Philadelphia Flyers fans will argue (with some validity) that it was with some help from the officials, but the Pittsburgh Penguins successfully punched their ticket into the Second Round with an 8-5 victory at Wells Fargo Center in Game 6.
This was a wild back-and-forth affair that wasted no time in getting started, as Second Star of the Game C Sean Couturier needed only 2:15 of action to give Philadelphia an early lead. When D Jamie Oleksiak failed to collect W Bryan Rust‘s pass along the boards, Couturier pounced to beat D Chad Ruhwedel to the corner to G Matt Murray‘s left and took possession.
Couturier backhanded a centering pass towards Murray that he blocked into the center of the zone. That ended up being a very poor decision, as W Wayne Simmonds was able to continue applying the pressure with a wrist shot from right in front of the crease. Murray slowed the puck, but it ended up sitting loose in the blue paint, allowing Couturier to force it home with a wrister.
In all, the Flyers absolutely dominated play for the opening 6:26 of action, as they out-shot Pittsburgh seven-to-two.
That all changed after the first TV timeout though, as Third Star C Sidney Crosby (D Kris Letang and D Brian Dumoulin) cleaned up Letang’s slap shot from the blue line to level the game at the 6:30 mark. G Michal Neuvirth was able to make the initial save, but the Penguins’ set play was designed to give Crosby a rebound opportunity in case the netminder yielded one to his glove side.
Only 47 seconds after Crosby tied the game for the Pens, LW Carl Hagelin (RW Phil Kessel and C Riley Sheahan) took a quick pass from Kessel to give Pittsburgh the advantage. The Flyers defense was largely to blame for this play, as there were two players crashing on Kessel inside the trapezoid to leave the center of the zone wide open for Hagelin. Waiting at the left corner of the crease for Kessel’s pass, Hagelin took advantage of the open shot to beat Neuvirth to the far post.
But the Flyers were far from ready to give up that easily, as they were able to level the game at 2-2 4:12 before the intermission courtesy of D Andrew MacDonald‘s (D Ivan Provorov and Couturier) clapper from the point. MacDonald had the luxury of Simmonds and Oleksiak screening Murray, allowing him to beat the netminder glove side with ease.
Only one penalty was charged in the first period, and it is there where Philadelphians’ critiques of the zebras will begin. It was a wild play around the 17:30 mark of the frame that started with a W Conor Sheary snap shot. With the help of the near post, Neuvirth was able to make the save, and the resulting scrum in front of his crease quickly became a dog-pile of all players Pennsylvanian.
Somehow, only C Scott Laughton was charged with an infraction (interference against C Derick Brassard) with 1:25 remaining in the period, but fortunately for the Flyers it did not cost them their third goal against.
Riding the positive energy from completing the kill in the second period (35 seconds carried across the intermission), Philadelphia reclaimed the lead at the 40 second mark when Couturier (W Matt Read) scored his second of the game. Similar to the first, he had to grind this tally out, as Murray initially appeared to survive the center’s patient pull across his crease. However, Couturier’s backhanded shot eventually squeaked under the netminder and into the back of the net.
In a game filled with goals, the fact that there was 11:34 between Couturier’s tally and Laughton’s (Couturier) long-range snapper was unbelievable. However, the Flyers weren’t complaining one bit, as they earned the first two-goal game of the lead.
Of course, we all know what is said about two-goal leads, so it didn’t take long for the Penguins to begin storming back. RW Patric Hornqvist (First Star F Jake Guentzel and Crosby) pulled Pittsburgh back within one goal 1:21 after the horn stopped blaring for Laughton by completing some stellar passing with a wrister. Hornqvist had the luxury of a gaping cage due in large part to Guentzel’s well-earned reputation for clutch playoff performances (a point he’d further cement in the third period), as Neuvirth fully committed to stopping any shot the sophomore could attempt on his blocker side.
Speaking of Guentzel’s playoff scoring abilities, he (D Olli Maatta and Hornqvist) was the one responsible for tying the game at 4-4 with 54 seconds remaining in the second period.
Also in that category, Guentzel scored Pittsburgh’s fifth (assist from Kessel at the 30 second mark), sixth (assists from Crosby and Letang at the 12:48 mark) for his second-ever hat trick (both in the playoffs) and seventh goals of the game (assists from Hornqvist and Letang at the 12:58 mark).
It was the game-winning goal where officiating started to look a little fishy. Having already been sent to the penalty box for cross checking Couturier with 9:23 remaining in regulation (then setting up 1:28 of four-on-three play for the Flyers), it seemed like Letang was guilty of a fairly obvious tripping penalty against Couturier along the boards in Philadelphia’s defensive zone. However, play was allowed to continue, allowing Guentzel to bury his slap shot from between the face-off circles past Neuvirth’s glove.
Let the boo birds begin their song.
Surely mad at not getting the call he thought he deserved, Couturier (F Claude Giroux) set the score at 7-5 with 2:53 remaining in regulation to complete his hat trick. Penguins Head Coach Mike Sullivan challenged for goaltender interference, but it was ruled that Murray was able to play his position after the slight contact from the eventual goalscorer.
Couturier scored with Neuvirth pulled for the extra attacker, and – with his club facing elimination – Head Coach Dave Hakstol employed that strategy once again for any glimmer of hope that his team could score two more goals.
They would not be able to pull that off, but one goal was left to be scored: an empty netter by Rust with 31 seconds remaining in regulation.
Of course, this being the Battle of Pennsylvania, even this simple play could not go off without some gritty play. However, it was Maatta’s blatant cross check against a Flyer at center ice immediately before Rust’s goal that once again drew the ire of the Philly crowd.
Similar to Letang’s, this infraction went “unnoticed” by the officials and the orange-clad fans let them know about – not only with a chorus of boos, but also with rally towels and beer cans of various volumes.
While it is unwise to condone such behavior from fans, it’s hard to argue with their judgement. This was a built-up frustration stemming from the missed Letang penalty (at minimum) that truly could have influenced the outcome of this game, and it boiled over when Maatta’s penalty also went uncalled.
With one rivalry behind them, the Penguins now await the winner of the Columbus-Washington series for Round Two in their quest for a three-peat. The Capitals own a 3-2 advantage going into Game 6, which is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Eastern tomorrow night. Pens fans should tune their televisions to CNBC, SN or TVAS2 to find out which capital their club will square off against next: Ohio’s or the nation’s.
