Tag Archives: Jenner

2018 Offseason Preview: Columbus Blue Jackets

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Columbus Blue Jackets and their outlook for the summer.

The Jackets finished the 2017-18 season with a record of 45-30-7, capping a strong (albeit inconsistent) campaign with 97 points, earning them fourth place in the Metropolitan Division and a playoff birth as the first wild card in the East.

After taking two dramatic overtime victories in Washington to start the playoffs, the soldiers in Union Blue fell on their bayonets by dropping four-straight games (including three within the friendly confines of Nationwide Arena) to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals and were once again eliminated from contention in the opening round of the playoffs.

I mean, would they really be the Blue Jackets if they didn’t get your hopes up before firing them out of that cannon?

Though the core of a solid-if-not-spectacular team is likely to remain through the summer, the front office is now feeling the pressure of raising a team that they drug out of the trenches by the bootstraps to the next level. The fanbase will no longer accept ‘just making the playoffs’, and though there’s still plenty of promising youth onboard, some key players like captain Nick Foligno are sliding into the back half of their careers. This is a team that needs to win, and needs to do it soon.

How can they do that? I’m glad you asked. (If you didn’t actually ask, I’m still going to tell you.)

2018 NHL Entry Draft

The Jackets are decently well-stocked to try and score some talent in this year’s draft, with a pick in each of the first three rounds, along with another in both the sixth and seventh. It will be those early-round picks that are likely to mean the most to GM Jarmo Kekalainen and his staff, as this year’s extremely deep draft class means that you’re likely to nab some serious quality (or perhaps have a bigger bargaining chip should you decide to trade picks for another asset) deeper in than usual.

It’s not overly likely that the CBJ will look to acquire further picks, though they could perhaps look to trade up from their 18th spot in line. With Jack Johnson a pending UFA who looks very likely to be on the move (his recent time in Columbus has been tumultuous, and a change of scenery could be the spark he needs to reignite his career) come July 1, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that we could see a deal made to send his negotiating rights and that 18th pick to a team further up the draft order.

As for likely selections with whatever first round pick they happen to have (we’ll pretend that if they trade up, it will be a small swing, maybe in the 12-15 position at most), a few names stand out to me as filling potential needs.

Serron Noel, a 6-foot-5, 205-pound right winger out of the OHL (Oshawa Generals) could be a fit on a team with few natural right wingers. A solid, if not outstanding scorer in juniors, Noel is still filling out his large frame and is likely to continue improving his burgeoning offensive game, drawing comparisons to power forwards like Wayne Simmonds. An eventual perhaps third-and-fourth line RW tandem of Noel and Josh Anderson would be a lot of meat to throw at opposing defenses.

Bode Wilde, a 6-foot-2, 196-pound right shooting defenseman from the United States National Team Development Program, is a very good possibility. Regarded as one of the better all-round defenders in a draft that is not lacking them, Wilde could eventually complete a defense corps that boasts himself along with David Savard and Seth Jones down the right side. Not a bad lineup there. In particular, his booming slap shot would be a welcome addition on a power play unit that hasn’t had a true cannon since James Wisniewski‘s departure. Also, he has a sick hockey name.

My personal pick for the most likely selection comes in the form of Swedish Elite League center Isac Lundestrom. At 6-feet and 185 pounds, he’s not far off from good NHL size, and with the additional polish his defensive game could use, he’d likely have plenty of time to hit the weight room before reaching the Jackets lineup. But his elite offensive capabilities and, in particular, blinding speed address two of the club’s biggest shortcomings. He also provides versatility, having proven himself capable of playing the left wing well. Regarded by some scouts as having potentially the highest ceiling of any center in the draft, he could be a mid-round steal for Columbus.

Pending Free Agents

The UFA list for Columbus isn’t huge, but it does contain a few potentially interesting names. NHL regulars Johnson (who’s possible fate has already been discussed, so we’ll skip over him in this section), Thomas Vanek, Matt Calvert, Ian Cole, and Mark Letestu are the most notable names (no offense to Jeff Zatkoff, Taylor Chorney, Andre Benoit, Cameron Gaunce, and Alex Broadhurst).

Vanek’s stint in Columbus started off very well, gelling quickly with linemates Alexander Wennberg and Boone Jenner to put up great numbers in early games following his acquisition at the deadline. But the magic wore off and he was all-but-invisible during the playoffs, often looking far too slow to keep up with the game. Acquired for an absolute steal (Jussi Jokinen, a waiver wire pickup, and Tyler Motte, a throw-in on the Artemi Panarin trade that had bounced around between the AHL and the Jackets’ fourth line all year), it doesn’t hurt the organization at all to simply let him walk.

Calvert was protected from the expansion draft in place of 2017-18 40-goal scorer William Karlsson. That isn’t necessarily relevant information, but I enjoy pain. Anyway, Calvert enjoyed a so-so year, producing nine goals and a career-high (tied) 24 points in 69 (nice) games played. A solid contributor on the penalty kill, and a constant spark plug on the fourth line, his never-quit playing style has endeared him to Columbus fans, but he may have to take a hometown discount if he wants to stay.

Cole played extremely well down the stretch for Columbus after his acquisition from Pitt…Otta…it was weird, but you get the point. He basically made Jack Johnson expendable, and he has said many times that he absolutely loves the city and his new teammates. It’s of course always a matter of numbers, but don’t be surprised to see Cole back in Union Blue next year.

Letestu loves Columbus, lives in Columbus (his family never left when he went to Edmonton), and has said he would like to finish his career there. Still a more-than-serviceable fourth line center that can help your special teams units, it’s likely he’ll take a hometown discount and remain with the organization.

The RFA list is smaller, but contains three major names in Jenner, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and Ryan Murray.

Jenner is a fan favorite, and one of the hardest-working 30-goal scorers you’ll ever find. But after a breakout 30-goal, 49-point 2015-16 campaign, he’s tallied just 31 goals and 65 points in 157 games since. If not for a late-season hot streak when paired with Wennberg and Vanek this season, his numbers would have been significantly lower. At times the game just seems too fast for his skating abilities, and even at just 24 years of age you wonder if he can improve it enough to stay useful. I’d expect him to get a bridge extension on a pay level similar to his current $2.9M, but Boone has a lot to prove going forward.

Bjorkstrand is coming off of his entry level contract, and I’d expect a bridge-style deal similar to what I listed for Jenner. Posting 11 goals and 29 assists for 40 points this season, ‘Olli’ showed flashes of his potential, but still needs to get a little more confident in himself, and particularly in his laser beam wrist shot.

Murray is a very intriguing topic. Though ever-dependable, the former WHL standout and second-overall pick has never really hit the stride he was projected to, particularly in the offensive department. Derailed time and time again by injuries (often to his legs, which are probably the silky-smooth skating defender’s greatest weapons), Murray has played all 82 games just once in 5 NHL seasons, and has missed no less than 19 games in any other campaign.

At 24-years-old, he’s definitely still young enough to sell as ‘Still coming into his own’ and his potential ceiling should be alluring to many teams. With other good young left handed defenders waiting in the wings (Markus Nutivaara, Gabriel Carlsson, Dean Kukan, Vladislav Gavrikov), the time could be right to try and swing a sign-and-trade type of deal to send Murray out in exchange for some offensive power. The Senators come to mind as a potential trade partner, as a spoil of offensive firepower up front is countered by a defense corps that is suspect at best, especially with the likely departure of Erik Karlsson. Mike Hoffman‘s name was already tied to Columbus around the trade deadline last year, but former Ohio State standout Ryan Dzingel could be a potential fit, as well.

I don’t expect a particularly busy or flashy offseason in Columbus, but Kekalainen and company can’t just rest on their laurels, either. They have a very good group that really needs just a few things to get them over the hump. Add another solid offensive threat or two to compliment the dynamic Panarin/Pierre-Luc Dubois line, sprinkle in a reliable veteran depth blueliner, and hinge your bets on a new goaltending coach for Sergei Bobrovsky (longtime man Ian Clark is departing the team this summer) helping him get past his playoff struggles, and you might be on to something.

Oh, and you may want to figure out what to do with that abysmal Brandon Dubinsky contract…

Is Player Usage Costing Jackets a Playoff Series?

Most of the focus in analyzing the playoff performance seems to focus on Sergei Bobrovsky.  This is understandable given Bobrovsky’s history of giving up three or more goals in playoff games, but it ignores another reason that the Jackets may be struggling against the Capitals as their series has progressed and that is player usage.

The Jackets played 82 games prior to the playoffs and that data tells us a lot about which players were making positive contributions to the team and which players weren’t.  Yet, John Tortorella’s player usage in this series suggests that some old school thoughts about playoff hockey may be leading to the Jackets deploying players in a sub-optimal manner.  In a series defined by close games and, more importantly, overtime games, choices in player deployment can be the difference between being up 3-2 and being down 3-2.

