allowed an average of only two goals per game, the third-best mark in the league in that time.

However, there have still been peaks and valleys during this run, and Calgary definitely ended the unofficial first half of the season in one of those valleys. Though they earned points in their final four games, the Flames have ended all of those contests on the losing end, falling twice in overtime and twice in the shootout.

Smith is certainly not to blame, as Calgary still averaged only two goals against over its last four games – the (t)second-best mark in the NHL since January 20.

Instead, it’s been the offense that has really dropped the ball puck in the last 10 days.

For this entire point streak, the Flames have averaged three goals per game – the (t)12th-best mark in the NHL since New Year’s Eve. However, even with offensive weapons like LW Johnny Gaudreau – whose 41 assists and 56 points are fifth and and (t)seventh-most in the league, respectively – the Flames have managed only 1.5 goals per game over their past four contests – the (t)second-worst average in the league since January 20.

For the Flames’ sake, hopefully the All-Star Break provided the rest Calgary’s forwards needed so they can get back to torching goaltenders like they’d been doing all January.

Of course, no matter how happy Calgarians are for Engelland and that he is back in town, I’d venture to bet they aren’t excited he’s bringing the Western Conference-leading 32-12-4 Golden Knights with him.

However, considering how well almost everything has gone for Vegas this season, perhaps there’s no better time than now to square off against the Knights, who posted only a 3-2-1 record in their last six games leading into the All-Star Break.

What’s really impressive over these six games is that three teams not from Vegas were able to come away with two points. Since January 16, the Knights’ defense has allowed the fifth-fewest shots against (27.83 per game) and the (t)fifth-fewest goals (two per game), while the offense has tacked on an average of 3.17 goals to rank eighth-best.

Numbers like those aren’t beat often.

As for the most impressive of those, I’m of the school of thought that it has to be the defense. Whether it’s the success of W William Carrier (averaging four hits per game in his list six appearances), C William Karlsson (10 takeaways in the last six games) or D Brayden McNabb (three blocks per game over this run) – or more likely a combination of their stellar efforts – they’re keeping pucks off 12-4-2 G Marc-Andre Fleury.

Considering Fleury’s .942 season save percentage and 1.77 GAA are both second-best in the NHL, he doesn’t need all that much help to have a stellar night. Mix in Vegas’ impressive defense, and we have the blueprint for how the Golden Knights have found so much success (it doesn’t hurt to have Karlsson’s 27 goals either, the [t]second-most in the league).

Tonight is the first all-time meeting between these clubs, but they’ll get to know each other well soon enough. Calgary and Vegas will play a total of four games this season, including the final game of the regular season for both squads on April 7.

Coming off a four-day break, it’s hard to predict how teams will return to action. The rest can be positive, or the lull in action can ruin the positive groove a team was in. With that in mind, I’m leaning towards the Golden Knights winning tonight’s game, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Calgary finds a way to earn a point and force overtime.

January 24 – Day 109 – Heading in opposite directions

Gearing up for a full slate of 15 games tomorrow, the NHL scheduler applied the brakes today.

Only two games are on the schedule this evening, with the first – Toronto at Chicago (NBCSN/SN/TVAS) – dropping the puck at 8 p.m. Eastern time. Next up is Los Angeles at Calgary (SN360), which gets underway two hours later.

While it would certainly be fun to feature an Original Six rivalry for the first time in a week, the Pacific Division has an important contest taking place this evening. Off to the Saddledome with us!

 

 

 

 

 

You know that feeling when you’re driving down the road and you see your friend driving the other way?

That’s kind of what’s going on between these squads within the Pacific Division. For much of the season – as recently as January 4 – the 25-18-5 Kings were competing with Vegas for the division lead, but they’ve suffered a 1-7-0 stretch since then that has sent them to 10th-place in the Western Conference.

A team that drops from second in the division to outside the playoff picture in the span of less than 20 days surely has more than one issue. I’d argue they have two big ones: an anemic offense accented by a regression at the goaltending position.

There’s no other way to say it: Los Angeles’ offense has been terrible lately. Since January 4, the Kings have averaged only 2.13 goals per game – a mark that is better than only the efforts of division-rival Edmonton (two goals per game) and Columbus (1.5 goals per game) in that time.

