Tag Archives: Hall

December 5 – Day 62 – Metro mayhem

It’s Tuesday, so you know what that means: another fun day of hockey action!

The evening gets started at 7 p.m. with the puck drop of New Jersey at Columbus, followed half an hour later by four more contests (the New York Rangers at Pittsbrugh [NBCSN/SN], St. Louis at Montréal [RDS/TSN2], Winnipeg at Detroit and the New York Islanders at Tampa Bay [TVAS]). Next up is Nashville at Dallas at 8:30 p.m., with Buffalo at Colorado only 30 minutes behind. Finally, a trio of tilts (Carolina at Vancouver, Anaheim at Vegas [SN1] and Minnesota at Los Angeles [NBCSN]) act as tonight’s nightcaps, and they drop the puck at 10 p.m. All times Eastern.

It’s an excellent slate of games on tap today, including four matchups between current playoff teams. The one that draws my attention the most is taking place in Central Ohio this evening, as the Metropolitan Division lead could be exchanged if everything goes the Devils’ way.

 

How tight are the standings in the Metropolitan Division, you ask? Well, if worst comes to worst for the division-leading 17-9-1 Blue Jackets, they could fall into a tie with Pittsburgh for third place by the end of the night (provided the Pens beat the Rangers, but December is way too early to be writing all the standings possibilities out).

Such is life in the toughest division in the league, where all eight clubs are within 10 points of each other.

With the exception of the Islanders (hey, another Metropolitan team!), no team is hotter right now than Columbus. Even though they lost their last contest, the Jackets have won eight of their past 10 games, and they’re doing it with some unbelievable play in their defensive end. Since November 11 (the day of the Jackets’ first game during this run), Columbus has allowed only 17 goals against, the fewest in the league.

The defensive corps certainly deserves some credit by allowing a fourth-best 287 shots against in that time (props to D Zach Werenski and his team-leading 22 blocks over this run), but the real star has been 14-6-1 G Sergei Bobrovsky. Starting eight of the 10 games, he’s saved 94.7 percent of the shots that have come his way for a 1.49 GAA, both of which rank in the top-three of the NHL since Veterans Day. This incredible effort has improved his season numbers to a .931 save percentage and 2.02 GAA, the second-best and best efforts, respectively, in the NHL among netminders with at least eight starts.

Given the unenviable task of trying to beat Bobrovsky are the third place 15-7-4 Devils, who have earned at least a point in 11 of their 16 games going back to November 1. Fortunately for them, they sport one of the better offenses in the league, as they average exactly three goals-per-game to rank 12th-best in the NHL.

What a difference a year can make. Last season, even with F Taylor Hall‘s 20-33-53 totals, the Devils scored an Eastern Conference-worst 2.2 goals-per-game and, as such, they were at the bottom of the conference table.

A season and a few rookies later, and New Jersey is starting to look like the franchise we knew and hated loved during the late ’90s and early 2000’s – maybe not in style, but success.

Yes, Hall is still putting up incredible numbers, as he’s already managed 8-19-27 totals to lead the team this season. But as we saw last campaign, one good player cannot atone for the sins of an entire team.

Enter Jersey’s youth. Rookies W Jesper Bratt (8-9-17 totals) and C Nico Hischier (5-13-18) complete Hall’s line, and they’ve been able to find more than their share of success. Though not yet at Hall’s caliber, they still rank (t)second and fourth-best in New Jersey’s list of offensive producers.

D Will Butcher (2-16-18) has also been a pleasant addition to this team, as he’s the player tied with Hischier for second-most points on the team. Even though the plays on the third defensive pairing with D Steven Santini, he’s been an especially valuable asset along the blueline during the Devils’ power plays, as his 10 points with the man-advantage are most on the squad.

Of course, the most frightening player to Bobrovsky might actually play on the third line. In case you don’t watch the Devils often, allow me to introduce you to F Brian Gibbons, Jersey’s purest sniper. Not only does the journeyman have the best shooting percentage on the team with his 32.4 percent success rate, but his 11 goals are also the most on the club.

Talk about depth scoring.

Of note, this evening is the first of a home-and-home series between these clubs. Neither squad will be in action until this Friday, when the Blue Jackets make their first visit of the season to the Prudential Center. To put things lightly, this is a big week in the Metropolitan Division (more on that Thursday).

These types of games are always fun. Throwing a solid offense at a goaltender that allows almost exactly one fewer goal against than they manage on a normal night is a true test of which platoon is better. Since this is a home game for Columbus, I’m leaning towards Bobrovsky earning his 15th win of the season.


The Washington Capitals never trailed in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they beat the San Jose Sharks 4-1 at Capital One Arena.

The contest started with both defenses commanding play early, as only 18 total shots were fired in the first period. However, Third Star of the Game W Devante Smith-Pelly (D John Carlson and F Jay Beagle) finally broke through for the Capitals with 3:11 remaining before the first intermission to set the score at 1-0.

It’s always a convenient time to score, but it’s especially so when Second Star W Alex Ovechkin buries a backhanded shot 7:11 into the second period for what proved to be the game-winner. The Russian did all the work for his tally, as he stole a misplayed puck from D Brent Burns and began tearing towards G Martin Jones. Taking advantage of an almost perfect one-on-one situation (D Brenden Dillon had an opportunity for a diving one-in-a-million play, but he couldn’t pull of the block), Ovechkin fired his backhander between Jones’ body and his right arm.

In a weird bit of circumstance, Ovechkin’s 20th goal of the season propelled him into sole ownership of 20th place in the list of the NHL’s all-time goalscorers, surpassing RW Mark Recchi‘s total of 577. The next name to fall victim to Ovechkin snipe from the left face-off circle will be RW Jari Kurri, who scored 601 goals in 1251 games played. Considering Ovechkin has only 949 games in his career so far, the sky is the limit to where he ends up on the list of all-time greats.

W Timo Meier (D Justin Braun) followed up Ovechkin’s marker 4:21 later to pull San Jose back within a goal, but W Brett Connolly (Ovechkin and F Evgeny Kuznetsov) scored a power play backhander with 52 seconds remaining before the second intermission to return a two-goal advantage to Washington.

In the midst of 16 third period penalties, LW Jakub Vrana (RW Tom Wilson and D Dmitry Orlov) netted a power play wrist shot with 8:24 remaining in regulation to set the 4-1 final score.

First Star G Philipp Grubauer earned the victory after saving 24-of-25 shots faced (.96 save percentage), leaving the loss to Jones, who saved 25-of-29 (.862).

Starting with Minnesota’s victory over Vegas on November 30, home and road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have exchanged wins daily. It was the 35-21-6 hosts’ turn today, and they now have a 16-point advantage over the roadies.

November 18 – Day 46 – Path to the playoffs

Saturdays like this are the best. Not only are there a whopping 13 NHL games on the schedule, but there’s also five matinees on the day meaning it’s possible to watch hockey for *busts out calculator* 12.5 hours.

And they say miracles don’t happen anymore.

The first of those matinees is scheduled for 1 p.m. and features Calgary at Philadelphia (SN1), followed by two more (Edmonton at Dallas and Arizona at Ottawa [TVAS]) an hour later. 3 p.m. marks the puck drop of New Jersey at Winnipeg, and the last early game of the day – Florida at Los Angeles – will commence an hour after. The usual starting time of 7 p.m. brings with it a collection of four tilts (Carolina at Buffalo, Toronto at Montréal [CBC/CITY/SN/TVAS], the New York Islanders at Tampa Bay and Chicago at Pittsburgh [NHLN]), with Minnesota at Washington waiting half an hour before getting a green light. Colorado at Nashville is next up at 8 p.m., followed by St. Louis at Vancouver (CBC/SN) at 10 p.m. and Boston at San Jose – tonight’s nightcap – 30 minutes after. All times Eastern.

If you can watch all those games, you are certainly worthy of the “hockey fan” title.

As usual with a day featuring this much activity, there’s usually more than a few good story lines to keep track of. Today’s list includes:

  • Toronto at Montréal: An Original Six rivalry game featuring the two Canadian teams? Yes, please.
  • Minnesota at Washington: For 117 total regular season and playoff games, F Daniel Winnik called Capital One Arena home. Tonight, he’s a member of the visiting team.

Though those games will be fun, I’m far more interested in the action taking place in Manitoba between two 11-4-3 clubs.

 

Don’t tell anybody, but after missing the playoffs for at least the past two seasons, both these teams have climbed into third place or better in their respective conferences.

If that’s not improvement, I don’t know what is.

