Tag Archives: Jeff Skinner

DTFR Podcast #154- Sweep City!

Nick, Colby and Pete assess the Philadelphia Flyers’ hiring of Alain Vigneault, the Los Angeles Kings’ hiring of Todd McLellan, where does this leave the Buffalo Sabres in their search for a head coach, as well as some of the good (CBJ and NYI sweep), bad and ugly from the ongoing First Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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DTFR Podcast #152- One Week Left

The DTFR Duo talk a little college hockey, other stats from the week, the CWHL folding and NWHL expansion opportunities, as well as hand out more awards and a look at how things should sort out in the Atlantic Division for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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Game of the week: March 11-17

We’re definitely starting to get close to the Stanley Cup Playoffs now! As of the completion of last night’s games, three teams (Detroit, New Jersey and Ottawa) have already been eliminated from postseason contention, and even more will surely join that list by next week’s featured matchup.

Of course, the only way to figure out which teams those are is by playing out the schedule. Here’s this week’s NHL offerings:

NHL SCHEDULE: March 11-17
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, March 11
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Toronto 6-2
7 p.m. Columbus Blue Jackets New York Islanders 0-2
7 p.m. Ottawa Philadelphia 2-3
8 p.m. San Jose Minnesota 3-0
8:30 p.m. Arizona Chicago 1-7
9 p.m. Carolina Colorado 3-0
9 p.m. New York Rangers Edmonton Oilers 2-3 (OT)
Tuesday, March 12
7 p.m. Dallas Buffalo 2-0
7 p.m. Washington Pittsburgh 3-5
7 p.m. Boston Columbus 4-7
7:30 p.m. Detroit Montréal 1-3
8 p.m. Arizona St. Louis 3-1
8 p.m. San Jose Winnipeg 5-4
9 p.m. New Jersey Calgary 4-9
10 p.m. Nashville Anaheim 2-3
Wednesday, March 13
7 p.m. Chicago Toronto 5-4
9:30 p.m. New Jersey Edmonton 6-3
10 p.m. New York Rangers Vancouver Canucks 1-4
Thursday, March 14
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Buffalo 5-0
7 p.m. Montréal Canadiens New York Islanders 1-2
7 p.m. Washington Philadelphia 5-2
7:30 p.m. St. Louis Ottawa 0-2
7:30 p.m. Tampa Bay Detroit 5-4
8 p.m. Dallas Minnesota 4-1
8 p.m. Boston Winnipeg 3-4
10 p.m. Anaheim Arizona 1-6
10:30 p.m. Nashville Los Angeles 3-1
10:30 p.m. Florida San Jose 4-2
Friday, March 15
7 p.m. Philadelphia Toronto 6-7
7 p.m. Carolina Columbus 0-3
8 p.m. Vegas Dallas 2-1
9 p.m. Anaheim Colorado 5-3
9 p.m. New York Rangers Calgary Flames 1-5
10 p.m. New Jersey Vancouver 3-2 (SO)
Saturday, March 16
1 p.m. St. Louis Pittsburgh NHLN, TVAS
1 p.m. New York Islanders Detroit Red Wings  
4 p.m. Florida Los Angeles  
7 p.m. Calgary Winnipeg ESPN+
7 p.m. Columbus Boston ESPN+
7 p.m. Chicago Montréal CITY, TVAS
7 p.m. Toronto Ottawa CBC, SN1, TVAS2
7 p.m. Washington Tampa Bay NHLN
7 p.m. Buffalo Carolina  
8 p.m. New York Rangers Minnesota Wild  
10 p.m. Edmonton Oilers Arizona Coyotes CBC, CITY, SN, SN1
10:30 p.m. Nashville San Jose ESPN+
Sunday, March 17
3 p.m. New Jersey Colorado SN1
5 p.m. St. Louis Buffalo NHLN
6 p.m. New York Islanders Minnesota Wild ESPN+
7 p.m. Vancouver Dallas SN
7:30 p.m. Philadelphia Pittsburgh NBCSN, TVAS
9 p.m. Florida Anaheim  
10 p.m. Edmonton Vegas NBCSN

Another fun week of NHL action, no?

After all, we’ve been treated to a little bit of rivalry action already when the Capitals visited Pittsburgh and the Red Wings headed to Montréal on Tuesday, not to mention Wednesday’s Original Six contest featuring Chicago at Toronto.

