Tag Archives: Isles

October 15 – Day 12 – Kings of the Isle

These Sundays during football season are tough, aren’t they? Since the NHL knows it isn’t always the hottest ticket in town during the fall, they intentionally backlog their Sundays until later in the year, leaving these early-season Sundays lightly populated.

Oh well, I suppose we’ll have to do with what we have.

Tonight’s action starts at 7 p.m. this evening when Boston makes its inaugural visit to Vegas (SN1), followed by Buffalo at Anaheim two hours later. Finally, our nightcap drops the puck at 10:30 p.m. when the New York Islanders make their annual visit to the Staples Center for a tilt with Los Angeles. All times Eastern.

I want the most competitive game we can find today between teams we haven’t featured yet, and according to the standings that game is being contested between the Islanders and Kings.

 

 

 

 

 

Based off preseason predictions, I don’t think there were many that would have pegged this as the game of the night. Few here at DtFR are predicting either to make the playoffs, and certainly not both.

Instead, we’ve been presented with a Los Angeles team that has started the season with a strong 3-0-1 record, and an Islanders club that is not far behind at 2-2-1.

Starting with the Kings, they’ve been one of the elite defenses to start the season, having allowed only 1.75 goals per game to rank second-best in the NHL behind Ottawa. In particular, D Derek Forbort has played spectacularly by allowing only one goal against while he’s on the ice, while D Drew Doughty has also been very good managing 2.5 blocks-per-game. Together, they’ve contributed to a corps that has allowed only 30.5 shots against-per-game to reach G Jonathan Quick, the eighth-best effort in the league.

Speaking of Quick, he’s easily been on of the top-six goaltenders in the league through two weeks of play. Having posted a .943 save percentage and a 1.74 GAA, he has silenced any and all doubters wondering if he’ll be able to resume his form from before last season’s injury.

Unfortunately for Angelenos, it will not be Quick in net tonight since he was a part of the Kings’ 4-2 victory over the Sabres last night. Instead, it will be G Darcy Kuemper making his first start for the Kings after signing as a free-agent this offseason. Though last season’s .902 save percentage and 3.13 GAA with the Wild was certainly not the best of his five-year NHL career, Kuemper is certainly a capable backup as he managed an 8-5-3 record in 17 starts.

As far as the Islanders are concerned, they think they’re pretty good on defense too, and G Thomas Greiss is nice enough – and good enough – to let them think that.

In all honesty, New York doesn’t exactly have a good defense at all. The Isles allow a (t)11th-worst 34.4 shots-per-game to reach Greiss, but he’s played brilliantly even with the heavy workload. Though his 3.07 GAA is only 20th-best in the league right now, his .921 save percentage is 14th. If only he had a defense playing in front of him.

But, in a similar situation to Los Angeles, Greiss is getting the night off after posting a 3-1 victory in San Jose last night. Instead, it’ll be G Jaroslav Halak making his third start of the season.

It seems the defense plays better when Halak is in net, as he as a 2.45 GAA that is much better than Greiss’, even though his .914 save percentage is certainly not.

Since both clubs played last night, I’ll be interested to see the energy level in this game. Since the Kings did not have to travel for tonight’s game – and the fact that I believe they’re better – I’m leaning towards Los Angeles taking this game.


They needed an overtime goal from Third Star of the Game Brandon Saad, but the Chicago Blackhawks were able to avenge their four-game elimination at the hand of the Nashville Predators last postseason, winning yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day 2-1.

Chicago’s victory is actually of the  come-from-behind variety, as it allowed Filip Forsberg (Scott Hartnell and P.K. Subban) to take a lead with 1:44 remaining in the second period with a power play wrist shot.

Patrick Sharp (John Hayden and Cody Franson) eventually leveled the game at one-all, but it wasn’t until only 5:36 remained in regulation. His backhanded shot forced ended up being 3:05 of three-on-three action before Saad (Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith) ended things on a tip-in.

Saad’s goal began before he was even on the ice, as an extended possession in the Blackhawks’ offensive zone allowed Jonathan Toews to depart the ice so he could come on. While the change was happening, Keith held the puck at the blue line under no pressure from Colton Sissons. As Saad entered play, Keith passed the puck to him as he advanced towards Second Star G Pekka Rinne. Though he did pass to Kane across the ice along the far boards, Kane returned the favor when Saad reached the crease to set up an easy deflection goal.

First Star G Corey Crawford earned the victory after saving 37-of-38 shots against (.974 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Rinne, who saved 33-of-35 (.943).

Since October 10, wins have alternated between home and away teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. After tonight’s hosts held serve, they earned a 7-4-1 record that is three points better than the roadies’.

New York Islanders 2017-’18 Season Preview

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New York Islanders

41-29-12, 94 points, 5th in the Metropolitan Division

Additions: RW Jordan Eberle, G Kristers Gudlevskis, D Seth Helgeson

Subtractions: LW Eric Boulton, LW Justin Florek, C Ben Holmstrom, C Ryan Strome, C Carter Verhaeghe

Offseason Analysis: Just as I was starting to think that Jordan Eberle trade rumors, much like the Loch Ness Monster and the state of North Dakota, were nothing but myths and stories, Garth Snow just waltzes right in and ruins all the fun.

The ever-entertaining (probably more-so for those of us without vested interest in the team) Isles GM can usually be counted on to make headlines somehow, so when he pulled the trigger on one of the offseason’s bigger moves just over a week before free agency, it raised quite a few hands in the peanut gallery. On top of the sheer rarity of a true 1-for-1 straight-up trade, a few questioned the move based on the Isles’ lack of quality depth at the center position and Strome’s potentially yet-untouched ceiling. But Snow seemed confident enough in young Brock Nelson‘s ability to anchor his second line to go ahead and finally try to acquire the extra firepower of Eberle to accompany world-class John Tavares on the top line.

Captain ‘Johnny T’ has been one of the best centers in the league for quite some time, and at just shy of 27 years of age, he certainly shouldn’t be slowing down any time soon. But year after year seemingly everyone around the league asks “When will they find him a legitimate top-flight winger?”. Well, I think it’s safe to say they’re as close now as they’ve ever been. Eberle brings serious skill and consistent 25-30 goal, 60-70 point production from a situation where he didn’t often play on a quality hockey team. Should the two find solid chemistry, they could easily be plastering opposing defenders on the receiving end of highlight-reel plays on a nightly basis.

The rest of the Isles forward corps is solid, if not spectacular.

A solid ’16-’17 season showed they should now be able to comfortably rely upon man-child Anders Lee to complete the top line and chip in ballpark 30 goals and 50 points. The 6’3″ 228lb Notre Dame grad adds a helpful heaping of size and physicality to the group, and should create plenty of time, space, and netfront havoc to give his ultra-talented linemates ample opportunity to set things up.

Things get a bit convoluted from there.

Brock Nelson will almost certainly center the second line, and while veteran Andrew Ladd would be a logical choice to fill the left wing position, young Anthony Beauvillier will be given every chance to supplement Ladd after a quiet but solid debut season in ’16-’17. The former Shawinigan Cataractes superstar chipped in 9 goals and 24 points in 66 games last year playing limited minutes and getting adjusted to the pro game. Now with a firm idea of the competition he’ll face, and a summer of NHL-caliber weightroom training, Beauvillier should make a strong case for an expanded role in ’17-’18.

The right side could very well go the way of another youngster in Joshua Ho-Sang. After impressing with 10 points in his first 21 NHL games last season, some immature behavior landed the former OHL standout in Bridgeport for the remainder of the year. As long as he can keep his head on straight, Ho-Sang could fill out a sneaky-dangerous second unit for the Islanders.

If we go ahead and slot Beauvillier into the 2nd line LW position (and we are, because this is my article and I get to do what I want) then that leaves a likely 3rd line of Ladd, Casey Cizikas, and Josh Bailey, all of whom can play in just about any situation, while the latter two are both natural centers, giving the line extra flexibility in the faceoff department.

The fourth line also seems a fairly sure thing, with fleet-footed Jason Chimera accompanying the versatile Alan Quine and human battering ram Cal Clutterbuck. I have Nikolai Kulemin and Stephen Gionta as the extra forwards, giving the Isles a bit of extra veteran versatility to inject when needed. The forward prospect pool isn’t terrifically deep, but does feature the likes of respective 2014 & 2015 1st round picks Michael Dal Colle and Mathew Barzal. I expect Barzal to be left in Bridgeport to get a year of pro hockey under his belt, but a strong camp from 6’3″ 200lb Dal Colle could potentially earn him a spot in the opening night lineup.

Moving back to the blueline, the unit looks to be completely unchanged from the ’16-’17 campaign. Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk are set to anchor the top pairing once again, while Adam Pelech and Calvin de Haan, both fresh off of shiny new contracts, will likely fill the 3-4 slots. After impressing the Islanders’ brass enough in the World Cup to be offered a contract last year, German defender Dennis Seidenberg did not let them down and was given an extension through the upcoming season, once again looking to accompany Thomas Hickey on the 3rd pairing.

Ryan Pulock should nab the 7th defenseman slot, with the potential to supplement one of the top 6 should he have a solid camp (his right-handed shot benefits him on a New York depth chart littered with lefties) but will face plenty of competition from guys like bruising Scott Mayfield and former OHL offensive dynamo and Memorial Cup Champion Mitchell Vande Sompel (who I promise is not on this list simply because his name is fun to say).

In goal, we reach the bulk of the questions surrounding the Islanders chances this year. After a quite literally up-and-down season that saw him placed on waivers and eventually sent to AHL Bridgeport, Halak returned to the Isles after going 17-7-3 and rode that confidence to a solid 12-9-5 record in the NHL. Now, at age 32 and in the final year of his contract, the Slovakian goaltender must reclaim his previous form to both help his team and, likely, extend his career as a starter. The Islanders do have the luxury of career-backup turned solid performer Thomas Greiss, who stepped in and filled Halak’s duties admirably with a 26-18-5 record accompanying a 2.69 GAA and .913 SV% last year. Behind Greiss are solid AHLers Kristers Gudlevskis and Christopher Gibson, though neither currently projects as an NHL regular.

Basically, the short version of the goaltending situation (and potentially the Islanders season as a whole) reads as ‘Halak or bust’.

Offseason Grade: C

Snow accomplished what he’s been trying to accomplish for quite a few years in giving Tavares a legitimate top-tier linemate, but Eberle’s pricey contract may have limited his ability to go out and solidify the rest of his lineup (*cough* Matt Duchene *cough*). The top line will likely rely upon the young second unit to take some defensive pressure away, and should the youngsters faulter, it could cause serious offensive problems for the top-loaded Isles. Throw in a good-not-great D corps, and a shaky goaltending situation, and the Islanders could struggle mightily to make the postseason in a deadly-good Metropolitan Division.

NHL Schedule Analysis

Welcome to Down the Frozen River’s first-ever attempt at offering some schedule analysis of the upcoming NHL season.

I know what you’re thinking: these types of columns are usually associated with the NFL and not the NHL – or any other league, for that matter, where all teams play at least once per season. But when and where different clubs appear on the  schedule can still play a big role in a team’s success. An important home stand or an ill-timed extended road trip can determine if a club is a buyer or seller at the trade deadline, make or break a squad’s chances for playoff qualification in March or affect seeding in April.

For starters, I’d like to explain how I approach the season. Maybe it’s my varying degrees of affection for the NFL (the only other Big Four league in the United States that uses bye weeks), but I view a campaign in thirds.

Thirds?

Yes, thirds. They may not be perfect thirds, but each section takes on its own characteristics. Take a look at how the NFL arranges its 16-game, 17-week season. For example, during the 2017 season, the NFL’s byes will begin in Week 5 and extend to Week 11, effectively cutting the season into approximate thirds: (1) Weeks 1-4 featuring no byes, (2) Weeks 5-11 and (3) Weeks 12-17 (Week 12 corresponds with American Thanksgiving and the following Sunday/Monday, just to put things in perspective).

Now lets take that approach to the 2017-’18 NHL season, a campaign featuring 82 games for each of its 31 clubs. With the regular season beginning October 4, most teams will play approximately 21 games before American Thanksgiving, another 41 before the trade deadline and 20 to close out the season.

Pretty close to thirds, right? Well, maybe it’s fourths but the middle two are combined… Whatever. My degree isn’t in math.

But regardless of what they are, what do they mean?

Well, if you buy into the stat that teams in playoff position by American Thanksgiving qualify for the postseason over 75 percent of the time, that proves how important a quick start can be. If nothing else, it is certainly an early barometer of which teams are good and which should already be making plans for the 2018-’19 campaign.

