Nick and Pete take a stand on video review, predict the rest of the Conference Finals and discuss the Buffalo Sabres new head coach.
If you didn’t learn your lesson from the First Round to the Second Round, hopefully you’ve learned it by now, because their is no “Third Chance Bracket”.
Yes, it’s time for the Conference Finals in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, ladies and gentlemen, and this year in the Western Conference it’s a familiar duo going at it again for the first time in three years.
P2 San Jose Sharks (46-27-9, 101 points) vs C3 St. Louis Blues (45-28-9, 99 points)
The San Jose Sharks trailed, 3-0, on home ice in the third period of a Game 7 against the Vegas Golden Knights in the First Round, but everything changed when Joe Pavelski went down with an injury and Cody Eakin was given a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct.
Sure, maybe the penalty was over the top and should have only been a two-minute minor penalty, but the Golden Knights also shouldn’t have ever allowed four power play goals against in a span of 4:01. San Jose took the lead, 4-3, then Vegas tied it in the final minute of regulation.
The Sharks became just the 2nd team in Stanley Cup Playoff history to erase a three-goal deficit and win in overtime, 5-4, as they eliminated the Golden Knights in seven games in the First Round.
Anybody see that coming? No?
But at the same time, we all had a warning sign when the Golden Knights blew a, 3-0, lead in the first period of Game 2 and the Sharks tied it, 3-3, heading into the first intermission. Though San Jose went on to lose that game, 5-3, it meant Vegas was vulnerable.
Since then, the Sharks rocketed back-and-forth with the Colorado Avalanche, ultimately coming out on top, 3-2, in Game 7 on Wednesday to advance to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2016.
The St. Louis Blues have been riding the back of their rookie goaltender, Jordan Binnington, since a little over four months ago as the hottest team in the league since Jan. 1st.
As such, the Blues defeated the Winnipeg Jets in six games in the First Round– despite both teams dropping their first two home games in the series.
St. Louis then faced the best goaltender (statistically speaking) remaining in the postseason, Ben Bishop, and the rest of the Dallas Stars in the Second Round.
They trailed in the series, 3-2, entering Game 6 in Dallas and stormed out of American Airlines Center faster than a jet with the series tied, 3-3, heading back to home ice for Game 7.
Tuesday night, the Blues fired 54 shots on goal. Bishop stopped 52 of them, but Binnington only allowed one goal against.
Hometown hero, Pat Maroon, scored the game-winning, series clinching goal in double overtime to lift St. Louis over Dallas, 2-1, and punched his team’s ticket to the Western Conference Final for the first time since… 2016.
That’s because San Jose defeated St. Louis in six games in the 2016 Western Conference Final. The Blues had home ice in that series and utilized Jake Allen in the crease until Game 6 when then head coach, Ken Hitchcock, elected to start Brian Elliott facing elimination.
This time around, the Sharks have home ice and St. Louis appears to have an answer to the Allen wrench– it’s Binnington.
Can they enact revenge and advance to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1970 or will San Jose make the trip back to the Final for the second time in franchise history– and first since losing in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final?
There’s good and bad news for both teams as Peter DeBoer prepares his Sharks to take on Craig Berube‘s Blues.
San Jose has made the postseason in 21 out of 27 seasons in their existence and Sharks fans have grown accustomed to usual playoff performers like Logan Couture (9-5–14 totals in 14 games played) on their ice at SAP Center.
But the Sharks have the added benefit of a three-way tie for the lead in scoring on their roster with Couture, Tomas Hertl (9-5–14 totals) and Brent Burns (5-9–14 totals) all having amassed 14 points through two rounds.
Not only that, but Hertl is tied with Couture in goals so far this postseason. It’s been a breakout year for the already star player in teal.
General Manager Doug Wilson landed the offseason’s biggest prize on the blue line via a trade with the Ottawa Senators back in September and his asset is paying off when it really counts.
Erik Karlsson may trail Burns among all Sharks defenders in points, but he does have 12 assists through 14 games and that’s good enough to lead his entire team in helpers.
DeBoer’s lineup is pretty deep with Timo Meier contributing three goals and seven assists (10 points) in 14 games and trade deadline acquisition, Gustav Nyquist, chipping in 1-7–8 totals from the top-nine.