No matter how many shots the Pittsburgh Penguins fired at Second Star of the Game G Brian Elliott, he would not yield as he led the Philadelphia Flyers to a 5-1 victory at PPG Paints Arena in Game 2.
When Head Coach Dave Hakstol elected to start his second line at the opening puck drop, C Sidney Crosby and the Penguins took advantage to fire two quick shots on goal. It seemed like the Pens were in line to dominate this game in a similar fashion as Game 1.
However, Elliott was there to make both saves, as well as 32 others. In all, the man known as Moose saved 34-of-35 shots faced, earning an impressive .971 save percentage.
The lone goal Elliott allowed belonged to RW Patric Hornqvist (D Justin Schultz and D Brian Dumoulin) at the 5:27 mark of the third period, then setting the score at 4-1 and not putting the final result of this tilt into question.
There were major concerns coming into these playoffs that either Pittsburgh’s defense or goaltending – and perhaps a combination of both – could be its ultimate demise. Even though Murray quelled some of those worries with his shutout in Game 1, those doubts were fully realized when Philadelphia converted 25 percent of its 20 shots on goal into tallies on the scoreboard.
The first of those belonged to D Shayne Gostisbehere (F Claude Giroux and Couturier), who took advantage of F Zach Aston-Reese sitting in the sin bin for boarding Third Star D Ivan Provorov to redirect a power play shot past Murray with 37 seconds remaining in the first period.
Couturier (Provorov and W Michael Raffl) bounced a shot off D Kris Letang to set the Flyers’ advantage at 2-0 47 seconds into the second period, but Philadelphia did most of its offensive damage in the third frame.
F Travis Konecny (RW Wayne Simmonds and Provorov) needed only 89 seconds of third period play to find the Flyers’ third goal of the game. 2:21 after Konecny’s tally, Hornqvist found a seat in the penalty box for roughing C Nolan Patrick to set up Philly’s final goal against Murray. As luck have it, Patrick (Couturier and RW Jakub Voracek) cashed in on the power play, scoring a wrist shot to set the score at 4-0.
Murray saved only 15-of-19 shots faced (.789 save percentage) in the loss. He’ll obviously need to improve on that mark if Pittsburgh wants any chance of advancing beyond the first round.
After making the quick trip across the commonwealth, Game 3 will take place at Wells Fargo Center on Sunday, April 15 at 3 p.m. Eastern and will be broadcast on CBC, NBC and TVAS.
There may not be many games on tonight, but the quality of at least one matchup more than makes up for that.
Only three games are on the schedule tonight, starting with Calgary at Buffalo (SN) at 7:30 p.m. Next up is Pittsburgh at Philadelphia (NBCSN/TVAS) half an hour later, followed by Arizona at Vancouver (SN1) at 10 p.m. as tonight’s nightcap. All times Eastern.
There’s only one clear option for tonight’s featured matchup, so let’s get to Pennsylvania!
What makes today’s rivalry interesting is that neither team enters the game in what is necessarily their top form.
That may seem incorrect for the 38-25-4 Penguins considering they make the trip east riding a two-game winning streak, but that mark can be deceiving. Before those two wins (both of which were against teams currently outside the playoffs), Pittsburgh had lost three-straight games by a combined 17-11 score.
As evidenced by that composite score, offense is no problem for these Pens lately. F Evgeni Malkin (3-6-9 totals since February 24) and RW Phil Kessel (1-6-7 in his last five games) have been unstoppable lately, as they are both averaging well over a point per game on separate lines. In all, Pittsburgh has managed 3.6 goals per game since February 24, the (t)ninth-best mark in the NHL in that time.
Instead, Pittsburgh is struggling mightily in its own zone. Even with the solid efforts of D Brian Dumoulin (2.2 blocks per game since February 24), Malkin (averaging one takeaway per game during this run) and D Jamie Oleksiak (three hits per game in his last five games), the Pens have allowed an abysmal 34.2 shots against per game over their last five tilts, the eighth-most in the NHL since February 24.
That defensive lapse is made all the more of an issue when we take into account 23-13-2 G Matt Murray‘s concussion that has kept him off the ice since February 24. Young 12-5-2 G Tristan Jarry has tried his best, but managed to post only an .877 save percentage and 4.02 GAA in his last four showings, meaning Pittsburgh has allowed a league-worst 4.4 goals against per game since February 24.
To beat the Flyers tonight, Jarry will need to perform closer to his .913 season save percentage and 2.69 GAA, but that isn’t likely without an improvement in Pittsburgh’s defensive play.
Fans of the 34-21-11 Flyers shouldn’t get too excited about their rivals’ struggles though, as Philadelphia hasn’t been playing all that spectacularly lately either. Since posting a six-game winning streak from February 16-26, Philly has posted only an 0-2-1 record.
Unlike Pittsburgh’s Jarry, who can point to an anemic defense as the reason he’s been struggling, 11-9-4 G Petr Mrazek has no one to blame but himself for his play in the month of March. Even though he’s faced only 32 shots per game in his last three starts (16th in the league since March 1), Mrazek has managed only an .854 save percentage and 4.54 GAA, well off his .906 and 2.9 marks for the season.
His struggles in the crease has made the Flyers’ production on the offensive end even more important, but the forwards simply haven’t been able to answer the call in these last three games. Beyond the usual dominance of F Claude Giroux (1-3-4 totals since March 1) and D Ivan Provorov (1-2-3 in his last three games), only 10 other Flyers have found the scorecard, of which only five have scored a goal. Those numbers needs to increase for the Flyers to have a shot at winning tonight.
The icing on the cake in any rivalry is when it has the potential to dramatically impact the standings. With the top three teams in the Metropolitan Division separated by only two points, this game definitely qualifies.
Since the Capitals have played only 65 games compared to Philly’s 66 and Pittsburgh’s 67, they automatically win any tie that may occur after tonight’s game. That means the only way the Penguins, who trail Washington by a point, can take the division lead is with a victory.
As for the Flyers, they can’t take the Metropolitan lead with a victory, but they can advance into second place over Pittsburgh. Should Philadelphia require extra time to knock off the Pens, that would mean all three teams would be tied at 81 points. Should that happen, Washington would keep first, Philadelphia would climb to second and Pittsburgh fall to third.