Speaking of plans, that leads us to the second part of the season. It involves Christmas Break, the Winter Classic, bye weeks (more on those in a minute) and, of course, the All-Star Weekend in Tampa. Those are all fun and exciting, but most important are the transactions between clubs at this time, as contenders try to shore up chinks in their armor and the lesser clubs (*cough* Colorado *cough*) prepare for the future. This almost ho-hum, business-as-usual state of play is status quo for most of the season, which makes sense why this section is double the games of the other two phases of the year.

Then comes the final push. With the exception of the playoffs, this is some of the most exciting hockey of the season – night in, night out. Almost every game matters not only for playoff qualification and seeding, but also for fully integrating those deadline acquisitions before April 7,  the final day of the regular season, comes to a close.

Having more or less games in comparison to the rest of the league in any of the three sections can have its positives and negatives, but they’re impossible to predict given the unpredictability of hot or cold streaks, injuries and even the weather issues the league has had to deal with the past few years.

Another thing to keep in mind is the still relatively new change to the schedule: the addition of bye weeks. Making their debut only a season ago, the league has done a little tweaking to when each teams’ breaks occur on the calendar.

Last year, the first bye weeks began as early as New Year’s Day when the Islanders and Penguins began their five- and seven-day breaks, respectively, but Anaheim – the last club to take its 2017 hiatus – did not complete its vacation until early March.

What resulted was just over two months of action where fans had to keep track of which clubs had already taken their breaks and which hadn’t and trying to calculate how that affected the standings.

Sound like too much effort? Don’t worry, the league thought so too. This year, all bye weeks will take place in the span of two weeks in January, just before the All-Star Break.

I’m intrigued by this decision. With last year’s setup, the volume of games in a given week did not seem to change enough to be noticeable – which is good. Everybody wants to watch games all the time. But as I mentioned before, 2017’s situation required media, fans and teams to stay on top of which sides had or had not taken their week off.

Although condensing the bye week-schedule resolves that problem, it may also create a lull in the season only two weeks after Christmas Break and a week before the All-Star Break by having only 15 teams active at a time, potentially making January an overall anemic month. We’ll have to wait and see if that is the case, but if my prediction proves correct the NHL might have to find a happy medium between the two formats.

Perhaps the original reason the league condensed the bye week schedule was to account for the XXIII Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, but that is no longer the case as the NHL has elected not to release its players to their national federations for the February 10-25 tournament. Though some players have said they intend to participate in the tournament regardless of the NHL’s decision to abstain (whether they actually do or not remains to be seen), everyone’s favorite international tournament will certainly have a different flair – especially involving the rosters of usual favorites: Canada and the USA.

The last final major date on the calendar is always the previously hinted at trade deadline. This year, the deadline is scheduled for February 26 at the usual 3 p.m. Eastern time. Like most Mondays, the schedule is fairly light that evening with only five contests taking place (Washington at Columbus, Philadelphia at Montréal, Toronto at Tampa Bay, Vancouver at Colorado and  Vegas at Los Angeles).

After last year’s Cody McLeod episode that featured him fighting and scoring against the Avalanche only a day after being being traded from that very team (he didn’t even leave Denver, instead meeting up with the Predators when they arrived in town), I’m looking forward to even more excitement at this deadline.

For those that enjoy the days where every team is in action, I regret to inform you that the addition of Vegas has made that impossible. Instead, you’ll have to settle for dates that feature 15 contests and leave one club inactive.

Five such days exist this season: October 7 (first Saturday of the season), November 22 (day before American Thanksgiving), December 23 (day before Christmas Eve), January 25 (day before the All-Star Break) and April 7. On those dates, don’t expect to catch Boston, St. Louis, Calgary, Los Angeles or Pittsburgh – respectively – as they’ll be just as glued to their televisions as you will be, taking in all the day’s action.

ANAHEIM DUCKS – Campbell Cup runner-up, 105 points

Don’t tell anybody, but the Ducks have won the Pacific Division for five straight seasons. The main reason? An impressive 29-8-4 record at the Pond last season. But don’t let that distract you from a blemish growing in the Ducks’ armor: the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead they’re only 17-15-9 outside Orange County. That road trip to end November just so happens to occur right after Edmonton finishes a five-game home stand, meaning Anaheim may be forced to hold serve within the Pacific Division in an uncomfortable position.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 13 days (November 7-19)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 11 days (November 25-December 5)

BYE WEEK: January 7-12 (six days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. New Jersey, at Calgary, at Winnipeg, at Edmonton, at Vancouver, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Colorado, vs. Minnesota, vs. Dallas and at Arizona

ARIZONA COYOTES – 28th, 70 points

Remember in high school when the football team’s weakest opponent always aligned with homecoming? Keep that in mind when you realize that the Coyotes get to help the Golden Knights open T-Mobile Arena. Also keep in mind Arizona was 12-24-5 away from home last year.

BYE WEEK: January 7-11 (five days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 17 days (February 15-March 3)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in nine days (March 21-29)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Buffalo, at Carolina, at Florida, at Tampa Bay, at Vegas, at Los Angeles, vs. St. Louis, at Calgary, at Vancouver and vs. Anaheim

BOSTON BRUINS – eliminated in first round, 95 points

Usually, rivalry series are supposed to take place over the course of an entire season. Instead, the NHL has elected to schedule all four matchups of one of its premier rivalries in the span of seven weeks, including three meetings in eight days. The Bruins should be relatively happy though, as they’ll get their bye week to prepare for their first visit to the Bell Centre and the Canadiens will have games in Washington and Brooklyn the night before their January 20 and March 3 matchups, respectively, while the Bruins get the nights off.

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days (February 17-25)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 12 days (February 27-March 10)

LAST 10 GAMES: at St. Louis, at Dallas, at Minnesota, at Winnipeg, vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Florida, at Philadelphia, at Tampa Bay, at Florida and vs. Ottawa

BUFFALO SABRES – 26th, 78 points

Some teams simply struggle on the road. The Sabres were one of those squads last year, amassing only a 13-22-6 record away from Upstate New York. Though a four-game trip in early December doesn’t seem too taxing on the surface, Buffalo will be hard pressed to come back with more than two points as it’ll visit Pittsburgh (December 2), Colorado (December 5), Chicago (December 8) and St. Louis (December 10) before returning home to host Ottawa.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in nine days (December 2-10)

BYE WEEK: January 12-17 (six days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 14 days (March 10-23)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Arizona, vs. Montréal, at NY Rangers, at Toronto, vs. Detroit, at Nashville, at Toronto, vs. Ottawa, at Tampa Bay and at Florida

CALGARY FLAMES – eliminated in first round, 94 points

If only one team from the Western Conference gives up its playoff spot this season, I’d bet the house on it being the Flames. Last year’s side had an unimpressive 24-17-0 home record, including a 4-7-0 start over the first two months at the Saddledome. In a cruel bit of irony, the Flames’ longest home stand begins the last weekend of October, so Glen Gulutzan will need to get his troops in order in a hurry to avoid another backwards-step season similar to 2015-16.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 18 days (October 27-November 13)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 11 days (November 15-25)

BYE WEEK: January 15-19 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Vegas, at Arizona, vs. Anaheim, at San Jose, at Los Angeles, vs. Columbus, vs. Edmonton, vs. Arizona, at Winnipeg and vs. Vegas

CAROLINA HURRICANES – 21st, 87 points

In terms of off-season moves, last year’s Predators are this year’s Hurricanes. And, just like last year, everyone will be watching the Canes’ first few games to see if their new additions will be an immediate success. Carolina will certainly be put to the test in those contests, as their opening five matchups are against Minnesota (October 7), Columbus (October 10), Winnipeg (October 14), Edmonton (October 17) and Calgary (October 19). As long as Carolina can head to its sixth game in Dallas with at least five points on the table, I have no doubt the squad can come together and be a real threat in the Metropolitan Division.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 11 days (December 5-15)

BYE WEEK: January 15-19 (five days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Eight games in 15 days (January 30-February 13)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Edmonton, vs. Arizona, at Ottawa, vs. Ottawa, at New Jersey, at Washington, vs. NY Rangers, at Florida, at Philadelphia and vs. Tampa Bay

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS – Central Division Champion, 109 points

The Blackhawks have not missed the playoffs since 2008, and I don’t expect that to change this year. That being said, they’ll be tested early and often this year, starting with their first eight games – all against 2017 postseason clubs. In particular, Chicago will have October 14 circled on its calendar, as it represents an opportunity for the Hawks to avenge getting swept by the Predators in April.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 14 days (December 21-January 3)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 15 days (January 10-24)

BYE WEEK: January 15-19 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. St. Louis, vs. Colorado, vs. Vancouver, at NY Islanders, vs. San Jose, vs. Winnipeg, at Colorado, at St. Louis, vs. St. Louis and at Winnipeg

COLORADO AVALANCHE – 30th, 48 points

If only the schedule was the only thing holding the Avalanche back from finding success. Instead, their last five games represent a gimme two points for Chicago (March 30), Anaheim (April 1), Los Angeles (April 2), San Jose (April 5) and St. Louis (April 7) – all teams that will be finalizing either a qualification push or establishing their seeding.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 11 days (December 27-January 6)

BYE WEEK: January 7-12 (six days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 13 days (January 22-February 3)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Chicago, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Vegas, at Vegas, vs. Philadelphia, vs. Chicago, at Anaheim, at Los Angeles, at San Jose and vs. St. Louis

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS – eliminated in first round, 108 points

After last year’s dominant performance at the midway point of the season, Columbus won’t be taking any by surprise this campaign – especially with Artemi Panarin, 2016’s Calder Memorial Trophy winner, on the squad. The Jackets face an interesting schedule that doesn’t feature an extended West Coast trip in exchange for any home stand of much worth – their longest stay in Ohio is a measly nine days early in the season with only four games played. But, should this squad keep last year’s positive energy rolling through the summer and cash in on their frequent flyer miles, they could be the most prepared of any for a lengthy postseason and all the travel associated with it.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Four games in nine days (October 19-27)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Three games in five days – 2x (November 2-6; March 27-31)

BYE WEEK: January 13-17 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Boston, at NY Rangers, vs. Florida, vs. St. Louis, at Edmonton, at Calgary, at Vancouver, vs. Detroit, vs. Pittsburgh and at Nashville

DALLAS STARS – 24th, 79 points

A season ago, Dallas was a horrendous 12-24-5 away from the American Airlines Center. That’s what makes a potential late-season playoff push daunting, as the end of March has the Stars departing the Lone Star State for an Eastern road trip that also bizarrely includes a visit to Winnipeg in the middle. As if the travel wasn’t scary enough, all five of the Eastern opponents qualified for the playoffs last year, so Dallas would be very wise to take advantage of a fairly easy October schedule (includes Vegas, Detroit, Colorado twice, Arizona twice and Vancouver) to pad themselves some points in the standings ahead of time.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 16 days (December 29-January 13)

BYE WEEK: January 7-12 (six days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 10 days (March 11- 20)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Winnipeg, at Washington, vs. Boston, vs. Vancouver, vs. Philadelphia, at Minnesota, vs. Minnesota, at San Jose, at Anaheim and at Los Angeles

DETROIT RED WINGS – 25th, 79 points

Without even acknowledging the Red Wings’ roster troubles, they’re going to be hard pressed to get back into the playoffs this year given their extended trip away from Little Caesars Arena (that’s still weird to type) at the trade deadline. Between February 25 and March 18, Hockeytown will come to life only once when the Wings host Vegas on March 8. That contest splits what could have been a 10-game, 22-day road trip against steep competition into perfect halves, just for the Wings to get back on a plane to Columbus for another road game the next day.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 12 days (November 11-22)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 10 days – 2x (February 25-March 6; March 9-18)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Philadelphia, vs. Washington, at Toronto, at Montréal, vs. Pittsburgh, at Buffalo, vs. Ottawa, at Columbus, vs. Montréal and vs. NY Islanders

EDMONTON OILERS – eliminated in second round, 103 points

As if the Oilers weren’t already poised for greatness, their schedule is arranged in a way that they should be competing for the top seed in the Western Conference. Edmonton has three five-game home stands spread throughout its schedule, including one right after the Oil’s six-day bye week that also includes the All-Star Weekend. Add in the fact that their longest road trip is behind them by Thanksgiving and you find a team prepared for anything or anyone that makes the mistake of wandering into Rogers Place.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 17 days (January 20-February 5)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days (November 18-26)

BYE WEEK: January 14-19 (six days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Carolina, at Ottawa, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Anaheim, vs. Columbus, at Vancouver, at Calgary, at Minnesota, vs. Vegas and vs. Vancouver

FLORIDA PANTHERS – 23rd, 81 points

Florida opens up its season with a home-and-home series against Governor’s Cup rival Tampa Bay before hosting St. Louis and visiting Pittsburgh. It’s a tough start to what many expect to be another disappointing season for the Panthers, especially giving their awful 19-19-3 record in Sunrise a season ago.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days – 2x (December 11-19; February 12-20)

BYE WEEK: January 13-18 (six days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 11 days (February 22-March 4)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Columbus, vs. Arizona, at NY Islanders, at Toronto, at Ottawa, at Boston, vs. Carolina, vs. Nashville, vs. Boston and vs. Buffalo

LOS ANGELES KINGS – 22nd, 86 points

Especially for a club that missed out on the playoffs last year, there is nothing more exciting than seeing the Avalanche twice in the last 17 days of the season. Add in the fact that the Kings also drew Arizona in that stretch and the Kings could be a well-rested club in the first round of the playoffs – if they qualify.

