Tag Archives: Jeff Carter

The Customer Is Always Right—Sports Fans Should Not Be Silent

Just over six years ago, on January 28, 2012, approximately 300 Blue Jackets fans braved bitter cold to hold a protest as a Blue Jackets season that held great promise spiraled into chaos.  Earlier in the month, the team had fired Head Coach Scott Arniel ending a tenure that was probably most notable for Arniel’s infamous quip after a question from Lori Schmidt in a press conference (“so just keep piling on”).  Days later it would come out that the team’s superstar and captain, Rick Nash, had demanded a trade.

The preceding offseason looked good on paper.  A team that had only made the playoffs once seemed to have finally acquired the center it had needed for so long when an offseason trade landed them Jeff Carter.  They had also attempted to address their problems on defense by adding free agent James Wisniewski.  The Nikita Filatov era ended as the former first round pick was shipped to Ottawa for the Sens’ third round pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

However, there was also a conspicuous failure to address concerns about the goaltending situation.  Mark Dekanich was signed to backup Steve Mason with Curtis Sanford, out of the NHL for two years at that point, signed as the primary goaltender for the AHL affiliate in Springfield.  Sadly, Dekanich would never see a game with the Jackets due to injury.

Things quickly went off the rails and never recovered.  Wisniewski would be suspended as a “repeat offender” for a preseason incident with Cal Clutterbuck in a preseason game that meant he didn’t start his first game for the Jackets until Game 9 of the season, which was, coincidentally, the team’s first win of the season.  Carter would get injured and be out for 10 games.  Steve Mason struggled.  Management, desperate to turn things around, made trades for Mark Letestu and Nikita Nikitin.  Rumors started to surface that, grasping at straws, the Jackets might bring back Ken Hitchcock as head coach. Fortunately for Hitchcock, he instead took a job with St. Louis.  Ownership seemed to be questioning management when they brought in former Pens GM, Craig Patrick as a “special advisor.”

Just six months after they enacted one plan to right the ship, they were about to enact a new plan—blow it all up.  And, to that point, it looked like they would let the architects of the prior failed plan—GM Scott Howson and President Mike Priest—carry out the new plan.

With the All-Star Break approaching, on January 23, 2012, the Jackets played a seemingly meaningless game against the Predators in Nashville and got shellacked, 4-1.  In many ways, it was a typical Blue Jackets loss for that era.  The Preds always seemed to have the Jackets’ number.  Mike Fisher had two goals in the game, bringing his total goals that season against the Jackets to six.  Over half of his goals to that point in the season were against Columbus, to which he responded after the game: “It’s kind of a funny stat. I know I’ve got to make sure I keep going and see if I can score against some other teams.”  The Jackets were 13-29-6 after that game. One loss shouldn’t have been any different than the 28 that preceded it.

But the fact that the loss was so typical, so ordinary, was probably what set me off.  It was a Monday night.  With the All-Star Break coming up, the team wouldn’t be in town on Saturday, but, as luck would have it, I would.  I had moved to the West Coast, but I was back visiting family.  That night I was in Northeast Ohio when I went on HFBoards and posted that we needed to have a fan protest to make it known that casual losses and being dead last in the league weren’t acceptable for a team that had been in the league as long as the Jackets had.  I didn’t really expect much to come out of it, but it struck a nerve and soon it was like a snowball rolling downhill.

I was driving south to Columbus the next afternoon when a fellow HFBoards member called me on my cellphone.  One of the local radio stations wanted to talk to the “organizers.”  To this point, no one was really organizing anything.  Suddenly there was a level of expectation.  Suddenly we had to think about things like permits, PA equipment, some sort of riser for speakers, a podium, speeches, etc., on a Tuesday afternoon, for something that was now, apparently, really going to take place on Saturday morning.  In the next 48 hours, somehow a core group of six of us came together to coordinate these things.

I had never met any of these guys in person before.  One of them was a guy I had sparred with over the years on HFBoards.  One was a musician and Day 1 season ticket holder.  One was a fan who traveled up to games from Kentucky.  One was an Iraq war vet and another was a father who brought his kids to games.  Other people volunteered to help in various ways including lending us PA equipment, picking things up where we couldn’t, etc. It was the first experience I really had of how quickly you could organize something with social media and with crowd-sourcing.  The protest would have never happened without the contributions of a number of people, and I cannot thank them enough.

Meanwhile, people debated the protest online, particularly at HFBoards.  Some thought it was a joke or an embarrassment. When national hockey media started to cover it, I think some started to fear that this would make the Jackets and, by extension, Columbus, a punchline.

The Jackets, for their part, were concerned about how this would play and, allegedly, hired a PR firm out of Chicago to address the situation.  On the eve of the protest, owner John P. McConnell wrote a letter to the fans and via the press let protesters know that they would be welcomed with a cup of hot coffee on what was expected to be a blustery day as a way of the organization showing its appreciation to the fans.  A nice gesture by McConnell which pretty much wrote my speech for me since I had a 2/3 replica Stanley Cup at my disposal.  (“You offered us a cup of coffee, but that’s not the Cup we want!”)

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The night before the core group of six of us and my always patient wife met up at a bar in the Arena District to make our final arrangements as to order of speakers and what we wanted to cover.  Who happened to walk into the same bar?  John P. McConnell’s son!  You really can’t make this stuff up. We finalized our plans in hushed tones about 10 feet away from him.

The next morning, the rumors about the Jackets being awarded an All-Star Game were everywhere.  I showed up at Nationwide at least an hour before the start time for our protest.  The Arena District was dead quiet.  It was bitterly cold.  I wasn’t sure if, after all of this, anyone would actually show up.  It didn’t look good 15 minutes before start time.  Then, suddenly, people started spilling out of the various bars and restaurants in the Arena District.  Probably 10-20 people at first.  With minutes to go before the start time the courtyard was nearly filled.  With only a few days’ notice, approximately 250-300 people had showed up on a cold day.  They showed up with signs supporting the team, but questioning management.

As we kicked things off with Bush’s “Machinehead,” the Jumbotron across the street carried the news that the Blue Jackets had been awarded an All-Star Game.  It was a bittersweet moment given the state of the team, but it was the first sign that maybe things would get better.  Over the next year, Rick Nash would be traded to the Rangers in a blockbuster deal, Mike Priest would be “promoted” and replaced by John Davidson, Scott Howson would be fired, and current GM Jarmo Kekalainen would be hired to replace him.  I don’t know if we influenced any of those decisions, but I’m glad the decisions were made.

In the aftermath, a lot of people who had been skeptical about the protest felt that it was well done and that it wasn’t the embarrassment they feared it would be.  At All-Star Weekend, Gary Bettman was forced to address the protest, doing so in the way you’d expect Gary Bettman to respond to such a question:

I saw that somebody was trying to organize a pep rally. But that’s a good sign.  It’s kind of like when you get booed when you go out on the ice, it’s better than when it’s quiet. I know about that firsthand.”

It was interesting to see the Browns Perfect Season Parade last month.  I heard a lot of the same things I remember hearing when we were planning the protest about whether it should be done, whether it would be an embarrassment.  You had another element that we didn’t have—players taking to social media to voice their anger over the parade.  In the end, Chris McNeil and the organizers deserve a lot of credit.  They raised over $15,000 for a good cause–wish we would have had the time and forethought to do this.  McNeil and his fellow organizers should be very proud in what they did, bringing out over 3,000 fans on another cold Ohio day.  Hopefully the Browns ownership and management takes the frustration of their fans to heart.  Bettman was right:  having 3,000 fans show up to voice their anger beats having 30,000 empty seats in your stadium.

That is the challenge for fans of dysfunctional sports franchises.  Some would propose boycotts as a way motivate teams, but boycotts can backfire.  Sometimes a boycott isn’t an option.  Witness the situation with the Columbus Crew where, once again, a dedicated fan base is speaking up.  In the case of the Crew, the issue isn’t as much the team’s performance as it is ownership’s desire to move the team and mischaracterize the fan base in the process.  Columbus was the first team to have a soccer-specific stadium, but the old house is starting to show its age.  Instead of sitting down in good faith with officials of the City of Columbus, team owner, Anthony Precourt, is more focused on moving the team to Austin and is doing everything he can to paint a picture of a franchise that no longer has local support from fans or businesses.  While John P. McConnell did all he could to show that he heard the fans concerns, Anthony Precourt is content to thumb his nose at Crew supporters, area businesses and local government officials.

