Nick and Connor discuss John Tavares signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Crosby/Malkin vs. Tavares/Matthews argument, best and worst free agency signings and more. At this point, we’re also strangely optimistic about the St. Louis Blues.
Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the St. Louis Blues and their outlook for the summer.
One game. One game made all the difference for the St. Louis Blues in making or missing the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs and you’ll never guess what happened.
Yes, after compiling a 44-31-6 record, the Blues were ahead of the Colorado Avalanche by one point in the wild card race to secure the last spot in the postseason.
Despite a season-long lackluster performance in goal from Jake Allen (a career worst 2.75 goals against average and second worst .906 save percentage in 59 games played), St. Louis needed a win in any fashion in the final game of the regular season against the Avs to go up against the Nashville Predators in the First Round.
Instead, the club finished 44-32-6 on the season with 94 points– one point out of the wild card spot– and 5th in the Central Division.
Mike Yeo missed the playoffs in his first year as head coach of the Blues without any assistance from Ken Hitchcock and General Manager Doug Armstrong was left scratching his head.
2018 NHL Entry Draft
Fans were left scratching their heads after Armstrong traded hometown hero Paul Stastny to the Winnipeg Jets in a surprise move at the trade deadline in exchange for a 2018 first round pick (29th overall) and prospect Erik Foley.
Stastny’s dad, Peter– the famous Québec Nordique– was left stunned.
Armstrong replaced the first round pick that he swapped with the Philadelphia Flyers at the 2017 Draft as part of the Jori Lehtera, a 2017 first round pick and a conditional 2018 first round pick for Brayden Schenn transaction, but at the cost of one of the better faceoff-winning centers in the league.
With the 29th overall selection in this year’s draft, Armstrong will be left picking the best available or surprising everyone– yet again– and going off the board.
Hopefully for the better, considering the organization is teetering on the edge of a retooling/rebuild.
Pending free agents
What else is there to expect from a front office that’s had to move Kevin Shattenkirk and T.J. Oshie, while letting David Backes walk in free agency in years past, thanks to a tight salary cap situation?
Armstrong can make some sweeping changes by figuring out the future of St. Louis’s crease protection plan (more on that later), but he can also restructure the team’s offensive outlook by ridding themselves of some underperforming second through fourth liners.
Thankfully, the Blues have about $12.900 million to spend with the cap expected to rise this summer.
That’s not a lot to work with, but it can bring in a difference maker, while still providing enough room to work a deal that might send Vladimir Sobotka and his $3.500 million cap hit through the 2019-20 season (or an equivalent) packing via a trade.
Upshall has loved St. Louis and its fans have responded in kind, but the time is now for the Blues to make a clean break in this relationship. He’s averaged 17 points over the last three seasons. That’s not great with an aging roster.
Brodziak, on the other hand, has bounced back from shortened seasons due to injury and doubled his point total from 15 points (69 games played) in 2016-17 to 33 points (81 GP) this season.
At first look, keeping a 34-year-old that was trending in the wrong direction when he came to St. Louis in 2015-16 isn’t great, but Brodziak is proving people wrong as part of a comeback tour with the Blues (albeit lasting three seasons). If you don’t re-sign Upshall, you can at least afford to bring back Brodziak.
But we’ll see what kind of logic Armstrong is working with this offseason.
Fabbri, 22, had 11-18–29 totals in 51 GP, down from his 18-19–37 totals in 72 games in 2016-17. That’s still respectable as a bottom-six forward, however.
Jaskin, 25, had six more points this season in 25 more games played than in 2016-17. That means he had 17 points in 76 GP this season and 11 points in 51 GP last season. The Blues can move on if they’d like.
Sundqvist, 24, was acquired last June along with a first round pick as part of the Ryan Reaves trade and had one goal and four assists (five points) in 42 games for St. Louis this season. That’s not great, but he finally played the most games he’s ever seen in one season, since breaking into the NHL in 2015-16 with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Soshnikov, 24, had one goal and one assist (two points) in 12 games with the Blues after being acquired in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He also had no points in three games with Toronto this season and has 8-8–16 totals in 82 career NHL games since 2015-16.
Unless Yeo can perform a miracle as a head coach, there’s no point in seeing if anything’s left in the potential tank.
Schmaltz had one assist in 13 games this season. He clearly isn’t part of St. Louis’s current plan, leaving one of two options– stick around as a depth blueliner or not return.
Edmundson set a career-high in goals (7) and points (17) in 69 games played this season. Nice. He’s a top-six defender and should see another year or two in a sweater with a giant blue music note on it.
If anyone’s willing to take on all or some of Jay Bouwmeester‘s $5.400 million cap hit with one year remaining– provided the 34-year-old defenseman waives his no-trade-clause– then St. Louis should pursue that avenue.
Okay, now for the future of St. Louis’s goaltending.
Jordan Binnington, 24, is a pending-RFA and should get a chance at the NHL level.
Then again, Carter Hutton, 32, is a pending-UFA and outplayed the 27-year-old starter, Jake Allen at times this season.
If St. Louis is fine staying the course as a middle of the road team that’ll come up short for a year or two, then there’s no need to worry and Hutton should be re-signed and see more time in net to offset Allen’s workload.
But if any of that clashes with what Armstrong and the rest of his front office envisions for the club, well… that’s the million dollar question.
A rebuild is not out of the question, but certainly frowned upon, given how star-forward, Vladimir Tarasenko is in his prime now.
Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:
In a first, everyone (except for Jordan) appears on the Down the Frozen River Podcast to predict how the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs will go before the 2017-18 NHL regular season even ends, technically speaking. The 100th episode anniversary is informally observed.
Get ready hockey fans. Today has the chance to get wild.
With the exception of Pittsburgh, each and every team will be in action today, and most of those clubs (all but Boston and Florida) are playing their final game of the regular season.
