Tag Archives: Haula

Game of the week: October 8-14

Observant, loyal fans of Down the Frozen River have probably noticed the absence of the Game of the Day series to start this season.

For that, as well as the fact that this trend will likely continue throughout the month of October, I apologize.

However, I can offer the next best thing as a replacement until my schedule frees up: instead of a Game of the Day, how about a Game of the Week?

In that case, let’s take a look at all the contests we have/had to choose from this week!

NHL SCHEDULE: OCTOBER 8-14
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, October 8
1 p.m. Ottawa Boston 3-6
1 p.m. San Jose New York Islanders 0-4
3 p.m. Vegas Buffalo 2-4
10 p.m. Detroit Anaheim 2-3 (SO)
Tuesday, October 9
7 p.m. San Jose Philadelphia 8-2
7 p.m. Vancouver Carolina 3-5
7 p.m. Colorado Columbus 2-5
8 p.m. Calgary Nashville 3-0
8 p.m. Los Angeles Winnipeg 1-2
8:30 p.m. Toronto Dallas 7-4
Wednesday, October 10
7:30 p.m. Philadelphia Ottawa SN, TVAS
8 p.m. Vegas Washington NBCSN
10 p.m. Arizona Anaheim
Thursday, October 11
7 p.m. Edmonton Boston TVAS
7 p.m. Colorado Buffalo
7 p.m. Columbus Florida
7 p.m. Washington New Jersey
7 p.m. San Jose New York Rangers
7 p.m. Vegas Pittsburgh
7:30 p.m. Los Angeles Montréal RDS, TSN2
7:30 p.m. Toronto Detroit
7:30 p.m. Vancouver Tampa Bay
8 p.m. Calgary St. Louis
8 p.m. Winnipeg Nashville
8 p.m. Chicago Minnesota
Friday, October 12
No games scheduled
Saturday, October 13
1 p.m. Edmonton New York Rangers
1 p.m. Vegas Philadelphia SN
2 p.m. Los Angeles Ottawa RDS
6 p.m. Carolina Minnesota
7 p.m. Detroit Boston
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Montréal CITY, TVAS
7 p.m. Columbus Tampa Bay
7 p.m. Vancouver Florida SN1
7 p.m. Toronto Washington CBC, NHLN
8 p.m. New York Islanders Nashville
8 p.m. Anaheim Dallas
8:30 p.m. St. Louis Chicago
9 p.m. Buffalo Arizona
10 p.m. Calgary Colorado CBC, CITY, SN1
SUNday, October 14
1 p.m. San Jose New Jersey SN
7 p.m. Anaheim St. Louis
7 p.m. Carolina Winnipeg NHLN, SN1, SN360

Out of a list of 42 matchups, surely we can find at least one tilt to take in.

There’s a collection of some great rivalry games (Toronto at Detroit, Chicago at Minnesota, Detroit at Boston and St. Louis at Chicago) and some players returning to their former home arenas (W Matt Calvert and D Dion Phaneuf heading back to the respective capitals of Ohio and Canada stick out in particular), but I’m most drawn to playoff rematches during these opening months of the season.

Yes, the Jets are traveling to Tennessee tomorrow to take on the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Predators, but that rematch is going to take place three more times this season.

Instead, I’m much more excited to see how the Golden Knights’ pent up frustrations from falling in the Stanley Cup Final come into play tonight. Let’s make the trip to the American Capital and dive into that exciting early-season matchup.

 

 

 

 

 

There’s nothing quite like a Stanley Cup Finals rematch, especially when it takes place within the first week or two of the season.

For those that were in a coma for all of last hockey season – or those that simply live under a rock – the Vegas Golden Knights were one of the greatest stories in North American Big Four sports history last season.

After not existing during the 2016-17 season, the expansion Knights rallied around their hurting city and the idea of being a disorganized band of misfits that their former clubs no longer wanted to soar to an unlikely Pacific Division title and unprecedented Western Conference Championship.

A team consisting of the complete package, Vegas regularly scored with ease while G Marc-Andre Fleury was on the shelf with an upper-body injury. Upon his return, the Golden Knights continued winning even when the offense slowed down, as Fleury posted an incredible .927 save percentage in 46 starts – aided in large part by playing behind a defense that yielded only 30.7 shots against per game for the entire 2017-18 season, a mark that ranked seventh-best in the NHL.

Meanwhile, 2017-18 was the first season in a while that the Capitals entered their campaign with outsiders not pegging them to succeed. Too many players were lost as a result of management having to make moves to stay under the cap, and W Alex Ovechkin just didn’t seem to have the ability to get his team past the Pittsburgh Penguins or the Second Round of the playoffs.

Or so we thought. The Caps told the pundits where to shove it as they raced to their third-consecutive Metropolitan Division title behind their scoring prowess (Washington averaged 3.12 goals per game last season, good enough for ninth-best in the league), followed by getting past the dreaded Penguins and preseason darling Lighting to secure their second-ever Prince of Wales Trophy.

The Final itself was a quick, but exciting affair. With only a +6 goal differential in the final round, Washington defeated Vegas in five games to get a 44-year-old monkey off its back and hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history.

But all the banners have been raised and all the champagne has been popped. That was last season, and tonight is all about working towards the 2019 championship.

Making the trip to D.C. are the 1-2-0 Golden Knights, the reigning winners of the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl even though they currently reside in 11th place in the Western Conference.

If any one part of Head Coach Gerard Gallant‘s team is responsible for it’s lone win (notched in Minnesota on Saturday courtesy of the shootout), it’s surely Vegas’ squelching defense. Even with D Nate Schmidt – the club’s best blueliner, if I do say so myself – twiddling his thumbs while serving a 20-game suspension for PEDs, the Golden Knights have continued last season’s stellar play in their own end, allowing only 24 shots per game to reach Fleury.

That effort, which is good enough to tie Montréal for third-best in the league, has been headlined not by defensemen, but by fourth-liners LW William Carrier‘s conference-leading 18 hits and F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare‘s team-leading four takeaways.