In particular, the Jets have been especially exceptional of late, as they’ve won seven of their last 10 games and are currently riding a three-game winning streak.

What makes this winning streak even more significant for Winnipeg is – though the offense is performing slightly above it’s 3.22 goals-per-game mark for the season – the defensive end of the ice seems like it has turned a significant corner.

Over the past three games, Winnipeg has allowed only four goals against – the (t)fifth-fewest in the NHL in the past week – and much of that effort has been the direct result of 10-1-2 G Connor Hellebuyck‘s solid play in net. Undoubtedly having the best season of his three-year career, Hellebuyck has managed a .93 save percentage and 2.29 GAA for the campaign that has been only elevated by allowing just three goals in his past two appearances.

Hellebuyck has needed to play at this high level for most of this season because of his defense allowing a (t)fifth-worst 33.7 shots against-per-game, and that’s been no different over this three-game run. I can only assume Head Coach Paul Maurice’s next step in returning the Jets to the glory days of the 70s will be to improve the play of the blue line. Himself a former OHL defenseman, he’ll undoubtedly lean on the already strong play of young defensemen Josh Morrissey and Jacob Trouba – both averaging 2.2 blocks-per-game – as well as F Brandon Tanev (2.7 hits-per-game) to set a solid example for others to follow.

Considering they’re playing a Devils offense that has averaged the seventh-best goals-per-game this season, I don’t doubt that we’ll hear Hellebuyck, Morrissey, Tanev and Trouba’s names often this afternoon.

What makes New Jersey’s offense fun to watch is – just like @nlanciani53 and I discussed on yesterday’s podcast – it is very selective about what shots it takes. The Devils are earning their 2.38 goals-per-game on only 30.4 shots-per-game, a rate that is eighth-lowest in the NHL.

Perhaps its no surprise then that F Brian Gibbons has found such success this year from the fourth line. Although he trails F Taylor Hall‘s 6-13-19 totals for the team-lead in points, his eight goals are the highest total in Newark.

How is this possible? It’s inconceivable that a fourth-liner should be besting one of the better forwards in the game!

It’s all because he’s being ultra-selective about the opportunities he’s taking. He’s fired only 25 shots so far this year (1.39 per game) compared to Hall’s 63, but Gibbons claims a team-leading .32 shooting percentage.

Perhaps no other stat is more telling about Gibbons – and arguably the Devils as a whole – than his performance on the penalty kill. He’s already scored two shorthanded goals this season, which is one fewer than the league-leading and more likely goalscorer LW Evander Kane. “Taking what the defense is giving you” seems to be a message Head Coach John Hynes is preaching to his players, and they’re buying in and executing with even more success than he probably imagined at the start of this season.

As for who’s going to win this game, this one may very well be a toss up. I’m leaning towards the Jets taking two points in this game not only because they’re playing at home, but also because I feel their offense is a little bit better than Jersey’s defense.


In our second shutout in as many nights, yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day was won 2-0 by the Columbus Blue Jackets over the New York Rangers at Nationwide Arena.

First Star of the Game G Sergei Bobrovsky saved all 36 shots he faced to earn his second clean sheet of the season. Not to be outdone too much, Third Star G Henrik Lundqvist also played spectacularly, as he saved 40-of-42 shots faced (.952 save percentage).

Thirty-three of the Jackets’ shots on goal were registered in the first two periods, so it’s a surprise they didn’t have better than a one-goal advantage heading into the second intermission. However, Lundqvist only let by Second Star D Zach Werenski‘s (F Brandon Dubinsky and F Boone Jenner) snap shot with 6:26 remaining in the second frame.

Though it will do little to console King Henrik, Werenski’s goal was the result of some absolutely brilliant passing by the Jackets. The play started above the right offensive face-off circle with Werenski tapping the puck to Jenner, who proceeded to move to the center of the zone before dishing to Dubinsky. The forward started driving towards the net, pulling C David Desharnais out of the slot to attempt a sliding block. Dubinsky made a quick move around him and continued his assault on Lundqvist, but instead of firing a close-range wrist shot, he slid a pass behind two Rangers to Werenski on the edge of the right face-off circle, where he ripped his snapper high cheese over Lundqvist’s right shoulder.

Columbus tacked on its insurance goal at the 7:14 mark of the third period thanks in large part to W Pavel Buchnevich earning a seat in the penalty box for interfering with Jenner 19 seconds earlier. LW Artemi Panarin (RW Oliver Bjorkstrand) took advantage of the odd-man situation to score a slap shot for his fourth goal of the season.

The Blue Jackets’ victory is the fourth in the past five days by a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series. As such, the 24-17-5 hosts have exploded to a six-point advantage over the visitors after the series was tied Sunday.

November 16 – Day 44 – Defense is a Boughner

Fantasy hockey players, consider this your alert: with a dozen games on the schedule, there’s tons of points to be earned tonight!

Like they do most nights, the festivities begin at 7 p.m. when two games (New Jersey at Toronto and Carolina at the New York Islanders), followed half an hour later by three more (Arizona at Montréal [RDS/TSN2], Pittsburgh at Ottawa [RDS2] and Dallas at Tampa Bay). 8 p.m. marks the start of two contests (Nashville at Minnesota and Philadelphia at Winnipeg) with another pair (Washington at Colorado and St. Louis at Edmonton) waiting an hour before getting underway. Vegas at Vancouver gets green-lit at 10 p.m. and tonight’s nightcaps – Boston at Los Angeles (SN) and Florida at San Jose – close things out half an hour later. All times Eastern.

There’s quite a few games that have caught my eye this evening. That list includes:

  • Pittsburgh at Ottawa: It’s the first of three rematches of last season’s Eastern Conference Finals.
  • Dallas at Tampa Bay: Welcome home G Ben Bishop; welcome home.
  • Vegas at Vancouver: D Luca Sbisa called British Columbia home for three seasons, but he’s traded his Vancouver digs for a pad in Sin City.
  • Florida at San Jose: For the last two years, Bob Boughner was an assistant coach for Head Coach Peter DeBoer in San Jose. Tonight, he’ll square off against him as the 15th head coach in Panthers history.

It’s a tough selection among those four, but I have a great way to determine which game is the DtFR Game of the Day: we’ve featured 30 of 31 NHL teams in the series so far, but the one club that escapes us is the Panthers. It’s time to resolve that today.

 

I don’t think you really understand how happy it makes me each year to say we’ve featured every club at least once in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Of course, the Panthers haven’t exactly done themselves any favors with 14 points in the standings…

Regardless of Florida’s current situation, there’s no doubt of Boughner’s ability as a coach. He’s been a head man before, even if his experience wasn’t in the NHL. For eight total seasons (two four-year terms) he was the skipper his hometown OHL team, the Windsor Spitfires. In particular, his first stint with the club was certainly noteworthy. After missing the playoffs in 2006-’07, his first season coaching the organization, he built the Spitfires into a team capable of winning back-to-back Memorial Cups in 2009 and ’10.

Of course, what can you expect from a team that featured the likes of D Ryan Ellis, D Cam Fowler, G Philipp Grubauer, F Taylor Hall, F Adam Henrique, RW Zack Kassian and F Austin Watson?

Winning two CHL championships is a good way to get noticed by the big kids in the hockey business, and Boughner was hired as an assistant coach to Scott Arniel with the Blue Jackets in 2010-’11 before returning to Windsor a year later.

His second four-year stint with the Spitfires was nowhere near as good as his first (given, winning back-to-back titles is a tough act to replicate), as he only qualified Windsor for the OHL playoffs two times – both times falling in the first round.

Following 2014-’15’s failure to reach the postseason, Boughner returned to the NHL as an assistant coach for DeBoer in San Jose, working primarily with D Brent Burns and the defense. The Sharks found much success in Boughner’s two years with the club, as they qualified for their first-ever Stanley Cup Finals in 2016.

And that brings us to present day. Since being hired as the Panthers head coach on June 12, he’s led the club to a not-so-great 6-9-2 record that – as I indicated in my season preview – I blame almost entirely on General Manager Dale Tallon.

As the saying goes, “If it walks like a duck, flies like a duck and sounds like a duck, it’s probably a duck.” Well, these Panthers are definitely no Anaheim Ducks. Even though I’m sure Boughner – a former defenseman with 10 seasons of NHL experience – is telling his blueliners all his tips and tricks, Florida is the worst defense in the NHL as measured by shots against-per-game, as their 36.6 is 1.1 more than second-worst New Jersey.