The action starts with a 3 p.m. matinee featuring the New York Rangers at Philadelphia (NBC), a fun warm-up setting up the seven games (Chicago at Winnipeg [SN], Ottawa at Boston [CITY/TVAS], Montréal at Toronto [CBC/TVAS], the New York Islanders at Detroit, Buffalo at Florida, New Jersey at Washington [NHLN] and Tampa Bay at Carolina) at 7 p.m. Columbus at Nashville is the only puck drop scheduled for 8 p.m., with two tilts (Anaheim at Arizona and St. Louis at Colorado [NHLN]) waiting an hour before getting underway. Another couple fixtures (Vegas at Calgary and Vancouver at Edmonton [CBC]) find their start at 10 p.m., while the final pair (Dallas at Los Angeles [NHLN] and Minnesota at San Jose) wait half an hour before closing out this busy Saturday. All times Eastern.
With all those points on the line, any playoff spot not locked down has the chance to change hands. Today’s most important matchups include:
- New York at Philadelphia: As long as the Flyers do anything better than lose in regulation, they eliminate Florida and clinch a spot in the postseason for the second time in three seasons. What spot that’d be is anyone’s guess, as Philly could do as well as third in the Metropolitan Division or remain the Eastern Conference’s second wild card.
- Ottawa at Boston: Even with a game in hand, the Bruins are not in control of their own seeding. They need a win today and tomorrow – neither of which may come in a shootout – before they can even think about challenging for first place in the East.
- Buffalo at Florida: This game hinges on the Flyers’ result. A Philly regulation loss keeps the Panthers’ playoff hopes alive, but they still have to win today and tomorrow’s games – with at least one of those not requiring the shootout.
- New Jersey at Washington: A win ensures the Devils a minimum of the East’s top wild card, but they can climb into third place in the Metro if Columbus doesn’t earn two points or requires a shootout to beat Nashville.
- Tampa Bay at Carolina: As long as they avoid a shootout, two points for the Bolts clinches them the top seed in the East.
- Columbus at Nashville: Having already won their season series against the Devils, all the Blue Jackets need to clinch third place in the Metropolitan Division is a victory that doesn’t necessitate a shootout.
- Anaheim at Arizona: A win of any variety ensures the Ducks no worse than third place in the Pacific Division, but two points paired with a Sharks regulation loss propels Anaheim into second.
- St. Louis at Colorado: The second wild card is the only spot left in the Western Conference playoffs, and both the Avalanche and Blues are eligible.
- Dallas at Los Angeles: The Kings can do no worse than their current position as the West’s first wild card, but it’s still possible for them to jump all the way into second place in the Pacific.
- Minnesota at San Jose: With as little as a point, the Sharks will clinch second place in the Pacific – good enough for home ice in the first round.
No arena is going to be buzzing quite like Pepsi Center tonight, so it looks like we’re headed to Denver for an extremely important Central showdown!
The nice thing about this game is it’s totally independent of the rest of today’s action. Simply put, the winner of this contest is all but ensured a season that extends beyond 82 games.
However, on the last day of the year in the Western Conference, “all but ensured” just isn’t precise enough, is it?
Currently sitting in the second wildcard spot with a one-point advantage, 44-31-6 St. Louis has the inside track towards qualifying for its seventh-consecutive postseason. A win of any variety – or even a loss in extra time (more on that in a moment) – for the Blues this evening earns them a date with the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Nashville Predators.
The reason the Blues are in that second wildcard spot is due to beating Chicago 4-1 last night to snap their four-game losing skid. Having posted a 1-3-1 record since March 30, St. Louis is very fortunate to still be in playoff consideration.
As would be expected from a five-game run like that, issues abound with this Blues squad. For starters, the offense is struggling, managing only 2.4 goals per game since March 30 to rank eighth-worst in the NHL in that time.
The biggest reason for St. Louis’ sputtering attack is that both D Colton Parayko (6-29-35 totals) and F Vladimir Sobotka (11-20-31) are in significant scoring ruts right now. Even though both players have provided at least 31 points so far this season, neither have found the scorecard during this five-game run. Additionally, D Alex Pietrangelo (15-38-53) and F Alex Steen (15-31-46) have also had their scoring issues, as neither have played anywhere near their season .6 points-per-game form during this skid, having posted only a point apiece.
However, those skaters’ struggles pale in comparison to the horrid effort 27-24-3 G Jake Allen has put forth lately, and really for his entire season as a whole. Allen has posted an abysmal .869 save percentage and 3.85 GAA in his last four starts – well off the pace of his lackluster .905 save percentage and 2.74 GAA for the season.
For those wondering if the Blues’ defense is to blame, you’d be surprised to learn that St. Louis has allowed only 27.8 shots against per game in its last four showings – the third-best average in the NHL in that time. Even with the incredible play of F Kyle Brodziak (seven takeaways in his past five games), D Joel Edmundson (2.6 blocks per game since March 30) and W Dmitrij Jaskin (3.4 hits per game over this skid) in front of him, Allen continues to let pucks by at an alarming rate that would earn most goalies a demotion to backup.
The beauty of a hockey club always keeping two goaltenders on the active roster is the ability to turn to one when the other is struggling. Why Head Coach Mike Yeo hasn’t given starts to 17-7-3 G Carter Hutton more often is truly baffling. After all, Hutton’s .931 season save percentage and 2.09 GAA are both best in the league among qualified goaltenders, not to mention the fact that he earned the only win in St. Louis’ last five outings – last night’s 4-1 victory against Chiacgo.
I must admit, as a sided supporter of this club, I would have much preferred to see Allen play last night’s game against the Blackhawks – a game that ultimately didn’t matter considering the Blues could still qualify for the playoffs with a win tonight – and have Hutton ready to go today.