The hatred continued Thursday when the Caps headed to the City of Brotherly Love and will resume today with the Hawks in Montréal and the Battle of Ontario. Finally, the Battle of the Keystone State will clean up this week’s derby action tomorrow night.

We were also treated to more than a few playoff rematches from last season, though it must be asked if they’re all that exciting anymore since we’re so close to this year’s postseason.

It’s all about the Capitals and Penguins in that department this week, starting with their Tuesday night tilt in a rematch of the Eastern Semifinals. Washington then heads to Tampa tonight in a rematch of the Eastern Finals, while the Pens host Philly tomorrow in a rematch of the First Round.

Finally, this week’s homecoming king is none other than LW Antoine Roussel, who spent the first six seasons of his NHL career in Dallas before signing with the Canucks this offseason. He’ll play his first-ever road game at American Airlines Center tomorrow.

Players also making important returns this week include F Jacob de La Rose (he was a second-round pick by the Habs in 2013) and C Ryan O’Reilly (he spent three seasons with the Sabres before being traded to St. Louis this offseason).

However, we can throw all of this information out of the window, as I’m instead choosing to feature the tilt fellow DtFR writer Colby Kephart and I are taking this evening featuring his beloved Sabres taking on the red-hot Carolina Hurricanes.

The growing pains for the 30-31-9 Buffalo Sabres have been all too real this season, but the fact that they’re having them should mean the club is growing, right?

Of course, we all remember the Sabres’ unbelievable 10-game winning streak they experienced throughout almost the entire month of November.

However, that winning run is certainly in the rear-view mirror nowadays, as Buffalo is currently riding a six-game losing skid (0-5-1) and boasts a lowly 2-10-2 record in its last 14 outings. Making matters even worse, the Sabres’ attack has been shutout for three-straight games, clocking in at 192:40 since their last non-shootout goal.

As might be indicated by a shutout streak of that magnitude, offense has been the Sabres’ biggest struggle of late. That’s not to say the 3.79 goals or 35.07 shots they’re allowing on average since February 15 is OK (those stats respectively rank third and fourth-worst in the NHL in that time), but the Sabres’ 2.07 goals per game in the past month ranks second-worst in the league and simply must improve to something closer to their 2.71 season average if they want to end their campaign on a positive note.

In the Sabres’ defense, they have been without their captain, C Jack Eichel, while he’s been suspended for the last two games for an illegal hit to F Carl Soderberg‘s head. That being said, even his 7-4-11 production in his past 12 outings is still slightly off his expected pace. On the season, he’s managed 25-47-72 points in 65 games and looks to be on pace for his first season averaging more than a point per game.

With his return to the ice, Head Coach Phil Housley will have high expectations that his club’s top line and first power play unit should rediscover its groove. If that proves to be the case, F Jeff Skinner (36-22-58 on the season, 2-5-7 since February 15) and RW Jason Pominville (15-13-28 on the season, 2-3-5 in his last 14 appearances) should see their numbers get back on pace as well.

You’re hard pressed to find a hotter team in the NHL right now than the 38-26-7 Carolina Hurricanes, the Eastern Conference’s current first wild card.

Despite losing last night in Columbus 3-0, Carolina has rattled off an impressive 16-5-2 record in its past 23 outings and is drawing ever nearer to ending its nine-year playoff drought by qualifying for the postseason for the sixth time in Hurricanes history (14th if the Hartford Whalers’ eight Stanley Cup Playoff appearances are included).

While the Canes are certainly finding success in almost every facet of the game during this run, their most impressive strength, at least in my opinion, has been that of their defense. A point of emphasis even before Rod Brind’Amour took over head coaching responsibilities, Carolina has allowed an average of only 28.61 shots against per game since January 20, the second-best mark in the Eastern Conference and third-best in the league in that time.

Leading the defensive charge for the Hurricanes during this run has been none other than D Calvin de Haan (2.5 hits per game in his last 20 appearances) and D Jaccob Slavin (1.7 blocks per game and 21 takeaways since January 20).

Unfortunately, de Haan suffered an eye injury in Colorado on Monday and will likely remain out of the lineup this evening. Taking up de Haan’s role as the rough-‘n’-tough blueliner has been Slavin’s linemate, D Dougie Hamilton, who’s averaged two hits per game since January 20.