Morgan Hughes and others behind the #SaveTheCrew effort have done a brilliant job of attempting to disprove Precourt’s anti-Columbus narrative by getting support not just from fans, but from businesses in Columbus.  They’ve put up billboards and have developed a “community kit” complete with a corporate sponsor.  We still don’t know how the story will end with the Crew, but I applaud the creative efforts of all of those behind #SaveTheCrew and I hope it shows other fans of troubled franchises in other cities that they don’t have to be hopeless, that they can attempt to do something about it instead of just accepting the loss of their franchise.  Show them some support in their efforts even if it is a little thing like sending them a few bucks.

I don’t know what the future will hold for fan advocacy, but I think fans are better off speaking up than being silent.  For years, fans of teams were the one group without a voice.  Fans have been used as pawns in disputes between players and owners over labor matters and in disputes between owners and government officials over financing matters.  At the end of the day, the fans are a team’s consumer base and they shouldn’t be silent about an investment of hundreds or thousands of dollars any more than they would be silent if they went to a restaurant and were given the wrong food, much less if they got the wrong food every time they went to that same restaurant.  Remember the words of Gary Bettman—it is better for owners to hear your “boos” than silence. Sometimes that means you need to hold a “pep rally.”

Los Angeles Kings 2017-’18 Season Preview

Los Angeles Kings

39-35-8, 86 points, fifth in the Pacific Division

Additions: GM Rob Blake, F Mike Cammalleri, D Christian Folin, G Darcy Kuemper, Head Coach John Stevens

Subtractions: G Ben Bishop (traded to DAL), D Matt Greene (retired), GM Dean Lombardi, D Brayden McNabb (drafted by VGK), Head Coach Darryl Sutter

Offseason Analysis: If postseason berths were awarded based on goals allowed, Los Angeles would have been not only the third seed in the Pacific Division in 2017, but also the entire Western Conference. In fact, at 205 goals allowed, Los Angeles was the only non-playoff team in the entire league in the top-15 of the statistic.

Unfortunately for the Kings’ offense, that’s not the way this game works.

Last season, Los Angeles couldn’t score to save its life. Even with F Jeff Carter’s team-leading 66 points (32 goals, 34 assists), the Kings could only manage 201 markers – tying for the fifth-fewest in the league.

If a club is struggling on offense, what better place to find a scorer than the entry draft? That’s exactly where new GM Blake looked, selecting 18-year-old C Gabriel Vilardi (29-32-61 in the OHL) with the 11th-overall pick. Fans shouldn’t grow too attached to the idea of him wearing black and silver this year though, as Los Angeles’ top two center positions are locked up for at least the next five seasons (Carter will be an unrestricted free agent in 2022), barring a big trade. Both Nick Shore (6-11-17) and Nic Dowd (6-16-22) will be free agents following this season (restricted and unrestricted, respectively) and could open up a hole in the lineup for the youngster, but I’d be concerned about playing the potential future of the offense, should the scouting reports prove correct, on these more physical lines during his development. Vilardi will almost certainly be back in Windsor trying to win his second-straight Memorial Cup this season.

And that leads us to a major problem with the Kings: they are returning almost an identical roster as last year. That is just fine for the Pittsburgh Penguins or Nashville Predators, but teams like the Kings that are trying to capitalize on a two-time Cup-winning goaltender still in his early 30s – like Jonathan Quick – should be doing all they can to help him out.

General Managers in all sports face the tough job of building a competitive team, keeping a balanced budget, appeasing the owner and making the fans happy. It’s a touchy situation that often doesn’t have clear right or wrong answers.

Unfortunately, Lombardi didn’t find the right balance between those things last season. Currently, the Kings have eight forwards signed to contracts through at least the 2019-’20 season for $1.6 million AAV, at minimum. Six of those are Lombardi’s responsibility, as his attempts to keep the 2014 Stanley Cup-winning gang together and hope they rediscover that magic ultimately led to him losing his job this offseason.

Then again, it doesn’t seem Blake learned from his predecessor’s mistakes, as he is responsible for signing 25-year-olds LW Tanner Pearson (24-20-44) and F Tyler Toffoli (16-18-34) this summer. My concern with these signings is not that these players aren’t worth their contracts, but that it has only added to the logjam of talent that will make it difficult for youths like Vilardi to make the team and could make it difficult to trade pieces in the future.

Offseason Grade: C+

The Kings added Cammalleri to replace unsigned Jarome Iginla and shored up the backup goaltending position (sorry Mr. Game 1 Jeff Zatkoff, but Kuemper is better and younger), but they’re returning almost an identical lineup as last season. Unless Stevens can find a way for the offense to increase production and Quick can add four more wins than Peter Budaj could manage in his absence last year, the Kings are on their way to another postseason on the couch.

2017 NHL Expansion Draft: Protected Lists

30 of the NHL’s 31 teams submitted their protected lists on Saturday by 5 p.m. ET. The protected lists were made public at 10:30 a.m. ET (originally scheduled for 10 a.m.) on Sunday. Additionally, the available lists of players to choose from were released.

The Vegas Golden Knights will now spend the next few days constructing their roster, with the full reveal set for Wednesday night during the NHL Awards Ceremony at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

To recap, here’s all of the protected players:

Anaheim Ducks

Forwards: Andrew Cogliano, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Corey Perry, Rickard Rakell, Jakob Silfverberg, Antoine Vermette

Defensemen: Kevin Bieksa, Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm

Goaltender: John Gibson

Arizona Coyotes

Forwards: Nick Cousins, Anthony Duclair, Jordan Martinook, Tobias Rieder

Defensemen: Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Alex Goligoski, Connor Murphy, Luke Schenn

Goaltender: Chad Johnson

Boston Bruins

Forwards: David Backes, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, Riley Nash, David Pastrnak, Ryan Spooner

Defensemen: Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller

Goaltender: Tuukka Rask

Buffalo Sabres

Forwards: Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno, Zemgus Girgensons, Evander Kane, Johan Larsson, Ryan O’Reilly, Kyle Okposo

Defensemen: Nathan Beaulieu, Jake McCabe, Rasmus Ristolainen

Goaltender: Robin Lehner

Calgary Flames

Forwards: Mikael Backlund, Sam Bennett, Micheal Ferlund, Michael Frolik, Johnny Gaudreau, Curtis Lazar, Sean Monahan

Defensemen: T.J. Brodie, Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton

Goaltender: Mike Smith

Carolina Hurricanes

Forwards: Phillip Di Giuseppe, Elias Lindholm, Brock McGinn, Victor Rask, Jeff Skinner, Jordan Staal, Teuvo Teravainen

Defensemen: Trevor Carrick, Justin Faulk, Ryan Murphy

Goaltender: Scott Darling

Chicago Blackhawks

Forwards: Artem Anisimov, Ryan Hartman, Marian Hossa, Tomas Jurco, Patrick Kane, Richard Panik, Jonathan Toews

Defensemen: Niklas Hjalmarsson, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook

Goaltender: Corey Crawford

Colorado Avalanche

Forwards: Sven Andrighetto, Blake Comeau, Matt Duchene, Rocco Grimaldi, Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Nieto

Defensemen: Tyson Barrie, Erik Johnson, Nikita Zadorov

Goaltender: Semyon Varlamov

Columbus Blue Jackets

Forwards: Cam Atkinson, Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno, Scott Hartnell, Boone Jenner, Brandon Saad, Alexander Wennberg

Defensemen: Seth Jones, Ryan Murray, David Savard

Goaltender: Sergei Bobrovsky

Dallas Stars

Forwards: Jamie Benn, Radek Faksa, Valeri Nichushkin, Brett Ritchie, Antoine Roussel, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza

Defensemen: Stephen Johns, John Klingberg, Esa Lindell

Goaltender: Ben Bishop

Detroit Red Wings

Forwards: Justin Abdelkader, Andreas Athanasiou, Anthony Mantha, Frans Nielsen, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Henrik Zetterberg

Defensemen: Danny DeKeyser, Mike Green, Nick Jensen

Goaltender: Jimmy Howard

Edmonton Oilers

Forwards: Leon Draisaitl, Jordan Eberle, Zack Kassian, Mark Letestu, Milan Lucic, Patrick Maroon, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

Defensemen: Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Andrej Sekera

Goaltender: Cam Talbot

Florida Panthers

Forwards: Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck

Defensemen: Aaron Ekblad, Alex Petrovic, Mark Pysyk, Keith Yandle

Goaltender: James Reimer

Los Angeles Kings

Forwards: Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar, Tanner Pearson, Tyler Toffoli

Defensemen: Drew Doughty, Derek Forbort, Alec Martinez, Jake Muzzin

Goaltender: Jonathan Quick

Minnesota Wild

Forwards: Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Mikko Koivu, Nino Niederreiter, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Jason Zucker