Unfortunately for Yeo and the Blues, they’ve made their bed and now they must lay in it – no matter the result.
As for the 42-30-9 Avalanche, they need something a little bit more than just any old victory tonight to qualify for the playoffs: they have to win this game in regulation. Neither overtime nor a shootout is acceptable for Colorado as, even though it’d be tied with the Blues at 95 points if it won, it would lose either the regulation+overtime wins tiebreaker (in the case of a shootout victory) or the season series tiebreaker (St. Louis has earned six points at the hand of the Avalanche, yielding only two).
As luck would have it, Colorado enters tonight’s game riding a similar 1-2-1 record since March 30. However, the similarities end there, as the Avs have been recording losses for far different reasons.
While the defensive skaters have not played exactly well lately – allowing an average of 34 shots against per game since March 30 to rank (t)sixth-worst in the league in that time – they’ve been more than bailed out by the excellent play of 18-13-3 G Jonathan Bernier. Having assumed starting duties since 24-16-6 G Semyon Varlamov went down with a knee injury, Bernier has managed a .905 save percentage and 3.26 GAA in his last four appearances – marks roughly in line with his .912 save percentage and 2.87 GAA for the entire season, especially when we factor in that the Avs have allowed only 2.75 goals per game since March 30 ([t]10th-best in the NHL in that time).
Instead, the biggest problem for Colorado lately has been its sputtering offense, which has scored only 2.75 goals per game in its past four outings to rank (t)12th-worst in the NHL since March 30.
It’s never a good sign when a potential Hart Trophy candidate gets held goalless for multiple games in a row, so one can only imagine the frustration F Nathan MacKinnon (38-57-95 totals) is experiencing right now during his nine-game goalless skid – his longest rut of the season. Further accenting MacKinnon’s scoring troubles, linemate LW Gabriel Landeskog (24-35-59) has also been held to only two assists during this four-game run.
A few more players that have had their issues lately include F Carl Soderberg (16-19-35 totals) and F J.T. Compher (13-10-23), not to mention a fractured patella that will keep D Erik Johnson (9-16-25) off the ice for the next six weeks. Compher and Soderberg are both riding six-game scoreless skids in their bottom-six roles, putting even more pressure on MacKinnon’s line to come alive and carry the team.
As mentioned before, Colorado has certainly had its struggles this season against St. Louis, as the Blues have posted a 3-1-0 record in their first four meetings.
The first matchup occurred way back on October 19, a little over two weeks before the F Matt Duchene trade that allowed the Avalanche to assume their winning form. With that in mind, it only makes sense that the Blues won that game at Pepsi Center 4-3 (D Robert Bortuzzo‘s first goal of the season proved to be the game-winner).
The last three games have occurred a bit more recently. Game 2 was scheduled for January 25 at Scottrade Center, where St. Louis earned a 3-1 victory (Steen earned First Star honors with his one-goal, two-point night). The Avs were back in Missouri exactly two weeks later, suffering an embarrassing 6-1 loss at the hands of the Notes (D Vince Dunn led the way with a three-assist effort).
That loss in particular surely stung, as Colorado made sure its last visit of the season to St. Louis didn’t end in a similar fashion. As such, the Avs won March 15’s showdown by a decisive 4-1 score (Varlamov earned First Star honors with his 44-save performance).
With this game boiling down to whether St. Louis’ goaltending or Colorado’s offense can return to form fastest, I’m going to bet on the home team with a day’s rest every time. Mix in the fact that I’ve trusted MacKinnon to bounce back far more than Allen all season, and the Avalanche look like as good a lock as any for the postseason.
With a 5-3 victory over the Dallas Stars at Honda Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Anaheim Ducks have jumped back into third place in the Pacific Division with only only one day of play remaining in the Western Conference.
If it weren’t for a disastrous first period for the Stars defensively, the score would have better reflected just how competitive this game was. Even though both teams managed only a goal apiece in both the second and third frames, Anaheim earned its victory by notching three markers in the opening 20 minutes.
Second Star of the Game W Jakob Silfverberg (First Star D Josh Manson and F Andrew Cogliano) got the scoring started early, burying a tip-in only 2:28 into the game to give Anaheim an early lead, and that advantage doubled to two only 4:05 later when F Rickard Rakell (C Ryan Getzlaf and C Adam Henrique) scored a power play tip-in with RW Alexander Radulov in the penalty box for slashing Getzlaf. Though D Marc Methot (Radulov and LW Jamie Benn) was able to score his first goal of the season to pull Dallas back within a goal with 8:47 remaining in the period, C Derek Grant (Silfverberg and D Hampus Lindholm) sneaked a tip-in past G Mike McKenna with only 20 ticks remaining on the opening frame’s clock to set the score at 3-1 going into the first intermission.
Scoring started to slow down in the second period, but that’s not to say there weren’t any important goals scored. In fact, the most important tally – the game-winner – was struck 4:36 into the frame courtesy of Manson (Getzlaf and W Corey Perry).
Perry deserves a lot of the credit for this goal, as it was him that intercepted Radulov’s pass along the blue line to spring a breakaway opportunity for Anaheim. Once Perry reached the right face-off dot in his attacking zone, he dropped a pass to Getzlaf who one-timed a wrist shot toward McKenna’s far post. The netminder completed the save with his right shoulder, but he left a juicy rebound that Manson converted into an easy backhanded goal considering McKenna had drifted beyond his crease.
Facing a three-goal deficit, the Stars got to work on the offensive end with C Radek Faksa (D Greg Pateryn and F Tyler Pitlick) potting a wrister at the 7:49 mark, setting the 4-2 score that held into the second intermission.