BYE WEEK: January 7-12 (six days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Seven games in 12 days (February 9-20)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 12 days (March 1-12)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Minnesota, at Winnipeg, at Colorado, at Edmonton, vs. Calgary, vs. Arizona, at Anaheim, vs. Colorado, vs. Minnesota and vs. Dallas

MINNESOTA WILD – eliminated in first round, 106 points

On the fifth day of Christmas, the Scheduler gave to Minny… a tough, nine-game stretch!

Yes, I’m pretty proud of that.

In all seriousness, the Wild are certainly going to be looking forward to the three-day holiday break, as it will signal an end to the nine-game run of playing against eight playoff teams from a season ago. The gauntlet starts on December 8 in Anaheim, followed by a contest in San Jose on December 10 before returning home to host Calgary (December 12), Toronto (December 14) and Edmonton (December 16). The Wild take back to the road to play the Blackhawks (December 17), Senators (December 19), Panthers (Decmber 22) and Lightning (December 23) before hanging up their skates in exhaustion for a few days.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 12 days (October 24-November 4)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in seven days (December 17-23)

BYE WEEK: January 15-19 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Los Angeles, vs. Nashville, vs. Boston, at Nashville, vs. Dallas, at Dallas, vs. Edmonton, at Anaheim, at Los Angeles and at San Jose

MONTRÉAL CANADIENS – Atlantic Division champion, 103 points

March is looking like its going to be a taxing month on the Canadiens, a club that could lose control of a division its won twice in the past three seasons. After the Habs close out their season two-and-a-half month series with rival Boston on March 3, they’ll have to clean up a six-game road trip that involves visits to Tampa (March 10) and Columbus (March 12), host the Penguins (March 15), travel to Toronto (March 17), Pittsburgh (March 21) and Buffalo (March 23), host the Capitals (March 24) and travel to Pittsburgh again (March 31). That’s quite a gauntlet for an aging defense.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 12 days (November 7-18)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Seven games in 15 days (December 16-December 30)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Florida, at Pittsburgh, at Buffalo, vs. Washington, vs. Detroit, at Pittsburgh, vs. New Jersey, vs. Winnipeg, at Detroit and at Toronto

NASHVILLE PREDATORS – Campbell Cup winner, 94 points

Now that the Predators have cemented themselves as one of the big players in the NHL, they’ll need to back up last year’s postseason performance with a big target on their backs. That’ll be no more apparent than in their last 10 games (see below). With the exception of Florida, all of those clubs could be fighting for a playoff spot, making Nashville’s efforts to improve its seeding a difficult affair.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in seven days (November 1-7)

BYE WEEK: January 10-15 (six days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Four games in eight days (January 16-23)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Toronto, at Minnesota, at Winnipeg, vs. Minnesota, vs. San Jose, vs. Buffalo, at Tampa Bay, at Florida, at Washington and vs. Columbus

NEW JERSEY DEVILS – 27th, 70 points

Sometimes the scheduler has a cruel way of making a team a whipping post. That is the Devils’ fate over their last dozen games of the season. It’ll be no surprise that Jersey is solidly out of playoff contention by that time, but they’ll be squaring off with at least 10 teams (they play the Penguins twice) potentially in desperate need of two points to solidify a playoff spot or seed, which will make a tough season even harder for Jersey fans. Keep your heads up though, folks! Hopefully Nico Hischier can lead you back to the Promise Land!

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 15 days (December 15-29)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 14 days (March 10-23)

LAST 10 GAMES: at San Jose, at Pittsburgh, vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Carolina, vs. Pittsburgh, vs. NY Islanders, at Montréal, vs. NY Rangers, vs. Toronto and at Washington


NEW YORK ISLANDERS – 17th, 94 points

A year ago, the Islanders missed out on a playoff spot by only a point even though they ended their campaign on a six-game winning streak. The main reason? A slow, 8-10-4 start to the season (specifically a 1-6-1 road record through November) that eventually cost Jack Capuano his job. Surely Doug Weight is aware of this, so I expect him to have his club prepared for their California trip a week into the season. If the Isles aren’t up to snuff, Garth Snow may start fielding calls early.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in nine days (October 11-19)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 12 days (December 16-27)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Pittsburgh, vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Chicago, vs. Florida, at Ottawa, vs. Toronto, at New Jersey, vs. Philadelphia, vs. NY Rangers and at Detroit

NEW YORK RANGERS – eliminated in second round, 102 points

There’s some mean scheduling going on in the Metropolitan Division this season, and that is no more apparent than with the Rangers. The Blueshirts play their last regular season game at Madison Square Garden on March 30, a full eight days before their season finale in Philadelphia. Then again, is any team better prepared to complete its playoff push wearing white than New York? Last season, the Rangers won an impressive 27 games beyond the shores of Manhattan – three more than Chicago, the second-best road team. Making the four-game road trip even less frightening, the Rangers will still be able to sleep in their own beds for at least six of those nights as two of the games are against Jersey and the Islanders.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 13 days (October 14-26)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in eight days (March 31-April 7)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Columbus, at Philadelphia, vs. Buffalo, vs. Washington, at Washington, vs. Tampa Bay, at Carolina, at New Jersey, at NY Islanders and at Philadelphia

OTTAWA SENATORS – Prince of Wales Trophy runner-up, 98 points

And the winner of the second annual bye week lottery is… the Ottawa Senators! For being runner-up for the Prince of Wales Trophy a season ago, the Sens earned the longest bye week of any club in the league by at least a day. The vacation will be especially useful for the Senators, as they’ll be able to effectively prepare for their imposing five games before the All-Star Break: vs. St. Louis, vs. Toronto, at Minnesota, at St. Louis and vs. Boston.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 10 days (October 17-26)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Seven games in 14 days (November 29-December 12)

BYE WEEK: January 11-17 (seven days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Edmonton, vs. Carolina, at Carolina, vs. NY Islanders, vs. Florida, at Detroit, vs. Winnipeg, at Buffalo, at Pittsburgh and at Boston

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS – 19th, 88 points

It seems someone within the Flyers organization offended the schedule maker in the last year, because they have the unfortunate predicament of starting the season on a four-game Western road trip, culminating with a visit to Bridgestone Arena against the current owners of the Campbell Cup, the Nashville Predators. But every cloud has a silver lining, and Philly’s is twofold: not only is that (tied for) the club’s longest road trip, but they also come home to a nice long home stand.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in seven days (October 4-10)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 11 days (October 14-24)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Washington, at Detroit, vs. NY Rangers, at Pittsburgh, at Dallas, at Colorado, vs. Boston, at NY Islanders, vs. Carolina and vs. NY Rangers

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS – Stanley Cup Champion, 111 points

At this point, I think the Penguins are only concerned with what day the Stanley Cup Finals begin. For those wanting to dig a little bit deeper, we need to look no further than Pittsburgh’s first five games of the season against clubs with playoff aspirations, including one that may or may not feel as if it was robbed of a goal in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals (*hint* they definitely were).

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in eight days (October 28-November 4)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 10 days (December 2-11)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at NY Islanders, vs. Montréal, vs. New Jersey, vs. Philadelphia, at Detroit, at New Jersey, vs. Montréal, vs. Washington, at Columbus and vs. Ottawa

SAN JOSE SHARKS – eliminated in first round, 99 points

The Sharks have home stands aplenty throughout their schedule – but the best one may not be the one you’re thinking of. Sure, they get to spend the first half of March in the Bay Area and play six games, but I expect Brent Burns‘ club is licking its chops even more about its opening five games. Over the first two weeks of the season, San Jose hosts Philly, LA, Buffalo, the Islanders and Montréal – four teams that failed to qualify for the playoffs and one that fell in the first round. If the Sharks can find their rhythm early, they can carry that momentum into their Eastern road swing and try to stake their claim in the Pacific Division.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days (October 20-28)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 14 days (February 27-March 12)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. New Jersey, vs. Vegas, vs. Calgary, at Chicago, at St. Louis, at Nashville, at Vegas, vs. Dallas, vs. Colorado and vs. Minnesota

ST. LOUIS BLUES – eliminated in second round, 99 points

The Blues’ biggest games every year are against Chicago, and 2018 will be no different. This year the matchup earns added importance as the series is backlogged in the season schedule. Game 80 for both teams will take place at Scottrade Center (soon to be the Artist Venue Formerly Known as Scottrade Center), followed only two days later by another contest at the United Center. Given the fact that first and second place in the Central Division has been separated by an average of only 2.75 points over the last four seasons, first round home ice – and maybe even a banner – could be on the line.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 11 days (November 21-December 1)

BYE WEEK: January 10-15 (six days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in 10 days (March 3-12)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Boston, vs. Vancouver, at Columbus, vs. San Jose, at Vegas, at Arizona, vs. Washington, vs. Chicago, at Chicago and at Colorado

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING – 18th, 94th

As exciting as hosting the All-Star festivities is, there’s always one negative repercussion that sometimes gets overlooked: the extended time away from home. To allow arena staff and the NHL to prepare a venue for the event – and then return it to its original state – the Lightning will have to make two four-game road trips, before and after the event. That being said, they’ll be handsomely compensated for their time away from Amalie Arena with a long eight-game home stand for almost the entirety of March. But don’t mark those as wins yet, Bolts fans: six of those eight teams qualified for the playoffs last year.

BYE WEEK: January 12-17 (six days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Eight games in 17 days (January 20-February 5)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Eight games in 18 days (March 3-20)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Toronto, at NY Islanders, at New Jersey, vs. Arizona, at Boston, at NY Rangers, vs. Nashville, vs. Boston, vs. Buffalo and at Carolina

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS – eliminated in first round, 95 points

Remember last season when the Maple Leafs finally clinched their playoff spot in their penultimate game? That may be a bit harder to do this year as Toronto has only 18 contests following the trade deadline, tied with Anaheim for the lowest total over that stretch of time. Instead, Mike Babcock’s club will have to get their work done early this year with 23 games before Thanksgiving. Given Auston Matthews‘ four-goal debut a season ago, something tells me that won’t be too big a task.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 12 days (December 20-31)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 15 days (January 2-16)

BYE WEEK: January 11-15 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Tampa Bay, at Nashville, vs. Detroit, vs. Buffalo, vs. Florida, at NY Islanders, vs. Winnipeg, vs. Buffalo, at New Jersey and vs. Montréal

VANCOUVER CANUCKS – 29th, 69 points

Last season, Vancouver went a measly 12-26-3 away from Rogers
Arena, the second-worst road record in the league. That’s what makes January so frightening for the Canucks, even if their bye week occurs in the middle of their seven-game road trip. If Vancouver can survive that and is still in the playoff hunt at the end of March, it has a tough five-game home stand that should either more than properly prepare it for the playoffs or allow the squad to set up their April 8 tee times early.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 12 days – 2x (October 26-November 6; January 23-February 3)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Seven games in 16 days (January 6-21)

BYE WEEK: January 15-19 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Vegas, at Chicago, at St. Louis, at Dallas, vs. Anaheim, vs. Edmonton, vs. Columbus, vs. Vegas, vs. Arizona and at Edmonton

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS

What better way to build quick interest in the NHL’s newest market than by having not one seven-game home stand in its debut season, but two? The first should certainly be the more exciting of the two, as four of the Golden Knights’ seven opponents failed to make the playoffs a season ago. The better Vegas capitalizes on this …ahem… golden opportunity, the better its chance of achieving the club’s primary on-the-ice objective: finishing ahead of Colorado.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 18 days (October 10-27)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 10 days (January 30-February 8)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Vancouver, at San Jose, at Colorado, vs. Colorado, vs. Arizona, vs. St. Louis, vs. San Jose, at Vancouver, at Edmonton and at Calgary

WASHINGTON CAPITALS – Presidents’ Trophy winner, 118 points

Washington’s roster may have taken a hit, but that doesn’t mean the Capitals’ goal has changed. The first four games on their schedule should give us a good impression of what to expect from them this year, as they’ll visit Ottawa, host Montréal, travel to Tampa Bay and host Pittsburgh – four quality sides in seven days that also have their eyes on the postseason.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in nine days (November 30-December 8)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in nine days (December 19-27)

BYE WEEK: January 13-17 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Dallas, at Detroit, at Montréal, at NY Rangers, vs. NY Rangers, vs. Carolina, at Pittsburgh, at St. Louis, vs. Nashville and vs. New Jersey

WINNIPEG JETS – 20th, 87 points

After the All-Star festivities in Tampa have died down, make sure to turn your attention to Manitoba where Patrik Laine and the Jets could dominate the month of February. The club that missed the playoffs by only seven points a season ago will play 12 games before the trade deadline, the first 10 of which will be at The Phone Booth. If Winnipeg can’t improve on last year’s 22-18-1 home record over that stretch, it could signal an early end for the Jets’ quest to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2015.