As might be expected, more than a few Kings have seen a regression in their scoring since this skid began. However, the likes of C Anze Kopitar (19-31-50 totals) and D Jake Muzzin (4-23-27) are still maintaining their high level of play, as they both average a point-per-game since January 4.

Even still, their efforts are not enough to make up for the rest of the squad’s slump. In particular, Los Angeles is missing the usually solid play of W Dustin Brown (15-19-34 totals) and F Tyler Toffoli (18-12-30), two players among the top-five in point production for the Kings on the season that have managed only respective 0-3-3 and 1-0-1 totals in their last eight games played.

While pointing fingers at Head Coach John Stevens‘ offense is certainly a warranted charge, I do need to acknowledge that Los Angeles’ offense was never the class of the league. On the season, the Kings have scored an average of only 2.81 goals per game, the 13th-worst mark in the NHL.

But that bad-turned-worse regression only half the problem. 20-17-2 G Jonathan Quick has also been miserable in his last seven starts. After starting the season with Vezina-like numbers, he’s posted only an .876 save percentage and 3.65 GAA to drop his season marks to a .921 and 2.44.

Making his performance even more frustrating is that his defense is doing everything in its control to make his life easier. Led by Brown’s 3.1 hits per game, Kopitar’s six takeaways and D Alec Martinez‘ 3.3 blocks per game during this run, he’s faced an average of only 29.5 shots per game during this skid – the fifth-fewest in the league in that time.

Pair a flailing offense and a goaltender in a rut and you get a league-worst -12 goal differential since January 4. There’s a lot that needs to improve for this Kings team to get back into playoff position, much less beat the Flames tonight.

One thing that might see an immediate change this evening could take place in the crease. Quick was in net for 24:21 of yesterday’s 6-2 loss in Vancouver, but he was pulled after allowing his fifth goal on 19 shots faced (.737 save percentage). With 5-1-3 G Darcy Kuemper posting a .938 save percentage in his 35:39 of play, I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets the nod in this very important game today.

Meanwhile, 25-16-6 Calgary has taken advantage of the Kings’ struggles to surge into a top-three spot in the division after spending most of the season fading in and out of the second wildcard spot. They’ve been impressive since December 31, as that’s when the Flames started their current 7-0-2 run.

In a twist of cruel irony, the biggest reason for the Flames’ increased production rests on one man in particular: 20-13-5 G Mike Smith. Smith has been almost unbeatable since December 31, posting a .945 save percentage and 1.84 GAA to improve his season marks to .926 and 2.41 and lead his club to a 6-0-2 record while he’s been in net (4-1-1 G David Rittich earned the final victory on January 12 at Florida).

Smith’s performance has been of the utmost importance for the Flames, because his defense certainly doesn’t do him any favors having allowed a third-worst 35.11 shots against-per-game since December 31.

Of course, to continue the inverted allusion to the Kings, Calgary has also had the luxury of one of the better offenses in the league during this nine-game run. Scoring 3.22 goals per game since New Year’s Eve, the Flames have wielded the ninth-strongest attack in the NHL.

Many players are performing exceptionally well, but four stick out above the rest. You likely guessed LW Johnny Gaudreau first, and with good reason: his 40 assists on the season are (t)fifth-best in the league, and his 55 points (t)sixth-best. The reigning Lady Byng-winner is continuing his career year by posting solid 2-12-14 totals since New Year’s Eve, but he’s not the only one averaging at least a point per game during this run: LW Matthew Tkachuk (6-4-10), C Sean Monahan (4-6-10) and W Micheal Ferland (4-5-9) join him in that feat, making both of Calgary’s top two lines a very imposing force for even the best defenses.

Tonight is Game 3 in a four-game regular season series between the Flames and Kings, and it’s a matchup Los Angeles is not excited about revisiting. Calgary has won both previous meetings this year, posting a 4-3 overtime victory at Staples Center (Monahan provided the game-winner) on October 11 and defending home ice on January 4 with a 4-3 regulation win (Ferland took First Star honors with a 1-1-2 night).