Whatever Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said in the dressing room, it obviously inspired Benn (D John Klingberg), who buried a wrister 2:52 into the third period to pull Dallas back within a goal of tying the game. However, the Stars’ inability to find that leveling goal paired with Cogliano’s (Silfverberg and F Ryan Kesler) wrister with 5:25 remaining in regulation ensured Anaheim two more points in the standings.
G Ryan Miller earned the victory after saving 23-of-26 shots faced (.885 save percentage), leaving the loss to McKenna, who saved 28-of-33 (.848).
The 102-54-22 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are now riding a five-game point streak – a run that has expanded their advantage over the roadies in the series to 51 points.
Tuesdays are usually one of the busier days in the NHL’s weekly schedule, and this one is no different as nine matchups are on tap this evening.
Like most nights, the action finds its start at 7 p.m. when Carolina at New Jersey drops the puck, followed half an hour later by two more (the New York Islanders at Ottawa [RDS] and Pittsburgh at Detroit [NHLN/TVAS]). 8 p.m. marks the start of a trio of tilts (San Jose at St. Louis, Minnesota at Nashville and Boston at Winnipeg), while Philadelphia at Dallas waits 30 minutes before getting underway. Columbus at Edmonton is next up at 9 p.m., while Anaheim at Vancouver closes out the night with a 10 p.m. showdown. All times Eastern.
Surprisingly, there’s only two games being televised nationally this evening even though there’s some interesting narratives associated with at least three…
- Pittsburgh at Detroit: After meeting in back-to-back Stanley Cups, the relationship between these teams and fanbases is – at least in my experience – one of mutual respect.
- Boston at Winnipeg: D Paul Postma is currently with the Boston Bruins instead of the Providence variety and, should he be active tonight, he’ll make his first return to Winnipeg since departing as a free agent.
- Columbus at Edmonton: After four seasons with the Blue Jackets, F Mark Letestu signed with the Oil in 2015-16. However, he’s since been traded back to Columbus, and this will be his first return to Rogers Place as a former Oiler.
As tempting as the Bruins-Jets matchup is – believe me, that’s going to be a stellar game – the fact that both teams have already clinched a postseason spot makes it a little less exciting. However, the Kings’ win last night booted St. Louis out of playoff picture, and it’ll have to beat a red-hot Sharks team to resolve that issue.
Due in large part to Columbus’ recent 10-game winning streak that just ended (at the hand of the Blues, mind you), 44-23-9 San Jose’s eight-game winning streak has not gotten the publicity it deserves.
Perhaps part of the reason for that is the Sharks’ schedule. No victory in the NHL is easy, but the fact that six of San Jose’s last eight opponents currently sit outside the playoff picture shows that the Sharks’ competition of late has been significantly less talented.
On the other hand, the Sharks would argue that they can only play the teams on their schedule in the order they come and that they are taking care of business during the home stretch of the regular season.
Either way, the Sharks have left little to doubt if they’re prepared for the playoffs. Earlier in the season, I had my concerns about San Jose’s playoff chances due to its less than exemplary offense.
The Sharks have put those doubts to bed over this winning streak, as their unbelievable 4.63 goals per game since March 12 has been the best mark in the NHL in that time, not to mention 1.2 goals better than the second-best Western playoff team (Anaheim) over that same stretch.
It’s hard to say which skater has been the most dominant during this eight-game run, as F Tomas Hertl has posted the most points with his 5-4-9 totals (21-23-44 for the season), but LW Evander Kane‘s gaudy 7-1-8 marks (28-25-53 for the season) have more than proven why his services were so desired at the trade deadline.
Whichever mark you think is most impressive, the best thing for San Jose is that neither player has participated on the same scoring play in Kane’s short tenure in Northern California. That means that each and every one of their points represents its own goal, so those two players have contributed to 17 of the Sharks’ most recent 37 scores. That’s over 45.9 percent of the offense from only two players, an impressive stat to say the least.
Of course, the story of San Jose’s attack doesn’t stop there, as second-liner F Logan Couture (4-4-8 totals since March 12, 31-26-57 overall) and third-pair defenseman Brenden Dillon (3-5-8 since March 12, 4-16-20 overall) are also averaging a point per game over this run.
That impressive offense has also yielded results on the defensive end, as the Sharks are possessing the puck so well they’re limiting opponents’ scoring opportunities. Pair that with Dillon (two hits per game since March 12) and D Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s (2.3 blocks per game over this run) defensive efforts, and you get a team that has allowed only 30.13 shots against per game over its past eight games, the 11th-best mark in the NHL since March 12.
No one has enjoyed that performance more than 29-18-6 G Martin Jones, who’s all but likely to be in net this evening. Jones has posted an impressive .919 save percentage and 2.38 GAA over his past seven starts, improving his season marks to a .918 save percentage and 2.45 GAA.
Between Jones and his skaters, the Sharks have allowed only 2.5 goals per game since March 12, the (t)ninth-lowest average in the league in that time.
However, it’s not just the Sharks that come into this game defending a winning streak. The 42-28-5 Blues have also gone five-straight games without suffering a loss, and they have all intentions of keeping their winning ways going at Scottrade Center this evening.
You’re hard pressed to find a defense playing better right now than St. Louis’. Led by the impressive efforts of W Dmitrij Jaskin (3.2 hits per game since March 17), D Colton Parayko (four takeaways in his last five games) and D Alex Pietrangelo (2.6 blocks per game over this run), the Notes have allowed only 25.2 shots per game since March 17, the best mark in the NHL in that time.
Similar to Jones with the Sharks, the biggest beneficiary of this performance has been none other than 26-21-2 G Jake Allen, who will be earning his 10th-consecutive start this evening. With help from the lightened workload, Allen has managed an impressive .921 save percentage and 1.97 GAA in his last five starts, well superior to his season statistics of a .908 save percentage and 2.68 GAA.
