The DTFR Podcast is back from hiatus as Nick provides a State of the Podcast, reviews a few things from the last couple of months and delves into all of the transactions leading up to the 2020 NHL trade deadline.
The New Jersey Devils completed a, 3-2, shootout victory comeback over the Boston Bruins at Prudential Center on Tuesday afternoon to close out 2019.
Mackenzie Blackwood (13-10-5 record, 2.85 goals against, .907 save percentage in 30 games played) made 28 saves on 30 shots against for a .933 SV% in the win for the Devils.
Bruins goaltender, Jaroslav Halak (9-3-5, 2.20 GAA, .930 SV% in 17 games played) stopped 42 out of 44 shots faced for a .955 SV% in the shootout loss.
Boston fell to 24-7-10 (58 points) on the season, but remained in command of the Atlantic Divison, while New Jersey improved to 14-19-6 (34 points) and stayed in 8th place in the Metropolitan Division.
The B’s also fell to 10-6-2 on the road this season.
The Bruins were without the services of Kevan Miller (knee), Torey Krug (upper body), Charlie McAvoy (lower body), Connor Clifton (upper body) and David Krejci (lower body) on Tuesday.
Miller has now officially missed half of the season, since Boston played their 41st game of the regular season in New Jersey.
As a result of the numerous injuries on the blue line for the B’s, Jeremy Lauzon was recalled from the Providence Bruins (AHL) on Monday.
Lauzon has 1-9–10 totals in 35 games with Providence this season and made his season debut with Boston on the second defensive pairing with Matt Grzelcyk at his side.
Karson Kuhlman (fractured tibia) was assigned to Providence on Monday in what might be a conditioning stint, if not just a return to playing action with a plethora of depth forwards seeking playing time in Boston.
Kuhlman has not played since being injured in Toronto on Oct. 19th.
Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, made changes to his lineup from Sunday night’s, 3-2, victory against Buffalo.
Anders Bjork, Charlie Coyle and Brett Ritchie were moved up to the second line, while Jake DeBrusk slid down to the third line left wing slot as Par Lindholm and David Backes drew back into the lineup.
Meanwhile, on defense, Lauzon was paired with Grzelcyk and John Moore remained with Steven Kampfer, while Zdeno Chara and Brandon Carlo earned first pairing duties.
Danton Heinen was the only healthy scratch for Boston on Tuesday.
Devils defender, P.K. Subban, caught Sean Kuraly without the puck and was assessed a minor penalty for interference at 1:17 of the first period.
The Bruins capitalized on the ensuing power play when David Pastrnak unloaded a shot on a one-timer that trickled through Blackwood, but slowed before reaching the goal line.
As a result, Brad Marchand (20) ensured the puck reached the twine by tapping it in from the crease and gave Boston the, 1-0, lead on the power play.
Pastrnak (30) and Grzelcyk (9) had the assists on Marchand’s power play goal at 2:03.
Both teams swapped chances for the rest of the opening frame, but no more penalties were called or goals scored heading into the first intermission.
Boston led New Jersey, 1-0, on the scoreboard and held the advantage in shots on goal, 14-10.
The Bruins also led in blocked shots (7-4), while the Devils had the advantage in giveaways (4-2), hits (8-4) and faceoff win percentage (53-47).
Both teams had one takeaway aside and the Bruins were 1/1 on the skater advantage, while New Jersey had yet to see any time on the power play.
Marchand went to the box nine seconds into the second period after tripping up Devils forward, Nikita Gusev, but New Jersey couldn’t convert on the ensuing power play opportunity.
Moments later, Kuraly worked the puck down low and squibbed it through Blackwood into the crease and off Sami Vatanen’s skate, whereby Joakim Nordstrom (4) poked the loose puck over the goal line to give the Bruins a two-goal lead.
Kuraly (12) and Carlo (9) tallied the assists on Nordstrom’s goal at 4:27 of the second period and Boston led, 2-0.
Almost midway through the middle frame, New Jersey sustained offensive zone pressure for a solid few minutes.
The Devils re-entered the attacking zone on a quick break while the Bruins were in the midst of a line change, as Blake Coleman dropped the puck back to Gusev for a give-and-go back to Coleman (12) for the one-timer goal at 8:58.
Gusev (16) and Vatanen (16) had the assists on Coleman’s goal as New Jersey cut Boston’s lead in half, 2-1.
Less than a minute later, Travis Zajac went to the penalty box for tripping Marchand at 9:07, but Boston’s resulting power play was short lived as Grzelcyk tripped up Nico Hischier at 9:20.
The two sides played 1:47 of 4-on-4 action before the Devils had an abbreviated 5-on-4 power play.
Entering the second intermission, the Bruins led the Devils, 2-1, on the scoreboard and, 23-22, in shots on goal– despite New Jersey holding the, 12-9, advantage in shots on net in the second period alone.
Boston also held the advantage in blocked shots (9-6), while the Devils led in takeaways (4-3), giveaways (8-4), hits (15-7) and faceoff win% (55-45).
New Jersey went 0/2 on the power play and the Bruins were 1/2 on the skater advantage after 40 minutes played.
Lauzon opened things up in the final frame of regulation with an interference minor against Miles Wood at 2:34 of the third period.
New Jersey didn’t score on the ensuing power play.
Almost midway through the third period, Nordstrom tripped up Mirco Mueller and was sent to the sin bin at 7:55, but once again the Devils couldn’t convert on the skater advantage.
A few minutes past the midpoint in the third period, Jesper Bratt (8) tipped in a shot from Subban by standing right in front of Halak– tying the game, 2-2, in the process.
Subban (5) and Hischier (15) notched the assists on Bratt’s goal at 13:11 and New Jersey was in full swing with momentum on their side.
Neither team took another penalty until overtime and the two teams finished regulation tied, 2-2, on the scoreboard with the Devils leading in shots on goal, 41-28– including a, 19-5, advantage in the third period alone.
Boston held the advantage in blocked shots (15-13), takeaways (9-8) and faceoff win% (51-49), while New Jersey led in giveaways (14-5) and hits (19-13).
The Devils were 0/4 on the power play and the Bruins were 1/2 on the skater advantage heading into overtime.
Cassidy started Patrice Bergeron, Marchand and Moore in the extra frame for Boston, while Alain Nasreddine began overtime with Hischier, Damon Severson and Vatanen on the ice.
Late in the overtime period, Bratt hooked Kuraly and was assessed a minor infraction at 4:48.
As a result, Cassidy used his timeout with 11.6 seconds left in overtime to drum up a plan if the Bruins won the ensuing draw and could muster a shot on goal before time expired.
At the horn, the B’s and Devils were heading for a shootout, tied, 2-2, through 65 minutes of action.
New Jersey finished the effort leading in shots on goal (44-30), giveaways (14-5) and hits (19-13), while Boston led in blocked shots (16-14).
The two sides were even in faceoff win% (50-50), while the Devils went 0/4 and the Bruins went 1/3 on the power play.
Nasreddine elected to shoot first in the shootout and sent Gusev out to face Halak in the opening round, but Gusev shot the puck square at the B’s goaltender.
Cassidy responded with Coyle to kick things off for Boston in the shootout, but Coyle missed the net after deking and losing the puck off his forehand while losing an edge in front of the crease.
Jesper Boqvist shot second for New Jersey and fired a shot directly at Halak.
Pastrnak was next up for Boston, but was denied by Blackwood as the Devils goaltender made a glove save while falling as Pastrnak stickhandled the puck and let it fly.
Devils forward, Kyle Palmieri, began the third round of the shootout with a shot off Halak’s glove and wide.
Palmieri was followed by Marchand in the third round of the shootout and for once the Bruins winger didn’t opt for a five-hole attempt.
Instead, Marchand rang the post over Blackwood’s blocker.
Through three rounds of the shootout, the two clubs were knotted, 0-0.
Wayne Simmonds began the fourth round of the shootout with an attempt at wrapping the puck around Halak’s outstretched legs, but Halak shut the door between the post and his skate.
Cassidy sent out DeBrusk to break up the deadlock, but DeBrusk crashed the net with speed and was denied by Blackwood’s leg pad as the New Jersey goaltender cut down on the angle of DeBrusk’s approach by playing out of the crease a little.
Just as it seemed like a shootout from hell, the Devils elected to utilize Jack Hughes’ skillset in the fifth round of the shootout.
Hughes dangled the puck and got Halak to commit to a hybrid stance before firing a shot below Halak’s glove and inside the post for the first goal of the shootout– putting New Jersey in command.