Given the obnoxious number of shots it allows, perhaps it’s no surprise Florida has registered the sixth-fewest blocks so far this season. I usually hold D Aaron Ekblad in high esteem, but as one of, if not the best defenseman on this team, his 1.5 blocks-per-game are definitely not cutting it.

Even D Andy Greene, who plays for a nominally better defense in Jersey, has managed 2.1 blocks-per-game this year. Good leaders lead by example, and Ekblad needs to do that if he wants any chance of a positive future for this Panthers organization – especially since he’s locked in with this team until the end of the 2024-’25 season.

Maybe the Panthers are a more violent team; maybe that’s how they are trying to play defense. Guess again, because Florida’s 320 hits are fifth-fewest in the NHL.

Making matters worse, F Derek MacKenzie, whose 37 hits lead the team, is currently listed as day-to-day and it is uncertain if he’ll be able to return to the ice for the first time since getting injured early in Saturday’s game against the Devils. If he’s not ready to play and D Alex Petrovic is still banished to the press box with his team-leading three hits-per-game, F Micheal Haley and his 1.8 hits-per-game would take over as the Panthers’ primary muscle.

What all of this means is 3-3-1 G Roberto Luongo should probably be commended for his .919 save percentage and 3.09 GAA. He’s doing the best he can to provide the league’s (t)ninth-best offense a chance every night he takes to the crease.

Last thing about the Panthers before we talk Sharks real quick: that offense, though. Jonathan Huberdeau (7-14-21 totals) and Vincent Trocheck (8-10-18) are absolute studs, as they’ve racked up all those points on separate lines. Snoozing on Florida’s offense is a recipe for disaster, and G Martin Jones would be wise to treat every attack from the top-two lines just like he would against the other team in the Sunshine State.

That’s actually as good a transition as any, because 10-6-0 San Jose makes a living out of rejecting even the best of offenses, allowing a league-leading 2.25 goals against-per-game.

Perhaps Boughner can use the Sharks’ defense – the same defense he helped build – as a teaching tool for his club, because there’s few blue lines in the league better than San Jose’s. Though 8-4-0 Jones has been solid with his .925 save percentage, it’s the fact that D Justin Braun (2.4 blocks-per-game), D Brenden Dillon (3.1 hits-per-game) and co. have allowed only 28.8 shots against-per-game that has earned the Sharks third place in the Pacific Division.

In my opinion, one of the best indicators of a really good defense is finding success with a man in the penalty box. The Sharks pass that test with flying colors (I can only assume those colors are teal and orange), as their 88.5 percent kill rate is second-best in the NHL. Considering the Panthers’ power play is (t)12th-worst in the league, they shouldn’t have too much trouble keeping those numbers up tonight.

Florida’s offense squares up rather nicely with San Jose’s defense, and the Sharks’ sixth-worst attack might find it in them to struggle against the Panthers’ defense. If that proves to be the case, I give the edge to San Jose since it’s playing at home and it has Jones at its disposal.


With a third period hat trick by First Star of the Game F Artem Anisimov, the Chicago Blackhawks beat the New York Rangers 6-3 at the United Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Anisimov’s (F Patrick Kane and Second Star F Nick Schmaltz) first goal of the game wasn’t struck until the 1:07 mark of the third period, leaving him only 18:53 to complete his performance. After F John Hayden (D Cody Franson and D Duncan Keith) set the score at 3-1 46 seconds after Anisimov’s first goal, the Russian struck again (Franson and Schmaltz) at the 5:14 mark with a power play wrist shot.

Since his second goal proved to be the game-winner, I suppose we’ll let it be the most important of Anisimov’s night, but his tip-in with 3:48 remaining in regulation (Schmaltz and RW Richard Panik) to send headgear flying has to earn silver. That tally set the score at 5-3 and was followed 2:18 later by C Jonathan Toews‘ (Panik and D Brent Seabrook) fifth marker of the season to set the 6-3 final on an empty net.

Making tonight’s win even sweeter for the Hawks, it technically counts as a come-from-behind victory due to C Mika Zibanejad‘s (F Chris Kreider and W Pavel Buchnevich) wrister 9:58 into the first period. He gave the Rangers a one-goal advantage that lasted 29:10 before Third Star W Alex DeBrincat (Panik and Keith) sneaked a wrister past G Henrik Lundqvist with 52 seconds remaining in the second period to level the game.

The Blueshirts also put up a strong fight in the middle of the final frame, as they scored two goals between Anisimov’s second and third. F Kevin Hayes (W Mats Zuccarello and W Rick Nash) takes credit for the first at the 7:08 mark with a wrister, followed 4:48 later by an unassisted Nash backhanded shot to set the score at 4-3 in favor of Chicago. Momentum was certainly on New York’s side at that moment, but the fact that the Hawks’ defense allowed only nine shots on goal in both the second and third periods put a halt to that positive energy rather quickly.

G Corey Crawford earned the victory after saving 25-of-28 shots faced (.893 save percentage), leaving the loss to Lundqvist, who saved 30-of-34 (.882). King Henrik was lifted after Anisimov’s second goal in favor of G Ondrej Pavelec, who completed the game saving seven-of-eight (.875) for no decision.

Not only is this the second-straight 6-3 score in the DtFR Game of the Day series, but it’s also the third-straight victory by the now 23-16-5 home teams who now have a six-point advantage over the roadies.

November 1 – Day 29 – Brian Boyle’s debut?

Halloween is great, but it’s the first couple of weeks in November that are truly great because you get to eat your candy. What better way to watch a hockey game?

Speaking of which, you’ll have a few more contests to choose from while experiencing your sugar high than your typical Wednesday. The action starts at 8 p.m. when Philadelphia visits Chicago (NBCSN), followed half an hour later by Pittsburgh at Edmonton (SN1/TVAS). The real meat of tonight’s schedule occurs on the West Coast, as two matchups (New Jersey at Vancouver [SN360] and Toronto at Anaheim) are slated for 10 p.m., 30 minutes before tonight’s nightcap: Nashville at San Jose (NBCSN).

The Predators-Sharks game should be nothing short of excellent considering they’re tied for eighth place in the Western Conference, but we just featured San Jose Monday. With that in mind and the fact that F Brian Boyle could make his season debut tonight, let’s take a look at the Devils’ yearly trip to British Columbia.

 

These two clubs have been some of the best stories to start the season. Though I think it’s still too early to be adjusting playoff predictions for either of them, the fact that they are both among the top four in their respective conferences a month into their campaigns is certainly an admirable feat.

If either of these teams are to hold on to their position in the standings, I’d put my money on the 8-2-0 Devils that are currently leading the Metropolitan Division.

Few were better in the month of October with the puck on their sticks, as Jersey has laid claim to the third-best scoring offense in the league through 28 days of action. Led by the incomparable F Taylor Hall and his 3-10-13 totals in his second season with the team, New Jersey has scored an impressive 3.8 goals-per-game.

Though Hall is certainly deserving of any and all praise he receives, one of my favorite players for New Jersey is rookie D Will Butcher. Not only are his 11 assists most on the team (not to mention the second-highest point-total), but he’s also been heavily involved in a Devils power play that has already scored 11 man-advantage goals in 10 games played for a 27.5 percent conversion rate that is fifth-best in the NHL.

Maybe you didn’t hear me: Fifth-best in the league. We’re talking better than the high-flying Maple Leafs, better than W Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals, and even better than the Sabres who ended last season with the top special teams in the NHL.

Anyways, back to Butcher. Seven of his 11 assists have been struck while the Devils have a man-advantage, which makes him the strongest contributor to Jersey’s power play by a mile (rookie W Jesper Bratt and Hall tie for second with five power play points).

What has made New Jersey’s man-advantage so spectacular is Butcher has had more than his fair share of options to pass to. Playing on the Devils’ top power play unit, he’s been able to pass to Bratt, Hall or C Adam Henrique – all of whom have scored two goals on the man-advantage. Tack on W Drew Stafford‘s two power play goals from the second unit, and you have a squad that G Jacob Markstrom can’t wait to see leave Rogers Arena.

Speaking of Markstrom, Vancouver has found most of its wins this season by playing some stellar defensive hockey. Having allowed only 2.36 goals-per-game through 11 showings, the Canucks are the third-best defense in the NHL.

It’s pretty tough to allow goals when not too many shots are reaching your goaltender. That’s the exact approach being taken by Head Coach Travis Green. Even though he was a center during his playing days with the Islanders (what does he know about defense?), his team has allowed only 29 shots against-per-game, the third-fewest in the league.

