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Nashville Predators 2018-19 Season Preview

Nashville Predators

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Offseason Grade: B

Less really was more, here.

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

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

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

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

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

Crashville: Preds crumble after strong start, Jets take 2-1 series lead

 

So, uh, which one of these teams is supposedly the one with the roster full of seasoned vets that have been there before and can’t be rattled, again?

In a series that was just about as hyped as Avengers: Infinity War, we expected to see plenty of crazy, unexpected stuff. But, much like with the film, I’m not sure many people expected to see (spoilers) half of the cast crumble to dust. Or, at least not the half that did in this game.

After answering an anomalous Game 1 drubbing by taking a thrilling double-overtime victory in Game 2, it looked like the Preds were back on track as the series shifted to Winnipeg’s raucous home ice. Clearly now with the early stumble in the past, the defending Western Conference champs would be able to rely upon their experience and battle-tested mental toughness to grab a hold of the series against a young, unproven Winnipeg roster.

In the first period, that narrative seemed pretty well spot-on.

Quickly and effectively quieting the thunderous atmosphere in the early going (shoutout to the crowd for a mid-anthem ‘TRUE NORTH’ that I’m pretty sure I felt here in Ohio), the Preds found paydirt just 4:53 into the game with a new-look fourth line featuring Ryan Hartman, Mike Fisher, and Miikka Salomaki (in for a banged up Calle Jarnkrok) when 37-year-old Fisher banged home a loose puck as it squeaked out from underneath of Connor Hellebuyck after he thought he had made the stop on a quick point shot set up by Hartman (who got buried by Dustin Byfuglien for his troubles).

The Jets tried to answer a few minutes later, as Nikolaj Ehlers and Paul Stastny combined on a beautiful criss-cross play entering the zone, eventually setting up Stastny all alone behind the defense, but Pekka Rinne had the answer for his backhand attempt.

Winnipeg’s momentum would be stifled shortly after, though, as the Predators would head to the power play. P.K. Subban (showered in the ever-present boos that I’m still not-at-all sure of the reason for) took a perfect one-time feed from Filip Forsberg at the top of the left circle and spanked it home through Hellebucyk. (It’s worth noting that the confusing boos became much less enthusiastic after this)

The energy of the play seemed to follow the energy of the building for the next few minutes, with very little of note outside of an unsuccessful Viktor Arvidsson breakaway attempt and a nearly-successful fake dump-in by Patrik Laine the only real highlights until Austin Watson picked up the puck on a bad Winnipeg change, walked in one-on-one against Josh Morrissey, and let go a seemingly-harmless wrister from a tough angle that eluded Hellebuyck, caught the far post and went in to give the Preds the 3-0 lead with 2:24 to play.

Rinne made a few solid stops in the waning minutes (including a stellar left pad stretch to deny Blake Wheeler as he picked up a deflected shot and tried to tuck it inside the left post) to preserve the lead and keep the crowd quiet heading into the first intermission. Predators leading 12-10 in shots after 20.

In the second period the tone changed immensely, and it began very early.

Jacob Trouba leveled Forsberg just inside the blueline in the first 30 seconds of the game to give the crowd some jump, and his team seemed to feed off of that. 3:38 into the period Winnipeg finally got on the board (although nobody besides Stastny noticed at the time) when a Byfuglien point shot caught Stastny’s skate and deflected past Rinne to bring the deficit to two goals.

Wheeler found himself staring at a yawning cage just under two minutes later when the puck came to him off of a Rinne misplay behind the net, but he fired the puck over the net trying to lift it over the top of a sprawling Rinne and Nick Bonino. As Wheeler tried to corral the puck along the boards, he was leveled by Watson, who got jumped by Mark Scheifele for his efforts. Both players went to the box, and just over 30 seconds into the resulting four-on-four it would be Big Buff blasting home the 3-2 goal after a beautiful zone entry and puck movement by Tyler Myers and Bryan Little. Then just 14 seconds later the roof came off of Bell MTS Place when Stastny, Wheeler, and Trouba connected for a gorgeous tic-tac-goal to tie the game at three with still over 14 minutes remaining in the second.

With his team rattled, Rinne seemed to take it upon himself to settle things back down, first gloving down a laser from Laine on a two-on-one, then later denying Wheeler on a point blank attempt on a beautiful passing play.

Despite the best efforts of the Nashville netminder, though, Winnipeg would take their first lead of the night with 44.7 seconds remaining in the period when Laine (locked and loaded taking a pass from Stastny who grabbed the puck on the rebound of a prior Laine shot) fooled everyone by firing the puck across the ice to Byfuglien who hammered home the one-timer from distance to put the Jets up 4-3. They’d carry that score (and a 16-6 shot advantage in the period) to the dressing room, looking to put away the Preds in the third.

The third period started with quite a few bangs. Trouba and Bonino got into a shoving match early on that eventually became a fairly lengthy fight between the two. Byfuglien just missed erasing Arvidsson from existence, then made up for it by stapling Hartman to the glass as the Nashville forward went to clear the puck out of his zone while killing a Winnipeg power play.

Unfortunately that hit would be about the only positive result for Winnipeg on their man advantage, and when Colton Sissons returned to the ice after serving his time, he immediately redeemed himself by drawing a penalty that would give the Predators the momentum swing they needed. Forsberg walked the line at the point before firing home a gorgeous wrist shot that beat a screened Hellebucyk and knotted the score at four with 12:20 remaining.

Nashville looked to have an opportunity to regain the lead shortly after the power play goal when Trouba mishandled the puck at his offensive blueline, giving Arvidsson a clear-cut breakaway. But Hellebuyck confidently and emphatically snagged the puck out of the air with his glove, bringing the arena back to life.

Byfuglien nearly had himself a hat trick a few minutes after the save (and resulting momentum switch), pouncing on a loose puck to create a two-on-one but having his bid denied by Rinne. He then once more narrowly missed demolishing a Predators player, this time being Subban who managed to avoid the hit at the last possible moment.

Ryan Ellis‘ tough series continued, this time taking a Byfuglien shot to the side of his face that didn’t get hacked open by a skate blade in Game 1. Luckily it was just a high-rising wrist shot without a ton of power behind it, and he’d shake it off fairly quickly.