There’s no denying that Carrier’s efforts have been felt by opposing teams, but Bellemare’s lack of scoring touch (as well as that of linemates Carrier and RW Ryan Reaves) has made his puck-snatching abilities a little less exciting. Though he scored a goal on a takeaway against the Flyers last Thursday, that marker is still the only point in his account for this season.

Of course, Bellemare is not the only one not finding the scorecard. Vegas has registered only five goals in three showings so far this season, pinning it as the fifth-worst attack in the entire league.

With 2-2-4 totals in 19:51 average time on ice, F Jon Marchessault is doing all he can to keep the Knights competitive, but he’s going to need far more assistance from the rest of the top-six forwards if Vegas wants to climb back to the heights it achieved last season. In particular, I’m waiting for some breakout games from Vegas’ second line, consisting of LW Max Pacioretty (227-222-449 career totals in 629 games), C Paul Stastny (220-426-646 in 827 career games) and F Erik Haula (posted a career-best 29-26-55 line in 76 games last season).

The Golden Knights will have exactly the attack to emulate in tonight’s opponent, as offense has been king for the 1-0-1 Capitals through their first two games. Averaging a whopping 6.5 goals per game, Washington is topping the NHL’s scoring charts so far this season and currently resides in seventh place in the Eastern Conference because of it.

A total of six players on Washington’s roster are currently averaging at least a point per game, but none have been quite as spectacular as F T.J. Oshie. In only two games, he’s posted dominant 3-2-5 totals, not to mention a .429 shooting percentage that will surely have Fleury quivering in his skates. The Caps’ top line has been just as lethal too, as C Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ovechkin have posted matching 2-1-3 totals to start the season and look to already be in mid-season form.

To top things off, Washington’s attack isn’t limited just to forwards. Just like the fourth line is getting involved defensively for Vegas, Capitals defensemen John Carlson (2-2-4 totals) and Brooks Orpik (1-1-2) have also been deadly, as both are averaging at least a point per game in their first two showings.

In strength against strength, I’m leaning towards the hosts’ offense being able to earn its fifth-straight win against Fleury and Vegas’ defense.

However, if the Golden Knights’ attack can show some life, G Braden Holtby has not looked very solid with his .894 save percentage and 3.46 GAA. If Pacioretty and Stastny can find some rhythm tonight – not to mention C William Karlsson rediscovering last year’s breakout form – Washington could be in line for another high-scoring affair like its last outing against the Penguins.

Western Finals are Golden

 

 

 

 

 

With a shimmering defense that yielded only 28 shots against, the Vegas Golden Knights beat the San Jose Sharks 3-0 in Game 6 to advance to their first-ever Western Conference Finals.

What was so impressive about that defense is not only how it seemed to improve as the game wore on (San Jose’s best period was the first when it fired 11 shots on goal), but also how well it dominated the blue line. Almost every Sharks possession in the third period was forced to start with a dump-and-chase that, when paired with a slow forecheck, resulted in few possessions of any real worth.

However, the Golden Knights’ defense seemed to extend beyond simply D Brayden McNabb‘s five blocks and RW Ryan Reaves‘ eight hits (both the most of either team). On at least two occasions per period, San Jose would sling shots past First Star of the Game G Marc-Andre Fleury only to hear the deafening ping of the goalposts or crossbar.

One of those instances occurred in the first period, while the game was still a scoreless tie. With approximately 30 seconds remaining before intermission, LW Evander Kane deflected D Brent Burns‘ high shot from the point only to find the crossbar – and then the right goalpost – before the puck landed in the slot to be collected by the Knights.

Snapping that scoreless draw and scoring the game-winning goal was Second Star F Jon Marchessault (W Reilly Smith and C William Karlsson), who beat G Martin Jones at the 6:33 mark of the second period. Karlsson should get a lot of credit for the marker, as it was him that stole the puck off D Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s stick to prevent the puck from leaving Vegas’ offensive zone.

After that, the play was similar to an odd-man rush in that the Sharks were already making their way towards the neutral zone, leaving Marchessault with only one defender between him and Jones’ net. With little opposition, it’s all the former Panther could do but beat the netminder five-hole.

Turning our attention back to the iron, it wasn’t only Fleury’s defensive friend, but also Vegas’ offensive weapon. With 4:22 remaining in the second period, it appeared that Third Star D Nate Schmidt‘s (Erik Haula and David Perron) wrist shot had bounced off the crossbar behind Jones and back into play.

No light went on, no celebration and no signal. No harm, no foul right?

As San Jose was driving towards Fleury’s net, the horn blasted to signify that Toronto wanted the officials to take another look at the play. As it turned out, Schmidt’s shot didn’t hit the crossbar, but it instead slid underneath and ricocheted off the camera tucked into the top of the net.

After the crowd got done booing the referees for missing the goal call (or Toronto for requesting a second look), the Shark Tank fell deathly quiet. Surely not a confidence boost for the Sharks, the writing was on the wall for the remainder of that second period, requiring San Jose to find two goals in the final frame.

Cue the previously mentioned Vegas defense, which allowed only 10 shots on goal in the last 20 minutes. Considering San Jose’s playoff life was on the line, allowing only one shot against every two minutes is an impressive feat that, when paired with Fleury’s perfect 28-save effort, shows just how dominant the Knights’ defense was.

Without even a goal to show for his team’s effort, Head Coach Peter DeBoer was forced to pull Jones (who himself had an okay night with a 30-for-32 performance [.938 save percentage]) for the extra attacker with 2:14 remaining on the clock. 23 seconds later, C Cody Eakin (F Ryan Carpenter and Schmidt) scored a tap-in on an empty net to set the 3-0 final score.

Vegas’ next opponent still has yet to be determined, but the second half of that Western Finals matchup could be cemented as soon as tomorrow night. Winnipeg leads its series against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Predators 3-2 and has the opportunity to close them out at Bell MTS Place in Game 6. Puck drop for that game is scheduled for 9:30 p.m. Eastern and may be viewed on CBC, NBCSN and TVAS.