San Jose has also had depth scoring from Kevin Labanc (three goals, three assists in 14 GP), Marc-Edouard Vlasic (three goals, three assists in 12 GP), Joe Thornton (2-4–6 totals in 12 games) and even Joonas Donskoi— who scored a goal for the first time in 35 games (regular season and postseason) against Colorado in Game 7.
Martin Jones (8-5 record, 2.72 goals against average, .910 save percentage in 14 games played this postseason) is having an old-school Stanley Cup Playoffs performance, whereby it’s not about the numbers, but rather how many games you win (and getting better as you go).
Backup goaltender, Aaron Dell (0-1, 3.33 GAA, .861 SV% in two games played this postseason) made a couple of relief appearances against Vegas, but was not required to save his team from the Avs.
St. Louis General Manager, Doug Armstrong, landed Ryan O’Reilly via a trade and important third line center, Tyler Bozak, in free agency last summer and built a roster that looked to be force coming out of the gate.
Things didn’t go so well from the get-go as then head coach, Mike Yeo, got his team off to a horrendous start and was replaced by the interim head coach (Berube) who has taken the roster from 31st in the league (dead last) as January began to the Western Conference Final as the calendar enters mid-May.
Jaden Schwartz (8-3–11 totals in 13 GP) is tied with Alex Pietrangelo (2-9–11 totals in 13 GP) in scoring on the Blues roster. While Schwartz is also a team-best plus-seven rating and leads St. Louis in goals with eight, Pietrangelo leads his team– both as the captain and– in assists with nine.
Selke Trophy finalist, O’Reilly has two goals and seven assists (nine points) through 13 games, but is a minus-five rating.
Worse, while Vladimir Tarasenko has five goals in 13 games, the usual star at Enterprise Center has yet to pickup an assist and is also a minus-five.
Maroon, however, has three timely goals and one assist (four points) in 13 games from the bottom-six and has helped solidified St. Louis’ all-around playing style.
Meanwhile, Binnington (8-5, 2.39 GAA, .915 SV% in 13 GP) has backstopped the Blues when it matters most, or rather, when he needs to since the defense is helping keep his workload relatively low.
The Stars only managed 30 shots on goal in Game 7– you know, a game that went into double overtime. Credit where credit is due to Pietrangelo, Colton Parayko, Jay Bouwmeester, Joel Edmundson and crew on the blue line in St. Louis.
The two teams split the season series 1-1-0, but as is a well-known fact of the postseason– it’s almost like an entirely new season altogether. Having home ice is one thing. Defending it is another.
St. Louis has their best chance to win the Cup in (well, it seems like this is said almost every year with Armstrong as their General Manager, but this year they mean it) years.
That said, San Jose has a lot of momentum working in their favor from the first two rounds after riding an emotional comeback and with the return of Pavelski to their lineup.
This series isn’t going to be a short one and the Sharks should pull off another seven-game stunner, cracking the Binnington code and advancing to the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in franchise history.
Except this time around, the Sharks are out for blood.
Regular season outcomes:
3-2 F/SO SJS at SAP Center on March 9th, 4-0 STL at Enterprise Center on Nov. 9th
5/11- Game 1 STL @ SJS 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS
5/13- Game 2 STL @ SJS 9 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
5/15- Game 3 SJS @ STL 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN360, TVAS
5/17- Game 4 SJS @ STL 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS
5/19- Game 5 STL @ SJS 3 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS*
5/21- Game 6 SJS @ STL 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS*
5/23- Game 7 STL @ SJS 9 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN1, TVAS
Thoughts on the conclusion and controversies of the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship, as well as a look at the schedule around the league as we near the All-Star Weekend festivities and bye week(s). Nick puts Connor on the spot and asks him some trivia questions that only went so well.
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:
Skater of the Week: Nathan MacKinnon
MacKinnon was the definition of an unstoppable force this week, and he encountered no immovable objects. With five goals (two on the power play, and two game-winners), six assists (also two on the power play), and 11 points in four games, his breakout campaign continues to the tune of 77 points in 57 games.