Not to be outdone, noted Bruins fourth liner, Chris Wagner, was sent out to tie the shootout and did just that after a nifty dangle to his backhand before roofing the puck over Blackwood and through the top-shelf– tying the shootout, 1-1, after five rounds.
In a grand twist from the other night’s own-goal in overtime against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Severson was sent out onto the ice to try to give New Jersey control of their own destiny and the Hockey Gods responded in kind.
Severson deked and scored a goal that was reminiscent of Wagner’s only about a minute prior with a backhand that he elevated over Halak to put the Devils ahead in the shootout, 2-1.
With the game on his stick, Bergeron had to score to extend the shootout, but Blackwood snagged the puck out of mid-air with his glove– denying Bergeron of yet another shootout goal.
No. 37 in black and gold hasn’t scored a shootout goal in about five calendar years as the Devils emerged with the, 3-2, shootout victory on home ice.
The B’s fell to 18-1-2 when having a two-goal lead at any time this season and fell to 0-6 in shootouts this season, while New Jersey improved to 2-4 overall past overtime.
The Bruins fell to 17-5-6 when scoring the game’s first goal, 15-3-2 when leading after the first period and 13-0-4 when leading after two periods this season.
Boston kicks off 2020 with a two-game homestand against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday and Edmonton Oilers on Saturday before making a quick visit to Nashville to face the Predators next Tuesday.
New Jersey Devils
31-41-10, 72 points, 8th in the Metropolitan Division
Missed the playoffs for the sixth time in the last seven seasons
Additions: F Nikia Gusev (acquired from VGK), F John Hayden (acquired from CHI), F Wayne Simmonds, F Ben Street, D Dakota Mermis, D P.K. Subban (acquired from NSH), D Matt Tennyson
Subtractions: F Kenny Agostino (signed with TOR), F Kurtis Gabriel (signed with PHI), F Adam Helewka (KHL), F Nick Lappin (signed with STL), F Stefan Noesen (signed a PTO with DAL), F Blake Pietila (signed with ANA), F John Quenneville (traded to CHI), F Eric Tangradi (KHL), D Jeremy Davies (traded to NSH), D Ryan Murphy (KHL), D Steven Santini (traded to NSH), D John Ramage (KHL), D Egor Yakovlev (KHL), G Cam Johnson (signed with Milwaukee, AHL)
Still unsigned: F Drew Stafford, F Pavel Zacha, D Eric Gryba, G Eddie Lack
Re-signed: F Brandon Baddock, D Will Butcher, D Connor Carrick, D Josh Jacobs, D Mirco Mueller
Offseason Analysis: Ray Shero is an active General Manager and he was quite the active dealer this offseason– most recently acquiring Nikita Gusev from the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for a 2020 3rd round pick and a 2021 2nd round pick, while also sending Steven Santini, Jeremy Davies, a 2019 2nd round pick and a 2020 2nd round pick to the Nashville Predators to acquire P.K. Subban in June.
Gusev signed a two-year deal worth $4.500 million per season to begin his NHL career at the age of 27, while Subban joins New Jersey with three years remaining on his eight-year, $72 million contract that he originally signed as an extension with the Montreal Canadiens on August 2, 2014 before being traded to Nashville in June 2016.
Shero then went on to sign Wayne Simmonds to a one-year, $5.000 million contract in free agency in an effort to bolster New Jersey’s top-six forwards.
Taylor Hall is a pending-unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
It’s not known whether or not the 2018 Hart Trophy winner has any desire to stay with the Devils or not, but Shero’s making every effort to keep his team relevant for what’s likely to be the rest of Hall’s prime.
Adding Jack Hughes with the 1st overall selection in the 2019 Draft is sure to help, while Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt come into their own among the forwards and Will Butcher (signed to a three-year extension this offseason worth $3.733 million per season) and Subban lead the new-age Devils blue line from the backend.
Pavel Zacha, the 22-year-old native of Brno, Czech Republic, scored 24 points in 70 games in his rookie season of 2016-17 and 25 points in each of the last two seasons (8-17–25 totals in 69 games in 2017-18 and 13-12–25 totals in 61 games in 2018-19).
Zacha is currently an unsigned-restricted free agent who should fit under New Jersey’s $8.712 million in currently available cap space, but shouldn’t be more than a one or two-year bridge deal as he has yet to prove himself of a larger role and the Devils are looking to avoid restricting themselves from next summer’s negotiations with Hall, Simmonds and others.
The one thing Shero hasn’t touched– mostly because he can’t– is goaltending.
Cory Schneider has a $6.000 million cap hit and three-years remaining on his contract and is coming off a career-worst, 3.06 goals against average and .903 save percentage in 26 games played as an NHL regular goaltender.
Mackenzie Blackwood emerged with a hot start to the season in 2018-19, but was limited both by the lack of protection in front of him, as well as injury, to just 23 games and a 2.61 GAA and a .918 SV% in his rookie campaign.
Blackwood’s .918 SV% is promising, but his 2.61 GAA is more endemic of an anemic defense the Devils are looking to get more out of– hence the addition of Subban.
Offseason Grade C+
New Jersey played it safe this offseason by not overpaying for a free agent (Simmonds), while keeping the term short and sweet– leaving the door open for further relations if it is mutually beneficial, but also at risk of being left for someone else if Simmonds looks to cash-in on a superb 2019-20 season elsewhere.
Shero bolstered his defense out of necessity, but might not have a playoff-ready roster without more work to be done. If the Devils were a yearly playoff contender, this offseason would look much better than it actually is. Sadly, it’s just a little above average for a team in transition from free-fall to “stable” rebuilder.
Nick and Colby recap the headlines from the last month as well as take a look at all of the New York market teams and try to figure out if any of them are actually any good as Season Six of the podcast begins.
The Boston Bruins (44-20-9, 97 points, 2nd in the Atlantic Division) continue their four-game road trip after a, 5-0, shutout of the New York Islanders on Tuesday with a Thursday night matchup against the New Jersey Devils (27-38-9, 63 points, 8th in the Metropolitan Division).
New Jersey is coming off a, 4-1, loss to the Washington Capitals on home ice on Tuesday and is 1-1-0 against the Bruins this season, including a, 5-2, win in Boston on Dec. 27th and a, 1-0, loss at TD Garden on March 2nd.
Thursday night marks the final time the two clubs will see each other in the 2018-19 regular season.
It’s also a homecoming for New Jersey native and B’s defender, Connor Clifton, as he will once again be in the lineup for the Bruins while Matt Grzelcyk, Torey Krug and Kevan Miller remain out of the action.
Former Devil, John Moore, makes his return to Prudential Center as a member of the Bruins, while trade deadline acquisition Marcus Johansson will not be available for Thursday night’s action in Boston’s first game in New Jersey since trading for Johansson.
Grzelcyk (upper body), Miller (upper body) and Johansson (lung contusion) will join the Bruins in Florida on Friday ahead of their Saturday night battle with the Panthers and could all be back in the lineup at that time.
Krug (concussion) skated on his own after morning skate on Thursday and remains out of game action.
Boston head coach, Bruce Cassidy, indicated there would be no lineup changes, while Paul Carey remains the only healthy scratch and Tuukka Rask (25-10-5 record, 2.39 goals against average, .917 save percentage in 41 games played) will get the start in net against the Devils.
Rask had a 20-save shutout in Boston’s, 1-0, win over New Jersey earlier this month.
Across the ice, Pavel Zacha returns to the lineup for the Devils after missing 16 games with an upper body injury. New Jersey is 2-8-1 in their last 11 games and has already been eliminated from postseason contention this year.
Facing a lot of injuries to the roster, Josh Jacobs was recalled from the Binghamton Devils (AHL) and will make his NHL debut and wear No. 40 for New Jersey on Thursday, while Nathan Bastian (upper body), Jesper Bratt (lower body), Taylor Hall (lower body), Nico Hischier (upper body), Mirco Mueller (upper body), Miles Wood (lower body), Kyle Palmieri (upper body) and Will Butcher (illness) remain inactive.
Devils head coach, John Hynes, indicated Cory Schneider (5-11-3, 3.13 GAA, .901 SV% in 22 GP) would get the start for New Jersey against Boston.
Schneider is 2-6-3 in his career against the Bruins, allowing 27 goals against, while amassing a 2.51 GAA in 646 minutes played. He is also 5-4-1 in his past 10 games (nine starts) and has a 2.09 GAA and .934 SV% in that span.
Backup goaltender, Mackenzie Blackwood (7-9-0, 2.71 GAA, .915 SV% in 19 GP) is 1-1-0 this season against the B’s and allowed three goals on 72 shots against with a 1.52 GAA.