Since all the Kings need is a win tonight to get back into playoff position, maybe that will be enough motivation for them to rediscover their groove on the offensive end. However, I just don’t see it happening considering the Flames’ stellar play of late. Calgary should come away with two more points tonight.


Though Bridgestone Arena boasts an impressive home-ice advantage for the Nashville Predators, the Tampa Bay Lightning were able to emerge with a 4-3 overtime victory in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

If any Preds fans made the mistake of going to the restroom or buying concessions during the first period, there’s a chance they missed all four goals that were struck in the frame. W Chris Kunitz scored the opening goal of the contest with an unassisted wrist shot 6:24 into the period, but Nashville had the game all tied up only 1:04 later courtesy of a power play (F Cedric Paquette was in the box for hooking C Kyle Turris) slap shot from Second Star of the Game D Ryan Ellis (D Roman Josi and C Colton Sissons). The Predators then took their first lead of the night at the 9:11 mark thanks to W Viktor Arvidsson‘s (LW Pontus Aberg and D Matt Irwin) wrister, but the score was once again tied only 1:37 later on a F Vladislav Namestnikov (C Steven Stamkos and Kunitz) wrister.

In all, it took only 4:24 for all four tallies to be struck, yet the first period ended just as it began – with both teams tied.

Scoring substantially subsided in the remaining 40 minutes, as only two goals were struck – one in each period. The second period’s goal belonged to D P.K. Subban (D Mattias Ekholm and F Ryan Johansen), a power play clapper struck with only 50 seconds remaining before the second intermission.

The Bolts tempted fate by waiting until the waning minutes of regulation to find their game-tying goal, but Stamkos (D Slater Koekkoek and Kunitz) scored a clapper with 2:12 remaining on the clock to force three-on-three overtime.

Overtime is scheduled for five minutes, but First Star F Yanni Gourde (Namestnikov) didn’t want to wait that long. Only 105 seconds into extra time, he took advantage of Namestnikov’s deke-turned-pass across the crease to bury a wrister into Third Star G Juuse Saros‘ gaping cage.

G Louis Domingue earned the victory after saving 30-of-33 shots faced (.909 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Saros, who saved 27-of-31 (.871).

Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are rolling this week. The visitors’ four-game winning streak has pulled them within 18 points of the 59-36-14 hosts.

January 20 – Day 105 – Break out your synthesizer music

Every team’s bye has come and gone, so let’s get back to playing some hockey!

There’s four matinees on the schedule today: one pair (Dallas at Buffalo and New Jersey at Philadelphia) drop the puck at 1 p.m., and the other two (the New York Rangers at Colorado and Winnipeg at Calgary [CBC/NHLN/SN]) will follow suit two hours later. The next three tilts (Boston at Montréal [NHLN/SN/TVAS], Toronto at Ottawa [CBC/CITY/TVAS2] and Carolina at Detroit) drop the puck at the usual 7 p.m. starting time, followed by three more (Pittsburgh at San Jose, Arizona at St. Louis and Florida at Nashville) an hour later. 8:30 p.m. marks the beginning of the New York Islanders at Chicago, while Tampa Bay at Minnesota waits until the top of the hour to get underway. Finally, Vancouver visits Edmonton (CBC/SN) at 10 p.m. to close out the evening’s festivities. All times Eastern.

It’s so nice having the whole gang back together again. With so many games, I’m back to having at least four rivalry games that stand out above the rest.

  • New Jersey at Philadelphia: The Battle of the Turnpikes is never a dull affair, and tensions will only be heightened by the Flyers’ current hot streak.
  • Winnipeg at Calgary: Back in the 1980s, this was one of the best rivalries in the Western Conference. Perhaps more sparks will fly today.
  • Boston at Montréal: For the third time in basically one week, these historic rivals will tangle. This could get nasty.
  • Toronto at Ottawa: The Battle of Ontario rages on between Canada’s capital and its biggest city.

Somehow, the Jets have not been featured in the DtFR Game of the Day series since the holiday break. Let’s resolve that by seeing how they handle a red-hot Calgary club.

 

The streaky 25-16-4 Flames have jumped in and out of playoff position all season, and this seven-game winning streak they were riding before their five-day bye has propelled them all the way into third place in the Pacific Division.