After notching a pair of goals and a helper on Monday against Vancouver, he put up 1-and-1 against Calgary on Wednesday, before leading his team’s 7-1 torching of Minnesota on Friday night with two goals and five assists to go with a flawless +5 rating (even more impressive when you consider one of his points was on the power play, meaning he was on the ice for six of the seven goals his team scored), before ending the week with a lone helper against Nashville.
With the Avs fighting tooth and nail for a playoff spot, they’ll need their former #1 overall pick to continue his immense play down the home stretch.
Tendy of the Week: Roberto Luongo
The Panthers are on an absolutely ridiculous run since the beginning of February, having won 11-of-15 games in that stretch, and Luongo (who returned from injury on February 17) has been a huge part of that. He’s lost just one game of the seven he’s played since his return, and this week was a perfect 3-0-0 for the Florida netminder.
Stopping 37-of-39 against Toronto on Tuesday, 29-of-31 against he Devils on Thursday, and capping the week turning aside 39-of-40 Philadelphia attempts on Sunday, Luongo finished the week with a .955 save percentage and 1.63 GAA as his Panthers now miraculously sit just one point outside of the final wild card spot in the east.
Catching the top three in the Atlantic is a nearly impossible task at this point, but if the other wild card teams falter (please not Columbus) and Florida continues this play, they’ll sneak their way into a very unlikely playoff birth.
Game of the Week: Philadelphia Flyers 6 @ Tampa Bay Lightning 7 (SO), Saturday March 3, 2018
I mean, this was one of those hilariously entertaining affairs that you know took years off the coaches’ lives but it was just so much fun that you couldn’t help but love it. I’m not even going to try and recap all the goals (there were 13 of them for god’s sake) but here’s what you need to know:
This was one of those rare cases where both goaltenders leave the game with numbers worthy of the waiver wire, yet somehow are also the stars of the show, as both of them made so many ridiculous saves that I honestly believe this game could have been an 11-10 final score. Two of the league’s most terrifying offenses just shelling each other with every weapon they had. Tampa came back from multi-goal deficits on two occasions, and Philadelphia had to erase a lead in the dying minutes of regulation to make it to overtime. Philly got a power play in overtime and Andrei Vasilevskiy stood on his head to survive the onslaught. Then ‘Mr. Automatic’ Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos burned Petr Mrazek in the skills competition to put away the orange menace and send the Bolts faithful home with big fat smiles on their faces.
Go watch the highlights, seriously.
News, Notes, & Nonsense:
Boy, Bettman. First no-showing the Olympics, then an epic snoozefest of a Stadium Series game on national television (to the point that apparently some markets turned off the game in favor of local news before it had ended). Really growing the game, aren’t we?
Max Pacioretty is likely to be out for 4-6 weeks with a knee injury, and could potentially be shut down for the remainder of the season. This, of course, would be ironic, considered his entire team has basically been shut down since opening night.
Seattle, answering the “Is it a true hockey market?” question with resounding vigor, sold out their initial 10,000 season ticket allotments in about 12 minutes, and had sold about 25,000 within a few hours.
The bad news continues for the struggling Blues, who have now lost Jay Bouwmeester for the remainder of the season to a hip injury. Starting to look like this could be a very entertaining offseason (read: someone drops a grenade in the front office) in the Gateway City.
Taylor Hall has now scored in like…a million straight games or something, so that’s pretty neat.
David Poile is now the winningest General Manager in NHL history, surpassing Glen Sather at 1,320 wins between his stints with Washington and Nashville. The only GM in Predators history has yet to win the Stanley Cup, but his Nashville squad looks like just about as good a bet as any this year, and a big shiny ring on his finger would likely put Poile in the all-time greats discussion.
1. Nashville Predators– 34-12-9 (77 points, 55 GP)
The Nashville Predators are amazing. They’re pulling off their spectacular season on the heels of last year’s Stanley Cup Final run with almost $3.000 million in salary tied up in buyouts.
They don’t need to add, but general manager David Poile still might work a little magic by adding without subtracting if he can. Mike Fisher, 37, is trying to come back from retirement because he believes Nashville’s time is now. Only time will tell if he can go from his current PTO to a one-year deal that just might get him his first taste from the Stanley Cup.