The 2018-19 regular season has started, so let’s overreact and hand out the regular season awards already! It’s our 3rd Annual Participation Trophies After One Game presented by Nick and Connor.
It’s that time of year again – it’s time to analyze the NHL’s schedule for the upcoming season.
As mentioned in last year’s edition of this post, these sorts of columns aren’t usually associated with the NHL due in large part to the fact that every team plays every other team at least twice – once at home and once on the road – for a fairly even strength of schedule for each and every club. However, there’s more than a few benchmarks on the league’s calendar, as well as some important stretches in each organization’s individual schedule, that makes each team’s campaign unique.
In terms of how the schedule can be divided, the NHL’s offering for this upcoming season is very similar to the one we just completed in June in that it can be divided into fourths. One quarter of the season – approximately 21 games played for every team – is compacted between Opening Day (scheduled for October 3) and American Thanksgiving, the second of nine days this year without any regular season play.
American Thanksgiving is not an arbitrarily picked date, mind you. Longtime fans of DtFR know there’s more than a few stat-heads in residence around here, and one of our favorites is that teams in playoff position by American Thanksgiving qualify for the postseason over 75 percent of the time. For those wondering, last season was a bit wild in regards to that statistic, as only 11 (instead of the usual 12) of the teams in playoff position by the Thanksgiving Break punched tickets to the dance.
I’m not here to point fingers, but the St. Louis Blues were on top of the Western Conference when they sat down for their 2017 turkey feasts. Maybe the tryptophan stuck around for the remainder of the season?
Excuse this Blues fan’s digressions.
I usually consider the second and third quarters as one group (for those bad at math, that’s half the schedule), meaning Black Friday (November 23) to February 24 provides the main bulk of the season – approximately 41 games per team (funny how that works out to half an 82-game season, isn’t it?). Just like Thanksgiving, February 24 is not a date simply drawn out of a hat. Instead, that is the last day of play before February 25’s trade deadline.
It is in this chunk of the season that a team truly proves itself in the face of a grinding schedule, as clubs will be playing at least three games a week for 13 weeks with only two major breaks – the standard three-day Christmas holiday and the All-Star Break/bye week (more on that in a moment).
After the trade deadline, the NHL’s regular season schedule is hot and heavy until it comes to a close on April 6 (You hear that Boston? No extending the season this year!). With every club packing approximately 20 games into only 41 days, teams will effectively be in action every other day as they scramble to complete their playoff qualification or improve upon their seeding.
Of course, there’s always a few wildcards that try to mess with this system. Take, for example, the Florida Panthers, who for the second season in a row have a backlogged schedule. With only 19 games on their calendar before Thanksgiving, the Panthers will play a whopping 22 games after the deadline to close out the season, meaning they just might complete they playoff push they came so close to pulling off last season.
On the flip side, Nashville is a team that has potential to see a stellar position in the standings – say, possession of the Presidents’ Trophy like Tampa Bay had for much of the season – slip through its fingers at the bitter end. The Predators will lace up their skates only 18 times after the trade deadline for the fewest number of tilts in that time span of any club in the NHL.
In terms of spacing their games evenly across the season, the teams with the most-balanced schedules include the Avalanche, Blackhawks, Bruins, Canadiens, Flyers, Lightning, Rangers, Senators, Sharks, Stars and Wild.
This season marks the third season of bye weeks in the NHL, and the league is continuing to make adjustments on the breaks to maximize the benefits for players while minimizing the impact on its overall product.
Year 1 featured byes scattered throughout the schedule from New Year’s all the way into March, creating confusion among fans and, presumably, opposing coaching staffs alike as we tried to keep track of which organizations had taken their breaks already and which were still playing on tired legs.
To alleviate that concern, the NHL condensed all byes into the span of two weeks in January last season with relative success. Gone was the chance of catching a team that had played for four-straight months without much of a break, as well as the chance a team could enter the playoffs with any sniff of an edge due to enjoying their bye later in the season. However, what that design created was a month book-ended by the Christmas and All-Star Breaks that lacked much action, as it’s tough to have games taking place when literally half the league is resting.
In my opinion, the league just might have found a winning formula in its third try. This year’s schedule sees every team’s bye week attached to the All-Star Weekend in San Jose. 21 clubs will enjoy the majority of their breaks following the festivities on January 24-27, while the remaining 10 will take their byes before the weekend or have it split on either side of the break.
What results is a minimum of four days off for all players regardless of their participation in San Jose, plus the four days allocated to the All-Star events that only a handful of players will attend. In addition, by selecting a majority of the 10 teams that will take their byes before the All-Star Break from the Eastern Conference, the NHL can schedule those sides for enough games to fill the scheduling void since travel between those cities is far shorter than in the West.
The players get their breaks and the NHL keeps hockey in arenas and on TV: I’d say everybody wins.
My favorite days of the regular season are always when there’s 15 games on the schedule, leaving only one team inactive. I guess that means I’ll have to do my Christmas shopping on a different day, because the first of those dates is November 23 – right after American Thanksgiving.
Unfortunately for Kings fans, their favorite club will be left out in the cold that day (who am I kidding, is there ever a cold day in Los Angeles?), but they’ll get to participate in December 29’s loaded schedule at the expense of Columbus.
Finally, the last 15-game day of the calendar is on April 6 – the final day of the regular season. Just like the Kings were the first team to be absent on a slammed schedule, the Ducks will be the odd team out, as their 82nd and final game of the regular season will take place the day before against Los Angeles at Honda Center.
ANAHEIM DUCKS – eliminated in First Round, 101 points
It’s hard to tell: did the Ducks have the worst road record of any 2018 Pacific Division playoff team because of all their injuries, or because their style of play is on the verge of extinction in the NHL’s current era of speed and skill?
I have a sneaking suspicion we’ll know soon enough, as four of Anaheim’s first six games are away from Honda Center. Should the Ducks struggle in Glendale against the potentially up-and-coming Coyotes in Game 2 of the regular season on October 6, there just might be cause for concern in Orange County.
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 13 days (December 15-27)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 14 days (December 29-January 11)
BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)
LAST 10 GAMES: at Colorado, vs. Florida, vs. Winnipeg, vs. San Jose, at Los Angeles, at Vancouver, at Calgary, at Edmonton, vs. Calgary, vs. Los Angeles
ARIZONA COYOTES – 29th, 70 points
Going 0-10-1 in your opening 11 games is going to have a majorly detrimental effect on more than your overall record, so it’s no surprise the Coyotes ended the season with the worst home and road records of any club in the Western Conference. However, Arizona posted an 11-7-2 record in its last 20 games to close the campaign, so perhaps the Yotes aren’t as far off the mark as they seem on the surface.
Just like last season, Arizona’s first 11 games could answer a lot of questions about this organization moving forward, as the Coyotes have drawn a balanced schedule to open their season. Six of their first 11 opponents qualified for the playoffs last season (including Winnipeg [Oct. 20] and the Lightning [Oct. 27]), but almost all of the other five were nowhere close to the playoff bubble (Dallas [Oct. 4] was closest, but still missed the postseason by three points). Now, the Coyotes don’t necessarily have to have a winning record by the time October is through, but at least a .500 record would be reason enough to begin believing in this squad.
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 17 days (January 20-February 5)
BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 14 days (February 24-March 9)
LAST 10 GAMES: at Tampa Bay, at Florida, at New Jersey, at NY Islanders, vs. Chicago, at Colorado, vs. Minnesota, vs. Los Angeles, at Vegas, vs. Winnipeg
BOSTON BRUINS – eliminated in Second Round, 112 points
Known for its brutal winters and Nor’easters, few look forward to making the trip to Boston during the wintertime. Count hockey players in particular among the professionals unexcited about a visit to New England, as TD Garden was home to the best home team in the Atlantic Division.
The Bruins fell just one point short of claiming the Eastern Conference crown last regular season, but they’ll have a chance to take an early lead this year when they open the season with eight-straight games against teams that failed to miss the playoffs. After visiting Washington D.C. for the Capitals’ banner raising ceremony on October 3, Boston will head to Buffalo (Oct. 4) before returning home to host the Senators (Oct. 8), Oilers (Oct. 11) and Red Wings (Oct. 13). Then, they’re off to Canada, taking on Calgary (Oct. 17), Edmonton (Oct. 18), Vancouver (Oct. 20) and Ottawa (Oct. 23) before returning home.