Unfortunately for his team, though, it came when they were down a man and it took one of their best penalty killers off the ice. On the very next shift the Jets retook the lead for the final time when Wheeler buried the rebound of a Scheifele one-timer that he set up, giving Winnipeg the 5-4 lead with 4:59 to play.

Rinne was upset, as earlier in the sequence he had take a shot to the mask that seemed to break one of the straps of the helmet, but play was not called. Shortly after the goal, Adam Lowry attempted to steal the puck away from Rinne behind the net, and the Predators’ goaltender responded with a claymore-swing of his goal stick to the back of Lowry, putting Nashville down a man for the third time in quick succession in the final minutes of the game, this time when they were down a goal.

Bonino nearly played hero with a shorthanded goal, jumping on a loose puck in front of the Jets’ goal that no one but him seemed to be able to find, but Hellebucyk was able to blocker it away just in time.

Nashville was unable to mount much of an attack with the extra man after pulling Rinne, and Wheeler and Brandon Tanev (who extended his goal scoring streak to four games) added a pair of empty netters to seal a 7-4 Winnipeg victory in front of the hometown faithful.

In the end, it was Hellebucyk’s ability to settle down after a shaky start, and Nashville’s inability to counter momentum swings (and stay out of the box at crucial times) that played the biggest role in this one. It also didn’t hurt that Byfuglien may have played his best playoff game since his Cup run with the Blackhawks. What looks to be a very important Game 4 comes to you at 9:30 p.m. ET this Thursday (May 3) on NBCSN, and @nlanciani53 will have your DTFR recap coverage.

Preds survive Colorado comeback; win away from Second Round

 

With a 3-2 victory at Pepsi Center, the Nashville Predators have taken a commanding 3-1 advantage in their First Round series against the Colorado Avalanche.

All three periods had a very distinct character in this tilt. Act One featured the Predators team that many were predicting could win the Stanley Cup during the offseason, followed by a second period that saw both clubs’ emotions boil over. Finally, Colorado mounted an exciting comeback in the third frame that fell just short of forcing overtime.

Let’s tackle them in that order, shall we?

Perhaps the most boring of the three periods was the first, but that is more a compliment to the second and third frames than it’s an insult to the opening 20 minutes.

G Jonathan Bernier in particular experienced a very quick introduction to Game 4, as he took a W Viktor Arvidsson slap shot to the mask only 22 seconds into the match. In fact, the clapper was so forceful that it damaged the cage through which Bernier peers, forcing him to swap his mask for his blank head gear worn at practice while Avalanche Head Equipment Manager Mark Miller made the necessary repairs.

However, Miller was far from the center of attention while he was working, as the Avs unwisely ended up with D Patrik Nemeth (closing hand on puck) and F Carl Soderberg (hi-sticking against C Nick Bonino) both occupying the penalty box at the same time whilst he was working, resulting in a 2:41 Predators power play that included 1:19 of five-on-three action.

It seems that Bernier’s blank mask is his good luck charm when it comes to facing such tough tasks, as the scoreless draw that was on the scoreboard when Nemeth entered the sin bin remained when Soderberg was released. However, for fear of wearing out any positive juju the mask may contain, Bernier swapped out masks once again for his usual duds at the next stoppage of play.

If you’re one to buy into any sort of thing like that, then perhaps you’d think Bernier should have stuck with the white headgear considering First Star of the Game F Filip Forsberg (F Ryan Johansen and Third Star D Mattias Ekholm) scored a wrist shot with 4:27 remaining in the first period to score Nashville’s first game-opening goal of the series.

That being said, I highly doubt Bernier’s mask played too much into Forsberg’s strike, as D Duncan Siemens – playing in only his third-career Stanley Cup Playoff game after being one of Colorado’s first-round picks in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft – was little more than dead weight in his attempt to slow down his opposition. The forward dragged Siemens along as he drove toward Bernier’s crease before patiently depositing his wrister behind the netminder’s left skate.

Due in large part to the extended power play, the Predators dominated the first period in a far stronger fashion than a 1-0 score hints at. Nashville out-shot the Avs 15-8 – nearly doubling the hosts’ offensive offerings.

Inversely, even though the Predators added two more goals in the second frame, it didn’t seem like either team had much of an upper hand on the other in the middle 20 minutes.

That was due in large part to the Predators taking five penalties to Colorado’s three, including a 24-second five-on-three opportunity that effectively amounted to a 3:36 extended power play for the Avalanche.

Just like the Preds, Colorado was unable to convert neither that two-man advantage nor any other second period power play into a goal, which played right into the hands of Nashville. 47 seconds after F Colton Sissons was released from the penalty box (he was guilty of playing the puck with his hand at the face-off dot), he (Forsberg and Ekholm) scored a wrister at the 7:18 mark of the frame to double the Predators’ advantage to two goals.

Just in case Colorado didn’t learn the error of its ways the first time in losing track of penalized players returning to action, F Craig Smith (F Austin Watson) reiterated the lesson with 8:11 remaining in the third period. Having been released from serving RW Ryan Hartman‘s roughing penalty against W Sven Andrighetto only seven seconds before, Smith collected a loose puck at center ice and proceeded to rip a wrister over Bernier’s glove.

Speaking of Hartman, he kind of went berserk at the 9:41 mark of the frame – hence the reason he roped Smith into the box with him to help serve his penalties. Just seconds before the the events leading up to the infractions, Andrighetto borderline speared Smith near his midsection while both were working their ways towards G Pekka Rinne‘s zone. This sent Hartman well over the edge, as he dropped the gloves at the next stoppage of play and pounced on Andrighetto without waiting for the Swiss to agree to fight.

As a result, Hartman was charged with holding the stick and roughing, while Andrighetto only took a roughing penalty to give Colorado the two-minute power play that featured RW Mikko Rantanen getting severely cut below the eye by F Nathan MacKinnon‘s stick (Rantanen returned to play before the end of the frame) and led to Smith’s goal.