Regardless of opponent, the Golden Knights will not return to T-Mobile Arena until Game 3 of the Conference Finals due to both Nashville and Winnipeg having a better regular-season record.

Undisciplined Knights take first playoff loss

 

 

 

 

After losing Game 1 7-0, the San Jose Sharks have miraculously stolen home ice away from the Vegas Golden Knights after a Game 2 4-3 double-overtime victory at T-Mobile Arena.

Between its inability to stay out of the penalty box and lack of success at defensive zone face-offs, it’s almost a surprise Vegas was able to extend this game to the 85:13 it lasted.

As for the former note, no Golden Knight takes as much responsibility for his club playing shorthanded as W David Perron. He took a game-high six penalties in minutes, all for unruly infractions like slashing (against D Brenden Dillon with 3:56 remaining in the first period), holding the stick (against D Dylan DeMelo 1:56 into the second period) and roughing (against the aforementioned Dillon with 6:36 remaining in the second period).

Fortunately for Perron, only one of his infractions ended up costing the Knights a power play goal – but it was a big one, considering it started the Sharks’ trend of success off set plays. On the immediate face-off in Vegas’ defensive zone following Perron’s infraction against DeMelo, F Joe Pavelski won the scrum and fed the puck to Third Star of the Game D Brent Burns, who ripped a nasty slap shot from the blue line – with the help of a lucky bounce off F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare‘s skate – past G Marc-Andre Fleury‘s right pad, snapping the netminder’s perfect 144:04 goalless streak.

Burns’ goal set the score at 2-1, canceling out one of Second Star C William Karlsson‘s two markers. The Swede potted his first of the night (D Colin Miller and D Nate Schmidt) on a snap shot with 2:01 remaining in the first period, capitalizing on a missed slap shot-turned-assist by Miller that bounced off the endboards and right into his lap.

Karlsson’s offering was the Knights’ fifth and final shot of the first period, as the Sharks’ defense was doing an excellent job all night keeping the hosts’ attack at bay. In the more than 85 minutes played all night, Vegas managed only 29 shots on G Martin Jones – well below the (t)10th-most 32.8 shots on goal per game it averaged all regular season. Of those, he saved 26 for a .897 save percentage.

In a mirror image of registering his club’s last shot of the first frame, Karlsson also fired the Golden Knights’ first shot on goal of the second period, and he found just as much success. Only 26 seconds into the frame, he set the score at 2-0 with a snapper assisted by W Reilly Smith that probably should not have reached the back of the net. Jones was late sealing off the near post, allowing the puck to barely squeak past his arm to set off the T-Mobile Arena goal horn.

As for how Vegas overcame its shortcomings, one needs look no further than the goaltending crease. Though he is the only player judged by a personal win-loss record, Fleury absolutely stood on his head in this contest just like he has in his last five playoff showings. The man nicknamed “Flower” did not wilt under the Sharks’ pressure, as he saved 43-of-47 shots faced for a .915 save percentage.

That being said, the second period was a tough one for him, as it was in those 20 minutes that he let in all three of his regulation goals against. Not only was Burns’ marker part of that total, but so too was First Star F Logan Couture‘s (F Tomas Hertl) snapper with 8:52 remaining in the period and Burns’ (W Timo Meier and Pavelski) wrap-around 2:59 after.

Just like his first goal of the game, Burns’ second was also the result of another set play from the face-off dot. Pavelski won the draw and shoved the puck to Meier, who quickly dished to San Jose’s favorite defenseman so he could get to work. Burns rumbled up the right boards and into the trapezoid, eventually getting rewarded with a gaping cage when Meier literally crashed into Fleury’s left post. Head Coach Gerard Gallant challenged for goaltender interference, but it was ruled he was shoved by a Golden Knight and was not responsible for any contact he made with the netminder.

For those keeping score at home, Perron was also in the box for this goal against, but Dillon took a corresponding roughing penalty to even play at four-on-four.

Anyways, that left the score at 3-2 going into the second intermission (during which it was revealed the Buffalo Sabres will be drafting first overall and the Carolina Hurricanes won the lottery by jumping up nine spots into the second pick at the NHL Entry Draft), and that’s where it remained at the midway point of the third period.

Having yet to experience a playoff loss, the Vegas crowd was beginning to grow antsy – that is until Schmidt (D Shea Theodore and F Erik Haula) took a page out of Burns’ book and ripped an impressive clapper from the blue line following a resumption of play.

The play was a mirrored-image of Burns’ second tally, as Perron won the draw and shoved the puck to Haula along the boards, who returned the play to Theodore at the point. The defensemen quickly connected after that, allowing Schmidt to line up a perfect clapper past Jones’ blocker to tie the game at three-all.

Some excellent goaltending extended this game into the second overtime period. In total, 16 shots on goal were fired in the frame between the Golden Knights and Sharks, but none found the back of the net thanks to the incredible play of Fleury and Jones.

Well, that’s technically not true.

F Jon Marchessault thought he had scored the game-winning goal with 3:02 remaining in the first overtime period, but it was ruled he interfered with Jones in the blue paint and inhibited his ability to make a play on the shot. That took the score off the board and left the game raging on into the cool desert night.

The contest finally reached its end at the 5:13 mark of the second overtime when Couture (RW Kevin Labanc and Burns) took advantage of D Jonathon Merrill‘s hooking penalty against Meier to bury a power play wrister behind Fleury.

Completing the theme of the night, Couture’s play was the direct result of Hertl’s face-off victory only moments before. After the play was set up with Burns at the point, he dished to Labanc heading towards the right face-off dot. The sophomore would have been well within his rights to attempt a shot through traffic, but he instead elected to sling a pass through the zone to Couture at the opposite dot, who elevated his writer over Fleury’s blocker.

With the exception of another stellar performance by the three-time Stanley Cup champion, Vegas has only itself to blame for this loss. Perron and the Golden Knights will need to put an emphasis on staying out of the penalty box in their upcoming games, especially considering the next two are away from the comforts of home.

After a quick 90-minute flight from Sin City to San Jose, Game 3’s puck drop is scheduled for 10 p.m. Eastern on Monday, April 30. Hockey fans that can’t snag one of the 17,562 tickets into The Shark Tank that night should tune their televisions to CBC, NBCSN or TVAS.

Goalie Interference

Everybody wants to say the current NHL confusion over goaltender interference is just like the NFL’s attempts to answer one of its most basic questions: “Was that a catch?”

Sure, both leagues have seen their share of confusion over their goal line judgment calls. The NHL is averaging about one goalie interference call a night, while the NFL couldn’t get through one of the greatest Super Bowls ever without the TV broadcast’s color commentator — a three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver, no less — twice misinterpreting the catch rule and opining incorrectly that the officials would overturn touchdown receptions.

But the guess here is that Joe Maddon might call it a Chicago soda tax situation.

Slide Rule Doesn’t Add Up, Either

Last October, the manager and his then-defending world champion Cubs were in Game 1 of the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers. On a replay review in the seventh inning of a 5-2 loss, Cubs catcher Willson Contreras — perhaps drawn toward the baseline to receive the throw home — was called for illegally blocking the plate, handing the Dodgers a run after it was originally ruled the baserunner had been thrown out.

Maddon, ejected while arguing the call, later said, “That was a beautifully done major league play that gets interpreted tantamount to the soda tax in Chicago.”

(See, that summer the local county government had instituted a penny-per-ounce tax on sweetened beverages. Caving to public pressure, the pols rescinded it in two months.)

“My point is,” Maddon added, “all rules created, or laws, aren’t necessarily good ones.”

Meanwhile, Back on Frozen Pond

The problem with the NHL rule — like all the others — is that it is either too vague or too inconsistently called, or both.

While it is important to protect goaltenders from getting run over, ambiguity is built into the interference rule, which contains subjective terms such as “incidental contact” and “reasonable effort.” And speaking of interpretation, the review process for interference challenges invites inconsistency. In such instances, the on-ice referee, while watching a variety of replays on a tablet and speaking to the NHL’s Toronto-based hockey operations department over a headset, is charged with making the ruling.

The evening of February 1 saw two particularly egregious no-calls:

  • Blues goalie Jake Allen was ridden out of the crease by two Bruins before David Krejci tapped in a rebound for the first goal in a 3-1 Boston win.
  • Vegas posted a 3-2 overtime win in Winnipeg partly because the Golden Knights’ Erik Haula scored after James Neal broke his stick against goalie Connor Hellebuyck’s helmet.

Yet, lest you think it’s open season on goalies, exactly one week earlier, a would-be rebound goal for an Edmonton overtime game-winner was waved off after young superstar Connor McDavid’s skate briefly snagged Calgary goalie David Rittich’s stick as he passed through the crease following the shot that started the sequence.

The inconsistency is maddening for players and fans alike.

“I think everyone just wants black and white,” McDavid said. “I think everyone just wants it to be goaltender interference or not.”

Certain Uncertainty

Meanwhile, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has seemed inclined to change little about the rule or its enforcement, except to encourage the officials to decide faster.

“Take a quick look, but don’t search it to death,” Bettman said of replay reviews during his annual All-Star Game presser. “The presumption should be the call on the ice was good unless you have a good reason to overturn it, and you shouldn’t have to search for a good reason.”

Players, though, will always search for an edge.

“If I’m a goaltender,” McDavid said, “I’m just going to start grabbing at guys’ feet and I’m going to start trying to sell it.”

Author bio: AJ Lee is Marketing Coordinator for Pro Stock Hockey, an online resource for pro stock hockey gear. He was born and raised in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, and has been a huge Blackhawks fan his entire life. AJ picked up his first hockey stick at age 3, and hasn’t put it down yet.

November 30 – Day 57 – Ain’t no Haulaback girl

Nothing is better than Thursday night in the NHL! Grab your favorite brew and head to the rink to watch your favorite crew!

That may have been forced, but I don’t really care.

Anyways, the NHL has lined up seven games for our viewing pleasure this evening, starting with Los Angeles at Washington at 7 p.m. and Montréal at Detroit (RDS/TSN2) half an hour later. Two more contests (Vancouver at Nashville and Vegas at Minnesota) drop the puck at 8 p.m., while Dallas at Chicago gets underway 30 minutes after. Finally, tonight’s co-nightcaps (Arizona at Calgary [SN360] and Toronto at Edmonton [TVAS]) see the green light at 9 p.m. to close out the night’s – and the month’s – action. All times Eastern.

Like I usually do, let’s highlight a couple of the games that might strike your fancy:

  • Montréal at Detroit: Did someone say Original Six?
  • Vegas at Minnesota: It’ll be a trip down memory lane tonight for F Erik Haula, as he’s returning to the Xcel Energy Center for the first time since being picked by the Golden Knights in the expansion draft.

The Stars-Blackhawks game also merits considerable attention since they’re tied for fourth place in the Central Division, but it’s not being considered for Game of the Day status due to Chicago being featured nine times already this season – as recently as two days ago.

As such, let’s make the trip to St. Paul and see if the Wild can do anything to slow down the best offense in the Western Conference.

 

 

 

 

 

Before we get started, I know what you’re thinking: no, I’m not all that interested in the game between the Maple Leafs and Oilers. I get that C Auston Matthews and C Connor McDavid are squaring off, but I don’t have it in me to make my loyal readers watch the Oil’s horrendous defense. That game will probably end with some ridiculous 7-3 score or something like that.

Instead, let’s focus in on Minnesota’s defense that is only a little bit better!

Ok, more on that in a minute. First, let’s recap the first four years of Haula’s NHL career.

The Finn was a seventh-round selection from the USHL’s Omaha Lancers by the Wild in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, but he didn’t start his NHL rookie season until the 2013-’14 campaign after a year with the Lancers, three seasons at the University of Minnesota and 37 games in the AHL.

Of Haula’s four campaigns with the Wild, his latter two were easily the most successful of his Minnesotan tenure. During the 2015-’16 season, he posted a career-high in points with 14-20-34 totals, and followed that up last campaign with a 15-11-26 effort – the most goals he’s scored in a season since his junior year of college.