Defensemen: Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon, Ryan Suter

Goaltender: Devan Dubnyk

Montreal Canadiens

Forwards: Paul Byron, Phillip Danault, Jonathan Drouin, Alex Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher, Max Pacioretty, Andrew Shaw

Defensemen: Jordie Benn, Jeff Petry, Shea Weber

Goaltender: Carey Price

Nashville Predators

Forwards: Viktor Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg, Calle Jarnkrok, Ryan Johansen

Defensemen: Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi, P.K. Subban

Goaltender: Pekka Rinne

New Jersey Devils

Forwards: Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique, Kyle Palmieri, Travis Zajac

Defensemen: Andy Greene, John Moore, Mirco Mueller, Damon Severson

Goaltender: Cory Schneider

New York Islanders

Forwards: Andrew Ladd, Anders Lee, John Tavares

Defensemen: Johnny Boychuk, Travis Hamonic, Nick Leddy, Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock

Goaltender: Thomas Greiss

New York Rangers

Forwards: Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, Mika Zibanejad, Mats Zuccarello

Defensemen: Nick Holden, Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal

Goaltender: Henrik Lundqvist

Ottawa Senators

Forwards: Derick Brassard, Ryan Dzingel, Mike Hoffman, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Zack Smith, Mark Stone, Kyle Turris

Defensemen: Cody Ceci, Erik Karlsson, Dion Phaneuf

Goaltender: Craig Anderson

Philadelphia Flyers

Forwards: Sean Couturier, Valtteri Filppula, Claude Giroux, Scott Laughton, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek

Defensemen: Shayne Gostisbehere, Radko Gudas, Brandon Manning

Goaltender: Anthony Stolarz

Pittsburgh Penguins

Forwards: Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist, Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin

Defensemen: Brian Dumoulin, Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, Justin Schultz

Goaltender: Matt Murray

San Jose Sharks

Forwards: Ryan Carpenter, Logan Couture, Jannik Hansen, Tomas Hertl, Melker Karlsson, Joe Pavelski, Chris Tierney

Defensemen: Justin Braun, Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic

Goaltender: Martin Jones

St. Louis Blues

Forwards: Patrik Berglund, Ryan Reaves, Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Sobotka, Paul Stastny, Alexander Steen, Vladimir Tarasenko

Defensemen: Jay Bouwmeester, Joel Edmundson, Alex Pietrangelo

Goaltender: Jake Allen

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forwards: Ryan Callahan, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Ondrej Palat, Steven Stamkos

Defensemen: Braydon Coburn, Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman

Goaltender: Andrei Vasilevskiy

Toronto Maple Leafs

Forwards: Tyler Bozak, Connor Brown, Nazem Kadri, Leo Komarov, Josh Leivo, Matt Martin, James van Riemsdyk

Defensemen: Connor Carrick, Jake Gardiner, Morgan Rielly

Goaltender: Frederik Andersen

Vancouver Canucks

Forwards: Sven Baertschi, Loui Eriksson, Markus Granlund, Bo Horvat, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Brandon Sutter

Defensemen: Alexander Edler, Erik Gudbranson, Christopher Tanev

Goaltender: Jacob Markstrom

Washington Capitals

Forwards: Nicklas Backstrom, Andre Burakovsky, Lars Eller, Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin, Tom Wilson

Defensemen: John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov

Goaltender: Braden Holtby

Winnipeg Jets

Forwards: Joel Armia, Andrew Copp, Bryan Little, Adam Lowry, Mathieu Perreault, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler

Defensemen: Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers, Jacob Trouba

Goaltender: Connor Hellebuyck

April 9 -Day 172 – It all comes down to this

It’s all come down to this: the last day of the 2016-’17 NHL regular season. Don’t cry that it’s leaving; instead smile and laugh at the memories.

Oh yeah, and get amped for the Stanley Cup Playoffs!

To close out the season, the league has scheduled 10 games for our viewing pleasure. A trio of them (New Jersey at Detroit [SN1], Buffalo at Tampa Bay and Ottawa at the New York Islanders [RDS2]) start at 5 p.m., followed by another pair (Colorado at St. Louis and Columbus at Toronto [SN/TVAS]) an hour later. The usual starting time of 7 p.m. marks the puck drop of three contests (Pittsburgh at the New York Rangers, Carolina at Philadelphia and Florida at Washington) and Los Angeles at Anaheim (SN1) waiting until 8:30 to get started. Finally, 9 p.m. brings with it the regular season nightcap: Vancouver at Edmonton (SN). All times eastern.

Short list:

  • New Jersey at Detroit: The day many had hoped would never come. This is the final game to be played at Joe Louis Arena. I’ll forever consider the Wings a rival to my beloved Blues, but I hope Motown gives this incredible place one more victory for old times’ sake.
  • Columbus at Toronto: As long as the Leafs can avoid a regulation loss, they’ll win third place in the Atlantic Division and avoid the mighty Capitals.
  • Pittsburgh at New York: The last rematch of last season’s playoffs will be contested in Madison Square Garden.
  • Los Angeles at Anaheim: Though the Kings‘ season is complete after today, the Ducks still have something to play for: a Pacific Division banner.
  • Vancouver at Edmonton: As long as the Oilers don’t need a shootout to win, they can surpass Anaheim for the division title if it loses to Los Angeles.

It’s such hard decision among the contests in Toronto, Anaheim and Edmonton, as all three could have a significant impact on how the postseason plays out. Since there’s so much at stake in the Pacific, I think we have to focus in on the Freeway Face-Off!

 

I’ll start this article in a similar way I began yesterday’s:

The 39-35-7 Kings enter this game in fifth place in the Pacific Division and 10th in the Western Conference, already eliminated from playoff contention. With Nashville’s regular-season campaign complete at 94 points, the best Los Angeles can do is finish seven points behind eighth place.

This game is not about them (though they have more reasons to play spoiler than Pittsburgh did last night – more on that later).

Instead, all eyes (specifically those in Southern California and Northern Alberta) are on 45-23-13 Anaheim, the club currently leading the Pacific Division with a day left of play.

Notice the phrase currently leading. That is very intentional, as the Ducks have not ordered their division championship banner yet. The job tonight is simple: don’t lose in regulation. As long Anaheim earns at least one point, the second place Oilers cannot surpass them for the division title.

Fortunately, the repercussions for not sealing the deal tonight aren’t too bad, at least immediately. If Edmonton could manage to surpass the Ducks for first in the division, Anaheim would host the third place Sharks in the first round instead of the wild card Flames.

Either way, the Ducks retain home ice in the first round.

Anaheim has definitely been trending upwards of late. In fact, the Ducks are tied with Washington for the best record in the NHL since March 12 with their 10-0-3 record.

Just like its been all season, they’ve returned to winning ways by keeping the opposition off the board. Only 24 goals have been scored on the Ducks since mid-March, the fewest in the NHL in that time.

Of course, that starts with the goaltending. Both 25-16-9 John Gibson and 20-7-4 Jonathan Bernier have been fantastic over this run, as both have save percentages and GAAs better than .93 and 2.0, respectively.

Though Bernier was extremely impressive while filling in for Gibson during his injury, it seems the usual Number 1 has reclaimed his crease as Gibson has started the last two games. I expect the owner of the superior .96 save percentage and 1.32 GAA to take to the crease again tonight, as Gibson’s effort in his past three games has been third and second-best, respectively, among the 62 goalies who have played at least two games since mid-March.

Much of the reason both goaltenders have found such success is they haven’t been overworked. Though the Ducks‘ blueline has been only slightly above-average at keeping pucks off the crease on the year (they average 29.8 shots allowed-per-game), the 395 they’ve allowed in their past 13 games is tied for fifth-fewest in the league.

Both Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen have been a big part of that play, as they co-lead the team with 21 shot blocks since March 12. Jakob Silfverberg has also been instrumental with his 11 takeaways in that time.

On the season as a whole, only two clubs have been better than the Ducks when faced with a penalty kill situation. Gibson has played a major role in that effort all year, as his .909 season save percentage against the power play is the fourth-best mark in the league among the 48 goalies with at least 25 appearances on the year.

Doing their best to play spoiler tonight will be the visiting Kings, Anaheim‘s greatest rival. Though the postseason is out of their grasp, there is probably nothing more they would like to do than harm the Ducks‘ Stanley Cup playoff chances by declining them the opportunity to outright win the Pacific Division.

Unfortunately, it’s been an up-and-down effort of late for Los Angeles. Since March 16, the Kings have matched every win with a loss for a 6-6-0 record. In fact, every game since March 31 has alternated results. The 31st was a win, the 2nd was a loss. The 4th was a win… you get the idea. April 8 was a win, so…. well, things aren’t looking good for Los Angeles if this trend continues.