The Canucks have been so good defensively, it’s hard to decide where to start. We could discuss D Ben Hutton‘s 11 takeaways in as many games played, or we could talk about RW Derek Dorsett‘s more physical approach to forcing a change in possession, as he leads the team with 2.3 hits-per-game. And even if those methods don’t work, D Michael Del Zotto has been there to block loads of shots, averaging 2.5 per game.

Regardless of how they’re doing it, Markstrom is not complaining one bit that his defense is keeping lots of pucks out of his crease. And much to the delight of Vancouverites, Markstrom has been no slouch in his own right when the occasional shot comes his way. So far this season, he’s managed a solid .911 save percentage and 2.4 GAA, both of which rank inside the top-15 among goaltenders with at least five starts.

It’s a game of strength-on-strength, which usually leads me to predicting how things will go on the opposite end of the ice to help me make my pick. Go figure that Vancouver’s offense and New Jersey’s defense both rank 11th-worst in goals for or against.

Therefore, I’m leaning towards the Canucks winning this game and snapping the Devils’ two-game winning streak on the simple basis of being the home team. This should be a very competitive and exciting game that could require more than 60 minutes to determine a winner.


In what proved to be a very defensive game, the Winnipeg Jets were able to beat the Minnesota 2-1 at the Xcel Energy Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Only one goal was struck in the first two periods, and it belonged to LW Kyle Connor (C Mark Scheifele and D Tyler Myers) 7:10 into the first period. His wrist shot remained alone on the scoreboard for the next 33:33 of play, much to the delight of the Jets.

In the time between goals, First Star of the Game G Connor Hellebuyck played like an absolute stud. He faced a total of 17 shots in the first period and second period, and saved them all. For the entire evening, he saved 28-of-29 shots faced for an impressive .966 save percentage.

Only 43 seconds after returning from the second intermission, Second Star W Nikolaj Ehlers decided that it was time Winnipeg had an insurance goal. Ehlers came in possession of the puck after a terrible decision by D Matt Dumba to perform a no-look backwards pass in his own defensive zone. Ehlers took advantage of the unattended puck, maneuvered around F Mikael Granlund and buried a backhanded shot after deking G Alex Stalock.

Though Third Star F Luke Kunin (W Nino Niederreiter and C Eric Staal) was able to pull the Wild back within a goal at the 5:36 mark of the third period, Minnesota could not find a second goal in the remaining time to force overtime.

In the home loss, Stalock saved only 17-of-19 shots faced for an. 895 save percentage.

Speaking of home losses, that’s the first in the past three days in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Home teams now have a 16-9-4 record that is only eight points better than the visitors’.

October 12 – Day Nine – The Kevin Peter Hall game

If you have no idea who the title is referring to, maybe today’s selection can help.

Action is slightly delayed this evening, as our first two contests (Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay [SN360/TVAS] and St. Louis at Florida) don’t drop the puck until 7:30 p.m. Dallas pays a visit to Nashville at 8 p.m., followed by Minnesota at Chicago half an hour later. Another pair of contests (Winnipeg at Vancouver and Detroit at Arizona) get the green light at 10 p.m., with tonight’s nightcap – Buffalo at San Jose – getting underway 30 minutes later. All times Eastern.

There’s two games from that selection that have drawn my eye. The Wild-Blackhawks rivalry is always fun to take in, but I’m surprisingly more drawn to a meeting between between two 1-2-0 clubs.

 

Still can’t figure it out? Hall was the person in the Predator suit in the first two Predator movies. He’s the star of Predator!

Sure, I could have gone with Arnold Schwarzenegger, but that would have been too easy.

Anyways…

Coming off an offseason of high expectations, both of these teams had a tough opening week to their campaigns. They both lost their opening two games (including an embarrassing 4-0 loss by the Predators to Pittsburgh in a rematch of the Stanley Cup Finals) before winning their contests on Tuesday.

Starting with visiting Dallas, this was supposed to be an offense that eclipsed that of 2015-’16, yet the Stars have averaged only 2.33 goals-per-game to start the season ([t]third-worst in the league).

Part of the problem has been the goaltending they’ve squared off against. Both Jake Allen (.93 save percentage and 2.58 GAA) and Marc-Andre Fleury (.963 save percentage and 1.32 GAA) have yet to lose a game in three starts and – especially Fleury – have been among the league’s best.

Even though the super line of Jamie BennTyler SeguinAlexander Radulov didn’t find the back of the net, Dallas proved what it is truly capable of Tuesday against G Petr Mrazek. With the exception of the top power play unit scoring late in the first period, the middle two lines began flexing their muscles by scoring the remaining three goals (shh, no one needs to know that C Martin Hanzal‘s first goal of the year was an empty netter).

While the offense assumes its form, it’s been the superb play of G Ben Bishop that has been keeping the Stars competitive in all their games. So far this season he’s posted a .955 save percentage and 1.15 GAA, including what could have been a shutout if he hadn’t been forced from the Vegas game on opening night.

Of the numerous signings made across the league, few improved a team as immensely as this one did for Dallas. Add in the fact that the Stars also added D Marc Methot to a formerly flimsy defensive corps and you find a Dallas team ready to shoot for the stars (that was so lame).

As for the Predators, they’re just trying to live up to qualifying for last year’s Stanley Cup Finals. No big deal, right?

That postseason effort was largely dependent on a defensive corps that also had a scoring touch as golden as their sweaters, and maybe it’s the absence of that flair that has held Nashville back so far this young season. Beyond D P.K. Subban and his four assists, only two other blue liners have contributed on offense. Even more noticeable is that none of those defensive points are goals.

It would seem D Ryan Ellis‘ absence is certainly being felt, as he posted 16-22-38 totals last season for .54 points-per-game. He would have notched at least one point by now.

And as dependable as Bishop has been for the Stars, G Pekka Rinne has been below-average to star the season. He’s managed only an .869 save percentage for an atrocious 4.16 GAA – and he didn’t even play in the four-goal loss to Pittsburgh.

With such an offensively-minded D-corps, elite play from Rinne is an absolute necessity. To put it bluntly, forcing the defense to actually focus on playing defense (that’s not a knock on this group, but we all know they’re almost always planning their next attack) takes such a major weapon away from this Nashville team. Head Coach Peter Laviolette cannot afford for this solid team to be in the wrong year of Rinne’s “good year, bad year” routine.

If anything is starting to go right for the Predators, it’s their power play. The man-advantage, specifically the top unit, played an integral role in the Preds’ comeback win Tuesday from a 4-3 deficit in the third period. Nashville has converted 31.3 percent of its man-advantages, which ties with the Rangers for the second-best effort in the NHL.

Though it was great to get that win over Philadelphia, I still don’t think all the Preds are mentally back from summer vacation. Having said that, I’m leaning towards Dallas pulling off the victory tonight, whether the game is over after 60 minutes or requires a shootout.


The machine that is the Pittsburgh Penguins seems to have rediscovered its groove, as they beat the Washington Capitals 3-2 at the Verizon Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The Penguins employed a goal-per-period strategy last night that the Caps nearly matched, failing to score in the first period. Because of that, does that make D Kris Letang‘s (W Bryan Rust and First Star of the Game RW Patric Hornqvist) first goal of the season, a power play wrist shot 5:22 into the game, the game-winner?

Unfortunately for Letang, we all know the answer to that question is technically ‘no.’ Sorry, buddy.

Pittsburgh registered its second power play goal of the night 8:20 into the second period, courtesy of Hornqvist (W Tom Kuhnhackl and C Sidney Crosby), another first-time goalscorer for the 2017-’18 season. The Penguins almost took a two-goal advantage into the second intermission, but Second Star D Christian Djoos (C Lars Eller and W Brett Connolly) sneaked a slap shot past G Matthew Murray with 53 seconds remaining in the frame to pull Washington back within a goal. Just like the goalscorers before him, Djoos’ marker was his first of the season, but this one was extra special: tonight was also his NHL debut.

Apparently Head Coach Mike Sullivan was none too pleased about Djoos’ late marker, as Third Star W Conor Sheary (D Justin Schultz and D Olli Maatta) provided what proved to be the true game-winner 38 seconds into the third period.

The play truly started with five seconds remaining in the second period when RW Alex Chiasson earned himself a seat in the penalty box for getting caught holding D Brian Dumoulin. As far as action on the ice is concerned, the scoring play began with Maatta at the blue line. Seeing Schultz undefended – due to the Capitals being shorthanded – in the face-off circle to G Braden Holtby‘s right, he passed to his fellow defenseman who quickly centered a pass to Sheary waiting in Holtby’s crease. Though the 25-year-old began falling while performing his tip-in, the redirection was just enough to beat Holtby to the post.