To complete our conversation about unruly penalties, it wasn’t only Andrighetto and Hartman allowing their tempers to get the best of them. Ekholm and Second Star LW Gabriel Landeskog were charged with negating penalties with 6:32 remaining in the period (slashing and roughing, respectively), and F Alexander Kerfoot‘s roughing infraction against Rinne held over into the third period.

It’s Kerfoot’s penalty that really made Head Coach Jared Bednar’s reluctant decision to replace Bernier with G Andrew Hammond –  another product of the F Matt Duchene trade, for those keeping track at home – even harder to make. However, it was announced that Bernier suffered a lower-body injury, meaning it was time once again for the Hamburglar to take over the NHL.

If only one period of action is enough evidence (it isn’t), the Avs are no worse off defensively in Game 5 with Hammond than they were with Bernier. After the backup-turned-starter saved 23-of-26 shots faced (.885 save percentage) in the first two frames, the former Senator saved all eight shots that came his way in the final period.

Colorado finally got on the scoreboard at the 5:20 mark of the third period when Landeskog (F Tyson Jost and D Tyson Barrie) buried the lone power play goal of the game, a five-on-three wrister with Hartman and Sissons in the penalty box for charging Soderberg and tripping F J.T. Compher, respectively.

The comeback continued with 8:59 remaining in regulation when Kerfoot (W Matthew Nieto and D Nikita Zadorov) pulled the Avs back within a goal on a wrister. Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette challenged for goalie interference against W Blake Comeau – and likely should have won the challenge considering Comeau’s skate made contact with Rinne before the puck even reached him – but the NHL is the NHL and decided to keep the marker on the board.

Regardless, even though the Avs fired a total of 11 shots at Rinne in the third period, he did not yield the game-tying goal. In all, Rinne saved 31-of-33 shots faced (.939 save percentage) to earn his first road playoff victory since Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals in Anaheim on May 20, 2017.

Speaking of road wins, Colorado’s offense cannot afford to fall in another 3-0 hole in Game 5 in Nashville if it wants to extend its postseason any further. After all, the Avs have only won one of the three games in which they scored the first goal.

After a quick plane ride from the Rocky Mountains to the Smokies, Game 5 is scheduled for 9:30 p.m. Eastern on Friday, April 20 and will take place at Bridgestone Arena. The match can be viewed on NBCSN, SN360 and TVAS.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 20

Skater of the Week: Evgeni Malkin

Two games. Two games is all Geno played this entire week, and he still scored six points.

Currently riding a six-game point streak with 13 total points in that time, Malkin is just torching everything in his path. In his two contests this past week he tallied a goal and two assists in Carolina before reversing the numbers in Florida. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that only one of those six points was on the power play. In fact, just two of the 13 points he’s scored in this streak were away from even strength.

The Penguins were already stacked and red-hot before adding Derick Brassard, so as of this writing, there’s no solid reason not to bet on the three-peat.

Tendy of the Week: Frederik Andersen

Possibly the quietest Vezina candidate of all time, Freddie has been stellar for basically the entire season, and is a huge reason the Leafs are where they’re at in the standings. But playing behind that offense doesn’t leave a lot of spotlight left for the Danish netminder. Not that he seems to mind.

Downing the Panthers, Islanders, and closest rival Boston during the week, Andersen posted a .939 save percentage and 1.96 GAA on the week, stopping 92 of 98 shots faced. If not for an .870 result against Boston (a game that was still a regulation win for his Leafs, mind you) where he allowed three goals on only 23 shots, Andersen’s numbers could have been even more spectacular. Still, that 3-0-0 record is probably the most important thing to him and his team.

Currently carrying a .922 save percentage and 2.67 GAA on the season to accompany a 32-16-4 record, Freddie has firmly placed his name in the category of ‘Legit #1 goaltender’, and his Toronto squad looks poised to potentially do some postseason damage.

Game of the Week: Germany 3, Artists Formerly Known as Russia 4 (OT)

International officiating is somehow actually worse than NHL officiating, believe it or not.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

*Disclaimer: Nick and Connor have been doing a great job of recapping all the trade deadline madness, so rather than repeat all the trades that they’ve already written about, I’ll simply direct you to their articles*

Mike Fisher is now o-fish-ully back with the Predators, having signed a $1 million contract for the remainder of the 2017-’18 season. The Preds definitely seem to be all-in for a Cup run this year, convincing former captain Fisher to unretire, and acquiring wrecking ball winger Ryan Hartman from division rival Chicago at the deadline.

Erik Karlsson is still an Ottawa Senator, which I suppose is great news to anyone not named Erik Karlsson.

Jack Johnson is still a Blue Jacket, and I can only assume our good friend Cap’n Cornelius can actually feel me typing those words as they dig into his soul. Oh well, at least we got to see Aaron Portzline be wrong about something again.

Andrei Vasilevskiy made another save by reaching his glove behind his back, confirming that the original was not a fluke and that he is not actually a human but rather some sort of crazy Russian android, and I feel like we’re not as concerned about that as we should be.

Brian Gionta and Cody Goloubef managed to earn the attention of NHL teams during their respective Olympic tournaments, with Goloubef getting a contract from the Flames, and Gionta (admittedly surprisingly) signing with the Bruins.

Johnny Oduya was waived by Ottawa and claimed by Philadelphia, and I can only assume he did not need transportation to make the trip from Ontario to Pennsylvania.

December 2 – Day 59 – My exes used to live in Texas

Welcome to another Saturday in the NHL. With everybody else watching the college football conference championships, that leaves more hockey for you and me.

Oh, that’s not how television works?

While I get that figured out, the first Saturday of December brings with it a big bag of presents from the NHL, as there’s a dozen games on today’s schedule. The action starts at 1 p.m. with Boston at Philadelphia (SN), followed by the only other matinee of the day: St. Louis at Minnesota at 6 p.m. The usual 7 p.m. starting time is chock-full of action with six games (Toronto at Vancouver [CBC/CITY], Detroit at Montréal [SN/TVAS], San Jose at Tampa Bay, Buffalo at Pittsburgh [NHLN], Columbus at Washington and Florida at Carolina) slated to drop the puck, with two more (New Jersey at Arizona and Anaheim at Nashville) in tow an hour later. 9 p.m. marks the start of Chicago at Dallas, while tonight’s nightcap – Edmonton at Calgary – will get underway 60 minutes after. All times Eastern.