Offense has been Los Angeles‘ biggest struggle not only during this stretch, but for the entire season overall. On they year, the Kings have averaged only 2.42 goals-per-game, the sixth-lowest average in the NHL. Since mid-March, that number is down to 2.25, including two shutouts.

The brightest star on the Kings‘ offense of late is easily Anze Kopitar. With 10 points in a dozen games, he’s the only forward that has contributed more than seven tallies in the past three weeks. That being said, Jarome Iginla has also been decent with his team-leading four goals during this run.

Though far from a dominant force throughout the season, Los Angeles‘ power play has been especially shoddy of late, converting only 16.7% of its 36 most recent opportunities. Just like he’s been on the entire offense, Kopitar has been the most impressive during this skid with his four power play points.

If anything positive can be said about Los Angeles‘ power play, it’s that it’s unpredictable. All six tallies since March 16 have come off a different stick, and those scorers are evenly split between the power play units.

If the season series is any indication, we’re in for a fantastic game tonight. Both clubs have won two of the four previous games between them this campaign for copied 2-2-0 records. Making things even more interesting, both teams have gone 1-1-0 on home ice.

The last time they met up was February 25 at the Staples Center. Speaking of home ice, that is the game the Kings scored four goals (including two from Tyler Toffoli) to give Jonathan Quick a 4-1 victory in his first full game of the season. He saved 32 shots faced in his first game back from his groin injury.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Anaheim‘s Ryan Getzlaf (55 assists [tied for third-most in the league]) and Gibson (2.22 GAA [fifth-best in the NHL] on a .924 save percentage [tied for fifth-best in the league], including six shutouts [sixth-most in the NHL]) & Los AngelesJeff Carter (32 goals for 66 points on 250 shots [all lead the team]) and Drew Doughty (+8 [leads the team]).

The easy pick is obviously the Ducks, who have much more to play for, to win on home ice. The problem is you can never use such concrete logic when predicting a rivalry game of this magnitude. I’ll still take Anaheim to clinch the Pacific Division tonight, but I have no doubt in my mind that the Kings will make it as difficult as they possibly can.

Hockey Birthday

  • Jimmy Roberts (1940-2015) – This skater spent most of his 15 seasons in Montréal, though he had a lengthy tenure with the Blues as well. He was a three-time All Star and, more importantly, has his name on the Stanley Cup five times as a player.
  • Michel Parizeau (1948-) – The Rangers selected this center 10th-overall in the 1965 NHL Amateur Draft, yet he never played a game with the Blueshirts. In fact, he spent only one season in the NHL, as he played most of his eight years with the Nordiques in the WHA.
  • Rick Tocchet (1964-) – Though a longtime Flyer – albeit in two stints – after being selected by Philadelphia in the sixth round of the 1983 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing won his lone Stanley Cup as a member of the 1992 Penguins.

Three goals in the third period is exactly what the doctor ordered for Toronto, as it beat the Penguins 5-3 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day to secure its spot in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It was not the start the Maple Leafs wanted to this game, though. Former Leaf Phil Kessel (Matt Cullen and Tom Kuhnhackl) buried a snap shot only 6:11 into the contest to give Pittsburgh an early 1-0 lead. That advantage didn’t last long though, as James van Riemsdyk (Tyler Bozak and Roman Polak) leveled with a snapper of his own only 29 seconds later. The one-all score held into the first intermission.

Only 1:29 after Tom Sestito‘s goaltender interference penalty, Bozak (William Nylander and Jake Gardiner) scored a power play snapper at the 3:30 mark of the second frame. This time, it was the Pens who had the answer, as Sidney Crosby (Jake Guentzel and Justin Schultz) leveled the match at two-all 4:25 later with a power play slap shot.

Pittsburgh once again took a one-goal lead 6:51 into the third period courtesy of an unassisted Guenztel wrist shot, but that is what lit a fire under Toronto‘s belly. In all, the Maple Leafs fired a dozen shots on Marc-Andre Fleury‘s net in the final frame, and three got past him. Kasperi Kapanen (Matt Hunwick and Auston Matthews) leveled the game with 5:30 remaining in regulation with the first goal of his career, followed by Connor Brown‘s (Gardiner and Hunwick) game-winner 2:42 later. With four seconds remaining, Matthews scored his 40th goal of the season (only the fourth rookie under 20-years-old in NHL history to achieve that total) on an empty net to ensure the Leafs‘ victory.

Curtis McElhinney earned the victory after saving 12-of-14 shots faced (85.7%). He replaced Frederik Andersen, who had saved three-of-four (75%), after the starter was struck in the head by Sestito. Fleury saved 25-of-29 (86.2%) in the loss.

After 175 games in this 2016-’17 DtFR Game of the Day series, the 88-61-25 home teams have finally clinched the deciding victory in our featured series. The hosts have 201 points to their credit to create a five-point spread the visitors are incapable of surpassing.

March 13 – Day 145 – West is wild

It’s another Manic Monday in the NHL, with 16 teams in action this evening. Like it usually does, tonight’s festivities start at 7 p.m. with two games (Tampa Bay at the New York Rangers [TVAS] and Columbus at Philadelphia [SN1]), followed half an hour later by Carolina at the New York Islanders (NBCSN). 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of Winnipeg at Nashville, which precedes Pittsburgh at Calgary by an hour. A trifecta of matchups (Boston at Vancouver, Colorado at Arizona and St. Louis at Los Angeles) act as tonight’s tri-nightcap, as the all drop the puck at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

Things have really tightened in the Western Conference wild card race, and that competition will be on full display tonight when the eighth and ninth-place teams square off in the Staples Center!

 

 

 

 

 

St. Louis enters tonight’s game with a 35-27-5 record, which is good enough for fourth in the Central Division and eighth in the Western Conference. It’s been an up-and-down season for the Blues, but they’re definitely riding an “up” right now with their four-game winning streak.

When St. Louis is winning like it is right now, it’s usually due to its offense. Having notched 185 tallies in 67 games, the Notes are tied for the 11th-best scoring rate in the league. As you’d probably guess, the engineer behind most of that scoring is Vladimir Tarasenko, who has an impressive 61 points to lead the team.

Even more impressive? His goal total, which currently stands at 32. He ties for third in the NHL in scores, and is on pace for seven more before the season comes to a close.

St. Louis is especially effective on the power play, as its 22.3% success rate ties for fourth best in the league (and best in the west). Although Tarasenko leads the team with 20 power play points and eight power play goals, he has not been very effective of late with the extra man. In his past five games, he’s only registered one point – albeit a goal – with the man-advantage.

Special teams seem to be a point of emphasis for Mike Yeo, because the Notes are also very strong on the penalty kill. Led by Captain Alex Pietrangelo‘s 29 shorthanded blocks, the Notes have successfully defended 83.6% of their penalties, the eighth-best rate in the NHL.

Playing host this evening are the 33-28-6 Kings, the fifth-best team in the Pacific Division and ninth-best in the West. Winners of their past two contests, Los Angeles‘ biggest struggle this season has been scoring, as their 166 goals is the eighth-lowest total in the league. That being said, the Kings have have managed to score a dozen goals in their past four games, so perhaps Darryl Sutter has finally found a solution for his club.

Although offense has been tough to come by for the club as a whole, Jeff Carter has been having a fantastic season. He’s notched 31 goals for 59 points, both totals that lead the team. It’s quite the resurgence for him, as – if he stays on pace – he’ll have the best campaign of his career since his 46 goal, 84 point effort with Philadelphia in 2008-’09.

But beyond Carter, scoring has been a struggle for Los Angeles. To put things simply, it’s not a good sign when the second-best scorer on the team – Tanner Pearson – has only 22 goals. Excluding those two, no other Kings have more than a dozen tallies.

The Kings have found their success this season on the defensive end of the ice, and that is no more apparent than when they’re on the penalty kill. Refusing to yield a goal on 84.9% of its infractions, Los Angeles ranks fourth-best in the NHL when down a man. Alec Martinez deserves a lot of credit for that prosperity, as his 28 shorthanded shot blocks lead the team.

To make this game even more important, it acts as a rubber match for the season series between these clubs, as they’ve both one of their previous two meetings. The Blues last visited the City of Angels on January 12 when they fell 5-1.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Los Angeles‘ Carter (31 goals [tied for seventh-most in the NHL]) and St. Louis‘ Tarasenko (32 goals [tied for third-most in the league]).