Between Allen and his skaters, the Blues have allowed an average of two goals per game since March 17, the (t)second-best mark in the Western Conference and league in that time.
While the Blues’ offense hasn’t achieved rankings quite as high as the defense of late, St. Louis still sports an impressive attack that cannot be taken lightly, as five players have averaged at least a point per game over their last five showings.
There’s been no better Blues skater lately than Pietrangelo. A captain that prefers to lead by example, Pietro has posted 3-5-8 totals since March 17 to improve his season marks to 15-36-51, the (t)second-most goals and 12th-highest point total among all NHL defensemen.
Joining Pietrangelo in averaging a point per game over this five-game winning streak includes F Jaden Schwartz (2-4-6 totals since March 17, 22-33-55 overall), F Alex Steen (2-3-5 since March 17, 15-30-45 overall), F Brayden Schenn (1-4-5 since March 17, 25-38-63 overall) and D Vince Dunn (1-4-5 since March 17, 5-17-22 overall). Altogether, the Blue Notes have averaged 3.4 goals per game over their last five games, the (t)10th-best mark in the NHL since March 17.
Of these teams, the Blues definitely need to keep their winning streak alive the most considering their precarious playoff chances (more on that in a moment). Unfortunately for them, they have not performed well against the Sharks this season, as San Jose has taken both previous meetings. San Jose won the first game at Scottrade Center on February 20 with a 3-2 scored (W Mikkel Boedker provided the game-winning goal), followed by a defensive 2-0 victory at SAP Center on March 8 (Boedker again provided the game-winning goal to earn First Star honors).
Should the Notes be able to keep Boedker off the board and buck that trend, they’ll catapult themselves into sixth place in the Western Conference, good enough for the first wild card (Los Angeles would fall to the second and Colorado would end up on the wrong side of the bubble).
As for San Jose, it currently sits six points behind Vegas for the Pacific Division lead and six points ahead of third-place Anaheim. With all three teams having six games remaining to play, anything is still technically possible, but it seems likely that the Golden Knights and Sharks are locked in as the top two seeds in the division.
I know who I’m pulling for in this game, but that’s not what you came here for. The Blues are awfully confident right now having beaten both Boston and Columbus in the past week, but the Sharks are definitely playing much better right now. This game might require more than 60 minutes, but I have a feeling San Jose walks away with two points tonight.
With a three-point effort, First Star of the Game F Jon Marchessault led the Vegas Golden Knights to a 4-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche at T-Mobile Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
After both squads played to a scoreless first period, Colorado let Vegas get on the board by committing a silly too many men on the ice penalty at the 4:06 mark of the second period. It took only eight seconds with the man-advantage for Third Star W Alex Tuch (C William Karlsson and Marchessault) to bury a snap shot to give the Knights the first goal. Though the Avalanche would eventually level the game 9:27 later courtesy of an D Erik Johnson (W Blake Comeau and W Matt Nieto) snapper, Marchessault (Second Star D Shea Theodore and Karlsson) would eventually find the game-winning goal with 5:44 remaining in the frame.
Barring a usually stellar offense struggling to find much success, the main reason the Avs lost is because of some boneheaded plays. This time, it was F Tyson Jost sent to the penalty box after earning a double minor penalty for hi-sticking F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare with 6:17 remaining in the period. 33 seconds later, Tuch was screaming into the offensive zone with the puck on his stick before slinging a pass towards the left boards for Karlsson. Karlsson reset the play to Theodore at the point, who tapped a pass along the blue line to Marchessault at the right point.
While all this was happening, Tuch was still at work setting up shop right in front of G Semyon Varlamov‘s crease to act as a great screen. After Marchessault advanced to the right face-off dot, Tuch leaned into the slot just enough to expose the near post, allowing the former Panther to tuck his wrist shot over the netminder’s left shoulder.
The Golden Knights cemented their victory with two insurance tallies in the final frame. Theodore (F Erik Haula and W James Neal) registered the first only 1:31 into the period, and Karlsson (Marchessault) completed the scoring on an empty net with 16 seconds remaining in regulation, setting the 4-1 final score.
G Marc-Andre Fleury earned the victory after saving 28-of-29 shots faced (.966 save percentage), leaving the loss to Varlamov, who saved 26-of-29 (.897).
Vegas’ home victory marks five-straight games in the DtFR Game of the Day series where the hosts earned at least one point, as well as a third-consecutive win. As such, the 93-53-21 hosts now have a 38-point advantage over the roadies in the series.
Everybody wants to say the current NHL confusion over goaltender interference is just like the NFL’s attempts to answer one of its most basic questions: “Was that a catch?”
Sure, both leagues have seen their share of confusion over their goal line judgment calls. The NHL is averaging about one goalie interference call a night, while the NFL couldn’t get through one of the greatest Super Bowls ever without the TV broadcast’s color commentator — a three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver, no less — twice misinterpreting the catch rule and opining incorrectly that the officials would overturn touchdown receptions.
But the guess here is that Joe Maddon might call it a Chicago soda tax situation.
Slide Rule Doesn’t Add Up, Either
Last October, the manager and his then-defending world champion Cubs were in Game 1 of the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers. On a replay review in the seventh inning of a 5-2 loss, Cubs catcher Willson Contreras — perhaps drawn toward the baseline to receive the throw home — was called for illegally blocking the plate, handing the Dodgers a run after it was originally ruled the baserunner had been thrown out.
Maddon, ejected while arguing the call, later said, “That was a beautifully done major league play that gets interpreted tantamount to the soda tax in Chicago.”
(See, that summer the local county government had instituted a penny-per-ounce tax on sweetened beverages. Caving to public pressure, the pols rescinded it in two months.)
“My point is,” Maddon added, “all rules created, or laws, aren’t necessarily good ones.”