Playing between RW Nino Niederreiter and RW Jason Pominville, Haula completed the Wild’s solid third line in what proved to be his final season with the club. Unfortunately, the good work that trio did was not enough to keep Haula on the squad, as General Manager Chuck Fletcher arranged a deal with Vegas GM George McPhee to ensure Haula would be selected during the expansion draft.

While his selection may have been choreographed to ensure Minnesota retained all the pieces it wanted, selecting Haula has only come up spades for the 15-7-1 Golden Knights. Haula has been promoted from lowly third-liner to Vegas’ top center and acclimated very well to his new role, averaging a career-high .68 points-per-game on the season with his 7-6-13 totals.

Of course, it’s hard to struggle with a linemate like W James Neal (12-7-19 totals), especially when they have the luxury of W Reilly Smith (6-13-19), C William Karlsson (13-9-22) and F Jon Marchessault (8-13-21) playing behind them as a brilliant second line. As such, the Pacific Division-leading Knights sport a nasty 3.52 goals-per-game average that trails only the Islanders and Lightning for best in the NHL.

Given the unenviable task of trying to slow down Vegas’ attack is 11-10-3 Minnesota, the worst team in the Central Division and third-worst in the Western Conference.

Hinted at before, the Wild’s biggest struggle this season has been keeping the opposition off the scoreboard. They allow 3.04 goals against-per-game, the (t)11th-worst effort in the NHL. Since I’m struggling to determine if responsibility for this issue falls on G Devan Dubnyk or his defense, I’m led to believe both share in the blame.

Let’s start with Dubnyk, who’s struggling to replicate last season’s .923 season save percentage and 2.25 GAA that earned him the fifth-most votes towards the Vezina Trophy. So far this year, he’s managed a .911 season save percentage and 2.85 GAA, which are 17th- and 14th-worst, respectively, among the 34 goaltenders with at least 10 starts (read: Dubnyk’s been average).

Unfortunately, he’s not getting all that much help from his d-corps. Even with LW Marcus Foligno‘s three hits-per-game, C Mikko Koivu‘s team-leading 18 takeaways and D Jared Spurgeon‘s 2.2 blocks-per-game, Minnesota is allowing a 12th-worst 32.2 shots against-per-game.

It is probably very telling that D Jonas Brodin, the team’s leader in individual goal-differential with a +8, is the only blueliner with a +/- better than +1. Meanwhile, defensemen like Spurgeon and Ryan Suter that have at least 14 points to their name have been neglecting their defensive duties, as neither have positive goal-differentials even though they’re among the Wild’s top-six point earners.

Unless Dubynk stands on his head – which is something he hasn’t done since his 30-for-30 performance against Philadelphia over two weeks ago – it’s hard to believe that the Wild will have much luck slowing down the Golden Knights’ offense.


With two goals in the span of 2:20, the Montréal Canadiens beat the Ottawa Senators 2-1 at the Bell Centre in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The Senators had a hot start to this game, as Second Star of the Game RW Mark Stone scored an unassisted shorthanded backhanded shot only 4:36 into the contest to quiet the loudest arena in the NHL.

Ottawa’s lead lasted until the 2:56 mark of the second period. That’s when First Star F Jonathan Drouin scored his fifth goal of the season, a penalty shot that pinged off G Mike Condon‘s right goalpost. 2:18 later, F Phillip Danault (F Andrew Shaw and LW Max Pacioretty) set the 2-1 final score with a wrist shot.

This goal was a result of some lightning-fast puck movement. Pacioretty and Shaw were busy behind Condon’s net, scrapping with C Derick Brassard and D Cody Ceci for possession. The moment Shaw had the opportunity, he forced the puck back above the goal line to Danault, who was screaming towards Condon’s right goalpost. Before the goalkeeper could get turned the right way, Danault sent his one-timer into the back of the net.

Though I was unable to watch the game, I’m led to believe that Third Star D Karl Alzner played a major role in keeping the Sens off the scoreboard after Stone’s first period tally. In 21 minutes of ice time, he threw three hits, blocked four shots and tacked on an additional takeaway to help the Habs earn two points.

G Carey Price earned the victory (his third-straight since returning from injury) after saving 27-of-28 shots faced (.964 save percentage), leaving the loss to Condon, who saved 29-of-31 (.935).

Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are on quite the roll, as they’ve won the last five games. Tonight’s victory improves their record to 32-19-6, 15 points better than the roadies’ effort.

March 29 – Day 166 – Windy City meets the Land of 10,000 Lakes

A three goal third period is what separated San Jose from Los Angeles to win 5-2 in yesterday’s Game of the Day.

Los Angeles scored first, thanks to Third Star of the Game Justin Braun firing the puck over glass.  Vincent Lecavalier capitalized on the man advantage with a snap shot, assisted by Alec Martinez (his 21st helper of the season) and Brayden McNabb.  Their lead lasted only 3:45 before Braun amended for his penalty with a pure wrister, assisted by Melker Karlsson and Tommy Wingels (his 10th helper of the season) to level the game.  The one-all score held into the intermission.

7:55 after returning to the ice, First Star Joe Pavelski scored the Sharks‘ second straight goal with a wrister (his 36th tally of the season), assisted by Tomas Hertl and Brent Burns.  But, just like the first intermission, the second was also a level score, as Lecavalier scored his second of the night with 4:17 remaining in the frame, assisted by Milan Lucic (his 33rd helper of the season) and Tyler Toffoli.

San Jose took their second lead of the night 4:28 into the third off a Second Star Joe Thornton power play wrister, assisted by Pavelski and Burns (his 43rd helper of the season).  Instead of LA having the leveler like this game went in the first two periods, the Sharks scored an insurance goal with 3:19 remaining from Karlsson, assisted by Wingels and Roman Polak (his 15th helper of the season).  The final goal was an empty netter with 19 seconds remaining, courtesy of Braun (his fourth of the season) after an assist from Dainius Zubrus.