Calgary has been dominant on both ends of the ice during this run. Since New Year’s Eve, the Flames have employed the league’s third-best offense – averaging 3.86 goals per game – and the (t)fourth-best defense – averaging only two goals against per game.

On the defensive end, the answer is simple: 20-13-3 G Mike Smith. The (t)eighth-most winningest goaltender of the season started all but one of the Flames’ past seven games, posting an impressive .941 save percentage and 1.99 GAA. Those numbers are already good in comparison to his season marks of .924 (the [t]eighth-best mark in the league) and 2.46, but what makes his effort in his last six starts really stand out is the fact that his defense is allowing a fifth-worst 35.43 shots against per game during this winning streak. Without Smith playing at the top of his game, this Flames team is a totally different – and far uglier – product.

However, it’s not just Smith that is performing above expectations. With the offense managing only 2.87 goals per game for the entire season, Calgary is producing a full goal better thanks to the positive energy of its goaltender.

It shouldn’t be a surprise, but the Flames’ leader during this surge has been none other than LW Johnny Gaudreau. The very player that has 39 assists ([t]third-most in the league) and 54 points ([t]fourth-most in the league) to his credit has continued his play-making ways to post 2-11-13 totals during this seven-game winning streak, averaging almost two points per game.

Gaudreau makes everyone around him better, which makes sense why linemates W Micheal Ferland (19-10-29 totals) and C Sean Monahan (21-21-42) have both posted four goals since New Year’s Eve. However, the scorer that really takes the cake during this run is sophomore LW Matthew Tkachuk (13-18-31). The 20-year-old has already matched his goal total from his rookie season, and that’s due in large part to his team-leading five tallies in the last seven games.

As Calgary is proving, when both the top lines are firing on all cylinders, this club is a very tough out. After all, the Flames just handled the Lightning in Tampa Bay on January 11, winning 5-1.

Of course, one of the toughest outs all season has been 26-13-7 Winnipeg, the second-best team in the Central Division. Today marks the Jets’ first game after their six-day bye week, and they’ll be looking to get back to their winning ways.

Though Winnipeg was technically riding a two-game losing skid going into the bye, the Jets are actually 6-2-1 in their last nine games. A major reason for that success is Winnipeg’s offense, which has averaged 3.56 goals per game since December 27.

Just like Gaudreau has led his team both during its winning streak and the overall season, the same can be said for F Blake Wheeler. The captain has posted impressive 5-7-12 totals in the last five games to improve his season marks to 14-39-53, the (t)third-most assists and (t)seventh-most points in the NHL.

Making Wheeler’s performance even more impressive, he’s been able to maintain his performance even while C Mark Scheifele (15-23-38 totals) has been on injured reserve with an upper-body injury. Of course, what should we expect when the captain has linemates like RW Patrik Laine (20-17-37), who’s filling in for Wheeler as the top-line right wing while he slides into Scheifele’s vacated center position, and LW Kyle Connor (15-13-28)? Both Connor and Laine have provided eight points over the last nine games, and Wheeler has provided six primary assists since December 27.

On the defensive end, no name is greater in Manitoba than G Connor Hellebuyck. He’s posted a 23-6-6 record this season (the third-most wins in the league) that includes three shutouts – the (t)fourth-mots in the NHL. He’s started all but one of the past nine games, posting a .93 save percentage and 2.24 GAA in the process to raise his season numbers to .922 and 2.4 (the ninth-best GAA in the league).

Calgary and Winnipeg have tangled only once before this season, and it was at the Saddledome – the site of today’s matchup – way back on October 7. The Flames performed perfectly to defend home ice, as D T.J. Brodie registered a 2-2-4 night to lead Calgary to a 6-3 victory after it had trailed 3-1 through the first period.

With both teams coming into this game well-rested, it’s hard to tell which will have the upper hand. Since the Flames have home ice, I’m leaning towards Calgary taking this one, but I truly believe its anyone’s guess.


Thanks to First Star of the Game D Aaron Ekblad‘s overtime game-winner, the Florida Panthers beat the Vegas Golden Knights 4-3 at BB&T Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

W Jamie McGinn (F Nick Bjugstad) opened the scoring for the Panthers, burying a backhanded shot only 3:15 into the contest. That 1-0 advantage lasted 11:07 before W David Perron (D Brad Hunt and F Erik Haula) leveled the game with a snap shot, but Second Star C Aleksander Barkov (F Vincent Trocheck) would return the lead to Florida with 4:05 remaining in the frame on a shorthanded backhander.

Vegas would once again tie the game, but C William Karlsson (D Shea Theodore and W Reilly Smith) would not score his tip-in until the 6:54 mark of the second period. That tally proved to be the lone marker of the middle frame, meaning the score read 2-2 through the second intermission.

Staying true to the pattern, the Panthers were next up to tickle the twine. W Evgeni Dadonov (Barkov and D Keith Yandle) was the guilty party, burying a wrist shot 3:35 into the third period. Third Star W James Neal (Haula) waited until 2:09 remained in regulation to score his wrister and level the game at three-all. As neither the Golden Knights nor Panthers could level the game in the remaining time, their final tilt of the regular season advanced into three-on-three overtime.

As stated before, Ekblad (Barkov and F Jonathan Huberdeau) provided the game-winner (his first winner of the season), but it’s arguably more notable that he needed only 40 seconds to score it. The Panthers dominated the overtime frame to out-shoot Vegas 2-0, and that was no more noticeable than when Ekblad fought off D Nate Schmidt in his own defensive zone to eventually set up Huberdeau for a breakaway opportunity. The forward raced into the offensive zone, passing around Smith to Barkov. Barkov’s backhander couldn’t beat G Malcolm Subban, but the puck flew into the air and eventually ended up in the high slot – perfectly centered for Ekblad. The defenseman one-timed a slap shot over Subban’s glove, earning the bonus point for the Panthers.

G James Reimer earned the victory after saving 33-of-36 shots faced (.917 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Subban, who saved 22-of-26 (.846).

There’s no stopping the 59-34-12 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series lately. They’ve won four-straight contests to reclaim a 24-point advantage over the roadies in the series.

December 29 – Day 83 – Roasted duck

New Year’s weekend is upon us, so it’s time to settle in and watch some hockey.

This Friday is an excellent start to the festivities, as there’s 11 games on the schedule. The action begins at 7 p.m. with Buffalo at New Jersey, followed half an hour later by four more (Columbus at Ottawa [RDS], the New York Rangers at Detroit, Philadelphia at Tampa Bay [TVAS] and Pittsburgh at Carolina). A pair of contests (Nashville at Minnesota [NBCSN] and the New York Islanders at Winnipeg) drop the puck at 8 p.m., while St. Louis at Dallas waits 30 minutes before getting underway. The next wave of games (Toronto at Colorado and Chicago at Edmonton [SN1]) gets the green light at 9 p.m., and tonight’s nightcap – Calgary at Anaheim – gets started at 10 p.m. All times Eastern.

My list of potential games to focus on this evening? I thought you’d never ask!

  • Buffalo at New Jersey: F Jacob Josefson was a member of the Devils’ organization since the 2010-’11 season. Tonight, he’ll make his first visit to the Prudential Center as a member of the road team.
  • New York at Detroit: If Original Six hockey is what gets you excited, this is the game for you.
  • Philadelphia at Tampa Bay: Another player making his return to a former home is F Valtteri Filppula. He called Tampa home for four seasons.
  • Calgary at Anaheim: Though it’s an experience Flames fans would rather forget, these teams did square off in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs last year.

Currently tied for ninth place in the Western Conference, tonight’s action in Orange County could push either team involved into the second wildcard. That sounds to me like a surefire fun contest!

 

It’s amazing to think that the 16-14-8 Ducks are in the position they’re in. After all the injuries they’ve suffered, they still sit on the brink of making the postseason for the sixth-consecutive season.

But those injuries are almost entirely in the past now. With the exception of W Corey Perry, who is slated to return to action in the next week or two, and W Patrick Eaves long-term skin condition, Anaheim’s offense is almost entirely back together. C Ryan Getzlaf and F Rickard Rakell are back on the first line, F Ryan Kesler is getting back into the swing of things on the third and F Antoine Vermette – as exemplary as he usually is on face-offs – has been relegated back to his customary spot on the fourth line.