What a collection of games! All but two matchups are between teams separated by eight points or less in the standings. As for our Game of the Day, I had a few picked out at the start of season…

  • Boston at Philadelphia: Ever since the Flyers beat the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals to become the first expansion team to win a title, these clubs have not gotten along.
  • St. Louis at Minnesota: Speaking of playoff rematches, this one was far more recent – as in, last year’s Western Conference Quarterfinals, recent.
  • Detroit at Montréal: To keep the Stanley Cup theme going, no clubs have hoisted the trophy more than these two Original Six teams.
  • Anaheim at Nashville: The Ducks and Predators squared off in a gritty, nasty seven-game series for the right to represent the Western Conference in last year’s Stanley Cup Finals.
  • Chicago at Dallas: F Patrick Sharp‘s two tenures with the Blackhawks was divided by two seasons spent with the Stars. Tonight marks his first trip back to Texas since moving back to the Windy City.
  • Edmonton at Calgary: In this rivalry, the teams don’t only represent only themselves, but also a stark feud between two Albertan cities.

Let me say it again for everybody in the back: What. A slate. Of games.

This is a tough pick today, because I don’t like featuring the same teams all the time (*cough* take a hint NBC and NHL *cough*). That being said, the contest that attracts my attention the most is taking place in the Lone Star State.

 

For those concerned, I’m not drawn to this game simply because of the Sharp story, though I suppose it is one worth noting.

After being a third-round pick by Philadelphia in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, Sharp was traded to the Blackhawks during the 2005-’06. He would proceed to play 10 seasons in Chicago, scoring 511 points – including 239 goals – over 679 games en route to three Stanley Cup championships.

As seems to be the case following many championship seasons nowadays, Chicago faced some serious salary cap issues after the 2014-’15 season, which led to Sharp and D Stephen Johns getting shipped to Dallas in exchange for D Trevor Daley and C Ryan Garbutt.

Sharp spent the last two seasons with the Stars, but they only really got one good season out of him. During the 2015-’16 campaign, the forward provided 20-35-55 totals to help get Dallas back to the playoffs for only the second time since the 2007-’08 season when the Stars were Western Conference finalists.

Unfortunately, Sharp’s second season with the club was nowhere near as good as his first. Limited to a measly 48 games, he provided Dallas only 18 points and a -22 rating as the Stars failed to earn a postseason berth. Though I’m not going to argue that Sharp is the reason the Stars struggled last year (*cough* G Kari Lehtonen and G Antti Niemi *cough*), he was not renewed for this season, allowing him to return to his beloved Blackhawks on a one-year contract.

So far, Sharp has been rather uninspiring from Chicago’s third line, as he’s managed only 3-4-7 totals playing alongside young studs F Alex DeBrincat (11-8-19) and F Ryan Hartman (4-9-13). Considering he’ll turn 36-years-old before you hang up your 2018 calendar, his recent bodies of work might force him to consider the dreaded “R” word once this campaign is through.

In the meantime, he’ll try to help his 12-9-4 Hawks get back into the Western Conference playoff picture.

Figuring out why Chicago is on the outside looking in is a difficult task. After all, they back up a ninth-ranked offense (3.16 goals-per-game) with an even better defense (2.68 goals against-per-game) that’s ranked fifth-best in the NHL.

One of my biggest complaints with the Blackhawks is their incredibly unsuccessful power play. Converting only 17.1 percent of their man-advantage opportunities, the Hawks are tied with San Jose for the eighth-worst extra-man attack in the NHL.

This struggle has led Head Coach Joel Quenneville to try some crazy units to resolve his club’s problem. As of Friday’s practice, DeBrincat, D Gustav Forsling, D Duncan Keith, RW Richard Panik and C Jonathan Toews made up Chicago’s top power play team, with F Artem Anisimov, D Cody Franson, F Patrick Kane, W Brandon Saad and F Nick Schmaltz taking second-team duties.

Let’s see, what’s weird about Chicago’s first unit? Oh, maybe that there’s a rookie earning solid power play minutes alongside two defensemen… or maybe that Kane isn’t on the unit…

Like I said, crazy things.

One thing I really like about putting Anisimov, Kane and Schmaltz on the same unit is that it puts Kane in what I’m considering the “joker” position. Take into account that all seven of Anisimov’s power play points are goals (the most on the team), while all five of Schmaltz’ are assists – that makes them a logical pair.

Meanwhile, Showtime has earned a team-leading nine points this season with the man-advantage, but only two of them have been goals. Of course, with 295 career regular season goals to his name, Kane is far from a “pass first” player. Putting Kane with Anisimov and Schmaltz, he’s able to take on the role of goal-scorer or join Schmaltz as another play-maker.

If I’m an opposing goaltender, in this case G Ben Bishop, that versatility is a very scary threat.

Meanwhile, things seem like they’re going 14-10-1 Dallas’ way. They’re currently riding a three-game winning streak, including a 4-3 overtime victory over these Blackhawks Thursday night (more on that later).

We came into the season celebrating what the Stars’ offense could be capable of with LW Jamie Benn, RW Alexander Radulov and F Tyler Seguin combining to form an ultimate super-line. Instead, the story of late has been Dallas’ defense, which has allowed only seven goals since November 24, the (t)second-fewest in that time span.

12-7-0 Bishop has been solid over this run – he’s managed a .925 save percentage in these last three games – but I’ve been much more impressed with the defensive corps playing in front of him.

Behind the unexpected leadership of D Greg Pateryn – who’s thrown eight hits and blocked seven shots during this run – from the second defensive pair, Dallas’ D- corps has allowed only 94 shots to reach Bishop in the past week, the third-fewest in the NHL.

What makes this game especially fun – you know, beyond the Blackhawks trying to get past Dallas for fourth place in the Central Division – is that it’s a rematch of Thursday’s matchup. In that game, F Mattias Janmark scored two goals – including the game-winner – to earn the Stars a 4-3 overtime victory against the Hawks at the United Center. Something tells me Chicago would like to return the favor of sending the home fans at the American Airlines Center away unhappy.