Martin Jones earns the victory after saving 30 of 32 shots faced (93.8%), while Jonathan Quick takes the loss after saving 26 of 30 (86.7%).

The Sharks‘ victory snaps the two game winning streak by the road teams and sets the DtFR Game of the Day series at 75-43-18, favoring the home sides by 34 points over the roadies.

It’s a relatively busy Tuesday, especially if you’re like @kephartc and me and are also keeping an eye on both Team USA soccer matches occurring this evening.  That being said, there are nine games being played this evening, with the action starting at 7 p.m. eastern with three of them (Boston at New Jersey [TVAS], Carolina at the New York Islanders and Buffalo at Pittsburgh [BELL TV]), with two more following half an hour later (Detroit at Montréal [RDS] and Toronto at Florida).  Chicago at Minnesota gets its start at 8 p.m. eastern, trailed 30 minutes later by another pair of games (Colorado at St. Louis [NBCSN] and Nashville at Dallas).  Finally, San Jose at Vancouver, this evening’s nightcap, drops the puck at 10 p.m. eastern.

Most of tonight’s games are (Carolina at New York, Detroit at Montréal, Toronto at Florida, Chicago at Minnesota, Colorado at St. Louis, Nashville at Dallas and San Jose at Vancouver), while only two are between teams qualifying for the playoffs (Chicago at Minnesota and Nashville at Dallas).  The ChicagoMinnesota game is also a rematch of one of last season’s Western Conference Semifinals.

You know how this usually goes down – we go with the game that qualifies for all three games!

Unknown-2Unknown-2This will be Chicago‘s league-leading 23rd appearance in the Game of the Day series, where they own a 10-9-3 record.  Minnesota has made 11 appearances before tonight’s game, and own a 6-5-0 record in such instances.  Both of these teams were last featured March 20, when the Wild won 3-2 in a shootout in Chicago.

The 44-25-7 Chicago Blackhawks currently occupy third in the Central Division and fourth in the Western Conference.  They’ve played a balanced game to get this far, allowing the eight fewest goals paired with the ninth most goals scored.

Even with Trevor van Riemsdyk’s 147 blocks, Chicago has allowed  2333 shots to reach the injured 35-18-4 Corey Crawford and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 92.3% for only 188 goals against, the eighth fewest in the NHL.  That success has been no help to the defensive special team, as they are successful on only 79.17% of their penalty kills, allowing 45 power play goals in the process.  To improve on that rate, they have scored eight shorthanded goals, two more than the league average.

Led by Patrick Kane’s 264 shots, the Hawks have fired the puck 2335 times, with 9% finding the back of the net for 212 goals (led by Kane’s 39 tallies), the seventh most in the league.  This special team is much better, as the Blackhawks‘ 21.74% success rate on the power play, good for 50 extra man goals (led by Kane’s 15 power play tallies) ranks fifth best in the NHL.

Chicago enters tonight’s game riding a two game winning streak, with their most recent coming Sunday, a 3-2 victory in Vancouver.  With another win tonight, the Blackhawks have the opportunity to pull within two points of the conference lead, but they will need help from both Colorado and Nashville for that to happen.  Should they lose and Nashville win, their lead over the Predators for third in the division will fall to only two points.

The 37-28-11 Minnesota Wild are currently the fifth best team in the Central Division and eighth best in the Western Conference.  To get there, they’ve played the ninth best defense, paired with the 13th best offense.

Led by Jared Spurgeon’s 149 blocks, Minnesota has allowed only 2188 shots to reach 31-22-6 Devan Dubnyk and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 91.9% for only 189 goals against, the ninth fewest in the NHL.  Just like Chicago, the Wild haven’t gotten much help from the penalty kill, which ranks fifth worst in the league with only a 78.42% kill rate, allowing 41 power play goals.  That being said, the Wild have scored seven shorthanded goals (led by Erik Haula’s two shorties), one more than the league average.

Even with Zach Parise’s 220 shots, the Wild has fired the puck only 2215 times, with 9.2% finding the back of the net for 206 goals (led by Parise’s 24 tallies), the 13th most in the NHL.  The Land of 10,000 Lakes is also the home of the 10th best power play, successful on 19.75% of their opportunities and good for 48 power play goals (led by Mikko Koivu’s 10 extra man tallies).

Minnesota enters today’s game white hot, winners of five straight.  Their most recent was Saturday’s four goal shutout win in Colorado.  With another win tonight, the Wild have the opportunity to improve their lead over Colorado for the final Western playoff spot to five points, but they’ll need some help from St. Louis for that to happen.  It is also still possible for Minnesota to get out of the second wildcard spot and into the first, and a Wild win paired with a Nashville loss would pull them within four points.

Not only has Minnesota already won the season series against Chicago, but they are looking for the season sweep with their fifth straight victory over the Hawks.  This season’s success is revenge  for a four game sweep in last season’s Western Conference Semifinals on Chicago‘s way to the Stanley Cup.

Some players to keep an eye on include Chicago‘s Kane (94 points [leads the league], 39 goals [second most in the league] and 55 assists [tied for second most in the league]) and Minnesota‘s Dubnyk (five shutouts [tied for fourth most in the league] and 31 wins [10th most in the league]).

Giving Minnesota‘s current winning streak against both the Blackhawks as well as overall in addition to being this evening’s host, I think the Wild pull this one out to complete the season sweep of the Windy City.

March 20 – Day 157 – The Wild’s wildcard chase continues in Chicago

The Pittsburgh Penguins used a three goal second period to knock off the in-state rival Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 in yesterday’s Game of the Day.

The first goal wasn’t scored until the 21:58 mark, courtesy of Radko Gudas and the Flyers, his fourth goal of the season.  1:01 later, Trevor Daley leveled the game with a snap shot (his fifth tally of the season), assisted by First Star of the Game Nick Bonino and Eric Fehr.  The tie lasted until 3:04 remained in the frame when Second Star Carl Hagelin’s slap shot found the back of the net for the game winner, assisted by Bonino (his 11th helper of the season).  1:29 later, Chris Kunitz fired a slap shot of his own to give the Pens an insurance score, assisted by Sidney Crosby and Patric Hornqvist (his 27th helper of the season).  The 3-1 score held into the second intermission.