If Poile wants to add anything, he’s going to have to do so with about $3.200 million in cap space currently.
Potential assets to trade: Honestly, don’t.
2. Winnipeg Jets– 33-15-9 (75 points, 57 GP)
Injuries are beginning to mount for the Winnipeg Jets and it’ll be interesting to see what the GM Kevin Cheveldayoff does by February 26th considering his team’s current backup goaltender is 22-year-old, Eric Comrie. Their starter is 24-year-old, Connor Hellebuyck, who’s emerged as clear-cut starting goaltender this season (aside from his All-Star appearance back in January).
Winnipeg has about $5.400 million in cap space to play with as of this writing.
They are what should be a destination for rental players looking to take a team that’s on the verge of breaking out in the postseason deeper than they could ever imagine.
And the Jets have just enough to offer other teams to bring in the right pieces to the puzzle.
Potential assets to acquire: F Boone Jenner (CBJ), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Nick Holden (NYR), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Josh Leivo (TOR), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), F David Perron (VGK)
3. St. Louis Blues– 34-21-4 (72 points, 59 GP)
There’s almost $125,000 in cap space for the St. Louis Blues right now. While it’d be great for the Blues to add one or two of their missing pieces that’d send them right over the edge of victory (once-and-for-all), the better time to readjust appears to be this summer.
Besides, Joel Edmundson, Robby Fabbri and Carter Hutton will all need new contracts. Not that they’re going to cost St. Louis tens of millions of dollars, but it’ll likely mean that someone will have to get traded either at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft or later this summer.
Jay Bouwmeester is 34-years-old and has a $5.400 million cap hit through next season. He also has a no-trade-clause that could make things difficult for the foreseeable future, given that when the Blues are on their “A” game they can really make a claim for Cup contender status this season.
It’d be unwise to part with Bouwmeester now, but it only makes sense to do it later.
Just don’t get behind the eight ball is the best advice for St. Louis looking past the end of this month. Otherwise, salary cap hell isn’t all that fun.
Potential assets to trade: D Jay Bouwmeester
4. Dallas Stars– 33-20-4 (70 points, 57 GP)
The Dallas Stars currently cling to the first wild card spot in the Western Conference, though they trail the St. Louis Blues by two points for 3rd in the Central Division in what’s shaping up to be the tighter points battle in the West compared to the lackluster Pacific Division.
Yes, I’m fully aware Los Angeles did something to their defense Tuesday night, why do you ask?
The Central is all about racking up points while the Pacific bangs bodies off of each other in hopes of amounting to something more than your standard pylon.
So where do the Stars fit into the playoff picture? They should be in the running for at least a wild card spot coming down the stretch– and with almost $889,000 in cap space right now it’s going to be hard to add what they really need to push them over the hill.
While other teams in the league are searching for the right rental forward, the Stars should be looking for the right rental defenseman. Whether that’s a Mike Green or a Cody Franson, well, only Stars GM Jim Nill will know, based on what he must give up.
5. Minnesota Wild– 31-19-6 (68 points, 56 GP)
There’s good news and bad news for the Minnesota Wild as the trade deadline nears. The good news is that the Chicago Blackhawks are more than likely taking a pass on this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. The bad news is the Wild might do that too (oh, and Minnesota only has about $129,000 in cap room– with Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba as pending-RFAs this July).
For all of the talk regarding trading Jonas Brodin, there sure hasn’t been any radio chatter this time around as the deadline nears this month.
Though the Wild hold on to the second wild card spot in the Western Conference, there’s at least two California based teams (Los Angeles and Anaheim) that should be in the playoff picture coming down the wire.
If it’s make or break, then Minnesota has all the time in the world to wait and see what’s to come this summer.
But if they’re on the fence about determining whether to buy or sell, well, they could do a bit of both. If they’re looking for a quick retool, it’s within their means, but if they’re content with sinking before they swim, there’s always the reset (rebuild) button.
Potential assets to acquire: D Cody Franson (CHI), F Jordan Kyrou (STL), D Ben Hutton (VAN)
6. Colorado Avalanche– 31-21-4 (66 points, 56 GP)
In theory, the Colorado Avalanche could be buyers at this year’s trade deadline.
