Tag Archives: James Neal

November 19 – Day 47 – “Silver and gold”

As if 13 games on Saturday wasn’t enough, the NHL is keeping the party going today with five more contests to close out the weekend.

The action starts at 5 p.m. when the New York Islanders visit Carolina, followed an hour later by Colorado at Detroit. Ottawa at the New York Rangers (SN/TVAS) drops the puck at the usual 7 p.m. starting time, with tonight’s co-nightcaps – Los Angeles at Vegas and Florida at Anaheim – waiting 60 minutes before finishing the weekend’s activities. All times Eastern.

Two of today’s games have been scheduled on my calendar since the schedule was released this summer…

  • Colorado at Detroit: Hockey fans from the 90s probably vividly remember the games between these teams, with the most infamous of course being “Fight Night at the Joe” in 1997.
  • Ottawa at New York: Remember last year’s Eastern Conference Semifinals? The Rangers sure do.

…but neither of them strike my fancy like tonight’s activity out in the desert. Brush up on your poker, because we’re headed to Sin City!

 

 

 

 

 

 

In what may be the unlikeliest of scenarios, today’s matchup features the top-two teams in the Pacific Division. You know, the same teams that either have missed the playoffs two out of the past three seasons or didn’t exist this time last year.

Probably the most unexpected is the success of the 11-6-1 Golden Knights in only their first two months of play. No matter what bizarre situations they’ve been thrust into – including not one, not two but three goaltenders landing on IR in the month of October – the Knights have responded with the fighting spirit of a team with decades of history and prestige.

Most notably, Vegas plays some good offense. Like, really good. So good, in fact, that it tops the Western Conference and ranks fourth-best in the NHL overall in scoring, managing 3.56 goals-per-game. For those wondering, that makes the Knights’ offense better than those of Winnipeg, Chicago, St. Louis and a heap of other clubs not named the Lightning, Maple Leafs or Islanders.

The man behind it all? Probably Head Coach Gerard Gallant, but since he wears a suit instead of skates, we’ll bestow the honor upon second-liner W David Perron. The former Blue has scored a team-high 17 points to average .94 per game, due in large part to finding is way onto the scorecard in each of his last six games.

However, with 6-11-17 totals, Perron is largely a facilitator for the rest of his line. Instead, it’s been linemate W James Neal that has taken credit for a team-high 10 goals. Though not as hot as Perron, Neal is certainly feeling his offensive game of late, as he’s scored a goal in two of his last three games and is riding a three-game point streak.

Attempting to slow down this stellar offense tonight (well, this afternoon if you’re in Vegas considering it’s a 5 p.m. puck drop local time) are the division-leading 12-6-2 Kings. Fortunately for Los Angeles, it’s a team that hangs its hat on squelching opposing attacks, as it allows only a second-best 2.3 goals against-per game.

I’m pretty sure I say it every time we focus on the Kings, but the biggest reason for their success this season is the incredible play of 9-6-1 G Jonathan Quick. I’d change the story to keep things fresh, but it’s hard to take away from a netminder that has managed a .93 season save percentage and 2.31 GAA to rank in the top-six of his position.

Unfortunately for Quick, looking at his season stats hides the fact that he’s currently riding a four-game losing skid that goes back to November 9.  Over the course of these games, Quick has allowed a dozen goals – all at home, mind you – on a .91 save percentage.

Head Coach John Stevens definitely had this game on his mind this week, because he purposefully rested Quick in yesterday’s game against Florida – another strong offense, though nowhere near as good as Vegas’ – in favor of 3-0-1 G Darcy Kuemper. The first half of that decision paid off when the Kings beat the Panthers 4-0 at the Staples Center yesterday, so it will be interesting to see how Los Angeles travels.

The reason for Kuemper’s strong record is that the Kings’ defense plays differently with him in net compared to their usual starter. Kuemper has faced only 111 shots this season, which is 27.75 per start. Compare that to Quick’s 33.25 shots against-per-start and we see part of the problem. To help Quick get out of his rut, I think Stevens’ defense will play back this evening to alleviate some of the pressure off Quick and allow him to rebuild the confidence he may have lost over the past 10 days.

If that is the case, expect to hear W Dustin Brown and D Alec Martinez‘ names said a lot tonight. Though he’s no blueliner, Brown has managed three hits-per-game all season to lead the team and knows how to slow down opposing scorers. In addition, even if those goalscorers get a shot off, Martinez averages a league-high 3.4 blocks-per-game, so very little gets past him. If their efforts can motivate their club to take their defensive zone a little more seriously than they usually do with Quick in net, this Kings team should be fine tonight.