BYE WEEK: January 20-28 (nine days)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days (February 15-23)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 12 days (February 26-March 9)
LAST 10 GAMES: at NY Islanders, at New Jersey, at Florida, at Tampa Bay, vs. NY Rangers, vs. Florida, at Detroit, at Columbus, at Minnesota, vs. Tampa Bay
BUFFALO SABRES – 31st, 62 points
Is it a surprise that the worst home team of the NHL ended up being the worst team at the end of the season? KeyBank Center was not a friendly place for the Sabres last year, but that’s sure to change with first-overall draft pick D Rasmus Dahlin joining the club to excite the loyal Buffalo fans.
Surely to the surprise of many, the Sabres did not finish the 2017-18 season with the worst road record in the league (that belonged to division rival Montréal). 14-20-7 away from home is far from pretty, but is is certainly something to build off of as Buffalo tries to return to the postseason for the first time in eight years.
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 17 days (January 14-30)
BYE WEEK: January 19-28 (10 days)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 15 days (February 1-15)
LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Toronto, at Montréal, at New Jersey, at Ottawa, vs. Detroit, at NY Islanders, vs. Columbus, vs. Nashville, vs. Ottawa, at Detroit
CALGARY FLAMES – 20th, 84 points
Teams with outstanding road records in the regular season are usually pretty dangerous in the postseason – but only if they qualify. Enter the curious case of the Calgary Flames last season, as they tied St. Louis for the honor of Best Road Team among those that failed to qualify for the playoffs with a 20-15-6 mark away from the Saddledome.
If new Head Coach Bill Peters can maintain that success in white, he’ll need to make sure his troops are in tip-top shape at the start of the New Year when the Flames begin their longest home stand. During that extended stay in Alberta, Calgary will host tough competition of the likes of the Avalanche (Jan. 9) and Panthers (Jan. 11), as well as the improving Coyotes (Jan. 13) and Sabres (Jan. 16).
LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 10 days (January 9-18)
BYE WEEK: January 23-31 (nine days)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in eight days (February 9-16)
LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Columbus, vs. Ottawa, at Vancouver, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Dallas, vs. Anaheim, at San Jose, at Los Angeles, at Anaheim, vs. Edmonton
CAROLINA HURRICANES – 21st, 83 points
Upon first glance at their 36-35-11 record, you might think you would want the Hurricanes to be traveling to your favorite team’s arena in hopes of them earning two points. However, just the opposite was true, as the Canes tied Florida for the best road record of any Eastern Conference club to miss the postseason.
With that in mind, Metropolitan rivals Pittsburgh (Feb. 5) and New Jersey (Feb. 10) cannot afford to rest on their laurels when Carolina takes to its longest road trip of the season just after the bye week, as the Hurricanes are going to be more than eager to defend their Road Warrior title.
LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 14 days (November 10-23)
BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in eight days (February 5-12)
LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Minnesota, vs. Montréal, at Washington, vs. Washington, vs. Philadelphia, at Pittsburgh, at Toronto, vs. New Jersey, at Philadelphia
CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS – 25th, 76 points
My, how the mighty have fallen. After winning its most recent Stanley Cup only three years ago, Chicago took a massive tumble last season to end up in last place in the Central Division, only six points removed from the bottom of the Western Conference. To add insult to injury, the Hawks’ 18-18-5 record at home and 15-21-5 record on the road qualified them for the division’s worst in both categories.
Playoff teams take care of business at home, so that is where the Blackhawks should focus most of their energy at the start of the season. It won’t take United Center very long to spring back to life if the Hawks can earn at least 10 points on home ice in October – an easy task considering four of their seven visiting opponents that month failed to qualify for the playoffs last season.
LONGEST HOME STAND: Four games in seven days (December 12-18)
BYE WEEK: January 23-31 (nine days)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Three games in five days – 3x (February 1-5; February 27-March 3; March 26-30)
COLORADO AVALANCHE – eliminated in first round, 95 points
This might be intrinsic of any 16 seed, but the Avs had the worst home record of any Central Division playoff team and the worst road record of all playoff teams.
Excitement in Denver for the Avalanche is growing by the minute, so I think it’s a safe assumption that Colorado will improve on its 28-11-2 mark at Pepsi Center this season. However, it’s the Avs’ 15-19-7 away record that I’m most concerned with, and they’ll get a nice, balanced road trip in January to work out the kinks in their white sweaters. That road swing starts in Winnipeg with a tough match against the Jets (Jan. 8), followed by two softer tilts against the Flames (Jan. 9) and Canadiens (Jan. 12). The intensity gets ratcheted up again with a stop in Toronto (Jan. 14) before culminating with a visit to Ottawa (Jan. 16). If Colorado can come home with at least seven points from that Canadian swing, it will be more than set up for another playoff appearance.
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days (January 8-16)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 18 days (January 19-February 5)
BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)
LAST 10 GAMES: at Minnesota, at Dallas, vs. Chicago, at Chicago, vs. Vegas, vs. Arizona, at St. Louis, vs. Edmonton, vs. Winnipeg, at San Jose
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS – eliminated in first round, 97 points
A 2-0 advantage heading back to Nationwide Arena wasn’t enough to get the Blue Jackets their first playoff series victory, so it’s back to the drawing board again this season.
Going off last year’s table, the toughest stretch in Columbus’ schedule is surely its six-game run leading up to the Christmas break. The Jackets host the Kings (Dec. 13), Ducks (Dec. 15), Golden Knights (Dec. 17) and Devils (Dec. 20) before heading east to take on Philadelphia (Dec. 22) and New Jersey (Dec. 23). Since those last three matchups are in the division, they’re obviously more important, but if Columbus is as good as I think it is, it should come away with at least eight points over that stretch.
LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 13 days (December 8-20)
BYE WEEK: January 20-28 (nine days)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in nine days (March 16-24)
LAST 10 GAMES: at Calgary, at Edmonton, at Vancouver, vs. NY Islanders, vs. Montréal, at Nashville, at Buffalo, vs. Boston, at NY Rangers, at Ottawa
DALLAS STARS – 19th, 92 points
Dallas’ 26-12-3 home record tied with Columbus for the 13th-best home mark in the NHL last season, yet the Stars failed to qualify for the postseason (in fact, the Stars had the best home record of any Western Conference club to miss the playoffs).
That’s what draws me to the Stars’ Halloween road trip throughout the Eastern Conference. If American Airlines Center is going to maintain its status as one of the tougher places to play in this league, the Stars are going to need to expel some ghosts and improve on their road effort if they want to extend their season beyond 82 games.
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 10 days (October 28-November 6)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 21 days (January 12-February 1)
BYE WEEK: January 20-29 (10 days)
LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Florida, vs. Colorado, vs. Pittsburgh, at Winnipeg, at Calgary, at Edmonton, at Vancouver, vs. Philadelphia, at Chicago, vs. Minnesota
DETROIT RED WINGS – 27th, 73 points
How nice is it that the league is letting the W Filip Zadina Era officially get underway with his NHL debut taking place at home? That game might be against a solid Blue Jackets team, but there shouldn’t be an empty seat in Little Caesars Arena on October 4 in anticipation of seeing what this kid is capable of.
Unfortunately for the rebuilding Red Wings, there’s 81 more games remaining on their schedule that might not be met with quite the same fanfare. Even if Detroit is still in contention late in the season, it’ll be hard pressed to make up any ground in the standings as six of its last 10 games – including five straight – are on the road.
BYE WEEK: January 23-31 (nine days)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 10 days (February 17-26)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 10 days (March 19-28)
LAST 10 GAMES: at NY Rangers, at St. Louis, at Vegas, at San Jose, at Buffalo, vs. New Jersey, vs. Boston, vs. Pittsburgh, at Pittsburgh, vs. Buffalo
EDMONTON OILERS – 23rd, 78 points
With one of, if not the best player in the game in C Connor McDavid on their team, the Oilers surely have to be better than last season, right? If that is the case, Edmonton’s comeback story will find an interesting start when it squares off against New Jersey at Sweden’s Scandinavium – the home nation of LW Pontus Aberg, D Oscar Klefbom, D Adam Larsson and RW Jesse Puljujarvi – on October 6.
However, the point of the Oilers’ schedule I’m most interested in is the seven games leading up to their bye week. All seven of those tilts will be against clubs that missed the playoffs last year, with all but one taking place at Rogers Place where the Oil were the best home team in the Pacific Division that failed to qualify for the postseason. If Edmonton can’t capitalize on a juicy stretch like that, this team is beyond hope.
LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 14 days (December 18-31)
BYE WEEK: January 23-February 1 (10 days)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in eight days (February 25-March 4)
LAST 10 GAMES: at St. Louis, vs. Columbus, vs. Ottawa, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Dallas, vs. Anaheim, at Vegas, at Colorado, vs. San Jose, at Calgary
FLORIDA PANTHERS – 16th, 96 points
Though finishing in ninth place in the Eastern Conference in 2017-18 is usually reason enough to predict the Panthers could qualify for the playoffs this season, there’s even more evidence for those willing to dig a little bit deeper.
The Devils (Nov. 26), Ducks (Nov. 28), Lightning (Dec. 1), Bruins (Dec. 4) and Avalanche (Dec. 6) may be coming to Sunrise during Florida’s longest home stand, but the fact that the Panthers were the NHL’s best home team to miss the playoffs will surely play in their favor. Similarly, there will be no fear in the Cats’ eyes when they travel to Philadelphia (Nov. 13), Columbus (Nov. 15) or Tampa Bay (Nov. 21) during their longest sabbatical from BB&T Center, as Florida also boasts (along with Carolina) the best road record of any Eastern Conference team to fail to qualify for the 2018 postseason.
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 11 days (November 13-23)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Eight games in 15 days (November 24-December 8)
BYE WEEK: January 22-31 (10 days)
LAST 10 GAMES: at Dallas, vs. Arizona, vs. Boston, at Toronto, at Montréal, at Ottawa, at Boston, vs. Washington, vs. NY Islanders, vs. New Jersey
LOS ANGELES KINGS – eliminated in First Round, 98 points
This year’s winner of the 2018-19 Bye Lottery is none other than the Kings of Tinseltown, who’ll get a whopping 11 days off the ice to rest and recuperate for the final 32 games of their regular season.
Speaking of byes, keep an eye on the Kings in the days following American Thanksgiving. From November 24-December 4, they’ll play seven games, all of which are against competition who’s 2017-18 campaigns ended after 82 games last season. Making that slice of their schedule even sweeter, six of those sides are from within Los Angeles’ own division, meaning the Kings could start staking a real claim for the Pacific before Christmas if they take care of business – something they didn’t exactly do a good job of last season (the Kings had the worst home record of any playoff team last season).
LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 17 days (October 28-November 13)
BYE WEEK: January 22-February 1 (11 days)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 10 days (February 2-11)
LAST 10 GAMES: vs. San Jose, vs. Anaheim, at Calgary, at Edmonton, at Vancouver, vs. Chicago, vs. Calgary, at Arizona, at Anaheim, vs. Vegas
MINNESOTA WILD – eliminated in First Round, 101 points
Every team looks forward to its bye week, but none will need it as much as the Wild. The toughest stretch of Minnesota’s schedule is the six games leading up to the festivities in San Jose, as all of those matchups are against clubs that qualified for the playoffs a season ago.
Minnesota starts that run in Philadelphia on January 14, followed only a day later by a visit to Xcel Energy Center by the Kings. After that, the Ducks (Jan. 17) and Blue Jackets (Jan. 19) both make trips north before the Wild head west to take on Vegas (Jan. 21) and Colorado (Jan. 23). It’s a tough run (especially the game against the Avs, against whom the Wild lost three of four games last season by a combined 19-4 score), but this Minnesota club is a veteran group that should rise to the occasion.
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Seven games in 14 games (October 29-November 11)
BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in nine days (March 11-19)
LAST 10 GAMES: vs. NY Islanders, vs. Colorado, at Washington, at Carolina, vs. Nashville, at Vegas, at Arizona, vs. Winnipeg, vs. Boston, at Dallas
MONTRÉAL CANADIENS – 28th, 71 points
The start of the season has a decent chance of being painful for the Habs (they open their campaign at Toronto [Oct. 3] and Pittsburgh [Oct. 6] before returning home to host the Kings [Oct. 11] and Penguins [Oct. 13]), but they’ll then have five-straight tilts against teams that missed the playoffs last season to warm up in anticipation of their first meeting of the year against arch-rival Boston (Oct. 27).
If the Canadiens are going to improve this campaign, they’re going to need to figure out their road woes from a season ago. Finishing the season with a league-worst 11-26-4 record away from Bell Centre is simply not going to cut it – unless Montréal is planning on drafting D Bowen Byram, F Cole Caufield or C Jack Hughes with another lottery pick next summer.
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 13 days (December 19-31)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 22 days (January 19-February 9)
BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)
LAST 10 GAMES: at Philadelphia, vs. NY Islanders, vs. Buffalo, at Carolina, vs. Florida, at Columbus, at Winnipeg, vs. Tampa Bay, at Washington, vs. Toronto
NASHVILLE PREDATORS – Presidents’ Trophy winner, 117 points
The Predators had their sights on something a little bit bigger than the Presidents’ Trophy last season (the Capitals know all about that plight), but their championship window is still wide open – just as long as they figure out when they want to hand the crease over to G Juuse Saros.
Of the many games and series I’m looking forward to this season, few shine as bright as the Preds’ four showdowns with Winnipeg. Fortunately for us, the first of those is scheduled for October 11 – only nine days into the 2018-19 season – but the series will really heat up in March when the final two meetings take place in the span of 23 days. Though Winnipeg is known for its home-ice advantage, Nashville has full intentions of improving on a NHL-best of its own: a 25-9-7 road record.
LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in nine days (November 25-December 3)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 10 days (January 4-13)
BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)
LAST 10 GAMES: at San Jose, vs. Toronto, vs. Pittsburgh, at Winnipeg, at Minnesota, at Pittsburgh, vs. Columbus, at Buffalo, vs. Vancouver, vs. Chicago
NEW JERSEY DEVILS – eliminated in First Round, 97 points
Like a top-flight college football team, the Devils are playing a neutral-site game to open their regular season. However, what sets New Jersey apart from Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State, Oklahoma, USC and the likes is that its tilt against the Oilers will not take place in North America, but instead at Scandinavium in Gothenburg, Sweden (homeland of W Jesper Bratt and F Marcus Johansson).
Talk about a truly impartial crowd.
Few teams are going to be looking forward to the Christmas break quite like Jersey. Starting with a showdown in Washington on November 30, the Devils will begin a series of 10-straight games against teams that were in the playoffs last season – none more anticipated than a home rematch against the Lightning on December 3.
LONGEST HOME STAND: Four games in eight days (October 11-18)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Seven games in 13 days (October 30-November 11)
BYE WEEK: January 20-27 (eight days)
NEW YORK ISLANDERS – 22nd, 80 points
As someone who’s never visited either Barclays Center or Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, I do not know if the Isles’ three homecoming games are going to be awesome because (a) the team returns to the building where they won four-straight Stanley Cups or (b) they’re playing in a building actually built for hockey, but I do know they’ll be awesome nonetheless.
Another thing I know is that the Islanders’ longest home stand (five games, all of which will be contested in Brooklyn) will likely not be a fun one, as C Mathew Barzal‘s side will be hosting the Maple Leafs on February 28 (complete with former captain C John Tavares), Capitals (Mar. 1) and Flyers (Mar. 3) in the span of four days, all of which were playoff teams only a few months ago. That tough stretch will do the Islanders no favors as they try to shed the label of the Metropolitan Division’s worst home team.
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in eight days (October 13-20)
BYE WEEK: January 23-31 (nine days)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in eight days (February 26-March 5)
LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Boston, at Montréal, at Philadelphia, vs. Arizona, at Columbus, at Winnipeg, vs. Buffalo, vs. Toronto, at Florida, at Washington
NEW YORK RANGERS – 24th, 77 points
There’s a few fans and analysts out there that think the Rangers can complete their rebuild and get right back into the playoffs this season. That remains to be seen, but we’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect from these Blueshirts by the end of November.
No, I’m not talking about the American Thanksgiving thing that was mentioned earlier – though that is mathematically backed. Instead, I offer this note: good teams can beat other good teams, but great teams almost always defeat the clubs they’re supposed to. In that strain, eight of New York’s last nine tilts before Thanksgiving are against sides that failed to make the playoffs last year, with a majority of those tilts taking place in the Big Apple. If the Rangers can earn at least 12 points during that run, I’ll buy in that this team is for real. For them to do that, they’ll need to improve on a Metropolitan Division-worst 13-23-5 record away from Madison Square Garden.