Of course, the person in PNC Arena most appreciative of that incredible defensive effort is always 17-8-2 G Curtis McElhinney, who’s all but ensured of this evening’s start since 18-13-3 G Petr Mrazek was in net last night in Ohio. McElhinney boasts a .914 save percentage and 2.52 GAA for the season, and that’s almost the exact form he’s shown for his past nine starts to add his last six wins (his GAA is a 2.54 for his last nine outings, two-hundredths of a goal worse than his season mark).

Especially after last night’s poor outing, it’s hard to pick against the Hurricanes this evening. Having already won their first two meetings with the Sabres this season, Carolina will have its sights set on completing the season sweep and staying ahead of Columbus and Montréal in the playoff race.

That being said, just because the Canes have won the last two meetings doesn’t mean they were easy victories. Both tilts ended with only one goal separating the winner and loser, including their last meeting on February 7 in Buffalo that required overtime.

Being the better rested team that is regaining its captain, the Sabres will surely show their teeth this evening, but Carolina should still escape with two points.

DTFR Podcast #147- Trade The Whole Team

It’s the DTFR 2019 Trade Deadline recap! Plus a few other notes from the last week around the NHL.

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DTFR Podcast #146- Cory In The [Win Column]

The St. Louis Blues just keep on winning (11 straight, to be exact). Can they win it all? The Tampa Bay Lightning are not Stanley Cup favorites according to Nick– nobody is! Did the Edmonton Oilers win a trade? Cory Schneider won a game! and other milestones from the last week, as well as whatever happened in the Boston Bruins vs San Jose Sharks game on Monday.

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Game of the week: February 4-10

Now that all the bye weeks are behind us, the next big event on the NHL calendar is the trade deadline at the end of the month. The activity leading up to that date will be majorly influenced by the next couple weeks’ games, including these tilts:

NHL SCHEDULE: February 4-10
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, February 4
7 p.m. Anaheim Toronto 1-6
7 p.m. Los Angeles Kings New York Rangers 4-3 (OT)
7 p.m. Vancouver Philadelphia 1-2
8:30 p.m. Arizona Dallas 4-5
Tuesday, February 5
7 p.m. New York Islanders Boston Bruins 1-3
7 p.m. Minnesota Buffalo 4-5 (SO)
7 p.m. St. Louis Florida 3-2
7 p.m. Los Angeles New Jersey 5-1
7 p.m. Carolina Pittsburgh 4-0
7 p.m. Vancouver Washington 2-3
7:30 p.m. Anaheim Montréal 1-4
7:30 p.m. Vegas Tampa Bay 3-2 (SO)
8 p.m. Arizona Nashville 2-5
8 p.m. San Jose Winnipeg 3-2 (OT)
9 p.m. Columbus Colorado 6-3
9 p.m. Chicago Edmonton 6-2
Wednesday, February 6
7:30 p.m. Ottawa Toronto 4-5
8 p.m. Boston Bruins New York Rangers 3-4 (SO)
Thursday, February 7
7 p.m. Carolina Buffalo  
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Florida  
7 p.m. New York Islanders New Jersey Devils  
7 p.m. Los Angeles Philadelphia  
7 p.m. Colorado Washington ESPN+
7:30 p.m. Winnipeg Montréal RDS, TSN2
7:30 p.m. Anaheim Ottawa RDS2
7:30 p.m. Vegas Detroit  
7:30 p.m. St. Louis Tampa Bay  
8 p.m. Dallas Nashville  
8 p.m. Edmonton Minnesota  
8:30 p.m. Vancouver Chicago  
9 p.m. San Jose Calgary ESPN+, SN1
9 p.m. Columbus Arizona  
Friday, February 8
8 p.m. Carolina Hurricanes New York Rangers NHLN, SN
Saturday, February 9
1 p.m. Los Angeles Boston  
1 p.m. Detroit Buffalo  
1 p.m. Minnesota New Jersey  
1 p.m. Colorado Avalanche New York Islanders  
1 p.m. Anaheim Philadelphia  
2 p.m. Nashville St. Louis  
2 p.m. Winnipeg Jets Ottawa Senators CBC, SN, SN1, TVAS
4 p.m. Dallas Arizona  
7 p.m. San Jose Edmonton SN, SN360
7 p.m. Toronto Maple Leafs Montréal Canadiens CBC, CITY, SN1, TVAS
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Tampa Bay NHLN
7 p.m. Florida Washington ESPN+
10 p.m. Calgary Flames Vancouver Canucks CBC, CITY, SN, SN1, SN360
10 p.m. Columbus Vegas ESPN+
Sunday, February 10
12:30 p.m. St. Louis Nashville NBC, TVAS
3 p.m. Detroit Chicago  
3 p.m. Colorado Boston SN1, TVAS
3 p.m. Winnipeg Buffalo ESPN+
3 p.m. Carolina New Jersey  
3 p.m. Minnesota Wild New York Islanders  
6 p.m. Tampa Bay Florida  
7 p.m. Toronto Maple Leafs New York Rangers NBCSN, SN, TVAS