I’m not surprised that Vegas favors Los Angeles to win tonight, but I am surprised the Kings have a -145 advantage. Both teams enter the game hot, but I like Los Angeles to pull together a victory on the back of their solid defense and their newfound explosive offense.


Sparked by two quick first period goals to chase Devan Dubnyk, Chicago fought within a point of the Western Conference lead by beating the Wild 4-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Who else to get the Blackhawks on the scoreboard than Second Star of the Game Patrick Kane? Assisted by Artemi Panarin and Johnny Oduya, he scored a wrist shot only 51 seconds into the game to give the Hawks an early 1-0 lead. That differential doubled to two when Panarin (Kane and Niklas Hjalmarsson) scored a snap shot 3:47 later. Minnesota pulled back within a tally with 9:30 remaining in the frame when Eric Staal (Nino Niederreiter and Marco Scandella), but could not level the game before the first intermission.

5:28 into the second period, Trevor van Riemsdyk (Marcus Kruger and Jordin Tootoo) expanded Chicago‘s lead back to two goals with a wrister that proved to be the game-winner. Even though the Wild fired 20 shots on goal in the second period, they could not break through First Star Corey Crawford.

Once again the Wild pulled within a goal when Mikael Granlund scored an unassisted wrister 46 seconds after starting the third frame, but once again Minnesota couldn’t pull even. They couldn’t manage another goal for the rest of the game, and Marian Hossa (Third Star Duncan Keith) made sure a comeback would be difficult by setting the score at 4-2 with 6:18 remaining in regulation.

Crawford saved 42-of-44 shots faced (95.5%) to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Darcy Kuemper, who saved 18-of-20 (90%). Kuemper came into the game in relief of Dubnyk, who was pulled after allowing two goals on two shots. Dubnyk earned no decision after 4:38 of play.

With that victory, home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have finally reclaimed an advantage, even if it is only by one point, over the roadies with a 74-52-21 record.

February 27 – Day 131 – Qui(c)k Trip to Minnesota

This Monday in the NHL is no different than many of the others in that there aren’t too many games on the schedule this evening. The staggered starts begin at 7 p.m. with Montréal at New Jersey (RDS), followed half an hour later by Ottawa at Tampa Bay (RDS2). Finally, tonight’s nightcap – Los Angeles at Minnesota (NBCSN/TVAS) – drops the puck at 8 p.m. All times eastern.

Jonathan Quick‘s triumphant return to the ice Saturday has significantly increased Los Angeles‘ chances of making the playoffs, but they face a stiff test against the Wild tonight. What better way to see if they’re up to the task for a magical run?

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Just as I was prepared to count the Kings out of this year’s edition of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Quick reemerged from injured reserve and proved he is more than capable of resuming the high quality play we know he’s capable of. He proved that by allowing only one tally against the Ducks.

He resumes control of a team 30-27-4 Kings team that is currently three points outside a playoff spot, as it’s only fifth-best in the Pacific Division and ninth-best in the Western Conference. Unfortunately for Los Angeles, Quick’s return probably will have little impact on the offense, where it needs the most help. The Kings have managed only 149 goals  in 61 games this season, which ties for the sixth-worst scoring rate in the NHL.

The issue becomes immediately apparent when one analyzes the Kings‘ individual performances. Jeff Carter has had an incredible season and is far-and-away Los Angeles‘ brightest spot as his 30 goals and 55 points are both team-highs. But he leads second-best Tanner Pearson by 11 tallies and 18 points, a wildly large disparity.

Compare that same differential to Minnesota‘s much more well-rounded attack. Mikael Granlund, the Wild‘s leading point-scorer, has 55 points to his name, only nine more than Mikko Koivu. Similarly, he and Nino Niederreiter – who both have 19 tallies – lead Jason Zucker‘s effort by only one goal.

Not surprisingly, the offense continues to struggle even when presented with the man-advantage. Even with Carter’s 16 power play points and nine extra-man goals, the Kings have found success only 16.7% of the time, the seventh-worst rate in the league.

What’s kept Los Angeles alive this season is that as bad as the power play has been, the penalty kill has been good. Led by Alec Martinez‘ 26 shorthanded shot blocks, the Kings have properly defended 84.5% of opposing power plays, the fifth-best effort in the NHL.

Of course, no matter how good Quick looked against Anaheim, the Wild is a far superior opponent. Even more alarming, it’s not even the offense that makes this team the best team in both the Central Division and the West. Instead, it’s the incredible play of their netminder, who has allowed only 136 goals against – the second-fewest in the league.

To put things simply, 32-11-3 Devan Dubnyk has been one of, if not the best goaltender in the NHL this season. Not only is his .933 save percentage and 2.01 GAA the best in the State of Hockey, but they’re also the best and second-best marks, respectively, in the league.

His effort is made only more impressive by the fact that he faces an average of 31 shots-per-game, the (t)10th-highest rate in the NHL. Jared Spurgeon has done all he can to limit his netminder’s work with 106 shot blocks, but he’s the only skater with more than 80 to his credit. But, with as well as Dubnyk, is playing, I doubt Bruce Boudreau will hear him complain too much.

The Wild continue to be an impenetrable force even when they’re down a man, as their 83.1% penalty kill rate is 10th-best in the league. Just has he does at even-strength, Spurgeon headlines the penalty kill, as his 15 shorthanded blocks lead the club.

The Wild‘s penalty kill is good, maybe even great, but their power play is even better. Actually, to be more specific, it’s tied for best in the league with Toronto, as both are successful on 22.8% of attempts. Granlund headlines that attack with his 17 power play points, but it’s Niederreiter who will keep Quick on his toes. The Swiss wing has buried eight extra-man goals, the most on the squad.

On January 7, the Wild made their annual trek to the Staples Center to face Los Angeles, and they almost came away with two points. Instead, Pearson scored an overtime winner to give the Kings a 4-3 victory.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Los Angeles‘ Carter (30 goals [tied for second-most in the league]) & Minnesota‘s Dubnyk (32 wins on a .933 save percentage [both best in the NHL] and a 2.01 GAA [second-best in the league], including five shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the NHL]), Granlund (+29 [seventh-best in the league]), Koivu (+30 [sixth-best in the NHL]), Spurgeon (+32 [tied for second-best in the league]), Ryan Suter (+33 [best in the NHL]) and Zucker (+32 [tied for second-best in the league]).

With Minnesota favored -145 by Vegas, I’d be very surprised if the Kings manage to even force overtime this evening. Abysmal might be a compliment for this offense, and it will be made only worse by the overpowering play of Dubnyk. The Wild should continue to fight for the Western lead with relative ease this evening.

Hockey Birthday

  • Braydon Coburn (1985-) – Currently playing his third season in Tampa Bay, this defenseman was originally selected eighth-overall by Atlanta in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. Most of his 12-season career was spent in Philadelphia, and he was a member of that 2010 Flyers team that won the Eastern Conference from the seven-seed.
  • Dustin Jeffrey (1988-) – Drafted in the sixth-round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft by Pittsburgh, he last appeared in the league with Arizona in the 2015-’16 season.

Twice scoring two goals in a period, the Columbus Blue Jackets took it to the Rangers in Madison Square Garden in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, winning 5-2.

Only 1:02 into the game, First Star of the Game Alexander Wennberg (David Savard and Oliver Bjorkstrand) got the Jackets‘ attack started with a tip-in tally. Rick Nash (Jimmy Vesey and Derek Stepan) pulled New York back even with his snap shot 3:05 later, but a Second Star Cam Atkinson (Sam Gagner and Zach Werenski) power play snapper at the 6:47 mark once again gave the Blue Jackets a lead. That 2-1 score held into the first intermission.

The same man to strike first in the opening frame took credit for the lone tally of the second. Wennberg’s (Bjorkstrand) 12th goal of the year was a backhanded shot at the 9:47 mark of the period, and proved to be the eventual game-winner.

The Wennberg-Atkinson pattern continued 4:12 into the final frame, as Atkinson (Brandon Dubinsky) buried a snapper to give Columbus a 4-1 lead. With 24 seconds remaining in the game, Josh Anderson (William Karlsson and Scott Hartnell) scored the Jackets‘ final tally of the night, followed by Jesper Fast‘s (Marc Staal and Oscar Lindberg) goal with a second remaining on the clock.

Third Star Sergei Bobrovsky earned the victory after saving 28-of-30 shots faced (93.3%), leaving the loss to Henrik Lundqvist, who saved 21-of-26 (80.8%).

It’s been nine days since a road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series has lost. That incredible streak has given the 69-43-21 visitors an 11-point lead over hosts.