BYE WEEK: January 14-19 (six days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: 10 games in 22 days (January 30-February 20)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 10 days (March 4-13)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Los Angeles, vs. Anaheim, vs. Nashville, vs. Boston, at Chicago, at Toronto, at Ottawa, at Montréal, vs. Calgary and vs. Chicago

April 4 – Day 167 – Who gets Game 7?

After a quiet Monday in the NHL last night, the final Tuesday of the regular season should be absolutely stellar.

Barring some freak weather system or facilities complication, 13 contests will take place this evening. All but four teams will be in action tonight, including the entire Western Conference.

The action gets started at 7 p.m. with three games (Tampa Bay at Boston [NBCSN/SN/TVAS], Philadelphia at New Jersey and Columbus at Pittsburgh), followed half an hour later by two more (Washington at Toronto and Detroit at Ottawa [RDS]). Another trio (Winnipeg at St. Louis, the New York Islanders at Nashville and Carolina at Minnesota) will be contested at 8 p.m., with Arizona at Dallas waiting 30 minutes before getting underway. Chicago at Colorado is the only matchup to start at 9 p.m., which is the same for Calgary at Anaheim (SN1) at 10 p.m. Finally, tonight’s co-nightcaps (Edmonton at Los Angeles [NBCSN] and Vancouver at San Jose) will drop the puck at 10:30 p.m. to finish the night.

Short list:

  • Philadelphia at New Jersey: Both teams may be eliminated from the postseason, but that won’t take away from the Battle of the Jersey Turnpike, which was already heated before Dalton Prout‘s hit on Radko Gudas.
  • Columbus at Pittsburgh: While the rivalry status of this matchup is still in the air, one thing is certain: it will have an immediate impact on the Metropolitan Division with only six days remaining in the season.
  • Edmonton at Los Angeles: With a little help from the Flames, this old-timey rivalry could provide the Oilers a shot at first place in the Pacific Division.

Riding a two-game winning streak, it seems like the Penguins are getting healthy and returning to form just in time for the playoffs. They’ll need all the help they can get tonight to try to retain home ice in the Eastern Quarterfinals.

 

There’s a lot at stake tonight in this game. 48-19-11 Pittsburgh currently has a one-point advantage on 49-21-8 Columbus for the second seed in the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference. Of course, that second seed is ultra-important in the not-so-new-anymore playoff format the NHL is using nowadways.

Instead of a conference tournament where the best team was paired with the worst team in a given conference until the conference championship (effectively the NBA’s playoffs, except the NHL used to reseed after every round), the league now crowns two division champions, determined by three seven-game playoffs, to play for one of the conference titles.

Whether you’re a fan of the format or not (Hint: I’m not. #TeamOldFormat), it’s the world we live in. And that’s what makes this matchup so integral. As all sports fans know, a home ice/court/field advantage can be wildly important in deciding who wins a Game 7 and advances to the next round, or loses and schedules tee times a week later.

All that aside, this also acts as a week-early preview for a highly-probable first round playoff matchup. Considering what is on the table, I doubt either of the coaching staffs are too concerned about putting too much film in their opponent’s hands. Then again, we are talking about John Tortorella, so who knows?

While I’m in no way implying that I think the Jackets have lost their edge, they have hit a slight rough patch in the past week; since March 30, they’ve amassed only a 0-2-1 record. Given, their two regulation losses are in Chicago and against the Capitals, but beating playoff teams is relatively important when the postseason starts next week.

The Blue Jackets have been one of the best defenses in the league all season long, allowing only 2.28 goals-against per game – the second-best mark in the NHL. In the last three games, they’ve allowed eight goals – well above that mark.

Much of that season success has been due to a solid blueline. Unfortunately for 41-15-5 Sergei Bobrovsky (more on him in a minute), a blueline collapse is not the reason for Columbus‘ recent struggles. They’ve allowed only 28.3 shots-against in the past week, which is actually down from the usual 30.4 they’ve averaged all year.

No, the blame rests on Bobrovsky’s shoulders. While he’s been almost as far from horrible as one can get, he’s not been his usual super-reliable self. On the season, he has a .934 save percentage and 1.99 GAA (both are best in the league among goalies with more than eight games played), but he’s let his numbers drop to .906 and 2.56 in the past six days.

As showcased by Chicago and Washington, that extra sliver of space is all elite offenses need to capitalize.

With the postseason on the horizon, the important thing is that the penalty kill has remained healthy. The fact that the Jackets have allowed only one power play goal against since March 30 is proof enough that nothing needs to be retooled in Columbus; Bobrovsky just needs to focus back in and the Jackets should be set for an effective postseason.

The thing that does need to be checked for life is the power play. Usually successful on 19.9% of attempts – an above-average effort – the Jackets haven’t scored on the man-advantage in their past seven attempts. It is moments like these where Captain Nick Foligno and power play-mastermind Alexander Wennberg need to step up and provide the offensive spark for their club, a squad that desperately needs one with the extra-man.

Meanwhile, it’s not as if the Penguins are doing much better of late. Since March 23, they’ve gone 2-2-2, though their last two contests were victories against solid offenses in Carolina and New York.

Though I love statistics, Pittsburgh‘s drop in production can be attributed to one thing and one thing along: injuries. There’s still seven Penguins on the injury report, including the likes of Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Chris Kunitz, who went down against the Rangers Saturday.

That explains why the best offense in the league has managed only 13 goals in six games, but why has Pittsburgh allowed so many goals of late?

I’m going to give  30-10-4 Matthew Murray a pass here and blame the blueline. Of course, the Penguins‘ defense is hurt too. Trevor Daley, Letang and Olli Maatta have not registered a game since at least February 21, all of whom average more than a shot block per game when healthy.

One of those pieces looks to be coming back soon though. The Penguins‘ official Twitter handle indicated that Daley returned to practice today, so it remains to be seen when he will see game action.

Until then, Pittsburgh needs to find a way to keep shots off Murray. In the past six games, the Pens blueline has allowed 213 shots (35.5) to reach their goaltender, which is worse than their already very bad 32.6 season average.

Both Justin Schultz and Ian Cole have been fantastic in their efforts, as they’ve combined for 26 shot blocks in the past six games. But it’s skaters like Brian Dumoulin and Chad Ruhwedel that need to improve their effort.

It is hard to have such high expectations for Ruhwedel, who has bounced between Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, but the fact that he has only one block in five games with the Penguins should be alarming to Jim Rutherford and Mike Sullivan, and could impact if he gets a contract of any kind this offseason.

Where Murray doesn’t get a pass is the penalty kill. He’s faced seven power play shots in the past six games, and has saved only four of them. Four. As you’d expect, a .571 power play save percentage has dropped the Penguins‘ penalty kill numbers to the bottom of the league in that stretch of time, as they’ve successfully stopped only 76.9% of opposing attempts in the last 13 days.

The current Penguins‘ brightest spot has to be a a power play that has managed to convert 30.8% of its opportunities since March 23, the seventh-best effort in that time. Though Phil Kessel, who has 29 power play points on the season, still leads the team’s man-advantage, it’s been a full-team attack of late as both lines have found the back of the net. In fact, even though the squad has managed four power play goals in this stretch, no player has more than two points to his credit.

Though the Blue Jackets have gone 2-0-1 against Pittsburgh this year, they still have yet to clinch the season series. The Pens could tie it all up tonight if they can best Columbus in regulation.

If February 17 is any indicator, the Penguins will have to work extremely hard to get that done. Columbus needed overtime to best Pittsburgh 2-1 the last time they met (Brandon Dubinsky scored the game-winner), though they had that pesky home ice we were talking about earlier in their favor.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include ColumbusCam Atkinson (34 goals [tied for seventh-most in the league]), Bobrovsky (1.99 GAA on a .934 save percentage [both best in the NHL] for 41 wins [tied for the most in the league], including seven shutouts [tied for second-most in the NHL]) and David Savard (+30 [sixth-best in the league]) & Pittsburgh‘s Sidney Crosby (43 goals [leads the NHL] for 84 points [tied for fourth-most in the league]) and Murray (.923 save percentage [tied for sixth-best in the NHL]).

Though wounded, Vegas has marked Pittsburgh a -130 favorite going into tonight’s game. I expect a tight game, but I’m actually leaning towards the Blue Jackets. I think their special teams are an even match for those of the Penguins and their offense should take advantage of a struggling Pittsburgh defensive corps.

Hockey Birthday

  • Pat Burns (1952-2010) – It may have been the shortest stop in his 14 years of head coaching, but Burns is most remembered for leading the 2003 Devils to the Stanley Cup.
  • Dale Hawerchuk (1963-) – Winnipeg selected this center with the top pick in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft, and it turned out to be a good pick. In addition to winning the 1982 Calder Memorial Trophy, this Hall-of-Famer played in five All-Star Games over his 16 seasons.
  • Yanic Perreault (1971-) – Selected 47th-overall in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft by Toronto, this center played 14 seasons – most of which with Los Angeles. Though he appeared in only one All-Star Game, he scored 247 goals over his career.
  • Kevin Weekes (1975-) – Before working for NHL Network and starting his clothing line No5Hole, this goaltender was selected 41st-overall in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft by Florida. He ended up playing 348 games over 11 seasons – most of which with Carolina – for a 105-163-39 record.
  • Roberto Luongo (1979-) – Another goalie, Luongo was picked fourth-overall by the Islanders in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft. Currently in his second stint with the Panthers, he’s played 494 of his 966 games with Florida. He has a career 453-365-117 record.
  • Evgeny Artyukhin (1983-) – Tampa Bay selected this right wing 94th-overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he played most of his three-year career. He managed only 49 points before returning to Russia.
  • Doug Lynch (1983-) – Another player whose career didn’t last long, this defenseman was selected 43rd-overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft by Edmonton. He only played two games with the Oilers, and has since played most of his career in the EBEL.
  • Cam Barker (1986-) – This defenseman was the third-overall pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft by Chicago, and that’s where he spent most of his eight-year NHL career. Most recently, he was playing in the KHL for HC Slovan Bratislava.

Led by Nazem Kadri‘s two-point effort, the Maple Leafs bested Buffalo 4-2 in the Battle of the QEW, yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Toronto took command of this game quickly, as it had a 3-0 lead by the 5:09 mark of the first frame. Third Star of the Game Leo Komarov (Kadri) took credit for the Leafs‘ first tally, tipping-in a shot 4:26 after the initial puck drop. 35 seconds later, First Star Auston Matthews (William Nylander and Jake Gardiner) doubled that lead by potting a wrist shot. That surge culminated with Second Star James van Riemsdyk (Tyler Bozak), who notched the game-winner only eight seconds after Matthews’ 39th tally of the season, the most ever by an American rookie.

Buffalo finally got on the board 1:51 into the second period. Though Marcus Foligno still had nine seconds remaining on his cross-checking penalty against Kadri at the end of the first period, Ryan O’Reilly (Brian Gionta) notched a shorthanded snap shot to pull the Sabres within two goals of their Canadian rivals.

That 3-1 score held until the 5:50 mark of the third period. That’s when Kadri (Mitch Marner and Nikita Zaitsev) buried his power play marker to reclaim a three-goal advantage for Toronto. Jack Eichel (Sam Reinhart) buried a backhanded shot with 56 seconds remaining in the game, but it was too little too late to effect Buffalo‘s fate.

Frederik Andersen earned the win after saving 20-of-22 shots faced (90.9%), leaving the loss to Robin Lehner, who saved two-of-five (40%). He was pulled after van Riemsdyk’s game-winning slap shot in favor of Anders Nilsson, who saved 39-of-40 (97.5%) for no decision.

Toronto‘s victory snaps the four-game winning streak by the 85-59-25 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Though hosts have still had more success when featured, their advantage over the visitors is now only three points.

April 3 – Day 166 – One more! For Queen Elizabeth!

Seven more days of the regular season remain, making this the last Monday of the NHL year. I know it’s difficult, but enjoy it as best as you can.