W Alex Ovechkin (Djoos and C Nicklas Backstrom) did pull Washington back within a goal with 7:09 remaining in regulation, but neither he, F T.J. Oshie nor any of the other Capitals could complete the comeback in the remaining time.

Murray earned the victory after saving 20-of-22 shots faced (.909), leaving the loss to Holby, who saved 33-of-36 (.917).

Pittsburgh’s road victory snaps what was a four-game winning streak for the 5-3-1 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. That being said, hosts still have a two-point advantage over roadies in the competition.

New Jersey Devils 2017-’18 Season Preview

New Jersey Devils

28-40-14, 70 points, last in the Eastern Conference

Additions: F Brian Boyle, C Nico Hischier, F Marcus Johansson, W Drew Stafford

Subtractions: W Beau Bennett (signed with STL), F Mike Cammalleri (signed with LAK), W Patrik Elias (retired), F Jacob Josefson (signed with BUF), D Jonathon Merrill (drafted by VGK), W Devante Smith-Pelly (signed with WSH)

Offseason Analysis: Ignoring the lockout-shortened seasons of 1994-’95 and 2012-‘13, last year’s 70-point effort was the Devils’ worst campaign since 1988-’89. That ensuing draft, New Jersey selected future four-time All-Star RW Bill Guerin, who eventually contributed 11 points in the Devils’ 1995 run to the Stanley Cup – including an assist on C Neal Broten’s Cup-clinching goal.

Especially in light of recent draft standouts at the center position (think Jack EichelAuston Matthews, Connor McDavid, etc.), General Manager Ray Shero is hoping last year’s struggles that allowed him to draft Hischier with the first overall pick will yield similar results in the near future as he works to rebuild the club back to the level of success it’s experienced for most of the past three decades.

The speedy Swiss 18-year-old brings 38-48-86 totals from his time with QMJHL side Halifax last year, but he alone won’t be enough to significantly improve the third-worst offense in the league. That’s where former first-rounder Johansson and his career-high 24-34-58 totals from a season ago with the Capitals comes into play. Since both C Jesper Boqvist and W Fabian Zetterlund – the Devils’ second and third selections in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft – are expected to spend at least one more season in their native Sweden, it’ll be up to them to spearhead any attacking improvements for Head Coach John Hynes’ club alongside Taylor Hall (20-33-53) and Kyle Palmieri (26-27-53), last season’s co-leaders in points for the team.

Since the addition of 2017 Hobey Baker Award winner D Will Butcher on August 27, the situation along Jersey’s blue line could be evolving even though the Devils did little more than draft D Reilly Walsh with their second third-round pick, but it remains to be seen if Butcher will join Captain Andy Greene and co. on the senior team or if he’ll be assigned to Binghamton on AHL assignment.

Of note in this situation are the contracts, or lack thereof, of two Devils defensemen of the same mold: 26-year-old John Moore (12-10-22) and 23-year-old Damon Severson (3-28-31). Moore will be an unrestricted free agent following this season, while Severson is currently a restricted free agent. Should the Devils be unable to agree to terms with Severson – which would seem unlikely, given their almost $18 million in cap space – Butcher would be a lock to make Jersey’s 23-man roster, if not earn regular playing time. And in the predictable case Severson remains with the Devils, Butcher would almost certainly be an improvement over D Dalton Prout, who is eligible to be demoted to the AHL without hitting the waiver wire.

The same two goaltenders return from last year, and Cory Schneider – co-winner of the 2011 William M. Jennings Trophy – will be expected to return to his previous form. For his entire NHL career, Schneider has managed a .922 save percentage and 2.28 GAA, but those numbers fell to .908 and 2.82 last season. In large part, that may have been due to his defense allowing 31.4 shots to reach his crease per game (tied for ninth-worst in the NHL), but he cannot expect that to change given the Devils’ inactivity in changing personnel along the blue line. If New Jersey plans to end its rebuild now (*hint* it shouldn’t), it will have to fall on Schneider to shore up the defensive end.

Unfortunately, I don’t expect Devils fans to witness immediate progress noticeable in a final score. Instead, they should be looking for improved fundamentals from all skaters, a rebound season for Schneider and another solid entry draft to shore up the defensive corps. Rasmus Dahlin or Jared McIsaac, anyone?

Offseason Grade: B

Make no doubt about it: the Devils are in full rebuild mode and would be unwise to believe they are retooled enough to emerge from the bottom of the Eastern Conference this season. But, they have made many of the right steps in improving their forward corps with talented youths and could begin making their resurgence in a few years if they stick with #TheProcess.

January 12 – Day 89 – Y’Hall come back now

You’re getting close to the weekend. Only one more day of school or work. The best way to prepare for Friday is with some hockey tonight, obviously.

As usual, the action begins at 7 p.m. with Vancouver at Philadelphia, followed half an hour later by two more games (Pittsburgh at Ottawa [RDS2] and Buffalo at Tampa Bay). 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of another pair of contests (Boston at Nashville [TVAS] and Montréal at Minnesota [NBCSN/RDS]), with Detroit at Dallas trailing 30 minutes later. The final pair of games gets the green light at 9 p.m. (New Jersey at Edmonton and Anaheim at Colorado), with tonight’s nightcap – St. Louis at Los Angeles (SN/SN360) – getting underway at 10:30 p.m. All times eastern.

Taylor Hall finally plays his first game in Rogers Place, although it’s much later than many Oilers fans expected before this offseason. He should receive a warm welcome this evening.

New Jersey Devils LogoUnknown-5

It seems like it was only last weekend that these two played each other. Oh wait, it was last Saturday that the Oilers beat New Jersey 2-1 on an overtime slap shot from Mark Letestu.

This game has certainly been the more anticipated of the two contests waged between these teams this season. Thanks to a trade that shipped the former number one pick to Newark, Hall has been champing at the bit to get back in front of his original home crowd.

Hall was drafted in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and made an almost immediate impact. He played 65 games in his rookie season, scoring a team-leading 22 goals.

Although he only achieved that status one more time (ironically, it was last season when joined by Connor McDavid, the kid that replaced him as the star of the future), Hall was always an integral part of the Oilers‘ offense. He led the club in points three times in his six Edmonton seasons, and never fell lower than third place. In all, Hall contributed to or directly scored 328 goals in a blue sweater, only three fewer than Jordan Eberle in that time span.

Since making his way to New Jersey after being traded for Adam Larsson, he’s learned all about how difficult scoring can be. Currently only taking credit for 25 points on nine goals, Hall is on pace for only 56 points on 20 goals, which would be the fifth and third-worst efforts, respectively, of his seven-year career.

In his defense, it doesn’t help that he regularly has to play against the likes of Sergei Bobrovsky, Braden Holtby and Henrik Lundqvist. Those guys don’t give up many goals to start with, no matter how good you are.

Hall and his 16-18-8 Devils make their way to Edmonton with the second-worst record in both the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference. That sounds much worse than it actually is though, as it’s only eight points out of a playoff spot – and with a game in-hand! – but I’m far from predicting a New Jersey surge. As one might expect from Hall’s numbers, the Devils have mightily struggled to score, accounting for only 92 tallies in 42 games, the third-lowest scoring rate in the league.

Remember Hall’s scoring stats? 25 points on nine goals? I regret to inform you that he’s actually a team-leader with those numbers. He and Travis Zajac both have the same point total due to sharing the second line. The other skater on that line – P.A. Parenteau – has certainly benefited from their efforts, as his dozen tallies are the most in Jersey.

It’s not happenstance that the third-worst offense has the second-worst power play in the league, as the Devils capitalize on only 13.3% or their opponent’s penalties. Both Kyle Palmieri and Damon Severson have thrived with one fewer foe to keep an eye on, as both have nine power play points to lead the club, but it’s been Hall and Parenteau who have truly done the minimal damage, each with four man-advantage tallies.

Hosting Jersey this evening are the 21-15-7 Oilers, the third-best team in the Pacific Division even though they’ve lost their last two games. As a club is prone to do when four of their last five first-round picks are forwards, Edmonton has made their living on the offensive end of the ice, scoring 121 goals – the seventh-most in the NHL.

When I said McDavid replaced Hall as the star of Edmonton in his rookie season, I meant it. McDavid has the world – or at least the NHL – by a string with his league-leading 48 points. Just like Parenteau, Patrick Maroon has taken advantage of having such a player on his line, as his 16 goals are tops in Edmonton.