Meanwhile, Back on Frozen Pond
The problem with the NHL rule — like all the others — is that it is either too vague or too inconsistently called, or both.
While it is important to protect goaltenders from getting run over, ambiguity is built into the interference rule, which contains subjective terms such as “incidental contact” and “reasonable effort.” And speaking of interpretation, the review process for interference challenges invites inconsistency. In such instances, the on-ice referee, while watching a variety of replays on a tablet and speaking to the NHL’s Toronto-based hockey operations department over a headset, is charged with making the ruling.
The evening of February 1 saw two particularly egregious no-calls:
- Blues goalie Jake Allen was ridden out of the crease by two Bruins before David Krejci tapped in a rebound for the first goal in a 3-1 Boston win.
- Vegas posted a 3-2 overtime win in Winnipeg partly because the Golden Knights’ Erik Haula scored after James Neal broke his stick against goalie Connor Hellebuyck’s helmet.
Yet, lest you think it’s open season on goalies, exactly one week earlier, a would-be rebound goal for an Edmonton overtime game-winner was waved off after young superstar Connor McDavid’s skate briefly snagged Calgary goalie David Rittich’s stick as he passed through the crease following the shot that started the sequence.
The inconsistency is maddening for players and fans alike.
“I think everyone just wants black and white,” McDavid said. “I think everyone just wants it to be goaltender interference or not.”
Meanwhile, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has seemed inclined to change little about the rule or its enforcement, except to encourage the officials to decide faster.
“Take a quick look, but don’t search it to death,” Bettman said of replay reviews during his annual All-Star Game presser. “The presumption should be the call on the ice was good unless you have a good reason to overturn it, and you shouldn’t have to search for a good reason.”
Players, though, will always search for an edge.
“If I’m a goaltender,” McDavid said, “I’m just going to start grabbing at guys’ feet and I’m going to start trying to sell it.”
Author bio: AJ Lee is Marketing Coordinator for Pro Stock Hockey, an online resource for pro stock hockey gear. He was born and raised in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, and has been a huge Blackhawks fan his entire life. AJ picked up his first hockey stick at age 3, and hasn’t put it down yet.
Fridays are the bomb.com. This one is no exception, as the league has eight games on the schedule.
Like most nights, the action finds its start at 7 p.m. when three games drop the puck (Detroit at the New York Islanders, Calgary at the New York Rangers and Columbus at Washington), followed half an hour later by two more (Los Angeles at Florida and Vancouver at Carolina). Next up is St. Louis at Winnipeg at 8 p.m., while Pittsburgh at Dallas (SN1) waits 30 minutes before getting underway. Finally, Edmonton at Anaheim closes out the evening at 10 p.m. All times Eastern.
In addition to those NHL tilts, the women’s hockey tournament at the Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang is also getting underway, as Japan is taking on Sweden in Group B play at 2:40 a.m. Eastern time Saturday morning.
Among the games that stick out, here’s a few I selected…
- Pittsburgh at Dallas: Drafted in 2011, D Jamie Oleksiak spent six seasons within the Stars organization. Tonight marks his first return to American Airlines Center since being traded in December.
- Edmonton at Anaheim: It’s a rematch of last year’s Western Semifinals! One team looks capable of making a return to that round, one… doesn’t.
- Japan vs. Sweden: I mean, this is hockey’s opening act of the 2018 Olympics we’re talking about here. How can this not be an important game?
However, there’s one more NHL game that sticks out above the rest, so it looks like we won’t be headed to Pyeongchang today. Maybe tomorrow!
In all honesty, if the Blues’ offense had performed yesterday like it did against Minnesota on Tuesday, we very well might be focusing on the Japan vs. Sweden game.
And that’s coming from somebody who will be wearing the Note at work this evening.
Instead, Head Coach Mike Yeo worked some magic with his line blender to lead his Notes to an explosive 6-1 victory against the Avs, the most goals they’ve scored in a game since another six-marker performance on December 9 in Detroit.
Don’t let C Paul Stastny‘s two points in last night’s game fool you: St. Louis’ top line is still a work in progress. In both instances when he found the scoresheet, he was the only forward listed, as he and D Vince Dunn assisted D Alex Pietrangelo to the captain’s second period goal and D Jay Bouwmeester and D Carl Gunnarsson assisted Stastny to his third period insurance tally.
Instead, it would seem that these new look Blues’ most dominant line might be its second, as F Patrik Berglund and F Brayden Schenn seemed to show some chemistry on the former Flyer’s second period goal. That line was completed by F Jaden Schwartz, whose +24 is (t)seventh-best in the league.
It will be interesting to see if Yeo lets his current lines play another game as they currently are (I’d put my chips in that pile) or if he’ll shake things up again tonight.
Though offense has certainly been a struggle of late for St. Louis, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been finding wins. In fact, the Blues have won seven of their past 10 games to hold on to third place in the Central Division and keep the surging Stars at bay.
Logic would lead us to believe the Notes have been one of the best defensive teams in the league during that run, but that’s only half true. The defensive skaters have been nothing worth writing home about considering their 30.9 shots against-per-game since January 16 is only 13th best in the league in that time, but 15-5-1 G Carter Hutton has been incredible in spite of that considerable workload.
Few goaltenders in the NHL have been as dominant as Hutton since January 16. He’s posted a 7-2-0 record in his past nine starts with an outstanding .95 save percentage and 1.47, improving his season numbers to a .944 save percentage and 1.7 GAA – both of which are best in the league. In fact, with the exception of G Tuukka Rask‘s 1.43 GAA since mid-January, no goaltender with more than six starts in that time even comes close to Hutton’s performance.
In other words, Hutton has been the Blues’ biggest weapon for the past two weeks – if not longer.