To help you do that, there’s three games on the schedule tonight. A pair of those (Toronto at Buffalo [NHLN/SN/TVAS] and Ottawa at Detroit [RDS2]) drop the puck at 7 p.m., followed half an hour later by Montréal at Florida (RDS) – tonight’s early nightcap. All times eastern.

Since none of these games are matchups of playoff teams, what better contest to watch than the Battle for the Queen Elizabeth Way?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Though divided by a national border, the fact that these towns are separated by only 89 miles/145 kilometers has yielded quite the rivalry. That hatred has only increased this season as both the Maple Leafs and Sabres are returning to form and promise to be strong clubs next season and for years to come.

The future has come early in Toronto, as the Maple Leafs have a 38-24-15 record that is good enough for third place in the Atlantic Division. Winners of their past three games, the Leafs have been especially good since March 16, as they’ve gone 7-1-1 since then, which ties for the fourth-best run in the league in that time.

Just like it’s been all season, the reason for Toronto‘s success over this run has been its incredible offense. The Leafs have scored 32 goals since mid-March, a total that ties for second-most in the league in that time.

The man behind this attack? Exactly who it’s been all year: rookie phenom Auston Matthews. Not only has the kid scored seven goals for 11 points in the last nine games, but he’s also tied at 38 with Nikita Kucherov for third-most tallies all season.

It goes without saying, but this Leaf is absolutely special. He is the number one reason Toronto is currently in playoff position going to be in the playoffs, and potentially could be reasons two and three as well.

Reason four just might be Toronto‘s power play. Converting 30.4% of  their opportunities of late, the Maple Leafs‘ man-advantage has been fourth-best in the NHL since March 16. While Matthews has been effective during this specific stretch (he’s scored three power play goals for four points in his last nine games), fellow rookie William Nylander has been the true stud on the man-advantage. He’s notched 25 points with the extra man all season, nine of which have been tallies off his stick, to lead all first-year players.

To complete our perfunctory list, reason number five has to be Toronto‘s penalty kill. Thanks in large part to 32-15-14 Frederik Andersen and his .897 power play save percentage (fourth best in the league among the 37 netminders with at least 32 appearances), the Maple Leafs have rejected 83% of opposing man-advantages to rank eighth-best in the NHL.

Don’t tell anybody, but that lone regulation loss Toronto has suffered recently came at the hands of the 32-34-12 Sabres, the second-worst team in the Atlantic. Unfortunately, that win is one of only four the Sabres have earned in their past seven games.

You’ve got to score to win, and that’s been Buffalo‘s main struggle of late. Although Jack Eichel has averaged a point-per-game over this stretch (including three goals) to lead the team, he and Ryan O’Reilly (six points) have been the only two forwards really contributing to the attack lately.

Of course, that’s looking at the offense as a whole. When you start breaking things down, you find Buffalo‘s problem truly lies in even-strength play, as its power play has been the best in the league since mid-March.

Yes, even better than Washington‘s vaunted attack.

The Sabres have converted 46.7% of their man-advantage opportunities in the last two weeks, and it is on this assault where more of the team has participated. 15 different players have contributed at least a point on even-strength play since March 17, compared to 10 on the power play in that time.

Five more players were involved? Great! Bottom line, it means the Sabres are scoring!

True, but unfortunately it’s not that easy. Buffalo has spent a combined 22:16 on the man-advantage over 15 opportunities in its past seven games. Both those totals are the lowest in the league over that stretch. That means much of the team has effectively wasted the remaining (approximately) 400 minutes they’ve played, as they’ve only scored nine goals during five-on-five play, or a goal every 44 minutes.

One goal per 44 minutes of even-strength play does not win hockey games. If that’s not apparent by Buffalo‘s recent record, I don’t know what is.

Fortunately, the Sabres have remained competitive due to performing the opposite special team as well as they execute the power play. 22-24-8 Robin Lehner deserves much of the credit for that success, as his .926 power play save percentage ranks sixth-best in the NHL among the 39 goalies with at least four appearances since March 17.

Though the Sabres will miss the postseason for the sixth-straight season, this is an important game for Buffalo. Due to their two-game winning streak against Toronto, the Sabres have tied the season series against the Maple Leafs at 2-2-0, making this contest a true rubber match.

They last squared off on March 25 at the KeyBank Center – the same site of tonight’s game – where the Sabres won 5-2 on Eichel’s two-goal, three-point night.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Buffalo‘s Lehner (.921 save percentage [tied for ninth-best in the NHL]) & Toronto‘s Andersen (32 wins [tied for eighth-most in the league], including four shutouts [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]), Jake Gardiner (+26 [10th-best in the league]) and Matthews (38 points [tied for third-most in the NHL]).

Uh oh, that’s not good for the home team. Vegas has marked this game with a +140 line, meaning the odds-makers favor the Leafs. Unfortunately for the Sabres, so do I. While both clubs are almost evenly matched on special teams, the Toronto‘s offense is far superior at even-strength, which is where they should earn the victory.

Hockey Birthday

  • Ray Getliffe (1914-2008) – Though originally a Bruin, this forward spent most of his 10-year career in Montréal. A two-time Stanley Cup champion, he hoisted the trophy once with both clubs.
  • Bernie Parent (1945-) – Another player to start his career in Boston, this Hall-of-Fame goaltender played most of his 13 NHL seasons with the Flyers. He was a five-time All Star and won two Conn Smythes, Vezinas and – most importantly – Stanley Cups.
  • Brent Gilchrist (1967-) – Drafted by Montréal 79th-overall in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft, this left wing  played 15 seasons in the league – most of which with the Stars organization. He hoisted his lone Stanley Cup in 1998 with the Red Wings.
  • Shawn Bates (1975-) – The Boston-theme continues with this center, as the Bruins selected him in the fourth round of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft. He actually spent most of his 10-year career with the Islanders, with whom he notched 170 of his 198 career points.
  • Stephen Weiss (1983-) – The fourth-overall selection in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft by Florida, this center spent all but two of his 13 seasons with the Panthers. He notched 423 points before hanging up his skates, including 156 goals.

The Predators had the chance to not only clinch their postseason berth with a victory, but also surpass the Blues for third place in the Central Division. Instead, St. Louis beat Nashville 4-1 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

St. Louis didn’t wait long to get on the board, courtesy of a Vladimir Tarasenko (Jaden Schwartz and First Star of the Game David Perron) wrist shot 5:22 after the initial puck drop. Ryan Johansen (Filip Forsberg and P.K. Subban) and the Preds responded exactly six minutes later to tie the game at one-all with a power play wrister, the score that held into the first intermission.

Alex Steen (Perron) provided the game-winner early in the second period. He buried a wrister only 55 seconds after resuming play from the first intermission, followed only 5:52 later by a Perron (Alex Pietrangelo) wrister. Those tallies set the score at 3-1, which held into the second intermission.

The lone score of the third belonged to Third Star Joel Edmundson, an unassisted wrister 8:11 into the frame.

Second Star Jake Allen saved 35-of-36 shots faced (97.2%) to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Juuse Saros, who saved 21-of-25 (84%).

Nashville did qualify for the playoffs yesterday by virtue of Arizona beating ninth-place Los Angeles.

For four straight days now, home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have earned two points in the standings. Within the series, that has given hosts a 85-58-25 record, five points better than the roadies.

April 1 – Day 164 – Ducks dominance or Oilers ownage?

Eight games will be played this penultimate Saturday of the NHL regular season, starting with Florida at Boston (SN) at 1 p.m. The other matinee of the day drops the puck an hour later and features Minnesota at Nashville. The usual starting time of 7 p.m. marks the beginning of five contests (Ottawa at Winnipeg [SN], Toronto at Detroit [CBC/NHLN], Montréal at Tampa Bay [CITY/TVAS], New Jersey at Philadelphia and Dallas at Carolina), and tonight’s nightcap – Anaheim at Edmonton (CBC/SN) – gets underway at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Toronto at Detroit: Not only is this one of the more historical rivalries in the game, but Alexey Marchenko also makes his first – and last – trip to Joe Louis Arena as a visitor.
  • New Jersey at Philadelphia: The Battle of the Jersey Turnpike rages on tonight on Broad Street.
  • Anaheim at Edmonton: Oh, you know, there’s nothing major on the line in this game. Just the lead in the Pacific Division, that’s all.

There’s no joking about it, tonight’s festivities in Edmonton are going to have a significant impact on the race for the Pacific championship. Though we were just there a couple days ago, it’s off to Edmonton with us!

 

The best way to complete our three-day stop in Alberta is by featuring the best two teams in the Pacific Division. Only a point separates the Ducks and Oilers from each other with five fixtures left on the schedule.

What makes this game even more important is this is the last time they’ll run into each other this year – barring a postseason meeting. The reason for Anaheim‘s advantage can be found in their second run-in with Oilers of the year. On December 3 – ironically at Rogers Place, the same surface on which they’ll square off tonight – Edmonton needed overtime to best the Ducks 3-2.

That overtime loss is the differential in the season series between these clubs. Since both have won two of the previous four meetings, Anaheim has a one-point advantage on the Oilers in both the series and the standings as a whole.

The 42-23-12 Ducks have been playing some fantastic hockey since mid-March. They’re riding a nine-game point streak that has seen them go 7-0-2 and climb to the top of the Pacific Division.

As has been the case all year, Anaheim has made this surge on the back of its defense and goaltending. The Ducks have allowed only 17 goals in their past nine games, which is the second-fewest in the league since March 12.

Though normally bearing the title of backup, a main reason for the Ducks‘ surge is 19-7-4 Jonathan Bernier, who has been the only goaltender to take to the crease during this run. He’s played remarkably, as his .938 save percentage and 1.86 GAA over this stretch are (t)fifth and (t)seventh-best among the 42 goalies who’ve made at least four appearances since mid-March.

What makes Bernier’s play even more impressive is he hasn’t had quite the defense that he and 23-16-8 John Gibson have grown accustomed to this season. Though not by much, Anaheim‘s blueline is under-performing by their standards as they’ve allowed 30.3 shots-per-game to reach Bernier’s crease in the past nine games, which is actually sixth-tenths more than their season average.

That slight decrease in performance can’t be blamed on Hampus Lindholm or Sami Vatanen though. They’ve been playing out of their minds of late, as they both have 18 shot blocks to their credit since March 12.

Perhaps the reason for the Ducks‘ almost indiscernible drop in defensive production is due to Cam Fowler‘s recent play.  Though he averages 1.7 shot blocks per game for the entire season, that rate has dropped to 1.3 in the last nine games.

Like I said, almost indiscernible. We’re splitting hairs here; Fowler has still been excellent, as have Lindholm and Vatanen. The Ducks still have a defense to be reckoned with, not to mention the red-hot Bernier playing in net. In short, scoring against the Ducks is not an easy thing to do.

The true mark of a good defense is a solid penalty kill, and Anaheim has one of those. It ranks fifth-best on the season and stops 85.1% of opponents’ power plays. As you’d expect, the reason for the Ducks‘ success is twofold – as in two fantastic goalies. Both Bernier and Gibson save over 90% of power play shots against. Of the 28 netminders who’ve faced 175 or more man-advantage shots this season, they’re the only two goaltenders in the league who can make that claim.

Of course, every team has a hole. For the Ducks, that issue this year is the power play, and that’s especially been the case over the last 20 days. The Ducks have found the back of the net with the man-advantage only three times in the past nine games for a horrendous success rate of 10%. Only three teams in the NHL have been worse since March 12.

43-25-9 Edmonton has also been playing incredible hockey since mid-March, especially when it has the puck on its stick. Since March 14, the Oilers have buried 37 goals – five more than Carolina, Chicago and Washington (incredible offenses in their own rights) to lead the NHL. That offensive explosion has led the Oil to a 8-1-0 mark in that time, which ties for second-best in the league.

Just like it’s been all year, Todd McLellan‘s club has utilized a two-headed attack of none other than Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. Both have 16 points apiece since the 14th to co-lead the league.

Since both play a solid, unselfish game, they get credit for a lot of helpers. Patrick Maroon, the final third of Edmonton‘s top line, has been the man taking advantage of that of late, as he’s potted six beauties in the past 18 days to lead the squad.

An offense of this caliber does not mess around. Since March 14, Edmonton has taken advantage of 29% of its man-advantage situations to score nine power play goals. Four of those have been a direct result of Draisaitl’s play, though they’ve all been apples. Half of those assists have gone to Mark Letestu and the other half to Milan Lucic, both of whom join Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with two power play goals apiece to headline the Oil‘s extra-man attack of late.

Maybe the most impressive part of Edmonton‘s game during this impressive run is its effort on the penalty kill. Only two tallies have resulted due to an Oilers penalty for a 91.3% kill rate, the second-best in the league in that time frame.