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in eight days – 2x (October 25-November 1; February 12-19)
BYE WEEK: January 20-28 (nine days)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in nine days (February 2-10)
LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Detroit, at Toronto, vs. Pittsburgh, at Boston, vs. St. Louis, at Philadelphia, at New Jersey, vs. Ottawa, vs. Columbus, at Pittsburgh
OTTAWA SENATORS – 30th, 62 points
We shared our hot-like-a-Canadian-Tire-fire takes in the season previews earlier this summer, but I always have my concerns about a team enjoying its longest home stand before October even comes to a close. That means much of the Senators’ travels will be condensed into six months without the opportunity for an extended series of nights sleeping in their own homes.
If Ottawa can, by some unpredictable act of God, manage to get back on track this season, it has a very favorable schedule to close the campaign. Seven of its last 10 opponents failed to qualify for the playoffs last season, and the three that did all have to come to Canadian Tire Centre. If the Sens are within six points of a playoff spot by mid-March, they could be just the team to squeak into a fifth postseason berth in the last eight seasons.
LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 14 days (October 10-23)
BYE WEEK: January 23-31 (nine days)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in eight days (February 14-21)
LAST 10 GAMES: at Vancouver, at Calgary, at Edmonton, vs. Buffalo, vs. Florida, vs. Toronto, vs. Tampa Bay, at NY Rangers, at Buffalo, vs. Columbus
PHILADELPHIA FLYERS – eliminated in First Round, 98 points
To all Flyers season ticket holders: consider grabbing a holiday ticket package to the 76ers this December, because you’re going to be hard pressed to watch much hockey at Wells Fargo Center that month. Of the 14 games Philadelphia will play in the final month of the year, a whopping 10 will be away from Broad Street.
Making matters even more difficult, eight of those December games will be against clubs that qualified for the postseason last year, including two contests against division rival Columbus. By midnight of January 2 (the Flyers are in Nashville on New Year’s Day), we will surely know if this season’s Philadelphia club can build upon last year’s success. If last year’s campaign is any indication, these Flyers should return to the City of Brotherly Love in good shape, as they had the best road record of any team in the Metropolitan Division last season.
LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 10 days – 2x (November 8-17; February 2-11)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 10 days (December 23-January 1)
BYE WEEK: January 20-27 (eight days)
LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Montréal, at Chicago, vs. NY Islanders, at Washington, vs. Toronto, at Carolina, vs. NY Rangers, at Dallas, at St. Louis, vs. Carolina
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS – eliminated in Second Round, 100 points
Last season, Penguins fans bemoaned the number of back-to-back games on their favorite club’s schedule. The NHL must have heard those complaints, because there’s only 11 instances of that occurring this season, the first of which isn’t until November 23 (at Boston) and 24 (vs. Columbus) – the weekend following American Thanksgiving when every team but Minnesota and Ottawa plays two games in three days.
However, what Pittsburgh got in fewer back-to-backs, it gave up in home stands. The most consecutive home games the Pens will play this season is three, which they do a whopping six times in a 41-game home schedule at the toughest arena in the Eastern Conference (at least according to the Pens’ home record last season). That’ll lead to a lot of plane rides and hotel stays, which could wear on the squad as the season progresses.
LONGEST HOME STAND: Three games in eight days (October 4-11)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days (January 11-19)
BYE WEEK: January 20-27 (eight days)
LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Philadelphia, at Carolina, at Nashville, at Dallas, at NY Rangers, vs. Nashville, vs. Carolina, at Detroit, vs. Detroit, vs. NY Rangers
SAN JOSE SHARKS – eliminated in Second Round, 100 points
Good luck finding a more balanced schedule in the Pacific Division, if not the entire NHL. The Sharks have two five-game road trips to go with their six-game home stand, and it’s rare that they have only a one-off stay at SAP Center. That means the Sharks should spend more nights in their own beds than other clubs, which will surely pay dividends later in the season when other teams are getting tired after a full season of play.
Based on last year’s standings, one of the toughest stretches of San Jose’s schedule looks like it will occur in mid-March, as the Sharks will host the Predators (Mar. 16) and Golden Knights (Mar. 18) before heading south to take on their California brethren on back-to-back days (Mar. 21 and 22). With that in mind, I’d expect San Jose to be in the mix for its seventh Pacific Division title and maybe, just maybe, a shot at the top seed in the Western Conference.
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 10 days (October 5-14)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 13 days (November 11-23)
BYE WEEK: January 23-February 1 (10 days)
LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Vegas, at Los Angeles, at Anaheim, vs. Detroit, vs. Chicago, vs. Vegas, vs. Calgary, at Vancouver, at Edmonton, vs. Colorado
ST. LOUIS BLUES – 18th, 94 points
One of the most striking things about the Blues’ schedule is that, of the five times they play Chicago all season, three of those showdowns are scheduled in October. If that doesn’t get F Ryan O’Reilly excited to play for the Notes, I don’t know what will.
Undoubtedly, one of the most important six-game stretches in St. Louis’ schedule occurs around American Thanksgiving, as the Blues will square off with five of last season’s Western Conference playoff teams, including a home-and-home series with the Predators on Thanksgiving Eve and Black Friday. For the Blues’ sake, hopefully G Jake Allen will choose any other time of the season for his annual month-long meltdown.
LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 18 days (October 25-November 11)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 18 days (January 21-February 7)
BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)
LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Edmonton, vs. Detroit, vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Vegas, at NY Rangers, at New Jersey, vs. Colorado, at Chicago, vs. Philadelphia, vs. Vancouver
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING – Prince of Wales Trophy runner-up, 113 points
There’s no way to start a campaign quite like an extended home stand, and that’s just what the Lightning have the privilege of this season. However, the Bolts can’t afford to get too comfortable (even if the toughest competition they’ll face during that home stay is Columbus on Oct. 13), as they’ll immediately embark on their longest road trip (a tour of the Western Conference) after a division tilt against the Red Wings (Oct. 18). Fortunately, they boasted the Eastern Conference’s best road record last season, so that surely won’t be a problem for them.
Coincidentally, we can combine a Californian road trip and the Blue Jackets to find the toughest stretch of Tampa Bay’s schedule – at least in terms of last season’s standings. The Bolts will head to Orange County for a New Year’s Eve showdown against the Ducks, followed three days later by a Tinseltown tilt and a jaunt up to San Jose on January 5. When C Steven Stamkos and co. return to the friendly confines of Amalie Arena on January 8, Columbus will be waiting for them to cap a four-game streak against playoff teams from a season ago – the longest such run on Tampa’s schedule.
LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 13 days (October 6-18)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in eight days (October 20-27)
BYE WEEK: January 20-29 (10 days)
LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Arizona, at Washington, at Carolina, at St. Louis, vs. Boston, vs. Washington, at Ottawa, at Montréal, at Toronto, at Boston
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS – eliminated in First Round, 105 points
The Maple Leafs were good before Tavares showed up, but now Torontonians have Stanley Cups dancing in their dreams. We’ll have a discussion about the Leafs’ chances in their season preview later this summer (spoiler: that defense still hasn’t been fixed), but first it’ll be worth mentioning that they seem to have a balanced schedule in front of them.
Toronto gets a nice and easy initiation into its 2018-19 campaign by playing its first five games against clubs that failed to qualify for the 2018 postseason, but the pedal hits the metal on October 13 when five of the Maple Leafs’ next six opponents finished in the NHL’s Sweet 16. In fact, from Opening Day until American Thanksgiving, just under 60 percent of Toronto’s first 22 games will be against 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff teams, meaning the Leafs will need to be ready right out of the gate if they want to avoid playing catch-up in the standings for the remainder of the regular season.
LONGEST HOME STAND: Four games in 10 days (December 29-January 7)
BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 11 days (February 9-19)
LAST 10 GAMES: at Nashville, at Buffalo, vs. NY Rangers, vs. Florida, at Philadelphia, at Ottawa, at NY Islanders, vs. Carolina, vs. Tampa Bay, at Montréal
VANCOUVER CANUCKS – 26th, 73 points
With RW Brock Boeser and C Bo Horvat already in Vancouver and F Elias Pettersson champing at the bit to fulfill the Canucks’ Swedish quota, it’s hard to believe British Columbia’s NHL representative can remain at the bottom of the table for many more seasons.
Pretending, if only for a moment, that this is the year the Canucks start their upward climb, their seven-game home stand that effectively closes the season (Games 81 and 82 are in Nashville [Apr. 4] and St. Louis [Apr. 6]) will play a major role in determining their postseason fate. That series starts slow with visits from the Senators (Mar. 20) and Flames (Mar. 23), but picks up some real steam when Columbus (Mar. 24), Anaheim (Mar. 26), Los Angeles (Mar. 28), Dallas (Mar. 30) and San Jose (Apr. 2) roll into town. Every point is precious that time of year, so the blue-and-green’s extended time in their own beds could provide just the edge they need to qualify for the playoffs for the second time in six seasons.