January 18 – Day 95 – Battle of California

It’s time for some Wednesday hockey! The action begins at 7:30 p.m. with two contests (Arizona at Winnipeg and Pittsburgh at Montréal [RDS/SN1]), with Boston at Detroit (NBCSN/TVAS) waiting until 8 p.m. 9:30 p.m. marks the puck drop of Florida at Edmonton (SN1) and precedes this evening’s nightcap – San Jose at Los Angeles (NBCSN) – by an hour.

Short list:

  • Boston at Detroit: Not only is it an Original Six rivalry, but the Bruins were held out of last season’s playoffs due to losing a tiebreaker to the Wings.
  • San Jose at Los Angeles: This rivalry was made only more intense by the Sharks eliminating the Kings in last season’s Stanley Cup playoffs.

We’ve only made one trip to the Staples Center this season, and that’s just inexcusable. Let’s fix that by featuring the Battle of California tonight.

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We all know the Sharks‘ story last season. They won their first Western Conference title. They were within two games of hoisting one of, if not the most coveted piece of hardware in sports.

But fans – okay, most fans (sorry Angelenos!) – need to remember that according to seeding, San Jose had no business finding that success. The Sharks were the three seed in the Pacific Division, arguably the weakest division in the NHL. But they didn’t care. They blew up the Kings‘ trend of winning even-yeared Cups and cruised to a five-game Western Quarterfinals victory.

Tonight, the Sharks return to the very surface they clinched that series victory on for the third time this season. They’re 1-1-0 in Los Angeles this season, and lead the overall season series against the Kings 2-1-1.

San Jose makes the trip to the City of Angels with a 26-16-2 record, good enough for third-place in the Pacific Division. They’ve found that success by playing a phenomenal combination of defense and goaltending to allow only 102 goals against, the fourth-fewest in the NHL.

Every defensive feature has to start with the goaltender, and 22-14-2 Martin Jones is no slouch. He’s notched a .916 save percentage for a 2.25 GAA, the (t)20th and (t)sixth-best efforts, respectively, in the league among the 41 goalies with 19 or more appearances.

A good GAA paired with a less-than-impressive save percentage is almost always due to a fantastic defense, and San Jose is not exception. Thanks to Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s team-leading 81 blocks, the Sharks have allowed only 27 shots-per-game to reach Jones’ crease, the third-best average in the league.

If the Sharks could improve on one aspect of their game, it would have to be the power play where they rank ninth-worst after converting only 16.5% of their opportunities. Joe Pavelski has been most-responsible for the little success his squad has found with a team-leading 14 power play points, yet it’s been Logan Couture who’s stricken the most fear into opposing goaltenders with his seven man-advantage goals. Unfortunately, he injured his upper body on Monday against the Jets and could miss tonight’s contest. If he does, the “power play striker” role shifts to Brent Burns, who has five extra-man goals to his credit.

Hosting this evening are the 22-18-4 Kings, the fifth-best team in the Pacific Division. Just like their rivals, Los Angeles plays a some phenomenal defense and goaltending to allow only 107 goals, the fifth-fewest in the league.

20-12-3 Peter Budaj continues to do a good job standing in for the injured Jonathan Quick this season, notching a .917 save percentage and 2.09 GAA – the 19th and fifth-best efforts, respectively, among the 44 netminders with 18 or more appearances.

Although Budaj has been good, his bluelines have been better. Led by Alec Martinez‘ 93 shot blocks, the Kings have allowed only 25.8 shots-per-game to reach Budaj’s net, easily the best rate in the NHL.

Unlike San Jose, the Kings‘ defensive success has carried into the penalty kill. Los Angeles refuses to yield a tally after 83.2% of their penalties, the ninth-best effort in the league. Once again, Martinez has been at the core of the blueline’s play with a team-leading 24 shorthanded shot blocks.

Unfortunately, the Kings‘ power play has not been able to maintain the special teams reputation of success. They’ve converted only 16.9% of their opportunities for goals, which ties for 10th-worst in the NHL. Jeff Carter has tried as hard as he can with his team-leading 11 power play points, but only Drew Doughty has joined him in his push. Carter also leads the club in power play goals with seven.

Some players to watch this evening include Los Angeles‘ Budaj (four shutouts [fourth-most in the league] and a 2.09 GAA [sixth-best in the NHL] for 20 wins [eighth-most in the league]) and Carter (23 goals [second-most in the NHL]) & San Jose‘s Burns (45 points [tied for fifth-most in the league]) and Jones (22 wins [tied for fourth-most in the NHL] on a 2.25 GAA [tied for eighth-best in the league]).

I like San Jose to come to Hollywood to earn the victory. It will certainly be a tight, defensive matchup that will only be solved by the superior offense. Compared to the Kings‘ 2.5 goals-scored average, the Sharks average 2.61 goals per game should be enough to earn them the victory.

Hockey Birthday

  • Syl Apps (1915-1998) – This Hall of Fame center played all of his 10 seasons in Toronto. He had a habit of collecting hardware, including three Stanley Cups, the 1937 Calder Trophy and the 1942 Byng Trophy.
  • Mark Messier (1961-) – Drafted 48th-overall in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft by Edmonton, this Hall of Fame forward played in 15 All Star games over his 25 NHL seasons. The longtime Oiler hoisted the Stanley Cup six times, as well as two Hart Trophies, two Pearsons and the 1984 Smythe.
  • Ruslan Fedotenko (1979-) – Even though he went undrafted, this left wing played 863 games over his dozen seasons, most of which in Tampa Bay. The two-time Stanley Cup champion scored 366 points before hanging up his skates the last time.
  • Brian Gionta (1979-) – A third-round pick by New Jersey in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing is in his third season in Buffalo. He was on the 2003 Devils squad that won the Stanley Cup.
  • Alex Pietrangelo (1990-) – The lone non-champion on today’s list, this defenseman was drafted fourth-overall by St. Louis in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. He’s never played a game without the Blue Note on his chest, and was awarded the Blues‘ captaincy in August.

I sure do love a one-goal game, and that’s what we got in Vancouver yesterday for the DtFR Game of the Day as the Canucks beat the visiting Predators 1-0.

That winning tally wasn’t struck until only 7:32 remained in regulation. Second Star of the Game Henrik Sedin (Luca Sbisa and Loui Eriksson) takes credit with a solid wrister to beat Third Star Pekka Rinne.

First Star Ryan Miller earns the shutout victory after turning away all 30 shots he faced, leaving the disappointing loss to Rinne after saving 25-of-26 (96.2%).

The Canucks‘ shutout victory is the first in the DtFR Game of the Day series since the Philadelphia-San Jose game on December 30. Just like in that game, the home team won, improving the hosts’ record to 51-32-14, seven points better than the visitors.

January 1 – Day 78 – Centennial Classic

Wake up, sleepyheads! I don’t care how late you stayed up! We’ve got to get this year started off right and the only way to do that is with hockey!

The action starts at 3 p.m. with Detroit at Toronto (NBC/SN/TVAS) at Exhibition Stadium – you know, where the Argonauts and Toronto FC play. Ottawa at Washington (SN/TVAS) drops the puck at 7:30 p.m., followed half an hour later by tonight’s nightcap: Philadelphia at Anaheim (NHLN). All times eastern.

All three games are going to be very exciting, but only one is a rivalry. Oh, and it’s also being played outside, which seems to get everybody excited. We’ll head up to Toronto just in case something cool happens.

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BMO Field  – that’s the usual name of this facility – has certainly seen some special events this season. It was the site of TFC‘s MLS Eastern Conference-clinching effort, making them the first-ever Canadian participant in the MLS Cup. Unfortunately, they lost the scoreless title game to the Seattle Sounders in penalty kicks, earning the Sounders their first Cup.

Also, the Argonauts… played football… sometimes.

The same could also be played for today’s visitors. For 25-straight seasons, Detroit has played at least four games beyond their regular season schedule, but at 16-16-4, it looks like more than Joe Louis Arena will be coming to an end. The main culprit? A lackadaisical offense that has managed only 84 goals – the fifth-fewest in the NHL.

The ‘C’ on Henrik Zetterberg‘s chest is important to him, and it shows in his play. He leads his club with 25 points, acting most of the time as a facilitator. The Wings‘ sniper is the same kid it was last year. Dylan Larkin has 10 tallies to his credit, most on the team.

Yesterday we featured the best power play in the game. Today, Detroit represents the worst, successful on only 12% of opportunities. It’s with the man-advantage that Frans Nielsen truly shines, as his seven power play points are tops on the club. Larkin once again tops the Wings‘ goal chart with the extra man, but he shares the title with Thomas Vanek as both have lit the lamp three times.