This week has more than its fair share of derbies with seven on the schedule spread across four days. First up are both of Wednesday’s tilts (the Battle of Ontario and an Original Six tilt between the Bruins and Rangers), followed this evening by Vancouver visiting Chicago (once a rivalry, always a rivalry). Toronto keeps the Original Six fever going into the weekend when it visits Montréal, then continues the trend into Sunday by visiting the Rangers. Joining the Leafs and Blueshirts in rivalry action to close the week will be Tampa Bay and Florida contesting another round of the Governor’s Cup.

In the player homecoming category, there was none bigger than F Jay Beagle‘s trip back to the District of Columbia on Tuesday. Beagle spent 10 seasons with the Caps, departing for the Pacific Northwest after winning the Stanley Cup last summer.

Also making major returns are G Philipp Grubauer and F Nick Bjugstad, both of whom spent six seasons with the Capitals and Panthers, respectively. These homecomings are especially significant for both, as Grubauer will be collecting his Stanley Cup ring and Bjugstad will probably be snagging some more clothes and household items for his new apartment in the Steel City after being traded there Friday.

However, to keep with tradition, let’s totally disregard those tilts and focus on a totally different fixture – specifically, the one featuring F Jeff Skinner taking on his former team.

Boasting a 4-1-1 record in their past six games (including a dominant 4-0 shutout win in Pittsburgh on Tuesday), the 26-21-6 Carolina Hurricanes have pulled within three points of the East’s second wild card with 29 games to play.

After more than half the season has gone by, there’s no surprises any more in the Canes’ style: they play an upbeat style of offense that stresses shots on goal, hoping to wear down opposing goaltenders simply by the mass volume of stops they have to make.

While that strategy has had varied levels of success throughout the campaign, Head Coach Rod Brind’Amour‘s crew has certainly been making magic lately, as they’ve been led by their offense averaging 4.33 goals per game during this run – the second-best in the entire NHL since January 20.

Leading that charge is none other than the 35th-overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, F Sebastian Aho. With 3-6-9 totals in his last six appearances, he’s continued his insane scoring pace to elevate his season marks to 24-36-60 in 53 appearances, putting him only five points away from matching last season’s career-highs in goals and points.

Joining Aho in averaging at least a point per game during this six-game run are F Teuvo Teravainen (2-5-7), D Jaccob Slavin (0-7-7) and new addition W Nino Niederreiter (5-1-6). With Niederreiter’s goal-scoring showing up in Raleigh on January 18, perhaps it’s no mere coincidence the offense has taken off and the Hurricanes are enjoying more of their patented “Carolina Surge” celebrations. Of course, the Canes might be just as surprised with Niederreiter’s success as he is – after all, he only scored nine goals in 46 games with the Wild this season. Since donning Carolina red, he’s already lit the lamp five times in only seven appearances.

But the Hurricanes haven’t been just another pretty offense during this winning run. They’ve also played incredibly well on the defensive end too.

Thanks to the excellent play of late by D Justin Faulk (two blocks per game since January 20) and W Micheal Ferland (3.5 hits per game in his last four outings), the Canes have also boasted the league’s third-best defense as measured by shots against per game, as they’ve allowed only 25.33 per game during this six-game span.