The Penguins already have a firm lead on Philadelphia in their season series, as they’ve already beaten their bitter rivals twice in as many meetings this season. Pittsburgh claimed a 5-4 overtime home victory on November 27 (C Sidney Crosby scored the game-winner) and followed it up with a dominating 5-1 win at Wells Fargo Center – the site of tonight’s game – on January 2 (RW Ryan Reaves took First Star honors with a one-goal, two-point and four-hit effort).
Playing at home against a rival can cure many ails for a team that hasn’t found the win column in a while. With that and the Pens’ defensive issues in mind, I have no doubt the Flyers’ offense can come back to life tonight – but can they outscore Pittsburgh in what is sure to be a barn burner?
I’m leaning towards Philly earning two points tonight, but this game very well may boil down to which team scores the last goal.
Behind the stellar performance of First Star of the Game G Joonas Korpisalo, the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Vegas Golden Knights 4-1 at Nationwide Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
Korpisalo performed phenomenally, as he managed to save 37-of-38 shots faced (.974 save percentage) to snap his personal three-game losing skid.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have the offensive support he had either. It took only 16 seconds of action before Columbus had the lead, courtesy of a wrist shot from Second Star LW Artemi Panarin (RW Cam Atkinson and Third Star F Pierre-Luc Dubois).
The Golden Knights had an early goal of their own, as F Erik Haula (W David Perron and RW Alex Tuch) scored a wrister 90 seconds into the second period to level the game at 1-1. However, Korpisalo’s play ensured that was Vegas’ last tally of the night, setting up D Zach Werenski‘s (Panarin and Dubois) slap shot at the 8:01 mark of the frame as the game-winner.
Not only did Werenski score the game-winning goal, but he’s also entirely responsible for creating his scoring opportunity, as without him sealing the blue line, the puck would have escaped Columbus’ offensive zone. Instead, he slung the puck back to Panarin in the left face-off circle, who of course drew the attention of Vegas’ defense. With all eyes trained on the Breadman, he shoved a pass back towards the top of the zone to Werenski, who one-timed his clapper past G Marc-Andre Fleury‘s right shoulder.
Only 1:46 after the cannon was fired, it was reloaded and fired again when D Ian Cole (D David Savard and C Alexander Wennberg) buried a wrister to set the score at 3-1, the same mark that held through the second intermission.
With 2:21 remaining in regulation and Fleury out of his net for the extra attacker, Dubois (Panarin) set the 4-1 final score with a wrister.
Fleury took the loss after saving 17-of-20 (.85 save percentage).
It’s been a week since a road team has won in the DtFR Game of the Day series, but the 81-47-19 hosts aren’t complaining. They now have a 31-point advantage on the roadies in the series.
It’s another Sunday Funday in the NHL, as there’s a solid seven games on today’s schedule. With half of those games happening before prime time, you can spread your hockey throughout the entire day!
The action starts at 3 p.m. when a pair of games drop the puck (Nashville at Colorado [SN] and Philadelphia at Florida [TVAS]), followed an hour later by Chicago at Anaheim (NHLN). Vegas at New Jersey gets underway at 5 p.m., while a pair of tilts (Detroit at Minnesota [NBCSN] and Winnipeg at Carolina [SN]) waits until the usual 7 p.m. starting time. Finally, Columbus at San Jose closes out the evening’s festivities with their 9 p.m. tilt. All times Eastern.
In the list of today’s most intriguing narratives, I have only two games to offer – neither of which have exceedingly exciting headlines.
- Nashville at Colorado: Now’s as good a time as any to remind you that in the F Matt Duchene-C Kyle Turris trade, Ottawa was supposed to be the team getting the talent upgrade. Turns out the Sens were wrong.
- Vegas at New Jersey: D Jonathon Merrill was selected by Vegas during the expansion draft from the Devils, the organization he spent the first five years of his professional career with.
However, neither of those games really seem all that exciting to me. Instead, I’d much rather travel down to South Florida to see if these Panthers are for real or not.
There have been few teams better than the 34-20-11 Flyers in the last month of action. Since February 3, Philadelphia has earned an impressive 10-1-3 record to catapult itself into second place in the Metropolitan Division.
A major reason for the Flyers’ recent success has been their effort on the defensive end, which is wild to think about considering 21-11-7 G Brian Elliott and 8-7-3 G Michal Neuvirth are both on injured reserve to force four different goaltenders into action in Philly’s last 14 games.
However, a goaltender’s success almost always starts with the defense playing in front of him, and the Flyers have been pretty darn good in their own end. Led by D Shayne Gostisbehere (two blocks per game since February 3), D Robert Hagg (3.5 hits per game in Philly’s last 14 games) and D Ivan Provorov (nine takeaways over this run), Philadelphia has allowed only 31.14 shots against per game over its last 14 games – the eighth-best mark in the NHL since February 3.
That brings us back to the Flyers’ goaltending situation. Since arriving from Detroit, 3-1-1 G Petr Mrazek has been the Flyers’ starter. However, following his 7-6 shootout loss yesterday in Tampa, it would seem likely that 2-1-0 G Alex Lyon will be between the pipes today. He’s started two of Philly’s last 14 games, posting a .921 save percentage and 2.55 GAA to improve his season marks to a .903 save percentage and 2.88 GAA.
Of course, all this talk about the defense doesn’t mean the Flyers don’t know what to do with the puck on their sticks. In fact, Philly has scored 3.36 goals per game during this run, the (t)ninth-best mark in the NHL since February 3.
At the helm of this attack is none other than F Claude Giroux (8-11-19 totals since February 3) and Gostisbehere (0-15-15 in Philly’s past 14 games), both of whom are averaging more than a point per game during this Flyers hot streak. Giroux and Gostisbehere have united to score eight times in the past month, including the defenseman’s last three assists.
The 31-25-6 Panthers have been equally good since returning from a five-game, nine-day road trip, as they’re currently riding a five-game winning streak that includes victories over Washington, Pittsburgh, Toronto and New Jersey.