They’re in great shape cap-wise, with about $8.400 million to spend currently, but Avalanche general manager, Joe Sakic, knows it by now– the best thing to do for Colorado is let their youth gain experience, make minor moves until the offseason, then address specific needs.
Colorado has expendable components, but cannot touch its core.
With Matt Duchene out of the picture, the focus has turned to making the Avs– in every way– Nathan MacKinnon‘s team. Gabriel Landeskog‘s just along for the ride at this point. If he’s patient, many rewards may find their way to the Mile-High City. If he’s sick of waiting, Sakic might be forced to reap another surplus of players, picks and prospects like he did in the three-way Duchene deal.
After Francois Beauchemin‘s $4.500 million buyout penalty comes off the books at season’s end, the Avalanche will have at least $13 million to spend on giving backup-turned-potential-starting goaltender, Jonathan Bernier, a fair raise while also making decisions on several pending-RFAs.
Potential assets to acquire: Literally anyone, F Jeff Skinner (CAR), F Boone Jenner (CBJ), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), G Petr Mrazek (DET), F Gustav Nyqvist (DET), F Tomas Plekanec (MTL), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Rick Nash (NYR), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Josh Leivo (TOR), F Nikita Soshnikov (TOR), D Ben Hutton (VAN), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK), F Nic Petan (WPG)
7. Chicago Blackhawks– 24-25-8 (56 points, 57 GP)
Reward contracts have killed the Chicago Blackhawks dynasty. This is what drives parity in a salary cap league (see “Detroit Red Wings downfall since 1998, thanks to 2004-05”), so once again, welcome to the Salary Cap Era.
Depending on your methods of calculation, the Blackhawks will either have $0 to spend at the deadline or maybe up to about $3.100 million in wiggle room.
Regardless, they’re not buying this year. They’re buying for the future– so draft picks and prospects. One thing that might get in their way (other than the salary cap) is what they have to offer.
Large reward contracts were handed out to Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews while Duncan Keith took a discount. Marian Hossa is on the books at a cap hit of $5.275 million through the end of the 2020-21 season, whether he plays or not.
If Hossa never plays again, Chicago can always place him on the long-term injured reserve (eh, just paperwork), buyout his contract (yikes) or trade him to a team like the Arizona Coyotes (preferable) who took on the large salary of Pavel Datsyuk in his final NHL-contract year just to meet the cap floor, knowing he had jettisoned for the KHL.
The bottom line is Chicago’s cash-strapped. Someone important is going to have to be dealt in order to protect the organization’s future endeavors.
With Toews and Kane at a combined $21.000 million cap hit through the 2022-23 season, unless the cap rises significantly, this just might keep the Blackhawks down in the dumps for a while.
Potential assets to acquire: Draft picks, prospects and cap room
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.
With 11 games on today’s schedule, odds are good that your favorite club is in action today. Make sure to head to the rink!
The day’s action finds an early 2 p.m. start when Edmonton visits Minnesota, and the New York Rangers at Boston cleans up the matinee slate at 5 p.m. Five contests (Winnipeg at St. Louis [CITY], Montréal at Ottawa [CBC/NBCSN/SN/TVAS], Los Angeles at the New York Islanders, Dallas at Philadelphia and Columbus at Carolina) drop the puck at the usual 7 p.m. starting time, followed by two more (Pittsburgh at Arizona and Anaheim at Washington) an hour later. 9 p.m. marks the beginning of Tampa Bay at Colorado, while tonight’s nightcap – Nashville at Calgary (CBC/SN) – waits until 10 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.
Two games stuck out to me at the beginning of the season…
- New York at Boston: There’s nothing more fun than an Original Six matchup between two playoff hopefuls, right?
- Montréal at Ottawa: Not only will this have the usual energy of a Habs-Sens rivalry game, but it’s also the NHL 100 Classic, which is being played at
TD Place StadiumLansdowne Park, home of the CFL’s Ottawa Redblacks.
However, it’s just too hard to ignore today’s action in Missouri, where the second and third-place teams in the Central Division are beginning a home-and-home series.