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 13 days (October 6-18)
BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 14 days (March 20-April 2)
LAST 10 GAMES: at Chicago, vs. Ottawa, vs. Calgary, vs. Columbus, vs. Anaheim, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Dallas, vs. San Jose, at Nashville, at St. Louis
VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS – Stanley Cup runner-up, 109 points
In their inaugural season, the Golden Knights got blessed with an unbelievable seven-game home stand to open T-Mobile Arena (the venue that proved to be the best home-ice advantage in the Pacific Division). It looks like it’s time for the NHL to cash that $500 million check, as Vegas will embark on a five-game road trip only three days into the season after hosting the Flyers on October 4 (much to the chagrin of the rest of the league, Vegas finished last season tied with Los Angeles for the honor of “Best Visitor in the Pacific Division,” as they both had matching 22-14-5 records away from home).
Speaking of five-game runs, an important one for Vegas will get underway on Valentine’s Day. The Golden Knights host Toronto that night, followed by a visit from the Predators two days later. Then Vegas is off to Colorado (Feb. 18) before returning home to host the Bruins (Feb. 20) and Jets (Feb. 22). That is Vegas’ longest stretch of consecutive games against 2018 playoff teams, and the fact that three of those clubs are Western Conference foes means postseason seeding could be on the line.
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in eight days (October 6-13)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 13 days (October 16-28)
BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)
LAST 10 GAMES: at San Jose, vs. Winnipeg, vs. Detroit, at St. Louis, at Colorado, vs. Minnesota, at San Jose, vs. Edmonton, vs. Arizona, at Los Angeles
WASHINGTON CAPITALS – Stanley Cup champion, 105 points
Winning a championship is hard, but successfully defending that title can be even harder. That’s the next challenge facing W Alex Ovechkin‘s crew, and we’ll see if they’re up to it after their first five games – all of which are against clubs that qualified for the playoffs last season, including rival Pittsburgh (Oct. 4) and the reigning Western Champion Golden Knights (Oct. 10).
Even if the Caps don’t come out with a solid record after that series, they’ll still have more than enough time to whip their play under new Head Coach Todd Reirden into shape, as their next eight opponents all failed to extend their seasons beyond 82 tilts.
BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 11 days (February 1-11)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 12 days (February 12-23)
LAST 10 GAMES: at New Jersey, vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Minnesota, vs. Philadelphia, vs. Carolina, at Carolina, at Tampa Bay, at Florida, vs. Montréal, vs. NY Islanders
WINNIPEG JETS – Campbell Bowl runner-up, 114 points
RW Blake Wheeler and the Jets took a major step forward last season to advance all the way to the Western Conference Finals before falling in five games to Vegas. Expectations in Manitoba are going to be extremely high this campaign, but it’ll be interesting to see if this young roster can perform with a large target on its back.
A good indication of how Winnipeg will perform under that pressure will come in the first month of play. After a nice, long home stand that ends with a major matchup against the Maple Leafs (Oct. 24) at the league’s most intimidating home arena, the Jets will take to the road for a back-to-back in Detroit (Oct. 26) and Toronto (Oct. 27), then fly to Finland (RW Patrik Laine‘s homeland) for another back-to-back against the up-and-coming Panthers (Nov. 1 and 2). If G Connor Hellebuyck and co. can come away with a winning record after that extended, 9328-mile (that’s 15 megameters, Canadians) road trip, I have no doubt these Jets will be challenging for their first division title since 2006-07’s Southeastern title as the Atlanta Thrashers.
LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 11 days (October 14-24)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in 13 days (January 17-29)
BYE WEEK: January 20-27 (eight days)
LAST 10 GAMES: at Anaheim, at Vegas, vs. Nashville, vs. Dallas, vs. NY Islanders, vs. Montréal, at Chicago, at Minnesota, at Colorado, at Arizona
1. Washington Capitals– 31-17-5 (67 points, 53 GP)
After spending a couple of months figuring themselves out and weathering the storm that’s been Braden Holtby‘s second-to-last career worst season (his 2.76 goals against average and .915 save percentage in 39 games played are better and the same as his 2013-14 2.85 GAA and .915 SV% in 48 games played respectively).
It’s a bit of an off year for Washington, but even an off year for the Capitals is still a pretty good season, considering they’re currently first in a division that is more active than a lava lamp in terms of rising and falling.
Washington has a plus-11 goal differential through 53 games played despite the loss of Marcus Johansson in a trade with the New Jersey Devils this offseason and an injured Andre Burakovsky seeing limited time so far. That doesn’t even mention the loss of depth for the Capitals last July either– remember Justin Williams (signed with Carolina) and Karl Alzner (signed with Montreal)?
Luckily for the Capitals they only have about $412,000 in cap space as I write, so their trade deadline plans are pretty much already determined for them.
If they’re able to dump a guy like Brooks Orpik— and his $5.500 million cap hit that runs through next season– that would provide the organization with some much needed relief.
Potential assets to trade: F Jay Beagle, D Brooks Orpik
2. Pittsburgh Penguins– 30-22-3 (63 points, 55 GP)
After bouncing around the Metropolitan Division standings, the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins are currently four points behind first place in the division.
Much like his rival in Washington, Matthew Murray is having a season to forget. Injuries and the death of his father have taken a toll on the two-time Cup winning goaltender, limiting Murray to just 34 games thus far with a 2.97 GAA and .903 SV% (again, both career worsts– though he is in just his second full season since his 13 GP in 2015-16).
Despite their plus-three goal differential and gifted scorer (turned 2018 All-Star snub), Phil Kessel (24-41–65 totals in 55 games), the Penguins have been porous on defense. Pittsburgh’s best defenseman, Kris Letang, is a minus-15 through 52 games played.
Since November, Pittsburgh has been trying to move defenseman, Ian Cole– though head coach, Mike Sullivan, has been forced to play him (thereby keeping him on the Penguins roster) due to injuries affecting Schultz and friends.
Antti Niemi didn’t pan out and bring stable backup goaltending to the Steel City (he’s since departed via waivers to Florida, then Montreal). Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith have been left to pick up the tab with some impressive performances at times.
Midseason acquisitions F Riley Sheahan, as well as Oleksiak, have not been enough to fill holes left by Nick Bonino (the forward signed with Nashville in July) and Trevor Daley (left via free agency, landed in Detroit) respectively.
But with roughly $425,000 in cap space to work with currently, the Penguins can’t afford to make much noise on February 26th– but they should definitely snag a defenseman and rental backup goaltender.
Potential assets to acquire: F Sam Reinhart (BUF), D Cody Franson (CHI), D Mike Green (DET), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Nick Holden (NYR), F Derick Brassard (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ), D Erik Gudbranson (VAN), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), D Jason Garrison (VGK), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)
3. New Jersey Devils– 27-17-8 (62 points, 52 GP)
New Jersey has almost $8.000 million to work with currently as things approach the trade deadline at the end of the month.
The Devils are one of the biggest surprises this season east of the Mississippi River.
First overall pick in the 2017 draft, Nico Hischier, has been quietly setting the tone with forwards, Miles Wood, Jesper Bratt and Pavel Zacha in the resurgence of youth. Travis Zajac is back in his dominant, physical, ways and the Sami Vatanen–Adam Henrique trade has worked out quite well for both teams.
Will Butcher is quite the offensive threat on the blue line and John Moore is firing on all cylinders. Despite Marcus Johansson’s concussion, New Jersey hasn’t faced much adversity in overcoming injuries this year.
There’s a lot of cap room to work with, but not a whole lot that this team can really give up to bring in the best guys on the trade market, like Evander Kane, unless the Devils are comfortable parting ways with prospects and draft picks (spoiler alert, they might be).
New Jersey really should be in the hunt for Kane, Rick Nash, Max Pacioretty, David Perron and other great offensive assets– either as the front-runner or the stealthy dark-horse that’ll make one or two big moves to carry them to glory.
The Devils have the time and space to add a veteran forward or defenseman that might eat some salary, but put them lightyears beyond their Metropolitan counterparts.
It’s a buyers market.
Potential assets to acquire: F Evander Kane (BUF), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Mike Green (DET), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Rick Nash (NYR), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Tyler Bozak (TOR), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)
4. Philadelphia Flyers– 25-19-9 (59 points, 53 GP)
Aside from the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Vegas Golden Knights, the Philadelphia Flyers are one of the hottest teams in the league right now.