Of note, Hutton was in net last night in St. Louis for the Blues’ victory over the Avalanche. That leads me to believe the likely starter this evening will be 18-15-2 G Jake Allen, who has lost five consecutive decisions since December 27 with a combined .892 save percentage. If he does in fact draw the start, the Blues’ offense had better be prepared to keep pace with the Jets’ otherworldly firepower (aka RW Blake Wheeler, who’s 44 assists are sixth-most in the league).
Whichever netminder is in the crease, he has the unenviable job of trying to slow down 32-13-9 Winnipeg, who has posted a dominant 6-0-2 record over its past eight games to keep pace with the Central Division-leading Predators (the Jets are tied in points, but have one more game played than Nashville).
Of course, the Jets simply haven’t looked the same since C Mark Scheifele went down with an upper-body injury on December 27. In his absence, they’ve become a bit of a defensive team, allowing only 1.88 goals per game since January 20, the third-best mark in the NHL in that time.
While 28-6-8 G Connor Hellebuyck has looked extremely solid over this stretch (more on him in a moment), I’ve been most impressed with the efforts of his defense. Led by the efforts of D Josh Morrissey (2.9 blocks per game over this run), D Dustin Byfuglien and F Mathieu Perreault (both with seven takeaways since January 20, and Perreault with 2.1 hits per game in that time), Winnipeg has allowed only 29.5 shots against per game over this streak, the fifth-fewest in the NHL in that time.
With a workload that light, it’s hard for the league’s second-best goaltender in terms of wins to do much besides succeed. He’s started all but one of the Jets’ past eight games, earning a 5-0-2 record with a solid .934 save percentage and 1.94 GAA to improve his season numbers to .924 and 2.32, both of which are eighth-best in the NHL this season.
Halfway through the four-game series between these two clubs, we’re knotted at one game apiece with both teams winning their first home game against the other. St. Louis was the first to don its home colors, and Hutton shutout the Jets’ potent offense to a 2-0 victory on December 16 (Hutton’s three shutouts on the season are [t]seventh-most in the NHL). However, Hellebuyck and Winnipeg matched the Blues’ shutout with one of its own the next day (one of a [t]second-best five on the season), as the Jets won 4-0 at Bell MTS Centre.
In what looked like a battle of the offenses when the season started, this game will be decided by which offense can simply manage to muster up a goal against these two stellar defensive efforts. Since the Jets are playing at home this evening and they didn’t have to travel overnight like St. Louis, I’m leaning towards them earning two points tonight to surpass Nashville for the division lead (at least for a night) and pull within a point of Vegas for the Western Conference lead.
An explosive three-goal second period is all the Calgary Flames needed to beat the New Jersey Devils 3-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Prudential Center.
Since no goals were struck in the first period, First Star of the Game C Sean Monahan‘s (D Dougie Hamilton and D Mark Giordano) wrist shot 4:16 into the second frame gave the Flames a one-goal lead. Second Star F Taylor Hall provided an unassisted wrister only 3:07 later to level the game, but Calgary was just getting its scoring started. Third Star LW Johnny Gaudreau (W Micheal Ferland) reclaimed the lead with 5:27 in the frame, but it was Monahan’s (Gaudreau and D T.J. Brodie) second marker of the period that proved to be the game-winner.
Just like Flames play-by-play announcer Rick Ball said, “persistence pays off.” After receiving a pass from Gaudreau at the blue line, Monahan attacked up the boards and through the left face-off circle before trying to beat G Keith Kinkaid near side. His initial shot found the goal post, but Monahan’s momentum carried him behind the net to Kinkaid’s left, just in time for him to collect his own aerial rebound. He one-timed his own miss-turned-assist (I mean, it was intentional, right?) past Kinkaid’s glove, clipping the left goal post before finding the back of the net 1:55 before the end of the frame.
C Pavel Zacha (F Brian Boyle and Hall) took advantage of D Travis Hamonic‘s hi-stick against F Blake Coleman to score a power play backhanded shot 7:23 into the third period, but Jersey could not find a third goal to level the game.
G David Rittich earned the victory after saving 30-of-32 shots faced (.938 save percentage), leaving the loss to Kinkaid, who saved 22-of-25 (.88).
That’s three points in the last two games for road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. As such, they’ve pulled within 26 points of the 67-39-15 hosts.
Thursday nights are the best of the week in my opinion, and it doesn’t look like this one is going to disappoint with its dozen tilts.
The action starts at 7 p.m. with six games (St. Louis at Boston [TVAS], Florida at Buffalo, Philadelphia at New Jersey, Toronto at the New York Rangers, Montréal at Carolina [RDS/TSN2] and Anaheim at Ottawa [RDS2]), followed an hour later by Vegas at Winnipeg. Next up is Los Angeles at Nashville (NBCSN) at 8:30 p.m., while a trio of matchups (Tampa Bay at Calgary [SN360], Colorado at Edmonton and Dallas at Arizona) wait half an hour before dropping the puck. Finally, Chicago at Vancouver gets underway at 10 p.m. to close out the evening’s festivities. All times Eastern.
Without even looking at the standings, there’s a few games that should be extremely exciting…
- Philadelphia at New Jersey: It’s a pivotal Battle of the Turnpikes in the ultra-competitive Metropolitan Division!
- Toronto at New York: If an Original Six matchup doesn’t get you going, you’re like me and are from an expansion market.
- Chicago at Vancouver: Remember back in yesteryear (basically 2008-’11) when these teams regularly squared off in the postseason? Pepperidge Farm remembers.
Since I featured the Flyers yesterday, we’re going to avoid Newark this evening even though it’s certainly the most exciting matchup of those three. Since we also featured the Golden Knights Tuesday, I think we need to make a trip to The Bay State.