That being said, I’m leaning towards the Stars taking this contest with their excellent defense.


The Los Angeles Kings showed no mercy in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they beat the St. Louis Blues 4-1 at Scottrade Center.

In fact, the Kings were so on top of their game that they registered their game-winning goal before a full seven minutes had ticked off the clock. First Star of the Game F Tyler Toffoli (C Nick Shore and LW Tanner Pearson) opened the scoring with a wrist shot 1:43 after the opening puck drop, followed 4:29 later by Third Star C Anze Kopitar‘s (F Alex Iafallo and D Jake Muzzin) fourth game-clincher of the year.

The play that led to Kopitar’s goal stretched the entire length of the rink. Muzzin started with the puck in his own defensive zone and fed a quick pass to Kopitar at the red line. Once he established the offensive zone, Kopitar dished to Iafallo along the right boards, who fired a snap shot towards G Carter Hutton. Hutts made the save with his pads, but the rebound bounced right to the Slovenian, who deftly pocketed his wrister in the back of the net.

St. Louis finally got on its shiny new scoreboard with 4:43 remaining in the second period courtesy of a power play deflection from F Patrik Berglund (D Colton Parayko and D Vince Dunn), his first goal of the season. Unfortunately for the Notes, that positive momentum was erased 3:39 later when F Adrian Kempe (D Alec Martinez and D Drew Doughty) set the score at 3-1 going into the second intermission.

Only one goal was struck in the third period, but it was enough to signal defeat to the home fans. Toffoli (Pearson and Muzzin) scored his second goal of the game with a deflection 9:06 before the end of regulation, setting the 4-1 final score.

Second Star G Darcy Kuemper earned the victory after saving 39-of-40 shots faced (.975 save percentage), leaving the loss to Hutton, who saved 18-of-21 (.857) before being pulled in favor of G Jake Allen for the third period. Allen saved six-of-seven (857) for no decision.

Los Angeles’ road victory snaps a six-game winning streak by home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, but the visitors still trail the 33-20-6 hosts by 15 points.

October 24 – Day 21 – It’s Showtime in Las Vegas

It’s been a few days since we’ve had a busy schedule, but Tuesday fixes that by bringing us almost a dozen contests.

As it usually does, tonight’s action finds its start at 7 p.m. with four puck-drops (Arizona at the New York Islanders, Anaheim at Philadelphia, Edmonton at Pittsburgh [SN1/TVAS] and Tampa Bay at Carolina), with another set of three games (Detroit at Buffalo [NBCSN], Florida at Montréal [RDS/TSN2] and Los Angeles at Ottawa [RDSI]) waiting half an hour before getting underway. 8 p.m. brings with the start of two more games (Calgary at Nashville and Vancouver at Minnesota), trailed by Dallas at Colorado at 9 p.m. and Chicago at Vegas an hour after that to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

It’s hard to believe, but W Thomas Vanek hasn’t been back to Xcel Energy Center since being bought out following the 2015-’16 season. Though it might be fun to see him take on his former team, I’m actually more interested in tonight’s activities in the desert.

 

 

 

 

 

These two teams that are both second place in their respective divisions have become DtFR Game of the Day series favorites, as they’ve been featured a total of six times before tonight. So, when the Blackhawks make their first-ever trip to Sin City, what else are we supposed to do besides focus on their matchup?

Things have changed quite a lot for the 6-1-0 Golden Knights since the last time we featured them when they opened T-Mobile Arena to a 5-2 victory. For starters, they’ve actually lost a game (darn those Red Wings and their sneaky offense), but more importantly, it was that contest that cost them their starting goaltender.

G Marc-Andre Fleury was off to an impressive start with his new team, managing a .925 save percentage and 2.48 GAA through four games played. But in that Detroit game, he suffered a concussion that has sent him to injured reserve with no timetable for his return.

That’s pretty disappointing for an expansion team that’s proving everybody wrong. But, the story unfortunately takes another turn for the worse.

In the Golden Knights’ last game played on Saturday against the Blues, G Malcolm Subban – who himself was also off to a solid start to the season, managing a .936 save percentage and 2.06 GAA after being waived by Boston at the start of the year – suffered a lower-body injury that has also landed him on injured reserve for the next four weeks.

To put it lightly, things could be going a lot better in the Knights’ crease. Who is next up for a franchise that didn’t have a single player four months ago?

I’d put my money on G Oscar Dansk, who I expect will be making his first-ever NHL start tonight. He was the one who completed the Blues game for Subban. His career had a rough start, as the first shot he faced was a D Alex Pietrangelo game-tying slap shot, but he quickly rebounded to save the remaining 10 shots he faced in that game to win it in overtime.

But here’s the problem for Dansk: the Blues’ offense is nowhere near as successful as Chicago’s. Though the Hawks fire only a 10th-fewest 30.7 shots per game, they’re pretty accurate with those attempts, scoring a seventh-best 3.56 goals per game.

At the forefront of that attack is none other than Showtime himself, F Patrick Kane. Though he hasn’t scored the most goals on Chicago’s roster (that honor belongs to W Brandon Saad, who’s managed six in nine games played), his 4-7-11 totals are certainly best on the team.

And to think Kane, W Ryan Hartman and C Nick Schmaltz only play on the Hawks’ second line. There’s a whole ‘nother line of scoring studs Dansk has to worry about. With the likes of C Jonathan Toews and his 3-5-8 totals leading that charge, Dansk may just fall asleep in his crease at the completion of this game out of sheer exhaustion.

Assuming Dansk can hold his own, we’d be remiss not to at least discuss the play of G Corey Crawford. He’s been nothing short of exceptional, as his .945 save percentage and 1.86 GAA are both best in the league among netminders with at least four starts. If W James Neal (6-2-8 totals), W Reilly Smith (2-5-7) and co. can manage to get past him, they’ll deserve every bit of praise heaped on them.