Although they’re nearly five kilometers (that’s three miles, Americans) from their usual surface, the 16-12-7 Maple Leafs play host this evening. Winners of their last four, they’re the fifth-best team in the Atlantic Division even though they’re tied for the 12th-most goals scored.

Unfortunately in the Eastern Conference this year, 12th-most is not good enough to break into a playoff position, even when Toronto‘s defense/goaltending is even better than their offense. Star rookie Auston Matthews has been at the head of the Leafs‘ attack, notching 30 points in 35 games. 18 of those points have been goals, which is also the best mark on the squad.

Defensively, the Leafs are at their best when down a man. They’ve properly defended 84.9% of opposing power plays, the sixth-best mark in the NHL. Zach Hyman and Roman Polak have both been at the head of that effort, with 14 shorthanded blocks apiece.

Let us not forget that it was not randomly the Red Wings to visit Toronto this fine first day of 2017. This rivalry is as old as the league itself and has been played out in the Stanley Cup playoffs more than every other rivalry other than Boston-Montréal. Even though they haven’t faced since 1993 in that capacity, don’t think the animosity between these fan-bases has dwindled any since then.

Some players to keep an eye on include Detroit‘s Jimmy Howard (.934 save percentage [tied for second-best in the league] for a 1.96 GAA [fourth-best in the NHL]) & Toronto‘s Frederik Andersen (.925 save percentage [ninth-best in the league] for 15 wins [tied for eighth-most in the NHL]) and Matthews (18 goals [fifth-most in the league]).

Vegas has marked the Maple Leafs a -150 favorite, and I’d be shocked if the Wings pull even a point out of Hogtown. Although Howard is going to give his best shot, Toronto‘s offense is far superior to the Wings‘ and will be able to power the Leafs to victory.

Hockey Birthday

  • Calum MacKay (1927-2001) – A Red Wing for six games, this left wing played most of his seven seasons in Montréal. He was an All Star selection and hoisted the Stanley Cup in 1953.
  • Dave Silk (1958-) – This right wing was the 59th-overall pick in the 1978 NHL Entry Draft by the Rangers, and he played most of his seven-season career with the club. Just like MacKay, Silk had a brief tenure in Detroit, but he’s most known for his gold medal at the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympic Games.
  • Bobby Holik (1971-) – The 10th-overall pick in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft by Hartford, this center played most of his 18-season career in New Jersey. While there, he was twice named to the All Star team and also hoisted two Stanley Cups.
  • Jeff Carter (1985-) – This two-time Cup winning center was the 11th-overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft by Philadelphia, the club he’s technically played most his games with. Of course, it looks like his tenure in Los Angeles will continue well beyond this season and we’ll forever remember him a King.
  • Gilbert Brule (1987-) – Columbus picked this center sixth-overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s who he spent most of his eight NHL seasons with. Nowadays, this Canadian is playing in Croatia with the Medveščak Zagreb in KHL.
  • Devin Setoguchi (1987-) – The eighth-overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by San Jose, this right wing is in his ninth NHL season, playing this year for Los Angeles.

Columbus‘ winning streak extends to 15-straight, thereby ending Minnesota‘s at 12, after a 4-2 Blue Jackets victory in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The first goal of the day was struck with 9:55 remaining in the first period, belonging to First Star of the Game Cam Atkinson (Brandon Dubinsky) and the Jackets. It was the lone tally of the first frame.

3:29 after returning to the ice, Jack Johnson (Brandon Saad and Alexander Wennberg) doubled Columbus‘ lead to 2-0, and Atkinson (Ryan Murray and Markus Nutivaara) buried the eventual game-winning goal only 15 seconds later. The Wild finally got on the board with a power play wrister from Mikael Granlund (Third Star Jared Spurgeon and Mikko Koivu) at the 5:58 mark to set the score at 3-1, but Columbus had one more trick up their sleeve: a Seth Jones (Saad and Nick Foligno) snap shot with 2:25 remaining in the period to resume their three-goal lead.

Only 24 seconds after resuming play in the third period, Jason Zucker (Granlund and Spurgeon) buried a backhand shot to set the score at 4-2, but the Wild were unable to pose anymore of a threat to lose their first contest since December 2.

Second Star Sergei Bobrovsky earns the victory after saving 29-of-31 shots faced (93.5%), leaving the loss to Devan Dubnyk, who saved 21-of-25 (84%).

The Jackets‘ road victory sets the DtFR Game of the Day series at 44-24-12, favoring the home squads by 14 points over the roadies.

December 29 – Day 75 – Gretzky game

The last Thursday of 2016 is a busy one in the NHL. A dozen games will take place this evening, starting with two at 7 p.m. (Boston at Buffalo and New Jersey at Washington [NBCSN]) and another pair half an hour later (Toronto at Tampa Bay [TVAS] and Montréal at Florida [RDS]). 8 p.m. brings with it four contests (Chicago at Nashville, the New York Islanders at Minnesota, Columbus at Winnipeg and Detroit at Ottawa [RDSI]), and Colorado at Dallas gets underway 30 minutes later. Lastly, it’s a trifecta of nightcaps (Anaheim at Calgary [SN360], Los Angeles at Edmonton and the New York Rangers at Arizona) when 9 p.m. rolls around to close out the night.

Short list:

  • Boston at Buffalo: Nothing like a little rivalry to get the blood pumping.
  • Montréal at Florida: Al Montoya will get the start in net against the club he played 45 games over two seasons with.
  • Los Angeles at Edmonton: Another rivalry, although it’s nowhere near as Great as it once was (See what I did there? Sneaky.).

Sorry Montoya, but the potential for a good game in Alberta is too great for us to pass up. Off to the brand-new Rogers Place!

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Of course, this rivalry exists/used to exist entirely because of the trade that shipped Wayne Gretzky from the Oilers to the Kings, but it takes new life this year as both teams are currently in playoff position. Of course, that could change if things don’t go the Kings‘ way and either Dallas, Nashville or Winnipeg win this evening.

The Kings make the trip to Edmonton with a 17-14-4 record, good enough for fifth place in the Pacific Division and, more importantly, eighth in the Western Conference – aka the second wildcard! They’ve found that success by playing one of, if not the best defense in the league, allowing only 83 goals – the sixth-fewest in the NHL.

Thanks to Jonathan Quick‘s groin injury in the first game of the season, it has been 15-9-3 Peter Budaj taking most of the starts in Los Angeles. Over that time, he’s accrued a .919 save percentage and 2.04 GAA – the 19th and sixth-best efforts, respectively, among the 44 netminders with 14 or more appearances.

An okay save percentage paired with an excellent GAA is always indicative of a stellar defense, and Tinseltown is no different. Led by Derek Forbort‘s 77 shot blocks and second-in-command Alec Martinez‘ 72, the Kings allow only an average of 25.8 shots to reach Budaj’s net per night, the best in the league by nearly a full shot.

As expected, they continue that effort on the penalty kill, where their 84.2% kill rate is tied for seventh-best in the league. Although the same two culprits are responsible for this charge, Martinez’ 19 shorthanded blocks are five more than Forbort’s.

Unfortunately, the power play hasn’t been able to hold up its end of the bargain. Successful on only 15.7% of opportunities, the Kings tie for ninth-worst in the league. Jeff Carter leads the team with only eight power play points, but that overshadows an impressive six power play goals (ties for 11th-most in the NHL).

Playing host this evening are the 18-12-6 Oilers, the second-best team in the Pacific. Offense is the name of the game in The Big E, as the Oil‘s 103 tallies ties for seventh-most in the NHL.

You get two guesses as to who has the most points in Edmonton. Something tells me you only needed one of those guesses. Captain Connor McDavid‘s 42 points are not only tops in Edmonton, but also the tie with Sidney Crosby for most in the entire league. That being said, it has been Leon Draisaitl who has buries the most pucks for the Oil, with 14 to his credit. He narrowly beats out McDavid’s 13.

Just like Los Angeles, what goes well during even-strength action shines especially bright during special teams. Edmonton‘s 21.2% conversion rate on the power play is eighth-best in the NHL. Draisaitl truly shines here, partially because he and McDavid are both on the first power play unit. The elder center has 14 man-advantage points on his resume already this year (two more than McDavid and Milan Lucic), and also has an impressive eight power play goals (tied for second-most in the league).

These clubs have already met once this season, and the Kings came out on top. They squared off in the Staples Center on November 17 to a 4-2 LA victory. Budaj took credit for the win, and Carter’s shorthanded second period wrister was the deciding score.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Edmonton‘s McDavid (29 assists [most in the league] among 42 points [tied for the NHL lead]) and Cam Talbot (three shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the league] among 17 wins [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]) & Los Angeles‘ Budaj (four shutouts [tied for second-most in the league] and a 2.04 GAA [sixth-best in the NHL] for 15 wins [tied for eighth-most in the league]) and Carter (19 goals [tied for second-most in the NHL]).