Let’s take the case of Oliver Bjorkstrand.  Bjorkstrand finished the season with a 5-on-5 CF% of 51.64 percent and was fifth on the team with 40 points.  Furthermore, Bjorkstrand had become a very solid player at both ends at the ice, something that Tortorella had him focused on at the start of the season.  Yet, through five games of this series, the only players with less time-on-ice than Bjorkstrand were Alexander Wennberg (who has only played in two games due to injury), Mark Letestu, and Sonny Milano (a healthy scratch for Game 5).  After scoring a goal in Game 5, Torts finally started playing Bjorkstrand more in the rest of the game and the result was a number of solid shifts where the puck was held in the Caps zone–something the Jackets have struggled with in this series. Bjorkstrand’s line had two of the best opportunities in the overtime period of Game 5.

One of the players getting less ice time than Bjorkstrand is Milano, who was a healthy scratch for Game 5, but played little to no minutes in the prior four games.  Like Bjorkstrand, Milano had a positive 5-on-5 CF% of 50.91 percent.  He put up 14 goals in only 55 games and his return to the lineup was one of the things that helped the Jackets down the stretch.  In fact, Milano was paired with Bjorkstrand on a line centered by Nick Foligno that provided a scoring threat when the top line wasn’t on the ice during a part of March.  That line was scuttled by Foligno’s injury.

So, who has been getting ice time over Milano and Bjorkstrand?  Thomas Vanek, for one.  While Vanek had positive possession numbers in 19 games for the Jackets, his possession numbers in Vancouver were less than stellar with a 45.01 percent 5-on-5 CF%. Seven goals and eight assists in 19 games was also probably not a sustainable pace for the 34 year-old Vanek.

You have to wonder how much of the decision to play Vanek more than Bjorkstrand and Milano comes down to an antiquated view of “playoff hockey.”  Neither Milano nor Bjorkstrand are known for a gritty or grinding style.  They aren’t veterans.  And, while Bjorkstrand is solid in his own end, Milano is still a work-in-progress in this respect.  However, none of this changes the fact that the team is better off with them in the lineup and playing.  The fact is that Milano is a dangerous player in both good ways and bad and the good still outweighs the bad based on what the advanced stats tell us.  Given Vanek’s own unforced-errors in Game 4, it hardly seems like playing him more has solved anything and it has, arguably, taken a more skilled player off the ice and certainly taken a quicker skater off the ice.

With Wennberg back in the lineup, one of Brandon Dubinsky or Letestu should be out of the lineup to make room for Milano.  The sole reason this apparently hasn’t happened would seem to be face-offs.  Wennberg is clearly being sheltered from this part of his duties, while Boone Jenner is actually being put in for spot face-off duty.

I’m not sure this is good enough justification to keep them both in.  Jenner has been strong enough in the face-off dot, as has Foligno.  Letestu been so-so this series and Dubinsky has been strong, though Dubinsky has taken three penalties while Letestu has taken none.  Flip a coin, but one of these two should sit instead of dividing minutes and taking a roster spot that could be held by a better player.  If you want to see how smart coaches can make dumb decisions about players based on overemphasizing face-offs, take a look at Jay Beagle‘s possession stats sometime.  Woof.

That’s another thing, here.  The Caps have dog crap for depth.  They had six forwards who played regularly who finished the season with a 5-on-5 CF% above 50 percent.  One of them–Burakovsky–is out for the series.  How many regular forwards did Columbus have above that mark?  Eight, all of whom who are available to play in this series.  That means the Jackets are one line deeper than Washington.  Josh Anderson is playing bottom-six minutes for the Jackets.  I’ve got no problem with that as long as (1) the right people are getting more minutes than him and (2) the Jackets more evenly divide the minutes.

Why should the minutes be divided more evenly?  Because the Caps have dog crap for depth AND these games are going into overtime.  The Jackets should be taking more advantage of their depth by spreading minutes more evenly.  Keep the legs fresh.  This isn’t the old days.  Penalties are called regularly in the playoffs now and the old grind and hold game doesn’t work.  The team with fresh legs is best prepared to capitalize on mistakes in overtime.  You look at the last shift yesterday and the Jackets’ top line was gassed and the Caps took advantage on the cycle.  Divide minutes more evenly and the story might end differently.  The Jackets can afford to do it because the skill difference between their third and second lines isn’t as pronounced as it is for Washington.

If the Jackets want to take it to Washington tomorrow, John Tortorella needs to face his fears and embrace the fact that speed and skill is what wins games in hockey in 2018, even in the playoffs.  Yes, Milano will make mistakes, but so have the guys who have played in place of him.  Show faith in your young players.  They are the future of this team and they didn’t let you down for the 82 games that preceded this series.  Don’t abandon them now because of fear, embrace them as your hope.  Depth is your advantage, press your advantage.  Divide playing time more equally not just because you expect these games to go to overtime, but because it is to your advantage even over 60 minutes of hockey.  Torts needs to think about his own motto in a new way.  When it comes to coaching playoff games in 2018, Safe Is Death.

Road team wins again, CBJ-WSH series leveled at two

 

After winning Game 4 at Nationwide Arena 4-1, the Washington Capitals have salvaged losing Games 1 and 2 to reclaim home-ice advantage in their Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The first two periods of this game were so exciting, even people with insomnia were falling asleep with ease. Whether that was due to lazy offense by Columbus or incredible defense by Washington (the Blue Jackets managed only 15 shots in opening 40 minutes), the fans at Nationwide Arena had very little to get excited about.

Playing a major role in hampering the Jackets’ offense all night was none other than D Brooks Orpik, who blocked a (t)game-high four shots (D Seth Jones matched him in that effort for Columbus), and Third Star of the Game RW Tom Wilson with his team-leading three hits.

Perhaps Columbus’ best scoring opportunity of either of the first two periods came with 5:37 remaining in the opening frame. LW Artemi Panarin had not one, but two shots from prime real estate right in front of G Braden Holtby‘s crease, but the netminder rejected both offerings to keep his young shutout alive.

However, that’s not so say there wasn’t any offense in those periods, as there were two goals struck – but both those markers belonged to the visiting Capitals. Wilson (First Star F Evgeny Kuznetsov) took credit for the first tally at the 6:16 mark of the first period with a slap shot from the top of the zone, followed by F T.J. Oshie‘s (Second Star W Alex Ovechkin and D John Carlson) power play wrist shot 23:03 later.

Oshie’s play started at the 8:49 mark of the second period when Panarin was caught slashing Kuznetsov. Washington’s resulting man advantage lasted only 30 seconds before its third-ranked postseason power play achieved its goal of setting the score at 2-0. After both Carlson’s and Ovechkin’s offerings were rejected by G Sergei Bobrovsky, Oshie collected the loose puck in the slot and beat the netminder’s glove to the far post.

While Oshie’s tally will go down as the game-winner (the fourth of his playoff career), Ovechkin’s (Kuznetsov and Wilson) wrister 2:49 into the third period proved to be the most important goal of the game. Not only was it the Caps’ purest snipe of the night (Ovi elevated his shot from the right face-off dot over Bobrovsky’s glove to beat him near side), but it also forced Head Coach John Tortorella to pull Bobrovsky for an extra attacker even earlier than he would have liked.

But more on that after we discuss the Blue Jackets’ lone goal of the game: a redirection on RW Josh Anderson‘s clapper from above the left face-off circle by F Boone Jenner. For the first time in 46:22 of action, Jackets fans finally had something to cheer about – and cheer they did. Nationwide Arena sounded like it did Tuesday during Game 3, and Columbus rode that positive energy to firing nine shots on goal in the third period – the most it managed in any frame all game.

Just when it seemed like the party was beginning to die down, Bobrovsky ramped the fans back up with an impressive glove save on Ovechkin at the 8:46 mark after The Great 8 earned a one-on-one matchup against the netminder with a long breakaway.

However, all good things must come to an end, and that end started when Tortorella pulled Bobrovksy with 3:29 remaining in regulation.

If only Ovechkin hadn’t scored scored earlier in the third period and the Jackets were only trailing by one instead of two, maybe the Russian goaltender would have still been in the net when Kuznetsov came up with the puck with 2:19 remaining in the game. However, desperate times call for desperate measures, and that ended up in Kuznetsov’s favor as he buried an unassisted wrister from the blue line to set the score at 4-1 with his third goal of the series.

Holtby earned the victory after saving 23-of-24 shots faced (.958 save percentage), leaving the loss to Bobrovsky, who saved 29-of-32 (.906).

After winning two games in Washington and having the tempting “sweep” word on the mind, the Blue Jackets need to regroup in a similar way the Caps did when the series transitioned to Ohio. If they don’t show a positive effort in Game 5, Columbus may be forced to wait another year to taste a playoff series victory.

Scheduled for a 3 p.m. Eastern matinee puck drop, the aforementioned Game 5 will go down on Saturday, April 21 at Capital One Arena. Viewers should tune their televisions to NBC, NBCSN, SN or TVAS to catch the action.