While 39-21-8 Cam Talbot has been good over the stretch, the real reason for Edmonton‘s success is McLellan’s leadership. The best way to succeed at the penalty kill is to avoid it, and the Oilers have been shorthanded only 23 times in their past nine games, which ties for sixth-fewest in the NHL.

The last time these squads met was only 10 days ago on March 22 at The Pond. Both Ryan Getzlaf and Lindholm added three points to their season totals to lead Anaheim to a narrow 4-3 victory over the visiting Oilers.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Anaheim‘s Getzlaf (52 assists [fifth-most in the NHL]) and Gibson (five shutouts [tied for sixth-most in the league] and a 2.28 GAA [seventh-best in the NHL] on a .921 save percentage [10th-best in the league]) & Edmonton‘s Draisaitl (72 points [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]), McDavid (63 assists for 91 points [both lead the league] for a +26 [tied for eighth-best in the NHL]) and Talbot (seven shutouts [tied for second-most in the league] among 39 wins [third-most in the NHL]).

Vegas has marked the Oilers a -125 favorite to win tonight’s game. I’m going to side with the odds-makers this evening, as I trust Talbot and Edmonton‘s defense more than the Ducks‘ offense. That being said, this should be an absolutely thrilling matchup.

Hockey Birthday

  • Ken Reardon (1921-2008) – This Winnipeg-born defenseman played all of his seven-year NHL career in Montréal. Though a short career, the Hall of Famer played in three All-Star Games and hoisted the 1946 Stanley Cup.
  • Guy Trottier (1941-2014) – This right wing played only three season in the NHL, and another three in the WHA. His longest tenured NHL team was Toronto, with whom he notched 45 points in 113 games.
  • Darren McCarty (1972-) – Detroit selected this right wing 46th-overall in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he spent all but two of his 15 seasons in the NHL. As you’d expect from a tenured Wing, McCarty is the proud owner of four Stanley Cup Champion rings.
  • J.P. Dumont (1978-) – Selected third-overall by the Islanders in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing played most of his 12 seasons in Nashville. He found his game with the Predators, as he provided a defensive presence and focused his offensive efforts on assists, earning 174.

Scoring three goals in a period is usually a formula for success. That’s the strategy Calgary employed in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day to beat the Sharks 5-2 at the Saddledome.

Third Star of the Game Johnny Gaudreau (Second Star Sam Bennett) provided a sample of what was to come after the intermission by scoring a tip-in with 7:34 remaining in the first period. That was the lone goal of the frame, giving Calgary a 1-0 lead with 40 minutes remaining.

Sean Monahan (Matthew Tkachuk and Kris Versteeg) provided Calgary‘s first tally of the second with a power play wrist shot. That goal was answered 4:46 later by Marc-Edouard Vlasic (Michael Haley and Marcus Sorensen), but there was no Sharks response for what the Flames did next. Matt Stajan (Michael Stone) scored what came to be a game-winning snap shot with 7:22 remaining in the period, followed 5:31 later by an Alex Chiasson (Versteeg and T.J. Brodie) backhander. After having a one-goal lead for much of the game, Calgary entered the second intermission with a 4-1 advantage.

Melker Karlsson (Joe Pavelski and Paul Martin) pulled San Jose back within two tallies with 6:54 remaining in regulation, but even that tally was erased by Bennett’s (Chiasson and Brodie) wrister on an empty net with 34 seconds remaining in the game.

First Star Brian Elliott saved 36-of-38 shots faced (94.7%) to earn the victory. That left the loss to Martin Jones, who saved 18-of-22 (81.8%) before being pulled after Chiasson’s tally. Aaron Dell saved all 12 shots he faced for no decision.

Currently riding a two-game winning streak, home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series now have an 83-58-25 record, which is two points better than the visitors.

March 25 – Day 157 – Seeing circles

A dozen games are on the schedule today, so let’s hop right in with our list!

A pair of games (Vancouver at Minnesota and Philadelphia at Columbus [NHLN/SN1]) get the action underway at 2 p.m., followed by seven (Calgary at St. Louis [CITY], Toronto at Buffalo [CBC], Ottawa at Montréal [SN/TVAS], Chicago at Florida [NHLN], Carolina at New Jersey, Boston at the New York Islanders and Arizona at Washington) at the usual 7 p.m. starting time. San Jose at Nashville drops the puck an hour later, followed by Colorado at Edmonton (CBC/SN) at 10 p.m. Finally, the New York Rangers at Los Angeles – tonight’s nightcap – drops the puck at 10:30 p.m. to close out the day’s action. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Toronto at Buffalo: Only two more editions of the Battle of the QEW go down this season, and one is tonight.
  • Ottawa at Montréal: Speaking of rivalries, this one is kind of important since it could determine who raises an Atlantic Division banner.
  • Chicago at Florida: For five seasons, Brian Campbell was a member of the Panthers‘ blueline. This offseason, he decided to return to the Windy City.
  • Boston at New York: These clubs are currently tied for the second wildcard, but they won’t be after tonight.
  • San Jose at Nashville: Remember last year’s Western Semifinals? The Predators would probably like to exact some revenge tonight.

Since both the Canadiens and Senators are all but locks to for this year’s postseason, let’s head back to Brooklyn with the Islanders for their wildly important matchup with Boston.

 

The 38-30-6 Bruins have been in the playoff picture – or right outside it – for almost the entire season. A mistimed four-game losing skid (then again, when does a four-game losing skid ever come at an appropriate time?) has felled them to the second of those two categories.

Of course, this is not the first position Boston has lost in the last month. For a long while, the Bruins actually had command of third place in the Atlantic Division, but they ceded that too to a Maple Leafs team that has won seven of its last 10 games.

The main reason for this fall from grace? I’d argue sub-par play in net by 33-20-4 Tuukka Rask. He’s been in net for all four of these contests, and the Bruins have allowed an average of five goals against. In fact, his .842 save percentage and 4.53 GAA from March 16 through last night’s action is the fifth and second-worst efforts in the NHL, respectively, in that time span.

“But Rask is a great goaltender!” said Bruins fans.

And I agree; yes, he is great. He’s also no spring chicken anymore. Rask just celebrated his 30th birthday not too long ago, which makes him older than the average goaltender throughout the 2000s (per Quant Hockey), whether by mean (28.81) or median (28.3).

Whether you’re in the camp of believing Bruce Cassidy needs to play 5-5-1 Anton Khudobin more often or Don Sweeney needs to provide a better backup than a nearly 31-year-old Russian is inconsequential to the fact that Rask needs more breaks. With 59 starts, Rask has played the third-most games in a NHL crease this season, and the other two goalies with more starts are younger than him (though not by much in Cam Talbot‘s case).

Making the exhausted netminder’s demise even more troublesome is that the defense playing in front of him is one of the better – and improving – corps in the league. Over this sour stretch, they’ve allowed only 117 shots to reach his net (29.25 per game), which is barely worse than their 25.6 average allowed per game for the entire season that ranks second-best in the league.

He doesn’t wear the Bruins‘ “C” for nothing. Captain Zdeno Chara has been at the forefront of that effort with his team-leading 124 shot blocks, followed closely behind by Adam McQuaid‘s 122. Center Patrice Bergeron has also been very impressive on the defensive front, as his 59 takeaways are second-most on the club. Brad Marchand has one more for the squad lead, but he also tops (Or would it be bottoms?) the team in the opposite statistic with his 74 turnovers.

When looking at the season as a whole, Boston usually finds more than enough success on the penalty kill, as their 84.5% kill rate is sixth-best in the league. Of course, this rough patch hasn’t been so kind. The Bruins have allowed seven power play goals against (you guessed it, most in the league in this time-span) for a measly 63.1% kill rate.

One thing that has gone Boston‘s way over the past 10 days has been their power play. Co-led by Torey Krug and Ryan Spooner‘s three man-advantage points, as well as David Krejci and David Pastrnak‘s two man-advantage goals, the Bruins have scored on 35.7% of their opponents’ penalties – the best mark in the league in that span. That’s not exactly a surprise though. Boston has been successful on 21.2% of their power plays all year, the eighth-best rate in the league.

First it was the Leafs taking advantage of the Bruins‘ fall from grace. Now it’s the 35-26-12 Islanders, a team riding a two-game winning streak.

This success is a far cry from where New York was before Doug Weight took command of the ship. Former head coach Jack Capuano had only managed a 17-17-8 record – the worst mark in the Eastern Conference. But since then, the Isles have gone on an 18-9-4 run to climb back into the eighth place in the East. In fact, that’s the fifth-best record in the league since Capuano’s firing, better even than teams like Columbus and Nashville.

The main reason for that improvement is New York‘s potent offense. The Islanders have buried 96 goals under Weight, which ties for the fourth-highest total in the league since January 17. Behind that effort is none other than John Tavares, who’s registered 32 of his 64 points on the campaign. Anders Lee also came alive, as he’s registered 13 goals to lead the team during the Weight-era.

Ready to be even more impressed by the Islanders‘ resurgent offense? They do it almost exclusively at even-strength. In fact, New York‘s power play is borderline atrocious, as they only convert 15.8% of their opportunities – the fifth-worst rate in the league.

If recent history is any indicator, it looks like the Bruins are on their way to their fifth-straight loss, as they have yet to beat New York this year in their previous two meetings. The last time these clubs ran into each other was January 16 in Boston. Between Nikolai Kulemin‘s two-goal night (one-sixth of his season total!) and Thomas Greiss‘ 32-save shutout, the Islanders walked out of the TD Garden with a 4-0 victory.

Ironically, that was Capuano’s last game as head coach of the Isles. My, how the story has come full circle.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Boston‘s Marchand (37 goals [third-most in the NHL] for 80 points [fourth-most in the league]) and Rask (six shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the NHL] among 33 wins [tied for fifth-most in the league]) & New York‘s Josh Bailey (38 assists [leads the team]) and Cal Clutterbuck (199 hits [leads the team]).

Though they might be a little tired from their shootout victory in Pittsburgh last night, I’m inclined to pick the Islanders right now. Something tells me that only one day off is not enough for Rask, and everything seems to be going New York‘s way right now.

Hockey Birthday

  • Ken Wregget (1964-) – Toronto selected this goaltender 45th-overall in the 1982 NHL Entry Draft, but he spent most of his career with the Penguins. By the time his career was through, he’d earned a 225-248-53 record and hoisted the 1992 Stanley Cup.
  • Ladislav Benysek (1975-) – This defensemen was selected in the 11th round by Edmonton in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft, but he spent most of his four-year career in the league with Minnesota. Over 161 games in the NHL, he accumulated only 15 points for a -28 rating.

With their 4-3 shootout victory against Pittsburgh in the DtFR Game of the Day, the Islanders have improved to the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.

With six goals in regulation, you’d figure there’d be two a period, right? Not last night. Instead, five were struck in the second frame, and another in the third.

The scoring started 1:54 after beginning the second period when Third Star of the Game Cameron Gaunce (Matt Cullen and Phil Kessel) buried a slap shot for the second goal of his career. 2:54 later, Second Star Brock Nelson (Joshua Ho-Sang and Alan Quine) tied the game at one-all, the score that held until Lee (Bailey and First Star Tavares) scored a wrist shot to give New York the lead 4:30 later. Now it was Pittsburgh‘s turn to pull even, and Sidney Crosby (Chad Ruhwedel and Conor Sheary) was up to the task with 6:19 remaining in the frame. With five seconds remaining before the second intermission, Casey Cizikas (Tavares) found the back of the net to send the Isles to the dressing room with a 3-2 lead.

After all that action, the final goal of regulation wasn’t struck until 6:10 remained in regulation. Cullen (Gaunce and Kessel) scored his wrister to tie the game at three-all, the score that held through the remainder of regulation and the five minute three-on-three overtime period.

Looks like this one will have to be decided in the shootout. The Pens elected to go second…

  1. …meaning Anthony Beauvillier was up first. He scored on Marc-Andre Fleury, giving New York an early shootout lead.
  2. Kessel had the chance to tie the shootout, but Jaroslav Halak was up to the task and made the save.
  3. Weight called Tavares’ number next as if he knew the captain would score him another goal. With a 2-0 shootout lead, the Pens were in a miss-and-lose situation.
  4. Speaking of captains, that’s exactly who took Pittsburgh‘s next shootout attempt. Crosby had better luck than Kessel and scored his shot to keep the Penguins alive.
  5. Andrew Ladd took what proved to be the Islanders‘ final shootout attempt, but was unable to beat Fleury to win the game.
  6. Instead, Halak provided the victory by saving Nick Bonino‘s shot.

Halak saved 37-of-40 shots faced (92.5%) for the victory, leaving the shootout loss to Fleury after he stopped 43-of-46 (93.5%).