The biggest reason for Florida’s surge? The incredible play of 11-7-1 G Roberto Luongo. Even though he’s faced a terrible 33.4 shots against per game since February 22 (the 12th-worst mark in the NHL in that time) Luongo has posted a solid .922 save percentage and 2.71 GAA in his five starts to lead the Panthers to allowing a (t)third-best 2.4 goals against per game in that time. Luongo’s season marks now read as a .927 save percentage and 2.58 GAA.
Florida’s offense has also been stellar in the past week or so, scoring an average of 3.8 goals per game since February 22 – the fifth-most in the league in that time. C Aleksander Barkov (4-4-8 totals since February 22), W Evgeni Dadonov (3-5-8 over this run) and F Nick Bjugstad (1-4-5 during this winning streak) have been major parts of this surge, as they’ve all averaged at least a point per game over Florida’s past five games and show no sign of slowing down.
For those that like rubber games, today’s finale of the Flyers and Panthers’ three-game series is the one for you. So far, each team has hosted one game and earned a victory. Philadelphia won October 17’s game at Wells Fargo Center 5-1 (Neuvirth earned First Star honors with his 40-save performance), while the Panthers earned a 3-2 victory at BB&T Center on December 28 (F Jonathan Huberdeau provided the Panthers’ game-winning goal in the second period) to even the series at 1-1-0.
There’s much to be gained for both teams by earning two points today, but the most noticeable impact on the standings occurs if Florida emerges as today’s victor. Should the Panthers do anything better than lose in regulation, there’s a chance they could jump both Carolina and Columbus for the second wild card. For that to happen, both the Hurricanes and Jackets must lose in regulation today. Similarly, if the Panthers win while Carolina and Columbus earn only a point apiece, the Florida would advance into the East’s eight seed.
No matter what happens to Philadelphia today, it’s not budging from its spot as the Metropolitan’s second-best club. However, the Flyers can pull into a tie with division-leading Washington with two points, though the Capitals would win that tiebreaker with a game in hand.
There’s also a lot of action in Philly’s rear view mirror, starting with intrastate rival Pittsburgh. With today’s game being the Flyers’ game in hand on the Penguins, they’ll surely want to improve on their one-point advantage to ensure home-ice in the first round of the playoffs.
I’m expecting nothing short of a stellar game today between these clubs. However, the fact that the Flyers played to a hard-fought shootout loss yesterday while Florida was inactive, not to mention Lyon being in net will likely play a major role in this tilt. I think the Panthers earn two points today.
With three goals in the first period, the Washington Capitals beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-2 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
The Caps wasted no time in taking control of this game. With D Travis Dermott in the penalty box for holding F Jay Beagle at the 2:43 mark, Second Star of the Game F Evgeny Kuznetsov (Third Star C Nicklas Backstrom and First Star D John Carlson) scored a wrist shot only 67 seconds later to give Washington an early edge. Though F Zach Hyman (D Roman Polak) was able to level the game for Toronto only 1:30 later, an W Alex Ovechkin (RW Tom Wilson and Backstrom) wrister at the 6:19 mark gave Washington a lead it would not yield for the rest of the night.
That fact was cemented with 3:40 remaining in the first period when Backstrom (Kuznetsov and Carlson) scored what proved to be the game-winning goal. After F Dominic Moore earned himself a delay of game penalty at the 15:28 mark for launching the puck over the glass, Backstrom dug out a wrister in the crease to give Washington a 3-1 advantage.
For those wondering, the Capitals’ power play converted both its opportunities tonight, further proving it deserves every bit of its ranking as fifth-best after converting 22.5 percent on the season.
At the 7:22 mark of the second period, C Nazem Kadri (F Patrick Marleau and Dermott) scored a wrister to pull the Maple Leafs back within a goal, but Carlson’s (F Chandler Stephenson and Beagle) wrister only 43 seconds later returned an insurance goal to Washington’s back pocket. LW Jakub Vrana (Kuznetsov and D Dmitry Orlov) cleaned up the game’s scoring with 9:11 remaining in the second frame, scoring a wrister to set the 5-2 final score.
G Braden Holtby earned the victory after saving 27-of-29 shots faced (.931 save percentage), leaving the loss to G Frederik Andersen, who saved 20-of-25 (.8). At the whistle following Vrana’s goal, Andersen was lifted in favor of G Curtis McElhinney, who saved all nine shots he faced in 28:49 of action for no decision.
To be the home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series is to be a winner lately. The 78-47-19 hosts have won their fourth-straight in the series, taking a 26-point advantage over the roadies.
Nick checks in with Colby Kephart and Frank Fanelli (of Student Union Sports) on Radko Gudas’s suspension, the Buffalo Sabres, Philadelphia Flyers and Chance The Rapper’s SNL skit for the ages. Also discussed, the overabundance of outdoor games featuring teams that are obviously stuck in a revolving door of outdoor games.
And be sure to check out our newest extension of the product, DTFR Overtime, this week where Nick retroactively wrote about a topic from last week’s episode.
The Western Hockey League had a banner year in the 2017 NHL Draft. Not only was Nolan Patrick in the conversation to go number one overall from the beginning of the 2016-17 season until draft day (ultimately being taken second overall by the Flyers), but three of the first ten picks came from the league and the league had seven total first round picks.
For comparison, the Ontario Hockey League, which tends to get a lot more publicity because of its geographic location, only had one player taken in the top ten picks and had just five players taken in the first round. WHL alumnus Kailer Yamamoto, taken with the 22nd pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, has managed to stick with the Edmonton Oilers out of camp though the question remains whether he will stay past the 9-game mark, burning a year off his entry-level contract in the process.
While the Western Hockey League was typically known for a more physical and defensive-minded style of play than the junior leagues back east, as hockey has evolved, so too has the WHL. The league that gave us Cam Neely, Marian Hossa, Ryan Getzlaf and Dustin Byfuglien continues to churn out quality defensemen like Seth Jones, Ivan Provorov and Morgan Rielly, but it has also produced players like Tyler Johnson, Nino Niederreiter, and Yamamoto who don’t necessarily fit the WHL’s rough and tumble image.
NHL scouts are working day-in and day-out to find the next player that can be a difference-maker for their franchise, seeing 6-7 games a week. More and more they are also looking at advanced stats to supplement their knowledge base and provide them additional data points, though the data at the junior level isn’t always of a consistently high quality. By the time the season is over, these scouts will have spent enough time with the players to better understand their personalities off-ice in addition to recognizing a player from a passing glance at his skating stride.
So, what players should you be paying attention to now that the 2017-2018 WHL season is underway? Who are the players making a name for themselves out West that might have their name called by your favorite team next June? While the WHL isn’t likely to repeat last year’s draft performance, there are still some players to pay attention to as the year progresses. Defensemen Ty Smith of the Spokane Chiefs is clearly at the top of this WHL draft class, and is a possible top 10 in the NHL Draft. Smith is a bit on the small side, but moves the puck well and is always thinking a step ahead of the play. What sets him apart is his hockey sense. Smith has come out of the gates strong with 12 points in his first 11 games.
Outside of Smith, there are a few other players who might be first round material. They include Jett Woo of the Moose Jaw Warriors, Riley Sutter of the Everett Silvertips, and Alexander Alexeyev of the Red Deer Rebels. Woo is another defenseman who already is close to the playing weight he’ll need to be to compete at the next level and he’s a sound positional player. He’s very competitive and plays a physical game. Like Smith, he’s putting up good numbers to start the season with 9 points including an impressive 4 goals in his first 10 games of the season. He’s also a right-handed shot, which could help his stock.
Sutter is a big right wing at 6’3” and 205 pounds. The last name, no doubt, looks familiar to you and, yes, he is from that Sutter family. Specifically, he is the son of Ron Sutter. What was interesting, in speaking with one scout, was that Riley’s personality and playing style don’t necessarily match the expectations you might have based on his size and family name. He is a quiet, cerebral player who knows where to be on the ice and by the time the game is over you look down and notice that he’s had one of the best games of any of the players on the ice. In the early going, he has 11 points in 12 games including a team-leading seven goals. I’m hoping to get a chance to see Sutter play in person later this month.
Alexeyev is another right-handed defenseman, but he has the size that neither Smith nor Woo have at this point, standing 6’3” tall. He has an incredibly accurate point shot and, like Woo, he’s right handed. The biggest concern with the talented rearguard is how he comes back from a knee injury that required surgery and cost him half of the 2016-17 season. Further complicating things, an upper body injury has cost him several games this season, but when he has been healthy, he’s managed 3 assists in 4 games played. It will be interesting to see if his draft stock slips if injury keeps him off the ice for a substantial period of time.
It is still very early in the junior season and teams and players are still figuring things out. Beyond the four players I mentioned above, there are others who may seemingly come out of nowhere. Last year’s initial Central Scouting rankings didn’t have Cody Glass going in the first round, let alone the top 10. As the season progresses, I will be looking to see other players that emerge as NHL talents and to see how Smith, Woo, Sutter and Alexeyev perform.
Like most Wednesdays, the NHL is not exactly an active place this evening, as only three games will be contested. The action starts at 7:30 p.m. with Edmonton at Florida (SN), followed half an hour later by Washington at Philadelphia (NBCSN/TVAS). Finally, Boston visits Anaheim (SN/SN1) at 10:30 p.m. to act as this evening’s nightcap. All times eastern.
Do you know how long it’s been since we’ve featured either the Capitals or the Flyers? There’s no way we’re missing this rivalry!
For those looking for holes in the 39-12-7 Capitals‘ game, I wish you the best of luck. There’s a reason they lead the Presidents’ Trophy race, as they play extremely well on both ends of the ice. That being said, the main reason Washington has the best scoring differential in the NHL is because of their exemplary defensive play, which has allowed only 121 goals this season – the fewest in the NHL.
Of course, orchestrating that effort is 29-8-5 Braden Holtby, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner. Although it certainly helps to have an offense like the Caps do, Holtby has earned every win to his credit this season, as his .926 save percentage and 2.01 GAA are (t)fourth and (t)best in the NHL, respectively, among the 43 goalies with at least 22 appearances.
He also has the benefit of one of the best defenses in the league, too. Led by Karl Alzner‘s 112 shot blocks, Washington‘s blue line allows only 27.9 shots-per-game to reach Holtby’s crease, the sixth-best rate in the game.
The theme of sixth-best continues on the penalty kill, where the Caps neutralize 84.3% of opposing power plays. Just as he does at even-strength, Alzner is an unstoppable force when his club is down a man, as he leads the squad with 31 shorthanded blocks.
Oh yeah, and the power play is the better of the two special teams units. Scoring a goal on 21.8% of opportunities, the Caps are eighth-best in the league with the extra man. That effort is headlined by Nicklas Backstrom and his 23 power play points, even if it is Alex Ovechkin scoring all the goals (he has a dozen tallies with the man-advantage).
That’s a lot for the 28-24-7 Flyers to handle. After a good start to the season, Philadelphia now finds itself in sixth place in the Metropolitan Division and 11th in the Eastern Conference, three points behind Florida for the second wildcard.
A dried up offense is the main reason Philly has seen its stock drop so dramatically in the past month. At one point one of the best in the league, the Flyers have accounted for only a total of 154 goals this year – the 10th fewest in hockey. Jakub Voracek is trying his hardest with his team-leading 49 points – as is Wayne Simmonds with his team-leading 25 goals (both have registered a point in four of the last five games) – but the rest of the squad is in a major funk that will be difficult to break against tonight’s opposition.
Don’t let the overall drop in production fool you, though. The Flyers are still one of the best in the league – tied for eighth-best, in fact – on the power play, as they convert an impressive 21.3% of opportunities. Philadelphia employs a two-headed attack, as both Captain Claude Giroux and Brayden Schenn tie with 23 power play points for the team lead, but Schenn has been most impressive: 14 of his points are goals, the highest mark on the squad.
Tonight’s contest is the third in the four-game season series between these clubs, and both have won their respective first matchup on home ice. That being said, Washington still has a 1-0-1 advantage over the Flyers thanks to forcing a shootout before falling 3-2 on December 21. The last time they met was January 15, when the Capitals knocked Philly around for a five-goal shutout victory.
Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Philadelphia‘s Radko Gudas (192 hits [leads the team]), Ivan Provorov (124 blocks [leads the team]), Simmonds (25 goals [leads the team]) and Voracek (34 assists for 49 points [both lead the team]) & Washington‘s Backstrom (44 assists [second-most in the league] for 61 points [fifth-most in the NHL]), Holtby (seven shutouts [tied for most in the league] and 2.01 GAA [tied for best in the NHL] on a .926 save percentage [tied for fourth-best in the league] for 29 wins [fourth-most in the NHL]), Dmitry Orlov (+27 [ninth-best in the league]), Brooks Orpik (+32 [tied for second-best in the NHL]) T.J. Oshie (+24 [10th-best in the league]) and Ovechkin (27 goals [tied for seventh-most in the NHL]).
Only one team has a positive (read: bad) line next to their name tonight, and it’s the Flyers with their +138. Unfortunately for them, I don’t know if it would matter if they were hitting on all cylinders coming into this game, the Capitals are, as usual, just plain better than most every other team in the league. I figure Washington should win by at least two goals.
- Sid Abel (1918-2000) – Spending most of his playing days in Detroit, this forward played in the NHL for 14 seasons. It was a successful career, as three All-Star selections, the 1949 Hart Trophy and three Stanley Cups landed him in the Hall of Fame.
- Tim Young (1955-) – Selected 16th-overall in the 1975 NHL Amateur Draft, this center played 10 seasons in the league, most of which with the North Stars. His lone All-Star appearance was in 1977.
- Pat LaFontaine (1965-) – A long time Islander, this Hall of Fame center was the third-overall pick in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft. Although he never hoisted the Stanley Cup, he did play in five All-Star games and won the 1995 Masterton Trophy.
It’s hard to lose with a three-goal period, and the Blackhawks proved that with a 5-3 victory in Minnesota in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
Surprisingly for a contest that featured eight markers, the first goal of the game wasn’t struck until 20:58 had ticked off the clock. First Star of the Game Jonathan Toews (Brian Campbell and Trevor van Riemsdyk) takes credit with his wrist shot, but Second Star Mikael Granlund (Nino Niederreiter and Mikko Koivu) leveled the game 3:22 later with a power play wrister. Thanks to a wrister from Richard Panik (Toews) 41 seconds after Granlund’s tally, Chicago took a 2-1 lead into the second intermission.
You know how the goal song at the Xcel Energy Center is Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy?” That’s exactly what happened during the third frame, as five goals were struck. Third Star Nick Schmaltz (Toews) buried the first tally of the period only 33 seconds after it began, giving the Hawks a 3-1 lead. Zach Parise (Marco Scandella and Jason Pominville) pulled the Wild back within a tally at the 6:41 mark, but Toews (Schmaltz and Panik) buried the eventual game-winning backhander only 102 seconds later. Granlund (Niederreiter and Koivu) scored his second power play goal of the night with 6:51 remaining in regulation to once again pull Minnesota within a tally, but Toews’ (Schmaltz) hat-trick-completing wrister on an empty net sealed the Hawks‘ victory.
The winning ways for the 64-43-21 road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series won’t stop, as their four-game winning streak has propelled them to a three-point lead over hosts.
It’s our last Sunday of action before the All-Star break, and six different games will be played before the day is through. The action starts at 12:30 p.m. with the New York Rangers at Detroit (NBC), followed by Boston at Pittsburgh at 3 p.m. (NHLN/SN) and Columbus at Ottawa (RDS2) at 5 p.m. Philadelphia at the New York Islanders drops the puck at 6 p.m., followed 90 minutes later by Vancouver at Chicago (NHLN/SN). Finally, Nashville at Minnesota drops the puck at 8 p.m. as the last game of the day. All times eastern.
- New York at Detroit: Everybody loves an Original Six rivalry, right?
- Boston at Pittsburgh: NFL fans can treat this as a preview for the Steelers–Patriots AFC Championship game.
- Philadelphia at New York: Doug Weight hasn’t lost a game since taking over as coach.
- Vancouver at Chicago: Back when the Canucks were one of the big players in the Western Conference, their series against the Blackhawks was must watch TV.
The Eastern Conference is so tight that the Islanders, currently sitting in last place, could pull within three points of the second wild card with a victory tonight. Let’s head back to Brooklyn to see if the Isles are truly pulling something together.
It’s been two-and-a-half weeks since the 22-19-6 Flyers have been featured in the DtFR Game of the Day series. They’ve had a tough go of it during that span, including their current three-game losing skid. Due to those mistakes, Philadelphia currently finds themselves in fifth place in the Metropolitan Division and ninth in the conference, a point behind Toronto for the second wild card. The main reason? Goaltending. It’s allowed 148 goals in 47 games, which ties for the third-worst rate in the league.
As has been the case since the 2013-14 season after he was traded to Philadelphia, 14-15-6 Steve Mason has been the goalie of choice on Broad Street. Unfortunately, his .897 save percentage and 2.95 GAA are (t)41st and (t)37th in the league against 46 other goalies with at least 17 appearances.
Mason has to take full responsibility too, as his defense is doing all they can. Led by rookie Ivan Provorov‘s 92 shot blocks, the Flyers‘ blueline has allowed only 28.9 shots-per-game to reach Mason’s crease, the eighth-fewest in the league.
As expected, that issue continues to rear its ugly head on the penalty kill, where the Flyers‘ 80% kill rate ties for 10th-worst in the NHL. Philly has been shorthanded 145 times – the 14th-fewest in the league – but Mason’s .853 save percentage against the power play is 34th-worst.
The Flyers cover up for that deficiency by excelling on their own power plays. Successful on 21.8% of attempts, they rank ninth-best in the league. Captain Claude Giroux has been an important facet of that effort with his 21 power play points, but Brayden Schenn has been the most has been the most powerful goalscorer, with 11 man-advantage tallies.
As stated before, 19-17-8 New York is certainly down, but in no way out of the playoff discussion. Much of the issue this season for the Islanders has been their offense, which has managed 126 goals so far this season – the 15th-fewest in the league.
Captain John Tavares has been at the head of that effort with his 36 points. Impressively, most of those points have been goals, and those 19 tallies are also tops in Brooklyn.
The real offensive issue has been the Isles‘ inability to capitalize on prime opportunities. Converting only 14.6% of power plays into goals, New York is fifth-worst in the league with the man-advantage. Nick Leddy and Tavares have done all they can to help the cause with their co-leading 10 power play points, and Anders Lee joins the captain with five extra-man goals.
The penalty kill has also been a big issue for New York. Just like Philadelphia, the Islanders have stopped only 80% of opposing power plays to tie for the 10th-worst effort in the NHL. Calvin de Haan can’t take the blame for the team’s failures, as his 22 shorthanded shot blocks not only lead the team, but also tie for 15th-most in the league.
These squads have only met up one time previously this season, with the Flyers winning 3-2 in a shootout in early November on the same surface they’ll be playing on tonight. New York‘s goaltender that night was Jaroslav Halak, the veteran with 11 seasons of experience that currently finds himself playing in the AHL after clearing waivers.
Some players to keep an eye on this evening include New York‘s Thomas Greiss (.927 save percentage [sixth-best in the league]) and Philadelphia‘s Jakub Voracek (41 points on 150 shots [both lead the team]).
Vegas has picked New York to win tonight’s game with a -125 line. Personally, I like Philadelphia, based solely on their offensive and power play efficiency. Tonight could be the night they get out of their funk and return to winning ways.
- Bill Durnan (1916-1972) – This Canadiens-lifer may have only been in net for seven seasons, but they were some incredible campaigns. Not only did he win two Stanley Cups, he was also a three-time All Star and six-time Vezina winner, all adding up to a 1964 Hall of Fame induction.
- Elmer Lach (1918-2015) – Another player that spent his entire career in Montréal, this center played in just as many All Star games as he won Stanley Cups: three. The Hall of Famer was also the 1945 Hart and 1948 Ross winner over the course of his 14-season career.
- J.C. Tremblay (1939-1994) – This blueliner hoisted the Stanley Cup five times during his 13 seasons in the NHL, all with – you guessed it – Montréal. He also played in seven All Star games between his NHL and WHA careers.
- Serge Savard (1946-) – It seems if you want to play for the Canadiens, you should be born today, as this blueliner spent all but two of his 17 seasons in Montréal. As far as he’s concerned, seven Stanley Cups, four All Star selections, the 1969 Smythe and 1979 Masterton all adds up to a Hall of Fame induction.
- Mike Bossy (1957-) – Yet another decorated player, this right wing was drafted 15th-overall by the Islanders in the 1977 NHL Amateur Draft, where he played all 10 years of his career. He was a member of those infamous New York squads that won the Stanley Cup four-straight times, and also took home his share of personal accolades, including seven All Star selections, three Byng trophies, the 1978 Calder and the 1982 Smythe. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991.
- David Vyborny (1975-) – Drafted 33rd-overall by Columbus in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing played all his seven NHL seasons with the Jackets. By the time he left for the Czech Extraliga, he’d notched 317 points.
- Ben Eager (1984-) – Although picked 23rd-overall in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft by Phoenix, this left wing never suited up for the Coyotes. Instead, he spent most of his nine-year career in Chicago, where he was a member of the 2010 Stanley Cup team.
It took a shootout, but the Senators won last night’s edition of the Battle of Ontario 3-2 in the DtFR Game of the Day.
Only one tally was struck in the first period, and it belonged to the victorious visitors. Bobby Ryan (Marc Methot and Chris Neil) is the guilty party with his slap shot with 5:58 remaining in the frame.
Similarly, there was only one goal in the second period, but this one counted for the Leafs. Tyler Bozak (James van Riemsdyk and Second Star of the Game Nazem Kadri) takes credit with his power play snapper at the 7:31 mark of the frame.
Seven minutes into the third period, Matt Martin (Jake Gardiner and Kadri) scored to give the Maple Leafs a 2-1 lead, a lead they almost turned into a victory. Instead, Third Star Mike Hoffman (Erik Karlsson and Dion Phaneuf) buried his power play slap shot with 1:11 remaining in regulation to force three-on-three overtime.
Since neither club could find a winner in those five minutes, we were treated to a shootout. As the home team, Toronto elected to go first.
- If anything is alluding rookie Auston Matthews, it’s the shootout. His shot was saved by Mike Condon, lowering his shootout shot percentage to 16.7%.
- Ryan pounced on that opportunity for the Senators, burying his shot for a 1-0 lead.
- Mitch Marner answered the call for Toronto to level 1-1.
- Kyle Turris was next up for the Sens, but his shot was saved by Frederik Andersen.
- Next up for the Leafs was van Riemsdyk, but it seemed as if it simply wasn’t his night in the shootout as he blatantly missed the net.
- With an opportunity to clinch the bonus point, Karlsson attack Andersen’s net, but the goalie was up to the pressure and made the save.
- Bozak ended up being the final Leaf to take his turn, but his shot met the same fate as Matthews’: saved by Condon.
- First Star Tom Pyatt provided the winner. Making it more impressive, it was the first shootout goal of his NHL career in three attempts.
Condon earns the victory after saving 31-of-33 shots faced (93.9%), leaving the shootout loss to Andersen, saving 25-of-27 (92.6%).
Ottawa‘s victory is the second-straight in the DtFR Game of the Day series, which now stands in favor of the hosts by only four points with a 52-34-15 record.
It’s finally Friday, so sit back and watch some hockey after that stressful business week. The action gets started at 7 p.m. with two games (Toronto at the New York Rangers and Chicago at Washington [NHLN]), followed half an hour later by two more (the New York Islanders at Florida and Buffalo at Carolina). Columbus at Tampa Bay (SN/TVAS) drops the puck at 8 p.m., trailed an hour later by tonight’s co-nightcaps (New Jersey at Calgary and Winnipeg at Arizona).
- Toronto at New York: It’s another Original Six game this evening, this one taking place at Madison Square Garden.
- New York at Florida: Last postseason, the Islanders upset Florida in the Eastern Quarterfinals before falling to Tampa Bay.
Don’t tell anybody, but Toronto is only four points out of playoff position, and tonight’s game in the Big Apple will be a good test to see if they’re capable of acting on the opportunity.
The Leafs make their lone trip of the season to Manhattan with an 18-13-8 record. The main problem for Toronto has been their defense and goaltending, which has allowed 111 goals against – only the 15th-fewest in the league.
With the exception of six games, 17-9-7 Frederik Andersen has always been the man in charge of the crease for the Maple Leafs this season. So far, he’s saved .918 percent of shots faced for a 2.69 GAA, which ties for 18th and 27th-best among the 44 goalies with 17 or more appearances.