Columbus sitting pretty with 2-0 lead

 

Another overtime game, another Columbus Blue Jackets victory, as they beat the Washington Capitals 5-4 to take a two-tilt advantage going into Game 3.

Even though it was challenged for offsides, First Star of the Game LW Matt Calvert (D Zach Werenski and RW Josh Anderson) scored his fourth career postseason goal – and second-ever playoff overtime winner – to etch his name into Jackets lore on an elevated wrist shot to the near post from along the goal line with 7:38 remaining in the first overtime period.

For a franchise that has never escaped the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Blue Jackets are a mighty confident team right now. Going back to the regular season, Columbus has earned a 15-2-2 record in its last 19 games played and is showing no signs of slowing down yet.

That being said, tonight was not a game in which Columbus dominated play. That was made apparent right from the opening puck drop, as F Jay Beagle (D Brooks Orpik and D Jakub Jerabek) scored Washington’s first shot on goal to give the Capitals an early 1-0 advantage. That lead doubled to two 11:14 later when Third Star W Alex Ovechkin (D John Carlson and F T.J. Oshie) scored a power play slap shot from his usual spot in the left face-off circle.

In all, the Capitals out-shot the Blue Jackets 58-30, earning a dominating 28-shot differential that effectively demonstrated just how much action was taking place in G Sergei Bobrovsky‘s end.

However, it was the incredible play of Bobrovsky – who saved 54-of-58 shots faced (.931 save percentage) and earns the honorary DtFR Fourth Star – that not only kept the Jackets alive defensively, but also allowed Columbus to set up an effective counterattack on numerous occasions.

Enter Second Star RW Cam Atkinson with 1:35 remaining in the first period. Having been the Jacket called for the goalie interference penalty that allowed Ovechkin to find the back of the net 4:59 earlier, Atkinson (F Nick Foligno) collected a long stretch pass that crossed both blue lines to beat G Philipp Grubauer‘s left skate to the post with a wrister, pulling Columbus back within a goal.

Even though it came late in the period, Atkinson’s play signified a major turning point in this game. The tally came on the heels of the conclusion of two minutes of four-on-four play (F Pierre-Luc Dubois and F Evgeny Kuznetsov were charged with corresponding slashing minors) that certainly boosted the confidence of Columbus’ defense.

Of course, it didn’t take long for Washington to try to reclaim control after the intermission – and it did with a little help from F Brandon Dubinsky, who accidentally removed Carlson’s helmet with a hi-stick while hitting W Devante Smith-Pelly.

The power play is usually Ovechkin’s (C Nicklas Backstrom and Carlson) time to shine, and he didn’t disappoint by burying another one of his patented clappers at the 4:09 mark of the frame – only eight seconds after Dubinsky took his seat in the sin bin.

However, a two-goal advantage is all the Caps could manage, as the Jackets started to turn the tides in their favor to score three goals before the second intermission.

Getting back to the counterattack point from earlier, Anderson (Werenski and LW Artemi Panarin) was the next beneficiary at the 8:49 mark of the frame. After W Brett Connolly fell down in the corner to Bobrovsky’s right, Anderson pounced on the newly vacated puck to set up a five-on-two rush for Columbus. With such a man-advantage, it’s no surprise that the Jackets were able to pass the puck back-and-forth enough times to confuse Grubauer and pull themselves back within a one-goal differential.

The theme of Game 1 was unwise and untimely penalties, and the Capitals decided to reprise that story line for the remainder of the second frame with two such infractions that resulted in Columbus goals.

First was a RW Tom Wilson roughing penalty against D Seth Jones with 9:24 remaining in the period. Like so often happens in a hockey game – regardless of if it is in the regular season or playoffs – there was a little scrum in front of Grubauer’s net after he froze the puck. However, Wilson took offense to this one in particular and elected to literally jump into the fray and take Jones down to the ice. In turn, Atkinson (Panarin and Jones) made his stay in the penalty box only 37 seconds long after tying the game with a power play wrister.

Old habits die hard, so it only makes sense that Smith-Pelly was sent to the box with 2:20 remaining before the second intermission for a holding the stick penalty. This power play lasted 1:12, but the net result as the same: Werenski (RW Oliver Bjorkstrand and Panarin) scoring another goal for the Blue Jackets, giving them their first lead of the night.

With the rumored hockey gods distributing power play goals like Oprah gives away household appliances, it’s only logical that the Capitals would be handed one last opportunity to level the game when Werenski flipped the puck over the glass for a delay of game infraction with 4:51 remaining in regulation.

Still looking for his first goal of the 2018 postseason, Oshie (Backstrom and Carlson) capitalized on the man-advantage to bury a power play snap shot, tying the game at 4-4 with 3:35 remaining in regulation.

But wait, there’s more! After Oshie scored, F Boone Jenner didn’t like him very much so he tripped him with 1:59 remaining in regulation. That’s right, ladies and gentleman: Jenner decided to give the regular season’s seventh-best power play a shot at winning this game in regulation.

Fortunately for Jenner, he escaped the wrath of Head Coach John Tortorella when Wilson absolutely whiffed on an excellent opportunity, allowing the game to advance into overtime which eventually ended in Columbus’ favor.

Though he didn’t start the game, G Braden Holtby takes the overtime loss after saving seven-of-eight shots faced (.875 save percentage) in the third period and overtime. He replaced Grubauer, who saved 18-of-22 (.818) and earned no decision, following the second intermission.

Of note, W Andre Burakovsky suffered an upper body injury on his first shift of the game, meaning the Capitals played almost the entire contest with only 11 forwards. It remains to be seen what his status for Game 3 and beyond will be for Washington.

After a short flight west to Central Ohio, Game 3 will take place at 7:30 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday, April 17 at Nationwide Arena. American viewers can catch the game on NBCSN, while Canada will be serviced by SN360 and TVAS.

Costly penalties abound; Jackets win 4-3 in overtime

 

In a contest filled with a combined 29 penalty minutes and four power play goals, the Columbus Blue Jackets earned a 4-3 overtime victory to beat the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena in Game 1 of their first round matchup.

With the exception of this being the first overtime match of the 2018 postseason, easily the biggest story coming out of this game is RW Josh Anderson‘s boarding penalty against D Michal Kempny with 2:37 remaining in the first period. Kempny struggled to return to his skates after the hit and never returned to the game, earning Anderson a match penalty (and a probable call from the Department of Player Safety if D Drew Doughty‘s one-game suspension is any indication) and the Capitals a five-minute power play.

Having managed only four shots on goal in their first two power plays against Columbus’ (t)fifth-worst regular season penalty kill, Second Star of the Game F Evgeny Kuznetsov took matters into his own hands to score two goals in the first 58 seconds of Anderson’s infraction. Both markers, which set the score at 2-0, were a result of primary apples from C Nicklas Backstrom and hockey assists by Third Star D John Carlson.

However, the man-advantage didn’t just favor the hosts, as the Blue Jackets also earned themselves a pair of power play markers in the third period – including the tally that forced overtime.

RW Tom Wilson was caught charging D Ryan Murray 1:18 into the third period, and W Thomas Vanek (F Pierre-Luc Dubois and First Star LW Artemi Panarin) needed only 13 seconds of the man-advantage to tie the game at 2-2 with a wrist shot (C Alexander Wennberg [F Boone Jenner and Vanek] got the Jackets on the board with a second period even-strength goal).

Even though Washington regained a one-goal lead at the 5:12 mark when W Devante Smith-Pelly (LW Jakub Vrana and Carlson) scored a wrister, another Capitals penalty – this one an W Andre Burakovsky tripping infraction against D Seth Jones – proved to really send the hosts off the rails.

Burakovsky was sent to the sin bin with 5:05 remaining in regulation with a two-minute sentence, but Jones (Panarin and RW Cam Atkinson) – the very man he tripped – found it in him to post his bail after serving only 39 seconds of confinement by scoring a wrister.

Forgiveness is a fickle thing in the NHL, isn’t it?

Speaking of forgiveness, the Capitals will be begging for it from Head Coach Barry Trotz before too long considering how easily Panarin (D Ian Cole and Dubois) was able to get into position to rip his overtime wrister over G Philipp Grubauer‘s left shoulder.

Upon receiving Cole’s falling pass from Columbus’ zone, Panarin sped along the left boards – dodging D Dmitry Orlov in the process – to end up on Grubauer’s front porch. Instead of being patient and attempting to drag the play across the crease, Panarin elected to elevate his wrister from the slot to beat the netminder to the far post.

G Sergei Bobrovsky earned the victory after saving 27-of-30 shots faced (.9 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Grubauer, who saved 23-of-27 (.852).

With the obvious goal of limiting penalties in Game 2, the energy levels of both teams – specifically Columbus’ offense and Washington’s defense – will be of much interest. Playing almost the entire game short a skater can be extremely taxing, and everyone involved will surely be grateful for the extra day off before returning to Capital One Arena.

Speaking of Game 2,  it’s scheduled for Sunday, April 15 at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. For those that can’t make it to Capital One Arena, the tilt will be broadcast on NBCSN, SN360 and TVAS2.

March 22 – Day 162 – Get ready for a wild ride

Thursdays are just the best days in the NHL, aren’t they?

There’s 10 games on tap today, starting with four at 7 p.m. (Tampa Bay at the New York Islanders [SN], the New York Rangers at Philadelphia, Arizona at Carolina and Florida at Columbus) and two more (Edmonton at Ottawa [RDS] and Washington at Detroit [NBCSN]) half an hour later. Toronto at Nashville (TVAS) drops the puck at 8 p.m., while Vancouver at Chicago waits 30 minutes before getting underway. Los Angeles at Colorado finds its start at 9 p.m., while tonight’s nightcap – Vegas at San Jose (NBCSN) – closes out the evening’s festivities with a 10 p.m. tilt. All times Eastern.

There’s two rivalries on the schedule tonight, including:

  • New York at Philadelphia: A fierce matchup like this should get the Rangers excited to snap the Flyers’ three-game point streak.
  • Vancouver at Chicago: The beginning of the decade was so long ago, wasn’t it? If the fans were in charge, I’d bet either group of supporters would happily take a loss by their team tonight.

Instead, I’m most drawn to the Panthers-Blue Jackets and Kings-Avalanche matchups, as both are going to have some serious playoff implications.

Considering how hot Columbus is and the fact that the Panthers need only one point to advance into a playoff spot, let’s make the trip to Central Ohio to see how that match unfolds.

 

For those that still use the Florida Panthers as the punchline to your hockey-related jokes, it’s time for you to catch up to the final third of the 2017-18 season. The 37-27-7 Panthers have not lost consecutive games since February 18 and 20, earning an 11-2-1 record in that time to put them right on the doorstep of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket.

Before we jump into just how well Florida has been playing, we should probably have a discussion about its schedule. Over the past 14 games, the Panthers have played only three away from BB&T Center, of which only two were outside the state of Florida.

However, a run like this is not due just to limited travel and the luxury of sleeping in their own beds on a nightly basis. After all, the Panthers have played – and beaten – clubs like Washington, Pittsburgh, Toronto, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Boston recently, all of which are currently on the right side of the East’s playoff bubble. Mix in taking the Lightning to overtime at Amalie Arena on March 6, and you have a Florida team that is playing some incredible puck.

This may come as a surprise, but the best offense in the Eastern Conference since February 22 has been none other than the Florida Panthers, whose 3.71 goals per game is (t)second-best in the league in that time.

A major reason for that success has been the brilliant play by the first line, specifically W Evgeni Dadonov. All three of the starting forwards – Dadonov (8-11-19 totals since February 22, 23-33-56 overall), C Aleksander Barkov (6-13-19 since February 22, 26-47-73 overall) and F Nick Bjugstad (7-9-16 since February 22, 17-28-45 overall) – are averaging more than a point per game over their past 14 showings, leading the way for an attack that still boasts F Vincent Trocheck (28-38-66 overall) and F Jonathan Huberdeau (23-41-64 overall) on the second line.

Of course, any good offense these days employs some contributions from the blue line. Enter D Keith Yandle, who’s posted 1-13-14 totals over this 14-game run to improve his season marks to 7-42-49. Yandle has been a vital asset during this impressive run by the Panthers, as all but one of his last 20 points have been registered with either of the top-two lines.

The best way to describe Florida’s offense might be by equating it to a reckless boxer that drops his guard to throw a punch.

Over this run, the Panthers have averaged a whopping 34.43 shots per game. Given the amount of success they’re finding lately, it’s obviously a strategy that is working for them and one I don’t see Head Coach Bob Boughner deviating from anytime soon.

However, there’s such a commitment to the offensive end that Florida’s defense gets left exposed on the regular.

How exposed, you ask?

Even though it seems like Florida is possessing the puck as well as anybody, its defense still allows 34.79 shots against per game, the seventh-most in the league since February 22. Games with the Panthers are high-energy affairs that leave both sides exhausted after everything is said and done.

This style of play would not work if not for the exemplary play of 15-9-2 G Roberto Luongo. He’s started all but three of the Panthers’ last 14 games, earning eight victories with a .926 save percentage and 2.51 GAA. Coming into tonight’s action, Luongo boasts a .928 season save percentage (fifth-best in the league) and 2.53 GAA.

While the Panthers have been hot lately, they’ve still suffered a few losses during this impressive run. If that’s not your style, you’ll love what the 41-28-5 Blue Jackets have been up to lately, as they’ve posted nine-consecutive victories to climb into third place in the Metropolitan Division.

Just like the Panthers, Columbus’ driving force during this run has been an indomitable offense. Since March 4, the Jackets have averaged an insane 4.22 goals per game, easily the best mark in the NHL in that time.

LW Artemi Panarin has saved his best hockey for the end of the year, and nobody in Ohio is complaining.

Hold on, let me check: Hey @jdettro and @vanekatthedisco, are you guys okay with the Breadman going nuts now instead of at the beginning of the season?

Yeah, I thought as much.

Over the last nine games, Panarin has posted unbelievable 7-8-15 totals to improve his season marks to 25-43-68, numbers that have him in line to exceed last campaign’s 31-43-74 effort that earned him a spot on the second NHL All-Star team at season’s end.

Of course, it hasn’t just been Panarin doing all the work, as he’s joined by linemate RW Cam Atkinson on his opposite wing. Atkinson has also averaged a point per game during this winning streak with his 4-5-9 totals, improving his season marks to 17-18-35.

A major way that Columbus’ recent attack is different than Florida’s is that the Jackets are getting far more contributions from their third line than the Panthers could ever dream of. Both F Boone Jenner (5-4-9 totals since March 4) and C Alexander Wennberg (2-7-9 since March 4) are averaging a point per game during this winning streak, and their ability to continue to apply scoring pressure even while the first and second lines are getting a breather is a big reason why Columbus is finding so many wins right now.

Remember that bit about how the Panthers are dropping their guard to find their offensive firepower?

That’s a ditto for the Blue Jackets.

During this winning streak, Columbus has allowed an average of 32 shots against per game, the (t)14th-most in the NHL since March 4. Fortunately, it has its own Luongo in 33-21-5 G Sergei Bobrovsky, who’s started six of the Jackets’ last nine games. In those outings, the Russian has posted an impressive .93 save percentage and 2.17 GAA, improving his season marks to an imposing .92 save percentage and 2.42 GAA.

While nothing noticeable happens if the Blue Jackets win this game, the standings could look totally different if they lose.

Should the Jackets emerge victorious tonight, they’d pull into a tie with Pittsburgh for second place in the Metropolitan Division with 89 points. However, the Pens would hold onto their spot due to having a game in hand on Columbus.

In other words, no pandemonium here.

But, let’s just say you’re not a fan of either of these teams, or even an Eastern Conference club. Let’s just say you’re a fan of chaos.

In that case, you need to cash in on the Panthers tonight.

Not only would Florida snap Columbus’ nine-game winning streak – the longest active in the NHL right now, but a Panthers win would jump them ahead of New Jersey for the second wild card… with another game in hand in their pockets. That game in hand means that all Florida technically needs to advance into the playoff picture – at least temporarily – is one point, as it would win the games-played tiebreaker over the Devils.

Of course, the Jackets not winning tonight has the potential to open up another can of worms, as that brings the Flyers into the picture. Should Columbus fall – whether in regulation or extra time – and Philly win in regulation or overtime, the Flyers would jump back into third place in the Metropolitan Division, forcing the Jackets into the first wild card.

Isn’t this time of year fun?

In addition to the difficulty of playing a team that is performing the best it has all season, the Panthers also have the fact that they’re still looking for their first victory against the Jackets this season lurking in the back of their minds.

In two previous meetings, Columbus has come away with a total of four points, beating the Panthers 7-3 in Sunrise on November 2 (Jenner posted a one-goal, three-point game) and narrowly defending home ice on January 7 with a 3-2 shootout victory (Bobrovsky earned First Star honors with a 42-save performance, plus four more in the shootout).

This has the potential to be one of the wildest games of the season. Skaters are going to be flying up and down the ice at blazing speeds and firing more shots than Head Coach John Tortorella knows profanities. Games like these boil down to which goaltender can make the most saves, which is why – as much as I love Luongo and am impressed by his recent performance – I have to lean towards the younger Bobrovsky earning Columbus two points tonight.

However, there’s no telling how a game between these high-powered offenses could end, so there’s a good shot Florida could depart Ohio with the point it needs to jump Jersey in the table.


With two two-goal periods, the Arizona Coyotes cruised to a 4-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

It took only 1:46 of play before C Jack Eichel committed the first penalty of the game – a holding infraction against D Niklas Hjalmarsson – and Third Star of the Game C Dylan Strome (D Alex Goligoski and W Brendan Perlini) made him pay 1:52 later with a power play deflection. F Jordan Nolan (F Evan Rodrigues and D Nathan Beaulieu) leveled the game at 1-1 on a backhanded shot with 8:18 remaining in regulation, but First Star C Derek Stepan (D Oliver Ekman-Larsson and F Clayton Keller) returned the one-goal advantage to the Coyotes 6:02 later with what proved to be the game-winning goal.

Another first period penalty proved to be the demise of the Sabres, as Beaulieu was sent to the penalty box with 4:06 remaining in the frame for hi-sticking Strome. Once again Buffalo pulled within 10 seconds of successfully killing off the penalty, but Stepan posted Beaulieu’s bail early by waiting out an attempted sliding block by F Scott Wilson and threading a wrist shot from above the right face-off circle through four skaters and past G Chad Johnson‘s right skate.

RW Richard Panik (Keller and Stepan) and F Max Domi (D Jakob Chychrun) provided two insurance goals in the third period to seal the victory for Arizona.

Second Star G Antti Raanta earned the victory after saving 29-of-30 shots faced (.967 save percentage), leaving the loss to Johnson, who saved 13-of-15 (.867). Johnson was pulled at the 6:04 mark of the second period with a yet to be announced injury, pulling G Linus Ullmark into play. Ullmark saved 12-of-13 (.923) for no decision.

Another DtFR Game of the Day, another two points for the featured road teams. Visitors have earned points in 10 of the last 12 tilts we’ve focused on, meaning the 89-53-20 hosts’ lead in the series is now trimmed to 33 points.

March 15 – Day 155 – More Metro mayhem

There’s nine games on deck this evening, so let’s jump right in!

The evening’s action finds its start at 7 p.m. with three tilts (Toronto at Buffalo, Washington at the New York Islanders [SN360] and Columbus at Philadelphia), followed half an hour later by two more (Pittsburgh at Montréal [NBCSN/RDS/TSN2] and Boston at Florida [TVAS]). 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of another pair of tilts (Colorado at St. Louis and Chicago at Winnipeg), while tonight’s co-nightcaps – Nashville at Arizona and Detroit at Los Angeles (NBCSN/SN360) – waits until 10 p.m. to close the night out.

Two rivalries are in action tonight, and both are taking place in the Empire State!

  • Toronto at Buffalo: The Battle of the QEW rages on this evening with the second meeting in 10 days.
  • Washington at New York: If the Isles can’t get up for this home-and-home series while trailing a playoff spot by nine points, their season is officially toast.

However, rivalries aren’t the most important things this time of year. Instead, we need to make the trip to the City of Brotherly Love for an important Metro matchup!

 

The 37-28-5 Blue Jackets are streaking, folks! Winners of its last five games – including opponents like San Jose, Vegas and Colorado – Columbus has held on to the second wild card and is eyeing the first.

What makes this run of success even more impressive is how Columbus is doing it. For the season, the Jackets have averaged only 2.67 goals per game, the seventh-worst mark in the NHL. However, these last five games have seen the Blue Jackets post an unbelievable 4.2 goals per game, more than 1.5 times stronger than their usual performance and good enough for third-best in the NHL since March 4.

An impressive five players have averaged at least a point per game over this win streak, but none have been as intimidating as LW Artemi Panarin. The Breadman has been playing out of his mind lately, posting incredible 3-5-8 totals in his last five games to improve his season marks to 21-40-61. As made apparent by both of those numbers, Panarin hasn’t posted the goals we grew accustomed to while he was in Chicago (he scored at least 30 goals in his first two seasons), but he has a chance of exceeding the 47 assists he registered in his rookie season.

One of Panarin’s favorite teammates to set up to score lately has been D Seth Jones, another Blue Jacket averaging at least a point per game during this winning streak with his 4-3-7 marks. In fact, Panarin’s last three apples have resulted in Jones tallies.

Joining Panarin and Jones in their impressive performances are C Alexander Wennberg (1-6-7 totals since March 4), F Pierre-Luc Dubois (1-5-6 in the last five games) and F Boone Jenner (2-3-5 over this run).

One final player that deserves credit for this winning streak is 30-21-5 G Sergei Bobrovsky, tonight’s likely starter. Having started three of Columbus’ last five games, he’s managed an impressive .939 save percentage and 2 GAA to help hold opponents to only 2.2 goals per game during this winning streak, the (t)sixth-best mark in the league since March 4. On the season, Bobrovsky now has a .921 save percentage and 2.42 GAA.

While Columbus is experiencing winning, the same cannot be said for 35-24-11 Philadelphia of late. Since March 1, the Flyers have posted a lowly 1-5-1 record to tie Vancouver for the second-worst record in the league in that time.

Just like Monday when we last featured the Flyers, I’m standing pat on placing full blame for Philly’s struggles on 12-11-4 G Petr Mrazek, tonight’s starter. Mrazek came to Philadelphia with a .91 save percentage and 2.89 GAA from his 22 appearances in Detroit, but has failed to live up to expectations and effectively fill in for 21-11-7 G Brian Elliott and 8-7-3 G Michal Neuvirth.

Since the beginning of March, he’s posted a lowly .878 save percentage and 3.64 GAA, even though the defense in front of him is limiting his workload to only 29.71 shots per game ([t]eighth-fewest in the league since March 1), due in large part to the solid play of F Valtteri Filppula (averaging a takeaway per game in March) and D Radko Gudas (3.7 hits per game and 2.1 blocks per game during this skid).

That’s forced the offense to play back, which is showing up in production. In their last seven games, the Flyers have averaged only 2.29 goals per game, the (t)fourth-worst mark in the NHL since March 1. F Claude Giroux can take credit for most of that limited success, as he’s managed to post 3-5-8 totals over his last seven games – the lone Flyer averaging at least a point per game over this run.

Those that keep a close eye on the standings know how important tonight’s game is.

The easiest situation to describe is Philadelphia’s, so let’s start there: Leading the Devils by only one point, the Flyers desperately need points if they want to avoid becoming one of the Eastern Conference’s wild cards.

Additionally, Philly trails the Metropolitan Division-leading Capitals and runners-up Penguins by only four points. While the Caps have a game in hand on the Flyers, the Flyers have a game in hand on Pittsburgh, meaning a Philly win paired with a Pittsburgh regulation loss in Montréal would set up quite the race for home ice in the first round of the playoffs.

Things get a little bit wilder when we discuss Columbus, who can jump into a tie with the Flyers with a regulation win tonight. Though the Jackets would lose that tie based on regulation+overtime wins, they would jump the Devils (who thrashed the Golden Knights 8-3 in Vegas last night, for those keeping track of those types of things) for the East’s first wild card.

Of course, there’s also the subject of the Florida Panthers lurking behind the Jackets. On the surface, it doesn’t seem Florida poses much of a threat yet considering it has four fewer points than Columbus. However, the Panthers have a whopping three games in hand on the Jackets, meaning any lead less than six points is not safe. If Florida loses in regulation tonight at home against the Bruins and the Jackets earn two points, that would be a major card in Columbus’ back pocket as the Panthers would need to win all three games in hand to simply match the Jackets’ point total.

Through the first three games of this four-tilt regular season series, neither side has had much of an upper hand on the other. In fact, all three games have ended with a 2-1 score. That being said, Philadelphia currently owns a superior 2-0-1 record against the Blue Jackets, but Columbus can level the series with a regulation win tonight – an important note given how tight every tiebreaker between these clubs is.

I’m not saying I want playoff seeding to boil down to a literal coin toss, but I’m not saying I don’t want playoff seeding to boil down to a literal coin toss. If it happens, it’d better be televised with at least a half-hour pre-flip show complete with a full-blown strategy session that I will definitely watch. Your move, NBC and Sportsnet.

Anyways, Columbus hosted the first two games, and both required more than 60 minutes to determine a winner. The Jackets took Game 1 on December 23 with a 2-1 shootout victory (Bobrovsky earned First Star honors with a 30-save performance followed by a clean shootout), but Philly struck back on February 16 with a 2-1 overtime win (Neuvirth led the way with 35 saves).

When Game 3 transitioned east, Giroux posted a one-goal, two-point third period to lead Philadelphia to a 2-1 regulation victory.

WIth the Jackets rolling right now and Mrazek unable to stop much of anything, it’s hard to imagine a game that doesn’t end in two points for Columbus. However, the Blue Jackets need to ensure they end this game in regulation, as every point is precious.


The Toronto Maple Leafs survived a wild game at Air Canada Centre with the Dallas Stars in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they earned a 6-5 shootout victory.

No period in this tilt saw fewer than two goals scored, and it featured two four-tally frames.

The first of those insane periods occurred was the first frame, which saw both sides register a pair of scores. 4:28 after the opening puck drop, C Nazem Kadri opened the scoring with an unassisted tip-in to give Toronto the lead. His marker was followed only 25 seconds later by a wrist shot from First Star of the Game LW James van Riemsdyk (C Tyler Bozak and D Connor Carrick), which doubled the Leafs’ advantage.