Goaltending and clutch scoring have been the main reasons the Golden Knights have found success so far this season. Though it’s no fault of 23-year-old Dansk, he’s no Subban – much less Fleury. Upsets happen all over this league, but I think the Blackhawks will be very disappointed if they don’t depart Fabulous Las Vegas with two points in hand.


Scoring a goal per period was the plan for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and they executed it to a T to beat the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 at the Air Canada Centre in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The first period’s goal was struck 5:46 into the game from the unlikeliest of sources. Scoring his first of the season, W Matt Martin (D Roman Polak and First Star of the Game F Mitch Marner) buried a slap shot on G Jonathan Quick to give Toronto a lead it would not yield.

A power play wrist shot from C Tyler Bozak (LW James van Riemsdyk and Marner) with 5:16 remaining in the second period doubled the Leafs’ advantage to 2-0, but F Adrian Kempe (F Trevor Lewis and D Drew Doughty) pulled the Kings back within a goal 58 seconds later with a wrister of his own.

At the 2:54 mark of the final period, F Patrick Marleau (D Morgan Rielly and C Nazem Kadri) found what proved to be the Maple Leafs’ winning goal. Unable to corral a centering pass from Marleau in front of Quick’s crease, Kadri collected the loose puck in the far corner and sent it to Rielly at the point. From there, the blue liner one-timed a snapper well above the crossbar, but Marleau was there to deflect the offering past Quick’s right shoulder and into the net.

Third Star F Trevor Lewis found the back of Second Star G Frederik Andersen‘s net with 7:41 remaining in regulation with a backhanded shot, but Los Angeles could not find a leveling goal in the remaining time.

Andersen earned the victory after saving 36-of-38 shots faced (.947 save percentage), leaving the loss to Quick, who saved 30-of-33 (.909).

Toronto’s home win snaps a four-game winning streak by road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The hosts now have an 11-6-4 record that is four points better than the roadies.

October 18 – Day 15 – Wednesdays are for rivalries

Some Wednesdays feature rivalries, some don’t. Today is one of the former, as two of the three matchups on the schedules features clubs with a little bit more animosity towards each other than usual.

One of those is Detroit at Toronto (SN1/SN360/TVAS), which drops the puck at 7:30 p.m., half an hour before Chicago at St. Louis (NBCSN). After those games are complete, both nations will turn their attention to Montréal at Los Angeles (NBCSN/RDS/TSN2), which drops the puck at 10:30 p.m. to close out the evening’s festivities. All times Eastern.

Both the early games definitely attract my attention as some of the league’s fiercest rivalries, but which one gets the honor of being the DtFR Game of the Day?

 

I’m big enough to admit that I picked this matchup because I’m a fan of one of the clubs involved, but I’m also going to stand by the fact that this is only St. Louis’ second time being featured this season.

So there. Watch the game and be happy.

These teams have certainly employed vastly different styles to find their early season success, but Chicago has certainly been the more impressive of the two. One word perfectly describes Head Coach Joel Quenneville‘s Blackhawks: dominant. Averaging 4.17 goals-per-game, Chicago is easily the best offense in the Western Conference and (t)third-best in the entire league.

Of course, what would you expect from a team that features the likes of F Patrick Kane, W Brandon Saad and young standout W Ryan Hartman? All three have managed eight points already this season, but Saad has easily been the most impressive with his six goals. Not only does he pace the Hawks, but he has also scored the (t)third-most goals of any player in the NHL.

But dominance, in my opinion, is a result of both ends of the ice – not just commanding one end. That’s where G Corey Crawford comes into play, who’s play has also been nothing short of clutch. His .96 save percentage is the best of any goaltender with more than one start, and the same can be said of his 1.39 GAA.

Meanwhile, the Blues know all about solid play in net, as they allow an average of only 2.67 goals-per-game – the (t)10th-best effort in the league. Though his numbers pale in comparison to Crawford’s, G Jake Allen has posted a solid .917 save percentage and 2.96 GAA, which rank (t)16th and (t)20th in the league among netminders with at least two starts.

Beyond that, the Notes are only average in a vast majority of their play. Their 20.8 percent success rate on the power play is only 14th-best (D Alex Pietrangelo and RW Vladimir Tarasenko co-lead the team with three power play points); the 80.8 percent penalty kill rate is 15th-best; and their 2.83 goals-per-game is (t)14th-worst (Pietrangelo and F Jaden Schwartz co-head the club with eight points, but Schwartz missed Monday’s practice with food poisoning).

Average may beat a lot of clubs, but unfortunately for the Blue Notes, it probably won’t be able to touch what Chicago can throw at them. No matter how raucous the Scottrade Center crowd gets, I’m leaning towards the Hawks taking Game 1 of this nasty rivalry series.


With a three-goal second period, the Nashville Predators dominated the Colorado Avalanche 4-1 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Since no goals were registered in the first frame, F Nathan MacKinnon‘s (D Tyson Barrie and RW Mikko Rantanen) power play deflection 4:09 into the second, his first goal of the season, gave the Avs a 1-0 lead.

But then Nashville happened. The Predators leveled the game 2:58 after MacKinnon’s tally courtesy of a backhanded shot from First Star of the Game W Viktor Arvidsson (F Filip Forsberg and Third Star D Alexei Emelin), and then took the lead with Second Star D Roman Josi‘s (Arvidsson and Forsberg) game-winning five-on-three wrist shot with 6:30 remaining in the period.

D P.K. Subban started with the puck at the far point before passing to Forsberg waiting at the far face-off dot. The forward started to drive on G Semyon Varlamov, but instead slid a crossing pass to Josi in the opposite face-off circle. Josi’s initial shot on goal was rejected by the netminder, so Arvidsson tried his best to wrangle the rebound to try to beat Varlamov again. Varlamov stood tall again, but he couldn’t fend of the third try, an elevated Josi wrister from the slot over the goalie’s left pad.

But the Preds weren’t done, as F Colton Sissons (F Craig Smith and Josi) was able to bury his first goal of the season to set the score at 3-1 with 45 seconds before the second intermission. F Austin Watson (Emelin) finished Nashville’s scoring 4:08 into the third period with his first tally of the season.

For those keeping track, that’s four different players that scored their first goal of the season in this game. That’s a decent number considering we just completed the second week of play.