Some players to watch in tonight’s game include Edmonton‘s McDavid (48 points on 34 assists [both lead the league]) and Cam Talbot (three shutouts among 20 wins [both tied for fifth-most in the NHL]) and New Jersey‘s Parenteau (12 goals [leads the team]) and Steven Santini (+5 [leads the team]).

Vegas has marked the Oilers a heavy favorite to win tonight’s game at -190, and it’s hard to pick against that. The Oilers have been one of the better stories this season barring Columbus and Minnesota, and New Jersey hasn’t been able to match their mid-November form when they went 5-0 in nine days. Oilers fans shouldn’t need to break a sweat.

Hockey Birthday

  • Jimmy Skinner (1917-2007) – Although offered a contract from the Rangers, Skinner never played a game in the NHL. Instead, he coached four seasons in Detroit to win the 1955 Stanley Cup.
  • Tim Horton (1930-1974) – Just in case some of you kids don’t know, he’s more than a donut and coffee shop. This seven-time All Star played 24 seasons, almost all of which were in Toronto, where he won four Stanley Cups – including three-straight from 1962-’64.  He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1977, three years after passing away in a car accident.
  • Curt Fraser (1958-) – Drafted 22nd-overall by his hometown Canucks in the 1978 NHL Amateur Draft, this left wing played a dozen seasons in the league, most of which in Chicago. He ended his career with 433 points to go with his 1306 penalty minutes.
  • Espen Knutsen (1972-) – Although this center was drafted in the 10th-round of the 1990 NHL Entry Draft by Hartford, he never played a game with the club. Instead, he spent most of his five seasons in Columbus. In 2002, he became the first and only Norwegian participant in an All Star Game.
  • Jocelyn Thibault (1975-) – This goaltender was drafted 10th-overall in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft by Quebec, but he ended up spending most of his time in Chicago. He completed his career with a 238-238-75 record and earned one All Star nomination.
  • Marian Hossa (1979-) – The 12th-overall pick in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft by Ottawa, this right wing is currently in his eighth season in Chicago. He’s thrice hoisted the Stanley Cup, not to mention his five All Star Game appearances.
  • Claude Giroux (1988-) – The captain of Philadelphia was drafted 22nd-overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. He’s spent his entire career with the Flyers and has been thrice named an All Star.

Led by First Star of the Game Alex Ovechkin‘s two-goal night to notch the 1000th and 1001st points of his career, Washington was more than prepared to beat the Penguins 5-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Ovechkin (Second Star Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie) got off to a quick start, giving the Capitals the lead only 35 seconds into the contest with an impressive wrister. Although it proved to be the only goal of the first period, Pittsburgh was never able to pull ahead of the Caps.

Thanks to Carl Hagelin earning a seat in the penalty box for hooking Tom Wilson, Ovechkin (John Carlson and Backstrom) doubled the Capitals‘ lead with a power play slap shot  from the spot he always shoots from in the left penalty circle. The 2-0 Washington lead held into the second intermission.

Justin Williams (Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov) takes credit for the eventual winning goal, as his wrister only 4:31 into the final frame was pure. The Pens tried to claw (wing?) their way back into the game with an Evgeni Malkin (Justin Schultz and Phil Kessel) power play wrister only 3:15 later, but Backstrom (Oshie and Carlson) put that threat to bed with a power play wrsiter of his own with 6:49 remaining in the third period. Patric Hornqvist (Sidney Crosby and Kessel) tried once again to find some late momentum by scoring a power play wrister with 2:36 remaining in regulation, but Lars Eller (Backstrom and Oshie) scored on the empty net with 18 seconds left on the clock to fully ice the game.

Third Star Holtby earns the victory after saving 30-of-32 shots faced (93.75%), while Marc-Andre Fleury takes the loss, saving 25-of-29 (86.2%).

Washington‘s home victory snaps the four-game winning streak by the road squads in the DtFR Game of the Day series and improves their record to 48-29-14, nine points better than the visitors.

January 7 – Day 84 – Larsson is back in town

It’s the first Saturday of the New Year, and there’s no better way to celebrate than with hockey.

You’ll notice we’ll celebrate anything around here, and we always celebrate the same way.

There’s a dozen games being played today, so odds are good your favorite team is in action. Everything starts at 1 p.m. with a pair of contests (Tampa Bay at Philadelphia [NHLN/SN1] and Winnipeg at Buffalo), followed three hours later by Minnesota at Los Angeles (NHLN), the last day game. The usual 7 p.m. starting time brings with it five games (the New York Rangers at Columbus [NHLN], Boston at Florida, Montréal at Toronto [CBC/TVAS], Washington at Ottawa [CITY/TVAS2] and Edmonton at New Jersey [SN]), with a another pair of games waiting an hour before dropping the puck (the New York Islanders at Arizona and Dallas at St. Louis). The West Coast gets involved at 10 p.m. with Vancouver at Calgary (CBC/SN), with Detroit at San Jose – this evening’s nightcap – waiting half an hour before getting green lit.

Short list:

  • Montréal at Toronto: It’s Original Six rivalry night in the Queen City!
  • Edmonton at New Jersey: Welcome back, Adam Larsson. Welcome back.
  • Dallas at St. Louis: Last season, these clubs met up in the Western Semifinals. The Stars may have been the higher seed, but it was the Blues competing for a Stanley Cup Finals berth.
  • Vancouver at Calgary: What’s better than a rivalry? A rivalry on the second-half of a home-and-home matchup. Tensions will be high.

One of the bigger trades of the offseason has helped put the Oilers solidly in playoff position. The beneficiary? A certain defenseman…

Unknown-5New Jersey Devils Logo

 

Born in Skellefteå, Sweden, this defenseman made his way to the USA in 2011 after being drafted fourth-overall in that year’s NHL Entry Draft by New Jersey.

Lou Lamoriello was drawn to Larsson after two successful World Championships. Playing with the Junior Crowns in 2010 at both the World Junior Championships and the IIHF World U18 Championships, he won bronze and silver medals, respectively.

He got five good seasons in with the Devils, playing a total of 274 games. Although he only notched 69 points during that time, he performed his primary responsibility – keeping shots off his goaltender’s net – to a t. Headlined by his career 163 block campaign last season, he blocked 425 shots for Jersey.

Thanks to a trade only four days after the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Larsson now wears blue and orange instead of red and black. On the way to Edmonton, he passed Taylor Hall, the player traded from the Oilers to New Jersey. Since joining Edmonton, Larsson has only improved. He already has 119 shot blocks this season, and is on pace for 125 more.

Larsson and the 20-13-7 Oilers come to Newark in control of the third-best record in the Pacific Division. The defenseman has been a big help, but theme of the Oil‘s success has been their high-flying offense that has scored 113 goals, tied for the eighth-most in the NHL.

Have you heard of Connor McDavid? He’s kind of good at hockey. He’s already notched 45 points this season and is one of seven players to average more than a point per game. Even though only 14 of those points have been goals, but linemates Leon Draisaitl and Patrick Maroon join McDavid with 14 goals. 42 between the three of them is an impressive number made dangerous as opposing goaltenders don’t know who the final shot will come from.

The power play has also been a strength for Edmonton, as their 20.9% conversion rate is tied for the ninth-best mark in the league. Draisaitl has been the main man in this situation, notching 15 power play points. Most of those have been his 8 man-advantage goals, another statistic in which he leads the club.

Playing host tonight are the 16-17-7 Devils, the second-worst team in the Metropolitan Division. The main problem in New Jersey has been their struggling offense that has managed only 91 goals, tied for the fourth-fewest in the NHL.

Although it doesn’t look like it’s going to yield a return to the playoffs, today’s featured trade has worked out equally as well for the the Devils. Hall leads the team with 25 points, although P.A. Parenteau has the goalscoring lead with a dozen tallies. Where Jersey has struggled is finding others to score the puck. Only three skaters have 10 or more tallies, which is far from enough to compete in the deep Metropolitan.

Part of the problem is that the Devils severely struggle on the power play. Even with Kyle Palmieri‘s team-leading nine power play points, Jersey has converted only 12.8% of their man-advantage opportunities. Once again, it’s the fact that there’s not a true standout completing plays. Hall leads the team with only four power play goals.

Some players to keep an eye on include Edmonton‘s McDavid (31 assists among 45 points [both most in the league]) and Cam Talbot (19 wins [tied for third-most in the NHL], including three shutouts [tied for fifth-most in the league]) & New Jersey‘s Andy Greene (79 blocks [leads the team]) and Damon Severson (17 assists [leads the team]).

I know the Devils are playing on home ice, but I don’t see any way Edmonton doesn’t win their second-straight game. McDavid is just too good.