Every hockey team will claim that their season is a roller coaster, but the 31-18-3 Blues can definitely make that claim with a clear conscience. They started the season looking like a favorite to qualify for the Stanley Cup Finals, but have since dropped to third place in the Central Division with only six points separating them from an early start to the offseason.
While it seems F Jaden Schwartz‘ return is the reason the Notes are back on track (after all, his +23 on the season still ranks [t]fifth-best in the NHL), I’d argue it’s actually been the stellar play of 13-4-1 G Carter Hutton that is most responsible for St. Louis’ return to form.
Since mid-December, 18-14-2 G Jake Allen has been the definition of inconsistent – if not worse considering he won only one game in his last nine starts. As a result, he has ceded his starting position to Hutton for the time being, and the Blues have found far more success.
That is no less true for this winning streak, as the Thunder Bay, Ontario native has been nothing short of incredible in his last three starts. Allowing a total of only two goals, he’s posted a .979 save percentage and .67 GAA to improve his season marks to a .945 save percentage and 1.7 GAA, both of which are the best in the NHL among qualified goaltenders.
With netminding like that, it doesn’t take much for an offense to find success. However, Head Coach Mike Yeo isn’t complaining one bit about an offense that has scored a (t)12th-best three goals per game since January 23.
The attack has been largely spearheaded by F Alex Steen, who’s managed 2-2-4 totals in his last three games, improving his season numbers to 11-20-31. Tack on the fact that F Brayden Schenn (2-1-3) and D Alex Pietrangelo (0-3-3) both join Steen in averaging at least a point-per-game, and St. Louis is beginning to look like the unbeatable squad it showed at the start of the campaign.
However, all this success comes with an asterisk attached: the Blues’ last three games were all at home against Ottawa, Colorado and Montréal – none of which are currently qualifying for the playoffs.
That’s where 29-11-8 Boston comes into play, the second-best team in both the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference. The host Bruins will certainly be a good litmus test of whether the Blues have rediscovered the art of hockey or not.
Of course, there are few clubs in the NHL that have pulled off a victory against the Bruins lately. In fact, Tuesday’s regulation loss against the Ducks was Boston’s first since December 14, meaning the Bruins posted a 14-1-4 record in their past 19 games.
Talk about dominant.
But really, how good are these Bruins?
How’s this for you: When I compose these “Game of the Day” pieces, I use three primary statistics to determine how a team is trending – goals per game, goals against per game and shots against per game – comparing the current winning streak or losing skid’s numbers to a club’s season marks.
Since December 16, Boston has topped the league in goals for and against per game, while falling only behind Philadelphia – another team definitely on an upward trend of late – in shots against per game.
In other words, what haven’t the Bruins done right?
While its not miserable, there’s still room for improvement in Boston’s penalty kill, which has managed only a middle-of-the-road 81.1 percent success rate since mid-December.
One player who’s not responsible for Boston’s average penalty kill is D Zdeno Chara. Even at 40-years-old, he’s still one of the best players on the ice every night. In terms of the penalty kill, he leads the team in shorthanded blocks (10) and shorthanded takeaways (three) since December 16, putting youngsters like D Charlie McAvoy – who is literally half his age – to shame.
It’s a tough ask to beat the Bruins, but Anaheim showed St. Louis the blueprint Tuesday night in its 3-1 victory at TD Garden. However, even though the Notes come into this game riding their three-game winning streak, I don’t see Boston dropping two consecutive home fixtures.
They they trailed 2-0 after the first period, the Washington Capitals beat the Philadelphia Flyers 5-3 at Capital One Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
Everything went the Flyers’ way at the start of the game, as they registered both their goals before a full eight minutes ticked off the clock. F Nolan Patrick (W Wayne Simmonds) took credit for the first goal with a backhanded shot 78 seconds into the tilt, followed 6:32 later by F Travis Konecny‘s (C Sean Couturier) wrist shot to give Philly its two-goal advantage.
Washington finally got on the scoreboard 2:14 into the second period courtesy of a wrister from First Star of the Game F Chandler Stephenson (Second Star C Lars Eller and D John Carlson). Only 47 seconds later, the game was tied when Stephenson (D Madison Bowey) repeated his performance to beat G Michal Neuvirth, though this time it was with a backhander. W Andre Burakovsky (Eller) completed the period’s scoring with 5:28 remaining in the frame, burying a power play tip-in to give the Caps an advantage they would not yield for the remainder of the game.
Another Capitals power play goal was scored in the third period, and this one proved to be the game-winner. With Patrick in the penalty box for hooking RW Tom Wilson and D Robert Hagg without his stick (effectively meaning only 3.5 Flyers were on the ice), Third Star F T.J. Oshie (F Evgeny Kuznetsov and Carlson) took advantage of Kuznetsov’s pass from the right face-off dot to beat Neuvirth upstairs, setting the score at 4-2. Oshie’s goal snapped a 13-game goalless skid for the forward.
3:38 after the Capital One Arena siren stopped blaring for Oshie, W Devante Smith-Pelly (D Christian Djoos and F Jay Beagle) brought it back to life with what was then a second insurance goal. W Jakub Voracek (D Ivan Provorov and Patrick) made Smith-Pelly’s deflection a little bit more important with a tip-in of his own with 9:20 remaining in regulation, but the Flyers simply could not find another way past G Braden Holtby, letting the 5-3 score remain until the end of the game.
Holtby earned the victory after saving 27-of-30 shots faced (.9 save percentage), leaving the loss to Neuvirth, who saved 15-of-20 (.75). Following Smith-Pelly’s goal 9:06 into the third period, Neuvirth was lifted in favor of rookie G Alex Lyon, who saved all five shots he faced for no decision in his first NHL action.
The Capitals’ victory earns another two points for the 61-37-15 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, meaning they now have a 19-point advantage over the roadies.