G Malcolm Subban was just activated Thursday from injured reserve, so it is possible he’s in net tonight. If he is, there’s a possibility he’ll show a little bit of rust – and I’d expect the Kings’ offense to pounce. If G Maxime Lagace holds his starting job for one more day, Los Angeles will need all of its (t)11th-ranked offense to get the job done.


Thanks to an offensive explosion in the second period, the Winnipeg Jets beat the New Jersey Devils 5-2 at Bell MTS Place in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Usually it’s a bad thing to score all your goals in one period, but the Jets seemed to do just fine by burying five tallies in the span of 12:27, four of which in only 3:50. Making the onslaught even more fun, all five Winnipeg markers were struck by a different goalscorer.

LW Kyle Connor (RW Blake Wheeler and C Mark Scheifele) got the party started at the 5:51 mark of the second period with the first goal of the game. Though F Brian Gibbons (F Blake Coleman and D Will Butcher) was able to level the score for the Devils 61 seconds later, it did little to dampen the Jets’ energy.

RW Patrik Laine (W Nikolaj Ehlers and F Bryan Little) reclaimed a one-goal lead for Winnipeg at the 8:06 mark, followed only 35 seconds later by D Jacob Trouba (Connor and Scheifele) burying his first goal of the season for what proved to be the game-winner.

Exactly a minute after the celebration for Trouba’s goal had ended, the Phone Booth erupted again for F Matt Hendricks‘ (F Mathieu Perreault and RW Joel Armia) wrist shot to set the score at 4-1. Perreault (Hendricks and Armia) completed the Jets’ score fest with a deflection 1:42 before the second intermission.

Butcher (C Nico Hischier and F Taylor Hall) registered the first goal of his career in the third period, but even the 12:46 remaining in regulation was not enough for Jersey to pose any more of a threat.

G Connor Hellebuyck earned the victory after saving 34-of-36 shots faced (.944 save percentage), leaving the loss to G Cory Schneider, who saved 17-of-22 (.773). He was lifted in favor of G Keith Kinkaid for the third period, who saved all 12 shots he faced.

Winnipeg’s victory is the second-straight by a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series. That improves the hosts’ record to 25-17-5, which his eight points better than the roadies.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #77- Boo: A Very Merry Boone Jenner Halloween

Nick, Connor and Cap’n address the news and notes from the past week of NHL action, discuss the demise of Antti Niemi, as well as take a gamble on the Vegas Golden Knights. The Los Angeles Kings are good (and lucky, according to Cap’n) and the Montreal Canadiens are bad (very bad). Also, Dwayne Roloson was 42 in 2011 (not 39).

Listen to this week’s podcast on our Libsyn page (and/or on your favorite podcast listening app that snags our RSS Feed).

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

The Golden Knights; What Are the Odds?

The gamble of putting a hockey team in Las Vegas is really paying off.

If you’re a hockey fan, you have probably heard all about the incredible start to the season for the Golden Knights, coming out of the gate with a 7-1-0 record. Fans from around the league are still asking the same questions, “Is this team the real deal?” At this point, it is honestly still too early to tell. If you are a fan of the team, you obviously want to flaunt this big run, but it’s a long season and anything can happen. Could they continue their great play, shock the NHL, and advance to post-season play? Absolutely, it’s a long season and anything can happen.

As a Bowling Green graduate, I had the opportunity to meet many famous Falcon Hockey alumni, as they came home to cheer on their alma mater. George McPhee was one of those individuals. It was the 50th Anniversary of the rink and there were many former players in attendance. I essentially had a checklist of people I wanted to “conveniently run into” for a quick picture and an autograph. When I saw McPhee, as I handed him a puck to sign, I found it within me to ask him a question about his new job. Very simply, I asked what we could expect from this new franchise. His one word answer was straight to the point, “Effort.” He went on to explain that his team would give their best effort and the results would take care of themselves.

Fast forward to a Las Vegas team that is now in the record books for the best start of any Expansion team and this conversation takes a whole new meaning. No one would have predicted this start, even the General Manager himself. He was right though. The Golden Knights are giving 110% and their hard work is paying off.

After their first few wins, particularly two against the Colorado Avalanche and another two over the winless Arizona Coyotes, the Golden Knights were simply taking advantage of their strength of schedule. A few games later and they have defeated the Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks; three teams that are legitimate Stanley Cup contenders (at least have been in recent memory). So is this the real deal? The way I see it, there are three potential finishes the Vegas Golden Knights could have. Let’s take a look and you can be the judge.