And not surprisingly, that solid defensive work has translated incredibly to the scoreboard. Carolina has allowed only 2.5 goals against per game during this run, the (t)10th-best in the league since January 20. While 11-11-3 G Petr Mrazek‘s (.894 save percentage and 2.83 GAA on the season) stats have been far from incredible during this stretch – he’s actually performed below his already below-average season marks, managing an .874 save percentage and 3.28 GAA behind this defense – the fact that he’s earned five of a possible eight points in his last four appearances indicates he’s doing enough to help the Canes win.

With Carolina heading to Manhattan tomorrow to take on a less offensively-talented Rangers team, it seems likely Mrazek will be in net tonight. Should Brind’Amour instead give 12-6-1 G Curtis McElhinney the nod, he’ll hope to improve on his .918 season save percentage and corresponding 2.37 GAA.

Speaking of New York-based teams, the 26-20-6 Buffalo Sabres also find themselves trailing eighth-place Columbus by three points, but they currently lead the Hurricanes in the standings by virtue of playing one fewer game so far this campaign.

Unfortunately for the Sabres, that is where the positive marks end for a moment, as they’ve had the misfortune of stumbling into a 3-6-0 rut over their past nine games.

The biggest reason for this slump? Struggling goaltending.

Due in large part to an offense that is providing only three goals per game (tied for 13th-fewest in the NHL since January 11) and a defense yielding 31.11 shots against per game (15th-worst in the league in their past nine outings) during this stretch, 11-5-3 G Linus Ullmark has been forced to shoulder the brunt of the Sabres’ mistakes for the past few weeks and has struggled mightily under the pressure.

Despite owning a solid .914 save percentage and 2.93 GAA for the season, Ullmark’s stats in his last seven appearances (of which only five were starts, meaning 15-15-3 G Carter Hutton is struggling even more than Ullmark) have showcased just how much Buffalo has been struggling in the middle of the season. Ullmark has only an .882 save percentage and 3.53 GAA in these games, a far cry from the performance Head Coach Phil Housley has come to expect.

Hutton has an even worse .832 save percentage and 5.59 GAA in his last four starts (of which he’s only won one), so I’d be surprised if the 33-year-old is in net tonight against the Canes’ rolling offense.

Regardless of who’s in net, I have a hard time seeing the Sabres breaking out of their funk against the red-hot Hurricanes. With everything coming up Carolina’s way in it’s last few outings, the Canes should escape the Queen City with two more points in their possession.

DTFR Podcast #144- (The Other) Auston City Limits

Auston Matthews signed an extension with the Toronto Maple Leafs. What does this mean for the Leafs? Alex Stalock, Jordan Martinook and Pheonix Copley all signed extensions with their clubs, as Tuukka Rask became the winningest goaltender in Boston Bruins history, Alex Ovechkin became the highest scoring Russian-born NHL player and Paul Maurice reached 1,500 games behind the bench as a head coach.

The DTFR Duo also reviewed all 31 NHL teams as buyers and/or sellers at the 2019 trade deadline.

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DTFR Podcast #142- Chia’s Pets

The Edmonton Oilers fired their president of hockey operations and General Manager, Peter Chiarelli (April 2015-January 2019). The club officially made the announcement after the DTFR Duo finished recording this week’s episode.

There won’t be a 2020 World Cup of Hockey and there were a few milestones to go along with a bunch of minor trades made this week.

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DTFR Podcast #141- The Midseasonies

Nick and Connor talk the latest trades, Torts drama (and latest record), Casey DeSmith’s extension with the Pittsburgh Penguins, as well as a tribute to the careers of Rick Nash and Josh Gorges who both announced their retirement this week.

Additionally, what’s up with the Edmonton Oilers and St. Louis Blues this season and why can’t they just pick a side? Plus, it’s time to hand out awards for being slightly more than halfway through the 2018-19 regular season. #FlamingNotToFlamingHot

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Game of the week: January 7-13

It’s the first full week of 2019! What better way to celebrate than with some hockey?

