Including today, only nine days of regular season hockey are left this year! Are you excited for the playoffs yet?
Play starts at 1 p.m. today with Florida at Boston (SN), followed an hour later by Ottawa at Detroit (SN1/TVAS). Columbus at Vancouver (SN360) completes the afternoon’s matinees, as the next four tilts (Winnipeg at Toronto [CBC/SN], the New York Islanders at New Jersey, Montréal at Pittsburgh [CITY/NHLN/SN360/TVAS] and the New York Rangers at Carolina) wait until the usual 7 p.m. starting time. 8 p.m. mark the puck drop of a pair of tilts (Buffalo at Nashville and Minnesota at Dallas), while St. Louis at Arizona waits an hour before getting underway. Finally, Edmonton at Calgary (CBC/SN/SN360) gets green-lit at 10 p.m., followed half an hour later by tonight’s nightcap: San Jose at Vegas. All times Eastern.
A few of the games that stuck out to me – at least at the beginning of the season – include:
- Florida at Boston: Welcome back to Beantown, F Frank Vatrano! Let’s see if you can get an important two points for your new team against the one that traded you.
- Columbus at Vancouver: Speaking of trades, the deadline swap that sent W Thomas Vanek to Ohio might be among the most impactful this season.
- Buffalo at Nashville: Another return will occur in this game, but this one features Phil Housley at Bridgestone Arena, the place he’d been an assistant coach for the past four seasons.
- Edmonton at Calgary: Even though both of these sides are ineligible for the postseason, don’t expect the nastiness to see any sort of decline.
Of those, the Panthers-Bruins game is obviously the most impactful on this postseason. However, there’s also the Jets-Maple Leafs and Sharks-Golden Knights games taking place today, both of which are certainly worthy of our attention.
Though I would recommend watching all three, we may only feature one in this column. As such, let’s make the trip to the Silver State to get a preview of a potential second round matchup.
It’s been a wild ride for the 49-22-7 Golden Knights this regular season, and much to the delight of them and their fans, there’s still at least one more chapter to be written in the playoffs.
However, it doesn’t seem like Vegas is looking too far ahead into the playoffs, as they’re still playing some exemplary hockey down the stretch even though they’ve already clinched a playoff spot. Since March 18, Vegas has posted a wildly impressive 4-1-2 record to hold on to its spot atop the Pacific Division.
Is it any surprise that a three-time Stanley Cup champion is the one leading the Knights down the stretch? 28-12-4 G Marc-Andre Fleury has been phenomenal in his last five starts, even despite a defense that has allowed an average of 33 shots against per game since March 18, the 11th-most in the league in that time.
Even facing that almost constant pressure, Fleury has managed an imposing .964 save percentage and 1.14 GAA over that stretch that’s even better than the .931 save percentage and 2.15 GAA he’s posted for the entire regular season, both of which are second-best in the NHL among qualified goaltenders.
With 12-3-2 G Malcolm Subban playing in Vegas’ 4-3 overtime victory last night against the Blues, Fleury will be totally rested and prepared for whatever San Jose throws at him tonight.
Speaking of, if we want to talk about teams closing the regular season on a hot run, the 44-24-10 Sharks have to enter into that conversation. San Jose has managed an 8-1-1 record over its last 10 games, due in large part to its unstoppable offense.
None have been able to keep the Sharks under control lately, as they come to Vegas averaging 4.2 goals per game since March 12, the best attack in the Western Conference and second-best in the NHL.
What might be the most impressive thing about San Jose’s attack is that, short of D Brent Burns‘ 1-9-10 marks in his last 10 games, no other skater is averaging at least a point per game during this run. That means that instead of one Shark dominating the game, it’s instead the entire offense contributing.
That’s no more apparent than when we look at who has been on the receiving end of Burns’ last nine assists. With the exception of F Logan Couture and F Joe Pavelski both scoring two goals following passes from Burns, no player has scored more than one goal with an assist from the defenseman in San Jose’s last 10 games. In total, seven different players have benefited from a Burns helper, representing all four lines of forwards.
Much to the disappointment of hockey fans, tonight marks the finale of the regular season series between these two squads. Having earned five points against the Sharks to their three, Vegas has had the upper hand so far this year when taking on San Jose, but the visitors could level the series tonight with a regulation win.
San Jose and Vegas first squared off on November 24 at T-Mobile Arena, where the Golden Knights held on to win a wild 5-4 game in overtime (F Jon Marchessault scored the game-winner). Game 2 wasn’t until February 8 at SAP Center, but home ice didn’t help the Sharks avoid a 5-3 loss (Fleury earned First Star honors with his 35-save effort).
Most recently, the Knights returned to San Jose on March 22 – only nine days ago – to finally suffer their first defeat at the
hands fins of the Sharks, who won 2-1 in overtime (that game-winner belonged to Couture).
Should San Jose be able to earn a regulation win tonight, it would level the season series against Vegas at five points apiece.
Of course, that’s not the main reason the Sharks want to win this game. Currently trailing the Golden Knights by seven points, there’s still technically an outside shot they could dismantle Vegas from atop the Pacific Division. After tonight’s game, both clubs will have three games remaining on the schedule, meaning the Sharks would need to effectively win out while Vegas also loses all three tilts in regulation.
What a matchup we are about to witness! No one has been able to slow down the Sharks’ attack lately, yet no offense has been able to beat Fleury. Even though they’re on the road, I like the Sharks to win this game since they’ve been able to find offensive contributions from their entire team lately. That constant pressure should be enough to wear Fleury down.
In a defensive affair that surprisingly featured only one penalty, the Anaheim Ducks beat the Los Angeles Kings 2-1 in overtime in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Honda Center.
Anaheim didn’t respond until 3:05 remained in the second period. Third Star of the Game LW Nick Ritchie (D Francois Beauchemin and W Ondrej Kase) banged home a backhanded shot to level the game at 1-1.
The defenses really amped up their games in the third period, as only a combined nine shots made it on goal in the final 20 minutes. In particular, the Kings’ D-corps played especially well, limiting the Ducks to only two scoring opportunities to keep the game tied at the end of regulation.
That defensive theme continued through most of the overtime period, as it took 4:41 of three-on-three play before First Star F Rickard Rakell (D Brandon Montour and Kase) scored his third game-winner of the season.
Montour and Kase earned assists, but this goal was all about Rakell. He carried the puck from blue line to blue line, even with F Trevor Lewis doing his best to maintain a defensive presence. Once Rakell finally reached the right face-off dot, he used D Alec Martinez as a screen to rip an elevated snap shot to the far post, beating helpless G Jonathan Quick before he could even react.
G John Gibson earned the victory after saving 28-of-29 shots faced (.966 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Quick, who saved 31-of-33 (.939).
Another DtFR Game of the Day, another home victory. The Ducks are the seventh-consecutive host to win their game in the featured series, and they also extend the 97-53-21 home teams’ point streak to nine games. Hosts in the series now have a 44-point lead on the roadies.