Hockey Birthday

  • Babe Pratt (1916-1988) – For eight of his dozen seasons, this Hall of Fame defenseman played for the Rangers en route to two Stanley Cup titles. A year after joining Toronto during the 1942-’43 season, he won the Hart Trophy on a career-high 57 points.
  • Mike Liut (1956-) – A fourth-round pick by St. Louis in the 1976 NHL Amateur Draft, this goaltender played 13 seasons in the NHL. Selected to the All Star Game in 1980-’81, he was also the recipient of the Pearson Trophy that season on a 33-14-13 record.
  • Guy Hebert (1967-) – Another St. Louis goaltending selection, Herbert was picked in the eighth-round of the 1987 NHL Entry Draft. He ended up playing most of his 10-season career in Anaheim, notching a career 191-222-56 record.
  • Donald Brashear (1972-) – Although undrafted, this left wing played an impressive 16 seasons – most of which in Vancouver. He was most known as an enforcer, earning a career 2634 minutes in the sin bin.
  • Alex Auld (1981-) – The 40th-overall pick in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft by Florida, this goaltender appeared in 10 NHL seasons, spending most of his time in Vancouver. By the time his career was complete, he set a 91-88-32 record.

A Vancouver 4-2 victory over the Flames in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day was worth more than a rivalry victory. It moved the Canucks into playoff position.

Calgary got things going quickly, scoring only 78 seconds into the game compliments of Third Star of the Game Michael Frolik‘s (Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk) wrister. The Canucks leveled with 9:11 remaining in the first period when Michael Chaput (Jack Skille) buried his first goal of the season. 2:18 later, Loui Eriksson (Second Star Markus Granlund and Alexander Edler) gave Vancouver a 2-1 lead with a wrister.

The eventual game-winning goal was struck with 22 seconds remaining in the second period. Thanks to a too many men on the ice penalty, Granlund (Bo Horvat and Jayson Megna) took advantage of the power play to set the score at 3-1.

3:18 into the third frame, Granlund (Nikita Tryamkin) deflected an insurance goal into net for the Canucks. Calgary tried their best to get back into the game, but they could only manage a power play wrist shot from Frolik (Backland and Mark Giordano) with 1:43 remaining in regulation.

First Star Ryan Miller earns the victory after saving 44-of-46 shots faced (95.7%), leaving the loss to Brian Elliott, saving nine-of-13 (69.2%).

The Canucks‘ victory sets the DtFR Game of the Day series at 47-26-13, favoring the home sides by 14 points.

December 18 – Day 67 – Battle of the Hudson River

There’s only six more days of hockey left before the Christmas break! Start cramming hockey pucks now, starting with Los Angeles at Boston (SN) at 1 p.m., followed by Colorado at Winnipeg at 3 p.m. and Columbus at Vancouver at 4 p.m. The usual 7 p.m. starting time brings with it two puck drops (San Jose at Chicago [NHLN] and Ottawa at the New York Islanders [SN/TVAS]), trailed 30 minutes later by tonight’s nightcap: New Jersey at the New York RangersAll times eastern.

The Devils may not be having the success they’d like this season, but nothing can lift a team’s spirits more than a victory over a nearby rival. Let’s follow the Rangers back to Madison Square Garden for the Battle of the Hudson River!

New Jersey Devils LogoNew York Rangers Logo

 

 

 

 

 

Separated by only 10 miles, this rivalry was sparked the minute the Colorado Rockies moved to Meadowlands Arena in 1982. Since then, these clubs have met 267 times total, with the Rangers leading both the all-time series at 122-110-27-8, and the more competitive playoff series at 18-16.

Nothing details this rivalry better than their dominance in the 90s than counting trophies. New York‘s Stanley Cup victory in 1994 is widely known, as it was their first title in 54 years. But don’t let it be forgotten who they played in the Eastern Conference Finals. You guessed it, it was their old pal Jersey. The Rangers needed seven games to best the Devils before advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals to beat Vancouver.

Although they didn’t have to go through the Blueshirts (they have Philadelphia to thank for that, even though they don’t get along with that club either), it was the Devils‘ turn to take home Lord Stanley a year later. They bested Detroit in a quick four games that year to earn the franchise’s first title.

My, how things have changed since those days. Entering tonight’s game in seventh-place in the Metropolitan Division, the 12-12-6 Devils would beg for success like that, especially given their five-game losing skid. Although the defense and goaltending have not been phenomenal this season, the main reason for Jersey‘s struggles have been on the scoring end of the ice where they’ve managed only 70 goals – the fourth-fewest in the NHL.

With a team-leading 23 points, Travis Zajac has been involved in nearly a third of the Devils‘ scores. That being said, Mike Cammalleri holds the clubhouse goal-scoring lead having lit the lamp nine times so far this campaign.

Between the two of them and Taylor Hall, who has eight goals among 20 points with his new club, they have scored 35.7% of the Devils‘ goals. In short, the Devils need to find a way to get more skaters involved in scoring. No other players have more than 17 points to their credit, which is a striking number given the fact that Zajac only ties for the 36th-most points in the league. This entire offense needs a reboot, but it is going to have to be a team-effort.

Not unexpectedly, the Devils have also struggled on the power play. Their 14.9% conversion rate is eighth-worst in the NHL, but that can’t be blamed on Hall. He already has seven power play points to his credit, as well as four power play goals to lead the squad in both categories. Unfortunately for the Devils, that only ties for the 61st-best effort with the man-advantage in the league, which considerably takes the wind out of Hall’s sails.

Jersey might have been struggling on the power play, but they still find great success on the penalty kill. Led by Captain Andy Greene‘s 19 shorthanded blocks, the Devils have refused to yield a goal to 83.2% of opposing power plays, tying them for the ninth-best rate in the league.

Unfortunately for New Jersey, the odds of them snapping their losing skid are bleak, as they face the second-best team in the Metropolitan Division: the 22-10-1 Rangers, who are riding a two-game win streak thanks to last night’s shootout victory in Nashville. As has been the case all year, the Blueshirts are making headlines with their powerful offense that has already notched 109 tallies this season – the most in the NHL.

Like I said yesterday, you have to keep an eye on the club scoring title in Manhattan. Currently, the king of the dressing room is Kevin Hayes, who has 23 points to his credit. Similarly, Michael Grabner is not the sole lead-goalscorer anymore. He’s been joined by Rick Nash, as they both have 13 tallies apiece.

Currently rating ninth-best, New York has had a solid power play this season as they’re successful on 21.4% of attempts. Six skaters have headed that effort, but Nash, Brandon Pirri and Jimmy Vesey deserve special credit as they each have four goals with the man-advantage, tying for a team-high.

The Blueshirts have been even more impressive on the penalty kill, where their 87.3% success rate is third-best in the NHL. Kevin Klein‘s 13 shorthanded blocks have been the most impressive effort on the squad, but 14 of New York‘s 26 skaters have notched at least one block on the penalty kill. This entire club has bought in on both ends of the ice, and Alain Vigneault should be proud.

Tonight’s contest is the second time these teams have met this season. Only a Sunday ago, Madison Square Garden hosted the Devils to a five-goal shutout Rangers victory.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include New Jersey‘s Cammalleri (nine goals [leads the team]), Kyle Palmieri (57 hits [leads the team]), Kyle Quincey (+5 [leads the team]) and Zajac (15 assists among 23 points [both lead the team]) & New York‘s Grabner (+18 [tied for second-best in the league]), Hayes (+16 [tied for eighth-best in the NHL]) and, depending on who plays, Henrik Lundqvist (14 wins [tied for eighth-most in the league]) or Antti Raanta (1.67 GAA on a .941 save percentage [both second-best in the NHL], including two shutouts [tied for eighth-most in the league]).

New York is favored at almost every casino in Vegas, and for good reason. All facets of the game are going their way these days, which is the exact opposite of what you can say about Jersey. Expect the Rangers to put a similar beat-down on their rivals as they did last weekend.

Hockey Birthday

  • Jean Pronovost (1945-) – This right wing played 998 games over 14 seasons, most of which with Pittsburgh. By the time his career was done, he’d notched 774 points and been selected for four All Star games.
  • Dan Cleary (1978-) – The 13th-overall pick in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft by Chicago, this left wing has played most of his 17+ year career with Detroit, where he was a member of the Stanley Cup winning 2008 Red Wings team. He still plays in Detroit‘s system with Grand Rapids, and made 17 appearances with the senior team in the 2014-15 season.