Here’s this week’s slate of games:

NHL SCHEDULE: January 7-13
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, January 7
7 p.m. Nashville Toronto 4-0
7 p.m. St. Louis Philadelphia 3-0
7:30 p.m. Minnesota Montréal 1-0
8:30 p.m. Calgary Chicago 4-3
10:30 p.m. Los Angeles San Jose 1-3
Tuesday, January 8
7 p.m. Minnesota Boston 0-4
7 p.m. New Jersey Buffalo 1-5
7 p.m. Carolina Hurricanes New York Islanders 4-3
7 p.m. Florida Pittsburgh 1-5
7:30 p.m. Philadelphia Washington 3-5
7:30 p.m. Montréal Detroit 3-2
7:30 p.m. Columbus Tampa Bay 0-4
8 p.m. Dallas St. Louis 3-1
8 p.m. Colorado Winnipeg 4-7
10 p.m. New York Rangers Vegas Golden Knights 2-4
10:30 p.m. Edmonton San Jose 2-7
Wednesday, January 9
8 p.m. Nashville Predators Chicago Blackhawks NBCSN, SN360, TVAS
9:30 p.m. Colorado Calgary ESPN+
10 p.m. Ottawa Anaheim RDS
Thursday, January 10
7 p.m. Washington Boston ESPN+, TVAS
7 p.m. Toronto New Jersey  
7 p.m. New York Islanders New York Rangers  
7 p.m. Dallas Philadelphia  
7 p.m. Nashville Columbus  
7:30 p.m. Carolina Tampa Bay  
8 p.m. Montréal St. Louis RDS, TSN2
8 p.m. Winnipeg Minnesota NBCSN
9 p.m. Florida Edmonton  
10 p.m. Arizona Vancouver  
10 p.m. San Jose Vegas ESPN+
10:30 p.m. Ottawa Los Angeles RDS
Friday, January 11
7:30 p.m. Buffalo Carolina NHLN
8 p.m. Detroit Winnipeg TVAS
9 p.m. Florida Calgary  
10 p.m. Pittsburgh Anaheim ESPN+, SN360
Saturday, January 12
1 p.m. Philadelphia New Jersey NHLN, SN
1 p.m. New York Rangers New York Islanders ESPN+
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Buffalo  
7 p.m. Boston Bruins Toronto Maple Leafs CBC, CITY, NHLN, SN1
7 p.m. Colorado Montréal SN, TVAS
7 p.m. Columbus Washington ESPN+
8 p.m. Detroit Minnesota  
8:30 p.m. Vegas Chicago ESPN+
9 p.m. St. Louis Dallas  
10 p.m. Ottawa San Jose CBC, SN1, TVAS
10 p.m. Arizona Edmonton SN
10:30 p.m. Pittsburgh Los Angeles  
Sunday, January 13
12:30 p.m. Nashville Carolina  
6 p.m. Anaheim Winnipeg  
6 p.m. New York Rangers Columbus Blue Jackets NHLN
7 p.m. Florida Vancouver SN
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Lightning New York Islanders ESPN+
9:30 p.m. Arizona Calgary SN1

Among the week’s biggest games are the usual suspects of rivalries, playoff rematches and player returns.

In the rivalry department, the Battle of California reignited Monday when the Kings visited San Jose, followed a day later by Philadelphia at Washington and an Original Six showdown between the Canadiens and Red Wings. The Battle of New York will be waged twice this week, starting in Manhattan tomorrow night and heading to Brooklyn Saturday afternoon. Also taking place Saturday is the Battle of the Turnpikes between Philadelphia and New Jersey, as well as another Original Six fixture featuring Boston and Toronto.

As for rematches from last season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, Thursday will see Winnipeg make a return to Minnesota in a rematch of the Western Quarterfinals, and a Western Semifinals rematch between San Jose and Vegas. The previously mentioned Bruins-Maple Leafs tilt on Saturday is a rematch of the Eastern Quarterfinals, as is Columbus at Washington on the same day.

Making his first trip back to Raleigh since being traded to Buffalo this summer, no player’s homecoming is bigger than Jeff Skinner‘s this week. Drafted seventh overall in 2010, Skinner was a member of the Hurricanes for eight seasons before joining Jack Eichel‘s Sabres. While a Cane, Skinner won the organization’s first Calder Trophy and was named the youngest All-Star in North American professional sports history – both in 2011.

Also making a major homecoming trip is Tanner Pearson, now a member of the Penguins after a mid-season trade ended his six-season tenure in Los Angeles.

However, the game that excites me the most is going down tonight when the Colorado Avalanche make the trip north into Alberta to take on the Calgary Flames.

For much of the season so far, 20-15-8 Colorado – the West’s top wild card – was one of the scariest opponents in the league for any team. They boast a dominant top line and a top-five power play (the Avs’ 26.5 percent conversion rate is second-best in the conference).

However, that has not been the case for the past three weeks, as Colorado has racked up only a lowly 1-5-2 record in its last eight appearances (including regulation losses to Arizona, Chicago and Los Angeles – all also-rans in the Western Conference), causing them to give up third place in the Central Division to Dallas.

Averaging three goals per game during this run, the offense is still clicking at a good enough pace that the Avalanche should not be struggling – at least not to this extent. Instead, it has been Colorado’s goaltending that has really dropped the ball.

With 9-5-3 G Philipp Grubauer earning the start last night in Winnipeg (Colorado lost 7-4, for those keeping track at home), it seems likely that 11-8-5 G Semyon Varlamov will get the nod this evening. If that’s the case, he’ll surely have full intention of playing closer to the .912 save percentage and 2.8 GAA he’s managed for the season and not the .891 and 2.97 marks he’s posted in his last two starts.

Of course, even those numbers are improvements over Grubauer’s. In the former Capital’s last six starts, he’s managed only an .87 save percentage and 3.94 GAA – only slightly worse than the .895 and 3.29 he’s shown for the entire season. With numbers like those and the fact that 0-2-0 G Pavel Francouz looked fairly solid in his NHL debut this season (he managed a .943 save percentage and 1.96 GAA in 61 minutes), it’s a wonder the Czech hasn’t had the opportunity to join the Avs full-time if it would mean Varlamov could take more games off.

What makes these recent goaltending numbers so frustrating is the fact that Colorado has been playing some solid defense during this stretch of games. In the Avs’ last eight games, they’ve allowed only 29.75 shots against per game – the ninth-lowest mark in the NHL since December 21. W Gabriel Bourque and C Sheldon Dries (both with 2.3 hits per game since December 21), W Matt Calvert (seven takeaways during this stretch) and D Erik Johnson (2.4 blocks per game in his past eight outings) have all played major roles in that success, but they’ll be pushed to the limit tonight when facing the Flames’ imposing attack.

Speaking of those high-flying Flames, they currently boast the Western Conference’s top record with a 27-13-4 mark – a performance that’s even more intimidating when we keep in mind they have at least one game in hand on the Pacific Division’s two other best teams.

Tonight’s tilt will be the Flames’ first back in Calgary after a four-game Eastern road trip that saw them earn six of eight possible points. In fact, Calgary enters tonight’s game on an impressive 5-1-1 run in its past seven showings, including wins over solid Western foes in San Jose and Winnipeg.

Leading that charge is the Flames’ previously mentioned offense, which has few rivals in the NHL lately. Averaging 4.29 goals per game since December 27, Calgary’s attack is ranked fourth in the league and second in the conference in that time.

An outstanding five skaters are averaging at least a point per game during this run, but none are as intimidating as LW Johnny Gaudreau. With 10-6-16 totals in his past seven games (that’s 1.43 goals and 2.29 points per game), he’s elevated his season marks to 26-38-64, good enough for fourth, (t)fifth and (t)eighth in the NHL in points, goals and assists respectively.

Joining Gaudreau in averaging at least a point per game during this seven game stretch are C Sean Monahan (2-12-14 totals), F Elias Lindholm (3-8-11), LW Matthew Tkachuk (3-5-8) and D Noah Hanifin (0-7-7).

Perhaps the most impressive facet of Calgary’s attack is that the Flames are scoring almost all of their goals at even strength, having converted only four of their last 28 power play opportunities (14.3 percent, 12th-worst in the NHL since December 27. While Head Coach Bill Peters would surely like to see his special teams perform better, the fact that the Flames have scored 21 of their last 30 goals (70 percent) at even strength surely makes that an easier pill to swallow.


A potent attack taking on a slumping goaltending corps is usually a recipe for disaster, but the fact that Colorado boasts a solid offense of its own is what makes this tilt interesting. If the Avalanche want any chance of pulling off the upset, F Nathan MacKinnon, RW Mikko Rantanen and co. will need to do their best to beat 15-4-3 G David Rittich to keep up with the Flames. If they can’t, this could get ugly early.