Scoring subsided for almost 10 minutes before the Stars brought the scoreboard to life once again. With 5:31 remaining in the frame, LW Jamie Benn (Second Star F Tyler Seguin and D Esa Lindell) scored a wrister to pull Dallas back within a goal, followed by C Radek Faksa (D Greg Pateryn and F Tyler Pitlick) 1:32 later to level the score at 2-2.

In all, Dallas scored four unanswered goals before the second intermission, as the Stars took credit for both of the second period tallies. Seguin scored the first at the 4:30 mark of the frame with an unassisted wrister, followed 9:33 later by LW Remi Elie (F Devin Shore and D John Klingberg) registering his seventh career marker to give the Stars an impressive two-goal advantage with only 20 minutes remaining.

Another four goals were in store in the third frame, but most of them belonged to the hosts. Van Riemsdyk (Bozak and D Travis Dermott) provided the first at the 5:13 mark to pull Toronto back within a tally, and he (F Mitch Marner and D Morgan Rielly) followed himself 5:30 later to complete his hat trick and tie the game at 4-4 with a power play wrister.

With 6:42 remaining on the clock, Dallas once again took a one-goal lead when RW Brett Ritchie (Seguin and Benn) scored a wrister. That advantage nearly lasted until the end of regulation if not for F Patrick Marleau (Marner and D Jake Gardiner). The former Shark forced home a tip-in with only 16 seconds remaining to tie the game at 5-5 and force overtime.

As five minutes of three-on-three play did not yield a game-winner, this contest was thrust into the dreaded shootout. As host, Toronto had the choice of shooting first or second.

  1. As usual, the home team chose to go first, meaning Bozak was the first to take a shot. His attempt was pure, as he beat G Kari Lehtonen to give the Maple Leafs an early shootout lead.
  2. That lead was cemented a shot later, as Seguin’s wrister was saved by Third Star Curtis McElhinney.
  3. Next up for the Leafs was Mr. Hat Trick himself, van Riemsdyk. The left wing couldn’t find the back of the net for the fourth time in this game as Lehtonen was there to save his wrister.
  4. With an opportunity to level the shootout at 1-1, the Stars sent out RW Alexander Radulov, who proceeded to meet the same fate as Seguin: his wrister was saved by McElhinney.
  5. A Toronto goal would clinch the bonus point for the Leafs, and that’s exactly what Marner did. He beat Lehtonen to win the shootout 2-1.

Though he didn’t start the game, McElhinney earned the victory after saving 13-of-15 shots faced (.867 save percentage). He replaced G Frederik Andersen with 9:35 remaining in the second period with the score at 3-2 after the starter suffered an upper-body injury. Andersen saved 17-of-20 (.85) before exiting the game.

Lehtonen took the shootout loss after saving 28-of-33 shots faced (.848 save percentage).

Toronto’s home victory snapped a four-game winning streak by road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The 87-49-19 hosts now have a 38-point advantage on the roadies in the series.

March 6 – Day 146 – Colorful adjectives

Nine games are on today’s schedule, so let’s jump right in!

Like most nights, the action finds its start at 7 p.m. with a quartet of games (Detroit at Boston [NBCSN/SN/TVAS], Montréal at New Jersey [RDS/TSN2], Winnipeg at the New York Rangers and Vegas at Columbus), followed half an hour later by the Governor’s Cup featuring Florida at Tampa Bay. A pair of tilts drop the puck at 8 p.m. (Dallas at Nashville and Carolina at Minnesota), with Colorado at Chicago waiting 30 minutes before getting underway. Finally, Washington at Anaheim (NBCSN) closes out the evening’s schedule at 10 p.m. All times Eastern.

Some of the games I circled before the start of the season include…

  • Detroit at Boston: Original Six matchup, anyone?
  • Vegas at Columbus: Remember that C William Karlsson guy the Blue Jackets left exposed for the expansion draft? Turns out he’s pretty good at hockey.
  • Florida at Tampa Bay: Given the Panthers’ recent surge, this season’s Governor’s Cup is turning out to be a big deal.

Of those three, the game in Ohio looks like it will be the most competitive. Off to Nationwide Arena!

 

 

 

 

 

Though selected by the Ducks in the second round of the 2011 Entry Draft, Karlsson played only 18 NHL games with Anaheim before it shipped him, RW Rene Bourque and a 2015 second round pick to Columbus (the Jackets used to select C Kevin Stenlund, if you’re wondering) at the 2015 trade deadline for D James Wisniewski and Detroit’s 2015 third round pick (the Ducks chose F Brent Gates, for those keeping score at home).

Though it seems hard to believe in light of this season, Wild Bill was far from the main attraction in this transaction. The Ducks were rolling as the Western Conference’s top seed, and they brought in the experienced 30-year-old Wisniewski to shore up their defensive end. Ultimately, Anaheim fell in the Western Finals in seven games to Chicago, even though it rolled through the first two rounds by suffering only one loss.

But this isn’t about those Ducks. It’s about Karlsson.

After only one offseason in the Columbus system, Karlsson earned a permanent spot on the NHL roster for the 2015-’16 season. He improved nominally on his 3-2-5 totals in 21 games during the 2014-’15 season, managing 9-11-20 marks in 81 games played in what was technically his rookie campaign. Of note, Karlsson also earned 10 votes for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy that season, finishing 32nd behind award-winner and former rival C Anze Kopitar.

We started to get glimpses of Karlsson’s new normal last season, as he improved his season marks to 6-19-25 in 81 regular season games played. Though far from exemplary, Karlsson was still showing growth and reason for optimism.

Then the postseason started, and Karlsson officially earned his “Wild Bill” nickname.

The Blue Jackets lasted only five games in last season’s playoffs against the Penguins, but boy was the Swede impressive. He posted dominant 2-1-3 totals (tying RW Cam Atkinson and F Boone Jenner for most goals and forcing a four-way tie for most points [W Brandon Saad]) in his five showings, while also tying W Matt Calvert for a team-leading +4 goal-differential.

This is the return General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen was hoping for when he traded Wisniewski!

Well… maybe not.

Not only was Karlsson left exposed to the Golden Knights for the expansion draft, but Kekalainen also traded a 2017 first round pick (Vegas flipped that pick to Winnipeg, who selected W Kristian Vesalainen) and a 2019 second round pick to General Manager George McPhee to ensure Karlsson was the Jacket selected to relocate to Sin City.

There’s no telling if McPhee and Head Coach Gerard Gallant always had their eye on Karlsson or if they considered him at Kekalainen’s request, but considering how everything has gone their way this season, I wouldn’t doubt it. I’m sure they saw Wild Bill’s coming out party in April and dreamed of playing him on their top line with much success.

Of course, even with his playoff performance, who could have expected this explosion? Karlsson has played in every game this season for the Golden Knights, posting 35-24-59 totals in 65 showings. His 35 goals are (t)fourth-most in the league, and he’s only five short of Richard Trophy-leader W Alex Ovechkin. Additionally, his +39 goal differential on the season is far and away the best in the NHL, as he has a +5 advantage on linemate W Reilly Smith.

Karlsson is slated to become a restricted free agent this summer, but I have an inkling he’ll be a Golden Knight for the considerable future considering Vegas has almost $28.5 million in cap space next season.

Even though they’re still leading the Pacific Division by 10 points, the 42-18-5 Golden Knights don’t necessarily come to Columbus in top form. A win against the Devils Sunday snapped a three-game losing skid that saw Vegas earn only one point.

Vegas’ biggest struggle right now seems to be on the defensive end. Since February 26, the Knights have allowed 36.75 shots against per game, the fourth-most of any team in the league in that time. That mark is well off the 30.6 shots the Golden Knights have allowed per game all season, which is sixth-best in the NHL.

However, unlike a couple teams in the Metropolitan Division, Vegas’ defense isn’t poor due to a lack of effort. D Brayden McNabb in particular has been leaving everything on the ice lately, as his five hits-per-game and 2.5 blocks per game over the past week are both the best marks on the team in that time.

Of course, additional shots have made life a bit more difficult for 22-8-3 G Marc-Andre Fleury. Though he’s managed a decent enough .914 save percentage in his last three starts, the added shots mean that he’s posted a rather unattractive 3.31 GAA. For the season, Fleury has now earned a .928 save percentage and 2.24 GAA.

Tonight’s tilt will be 33-28-5 Columbus’ first since getting back from a three-game Californian road trip that saw the Jackets earn only two points (a 4-2 win in San Jose).

While away from home, the Jackets’ usually solid defense failed them miserably. With 28-21-5 G Sergei Bobrovsky accustomed to facing only 31.3 shots per game (the [t]eighth-best mark in the league), Columbus’ defense has allowed 34.67 in its past three games – the ninth-worst mark in the NHL since March 1.

Just like McNabb has been doing all he can to keep the Knights’ defense together, D Jack Johnson has been doing the same for the Ohioans. Johnson’s 2.7 hits per game and two blocks per game since March 1 are both tied for the team leads (F Brandon Dubinsky and D Ian Cole, respectively) as he is making his presence known all over the ice.

If you’ve reached this paragraph expecting talk about Bobrovsky, you have another think coming as the Russian will be unavailable tonight due to illness. Instead, that forces 5-7-0 G Joonas Korpisalo into the spotlight with his .899 season save percentage and corresponding 3.3 GAA, as he’ll be tonight’s starter. Korpisalo’s last showing was in Los Angeles on March 1, where he saved 29-of-34 shots faced (.853 save percentage) for five goals against.

When the Blue Jackets made their inaugural trip to Vegas on January 23, they joined the long list of teams that have suffered at the hands of the Golden Knights. With a two-goal night from none other than Karlsson, Vegas dominated Columbus to a 6-3 victory.

As for which of these teams needs the points in the standings more, the answer has to be Columbus. Currently occupying the Eastern Conference’s second wild card, the Jackets are in a dog fight with at least three other teams for two playoff spots, meaning every point is important. In fact, if Columbus does not win tonight, it runs the risk of dropping behind the Panthers if they can best the Lightning.

Playoff qualification is all but assured for the Golden Knights at this point, and the same might be able to be said for a Pacific Division banner soon enough. However, they’ve fallen behind the Predators for the conference’s top seed, meaning a potential Game 7 in the Western Finals is currently slated to be played at Bridgestone Arena. Trailing by four points with the same number of games played, this will be a very tight race to keep an eye on.

With two defenses struggling, there’s a big chance this game can turn into a barn burner. If that proves to be the case, there’s no doubt the Golden Knights will earn the victory, as their offense easily outclasses that of the Blue Jackets and should definitely be able to take care of Korpisalo.


The Calgary Flames had an answer for almost everything the Pittsburgh Penguins could throw at them, but it was the hosts that won 4-3 in overtime in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at PPG Paints Arena.

Only 3:05 into the first period, the Penguins had already earned a two-goal advantage. D Chad Ruhwedel (RW Phil Kessel) provided Pittsburgh’s first tally at the 2:10 mark, followed only 55 seconds later by an unassisted wrist shot by F Evgeni Malkin. However, Calgary wasn’t going to let this game get away that easily, as D Mark Giordano (Third Star of the Game W Troy Brouwer and C Matt Stajan) buried a wrister at the 6:14 mark, followed by a C Mikael Backlund (F Michael Frolik and D Travis Hamonic) backhanded shot to level the game at 2-2 – the score that would hold into the first intermission.

The second period would also end with a tied score, but not without a flurry of goals in the final three minutes. Second Star D Kris Letang (Malkin and LW Carl Hagelin) returned a one-goal advantage to Pittsburgh with 2:59 remaining in the frame, but Brouwer (D T.J. Brodie and LW Johnny Gaudreau) buried a wrister with only three seconds remaining before the break to pull the Flames back even at three goals apiece.

With no goals being struck in the third period, that set up a five minute three-on-three overtime period, but First Star D Justin Schultz (Kessel and Malkin) needed only 2:36 of that to provide the Pens’ game-winner.

By removing four players from action, there’s a lot of free space on the ice to execute some deadly passes. That’s exactly what happened in this situation, as Kessel drove towards G Jon Gillies‘ net from the right face-off circle to draw the netminder’s attention – as well as that of Backlund and Frolik. That left Schultz with exactly zero people paying attention to him, leaving the defenseman with more than enough time to bury his snap shot into the gaping cage.

G Tristan Jarry earned the victory after saving 35-of-38 shots faced (.921 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Gillies, who saved 28-of-32 (.875).

Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have been unstoppable this week, as they’re currently riding a six-game winning streak. With that success, the 80-47-19 hosts have earned a 29-point advantage over the series’ roadies.

March 1 – Day 141 – It’s usually too warm for Jackets in Los Angeles…

In comparison to other Thursdays, today’s slate of eight games seems to be a lighter load. However, don’t read a lower number of games played as an unimportant evening of action.

The festivities finds their start at 7 p.m. with two puck drops (Pittsburgh at Boston [NBCSN/SN/TVAS] and Carolina at Philadelphia), followed half an hour later by New Jersey at Florida. Next up is Tampa Bay at Dallas at 8:30 p.m., with two more tilts (Nashville at Edmonton and Minnesota at Arizona) waiting 30 minutes before getting underway. Chicago visits San Jose (NBCSN) at 10 p.m., while Columbus at Los Angeles (SN1) – tonight’s nightcap – gets green lit half an hour later to close out the night’s activity. All times Eastern.

Originally, I’d only marked the Columbus-Los Angeles game on my calendar as a potential featured matchup on the off-chance G Jeff Zatkoff would make his first return to Tinseltown.

Though that is extremely unlikely, we’re going to stick with that game due to the Blue Jackets, who are in desperate need of wins, facing the tough task of beating a confident Kings team that is riding a major surge after beating the Golden Knights twice in two days.

 

 

 

 

 

To beat the then conference-leader in such a quick turnaround, it takes a team – in this case, the 35-24-5 Kings – being on top of its game, and maybe a little luck too. After all, they were riding a two-game losing skid coming into the home-and-home series.

Los Angeles certainly had both earlier this week, as it posted a 3-2 overtime victory at Staples Center on February 26, followed by a dominant 4-1 win in Sin City a day later.

Perhaps the biggest component of the Kings’ statement victories were the exemplary play of both of their goaltenders. Even behind a defense that allowed an atrocious 40.5 shots per game (the second-worst of any team in the league since Monday), both 24-23-2 G Jonathan Quick and backup 1-0-0 G Jack Campbell were excellent to allow only 1.5 goals against per game, the (t)sixth-best mark in the past three days.

Of the two, Campbell was easily the most impressive, as he posted a solid .976 save percentage for a 1 GAA in his first NHL win. However, Quick will surely earn tonight’s start after his .949 save percentage, 1.94 GAA performance on Monday that elevated his season marks to a (t)ninth-best in the league .922 save percentage and 2.45 GAA.

Before discussing Columbus, Los Angeles’ offense also deserves a hat tip for averaging 3.5 goals per game against the Knights – the ninth-best attack since Monday. With 2-3-5 totals in the two games against Vegas, C Anze Kopitar deserves much of the credit. However, he’s just one of five players that averaged at least a point per game in that home-and-home series, as F Jeff Carter (2-0-2), W Dustin Brown (1-1-2), F Tyler Toffoli (1-1-2) and D Dion Phaneuf (0-2-2) joined him in that effort, but the fact that Kopitar’s 70 points on the season is 10th-most in the league is a testament to how valuable he is to his club.

Meanwhile, it seems the visiting 32-26-5 Blue Jackets have definitely put their five-game losing skid in early February behind them, as they’ve posted a 3-1-0 record in their last four games, including victories at New Jersey and against the Capitals.

Columbus’ strength all season has been in the defensive zone, and that’s been true during these last four games. Led by F Boone Jenner (3.3 hits per game since February 20), D Jack Johnson (two blocks per game in his last four outings) and D Seth Jones (seven takeaways over this stretch), the Jackets have allowed an average of only 27.5 shots against per game during this run, the third-best mark in the NHL since February 20.

Of course, defense like that makes 27-20-5 G Sergei Bobrovsky almost impossible to beat. Having started all four of Columbus’ last games (and likely to start tonight even with Anaheim on the schedule tomorrow), he’s posted an unbelievable .945 save percentage and 1.51 GAA to improve his season marks to a .92 save percentage and a (t)ninth-best in the league 2.41 GAA.

Pairing Bobrovsky and his defense together, they’ve allowed only 1.5 goals against per game since February 20, which ties division-rival Philadelphia for best mark in the NHL in that time.

The Kings have already made their annual trip to Ohio, but they weren’t very nice house guests. Behind a two-goal (including the game-winner), three-point performance by Kopitar, Los Angeles beat the Blue Jackets 6-4 at Nationwide Arena on October 21.

Pending a regulation loss by San Jose tonight against the visiting Blackhawks, the most noticeable immediate impact on the standings this game can have is if the Kings defend Staples Center to a victory. Should both those results come to pass, Los Angeles would pull into a tie with the Sharks for second place in the Pacific Division, taking the lead on regulation+overtime victories.

That’s not to say Columbus isn’t interested in pulling off the victory tonight, as any points it earns are important in keeping pace with New Jersey for the Eastern Conference’s first wild card, not to mention putting a little bit more space between the Jackets and the ninth-seeded Hurricanes.

With goaltenders and defenses like these, this is going to be a tough, grind-it-out style of game. With that in mind, I’m leaning towards the Kings defending Staples Center to a victory due to the fact that they sport a superior offense.


Posting a four-goal period is usually a good way to win, and the Colorado Avalanche did just that to beat the Calgary Flames 5-2 at Pepsi Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Part of the reason for the Avs’ offensive explosion is the fact that they were trailing 2-0 before finding their first goal. C Mikael Backlund scored an unassisted shorthanded backhanded shot with 5:41 remaining in the first period, followed by a F Michael Frolik (LW Matthew Tkachuk and Backlund) backhander 2:41 into the second.

That two-goal advantage lasted until the 8:24 mark of the second frame when First Star of the Game F Nathan MacKinnon (LW Gabriel Landeskog and Second Star D Tyson Barrie) scored a power play wrist shot to get Colorado on the board. That seemed to be the spark the Avs’ offense needed, because D Nikita Zadorov (W Blake Comeau and F Carl Soderberg) provided the game-tying goal only 1:08 after MacKinnon’s tally.

Barrie’s second point of the game proved to be the most important, as it ended up being the game-winner. With 7:19 remaining in the frame, Barrie (RW Mikko Rantanen and MacKinnon) took advantage of a slick Rantanen pass through the slot and around D Travis Hamonic – who was trying to block a potential shot from the right face-off circle alongside G David Rittich‘s attempted save – to bury his one-timer into a gaping net.

W Matthew Nieto (Soderberg and Comeau) finished off the assault 1:18 before the second intermission, setting the score at 4-2.

No goals were scored in the final frame until 17 seconds remained in regulation. With Ritich pulled for a sixth Calgary attacker, D Duncan Siemens scored his first NHL goal with a long-range empty-netter.

Third Star G Semyon Varlamov earned the victory after saving 30-of-32 shots faced (.938 save percentage), leaving the loss to Rittich, who saved 29-of-33 (.879).

With Colorado’s home victory, it snapped a four-day point streak by road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. As such, the 75-47-19 hosts now have a 20-point advantage on the visitors in the series.

February 21 – Day 133 – Round four

Six games on this Wednesday’s schedule might be a low number, but don’t misinterpret that as a bad night of action – there’s more than a few games to be seen!

Like we have the last week or so, we begin our hockey day in PyeongChang at the Olympics. Canada vs. Finalnd and Sweden vs. Germany, the final two quarterfinal matchups in the men’s tournament, are scheduled to drop the puck at 7:10 a.m. Eastern time.

Back in the NHL, it’s a typical light Wednesday schedule with only three tilts on the board. The action starts at 8 p.m. when Ottawa at Chicago (NHLN/SN/TVAS), but the next game – Dallas at Anaheim – isn’t slated to begin until 10 p.m. Finally, the league’s nightcap features Calgary at Vegas and gets underway at 10:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

Back at the Olympics, there’s only one game being played and it’s a doozy: Team Canada is squaring off against Team USA in the women’s gold medal game, scheduled for 11:10 p.m. Eastern time.

Of note in NHL action this evening, D Johnny Oduya is making his return to Chicago after spending five seasons with the Blackhawks. However, there’s nothing – not even what should be an excellent matchup between the Canadians and Finns in the men’s tournament – that can distract us from what is sure to be another excellent game between the powerhouses of the women’s game!

 

Let’s talk stats before we even think about jumping into the arguably even more important narrative associated with this game.

Having won Group A, 4-0-0-0 Canada enters this game as the top-seeded team in the women’s Olympic tournament even though it is currently second in the IIHF rankings behind the USA.

The reason for the Canadians’ success is easy to see. Their four goals per game and .5 goals against per game are both the best of any team in the tournament, and the 25 shots against they allow per game is fourth-best.

There have been few lines in the women’s tournament as dominant as Team Canada’s top-three forwards. Of those, none have shined brighter than F Melodie Daoust, who’s posted incredible 3-3-6 totals in only four games played. She’s joined by F Meghan Agosta (2-2-4) and F Marie-Philip Poulin (2-3-5) on the line, making them a dangerous threat to score on every shift they take.

F Rebecca Johnston has also been impressive from the second line with her 3-2-5 totals, but where she really earns her roster spot is on the power play. Two of her three goals have been struck while the Canadians have an extra skater, and she accounts for half of her team’s power play goals.

As mentioned before, Canada’s defense has been only average in this Olympic tournament, but average is all Head Coach Laura Schuler needs when she has not one… not two… but three stellar goaltenders at her disposal. Ann-Renee Desbiens, Genevieve Lacasse and Shannon Szabados have all been tremendous when they’ve taken to the crease, as they’ve combined to allow only two goals in four showings (Desbiens and Szabados both have one shutout apiece) with save percentages that are all above 97 percent.

Considering she was in net for the elimination game against the OAR in the semifinals, it would seem likely Szabados will get the nod tonight with Lacasse as her backup, but I’m under the impression Canada could find success with any of these three commanding the crease.

If Canada is in the red corner, 3-0-0-1 Team USA is in the blue. Having counted the days since February 20, 2014 (more on that in a moment), the Americans are more than excited to play this game, and they have just the strengths to win this game.

The Canadians may be able to claim the best offense and goals-against, but Team USA is right behind them in the rankings. America boasts scoring an average of 3.5 goals per game, led in large part by the incredible efforts of second-liner F Dani Cameranesi, who leads the team with her 3-2-5 totals in four showings. Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson has also been exemplary, averaging a point per game with her 3-1-4 marks from the third line.

While the offense is good, the Ice Yanks’ defense is even better. Having allowed only 18.5 shots against per game, Team USA’s defense tops all teams at the Olympics. That’s made life all too easy for G Maddie Rooney, who’s posted a solid .951 save percentage for a 1.01 GAA in three games. Pair her effort with the defense, and Team USA’s .75 goals against-per-game is second-best in PyeongChang.

As mentioned before, the stats are only half the story in this game as the rivalry between these two nations is easily the world’s fiercest and most competitive in the women’s game.

Looking back at recent results of the world’s biggest tournaments, the Americans should be the clear favorites to win the gold medal. They’ve won four-consecutive IIHF World Championships (2013, 2015-’17) and three-consecutive Four Nations Cups (2015-’17).

However, that success has not extended to the Olympic Games, and it’s a curse that extends way back to 2002. After winning the inaugural gold in women’s ice hockey in 1998, Team USA has had to settle for three silvers (including the last two in 2010 and 2014) and a 2006 bronze.

Well, curse is the right word only if you’re from the United States. For one team to win all those World Championships and Four Nations Cups, another team has to lose.

Enter Canada, the four-time runners-up at the IIHF World Championships (2013, 2015-’17) and three-time runners-up at the Four Nations Cup (2015-’17). While those results are undoubtedly disappointing, the Canadians will gladly take those lumps if it prepared them to win their fifth-consecutive Olympic gold.

Team Canada has dominated Olympic competition over the past 20 years. In addition to winning four-consecutive gold medals (2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014), Canada also took silver in the inaugural 1998 competition. That means this is Canada’s sixth-consecutive appearance in the gold medal game, a streak better than most teams’ medal counts in this tournament.

The Olympic Rings are on the ice tonight, but does this mean it’s going to be an easy victory for Team Canada? Hardly so, as they – just like Team USA will have to do to win – will have to earn every inch of the ice in what should be an incredibly competitive match.

Just take into account the preview to this game that we witnessed only a week ago. Behind an incredible 44-for-45 save effort (.978 save percentage) from Lacasse, Team Canada was able to hold on to a 2-1 victory. Both teams showed great resilience in that game to register one even-strength goal apiece, but it was D Megan Keller’s interference penalty 7:18 into the second period that ultimately cost the Americans the victory, as Agosta (F Natalie Spooner and F Brianne Jenner) was able to turn the resulting power play into a goal 1:30 later.

Of course, maybe the even more important preview might have occurred four years ago (almost to the day) in the Sochi gold medal game. With goals from F Meghan Duggan and F Alexandra Carpenter, the Americans had a 2-0 advantage with five minutes separating them from the championship.

However, the Canadians are never eliminated until the fat lady sings. Jenner began the comeback with 3:26 remaining in regulation, setting the score at 2-1.

That’s okay, right? Team USA still has a one-goal lead and is inches from the finish line! In fact, the defense and G Jessie Vetter were keeping Canada at bay, holding on to that lead with only a minute until the final horn…

And then it happened. With Szabados pulled for the extra attacker, Poulin leveled the game with only 55 ticks left on the clock, setting up an overtime period that lasted 8:10 before Poulin would score again to clinch her second Olympic gold in as many tries.

It goes without saying, but Team USA cannot afford another collapse like that.

Now comes the tough job of picking the winner of this game. In case it wasn’t brutally apparent, I certainly have my rooting interests in this game and desperately want to see the Americans succeed. However, having seen Team Canada already win Group A and knowing the Americans’ history at the Olympics, I know this will be a very difficult game to win.

If the Americans are going to win this game, they’re going to need their defense to continue to play lights out like it has all tournament, and they also just might need a little bit of luck to beat Szabados. It’s certainly possible for that to happen, but Canada’s success at this tournament year after year (well, four years after four years) will leave me doubting until the clock officially reaches 0:00.