Third Star of the Game Vesey’s return to Nashville – if you can call it that – went exactly as he would have liked, as his Rangers beat the Predators 2-1 in a shootout in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Only one goal was struck in the first period, and it belonged to Nash (Hayes and Nick Holden) and the Rangers. Nash’s wrister was his 13th goal of the year.

It stood as the would-be winner until Second Star Mike Fisher buried an unassisted wrister of his own 9:22 into the second frame to level the score at one-all. As neither side was able to break the tie with the remaining 35:38, which included five minutes of three-on-three play, the important bonus point was awarded in a shootout.

As home team, the Predators elected to shoot first…

  1. …and sent Ryan Johansen into the fray. Lundqvist was not about to let that into his net.
  2. Wonder boy himself, Vesey’s shot was pure to give the Rangers a 1-0 shootout lead.
  3. Next up for Nashville, Craig Smith did even worse than Johansen – he missed the cage.
  4. Mats Zuccarello ended the shootout almost as quickly as it began, scoring on First Star Juuse Saros.

Lundqvist earns the victory after saving 31-of-32 shots faced (96.9%), while Saros takes the shootout loss, saving 26-of-27 (96.3%).

Another road victory in the DtFR Game of the Day series pulls the roadies within six points of the hosts, who have a 36-22-11 record.

November 26 – Day 45 – Penguins gone bad?

The only disappointing thing about all the games after Thanksgiving is that we don’t have as busy a Saturday as usual. That being said, most of today’s games have a bit of intrigue. Like usual, we get started at 7 p.m. with five games (Washington at Toronto [CBC/NHLN], Carolina at Ottawa [CITY], Montréal at Detroit [SN/TVAS], Columbus at Florida and New Jersey at Pittsburgh), followed an hour later by Minnesota at St. Louis. The West Coast games get underway at 10 p.m. with Vancouver at Colorado (CBC/SN), trailed half an hour later by tonight’s co-nightcaps, Chicago at Los Angeles and Anaheim at San Jose, at 10:30 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Montréal at Detroit: Nothing rings in the holiday season like the first Original Six matchup since Thanksgiving. Yup, you read it here.
  • New Jersey at Pittsburgh: Beau Bennett and Ben Lovejoy spent a combined 11 seasons in Pittsburgh before joining Jersey this off-season.
  • Washington at Toronto: Another return to a former home stadium, but this one features Daniel Winnik.
  • Anaheim at San Jose: We always love a good rivalry, especially involved with two teams from the Golden State.
  • Chicago at Los Angeles: Another rivalry that always produces good TV.

You only make one first return of the year, and since they hoisted the Cup last season, we’ll catch Bennett and Lovejoy’s homecoming.

New Jersey Devils Logopittsburgh_penguins_logo

 

Bennett was the Penguins‘ top pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and played a total of 129 contests over four seasons with the black-and-gold, providing them 45 points over that span. This time last year, Bennett was playing regularly for Pittsburgh, although that would last only a few more weeks until injuries started piling up, limiting him to only 33 regular season and one postseason games.

Lovejoy’s tenure with the Pens is a little but longer, but it took two stints for him to reach his 184 games over seven campaigns. The defenseman made it to the NHL the hard way. Undrafted, he signed a contract with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2007 to, in effect, audition for a job with Pittsburgh. His 20 point, +16 season was enough to do the trick, as the Penguins signed him to a contract the next summer. By the 2010-’11 season, his AHL days were behind him, even though he was regularly a healthy scratch. That season was arguably his best in the Steel City, as he notched 17 points and a +11 in 47 appearances.

After being traded to Anaheim three games into the 2012-’13 season, Lovejoy returned to Pittsburgh at the 2014-’15 trade deadline. He played in every Stanley Cup playoff game last spring, notching six points for a +5.

Both skaters joined the Devils this offseason. Bennett was traded at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft for a third-round pick, while The Reverend left on his own will, joining New Jersey for a three-year deal for $8 million, a far cry from his first $875,000 deal with Pittsburgh in 2008.

Their Devils come to the City of Champions with a 10-6-4 record after hosting the Red Wings last night for a 5-4 overtime loss. While the offense hasn’t been enviable with Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri missing time, they’ve kept afloat with a decent defense.

So far this season, New Jersey has allowed only 51 goals, tying for 11th-fewest in the NHL. With 16 starts, Cory Schneider has been has been net for most of those scores, but that’s not to say he’s had a poor season. He has a .915 save percentage for a 2.53 GAA to his credit, which ranks (t)19th and 21st fewest among the 40 goaltenders with eight or more appearances.

With only average netminding numbers, it’d be assumed that the Devils‘ defense is playing out of their mind.

All those who raised their hands are in for some learning.

Schneider faces an average of 30.6 shots against per game, tying for 12th-most in the league. Although Captain Andy Greene‘s 46-block effort has been admirable, he’s the only Devil with more than 40 blocks to his credit. The rest of the blueline needs to get involved, or the Devils may be scheduling tee times right after the regular season.

The power play has not had a lot go their way either. Jersey has been successful on only 13.4% of their attempts, sixth-worst in the NHL. Damon Severson has been the man in charge of the power play with five points to his credit, but those are all assists. The aforementioned Hall was the one with the most power play goals (three), but active Travis Zajac takes that role with two extra-man tallies on his resume.

Hosting them this evening are the 12-6-3 Penguins, who were taken to school in Minnesota yesterday, losing 6-2. While the defense has still led much to be desired, Pittsburgh‘s offense is still one of the best in the league, with 62 goals to their credit – tied for the eighth-highest total in the league.

For those worried that Phil Kessel wouldn’t work out in Pittsburgh, surely you’re doubts ended during last season’s playoffs. If not, you have to believe in the Mr. “The Thrill” now, as he’s leading his club with 21 points. That being said, it’s been Sidney Crosby finishing a lot of plays, with 14 goals in his 15 games played.

Pittsburgh is also home to the seventh-best power play, successful on 21.4% of attempts. That’s where Kessel has been at his best, earning nine power extra-man points. The same goes for Crosby, who leads the squad with five power play tallies.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include New Jersey‘s Greene (46 blocks [leads the team]) and Zajac (15 points, 10 of which are assists [both lead the team]) & Pittsburgh‘s Crosby (14 goals [leads the NHL]), Kessel (15 assists [tied for second-most in the league] for 21 points [tied for seventh-most in the NHL]) and Matthew Murray (1.58 GAA [tied for second-best in the league] and .945 save percentage [tied for third-best in the NHL]).

From what I’ve found, Vegas doesn’t seem to have a line published for tonight’s contest, which is usually a good sign. That being said, I’m not so confident. The Penguins are an incredible offense that should be able to handle anything Jersey throws at them defensively. Paired with a solid defense, Pittsburgh should earn two points.

Hockey Birthday

  • National Hockey League (1917-) – The Montréal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers, Ottawa Senators, Quebec Bulldogs and Toronto Arenas band together in what would become the greatest hockey league in the world.
  • Chris Osgood (1972-) – This goaltender played 744 games over 17 seasons, most of which with Detroit, the team that drafted him 54th-overall in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft. At 401 victories, he still has the 10th most in NHL history, and hoisted the Stanley Cup twice.
  • Keith Ballard (1982-) – He may have been drafted 11th-overall in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft by Buffalo, but he never played a game in a Sabres sweater. Instead, most of his 10-year career was spent in Phoenix.

New York took care of business in yesterday’s Game of the Day, beating the Flyers 3-2 in the House that Eric Lindros Built.

Two goals were struck in the opening 20 minutes, and they both belonged to the visiting Blueshirts. 13:16 after the opening puck drop, Second Star of the Game Derek Stepan (J.T. Miller) buried a snap shot to give the Rangers a lead. That lead doubled 1:34 later with Matt Puempel‘s (Jimmy Vesey and Josh Jooris) first goal as a Ranger, only four days after signing with the club.

The eventual game-winning goal found the back of the net with 7:27 remaining in the second period. Kevin Hayes tipped-in Nick Holden‘s initial shot for a 3-0 lead.

Philly tried valiantly to level the game. Only 1:34 after returning to the ice for the third period, Chris VandeVelde deflected Andrew MacDonald‘s shot into the net to pull the Flyers within two goals. The only other score the Flyers could manage was Shayne Gostisbehere‘s (Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds) slap shot with 2:04 remaining in regulation.

First Star Henrik Lundqvist earned the victory after saving 40-of-42 shots faced (95.2%), leaving Steve Mason the loss, saving 20-of-23 (87%).

New York‘s victory pulls the road squads within seven points of the home teams, who have a 25-15-7 record.