Vegas likes Edmonton to win tonight at -130, and I do too. Not only are the Oil playing at home sweet home, their penalty kill is more than up to the task of squelching the Kings‘ poor power play. I’d even go so far to say that Mark Letestu, who opened the season with two shorthanded goals, could notch his fourth penalty kill point tonight. Who knows?

Hockey Birthday

  • Nels Stewart (1902-1957) – When the Montreal Maroons won the 1926 Stanley Cup, it was this Hall of Fame center who was in the middle of most of the scoring. A two-time Hart Trophy winner, he scored a team-high 34 goals in 36 games played that season.
  • Filip Kuba (1975-) – A Florida-pick in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft, this defenseman played most of his 14 seasons in Minnesota. In 2004, his fourth season with the Wild, he earned a roster spot at the All-Star game.
  • Pierre Dagenais (1978-) – You know you’re wanted when the same team drafts you twice. That’s what happened to this left wing, as New Jersey selected him in both the 1996 and 1998 NHL Entry Drafts. He only played 25 games for the Devils; most of his short NHL career was spent in Montréal.

Notching the first hat trick of his NHL career, First Star of the Game Robby Fabbri led St. Louis past the Flyers in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day series, winning 6-3.

It was actually Wayne Simmonds (Travis Konecny and Brayden Schenn) and Philadelphia getting on the board first, as the right wing tipped-in the puck only 3:25 into the contest. The Notes leveled with 4:59 remaining in the first with a Kevin Shattenkirk (Alexander Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko) power play slap shot. With a dozen seconds remaining before the first intermission, Fabbri (Second Star Colton Parayko) notched his first goal of the night with a power play wrister, giving the Notes a 2-1 lead.

Only 4:32 after returning to the ice, Nick Cousins (Ivan Provorov and Konecny) leveled the game for Philly with the lone goal of the second period.

It was an evening of quick starts for the Flyers, as they took a 3-2 lead only 4:13 into the third period with a Schenn (Shayne Gostisbehere and Simmonds) power play slap shot. That lead lasted only 100 seconds before David Perron (Parayko) pulled St. Louis even. 1:20 after that, Third Star Scottie Upshall (Joel Edmundson and Alex Pietrangelo) provided the tally that proved to be the game-winning shot. Those that are good at math know that set the score at 4-3, leaving the final two goals to Fabbri to complete his hatty. He scored at even-strength with 4:59 remaining (Patrik Berglund and Dmitrij Jaskin), and on an empty net (Jaskin and Paul Stastny) with 2:56 remaining to earn the accolade.

Carter Hutton earned the victory after saving 17-of-20 shots faced (85%), leaving the loss to Steve Mason, saving 19-of-24 (79.2%).

The Notes‘ victory means the home sides in the DtFR Game of the Day series have earned at least a point in the last six matchups, setting the series record at 42-23-12 and improving their lead over the roadies to a dozen points.

November 30 – Day 49 – When that Shark bites with his teeth babe

It’s Wednesday, so you know what that means: a light NHL schedule. Don’t worry though, most off tonight’s offerings are quality matchups.

We start at 8 p.m. with Pittsburgh visiting the New York Islanders (NBCSN/TVAS), followed half an hour later by Toronto at Calgary (SN). Finally, at 10:30 p.m., San Jose at Los Angeles (NBCSN) drops the puck.

  • Pittsburgh at New York: We’ve already featured this rivalry once this season. It’s usually a good one.
  • San Jose at Los Angeles: Another rivalry, but this one cuts a little deeper this season given these squads met in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.

The added “oomph” of the playoff rematch takes us to the City of Angels!

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Only seven months ago, these teams were battling in the First Round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Obviously, the Sharks won as they represented the Western Conference in the Finals, but their 4-1 victory over the rival Kings surprised many, given that Los Angeles had home ice advantage. But San Jose actually dominated the season series with a 3-1-1 record, three points better than the Kings head-to-head.

Nowadays, those Sharks are 13-9-1 and sit atop the Pacific Division. To earn that position, they’ve played some excellent defense and goaltending to allow only 49 goals, tied for the fourth-fewest in the game.

At 20 starts, Martin Jones has been between the pipes for almost every single game the Sharks have played so far this season. Over his 1148 minutes, he’s earned an 11-8-1 record on a .919 save percentage and 2.09 GAA, the 13th and (t)seventh-best rates, respectively, among the 34 netminders with 10 or more appearances.

A GAA that is significantly better than its associated save percentage is indicative of a great defense, and this instance is no different. Led by Justin Braun‘s 46 blocks, the Sharks have allowed 25.9 shots to reach Jones per night, the second-lowest average in the league.

Unsurprisingly, this success has continued to the penalty kill, where San Jose ranks ninth-best. Braun continues to lead the effort with 12 shorthanded shot blocks, and that has guided the team to effectively limiting opposing power plays 84.9% of the time.

The skating tenants of the Staples Center are 12-9-1, good enough for only fourth place in the Pacific Division. Similar to their NorCal rivals, the Kings play a great defensive game, allowing seventh-fewest goals against in the NHL at 53.

The main headline this year has surrounded Los Angeles‘ crease not being patrolled by Jonathan Quick. He is still expected to need another month of rehabilitation, leaving the net to Peter Budaj. Already on course for his most starts in a season since his days in Colorado, the Slovak has taken advantage of the opportunity presented to him to set a 12-6-1 record – yes, he’s been in net for each and every one of the Kings‘ points. He’s done that with a .917 save percentage and 2.04 GAA, the (t)17th and eighth-best efforts, respectively, among the 40 goaltenders with nine or more appearances.

Once again we have a decent goalie playing with an excellent defense. Leading the charge in only his second season (after a rookie season where he played only 22 games with the senior squad) has been Derek Forbort, with an impressive 52 blocks to his name. The entire blueline’s effort has led to the Kings allowing only 25.5 shots-against-per-game, the lowest in the league.

Where Los Angeles is really lacking is on their power play. Successful on only 12.1% of attempts, they rank third-worst in the NHL. Five different players have three man-advantage points to their credit, but it’s been Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli leading the goal-scoring charge with only two power play-goals apiece.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Los Angeles‘ Budaj (12 wins [tied for second-most in the NHL], including two shutouts [tied for sixth-most in the league] on a 2.04 GAA [ninth-best in the NHL]) and Toffoli (+12 [tied for fifth-best in the league]) & San Jose‘s Brent Burns (21 points [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]) and Jones (11 wins, including two shutouts [both tied for sixth-most in the league]).

Bets are off in Vegas, which is always a good sign. I’m leaning towards San Jose winning tonight’s contest on the road not only because they won the first meeting this season 2-1, but based on their power play – I believe it to be better than the Kings‘ penalty kill. We’ll see if that holds true.

Hockey Birthday

  • Jason Pominville (1982-) – This right wing was selected by Buffalo in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, but he’s currently playing in Minnesota. He was an All-Star in 2012, the same season he was traded.

Tom Rowe may not have turned the Panthers into winners overnight, but they were good enough to force a shootout in Chicago before falling 2-1.

With 2:10 remaining in the first period, Richard Panik (Dennis Rasmussen and Marcus Kruger) scored a backhander to give the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead they would not yield until the third frame.

Only 35 seconds after returning to the ice from the second intermission, Jaromir Jagr (Jonathan Marchessault and Aaron Ekblad) took advantage of a Niklas Hjalmarsson hooking penalty carried over from late in the second period with a power play wrister to level the game at one-all.

Neither team was able to score a winner in either the remaining time in regulation or three-on-three overtime, so we were off to the Game of the Day series’ second shootout in four days.

  1. Up first was Patrick Kane for Chicago, but his shot was saved by Roberto Luongo.
  2. Vincent Trocheck went next, but he did even worse than Kane – his shot wasn’t even on frame and did not require a Corey Crawford save.
  3. Second Star of the Game Artemi Panarin was the first to strike shootout blood, giving Chicago a 1-0 lead.
  4. Aleksander Barkov‘s tying attempt was saved by Crawford.
  5. Panik sealed the victory for Chicago with another goal.

First Star Crawford earned the victory after saving 38-of-39 shots faced (97.4%), while Third Star Luongo saved 32-of-33 (97%) in the shootout loss.

That home victory extends the hosts’ lead to eight points in the DtFR Game of the Day series with a record of 28-16-7.