Goaltender, Brian Elliott, has found his top-notch form once again while Travis Konecny and Claude Giroux are rolling along. With almost $3.000 million to spend at the deadline, the Flyers could make some improvements to their team.
Trading away Brayden Schenn was costly for Philadelphia this offseason, but thankfully Jakub Voracek and the rest of the roster decided to pick up some of the points left behind by Schenn’s departure.
Adding Jori Lehtera, on the other hand, was a big mistake– both in production value and in cap management.
The Flyers could really solidify their offense with one or two moves and probably should anchor their defense with at least a depth blue liner or two coming down the stretch. Someone like David Perron, Patrick Maroon or Nic Petan could flourish in the Philly system. Meanwhile, a defenseman like Cody Franson would help put them over the edge if someone’s injured.
Potential assets to acquire: D Cody Franson (CHI), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), D Nick Holden (NYR), F David Perron (VGK), F Nic Petan (WPG)
5. Columbus Blue Jackets– 27-22-4 (58 points, 53 GP)
After getting a fast start out of the gate the Columbus Blue Jackets have really cooled off. It’s not that they’re a bad team, but rather, they’re just average.
Sergei Bobrovsky can’t stop the puck and play every other position too. Otherwise, the Blue Jackets would probably be first in the division. But good news, Columbus, you’ve got some cap space to work with at the end of the month.
As I write, the Blue Jackets have about $5.000 million to work with in cap room.
That’s good enough to bring in just about any player without considering what the future impact on the team his cap hit might have (unless Jarmo Kekalainen brings in a clear-cut rental player that won’t be re-signed in July). The point is this, Columbus has enough room to mess around with something valuable at the deadline, but they’re going to have to re-sign a plethora of core/future core pieces of the franchise this offseason.
The Blue Jackets aren’t doomed– they know their future plans more than anyone else.
But what could they bring in to make this team better? Someone. Is there anyone they could snag now and really shake things up as a contender moving forward? Short answer, yes.
For all of the return of Rick Nash to Columbus talk, well, that’s not ideal. Kekalainen should consider someone like Ryan McDonagh from the New York Rangers before taking back a guy like Nash– who will only break the franchise’s heart again in July when he goes back to the Rangers *bold prediction alert*.
Potential assets to trade: D Andre Benoit, D Jack Johnson
Potential assets to acquire: F Evander Kane (BUF), F Sam Reinhart (BUF)F Blake Comeau (COL), D Mike Green (DET), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), F Thomas Vanek (VAN)
6. New York Islanders– 26-22-6 (58 points, 54 GP)
The biggest question heading into the 2018 trade deadline for the New York Islanders is the same one that’s been asked since Steven Stamkos signed his extension with the Tampa Bay Lightning– will John Tavares re-sign with the Islanders?
New York has expressed that they are not looking to trade Tavares should things go detrimentally south between now and February 26th, but if things do…
The Islanders have almost $1.500 million in cap space to play around with before the deadline. They also have 13 pending free agents at season’s end, meaning there’s plenty of options the franchise could pursue.
Should Tavares get a raise and a long-term deal? Absolutely.
The Islanders could pack it up and go home on this season given their injuries, lack of defense and well, let’s just say, things aren’t going so great for the team that ranks 31st (out of 31 NHL teams) in average attendance this season.
Potential assets to acquire: F Sam Reinhart (BUF), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Mike Green (DET), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Zack Smith (OTT), F Tyler Bozak (TOR), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), D Erik Gudbranson (VAN), F David Perron (VGK)
7. Carolina Hurricanes– 24-21-9 (57 points, 54 GP)
New Carolina Hurricanes owner, Tom Dundon, might call an audible heading into this year’s trade deadline and decide to spend money on the roster. With almost $15.500 million in cap space, the Hurricanes are in the best possible position to land not just one or two of the big names floating around the rumor mill, but rather three or four quality pieces.
The trouble is, who would they get rid of, since their prospects and youth are worth keeping for further development and overall organizational growth?
Lee Stempniak might make his annual trip around the league, but other than that, who are the Hurricanes actually going to offer up from their forwards? If anything, Carolina would move a guy like Noah Hanifin given the contract extensions (and pay raises) that kick in next season for Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin.
Potential assets to trade: G Scott Darling, D Noah Hanifin, F Lee Stempniak, F Derek Ryan, draft picks
Potential assets to acquire: F Evander Kane (BUF), G Robin Lehner (BUF), D Cody Franson (CHI), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), D Mike Green (DET), G Petr Mrazek (DET), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Tomas Plekanec (MTL), F David Desharnais (NYR), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Rick Nash (NYR), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK)
8. New York Rangers– 25-24-5 (55 points, 54 GP)
Look, the New York Rangers are still (technically speaking) in contention– but they absolutely shouldn’t waste another year of Henrik Lundqvist‘s career in the National Hockey League without a Stanley Cup.
The team they have right now? Yeah, they aren’t winning.
They’ve aged out. The core’s been decimated by the Vegas expansion draft and some offseason moves (namely trading Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta to Arizona after losing Oscar Lindberg to Vegas in June).
Not every player is washed up.
Some will find better homes and rejuvenate their careers before potentially signing with the Rangers in free agency and going back “home” *ahem, Rick Nash*.
Others will simply be a superb rental/long term participant in a franchise, like Michael Grabner.
Basically I’m saying that all the guys New York’s been rumored to trade should get traded and the team can pull off a quick turnaround with their up-and-coming youth, plus whatever they get in return for Nash, Grabner and Co.
And with only about $1.400 million in cap space, the Rangers could have some fun blowing things up (partially).
Build around Mika Zibanejad and friends. Do it, New York. Do it now.
Potential assets to acquire: D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Zack Smith (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK)
It’s Tuesday, so you know what that means: another fun day of hockey action!
The evening gets started at 7 p.m. with the puck drop of New Jersey at Columbus, followed half an hour later by four more contests (the New York Rangers at Pittsbrugh [NBCSN/SN], St. Louis at Montréal [RDS/TSN2], Winnipeg at Detroit and the New York Islanders at Tampa Bay [TVAS]). Next up is Nashville at Dallas at 8:30 p.m., with Buffalo at Colorado only 30 minutes behind. Finally, a trio of tilts (Carolina at Vancouver, Anaheim at Vegas [SN1] and Minnesota at Los Angeles [NBCSN]) act as tonight’s nightcaps, and they drop the puck at 10 p.m. All times Eastern.
It’s an excellent slate of games on tap today, including four matchups between current playoff teams. The one that draws my attention the most is taking place in Central Ohio this evening, as the Metropolitan Division lead could be exchanged if everything goes the Devils’ way.
How tight are the standings in the Metropolitan Division, you ask? Well, if worst comes to worst for the division-leading 17-9-1 Blue Jackets, they could fall into a tie with Pittsburgh for third place by the end of the night (provided the Pens beat the Rangers, but December is way too early to be writing all the standings possibilities out).
Such is life in the toughest division in the league, where all eight clubs are within 10 points of each other.
With the exception of the Islanders (hey, another Metropolitan team!), no team is hotter right now than Columbus. Even though they lost their last contest, the Jackets have won eight of their past 10 games, and they’re doing it with some unbelievable play in their defensive end. Since November 11 (the day of the Jackets’ first game during this run), Columbus has allowed only 17 goals against, the fewest in the league.
The defensive corps certainly deserves some credit by allowing a fourth-best 287 shots against in that time (props to D Zach Werenski and his team-leading 22 blocks over this run), but the real star has been 14-6-1 G Sergei Bobrovsky. Starting eight of the 10 games, he’s saved 94.7 percent of the shots that have come his way for a 1.49 GAA, both of which rank in the top-three of the NHL since Veterans Day. This incredible effort has improved his season numbers to a .931 save percentage and 2.02 GAA, the second-best and best efforts, respectively, in the NHL among netminders with at least eight starts.
Given the unenviable task of trying to beat Bobrovsky are the third place 15-7-4 Devils, who have earned at least a point in 11 of their 16 games going back to November 1. Fortunately for them, they sport one of the better offenses in the league, as they average exactly three goals-per-game to rank 12th-best in the NHL.
What a difference a year can make. Last season, even with F Taylor Hall‘s 20-33-53 totals, the Devils scored an Eastern Conference-worst 2.2 goals-per-game and, as such, they were at the bottom of the conference table.
A season and a few rookies later, and New Jersey is starting to look like the franchise we knew and
hated loved during the late ’90s and early 2000’s – maybe not in style, but success.
Yes, