Tag Archives: Giordano

December 6 – Day 63 – This one might get ugly

Another Wednesday, another day to sell any random matchup as a rivalry when it almost certainly isn’t worthy of such designation.

Such is life in the world of sports broadcasting, I suppose.

Today’s slate of action features four games, starting with Calgary at Toronto (SN/TVAS) at 7:30 p.m. and Chicago at Washington (NBCSN) at 8 p.m. In a similar setup, Philadelphia at Edmonton (SN1) is scheduled to drop the puck at 9:30 p.m., with tonight’s nightcap – Ottawa at Anaheim (RDS) – following suit half an hour later. All times Eastern.

Though C Nate Thompson is making his first return to The Pond after calling it home for three seasons, I’m much more attracted to the contest involving the other team from Ontario.

 

 

 

 

 

No, it’s no rivalry like the one between Chicago and Washington (I mean, they are obviously warring over who wears red better), but this could be a good game nonetheless.

If nothing else, it should be the most entertaining, as the 17-10-1 Maple Leafs are always capable of putting on a good show with their third-ranked offense that averages 3.5 goals-per-game.

It’s no surprise who spearheads the Leafs’ attack, as all C Auston Matthews has done this season is improve on his Calder Trophy-winning 40-29-69 effort from a year ago. Having already earned team-leading 13-13-26 marks through 24 games played this year, he’s on pace for an incredible 84 points this season.

For those wondering, F Patrick Kane followed up his Calder-winning season with 25-45-70 totals in 80 games played. If you that think Kane is a solid player (hint: that should be all of us), Matthews has a chance to make Showtime simply an opening act.

While Matthews’ increased goal production certainly merits praise (his goals-per-game is up to .54 this season from last year’s .49), I’m actually most impressed with how he’s settled into his role as a top-line center. I often got the impression from Matthews that he felt he was the only one on Toronto’s roster capable of scoring goals (which, assuming he’d been watching the Leafs while he was in Switzerland, wasn’t exactly a misguided conclusion), which has made apparent by his four-goal NHL debut.

In a real test for Matthews, Head Coach Mike Babcock took the training wheels off Saturday by moving F William Nylander – himself a tremendous talent with 5-15-20 totals – to the third line to fill in for C Tyler Bozak while he was sick. As a result, Matthews and linemates RW Connor Brown (8-5-13) and F Zach Hyman (5-9-14) did not find the scorecard in Toronto’s 2-1 loss in Vancouver.

Word on the street is Bozak will be ready to go this evening, but I wouldn’t put it past Babcock to continue to play with his lines while the Leafs are in no danger of falling out of playoff position.

Tonight’s game might be a tough one for the 14-12-1 Flames, because even though they’re currently only one point outside of the Western Conference playoffs, they’ve made a bad habit of allowing 3.25 goals-per-game, the eighth-most in the NHL.

Considering last campaign’s starter G Brian Elliott has managed only a .908 save percentage this season in Philadelphia, I suppose Flames General Manager Brad Treliving did make an upgrade by trading for 12-9-1 G Mike Smith. Unfortunately, Smith’s .916 season save percentage and 2.79 GAA, which rank seventh- and fifth-worst, respectively, among goalies with at least 20 starts, has not been enough to keep the Flames in the playoff position they earned last year.

Of course, goaltending is a tough job when you’re being pelted with 31.71 shots-per-start like Smith has. Overall, the Flames defense has allowed the 10th-most shots to reach their goaltender, averaging 32.37 per game.

To put it simply, this team is not committed to playing defensive hockey. Not only are their 354 blocks the fewest in the Western Conference and third-fewest in the league, but they’ve also thrown the fewest blocks at 437, 27 less than Carolina’s second-worst effort. It is fortunate that C Mikael Backlund has managed a league-leading 34 takeaways, or things might be even worse for Calgary.

Oh wait, it can get worse. Backlund was sick yesterday and missed practice. Unless D Mark Giordano can assume his ultimate form and block more than his already team-leading 2.2 shots-per-game, this game has a really good chance of getting ugly for the Flames.


The New Jersey Devils are now the top team in the Metropolitan Division after beating the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-1 at Nationwide Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Jersey never trailed in this game, due in large part to C Travis Zajac‘s (RW Stefan Noesen and F Marcus Johansson) first goal of the season, a backhanded shot 4:24 into the contest. The first period was also when the Blue Jackets got on the board, courtesy of a F Nick Foligno (RW Oliver Bjorkstrand and D Seth Jones) wrist shot with 6:14 remaining in the frame.

After that, this game belonged to the Devils, starting with Third Star of the Game F Taylor Hall‘s (Second Star C Nico Hischier and W Jesper Bratt) game-winning tip-in 4:47 into the second period. He was the benefactor of his own hard work, as it was Hall that won the scrum in his own defensive zone to get the puck to Hischier, who was off to the races after corralling the play. Once the rookie reached the right face-off dot, he pulled up and drew an additional defender before centering a pass to Hall, who tapped a one-timer past G Sergei Bobrovsky‘s blocker.

Noesen (LW Miles Wood and Hischier) also made sure to end the period with a bang, burying a wrister with 46 seconds remaining before the second intermission.

Bratt (Hall) tacked on the final insurance goal with 8:54 remaining in regulation with a tip-in.

First Star Cory Schneider earned the victory after saving 41-of-42 shots faced (.976 save percentage), leaving the loss to Bobrovsky, who saved 32-of-36 (.889).

December’s pattern of giving in the DtFR Game of the Day series continues, as hosts and visitors continue to exchange victories every other day. With last night being the road teams’ turn, they’ve now pulled back within 14 points of the home sides.

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.

March 31 – Day 163 – Keeping it in Alberta

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

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

Short list:

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hockey Birthday

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 15 – Day 147 – The Flames are red hot

Only four games are on the schedule tonight, so let’s dive right in. The action starts at 7:30 p.m. with Pittsburgh at Philadelphia (NBCSN/TVAS), followed 90 minutes later by Boston at Calgary (SN). Detroit visits Colorado at 9:30 p.m. and St. Louis at Anaheim (NBCSN), tonight’s nightcap, drops the puck half an hour later. All times eastern.

If it was certain Mark Streit would be available for tonight’s game, I’d be much more inclined to feature the Battle for the Keystone State. But with the injury he sustained Monday night, I’m much more interested in the Bruins‘ visit to the Saddledome.

 

Winners of its past three contests, Boston enters tonight’s game with a 37-26-6 record good enough for third place in the Atlantic Division. The Bruins may not be dominant on either end of the ice, but they play a solid overall game. Specifically, I’m most impressed with a defensive effort that has yielded only 177 goals against, which ties for the 10th-fewest in the NHL.

Of course, that always starts with the goaltender, and Boston has a good one in 33-16-4 Tuukka Rask. Yet even the best goaltenders need a night off every once in a while, and that’s where 4-5-1 Anton Khudobin comes into play. He’s registered a .895 season save percentage and 2.76 GAA, the 56th and 42nd-best marks, respectively, among the 68 goalies with at least five appearances this year.

While neither stats are worth writing home to Russia about (I mean, we need to factor in the price of postage), he’ll be receiving considerable help from his blueline tonight. Led by Captain Zdeno Chara‘s 116 short blocks (narrowly beating out Adam McQuaid‘s contributions), the Bruins have allowed only 26.5 shots to reach their goalies’ crease, the second-best rate in the NHL.

That play is especially impressive in light of last season’s performance, which forced Bruins goaltenders to shrug off more than 30 shots-per-game. As rookie Brandon Carlo continues to grow, Boston‘s defense could become one of the stingiest in the league.

Speaking of stingy, that’s exactly what the Bruins‘ top-rated penalty kill is. Thanks in large part to McQuaid’s 32 shorthanded shot blocks, the Bruins escape opponents’ power plays unscathed 86.2% of the time.

Boston is also the proud home of a solid power play. While not as successful as their penalty kill, the Bruins do tie for 10th-best in the league with a power play that finds the back of the net 20.5% of the time. That attack is twin-led by first-unit members Torey Krug and David Pastrnak, both of whom have 20 power play points. Pastrnak also shares the extra-man goal-scoring lead, but this time with Brad Marchand. Both of them have buried the puck eight times on the power play.

In a surprising turn of events since December and January, defense has become the name of the game for the 39-26-4 Flames, who currently occupy second place in the Pacific Division and are easily the hottest team in the league (pun intended). Winners of their past 10 games, they’ve allowed only 183 goals against so far this season, the 13th-fewest in the NHL.

For the second season in a row, 21-13-3 Brian Elliott has righted the ship for another playoff-hopeful club. Although his .91 season save percentage isn’t the best on the team (that belongs to Chad Johnson and his .913), his 2.51 GAA is, and those rank (t)33rd and (t)17th-best in the league, respectively, among the 51 goalies with at least 18 appearances.

Those numbers aren’t exactly impressive, but they don’t have to be when Elliott plays behind one of the better defensed in the league. Allowing only 28.7 shots to reach his crease per game, Calgary ranks eighth-best in the NHL. That success is due in large part to Mark Giordano, whose 154 shot blocks not only pace the Flames, but are sixth-most in the NHL.

Thanks to Johnson’s incredible night in net (he saved 35-of-36 – 97.2%!), the Flames were able to stave off the Bruins‘ offense for a 2-1 victory when they made their annual visit to Boston on November 25.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Boston‘s Marchand (35 goals [tied for most in the NHL] for 74 points [tied for third-most in the league]) and Calgary‘s Giordano (+17 on 154 blocks [both lead the team]).

Calgary is narrowly favored to win tonight’s game by Vegas with a -105 line. I can certainly see why the oddsmakers are concerned, but I also know the Flames have beaten some solid teams over this winning streak. I like the Bruins to win tonight, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if Calgary can keep the magic going again this evening.

Hockey Birthday

  • Punch Imlach (1918-1987) – It goes without saying, but a coaching career that features four Stanley Cups, including three in a row from 1962-’64, is probably a good one. Imlach did just that with the Maple Leafs, the team he coached for 12 of his 14 seasons. He completed his career in the 1979-’80 season with a 402-337-150 record.
  • Craig Ludwig (1961-) – Montréal selected this defenseman 61st-overall in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he played the first eight years of his career and won his first Stanley Cup. Following a year with the Islanders, he joined the (North) Stars organization in 1991-’92, with whom he played the last eight years of his career  – and won his second Stanley Cup.
  • Darcy Tucker (1975-) – Another Montréal pick, this right wing was selected in the sixth round of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft. Although drafted by the Canadiens, he actually spent most of his 14-year career with Toronto, where he scored 148 of his 215 career goals.
  • James Reimer (1988-) – Speaking of the Maple Leafs, they selected this goaltender 99th-overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. He spent six seasons in Toronto before being traded to the Sharks at the deadline last year. He now plays in Florida, where he’s earned a 12-12-5 record.

Although the Wild scored two goals in the third period, it wasn’t enough to get past the Capitals in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day. Washington defended the Verizon Center to a 4-2 victory.

Although both clubs combined for 29 shots in the first period, this game almost reached the first intermission scoreless. The operative word there is almost, as Nate Schmidt (Second Star of the Game Alex Ovechkin and First Star Nicklas Backstrom) scored only his second goal of the season with a dozen seconds remaining on the clock to give Washington a one-goal lead.

February 19. 11 games ago. That was the last time Ovechkin scored before tonight’s tally. Assisted by John Carlson and Backstrom, he buried a wrist shot with 5:08 remaining in the second period to double the Caps‘ lead and end his scoreless skid. The game-winner belongs to Evgeny Kuznetsov (Backstrom and Carlson) on a power play wrister 2:16 later that set the score at 3-0.

Whatever Bruce Boudreau said in the dressing room during intermission, it seems Matt Dumba (Mikael Granlund) took it to heart, as he buried a backhanded shot 37 seconds after play resumed to get the Wild on the board. Eric Staal (Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter) followed that four minutes later with a power play wrister to pull Minnesota within a goal, but they couldn’t find another tally. Jay Beagle (Dmitry Orlov) made the Wild‘s comeback even more difficult by burying a wrister with 5:41 remaining in the game, setting the 4-2 final score.

Third Star Braden Holtby earned the victory after saving 30-of-32 shots faced (93.75%), leaving the loss to Devan Dubnyk, who saved 36-of-40 (90%).

While losing first place in the division and conference is obviously the bigger issue for the Wild, they are also responsible for allowing the 75-53-21 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series to have a one-point lead over the visitors.

February 24 – Day 128 – Scrapping for their playoff lives

Friday is finally here! Time to sit down and watch some hockey.

While there may be only four contests tonight, there’s certainly some quality matchups. The action starts at 7 p.m. with Edmonton at Washington (NHLN/SN/TVAS), followed half an hour later by two more games (Ottawa at Carolina [RDS] and Calgary at Florida). Finally tonight’s nightcap – Arizona at Dallas – drops the puck at 8:30 p.m. All times eastern.

I know Alex Goligoski is making his return to Dallas, but the playoff push is already in full swing – especially in the Eastern Conference. Instead, we’ll turn our attention to Sunrise, Fla. for a game between teams scrapping for their postseason lives.

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Thanks in part to their two-game winning streak, the Flames make their annual visit to Florida in fourth place in the Pacific Division and  eighth in the Western Conference with a 31-26-4 record. Although good enough for the second wildcard, the Flames are an interesting team as they aren’t exactly among the league’s elite on either end of the ice. If you had to pick Calgary‘s forte, I’d choose it’s offense, which has managed 159 goals so far this season, which ties for 18th-most in the NHL.

So far this season, it’s been the Mikael Backlund show on offense in Calgary, as his 43 points currently lead the way for the Flames. Nearing the peak of his career, he’s getting very close to succeeding his current personal-high of 47 points (I’d expect him to do that in Winnipeg next month). That being said, Sean Monahan is probably the biggest reason Calgarians make their way to the Saddledome on a nightly basis, as he’s scored a team-leading 20 goals this campaign.

Playing host tonight is 28-21-10 Florida, the fourth-best team in the Atlantic Division and ninth-best in the Eastern Conference. As I said Monday, the Panthers can blame the fact that they are on the outside of the playoff picture looking in squarely on their offense, which has managed only 149 goals so far this season, the ninth-fewest in the NHL.

As he made evident Monday night in St. Louis, there’s no doubt that Vincent Trocheck is the leader of Florida‘s offense (sorry Jaromir Jagr). His 42 points top the team, and just like Backlund, he looks like he’s going to achieve his previous career-mark in the statistic this season. He’ll need 54 points to do just that, and I expect him to achieve that goal late next month in Toronto.

Part of the reason Trocheck has been so successful is because he’s not afraid to shoot the puck on his own. His 21 goals lead the team, and he’s only four tallies shy of tying that personal best. March should be a special time for the center, as he’s on pace to bury his 26th goal against Arizona on March 23.

While Trocheck is preoccupied with the even-strength efforts, Jon Marchessault has taken up a power play specialty. Yet, even though he leads the team with 13 power play points, and Reilly Smith has a team-high six extra-man goals, the Panthers still only convert 15.8% of their man-advantages, the fifth-worst rate in the league.

Fortunately, Florida is much better on the penalty kill. In fact they’re one of the elite clubs in the league, as their 85.2% success rate is third-best in the NHL. Mark Pysyk can take a lot of credit for that, as his 12 shorthanded blocks are most on the team.

The Panthers have already made their yearly trip to the Saddledome, but it wasn’t a pleasant visit for them. Led by Backlund’s three-point, two-goal night, the Flames beat Florida 5-2 on January 17.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Calgary‘s Mark Giordano (+16 with 133 shot blocks [both lead the team]) and Florida‘s Trocheck (21 goals for 42 points [both lead the team]).

The Panthers come into tonight’s game with Vegas’ blessing and a -150 line, but I actually like Calgary to win. Both have won at least seven of their past 10 games, but the Flames have been quietly solid on the road this year and I think they can continue that success in Sunrise.

Hockey Birthday

  • Mike Vernon (1963-) – Selected in the third-round of the 1981 NHL Entry Draft by Calgary, this goaltender was one of the best in his day. Retiring with a career 385-273-92 record, he hoisted the Stanley Cup twice to go with his five All-Star appearances, the 1996 Jennings and the 1997 Smythe.
  • Brian Savage (1971-) – This left wing was picked by Montréal in the eighth-round of the 1991 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he spent most of his 12-season career. By the time he retired, he had accounted for 192 goals and 359 total points.
  • Alex Kovalev (1973-) – Picked 15th-overall by the Rangers in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing was a member of New York‘s 1994 Stanley Cup winning team. He was also selected to three All-Star games.

They needed a shootout to get it done, but the Rangers were able to best Toronto 2-1 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Connor Brown (Tyler Bozak and Jake Gardiner) gave the Leafs a lead on his wrist shot with 9:04 remaining in the first half. That 1-0 score held not only to the first intermission, but also all the way through the second period.

Being unable to find an insurance goal finally cost Toronto when J.T. Miller (Kevin Hayes and Brandon Pirri) found the back of the net with 9:10 remaining in regulation. Although the game went to the always unpredictable three-on-three overtime period, neither club could find a winner, which led to the shootout.

  1. Rookie William Nylander was the first to try his hand, but his snap shot was saved by First Star of the Game Henrik Lundqvist.
  2. That proved to cost the Leafs, as Mats Zuccarello gave New York a 1-0 shootout lead on his attempt.
  3. Next up for Toronto was rookie Auston Matthews, who leveled the shootout 1-1.
  4. It didn’t last long though, as Third Star Mika Zibanejad scored the Blueshirts‘ second-straight shootout attempt.
  5. All the pressure was on Nazem Kadri to keep the shootout alive, but Lundqvist was up to the task to earn New York the bonus point.

Lundqvist earned the victory after saving 32-of-33 shots faced (97%), leaving the shootout loss to Second Star Frederik Andersen, who saved 37-of-38 (97.4%).

They got close, but the Leafs couldn’t snap the road teams’ six-game winning steak in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The 66-43-21 roadies now have a six-point lead over the hosts in the series.

February 1 – Day 105 – Get your brooms ready

Last night was beyond busy in the NHL. While those types of evenings are fun, sometimes it’s nice to only have a few games to keeps tabs on. Tonight is one of those nights, as only six teams drop the puck. Boston at Washington (NBCSN/TVAS) gets things started at 8 p.m., and is basically the only game going on during that time-frame. The next game to get underway is Minnesota at Calgary (SN360), but that isn’t until 10 p.m. The nightcap is right behind, as Colorado at Los Angeles (NBCSN) gets started only half an hour later. All times eastern.

Not only do I not like repeating teams twice in a row (sorry Washington!), tonight’s contest in Calgary could act as a playoff preview. Off to Cowtown we go!

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It’s hard to argue with those that believe Minnesota is the best team in the Western Conference. Riding a three-game winning streak, their 33-11-5 record is five points better than second-best San Jose, and they’ve been led by an impressive goaltender that has allowed only 109 goals this season, the second-fewest in the NHL.

Since Darcy Kuemper played last night in Edmonton, 27-8-3 Devan Dubnyk will be more than ready to go this evening. That’s bad news for the Flames, as his .936 save percentage and 1.88 GAA are both the best marks in the league.

What makes Dubnyk’s season so impressive is that the bluelines playing in front of him are nothing more than average, as they allow 30.6 shots to reach his crease per night – tied for the 12th-most in the NHL. Jared Spurgeon and his 90 shot blocks have been at the head of the defensive front and tie for 32nd-most against the rest of the league.

Combine those two aspects of the defensive end, and you find a club that has the sixth-best penalty kill with a 83.8% success rate. Mikael Granlund has been the most effective skater on that effort, as he leads the Wild with 13 shorthanded blocks.

The Land of 10,000 Lakes is also the home of the 10th-best power play in the league (ok, they’re technically tied for 10th), finding success 21.3% of the time. Granlund is apparently the Wild‘s special teams ringer, as his 12 power play points are tops in the dressing room, but Nino Niederreiter has been the one scoring all the goals. He has six man-advantage tallies to his credit, the most in Minnesota.

Playing host this evening are the 25-24-3 Flames, the ninth-best team in the Western Conference thanks to Los Angeles beating Arizona last night. That being said, simply making it to overtime tonight would move them back into playoff position.

The reason Calgary finds itself on the bubble is due to its lackluster defense and goaltending, which has allowed 147 tallies so far this season, the ninth-most in the NHL. That starts with 16-12-1 Chad Johnson, who has a .913 save percentage and 2.5 GAA – the (t)27th and (t)18th-best effort, respectively, among the 49 goalies with at least 15 appearances.

A decent GAA paired with a below-average save percentage is usually the mark of a decent defense, and that’s exactly the case the Wild will find this evening in the Saddledome. Led by Mark Giordano‘s 116 shot blocks (tied for sixth-most in the league), the Flames allow only 28 shots to reach Johnson’s crease per game – the sixth-best effort in the game.

Although they’re the ones currently sitting on the outside of the playoffs looking in, it’s been the Flames that have dominated the season series between these clubs so far this year. Calgary has yet to drop a game to the Wild even if their most recent meeting on December 2 required a shootout to determine the 3-2 result.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Calgary‘s Mikael Backlund (34 points [leads the team]), Troy Brouwer (98 hits and .16 shot percentage [both lead the team]), Giordano (116 blocks [leads the team]), Dougie Hamilton (144 shots and 25 assists [both lead the team]) and Sean Monahan (16 goals [leads the team]) & Minnesota‘s Dubnyk (1.88 GAA on a .936 save percentage [both best in the league] for 27 wins [second-most in the NHL], including five shutouts [tied for second-most in the league]), Matthew Dumba (+22 [eighth-best in the NHL]), Granlund (+26 [tied for sixth-best in the league]), Mikko Koivu (+26 [tied for sixth-best in the NHL]), Spurgeon (+28 [tied for third-best in the league]), Ryan Suter (+30 [tied for the NHL-lead]) and Jason Zucker (+30 [tied for the league-lead]).

Vegas has marked Calgary a slight underdog, placing a +105 next to their name. Personally, I’d take that bet. Not only do they have the history beating Dubnyk this season, they’re playing at home after a nice long All-Star break, compared to the Wild who just played last night. I like the Flames to complete the season-sweep and get back into the playoff bracket.

Hockey Birthday

  • Mark Recchi (1968-) – Although drafted in the fourth round of the 1988 NHL Entry Draft by rival Pittsburgh, this right wing spent most his career in Philadelphia. That being said, none of the seven-time All-Star’s three Stanley Cups were with the Flyers.
  • Kyle Palmieri (1991-) – Another right wing, Palmieri was drafted 26th-overall by Anaheim in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. He spent the first five seasons of his NHL career with the Ducks before moving on to New Jersey before the 2015-16 season.

The wins just keep rolling in for the Islanders. They won their third-straight game 3-2 last night against the league-leading Capitals in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

It’s only made sweeter by the fact that it was a comeback victory. That’s because Evgeny Kuznetsov (Justin Williams and Brooks Orpik) was able to bury his snap shot only 4:41 after the game’s initial puck drop. That was the lone tally of the first period.

With a power play slap shot 2:41 after returning to the ice for the second period, Second Star of the Game Alan Quine (Third Star Andrew Ladd and Calvin de Haan) leveled the contest for New York. Once again, it was the lone score of the frame to set up a deciding third period.

The Isles responded well coming out of intermission, with their surge completed by First Star Ryan Strome‘s (Brock Nelson and Anthony Beauvillier) wrister to give them the lead. The game remained 2-1 until Johnny Boychuk (Casey Cizikas and John Tavares) took advantage of an empty net with 68 seconds remaining in the contest. Impressively, Alex Ovechkin (Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov) was able to make it only a one-goal differential with his slap shot, but the Capitals were unable to level with the remaining 47 seconds.

Thomas Greiss earns the victory after saving 28-of-30 shots faced (93.3%), leaving the loss to Philipp Grubauer, who saved 26-of-28 (92.9%).

Not only is the Islanders‘ victory their third-straight, it is also the second-straight win by the home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series. That advances the hosts’ record in the series to 56-35-16, seven points better than the roadies.

January 21 – Day 98 – Saturday night is rivalry night

Eleven games. Yes, 11. What a way to spend a Saturday. We get an early start today, as St. Louis at Winnipeg gets underway 3 p.m., and another matinee drops the puck two hours later with Carolina at Columbus. The usual starting time of 7 p.m. brings with it four games (Ottawa at Toronto [CBC/CITY/TVAS2], Buffalo at Montréal [SN/TVAS], Los Angeles at the New York Islanders and New Jersey at Philadelphia), and another trio begin an hour later (Tampa Bay at Arizona, Washington at Dallas [NHLN] and Anaheim at Minnesota). The final two games drop the puck within half an hour of each other: Edmonton at Calgary (CBC/SN) starts first at 10 p.m., with Colorado at San Jose acting as this evening’s nightcap. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Ottawa at Toronto: The Battle of Ontario rages on in the biggest city in Canada.
  • New Jersey at Philadelphia: The Jersey Turnpike connects these two cities, but that doesn’t mean their hockey teams like each other.
  • Edmonton at Calgary: Another rivalry takes place in the province of Alberta.
  • Colorado at San Jose: After Matt Nieto spent four seasons with the Sharks, he was claimed off waivers two weeks ago by the Avalanche.

There’s no way we’re missing a rivalry that could result in Toronto a massive shakeup in the Atlantic Division. To the Air Canada Centre we go!

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I know we just featured this matchup last Saturday, but the stakes just keep getting raised in this rivalry. With a regulation win this evening, the Leafs will improve from from fourth place in the division to second. Pair that with a Flyers victory, and the Bruins find themselves outside of playoff position for the night.

The impact this game could have on the standings is incredible.

Ottawa begins the third Battle for Ontario on a two-game winning streak and in possession of second place in the Atlantic with a 24-15-4 record. They’ve found that success by not allowing opponents to score, allowing only 110 goals this season, which ties for fifth-fewest in the league.

12-7-3 Mike Condon has been the man between the pipes more often than not for the Senators this season. As indicated by his record, he’s done a decent job, as his .92 save percentage and 2.31 GAA are both tied for 13th best among the 52 netminders with at least 11 appearances this year.

It’s been important for Condon to have the success he’s had, as the defense playing in front of him has been far from incredible. Even with Erik Karlsson‘s team-leading 114 blocks (tied for second-most in the NHL), the Senators allow 30.4 shots-per-game to reach their goalie’s crease, tied for the 12th-worst effort in the league.

Playing host this evening are the 21-14-8 Maple Leafs. Given their most recent first-round draft choice, it should be no surprise that their resurgence is due to offensive success. They’ve scored 133 goals so far this year in 43 games – the sixth-best rate in the league.

It remains to be seen if Auston Matthews can be the one to lead Toronto to the Promised Land for the first time in 50 years, but he’s certainly making a good impression in his rookie season. His 38 points are enough to lead the club, as are his 22 goals.

What is most impressive is the Leafs‘ power play. They’ve managed to be second in the NHL with the man-advantage, converting 24.1% of opponent’s penalties into goals. This has been where fellow rookie William Nylander has shone, as his 15 power play points are tops on the team. That being said, the true striker of the special teams unit plays on the other power play line, as Nazem Kadri‘s nine extra-man goals are the best on the squad and tied for second-most in the NHL.

These Leafs are truly a complete team, as the other special team has been just that: special. Toronto‘s penalty kill ranks fourth-best in the NHL, refusing to yield a tally on 84.9% of their infractions. Mark Giordano has been a big part of that effort with his team-leading 32 shorthanded blocks.

Twice these teams met already this season, and twice it’s been in the Canadian capital. As these clubs will only meet four times total this year, the Battle of Ontario shifts to Toronto, and the Leafs bring back a 1-0-1 series lead.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Ottawa‘s Condon (three shutouts [tied for fifth-most in the league]) and Karlsson (30 assists [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]) & Toronto‘s Frederik Andersen (19 wins [tied for ninth-most in the league]) and Matthews (22 goals [tied for third-most in the NHL]).

Vegas has marked Toronto a -139 favorite, and with good reason. They’ve been playing some fantastic hockey over the last month, going 9-2-1 since December 22. What sets the Leafs apart today is their dominance in the special teams play. Unless Condon plays lights-out, I don’t see the Leafs dropping a second-straight home game.

Hockey Birthday

  • Georges Vezina (1887-1926) – Vezina won three Stanley Cups over his nine seasons with Montréal, and the Hall of Famer is remembered today by the trophy awarded annually to the league’s best goaltender. Unfortunately, his life was cut short at the age of 39 due to tuberculosis.
  • Doug Weight (1971-) – The 34th-overall pick in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft by the Rangers, this four-year All Star played 19 seasons – most of which in Edmonton. He hoisted the lone Stanley Cup of his career in 2006 in Carolina, followed five years later by the Clancy. Of course, he just made his coaching debut Thursday, leading his Islanders to a three-goal shutout victory.
  • Andrei Zyuzin (1978-) – San Jose drafted this defenseman second-overall in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft, but he played most of his 10-season career in Minnesota. He finished his playing days with a -40 goal-differential.
  • Dany Heatley (1981-) – Another second-overall pick, this left wing was selected by Atlanta in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, though he played most his career in Ottawa. It was a magical rookie season for Heatly, as he took home the 2002 Calder before earning three All Star selections over his 13-season career.
  • Jonathan Quick (1986-) – Los Angeles drafted this goaltender in the third round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, and he’s never worn another sweater since. The Kings made a good selection, as they’ve hoisted the Stanley Cup twice on a netminder that won the 2012 Smythe and the 2014 Jennings. Unfortunately, the All-Star suffered a groin injury in the first game of the season and is not projected to return to the ice for another month.
  • Darren Helm (1987-) – Just like Quick, this forward was selected by the same team he’s played for ever since (Detroit) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, even though he was picked two rounds later. He was a rookie on the Wings‘ 2008 Stanley Cup team and contributed four points in that playoff run, including a goal and assist against Pittsburgh in the Finals.

Sometimes, a goal is all you need. That was the case for the Blackhawks last night, as they beat Boston 1-0 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

With 1:26 remaining in regulation, First Star of the Game Marian Hossa (Tanner Kero and Vinnie Hinostroza) takes credit for the lone tally of the game. His wrister from the left faceoff zone beat Third Star Tuukka Rask to the near post to ensure the victory.

Second Star Scott Darling earned the victory by saving all 30 shots he faced, while Rask fell just short, saving all but one of the 22 pucks (95.5%) that entered his crease.

Chicago‘s win was the second-straight shutout in the DtFR Game of the Day series, which now stands at 52-34-14 in favor of the hosts, who lead visitors by five points.

January 19 – Day 96 – Worth his Weight behind the bench? We’ll see…

It’s time to start taking our hockey-watching seriously, as there’s only eight days until the All-Star break. The first two pucks of the night drop at 7 p.m. (Dallas at the New York Islanders and Ottawa at Columbus [RDS]), followed half an hour later by the New York Rangers at Toronto. 8 p.m. marks the beginning of another pair of games (Washington at St. Louis [SN/TVAS] and Arizona at Minnesota), with Nashville at Calgary waiting an hour before getting underway. Colorado at Anaheim gets started at 10 p.m., with tonight’s nightcap – Tampa Bay at San Jose (SN/SN1) – waiting 30 minutes before getting green-lit. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Dallas at New York: Welcome to the coaching game Doug Weight.
  • New York at Toronto: Not only is this an Original Six rivalry, but Michael Grabner also played for the Leafs last season.

It’s been a long time since we’ve featured either the Islanders or the Stars, so let’s head off to Brooklyn!

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A long, long time ago, in a borough not too far from Brooklyn

Wait, we’ve got to set the mood…

There we go.

Anyways, Jack Capuano was called up to the big-time from New York‘s AHL club in Bridgeport – where he had held the same position since 2007 – to coach the Islanders on November 15, 2010.

To put things lightly, it was not the miraculous transition you read about in history books. After taking on a 4-10-3 club from Scott Gordon, the Islanders ended the season with a 30-39-13 record and in last place in the Atlantic Division.

The 2011-’12 season was better, as the Isles improved to 34-37-11, but Capuano’s teachings could not get them out of the Atlantic basement.

Playoff chances weren’t looking good for the Islanders during the lockout-shortened 2012-’13 season either. New York sat in 12th place in the Eastern Conference with 18 games remaining, due in part to the Isles spoiling a seven-game home-stand by earning only three points.

Let’s give credit to Capuano for New York‘s spark  to end the season. They earned a point in the last 11 games to force themselves all the way into eighth place in the Conference and earn a playoff date in Pittsburgh. Although they would fall in six games, making the playoffs for the first time since 2007 was a big step forward for New York.

Capuano continued to build the club. Even though they didn’t qualify for the playoffs in 2013-’14, New York got back into the postseason in 2015 and missed out on advancing to the Eastern Semifinals by only a goal, falling to Washington 2-1 in a deciding Game 7.

The Islanders finally earned that playoff series victory last year when they beat the Panthers in six games. It was their first postseason series victory since 1993.

Unfortunately, this season did not get off to a great start. The Isles currently have a 17-17-8 record and sit in last place in both the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference. Because of that, he was released on Tuesday, even though his record with the Isles is an impressive 227-192-64, given the team he started with six years ago.

In what is probably the most hilarious turn of events, Capuano was replaced this season by none other than Weight.

Why is that funny? Any good Islander fan can tell you who the captain of their club was when Capuano made his NHL coaching debut. Yes, that’s right: it’s none other than Weight.

Even more hilarious is that Weight is the assistant general manager of the Islanders. Even though he wasn’t the one making the final decisions, it’s partially his fault that Capuano struggled this season. Matt Martin, Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo and Brian Strait were all allowed to walk in free agency this offseason, and Garth Snow and Weight only brought in Jason Chimera, Andrew Ladd (currently injured), P.A. Parenteau (who they’ve since waived) and Dennis Seidenberg to fill the holes.

Martin: left wing. Nielsen: center. Okposo: right wing. All three forwards. Is it any surprise the Isles have struggled to score? Last season, those three players combined for 135 points, a total the Isles have struggled to replace. That is made evident by an offense that has managed only 119 goals, the 12th-fewest in the NHL.

Captain John Tavares has done all he can to try to save the Islanders, as his 32 points lead the team. In comparison to the three forwards lost, he has the best points total, leading Okposo by three. Tavares also has the club-lead in goals, with 16 to his credit, and once again he leads Okposo by three tallies.

The issue with the Islanders does not seem to be their primary or secondary scorer, but instead the tertiary Brock Nelson. Even though he’s the third-best forward on the squad this season, his nine goals among 23 points are not enough of a threat.

The Isles‘ power play has been a major point of concern, as they tie for third-worst with their 13.6% conversion rate. Nick Leddy joins Tavares in leading the club in that effort with eight power play points, but once again the captain has headed the charge in scoring with four man-advantage goals.

While not as bad as the power play, the penalty kill cannot be ignored as it yields goals on 20% of opposing power plays, which ties for ninth-worst. Calvin de Haan may spend only 1:39-per-game on the penalty kill (well below Thomas Hickey‘s 2:08), but he certainly makes an impact. His 20 shorthanded blocks are tops on the team.

Visiting the Barclays Center this evening are the 19-19-8 Stars, the fifth-best team in the Central Division, and 11th in the Western Conference. Dallas‘ issue this year is the same one they faced a season ago: goaltending. They’ve allowed 144 goals against, which ties for second-most in the NHL.

With four more starts to his credit, 9-12-4 Kari Lehtonen has been the man between the pipes more often than not this season for the Stars. But as his record indicates, things haven’t been going quite so swimmingly. He has a season .9 save percentage and 2.86 GAA, which is only (t)40th and (t)35th-best in the league among the 49 netminders with 13 or more appearances to their credit.

Even though they know their goalie has struggled, Dallas‘ defense has only offered average help. Led by Kris Russell‘s 115 shot blocks, the Stars have allowed 30.2 shots-per-game to reach Lehtonen’s crease, tying for 14th-most in the NHL.

Lehtonen continues to struggle on the penalty kill, leading Dallas to a second-worst 74% success rate. Even with Mark Giordano‘s impressive 32 shorthanded blocks, Lehtonen saves only 79% of opposing power play shots – the worst in the league.

Some players to keep an eye on include DallasTyler Seguin (44 points [eighth-most in the league] on 28 assists [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]) and New York‘s Thomas Greiss (.925 save percentage [fifth-best in the league]).

The experts in the desert have marked New York a -105 favorite to win tonight’s contest. Given the fact that both the Islanders‘ offense and Dallas‘ goaltending are poor, it boils down to who wins the other end of the ice. Personally, I like the Stars‘ offense more than New York‘s defense, so I predict a closely contested upset this evening.

Hockey Birthday

  • Sylvain Cote (1966-) – The 11th-overall pick in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft by Hartford, this defenseman played most of his 19-season career in Washington. He finished his career with a +39, but notched a +60 over his tenure with the Capitals.
  • Ian Laperriere (1974-) – This left wing was a seventh-round pick by St. Louis in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft, but he spent most of his career in Los Angeles. The 2011 Masterton Trophy winner, he notched 336 points before being forced to retire with post-concussion syndrome.
  • Mike Komisarek (1982-) – Montréal selected this blueliner seventh-overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he spent most of his 11-season career. He was voted to the 2008 All-Star game during a 227 block, +9 campaign – the best season of his career.
  • Thomas Vanek (1984-) – The fifth-overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft by Buffalo (still his longest tenured club), this left wing is playing his first season in Detroit. Although he’s in the 12th season of his career, he’s on track to have one of his best campaigns, averaging .55 assists per night (ties his 2012-’13 effort with the Sabres).

Thanks to Third Star Joe Pavelski‘s second-period insurance goal, the Sharks were able to knock-off bitter-rival Los Angeles 3-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Brent Burns (First Star of the Game Joe Thornton and Melker Karlsson) opened the scoring early, burying his snap shot only 3:31 after taking to the ice. The Kings were quick to respond, scoring only 2:15 later on a Tanner Pearson (Derek Forbort and Second Star Dustin Brown) tip-in. The score remained tied until 4:18 remained in the first period when San Jose‘s Tommy Wingels (Michael Haley) scored his snapper to give the Sharks a 2-1 lead going into the first intermission.

That lead doubled to two at the midway point of the frame when Pavelski (Joel Ward and Thornton) scored his wrister, but Los Angeles pulled back within a score off a Marian Gaborik (Kyle Clifford and Brown) wrister. That set the score at 3-2 going into the second intermission, which ultimately held to the end of the game.

Martin Jones earns the victory after saving 22-of-24 shots faced (91.7%), with Peter Budaj taking the loss, saving 24-of-27 (88.9%).

The Sharks‘ win was a big one in the DtFR Game of the Day series, as it pulled the visitors within five points of the hosts. Home teams have a 51-33-14 record in the series.

December 2 – Day 51 – Wildfires usually aren’t fun, but this one is an exception

Congratulations! You made it through the work week! You know what you deserve? Hockey.

Unfortunately, there’s only two games occurring this evening, and the action doesn’t start until 9 p.m. with Minnesota visiting Calgary. An hour and a half later, the second game – Montréal at San Jose (RDS) – drops the puck. All times eastern.

Tonight is the night our Minnesota fans have been waiting for: their Wild are finally being featured in the DtFR Game of the Day!

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Making their first of two visits to the Saddledome this season are the 11-8-3 Minnesota Wild, good enough to currently occupy third place in the Central Division. They’ve gotten to that position with excellent play from their goaltending, which allows the fewest goals in the league (46).

Devan Dubnyk has been nothing short of incredible this season. He’s only earned a 9-6-2 record over his 17 starts, but his record is not indicative of how well he’s played. His .946 save percentage and 1.66 GAA both rank second-best in the league among all goaltenders with nine or more appearances.

His exemplary play has been necessary, because Minnesota‘s blueline has not done much to help him. So far this season, they’ve allowed opponents to fire an average of 31.1 shots per game, the ninth-highest in the NHL. Jared Spurgeon‘s 39 blocks leads the team, but him and Jonas Brodin are the only two skaters for the Wild that have more than 30 blocks to their credit.

Hosting the Wild this evening are the 11-13-2 Flames, who currently sit in fifth place in the Pacific Division. The main reason Calgary has not found success this season has been their poor goaltending and defense, which has allowed 76 goals already – the third-most in the NHL.

Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson have split time between the pipes almost perfectly this year – separated by only 5:33 – at 13 starts apiece. Johnson has certainly found more success, earning a 8-4-1 record on a .93 save percentage and 2.06 GAA – the t-ninth and 10th-best effort among the 48 netminders with seven or more appearances.

Part of the reason Johnson has been able to play so well has been due to the defense playing in front of him. The Flames have allowed an average of only 29.5 shots against per game, the ninth-fewest in the league. That effort has been headlined by Mark Giordano, who has 64 blocks to his credit, the second-most in the entire league.

The defensive Achilles heel for Calgary has been on the penalty kill. Giordano’s 20 shorthanded blocks lead not only the Flames, but also the entire league, but it hasn’t done much to improve a 77.3% kill rate, tied for third-worst in the NHL.

It’s frightening, but the penalty kill has actually been the better of the two special teams. The Flames‘ power play is worst in the league, successful on only 10.1% of opportunities. Dennis Wideman has done his best to lead the man-advantage with four power play points, including two goals, but he’s one of only 11 skaters who have earned a point under those circumstances. It goes without saying that the Flames need to work on this aspect of their game if they want to return to their 2014-’15 form.

These squads have already met up once this year, with Calgary notching a 1-0 victory at the Xcel Energy Center. Gaudreau took credit for the lone tally.

Some players to keep an eye on tonight include Calgary‘s Johnson (three shutouts [tied for second-most in the league] on a 2.06 GAA and a .93 save percentage [both 10th-best in the NHL]) & Minnesota‘s Dubnyk (four shutouts [most in the league] on a 1.66 GAA and a .946 save percentage [both second-best in the NHL]) and Jason Zucker (+12 [tied for fifth-best in the league]).

It’s never a good sign for the home team when they have a line with a plus, but that’s the case this evening. I agree with Vegas’ prediction, based mostly on Calgary‘s ineptitude on special teams. Although Minnesota‘s effort on either the power play or the penalty kill does not dazzle, it should be more than enough to hold the Flames at bay.

Hockey Birthday

  • Rich Sutter (1963-) – This Sutter brother was drafted 10th-overall in the 1982 NHL Entry Draft by Pittsburgh, but his longest tenure with a club was from 1986-’90 with Vancouver.
  • Ron Sutter (1963-) – The ’82 Draft treated this Sutter a little better, as he was picked fourth-overall by, go figure, the Flyers. Nothing like a little sibling rivalry, especially between twins. Unlike Rich, Ron spent much of his career with the club that drafted him.
  • Sergei Zholtok (1972-2004) – This center was the 55th-overall pick in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft by Boston, but he played 210 of his 588 career games (35.7%) with Minnesota. Unfortunately, the Latvian’s life was cut short by cardiac arrhythmia.

Edmonton absolutely dominated the second period to seal a 6-3 victory over the Jets in yesterday’s Game of the Day.