The Ducks have earned a 4-3-1 record since Getzlaf returned from his injury on December 11, and it’s been all because of that offensive resurgence. For the season, Anaheim has averaged only 2.63 goals per game, the (t)fourth-worst effort in the NHL. However, scoring has climbed to 2.75 goals-per-game since his return, good enough for a (t)13th-best 22 goals.

Getzlaf himself has been a major contributor to that effort. He is the lone Duck to manage more than .75 points-per-game on the season (1.14, to be exact), and he has posted 1-8-9 totals in eight games played since returning to the ice to lead the team.

I said it in a podcast a few weeks ago, but if the Ducks can rally behind their now-healthy stars, this club can take advantage of a soft Pacific Division and climb right back into playoff contention.

Of course, they’ll need to get past 18-15-4 Calgary tonight if they want to continue their success. The Flames are on a quietly decent hot streak right now, as they’ve earned points in seven of their last 10 games with a 4-3-3 record.

Over this run of success, few defenses have been better than the Flames, as they’ve allowed only 18 goals against, the second-fewest in the league (Nashville is tied in total goals allowed, but it has played two fewer games). Calgary has allowed only 275 shots to reach 14-12-3 G Mike Smith (the seventh-fewest in the league) over this run thanks in large part to the efforts of C Mikael Backlund (10 takeaways), RW Garnet Hathaway (25 hits) and D Michael Stone (22 blocks).

Smith has also been stellar, as he’s posted a .931 save percentage and 1.84 GAA over his last seven starts. Add in the always solid work by LW Johnny Gaudreau, whose 28 assists and 41 points on the season are (t)seventh- and (t)ninth-most in the league, respectively, and it makes sense why Calgary has been climbing the standings lately.

No discussion about a Flames trip to Anaheim is complete without discussing their apparent curse while playing at the Honda Center. Though they did finally beat the Ducks in California 2-1 on October 9 this season, that was their first victory on The Pond since April 25, 2006. For a frame of reference, that was the final season the Ducks still used an adjective in their name.

Perhaps tonight is the night Calgary starts a winning streak on the Pond. It’s certainly possible – that’s why they play the games. However, I think the Ducks’ newfound energy is going to be too much to contain and it will be Anaheim earning two points this evening.


Thanks to W David Perron‘s wicked wrist shot, the Vegas Golden Knights beat the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 in overtime at Staples Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The well rested Kings showed their energy in the first period, as they out-shot Vegas 11-to-nine and registered the frame’s only goal. W Marian Gaborik (D Derek Forbort and D Drew Doughty) was the successful scorer, as he deflected a shot into G Marc-Andre Fleury‘s net at the 8:13 mark.

After the intermission, the Knights showed a much better effort. They dominated the second frame to out-shoot Los Angeles 15-to-three. As a result of their almost constant puck possession, First Star of the Game F Jon Marchessault (D Colin Miller and W Reilly Smith) was able to level the game with 1:26 remaining before the second intermission.

Vegas took its first lead of the game with 8:50 remaining in regulation courtesy of a LW Brendan Leipsic (RW Alex Tuch and C Cody Eakin) wrister (his first of the season and second of his career), but that advantage didn’t last long. Doughty (D Jake Muzzin) leveled the game once again 4:17 later with a tip-in. That two-all score held until the end of regulation, forcing three-on-three overtime.

What is scheduled as a potential five minutes of extra time was trimmed to only 3:30 of action thanks to Perron’s (Smith) lightning fast game-winning strike. Smith entered the offensive zone with the puck, but was forced to drop the puck back to Perron since both Kings defenders were between him and Second Star G Jonathan Quick‘s net. That situation worked in Perron’s favor, as he was able to slide towards the left face-off dot before ripping a wrister short side.

Fleury earned the victory after saving 26-of-28 shots faced (.929 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Quick, who saved 36-of-39 (.923).

Vegas’ win is the second-straight by a road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series, and it pulls the visitors within 18 points of the 46-27-10 hosts.