Kris Letang was responsible for the lone tally of the final period, an empty netter assisted by Kunitz and Crosby (his 43rd helper of the season).

Marc-Andre Fleury earns the victory after saving 16 of the 17 shots he faced (94.1%), while Third Star Steve Mason takes the loss, saving 31 of 34 (91.2%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 70-41-16, favoring the home sides by 30 points over the visitors.

It’s getting to be that time of year again when Sundays are just as busy and unpredictable as Saturdays, and I’m not just talking about March Madness.  A total of seven games are going to be played today, starting with Anaheim at Winnipeg at 3 p.m. eastern.  Columbus at New Jersey gets going at 5 p.m. eastern, followed an hour later by Washington at Pittsburgh (NBCSN/TVAS).  The usual starting time of 7 p.m. features Calgary at Montréal (RDS/SN), which is trailed 90 minutes later by the opening puck drop of Minnesota at Chicago (NBCSN).  9:30 p.m. eastern marks the beginning of Colorado at Edmonton (SN1), which is followed half an hour later by this evening’s nightcap, Arizona at San Jose.

A majority of today’s games are divisional rivalries (Columbus at New Jersey, Washington at Pittsburgh, Minnesota at Chicago and Arizona at San Jose), but Washington at Pittsburgh is the only game between current playoff qualifiers.  Also, the AnaheimWinnipeg and MinnesotaChicago games are rematches of some Western Conference playoff matchups of a season ago.

In addition for the reasons stated above, the MinnesotaChicago game is an important one because a Wild win propels them into the playoffs.

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Tonight’s game will be Minnesota‘s 11th in the Game of the Day series, where they own a 5-5-0 record, with their most recent being March 10’s 2-1 loss on home ice to Edmonton.  Chicago has been featured 21 times before tonight’s contest, and own a 10-9-2 record in such games.  Their most recent in the series was Wednesday’s 3-2 home loss to Philadelphia.

The 33-28-11 Minnesota Wild currently sit sixth in the Central Division and eighth in the Western Conference, making them the first team outside the playoff picture in that conference.  To get to that position, they’ve played the ninth best defense in the league, but have only managed the 13th fewest goals scored.

Led by Jared Spurgeon’s 139 blocks, Minnesota has allowed only 2023 shots to reach 26-22-6 Devan Dubnyk and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 91.6% for 182 goals against, the ninth fewest in the league.  The Wild should make all efforts to avoid taking penalties, as their 77.01% kill rate that has allowed 40 power play goals ranks fourth worst in the NHL.  To slightly make up for that deficiency, the Wild has scored six shorthanded goals (led by Erik Haula’s two shorties), one more than the league average.

Even with Zach Parise’s 199 shots, the Wild have only fired the puck 2067 times, with 9% finding the back of the net for 188 goals (led by Charlie Coyle’s 21 tallies), 13th fewest in the NHL.  As far as Minnesota‘s special teams go, the power play is miles ahead, as their 19.28% success rate, good for 43 extra man goals (led by Mikko Koivu’s nine power play tallies), ranks 14th best in the league.

The Wild played yesterday to a 3-2 shootout victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on home ice.  With a win today, Minnesota could advance themselves past the Avalanche for eighth in the conference, even if only for a day, but they will need the help of the Oilers.

The 42-24-6 Chicago Blackhawks are currently the third best team in the Central Division, and fourth best in the Western Conference.  They’ve played stellar hockey all season, as they are the seventh best defense and eighth best offense.

Even with Trevor van Riemsdyk’s 141 blocks, the Hawks have allowed 2207 shots to reach 35-18-4 Corey Crawford (questionable for tonight’s game as of Saturday night) and co., of which they’ve collectively saved a solid 92.3% for only 176 goals against, the seventh fewest in the league.  The best way to beat this Chicago defense is to get under their skin and get them to commit penalties, as their 78.64% kill rate that has allowed 44 power play goals against ranks seventh worst in the NHL.  To make up for that poor effort, the Hawks have scored eight shorthanded goals.

Led by Patrick Kane’s 254 shots, Chicago has fired the puck 2213 times, with 9% finding the back of the net for 201 goals (led by Kane’s 39 tallies), eighth most in the NHL.  The Hawks have truly excelled on the power play, as their 22.52% success rate, good for 50 extra man goals (led by Kane’s 15 power play tallies) ranks third best in the league.

Chicago‘s most recent game was their four goal shutout victory in Winnipeg Friday night.   A win tonight pulls the Blackhawks back within a point of the second seed in the Central Division, but a loss allows the Predators to get within three points of a division qualifier should they beat the Kings tomorrow.

In addition to being  an important game this season, it was also a Western Conference Semifinal last season   It’s not one that Wild fans like being reminded of though, as Chicago swept Minnesota on their way to their sixth franchise Stanley Cup Championship.

Some players to keep an eye on in tonight’s game include Chicago‘s Crawford (seven shutouts [leads the league], 35 wins [tied for third most in the league] and .926 save percentage [fourth best in the league]) (should he play) and Kane (92 points [leads the league] and 39 goals [second most in the league] and 53 assists [tied for second most in the league]) & Minnesota‘s Coyle (21 goals, 19 of which were at even strength [both lead the team]) and Koivu (48 points, nine of which were power play goals and 23 were even-strength assists [all lead the team]).

With the exception of the injured Crawford, it seems as if Chicago has gotten out of their funk from earlier in the week.  Since Minnesota‘s offense is as much of a threat, Chicago should be able to keep pressure off Scott Darling to ensure a home victory.

March 10 – Day 147 – Hey, that was the Wild’s wildcard spot!

The Kings jumped out to an early lead on the Capitals, but Washington was able to level the game with three goals of their own in the third before giving up an overtime winner.