G Pekka Rinne earned the victory after saving 20-of-21 shots faced (.952 save percentage), leaving the loss to Varlamov, who saved 30-of-34 (.882).

It’s another win for home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, improving their record to 9-5-1 – good enough for a five-point advantage over the visitors.

October 14 – Day 11 – Sweep, sweep revenge

It’s another great day (well, night, technically speaking) in the world of hockey, as there’s a whopping 14 games on the schedule.

With no matinees, we have to wait until 7 p.m. to get the action started. It turns out to be well worth the wait, as there’s six contests (Carolina at Winnipeg [CITY/SN1], Toronto at Montréal [CBC/NHLN/TVAS], St. Louis at Tampa Bay, New Jersey at the New York Rangers, Washington at Philadelphia and Florida at Pittsburgh) on tap with another pair (Colorado at Dallas and Columbus at Minnesota) an hour later. 8:30 p.m. marks the puck drop for Nashville at Chicago, followed half an hour later by Boston at Arizona, and then the West Coast gets involved with two games (Calgary at Vancouver [CITY/SN1] and Ottawa at Edmonton [CBC/TVAS]) at 10 p.m. and another couple (Buffalo at Los Angeles and the New York Islanders at San Jose) 30 minutes after. All times Eastern.

There’s a good reason to watch almost every fixture on tap this evening. Here’s a few I’ve thought of…

  • Toronto at Montréal: This is way more than an Original Six rivalry.
  • New Jersey at New York: Speaking of rivalries… Battle of the Hudson River, anyone?
  • Washington at Philadelphia: Is there a team in Pennsylvania that doesn’t have a rivalry with the Capitals?
  • Nashville at Chicago: If anyone has forgotten the Predators made the Stanley Cup Finals last season, it’s definitely not the Hawks.
  • Calgary at Vancouver: It’s rivalry night in Western Canada.

We’ve made an unfortunate habit of repeating teams rather quickly lately, but there’s one must-watch game that sticks out above the rest.

 

Just in case you’ve forgotten, the Predators’ run to the finals began in Chicago, where they beat the Blackhawks in a tight 1-0 game. Then they won again, this time by a much more commanding 5-0.

And then the series went to the Bridgestone Center, where the Preds won 3-2 in a tight Game 3 that required overtime. And, of course, Smashville completed the sweep with a dominating 4-1 victory in Game 4.

But you knew all that.

Though I needed to look up the scores to those games, I’ll bet G Corey Crawford, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews and every other hockey player from the Windy City can recite all those numbers without blinking, and will be able to until they reach their graves.

It’s that burning desire for revenge that makes this game so exciting. It’s that rare instance where, no matter what any coach says otherwise, what happened last year may actually have an impact on how tonight plays out.

Scoring only three goals last postseason – including getting shutout twice – the Blackhawks will be expected to show no mercy this evening when they have the puck on their stick. Though the usual culprits of Kane and Toews are always important to defend especially well, Nashville will also have its hands full with prodigal son Brandon Saad and 23-year-old Ryan Hartman.

Led by Hartman’s eight points (2-6-8 totals), those top four Blackhawks forwards have combined for 12 goals and 16 assists for 28 total points. Add in the fact that the other two players that complete the top two lines, Artem Anisimov and Richard Panik, are no slouches either and the Predators’ defense will certainly be busy.

Similar to Chicago wanting to exact revenge, the Predators will try to use this game to really get back into the groove they found last postseason.

It took Nashville a couple games to get their skates under them this season, as they started with an 0-2-0 record. But, since then, the Predators have won two-straight, most recently a 4-1 victory over Dallas Thursday.

A year after their defense was all the rage, it’s been the Preds’ offensive prowess that has really stolen the limelight so far this season – even if a lot of that offense has come from a defenseman. Currently, both Filip Forsberg and P.K. Subban spearhead the team with six points apiece, more than enough to lead the club towards an 11th-best 2.9 goals-per-game.

But it’s truly a full effort from the entire top line that is making this club tick right now. With a second line consisting of Scott Hartnell, Nick Bonino and Pontus Aberg (they’ve combined for only five points), the Forsberg-Ryan Johansen-Viktor Arvidson ensemble that has already managed 13 points is going to be expected to produce until the former builds more chemistry.

There’s a lot more to this game than what’s on paper – unless of course you’re reading a recap from their playoff series last season. That being said, I feel pretty confident in picking the Blackhawks to take two points at home.


The offensive powerhouse that is the Washington Capitals struck Newark in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as the Caps beat the New Jersey Devils 5-2.

Both squads needed a 20 minute warmup to start the game as only one goal was scored. Unfortunately for the home fans, that goal was struck by Second Star of the Game T.J. Oshie (First Star Nicklas Backstrom), as he buried a snap shot with 5:11 remaining in the frame to give Washington a lead it would not yield.

Following intermission, Alex Ovechkin (Backstrom and John Carlson) scored his NHL-leading ninth goal of the season with a power play wrist shot 8:01 after resuming play. Though Taylor Hall (Third Star Kyle Palmieri and Will Butcher) was able to get the Devils on the board with 3:32 remaining in the frame with a power play goal, neither of those tallies proved to be the biggest of the period.

Instead, the Capitals were able to once again register a late-period goal, but this one proved even more important than the last: this one proved to be the game-winner. It was struck courtesy of Jakub Vrana (Devante Smith-Pelly and Evgeny Kuznetsov), his first of the season.

The play started behind G Cory Schneider‘s net when D Andy Greene misplayed a pass from D Steven Santini. Kuznetsov collected “the loose biscuit,” as it was described by play-by-play announcer Steve Cangialosi, at the goal line before advancing it along the far boards toward the point. He passed to Smith-Pelly in the middle of the zone, who fired a shot towards Schneider. But, before the netminder could make play on the puck, Vrana deflected it five-hole with the shaft of his stick.

Palmieri (Damon Severson and John Moore) did pull Jersey back within a goal 53 seconds into the third period, but Oshie (Backstrom and Kuznetsov) and Backstrom (Ovechkin and Oshie) both scored power play goals to quell any chance of a Devils comeback.