Option A: The Golden Knights Continue to Dominate

The expectations have changed for this team. Fans and players alike are starting to see that something special is brewing in Nevada and they want more of it. At this point, why doubt them? They could come back down to earth, but it’s more fun just to enjoy the ride. James Neal is having a career year, followed by the success of Reilly Smith and David Perron. William Karlsson is finally seeing some daylight after being towards the bottom of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ depth chart in previous seasons. Keep in mind they are winning games without Marc-Andre Fleury, who could be coming back shortly from injury. Their early resume is impressive to say the least, and if the players continue to push their limits, they really could tear apart the Western Conference. If you picked up the Golden Knights and put them in the Eastern Conference, this would likely be a different story. But, the schedule they have plays in their favor and you might be watching this team win a lot more than they lose.

Option B: Mediocracy is Ok Too

If you are an established franchise, you never want to shoot for average, but Expansion teams have completely different expectations. The coaching staff in Las Vegas probably established a goal to break even this season. Win several home games, play good hockey, grow the fan base, and get a decent draft pick. In their first season of play, that would be an ideal outcome. This is the most plausible result for the Golden Knights. In an 82-game season, things happen. Injuries, slumps, and trades are all problems that can derail a team’s season. The Golden Knights haven’t had to deal with much adversity so far this season. With the exception of their goaltending department, the Golden Knights haven’t had to deal with much adversity so far this season. It will come and we will see how they handle it. Regardless, don’t sleep on this team because they have shown they know how to win.

Option C: Tank… Tank… Tank…

The idea of a complete breakdown seems unlikely, but it is still possible. Their start to the season is great, but could the wheels still fall off? As we mentioned above, one major injury could completely change the course of the season. So far, Malcolm Subban and now Oscar Dansk have prevented this from already happening. The difference between success and failure is a very fine line in the NHL. One moment things are great, but then all of a sudden… something bad happens. The Golden Knights are on an incredible streak, but as we learned with last year’s Columbus Blue Jackets, winning doesn’t always last. The concept of tanking is really awful. Players should always go out and give their best, no matter what their current record looks like. The Golden Knights will fight throughout the season, but what will their result look like at the finish line?

Expansions teams are a unique topic. You are starting with brand new players, who typically have not played together before. There are really no star-caliber players on the roster, which means you can’t depend on one or two guys to take over the offense. Team chemistry, specifically among line mates, is a critical part of the game. All teams have to deal with questioning where they slot in the new players on their roster, but the Las Vegas coaching staff had to make those decisions for the entire team. So far, things have worked perfectly, but that could all change with the flip of the switch. Keep an eye on the Golden Knights because they could sneak up on the rest of the league. They are here and they appear poised to continue their success. Will the management go all in on this year’s team? We’ll have to wait and see.

October 24 – Day 21 – It’s Showtime in Las Vegas

It’s been a few days since we’ve had a busy schedule, but Tuesday fixes that by bringing us almost a dozen contests.

As it usually does, tonight’s action finds its start at 7 p.m. with four puck-drops (Arizona at the New York Islanders, Anaheim at Philadelphia, Edmonton at Pittsburgh [SN1/TVAS] and Tampa Bay at Carolina), with another set of three games (Detroit at Buffalo [NBCSN], Florida at Montréal [RDS/TSN2] and Los Angeles at Ottawa [RDSI]) waiting half an hour before getting underway. 8 p.m. brings with the start of two more games (Calgary at Nashville and Vancouver at Minnesota), trailed by Dallas at Colorado at 9 p.m. and Chicago at Vegas an hour after that to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

It’s hard to believe, but W Thomas Vanek hasn’t been back to Xcel Energy Center since being bought out following the 2015-’16 season. Though it might be fun to see him take on his former team, I’m actually more interested in tonight’s activities in the desert.

 

 

 

 

 

These two teams that are both second place in their respective divisions have become DtFR Game of the Day series favorites, as they’ve been featured a total of six times before tonight. So, when the Blackhawks make their first-ever trip to Sin City, what else are we supposed to do besides focus on their matchup?

Things have changed quite a lot for the 6-1-0 Golden Knights since the last time we featured them when they opened T-Mobile Arena to a 5-2 victory. For starters, they’ve actually lost a game (darn those Red Wings and their sneaky offense), but more importantly, it was that contest that cost them their starting goaltender.

G Marc-Andre Fleury was off to an impressive start with his new team, managing a .925 save percentage and 2.48 GAA through four games played. But in that Detroit game, he suffered a concussion that has sent him to injured reserve with no timetable for his return.

That’s pretty disappointing for an expansion team that’s proving everybody wrong. But, the story unfortunately takes another turn for the worse.

In the Golden Knights’ last game played on Saturday against the Blues, G Malcolm Subban – who himself was also off to a solid start to the season, managing a .936 save percentage and 2.06 GAA after being waived by Boston at the start of the year – suffered a lower-body injury that has also landed him on injured reserve for the next four weeks.

To put it lightly, things could be going a lot better in the Knights’ crease. Who is next up for a franchise that didn’t have a single player four months ago?

I’d put my money on G Oscar Dansk, who I expect will be making his first-ever NHL start tonight. He was the one who completed the Blues game for Subban. His career had a rough start, as the first shot he faced was a D Alex Pietrangelo game-tying slap shot, but he quickly rebounded to save the remaining 10 shots he faced in that game to win it in overtime.

But here’s the problem for Dansk: the Blues’ offense is nowhere near as successful as Chicago’s. Though the Hawks fire only a 10th-fewest 30.7 shots per game, they’re pretty accurate with those attempts, scoring a seventh-best 3.56 goals per game.

At the forefront of that attack is none other than Showtime himself, F Patrick Kane. Though he hasn’t scored the most goals on Chicago’s roster (that honor belongs to W Brandon Saad, who’s managed six in nine games played), his 4-7-11 totals are certainly best on the team.

And to think Kane, W Ryan Hartman and C Nick Schmaltz only play on the Hawks’ second line. There’s a whole ‘nother line of scoring studs Dansk has to worry about. With the likes of C Jonathan Toews and his 3-5-8 totals leading that charge, Dansk may just fall asleep in his crease at the completion of this game out of sheer exhaustion.

Assuming Dansk can hold his own, we’d be remiss not to at least discuss the play of G Corey Crawford. He’s been nothing short of exceptional, as his .945 save percentage and 1.86 GAA are both best in the league among netminders with at least four starts. If W James Neal (6-2-8 totals), W Reilly Smith (2-5-7) and co. can manage to get past him, they’ll deserve every bit of praise heaped on them.

Goaltending and clutch scoring have been the main reasons the Golden Knights have found success so far this season. Though it’s no fault of 23-year-old Dansk, he’s no Subban – much less Fleury. Upsets happen all over this league, but I think the Blackhawks will be very disappointed if they don’t depart Fabulous Las Vegas with two points in hand.


Scoring a goal per period was the plan for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and they executed it to a T to beat the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 at the Air Canada Centre in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The first period’s goal was struck 5:46 into the game from the unlikeliest of sources. Scoring his first of the season, W Matt Martin (D Roman Polak and First Star of the Game F Mitch Marner) buried a slap shot on G Jonathan Quick to give Toronto a lead it would not yield.

A power play wrist shot from C Tyler Bozak (LW James van Riemsdyk and Marner) with 5:16 remaining in the second period doubled the Leafs’ advantage to 2-0, but F Adrian Kempe (F Trevor Lewis and D Drew Doughty) pulled the Kings back within a goal 58 seconds later with a wrister of his own.

At the 2:54 mark of the final period, F Patrick Marleau (D Morgan Rielly and C Nazem Kadri) found what proved to be the Maple Leafs’ winning goal. Unable to corral a centering pass from Marleau in front of Quick’s crease, Kadri collected the loose puck in the far corner and sent it to Rielly at the point. From there, the blue liner one-timed a snapper well above the crossbar, but Marleau was there to deflect the offering past Quick’s right shoulder and into the net.

Third Star F Trevor Lewis found the back of Second Star G Frederik Andersen‘s net with 7:41 remaining in regulation with a backhanded shot, but Los Angeles could not find a leveling goal in the remaining time.

Andersen earned the victory after saving 36-of-38 shots faced (.947 save percentage), leaving the loss to Quick, who saved 30-of-33 (.909).

Toronto’s home win snaps a four-game winning streak by road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The hosts now have an 11-6-4 record that is four points better than the roadies.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #75- Captain’s Practice (with Cap’n Cornelius)

Nick and Colby are joined by the Cap’n this week as the trio discuss the Vegas Golden Knights home opener, bad starts for the Arizona Coyotes, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers and San Jose Sharks, as well as other thoughts around the league. The New York Islanders really need an arena and the Carolina Hurricanes really need some fans.

Listen to this week’s podcast on our Libsyn page (and/or on your favorite podcast listening app that snags our RSS Feed).

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

October 6 – Day Three – Welcome to the league

Man, a week goes by fast when there’s hockey involved. All of a sudden it’s Friday!

Speaking of, we have three games on the schedule tonight in anticipation of a 15-game Saturday. The action starts at 7 p.m. with the New York Islanders visiting Columbus, followed half an hour by Florida at Tampa Bay for Game 1 of the Governor’s Cup. Finally, Vegas heads to Dallas (NHLN/SN360/TVAS) to close out the night at 8:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

There’s only one chance for a franchise to play its first NHL game, so is there any doubt which game we’re featuring tonight?

 

 

 

 

 

Now that it is officially game day for the Golden Knights, allow us at Down the Frozen River to welcome Vegas to the NHL!

Officially, the process of bringing the NHL’s 31st team to Las Vegas began in late 2014 when Commissioner Gary Bettman allowed Bill Foley to test the season ticket market, though the league has had a presence in the city since the early 90s (not counting the bookies).

Over 13,000 season tickets and 18 months later, the Golden Knights were approved for business and preparing to start winning hockey games.

Unfortunately, history is not on their side in this contest. The last expansion franchises to win their opening games were Tampa Bay (7-3 against Chicago) and Ottawa (5-3 against Montréal) in the 1992-’93 season. Since then, expansion teams have gone a dreadful 0-6-1 in their first-ever regular season games, getting outscored 25-11 in the process.

Ouch. Maybe the Golden Knights can do better.

For them to buck the trend, they’ll need exemplary play from stars like G Marc-Andre Fleury, F Jon Marchessault and W Reilly Smith. Considering Vegas’ lack of an effective blue line and the prowess of the Stars’ forwards (more on them in a minute), Fleury’s job description is simple even though it’s not simply filled.

And it’s with that in mind that puts even more pressure on the Knights’ forwards. Given that Dallas doesn’t necessarily play the best defense in the league, Marchessault, and Smith will hopefully be able to find some chemistry on the top line with C Vadim Shipachyov to keep Vegas competitive.

In addition to playing their first game, the Knights are also bringing with them some the Stars’ old friends. In particular, C Cody Eakin spent the last five seasons in Dallas before being selected by Vegas in the expansion draft. During his tenure in the Lone Star State he registered solid 61-85-146 totals, but last season’s 3-9-12 performance was a drastic decline that forced General Manager Jim Nill to leave him exposed.

Speaking of Nill, now that Eakin is on the Golden Knights’ second line, he had the opportunity to make some much needed changes to the Stars’ roster. After finishing 15 points behind the eighth-seeded Predators last season, Nill was able to improve his team by adding the likes of G Ben Bishop, C Martin Hanzal, D Marc Methot and RW Alexander Radulov.

Pair that group of players, who should provide at least a 10-point improvement in the standings compared to last year’s team, with Dallas’ mainstays of LW Jamie Benn and F Tyler Seguin and you find a club that should have something to say about the Blackhawks winning the Central Division for a second-straight season.

Considering the poor history of expansion teams in their first regular season showing and the fact that RW David Clarkson, F Mikhail Grabovski, W James Neal and D Clayton Stoner are all on injured reserve, I’m not expecting much from the Golden Knights this evening. Instead, I’m going to be enthralled by what could be the best top-line in hockey (Benn-Seguin-Radulov) backed by the first number one goaltender Dallas has seen in years.


Of all the teams to make it a priority to defend their new home, I suppose I should have pegged Detroit, who beat Minnesota 4-2 at Little Caesars Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

After a scoreless first period, the Red Wings scored two goals in 23 seconds – both courtesy of their second power play unit. First Star of the Game W Anthony Mantha (RW Martin Frk and Third Star D Mike Green) claimed the honor of scoring the first goal in arena history by burying a five-on-three wrist shot with 5:20 remaining. Under normal power play conditions, that lead doubled 23 seconds later when F Dylan Larkin (Green and Mantha) tipped a loose puck past G Devan Dubnyk.

Not to be outdone, the Wild had a scoring blitz of their own, starting with C Joel Eriksson Ek‘s (W Chris Stewart and LW Marcus Foligno) wrister two minutes into the third period, followed by Stewart’s (F Tyler Ennis and D Kyle Quincey) wrister only 48 seconds later to level the game at two-all.

The tie lasted 4:19 before F Henrik Zetterberg (Green and F Tomas Tatar) found the game-winning snap shot on his stick. From between the face-off circles, he collected a Green pass deflected off W Jason Zucker‘s skate and fired it five-hole on Dubnyk to set the score at 3-2.

Frk (Mantha and Green) secured the win by burying a slap shot with 9:21 remaining in the contest, setting the 4-2 final score.

Second Star Jimmy Howard earned the victory after saving 37-of-39 shots faced for a .949 save percentage, leaving the loss to Dubnyk, who saved 27-of-31 (.871 save percentage).

After three games, road teams have a slight one-point advantage in the DtFR Game of the Day series with a 2-1-0 record.

Nashville Predators 2017-’18 Season Preview

Nashville Predators

41-29-12, 94 points, fourth in the Central Division

Eliminated in the Stanley Cup Finals by Pittsburgh

Additions: C Nick Bonino, D Alexei Emelin, LW Scott Hartnell

Subtractions: D Matt Carle (retired), F Vernon Fiddler (retired), C Mike Fisher (retired), D Brad Hunt (signed with VGK), LW Mike Liambas (signed with ANH), G Marek Mazanec (signed with Slovan), W James Neal (drafted by VGK), F Colin Wilson (traded to COL)

Offseason Analysis: Let’s get this out of the way: yes, the Predators can make a second-straight Stanley Cup Finals appearance.

Oh, you’re expecting something more in-depth?

Usually this is where we talk signings and other roster moves, but I think the biggest focal point for Nashville has been a constant member of its squad since 2008, a player that’s been among the top-nine at his position (measured by save percentage and GAA) since starting regularly.

In 2012-’13, G Pekka Rinne posted a solid .91 save percentage for a 2.43 GAA, but followed up that performance a season later with .902 and 2.77 numbers. 2014-’15 was a return to form for the Finn, earning himself .923 and 2.18 marks, but ’15-’16 was another lapse in play (.908, 2.48).

That brings us to last year’s performance to earn Nashville’s first-ever Campbell Cup. 31-19-9 Rinne posted impressive .918 save percentage and 2.42 GAA efforts, the (t)seventh- and (t)ninth-best performances, respectively, among netminders with 50+ starts.

What’s alarming about this not-very-well-hidden pattern is we’re coming upon an even-numbered playoff year. Last season was undoubtedly a good performance, so is this recurrence a forecast for this campaign or can Rinne buck the trend?

The answer to that question lies in Nashville’s defense, and what a corps it has in Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and co. Not only is this defense more than capable of providing an offensive presence (Nashville tied San Jose with 181 points from defensemen last season, tops in the league), but they were also adept at limiting Rinne’s workload. He faced an average of 30.1 shots-per-game, tying for 13th-fewest in the NHL.

No discussion about Nashville’s defense is complete without acknowledging Ryan Ellis’ offseason knee surgery that has him sidelined until January. He plays a vital role on this defense, having posted 16-22-38 totals and a +17 rating last season to go with his team-leading 137 blocks and 37 takeaways (second-most among Predators defensemen).

Providing only .19 points-per-game during his six seasons in Montréal, Emelin is no replacement for Ellis’ scoring contributions, but he’ll hold his own blocking shots having rejected 127 last season. Besides, Emelin likes to make his presence known in other ways than scoring – specifically by providing a nasty physical defensive force.

Considering he’s in a place nicknamed “Smashville,” he’ll fit in beautifully.

Offensively, Nashville signed two-time Stanley Cup champion Bonino from Pittsburgh (Like I always say: “If you can’t beat ‘em, sign their players.”) and Hartnell to replace Fisher and Neal, respectively.

This is Hartnell’s second stint in Nashville after being its first-round pick in the 2000 draft and wearing gold through the 2006-’07 season. Posting only .47 points-per-game last season, 2016-’17 was a down year for the 16-year veteran, so his one-year deal is relatively low-risk, high-reward for a club with over $6 million in cap space – especially considering youngsters Pontus Aberg and Kevin Fiala exist.

Instead, I’m intrigued by Bonino’s four-year deal to be Nashville’s second line center. It seems to make sense statistically to play Bones (.46 points-per-game for his career) at the position instead of Calle Jarnkrok (.35 points-per-game), but Bonino found his success on the Pens’ third line.

The difference between playing on the second and third lines is far superior to that between the first and second. So really, the question is if Bones is top-six material.

Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t. With Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in his way, Bonino never had consistent opportunities to play on a second line and showcase his ability. I think he’s best suited for the third line, but maybe he has a few tricks up his sleeve.

Offseason Grade: C+

Like students allowed to retake a test, this grade has the potential to improve after seeing the Preds’ final product. I will be the first to admit I’m wrong about Bonino’s second line abilities, but I want to see evidence that he is capable of playing the position. Beyond that, Nashville had very little it needed to improve. As long as they can successfully adjust to playing without Ellis – and then readjust when he returns – the sky should be the limit for this Predators squad.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #69- 2017-2018 Pacific Division Preview

Nick and Connor are mad that Jaromir Jagr still doesn’t have a contract and discuss many offseason storylines that have happened in the last couple of weeks. Leon Draisaitl‘s contract is broken down and the NCAA vs. CHL debate reignites, plus a 2017-2018 season preview of the Pacific Division. Also, we’d totally make Team USA.

Listen to the podcast here until we learn how to embed Libsyn files with ease.

Vegas Golden Knights 2017-2018 Season Preview

vegas_golden_knights_logoVegas Golden Knights

0-0-0, 0 points, 1st in only existing on paper as an expansion team

Additions: F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, D Jake Bischoff, F William Carrier, F David Clarkson, G Oscar Dansk, F Reid Duke, F Cody Eakin, D Deryk Engelland, G Dylan Ferguson, G Marc-Andre Fleury, D Jason Garrison, F Mikhail Grabovski, F Nikita Gusev, F Erik Haula, D Brad Hunt, F Tomas Hyka, F William Karlsson, G Maxime Lagace, F Brendan Leipsic, F Oscar Lindberg, F Jon Marchessault, F Stefan Matteau, D Brayden McNabb, D Jonathon Merrill, D Colin Miller, F James Neal, C Tomas Nosek, F David Perron, G Calvin Pickard, F Teemu Pulkkinen, D Griffin Reinhart, D Luca Sbisa, D Nate Schmidt, F Vadim Shipachyov, F Reilly Smith, D Clayton Stoner, D Shea Theodore, F Paul Thompson, F Alex Tuch, F T.J. Tynan

Subtractions: D Trevor van Riemsdyk (traded to CAR), D David Schlemko (traded to MTL), D Marc Methot (traded to DAL), D Alexei Emelin (traded to NSH), F Connor Brickley (signed with FLA), F Chris Thorburn (signed with STL), G Jean-Francois Berube (signed with CHI)

Still Unsigned: None

Offseason Analysis: The Vegas Golden Knights are set to make their NHL debut as the league’s 31st and newest franchise and fans are ready for action on the ice in the Sin City. With so many offseason transactions, it’s almost like George McPhee was trying to build a team or something! Oh, wait, that’s what he was supposed to do?

Love them or hate them (and really, who could hate the Golden Knights, because they just might have one of the best social media teams in the league), Vegas is here to stay and they came to play.

James Neal, David Perron, Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault (51 points in 2016-2017, led the Florida Panthers in scoring) look to lead their veteran core of forwards, while their 2017 1st round pick, Cody Glass, hopes to crack the NHL roster. Oscar Lindberg beckons to breakout, while Vadim Shipachyov aims to leave fans wanting more in his NHL career debut as a 30-year-old after having been a vital part of the KHL (26-50-76 totals in 50 games) last season.

Colin Miller looks to step up his role on the blue line and improve off of an impressive couple of seasons in Boston, while being surrounded by a bunch of other respectable top-4 defensemen.

Arguably their only weakness from the offseason, the Golden Knights have a defense with an average age of 27. That’s with the 11 defensemen currently on the roster before training camp, mind you, and it sounds about right for a team looking to hit the ground running with a defense in its prime.

However, McPhee selected Trevor van Riemsdyk from the Chicago Blackhawks, Alexei Emelin from the Montreal Canadiens and Marc Methot from the Ottawa Senators (three solid defensemen that would make a good core) only to trade them all away to Carolina, Nashville and Dallas, respectively.

It’s fair to say the 2017 Expansion Draft was the most expansion franchise friendly draft of it’s kind in NHL history.

It’s also fair to say the Golden Knights were average at robbing the 30 other teams in the league making their selections. Sin City’s adopted son, Deryk Engelland, is 35 and is not getting any younger. While he’s sure to attract the local crowd, Gerard Gallant cannot rely on him alone to carry the defense,

And Clayton Stoner and Jason Garrison’s combined salary cap hit of $7.850 million doesn’t look spectacular with the likes of Jon Merrill, Miller and Shea Theodore as pending-RFAs. Then again, despite their age (32) Stoner and Garrison are pending-UFAs themselves at season’s end, so it looks like everyone is playing for 1) their jobs in Vegas or 2) their next contract somewhere else.

Vegas’s defense is not bad, just not great.

Though the likes of Jake Bischoff and 2017 draft pick, Nicolas Hague, look promising down the pipeline.

Finally, there’s no question regarding their starting goaltender. Marc-Andre Fleury will surely be true to form in the regular season as one of the NHL’s top-notch goalies. Calvin Pickard is no competition for the starting job, but should perform much better than last year with the Colorado Avalanche because, at least this season, he’ll have a team defense in front of him.

Yet, the biggest question surrounding Fleury’s playing ability for the first time on a team not named the Pittsburgh Penguins concerns just how much playing time he’ll see.

Capping Fleury off around 50 games seems fair, given he’s no Braden Holtby (super elite, 70-plus games-a-season) and he hasn’t reached Henrik Lundqvist status (beginning to age out of playing 1,000,000 minutes– give or take– for the New York Rangers). But even leaving 32 games for Pickard to prove he’s worthy of future starter consideration seems a bit much.

Clearly McPhee identified something in Pickard that he wants him to be part of the team, but with a change of scenery for Oscar Dansk from the Columbus Blue Jackets– where Joonas Korpisalo is the surefire stellar backup to two-time Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky— to the open skies of Vegas, there’s a chance Pickard might have a run for his money.

In fairness, Dansk has yet to appear in a NHL game, but one thing’s for certain– the Golden Knights have a wide open opportunity to foster goaltending depth via healthy competition.

There’s really no telling how the team in Vegas will do in their first year of play. Owner, Bill Foley, expects to be a competitive team out of the gate, while reality might say otherwise (give them two or three years). Nevertheless, their offense is strong, their defense has room to improve and their goaltending is world-class.

One thing is certain, they won’t finish 31st in the league, but they might finish last in the Pacific Division.

Offseason Grade: B

They get a little extra credit for having built one of the better expansion teams on paper since the modern era (1990s).

Numbers Game: The Inaugural Vegas Golden Knights Season

The NHL’s newest franchise, the Vegas Golden Knights, are set to begin play in the 2017-2018 season and T-Mobile Arena is sure to be packed with 17,500 fans in the stands cheering on the league’s 31st team.

vegas_golden_knights_logo

But how many times will Golden Knights fans be on their feet in euphoria after a goal, big save or otherwise amazing play?

After careful consideration, Vegas selected their team from the other 30 NHL teams at the 2017 Expansion Draft, the 2017 NHL Entry Draft and via free agency, both before July 1st and since July 1st.

And after further careful consideration, I once again navigated Microsoft Excel to project some stats for the 2017-2018 Vegas Golden Knights roster. Players that have yet to play a game in the NHL are not included, since it wouldn’t feel right to predict something at a level of play that they’ve never seen before, so hold yourselves back a moment, Vadim Shipachyov fans. Give it until at least 20 games into the season, thanks.

Or at least until I can figure out how to use the forecast function for a player who’s yet to see the NHL a formula for KHL players bound for the NHL– or anyone that’s making their NHL debut.

Sample size must be kept in mind when approaching these projections. A player who scored one goal in six career NHL games over the last two seasons, having spent last season primarily in the AHL or as a healthy scratch is for some inexplicable reason, going to look promising on paper before an 82-game season begins because that’s just the way Microsoft Excel works.

This is by no means a shot at the professional ability of a player, as someone like *ahem, if you look at the chart* Brendan Leipsic. It is always plausible that Leipsic could pan out and make enough of an impression to stick around with the Golden Knights NHL roster and amass at least ten goals.

As always, keep in mind that I am no math major and you’re (probably) not a general manager, head coach, assistant coach or whatever might give you some credibility for statistical reasoning in hockey.

But if your name is George McPhee or Gerard Gallant and you’re reading this… ‘Sup? *slides résumé across the table*

And if your name is Jon Marchessault, then you’re in for a very fun season with an excellent followup to a 51-point season. Marchessualt is projected to amass 28-22-50 totals in his first season as the pinnacle of Vegas Golden Knights prime-age-driven offensive production.

Only James Neal (30-27-57 projected totals) is bound for a better season at the age of 29, which, for all intents and purposes of the today’s NHL is on the older side of a youth-driven offense, but still in the arch of a player’s prime. With only a projected six-point difference between Neal and Marchessault in expected scoring for Vegas, we’re all in for a treat in Sin City’s intra-roster battle for lead scorer.

The ever efficient, Reilly Smith, is in for a quietly successful season with 18 goals and 26 assists (44 points) in the latest projections (a seven-point improvement from 2016-2017 with the Florida Panthers). Smith’s familiarity and chemistry with teammate, Marchessault, fits brilliantly in the design of McPhee’s Golden Knights, especially with Gallant at the realm behind the bench.

While Smith provides an underrated star quality to the roster, David Perron looks to keep pace with last season’s 46-point year in his 2nd stint with the St. Louis Blues, by bringing in a 19-28-47 expected totals for Vegas in 2017-2018. Injuries aside, Perron puts up quality consistency for two or three seasons in a row and is in the midst of just that as the Golden Knights get out of the gate in their first season.

From the 2008-2009 season through the 2014-2015 season, Perron recorded 40-plus points a season with only two exceptions– an injury shortened 2010-2011 season, in which Perron only played 10-games as a 22-year-old member of the Blues and the lockout shortened 2012-2013 season, where Perron amassed 25 points in 48 games played for St. Louis.

In 2014-2015, mind you, Perron combined 5-9-14 totals in 38 games for the Edmonton Oilers and 12-10-22 totals in 43 games for the Pittsburgh Penguins for a 41-point effort in 81 games played that season. And in 2015-2016, the now 29-year-old split time among the Penguins and the Anaheim Ducks, so he’s been around the league enough to know how to bring some of the intangibles (a.k.a. veteran leadership/a locker room presence) to the expansion team in Vegas.

Check out what to expect from everyone on the Vegas Golden Knight’s inaugural season’s roster below!

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