It was the second-straight DtFR Game of the Day to be decided by shootout, but the fact that this one was decided by the 80-56-23 visitors gives them a one-point advantage over the road teams in the series.

March 24 – Day 156 – Isle have what he’s having

Just like you look forward to Friday to begin your two-day break, this is a lot of the league’s rest day before a weekend of excitement.

There’s only four games on the schedule tonight, starting with the New York Islanders at Pittsburgh (NHLN/SN/TVAS) at 7 p.m. and Tampa Bay at Detroit half an hour later. San Jose at Dallas drops the puck at 8:30 p.m., with Winnipeg at Anaheim – tonight’s nightcap – getting underway at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • New York at Pittsburgh: Not only is it rivalry night in the Steel City, but the Isles have a chance to move into the playoff bracket.
  • Tampa Bay at Detroit: It’s been almost a year now, but these clubs did meet up in one of last season’s Eastern Quarterfinals.

With the Bruins on a four-game losing skid, they’ve opened the door for the Islanders to once again enter the playoff picture. Pair that with one of my favorite rivalries in the Metropolitan Division (at least), and we’ve got a surefire featured matchup!

 

The rivalry between these two clubs is well documented in multiple places around the web, though I would recommend the YouTube videos I included on November 18 when these teams met for the second time this season. In gist, previous meetings between these clubs have been… scrappy.

As mentioned before, 34-26-12 New York is licking its chops in anticipation for tonight’s game, because a win over a rival is made only sweeter by moving into the second wild card spot that is currently occupied by 38-30-6 Boston.

For the ninth-place Isles (fifth in the Metropolitan) to actually secure that win, they’ll need to shore up a defensive end that has been a little more than leaky this season. They’ve allowed 216 goals against already this year, the #fifth-most in the NHL.

Of course, that starts with the goaltender. Enter 25-16-5 Thomas Greiss, who was officially declared New York‘s starting goaltender after 6-8-5 Jaroslav Halak was sent to Bridgeport on New Year’s Eve. Greiss has tried to make solid use of his time, but his .914 season save percentage and 2.67 GAA rank only #(t)24th and #28th-best among the 46 goalies with at least 23 appearances.

While those are below-average numbers, it’s not as if he’s the only hole on that end of the Islanders‘ ice. The defense playing in front of him is not much better, as they allow 32.1 shots-per-game to reach Greiss’ net – the #fifth-highest average in the NHL. The main reason New York isn’t worse is the incredible play of Calvin de Haan, who has 170 shot blocks to his credit to not only lead the team, but also rank #fifth-best in the league.

I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but another issue in New York has been a power play that is successful on only 15.8% of attempts – the #fifth-worst effort in the league. Just like he does on the even-strength attack, Captain John Tavares has been the star of the man-advantage with his team-leading 17 power play points. He’s joined at the top of the Isles‘ extra-man scorers list by Anders Lee, as both have buried seven tallies.

Though their injury list is nearly as long as this preview, the 46-17-10 Penguins are the second-best team in the Metropolitan, Eastern Conference and the NHL. Having already locked up their spot in the playoffs, Pittsburgh will try to continue their impressive offensive performance that has returned 250 goals – the #most in the NHL.

As you’d probably guess, the man behind that charge is none other than Captain Sidney Crosby. He leads Pittsburgh‘s offensive juggernaut with 81 points, 41 of which are goals – another mark he paces the club in. His season goal total is already the second-highest of his career, but it doesn’t seem he’ll match or succeed his 2009-’10 personal best of 51 tallies in a campaign.

One of the Pens‘ favorite ways to score the puck is via the power play, as they are #tied for third-best in the league with their 22.3% success rate. Second-year Penguin Phil Kessel has been instrumental in that effort with his team-leading 28 power play points, but Crosby still manages to get his beak wet, as 13 of his goals have come with the extra-man – the most on the squad.

So far this year, the Penguins have had the upper-hand when squaring off against the Islanders, as they’ve won two of the previous three matchups. Of course, the most recent meeting on November 30 was the one the Isles won 5-3.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include New York‘s Josh Bailey (37 assists [leads the team]), Cal Clutterbuck (193 hits [leads the team]), Dennis Seidenberg (+23 [leads the team]) and Tavares (62 points [leads the team]) & Pittsburgh‘s Ian Cole (+28 [seventh-best in the league]), Crosby (41 goals [leads the NHL] for 81 points [tied for second-most in the league]), Matthew Murray (.925 save percentage [sixth-best in the NHL] for a 2.34 GAA [10th-best in the league]) and Justin Schultz (+32 [tied for best in the NHL]).

I haven’t seen Vegas’ line for tonight’s game yet, but I can only assume it favors the home Penguins. None are better than Pittsburgh at scoring the puck, and the Islanders can’t help but allow goals. All signs point toward the Isles fighting for a playoff spot on a different night.

Hockey Birthday

  • Doug Jarvis (1955-) – Toronto selected this center 24th-overall in the 1975 NHL Amateur Draft, but he never played a game for the Leafs. Instead, he played most of his 13 seasons in Montréal, where he hoisted four-straight Stanley Cups. His hardware collection also includes the 1984 Frank J. Selke and the 1987 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophies.
  • Pat Price (1955-) – 13 picks before Jarvis was selected, the Islanders picked up this defenseman. He played 13 seasons in the NHL, and spent most of his time in Quebec. From 1976-’78, he registered an impressive +51 rating on only 37 points.
  • Philippe Boucher (1973-) – The 13th-overall selection in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft by Buffalo, this defenseman spent 16 seasons in the league, mostly in Los Angeles. During his sixth campaign with Dallas, he was traded to Pittsburgh to win the 2009 Stanley Cup and close out his career.
  • Maxim Kuznetsov (1977-) – Detroit selected this defenseman 26th-overall in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he spent most of his NHL career. Unfortunately for him, his tenure in the league was only 136 games and four seasons long.
  • Ron Hainsey (1981-) – A longtime member of the Thrashers/Jets organization, this defenseman was selected 13th-overall by Montréal in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. Similar to Boucher, Hainsey was traded to Pittsburgh at this season’s trade deadline in hopes of claiming his first Stanley Cup.
  • P.A. Parenteau (1983-) – Though selected by Anaheim in the ninth round of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, this left wing has been a career journeyman over his nine seasons in the league. Currently, he plays for the Predators after joining them at this season’s trade deadline.

I predicted a defensive matchup, and that’s exactly what we got in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as Washington needed a shootout to knock off the Blue Jackets at the Verizon Center.

Although a combined total of 48 shots were fired over the course of the first 40 minutes, the first goal of the game wasn’t struck until the 41 second mark of the third period. That tally belonged to Seth Jones (Brandon Dubinsky and Boone Jenner) and the Jackets, but the Capitals were more than prepared to deal with that obstacle. 5:58 after Jones’ marker, Third Star of the Game Dmitry Orlov (Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams) buried his sixth goal of the season to tie the game at one-all, the score that held through the remainder of regulation and the five-minute three-on-three overtime period.

Who knew that even a shootout could be a defensive affair?

  1. The only person that didn’t apply to was T.J. Oshie, who scored the first shootout attempt to give the Caps an early lead.
  2. Cam Atkinson was charged with leveling the shootout for Columbus, but First Star Braden Holtby was having none of that. He saved Atkinson’s shot to keep Washington‘s 1-0 shootout lead.
  3. Evgeny Kuznetsov tried to improve on the Capitals‘ advantage, but Second Star Sergei Bobrovsky would not yield.
  4. Sam Gagner tried to reward Bobrovsky’s work, but he met a worse fate than Atkinson – he completely missed.
  5. Nicklas Backstrom had a chance to end the shootout with a goal, but Bobrovsky earned one more shot for his club after saving the center’s attempt.
  6. It’s not often a team gets three tries to tie a shootout, but Alexander Wennberg did not take advantage of that opportunity. Holtby made the save to earn the extra point in the standings.

Holtby saved 29-of-20 shots faced (96.7%) to earn the victory, leaving the shootout loss to Bobrovsky, who saved 44-of-45 (97.8%).

That victory is the second-straight by a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series, which is now tied at 79-56-23.

March 18 – Day 150 – The previewiest of playoff previews

Saturdays are known for being action-packed, and today does not disappoint with its 10 contests. The first two games (Colorado at Detroit and Columbus at the New York Islanders [NHLN]) are matinees and drop the puck at 1 p.m. They’re just a sampler of excitement to come, as five matchups (the New York Rangers at Minnesota [NHLN], Chicago at Toronto [CBC/CITY], Montréal at Ottawa [SN/TVAS], Washington at Tampa Bay and Nashville at Carolina) get underway at the usual 7 p.m. starting time. St. Louis at Arizona gets green-lit two hours later, followed by Vancouver at Edmonton (CBC/SN) at 10 p.m. and Anaheim at San Jose at 10:30 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Colorado at Detroit: It’s an old-school, former Western Conference rivalry between teams that have seen better days.
  • Chicago at Toronto: For the first time in a long while, the Blackhawks‘ lone visit to the Air Canada Centre should provide a thrilling contest.
  • Montréal at Ottawa: The Atlantic Division lead is on the line in this rivalry tonight, the first half of a home-and-home series this weekend.
  • Anaheim at San Jose: Another rivalry, this one takes place in another competitive division: the Pacific.

I tried to come up with a better reason for any other game, but this weekend’s home-and-home between the top two teams in the Atlantic Division is just too big to ignore. Off to the Canadian capital!

 

Talk about a playoff preview. Not only does tonight’s game offer a look into a potential second round meeting between these two clubs, but the fact that they square off again tomorrow night at the Bell Centre gives a full sense of how that series could play out.

Oh yeah, and these teams aren’t necessarily fond of each other to start with. As if this weekend’s games couldn’t get more exciting, they just found a way too.

Of course, the 39-23-8 Canadiens cast a large, imposing shadow in light of both what they’ve done in their history as well as what they’ve simply done this year. They’ve topped the Atlantic Division for effectively the entire season, and it’s all been on the back of their incredible goaltending which has allowed only 174 goals against, which ties for seventh-fewest in the NHL.

A major reason for that is the fact that 31-17-5 Carey Price calls Montréal home (shh, we’re not talking about how he’s originally from Canucks-country). Joint-winner of the 2015 William M. Jennings Trophy, he has a .922 season save percentage and 2.27 GAA, the seventh and eighth-best rates, respectively, among the 40 goaltenders with at least 27 appearances.

Price is excellent on his own, but it doesn’t hurt to have one of the better defensive corps in the league playing in front of him. Led by Shea Weber and his team-leading 143 shot blocks, that’s exactly what Cluade Julien has at his disposal, as the Habs‘ blueline has allowed only 29.8 shots against per game, which ties for the 10th-best effort in the league.

If you like goaltender matchups, this weekend’s series is the one for you. The 39-23-7 Senators have been stuck in Montréal‘s shadow for most of the season, even though they trail the Habs for first place in the Atlantic by only one point. They are another team that prefer to grind out a victory, as they’ve allowed only 176 goals against – the ninth-fewest in the NHL.

Although 21-8-1 Craig Anderson had resumed his starting responsibilities since rejoining the Sens, he’s been forced to miss the last two games with a lower body injury. With that in mind, I’d guess that 18-12-6 Mike Condon – a former Montréal goaltender – will once again be called into the fray. The second-year player is definitely the second-best netminder Guy Boucher has had at his disposal this season, but he hasn’t been abysmal. In fact, Condon’s .914 season save percentage and 2.49 GAA (those numbers include his short time with Pittsburgh earlier in the year) ranks 25th and 18th-best in the league, respectively, among the 50 other goalies with at least 18 appearances.

Beyond experience, what makes Condon’s task a little more difficult than counterpart Price’s is the fact that Ottawa‘s defense is not on par with that of Montréal‘s. Even with Erik Karlsson‘s league-leading 187 shot blocks, the Senators still allow 30.3 shots to reach their netminder’s crease per game, which is the 15th-highest average in the league.

Another facet of the game where the Sens definitely do not have an advantage over the Canadiens is in the power play. Though led by Karlsson’s 23 power play points, Ottawa has converted only 17.7% of its man-advantages into goals – the 10th-worst rate in the NHL. That being said, Mike Hoffman has been a shining star on the power play, as he has buried a dozen goals with the extra-man, which ties for fourth-most in the league.

It’s been all Ottawa so far this season when these two clubs have met, as the Senators have a three-point advantage in the two-game series. The last time they squared off was on November 22 in Montréal where, thanks to Karlsson’s game-winning third period goal, the Sens won 4-3.