G Braden Holtby earned the victory after saving 21-of-23 shots faced (.913 save percentage), leaving the loss to Schneider, who saved 23-of-28 (.821).

With Washington’s victory, road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day have now pulled within two points of the 6-4-1 home clubs.

October 9 – Day Six – Goals on goals on goals

Happy Columbus Day, if you’re into that sort of thing (yes, Blue Jackets fans, I assumed you would be). Even if you aren’t, I’ll bet you’re into the day off work you potentially have and afternoon hockey.

That’s right, we have three matinees on tap this afternoon, with two (Colorado at Boston [SN1] and St. Louis at the New York Islanders) at 1 p.m. and New Jersey visiting Buffalo two hours later. Chicago at Toronto (NHLN) drops the puck at the usual time of 7 p.m., with Washington at Tampa Bay trailing half an hour later. 9 p.m. marks the beginning of Winnipeg at Edmonton, while tonight’s nightcap, Calgary at Anaheim, waits an hour before starting. All times Eastern.

There’s some great games on the slate today, including an old-timey rivalry and a rematch from last year’s playoffs, but something tells me an Original Six matchup featuring the two best offenses to start the season should prove exceptionally exciting.

 

 

 

 

 

I usually try to not repeat teams in the Game of the Day series early in the season, but its hard to avoid this explosive, star-studded matchup.

That doesn’t even mention that this contest features the top clubs from their respective conferences once you go through all the NHL’s tiebreakers.

If you like offense, this is the game for you. Both teams enter tonight’s game having scored 15 goals in two games played. That 7.5 goals-per-game average makes the Capitals’ five scores-per-game rate look pedestrian by comparison.

Let’s start with the visiting Blackhawks.

Their first action came Thursday night against the two-time reigning-champion Penguins. Chicago did not tremble at any of Pittsburgh’s accolades and instead took the Pens to the woodshed for a 10-1 beatdown. Two days later, the Hawks welcomed another strong Metropolitan Division team to town, only to show the Blue Jackets the door after beating them 5-1.

It’s been a mix of established and budding stars heading the charge for the Hawks so far, as 2015-’16 Art Ross Trophy winner F Patrick Kane (2-4-6 totals) and sophomore W Ryan Hartman (1-5-6) both have a half-dozen points to their credit. Of course, we also can’t forget Chicago’s prodigal son W Brandon Saad and his 4-1-5 effort, including his even-strength hat trick to open the season.

Hartman has arguably been the most pleasant surprise so far. The Hilton Head, S.C. native has been living every little boy’s dream having grown up a Hawks fan and playing on Kane’s second line. Last season, he posted 19-12-31 totals for his 76-game rookie campaign, but he looks well on his way to exceeding those numbers.

Hartman is obviously not going to keep up the three points-per-game rate he’s currently sporting, but if he can continue learning and being a consistent weapon for Kane, Windy City natives will begin second-guessing the LW Artemi Panarin trade even less than they already are following Saad’s performance.

All in all, the Blackhawks should provide the strongest test the Maple Leafs have faced so far in this young season.

Meanwhile, depending how you look at it, Toronto’s offense has perhaps been even more dominant as the Leafs have yet to score less than seven goals in a game. They opened the NHL season with a 7-2 demonstration in Winnipeg, followed by a thrilling 8-5 victory at home against the Rangers Saturday.

What has made the Leafs so dangerous in their first two games is that opposing defenses and goaltenders have no idea where the puck is coming from. Though C Nazem Kadri (2-2-4 totals) and C Auston Matthews (1-3-4) co-lead the squad with four points already in their accounts, seven other skaters already have three points this season – including newcomer F Patrick Marleau and his two-goal performance (both at even-strength, I might add) against the Jets.

Of course, Marleau is best known for his 19 seasons in San Jose, but the Sharks lost out on their bid to resign the 38-year-old when he elected to sign a three-year, $6.25 million contract in Toronto. At first glance, it seemed General Manager Lou Lamoriello overpaid for a senior player coming off his third-consecutive season of declining offensive production, but – similar to Chicago’s situation with Hartman – if Marleau can keep posting points from Toronto’s third line, he should prove the shrinking collection of doubters wrong.

Quick sidebar: During the preseason, I wrote about a team that uses its third line for depth scoring instead of the usual checking team. That squad is currently the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions. I don’t know if I’m quite ready to say yet that this Leafs team is destined to hoist some hardware, but a similar character could be forming in Hogtown.

I’m of the opinion that two-time Jennings Trophy-winner G Corey Crawford (.968 save percentage) and Chicago’s defense is far superior to one-time Jennings recipient G Frederik Andersen (.903, 3.5 GAA) and Toronto’s blue line, so the Hawks should be able to escape the Air Canada Centre with two points.


On the back of First Star of the Game G Henrik Lundqvist‘s 62nd regular-season shutout of his career, the New York Rangers were able to best the Montréal Canadiens 2-0 at Madison Square Garden in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The game remained a scoreless draw for much of the first period until D Brady Skjei (W Michael Grabner and F J.T. Miller) “buried” what proved to be the game-winner on G Carey Price.

It was a quick play off a face-off in New York’s offensive zone. Miller won the resumption of play, but it was Grabner that swatted the puck towards the near boards to Skjei. The defenseman advanced the puck along the wall to the end line before attempting a centering pass to Grabner at the top of the crease. At first glance, it appeared D Shea Weber had Grabner under wraps, but he instead proved to be the final one to touch the puck, as Skjei’s pass deflected off his right skate and into the net.

After a second period devoid of goals for either team, the Habs brought their strongest offense in the third period when they fired 13 shots at Lundqvist’s net, but they couldn’t find a tying goal. Instead, it was Second Star C Mika Zibanejad (Third Star W Pavel Buchnevich and F Chris Kreider) that found the back of the net, setting the 2-0 final score with a wrist shot.

Lundqvist earned the victory after saving all 34 shots-on-goal he faced, while Price was able to save only 23-of-25 (.92 save percentage) in defeat.

Thanks to the Blueshirts finding their first victory of the season, home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series now hold a one-point advantage over the roadies with a 3-2-1 record.