Three goals were scored in the first period, all belonging to Los Angeles.  Vincent Lecavalier’s was first, marked at the 4:52 mark of play.  His power play tally was assisted by Second Star of the Game Tanner Pearson and Alec Martinez (his 19th helper of the season).  Pearson continued his assisting ways 7:13 later, as he and Tyler Toffoli (his 22nd helper of the season) assisted Jake Muzzin to the Kings‘ second score.  1:21 later, Milan Lucic got involved with a goal of his own, assisted by First Star Jeff Carter (his 29th helper of the season) and Brayden McNabb.  That 3-0 score held not only to the end of the first period, but also through the second.

Washington got one back only 1:46 into the third with a little help from a Dwight King holding penalty that Third Star T.J. Oshie turned into a power play goal, assisted by Marcus Johansson and Matt Niskanen (his 24th helper of the season).  One goal became two 9:16 later, courtesy of a Nicklas Backstrom wrister, assisted by Alex Ovechkin and Oshie (his 22nd helper of the season).  Washington leveled the game with 3:22 remaining in regulation when Dmitry Orlov’s backhander found the back of the net, assisted by Justin Williams and Evgeny Kuznetsov (his 48th helper of the season).  The three-all score held to the end of regulation, so the Game of the Day witnessed its third straight overtime game.

Carter’s wrister at the 62:50 mark goes down as the game winner.  He was assisted by Lucic and Drew Doughty (his 31st helper of the season).

Jonathan Quick earns the win after saving 29 of 32 (90.6%), while Braden Holtby takes the overtime loss, saving 26 of 30 (86.7%).

Los Angeles‘ win ends the road warriors winning streak at five games and sets the DtFR Game of the Day series at 65-37-15, favoring the home sides by 29 points over the roadies.

Six games will be played this Thursday evening, beginning with Carolina at Boston at 7 p.m. eastern.  Dropping the puck at 7:30 p.m. eastern are three contests (Buffalo at Montréal, Winnipeg at Detroit [NHLN] and Ottawa at Florida), followed half an hour later by Edmonton at Minnesota.  This evening’s nightcap is New Jersey at San Jose, which begins at 10:30 p.m. eastern.

A third of tonight’s games will be contested between divisional rivals (Buffalo at Montréal and Ottawa at Florida), and  none are between teams currently qualifying for the playoffs.

Colorado surpassed Minnesota last night with their 3-0 win against the Ducks, which certainly upset the Wild.  Let’s see if they can get themselves back into the playoff picture with a win over the Oil.

200px-Logo_Edmonton_Oilers.svgUnknown-2Tonight’s game will be Edmonton‘s third in the DtFR Game of the Day series, where they currently own a 0-1-1 record.  Their most recent game in the series was their visit to San Jose on January 14 when they fell 2-1 in a shootout.  Minnesota has been featured nine times before tonight, and own a 5-4-0 record in such games, with their most recent occurring March 6, a 4-2 loss on home ice to the Blues.

The 26-36-7 Edmonton Oilers are currently tied with Winnipeg for the distinction of worst team in the Western Conference (the Jets best them on games played), and are only four points better than Toronto, the worst team in the NHL.  Their offense ranks ninth worst in the league, but the defense has played even poorer, ranking fifth worst.

Even with Taylor Hall’s 249 shots, the Oilers have fired the puck 1995 times, of which 8.2% have found the back of the net for 167 goals (led by Hall’s 22 tallies), the ninth fewest in the NHL.  The power play follows suit, successful on only 16.84% of attempts for 33 power play goals (led by Jordan Eberle’s six extra man tallies), the sixth lowest rate in the league.

The defense has played even poorer.  Even with Andrej Sekera’s team leading 135 blocks, the Oil have allowed 2155 shots to reach 16-23-4 Cam Talbot and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 91.1% for 204 goals against, the fifth most in the league.  The best thing Edmonton does is kill penalties, as their 80.28% kill rate, which has allowed 42 power play goals against, ranks only 14th worst.

Edmonton‘s most recent game was March 8, a three goal shutout loss to the Sharks on home ice.  I’d like to say that Edmonton does more harm than good by winning even one more game this season, but they’ve consistently had early draft picks and have yet to show anything of it.  So, I guess what I’m saying is, who knows?

The 31-26-10 Minnesota Wild currently occupy sixth place in the Central Division and ninth in the Western Conference.  To get to that position, they’ve played the 10th best defense in the league, paired with the 14th worst offense.

Led by Jared Spurgeon’s 131 blocks, the Wild have allowed only 1922 shots to reach 25-22-5 Devan Dubnyk and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 91.8% for only 169 goals against, the 10th fewest in the NHL.  Although the overall defense has been solid, Minnesota‘s penalty kill has been atrocious.  Their 75.9% kill rate, which has allowed 40 power play goals, is third worst in the league.  It is slightly made up for by its offensive threat though, as the kill has six shorthanded goals to its credit (led by Erik Haula’s two shorties).

Even with Zach Parise’s team leading 188 shots, the Wild have fired the puck only 1958 times, of which 9% have found the back of the net for 177 goals (led by Charlie Coyle’s 21 tallies), the 14th fewest in the league.  The special teams have tried to make up some of the slack though, as their 18.96% success rate, good for 40 power play goals (led by Mikko Koivu’s nine extra man tallies), ranks 14th best in the league.

Minnesota‘s last game was their 4-2 loss to the Blues on Sunday, but that can be quickly erased with a win tonight.  Should they do just that, they will reclaim their spot in the second wildcard position.

Minnesota has already won this season’s series against the Oilers 2-0-0, with their most recent meeting ending 5-2 in Edmonton on February 18.

Some players to keep an eye on in tonight’s game include Edmonton‘s Hall (249 shots and  22 goals [six game-winners], 18 of which were at even-strength, and 35 assists, 29 of which were at even-strength, for 57 points [all lead the team]) and Minnesota‘s Dubnyk (four shutouts [tied for fifth most in the league]).

For Minnesota‘s sake, this shouldn’t be too much of a game.  As long as they can take care of Edmonton‘s slightly-decent penalty kill, they should be able to reclaim their position in the second wildcard.