Some players to keep an eye on tonight include Montréal‘s Max Pacioretty (33 goals [tied for fourth-most in the NHL]) and Price (31 wins on a .922 save percentage [both seventh-best in the league] and a 2.27 GAA [eighth-best in the NHL]) & Ottawa‘s Condon (five shutouts [tied for fifth-most in the league]) and Karlsson (50 assists [tied for second-most in the NHL]).

Vegas is favoring a lot of road teams this evening, and Montréal is one of them – Ottawa‘s line reads +100. In light of the previous two meetings between these clubs, it would seem tough to favor the Habs, but the fact that Condon was not involved in those games is enough for me to go with the club wearing white.

Hockey Birthday

  • Stanley Cup (1892-) – You might have heard of this. It’s only the most desired trophy in the sport of hockey, if not all sports. You know, nothing major.
  • Guy Lapointe (1948-) – Speaking of the Stanley Cup, this defenseman hoisted it six times, all with the club he played a majority of his career with: Montréal. The four-time All Star was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1993.
  • Guy Carbonneau (1960-) – The Canadiens certainly have an affinity for Guys, as they drafted this center 44th-overall in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft. He played in Montréal for most of his 19-year career, and won two of his three Stanley Cups with the club. He also won three Frank J. Selke Trophies.
  • Kimmo Timonen (1975-) – Although selected by Los Angeles in the 10th-round of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, this defenseman ended up being a four-time All Star. He spent most of his career in Nashville, but was a member of Chicago‘s 2015 Stanley Cup winning team.
  • Zdeno Chara (1977-) – Although now known most for his 11 seasons with the Bruins, this defenseman was actually selected by the Islanders 56th-overall in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft. He’s a six-time All Star and hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2011 to go with his 2009 James Norris Memorial Trophy.

A 10-round shootout, decided by Zemgus Girgensons, earned the Sabres the bonus point in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they beat Anaheim 2-1.

The first goal of the game was struck by Rickard Rakell (Third Star of the Game Cam Fowler and Brandon Montour), a backhanded shot with 8:12 remaining in the first period. It is Rakell’s 31st goal of the year, an total made even more impressive since he missed 11 games this season.

Ryan O’Reilly (Jake McCabe and Second Star Jack Eichel) is the man responsible for leveling the game at one-all. He buried a slap shot with 4:25 remaining in the second period after Eichel’s 29th assist of the season.

Since I’ve already spoiled the surprise of the shootout, let’s jump right there, as none of the 30 combined shots in the third period or overtime found the back of the net.

  1. As the home team, the Ducks had the opportunity to go first in the shootout. They sent out Jakob Silfverberg, who’s shot was saved by Anders Nilsson.
  2. Speaking of saves, that’s exactly what First Star Jonathan Bernier did to Tyler Ennis. The shootout score stayed at 0-0.
  3. Next up was Ryan Getzlaf, who buried his shot for Anaheim.
  4. O’Reilly was quick to hold serve for the Sabres, once again tying the shootout at one-all.
  5. Rakell: saved by Nilsson.
  6. Eichel: saved by Bernier. Shootout still tied at 1-1.
  7. Corey Perry missed the net.
  8. Sam Reinhart: saved by Bernier. Still tied at 1-1.
  9. Patrick Eaves: saved by Nilsson.
  10. Evander Kane missed the net. 1-1 still.
  11. Fowler: saved by Nilsson.
  12. Matt Moulson missed the net. Yup, still 1-1.
  13. Antoine Vermette: saved by Nilsson.
  14. Brian Gionta: saved by Bernier. You know the shootout score by now.
  15. Ryan Kesler: saved by Nilsson.
  16. Evan Rodrigues: saved by Bernier. Still tied at 1-1.
  17. Brandon Montour broke the monotony by beating Nilsson, forcing a miss-and-lose situation for the Sabres.
  18. Under that pressure, Dan Bylsma sent out Rasmus Ristolainen, which proved to be the right choice. The defenseman continued the shootout by tying it at 2-2.
  19. Nick Ritchie: saved by Nilsson.
  20. Girgensons found the game-winner on his stick, pulling the Sabres within eight points of the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.

Nilsson earned the victory after saving 39-of-40 (97.5%) shots faced in regulation and overtime, leaving the shootout loss to Bernier, who saved 30-of-31 (96.8%).

After all that, the 77-52-22 road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series now have a four-point advantage on home teams, due in part to their three-game winning streak.

March 16 – Day 148 – Now the East is wild

It’s Thursday once again, my favorite day of the week. There’s a dozen games taking place tonight, starting with five (Philadelphia at New Jersey [TVAS], Winnipeg at the New York Islanders, Nashville at Washington [NHLN], Minnesota at Carolina and Florida at Columbus [TVAS]) at 7 p.m. Another pair of contests (Chicago at Ottawa [RDS] and Toronto at Tampa Bay) drop the puck half an hour later, followed by Boston at Edmonton at 9 p.m. The West Coast gets involved at 10 p.m. with two matches (Dallas at Vancouver and Detroit at Arizona), followed half an hour later by tonight’s co-nightcaps: Buffalo at Los Angeles and St. Louis at San JoseAll times eastern.

Short list:

  • Philadelphia at New Jersey: It’s the second rivalry game in as many nights for the Flyers.
  • Toronto at Tampa Bay: Not only is it the return of Brian Boyle to Amalie Arena, but it’s also an important game in the race for the Eastern Conference’s second wildcard.
  • St. Louis at San Jose: These teams combined to create a thrilling six-game series for the Campbell Bowl last postseason.

To put things simply, there’s a lot on the line in the TorontoTampa game that we just can’t miss.

 

 

 

 

 

Although Philadelphia‘s victory over the Penguins last night gave the Flyers a bit of playoff hope, it’s really a three-team race for the Eastern Conference’s second wild card going into the final 14-ish games of the season.

After last night’s action, the Isles have a one-point lead on 10th-place Toronto, and win the regulation+overtime victories tiebreaker against ninth-place Tampa Bay.

To keep math simple in regards to how tonight’s featured matchup effects the standings, know this: As long as the Islanders don’t beat Winnipeg tonight, the winner of this game will move into the second wild card in the Eastern Conference – at least for a day.

Even if all three clubs finish the night with 78 points (that happens if the Isles and Lightning both fall in overtime), Toronto takes over eighth-place with a game in-hand. In that situation, New York and Tampa Bay would remain in the order they’re in right now, but fall a step in the standings.

Clear as mud? Good.

With the most to gain this evening, the Maple Leafs enter tonight’s game with a 31-23-14 record, which is already the most wins they’ve had since their 38-36-8 season in 2013-’14 (man, the East was stacked that year too). The main reason Toronto is having to work so hard for a playoff spot is due to its lackluster defense, which has allowed 198 goals against in 68 games –  the seventh-worst rate in the NHL.

More often than not, 27-15-13 Frederik Andersen has been the man between the pipes for the Leafs, and he’s done a better job than his .916 season save percentage and 2.73 GAA indicate. Although those statistics rank only (t)13th and (t)29th in the league, respectively, among the 37 goalies with at least 28 appearances, he’s performed well under the circumstances.

Those circumstances being, of course, a defense that allows 32.7 shots against per game, the third-highest rate in the entire NHL and worst among playoff hopefuls.

If there’s anything to get excited about regarding Toronto‘s defensive corps, its that Nikita Zaitsev, one of the seven rookies on the roster that gets regular playing time, is the leading shot blocker on the team, having registered 117 already this season. Not only will the 25-year-old continue to develop, but more high-class free agents will be attracted to Toronto this offseason to better bolster the blueline.

That being said, the Leafs‘ defense repeatedly shows they’re potential when they’re forced into a shorthanded situation. By rejecting 82.9% of opposing power plays, Toronto ranks eighth-best in the league on the penalty kill. Much of that credit belongs to Roman Polak, who leads the team with 31 shorthanded blocks.

Given the fact that the Maple Leafs drafted potentially the next greatest player in hockey (or at least the next greatest forward), it’s no surprise that they’re really, really good on the power play. What is surprising, though, is that it’s not Auston Matthews heading that attack. Instead, it’s fellow rookie William Nylander, whose team-leading 22 power play points have sparked a 23.5% penalty-conversion rate, the second-best mark in the NHL. Nazem Kadri has been responsible for a bunch of those goals – 11, to be accurate, which is the most in Toronto.

With arguably the most to lose tonight, Tampa Bay plays host this evening with a 34-26-9 record. Just like with Toronto, there is one main reason Tampa finds itself on the outside of playoff picture looking in – but it’s on the opposite end of the ice (or the same end, depending on how you look at it). Winners of their last four, the Lightning‘s biggest worry is offense, as they have managed only 187 goals this season – the 13th-fewest in the league.

No matter how hard Nikita Kucherov tries, he just can’t seem to pull the Bolts along. He’s having a solid season with his team-leading 69 points and 31 goals (both totals already career highs with 13 games to go), but his team simply will not follow him.

The fact that Tyler Johnson is the second-best forward on the team is all the proof I need: behind Kucherov, his 44 points and 19 goals are most in Tampa Bay. Those totals do not even break into the top-50 in the NHL. Simply put, more than one player needs to provide offense for a club to find true success, and I don’t trust Johnson to truly step up to fill that secondary role.

Of course, I can rail against the Bolts‘ offense all I want, but it’s hard to argue with a power play that is successful on 22.4% of attempts (fourth-best in the league). Kucherov is at the head of that attack too with his 14 goals, but it’s actually Victor Hedman who leads the team in power play points with 27 to his credit.

For division rivals (we’re using that term loosely right now), it’s surprising this is only the third meeting of the season between these two clubs. With both teams beating the other once this season, the Bolts have a slight edge in the series due to forcing overtime in their 3-2 loss on December 29 – the last time they met the Leafs.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Tampa Bay‘s Peter Budaj (seven shutouts [second-most in the league] and a 2.15 GAA [fifth-best in the NHL] for 28 wins [tied for ninth-most in the league]), Hedman (45 assists [tied for fourth-most in the NHL]) and Kucherov (31 goals for 69 points [both tied for eighth-most in the league]) & Toronto‘s Jake Gardiner (+25 [leads the team]), Mitch Marner (37 assists [leads the team]) and Matt Martin (254 hits [leads the team]).

With a -128 line, Vegas seems reasonably confident that the Lightning will pull out a victory this evening with home ice. I don’t feel as confident in that pick, since I believe Toronto‘s offense is superior to Tampa‘s defense. It’ll be a good contest, but I like to Leafs to earn the victory.

Hockey Birthday

  • Roger Crozier (1942-1996) – The first two years of this goaltender’s 14-year career were phenomenal. Making his debut in Detroit in the 1963-’64 season, he won the 1965 Calder Trophy on a 2.42 GAA, followed a year later by hoisting the Conn Smythe with seven shutouts.
  • Duane Sutter (1960-) – Players selected 17th-overall are expected to produce. By winning four Stanley Cups in a row for the Islanders, this right wing did just that. He marked 45 points in those four Cup runs, including 20 goals.
  • Riley Cote (1982-) – This right wing appeared in four NHL seasons – all with the Flyers. An enforcer by trade, he now earns his paycheck as an assistant coach with Philadelaphia‘s AHL farm team.
  • Brandon Prust (1984-) – Calgary selected this left wing 70th-overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, but his longest tenured team is the Rangers. He is still playing hockey professionally, but with Nürnberg in the DEL.

Scoring a goal every 10 minutes is usually a good way to earn a victory. That’s what the Bruins did for the final two periods to beat Calgary 5-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day. That loss snaps Calgary‘s 10-game winning streak.

It was actually the Flames that opened the scoring, courtesy of an Alex Chiasson (Lance Bouma and Matt Stajan) wrist shot 9:23 into the game. Third Star of the Game David Pastrnak (Zdeno Chara) pulled Boston even 2:24 later with a wrister that proved to be the final tally of the opening frame.

6:04 after returning from the break, the score read 2-1 in favor of the visitors. First Star Brad Marchand continued his impressive season by scoring his 36th goal of the year, an unassisted backhanded shot. 70 seconds later, Dougie Hamilton scored an unassisted marker of his own, a wrister, to once again tie the score. Yet it proved to be Calgary‘s final goal of the night, meaning David Backes‘ (David Krejci) wrister with 8:57 remaining in the second period proved to be the winning-tally.

Matt Beleskey (Ryan Spooner and Drew Stafford) and Pastrnak (Marchand and Patrice Bergeron) provided two insurance goals in the third period to ensure Boston‘s victory.

Anton Khudobin earned the victory after saving 21-of-23 shots faced (91.3%), leaving the loss to Chad Johnson, who saved 27-of-31 (87.1%).

The back-and-forth between home and away teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series continues. After tonight’s victory by the club in white, the 75-53-22 road teams now have a one-point lead over the hosts in the series.