Considering the Jets’ seventh-ranked offense last season, I don’t know if Winnipeg earning a 18-9-5 record qualifies as a surprise or not, but they’re certainly not complaining about third place in the Central Division.
That offense has only improved this campaign, as the Jets have managed an intimidating 3.34 goals to rank fourth-best in the NHL behind the Bolts, Isles and Knights.
That solid effort has been headlined by Winnipeg’s first line, specifically C Mark Scheifele (14-21-35 totals) and RW Blake Wheeler (8-30-38). They’ve formed a fantastic partnership this season, as they’ve both earned a point on 24 of the Jets’ 107 goals on the year (22.4 percent).
If the Jets’ offense is scary, their dominant power play is straight up deadly. Led by Wheeler’s team-leading 16 points on the man-advantage, the Manitobans have converted 26.31 percent of their opponent’s penalties into goals, a rate that trails only Tampa and Nashville.
Wheeler might be the primary play maker on special teams, but its his partner RW Patrik Laine that has been the most frightening in that situation to opposing goaltenders (4-2-0 G Carter Hutton, in today’s case). He’s buried nine power play goals already this season, which is tied with F Filip Forsberg for most in the NHL.
Given the unenviable task of trying to slow the Jets down is 21-10-2 St. Louis, a team currently in second place in the division even though it is riding a two-game losing skid.
After being the class of the Western Conference for the first two months of the season, the Blues have caught the dreaded injury bug this week. Though the previously mentioned Hutton is back after his short stint on injured reserve, D Jay Bouwmeester, D Alex Pietrangelo and F Jaden Schwartz have replaced him.
Bouwmeester missing is certainly an issue in the defensive end, but Head Coach Mike Yeo seems to be struggling to find a solution for Pietrangelo and Schwartz missing on the offensive end. They’ve combined for 58 points – including 21 goals – to help the Blues manage 3.12 goals-per-game (the [t]eighth-best effort in the NHL) on the season.
However, during this two-game skid while these players are on the mend, the Notes have scored only one goal from third liner F Patrik Berglund. With neither likely to return until January, this offense will need to adjust to RW Vladimir Tarasenko on the top line and W Dmitrij Jaskin in a top-six position. If they cannot, I wouldn’t be surprised to see F Brayden Schenn elevated to the top-line center position to reunite with the Russian sniper.
With these teams tangling once again tomorrow, let’s treat this preview as one for this weekend’s series. As such, I expect these teams to both earn victories at their home arenas.
Behind a three-point night from First Star of the Game F Brian Boyle, the New Jersey Devils beat the Dallas Stars 5-2 at the Prudential Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
Jersey didn’t waste much time in finding its first goal, as D Steven Santini (F Brian Gibbons) tucked a slap shot into the net only 4:28 into the game. That early lead didn’t last long though, because C Martin Hanzal (F Tyler Seguin and D Esa Lindell) leveled the game only 2:14 later with a power play wrist shot. The Devils would regain the lead with 54 seconds remaining before intermission on a tip-in from F Blake Coleman (D Andy Greene and Gibbons), setting the score at 2-1.
The exchange of goals carried into the second period, as RW Alexander Radulov (F Mattias Janmark and Lindell) leveled the game for the Stars at the 8:09 mark, but Boyle (D Will Butcher and C Pavel Zacha) was able to bury what proved to be a game-winning power play wrister with 3:21 remaining in the frame to return a 3-2 lead to the Devils.
The penalty that set up Boyle’s opportunity was a D Stephen Johns hi stick against LW Miles Wood that was so egregious, it earned him a double minor and four minutes in the penalty box. With only nine seconds remaining on the infraction, Butcher ripped a clapper from the blue line at G Kari Lehtonen. The netminder was able to deflect the puck, but Boyle – who was camping out in front of the crease – collected the rebound and elevate a wrister into the back of the net, the 100th goal of his career.
Second Star G Cory Schneider earned the victory after saving 28-of-30 shots faced (.933 save percentage), leaving the loss to Lehtonen, who saved 21-of-25 (.84).
New Jersey’s home victory snapped a three-game winning streak by road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. As such, hosts in the series have now earned a 40-24-9 record that is 14 points superior to that of the roadies.