While Andersen has been far from impressive, he can’t shoulder the entire blame. The Leafs have allowed an average of 32.6 shots-per-game to reach Andersen’s crease, tied for the fourth-worst in the league. Morgan Rielly has given all he can and more to Toronto, as he leads the club with 67 shot blocks.
If the Leafs truly want to make a playoff push, I’d expect them to be active at the trade deadline to bring in a quality defenseman.
Although the Leafs have tied for the seventh-best effort on the penalty kill with a 83.6% kill rate (led by Roman Polak‘s 16 short-handed blocks), percentages can be deceiving. Toronto averages 11:35 penalty minutes per game, the second-highest in the NHL, and Andersen has struggled mightily. He’s allowed 19 power play goals to slip past him, which ties for the seventh-most in the league.
Fortunately, Toronto has been very successful on the power play. Led by William Nylander and his 15 power play points, the Maple Leafs bury the puck 22.4% of the time with the man-advantage, the seventh-best rate in the league. Nazem Kadri has been the one responsible for most of those situational goals, with eight to his credit (tied for the fourth-most in the NHL).
You know you’re in a tough division when you’re riding a two-game winning streak and have the fifth-best point percentage in the NHL, yet you’re still only in a wild card spot. That’s the position the 28-13-1 Rangers find themselves in, although that can change with a win tonight, as they could take advantage of Pittsburgh‘s two-game losing skid and jump into third place in the division. As they have been all season, they’ll be led by their dominant offense that has accounted for a league-leading 144 points.
Although it’s more than a two-headed assault, the main pair getting a lot of the praise right now in New York are Kevin Hayes and Derek Stepan, both of whom have an impressive 31 points to their credit. Of course, they’ve mostly been facilitators. The striker on this team is still Michael Grabner with his 19 tallies.
As you might expect, the Blueshirts‘ power play is no slouch. In fact, they’re third best in the league, successful on 23.2% of their opportunities. Ryan McDonagh has been at the forefront of that effort with nine power play points, but hasn’t been the one scoring the goals. That duty has been shared by Chris Kreider, Rick Nash, Brandon Pirri and Jimmy Vesey, all of whom have four power play goals.
Even the penalty kill has been impressive, refusing to yield to the opposition’s man-advantage 83% of the time, the 10th-best effort in the league. Kevin Klein gets to take a lot of responsibility for that ranking, as his 16 shorthanded blocks are tops on the club.
Some players to keep an eye on this evening include New York‘s Grabner (+22 [fifth-best in the NHL]), Nick Holden (+20 [tied for seventh-best in the league]) and Henrik Lundqvist (18 wins [tied for eighth-most in the NHL]) & Toronto‘s Andersen (17 wins [10th-most in the league]) and Auston Matthews (21 goals [tied for third-most in the NHL]).
Vegas has put a -137 next to the Rangers‘ name to indicate they’re the favorites this evening. It’s hard to argue with, given their success regardless of who they’re playing. Until Toronto can put together a full game on a regular basis, they will not be able to stand up to talented teams like New York.
- Art Ross (1886-1964) – It’s nearly impossible to fully summarize all Ross did. The defenseman won two Stanley Cups as a player, and tacked on an additional three as a coach or general manager for Boston. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1949, and the yearly award for the season’s leading scorer is named in his honor.
- Cesare Maniago (1939-) – This goaltender played 568 games over 15 seasons in the NHL, mostly with the North Stars. He completed his career with a 190-257-97 record on a 3.27 GAA.
- Kelly Hrudey (1961-) – Another netminder, the Islanders drafted Hrudey 38th-overall in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft. That being said, he spent most of his 15 seasons in Los Angeles en route to a 271-265-88 career record.
- Nikolai Khabibulin (1973-) – Drafted in the ninth round of the 1992 NHL Entry Draft by the original Jets, this goaltender would’ve been a steal 100 picks earlier. The Bulin Wall finished his 18-season career with a 333-334-97 record, four All Star selections and a 2004 Stanley Cup title while in Tampa Bay.
- Sergei Brylin (1974-) – The 42nd-overall pick in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft played his entire career with the club that drafted him – New Jersey. During that time, he notched 308 points to win three Stanley Cups.
- Marc Staal (1987-) – The middle Staal brother was the 12th-overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by the Rangers, and that’s where he’s played every since. Over his entire career, he’s notched a +40.
- Connor McDavid (1997-) – In only 88 career games, the first pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft by Edmonton has already notched 96 points. There’s no ifs about it: he will be the next superior player, if he’s not already.
- Ivan Provorov (1997-) – The seventh-overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft by Philadelphia, this defenseman has finally joined the Flyers this season. He’s made quite the impact, tying Shayne Gostisbehere with 19 points for most by a Philly blueliner.
Talk about an evening of comebacks. First, Third Star of the Game Taylor Hall made his return to Edmonton. Then, the Oilers scored a game-tying goal with 7:24 remaining in regulation to force overtime, which they used to beat the Devils 3-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
The lone goal of the first period belonged to Travis Zajac (Kyle Palmieri and Michael Cammalleri) and the visiting Devils. He tipped-in his shot with 1:54 remaining in the frame to put New Jersey ahead going into intermission.
Edmonton pulled the game back even almost immediately after returning to the ice. 16 seconds after the initial puck drop, Andrej Sekera (Second Star Leon Draisaitl and Adam Larsson) scored a snapper to tie the game at one-all. That draw lasted until 51 seconds remained in the second period, when Steven Santini (Hall and P.A. Parenteau) scored the first goal of his career. Once again, Jersey took a one-goal lead into the dressing room.
As stated before, the Oilers tied the game with 7:24 remaining in regulation off a wrister from First Star Patrick Maroon (Draisaitl and McDavid). Neither side was able to break the knot, so the game advanced into three-on-three overtime.
Only 1:50 into the five-minute period, Draisaitl (McDavid and Oscar Klefbom) ended the game in the home club’s favor with an impressive slap shot, his 16th goal of the season.
The Oilers‘ victory is the second-straight by a home club in the DtFR Game of the Day series, improving the hosts’ record to 49-29-14, 10 points better than the visitors.