The scoring started only shortly after the game did. Bryan Little (Blake Wheeler and Drew Stafford) waited only 35 seconds before scoring his first goal of the season. 1:56 later, Mark Letestu (First Star of the Game Leon Draisaitl and Andrej Sekera) pulled the Oil even at one-all with a power play goal. Winnipeg resumed the lead with 9:46 remaining in the opening frame with a power play goal of their own, courtesy of rookie Third Star Patrik Laine (Toby Enstrom and Nikolaj Ehlers). The Jets held that 2-1 lead into the first intermission.

Quick scoring seemed to be the theme of the night, as Draisaitl (Milan Lucic and Second Star Connor McDavid) buried a power play wrister to tie the game for Edmonton. The Oilers took their first lead of the night – a lead they would not yield – only 4:15 later when Letestu (Lucic and McDavid) buried yet another power play wrister. Patrick Maroon (Zack Kassian and Letestu) takes credit for the game-winning goal, as he buried a wrist shot with 8:17 remaining in the second period to give Edmonton a 4-2 lead going into the second intermission.

Another quick goal was struck in the final frame by Laine (Dustin Byfuglien and Wheeler) at the 1:44 mark, but it was all the Jets could muster for their comeback attempt. Draisaitl (McDavid and Adam Larsson) and Benoit Pouliot (Sekera and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) notched two insurance goals for the Oil to seal the victory.

Cam Talbot earned the victory after saving 22-of-25 (88%)shots faced, leaving the loss for Connor Hellebuyck, who saved 23-of-29 (79.3%). He was replaced after Pouliot’s goal by Michael Hutchinson, who saved all four shots he faced for no decision.

The road teams have been staging quite the comeback in the DtFR Game of the Day series, earning 11 points in the last seven games. That being said, the home squads still have the advantage with their 28-18-7 record, leading the visitors by four points.

November 6 – Day 25 – One more before heading back east

For a Sunday, we have quite a few games on the schedule. What’s pro football? I’ve never heard of it.

Two games drop the puck at 5 p.m. (Colorado at St. Louis and Edmonton at Detroit), followed an hour later by New Jersey at Carolina. The usual starting time of 7 p.m. marks the beginning of a couple of contests (Dallas at Chicago [TVAS] and Winnipeg at the New York Rangers [SN/SN360]) and tonight’s nightcap, Calgary at Anaheim, goes underway at 9:30 p.m. All times eastern.

We’ve had a nice weekend out on the west coast. There’s no games out here tomorrow, so let’s catch one more game before heading back east.

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It’s our third game on the Pond in five days, and if this one follows the scoring of the last two, the winner should cruise to a 5-1 victory.

Enter the visiting 5-7-1 Calgary Flames. Just last night the Flames were up the freeway in the Staples Center, but they lost 5-0 to the Kings. While their offense is certainly capable of scoring, Calgary is held back by the large quantities of goals they allow.

Brian Elliott has started nine of the Flames‘ games, including last night’s contest. Before the puck was dropped yesterday, Elliott had a .889 save percentage for 3.12 GAA – a far cry from the .93/2.07 he notched last year with the Blues. Chad Johnson, Elliott’s backup, has better stats – .908 save percentage for a 2.67 GAA – but on a small sampe size, with only four starts to his credit this season.

Regardless of who starts in net for the Flames, they need to do better.  Plain and simple. Led by Mark Giordano‘s 37 blocks, Calgary‘s defenders have allowed the average number of pucks to reach Elliott and Johnson, so the fault does not lie along the blueline.

One way to take pressure off the last line of defense needs to be avoiding the penalty box. Calgary is home to the second-worst penalty kill in the, neutralizing only 73.1% of opposing power plays.

Defending home ice this evening are the 5-5-2 Anaheim Ducks. They play a well rounded game for a +2 goal differential.

A strong suit I’ve liked out of the Ducks has been their commitment to special teams. Successful on 24.4% of power plays, Anaheim ranks sixth-best in the NHL with the man-advantage. They back that with the 10th-best penalty kill, refusing to yield a power play goal on 83% of opposing attempts.

Some players to keep an eye on tonight include Anaheim‘s John Gibson (one shutout [tied for sixth-most in the league]) and Calgary‘s Michael Frolik (nine points on five goals [both lead the team]).

Vegas marks Anaheim as a -190 favorite coming into tonight’s game, one of the most uneven lines on today’s schedule. Given Calgary‘s inability to stop the Ducks‘ power play, much less their standard offense, I think Anaheim easily defends home ice for the victory.

Hockey Birthday

  • Erik Cole (1978-) – The 71st overall selection in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, this left wing is still technically active in the league even though he hasn’t played since the 2014-’15 season. He’s most known for his two stints in Carolina, playing 557 games over nine seasons.
  • Brad Stuart (1979-) – The third overall pick of that draft is in the same situation as Cole. The defenseman was drafted by San Jose, and played 486 games over eight seasons with the Sharks.
  • Andrew Murray (1981-) – Drafted 242nd overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft by Columbus, Murray’s career has taken him away from North America to the KHL from 2013-’15.

The Penguins are taking no prisoners as of late, as their 5-0 victory over San Jose in yesterday’s Game of the Day is the fifth in their last six games.

Chris Kunitz (Evgeni Malkin and Ian Cole) takes credit for the game-winning tally, a snap shot only 4:22 after initial puck drop. Second Star of the Game Sidney Crosby (Third Star Carl Hagelin and Conor Sheary) tacked on the second-and-final goal of the first period with 1:32 remaining in the frame.

Crosby (Hagelin and Brian Dumoulin), Eric Fehr (Matt Cullen and Sheary) and Nick Bonino (Trevor Daley and Hagelin) scored the three remaining goals during the second period.

First Star Matt Murray earns the shutout victory after saving all 32 shots he faced, while Martin Jones saved four-of-seven (57.1%) for the loss. He was replaced following Crosby’s second goal, only 13 seconds into the second period, by Aaron Dell, who saved 16-of-18 (88.9%) for no decision.

With that victory by the visiting Penguins, the DtFR Game of the Day series stands at 14-10-3, favoring the home squads by only two points.

Bonus stat: Five of our last seven Game of the Days have been won by a five-goal offense, beginning with Pittsburgh in Philadelphia October 29.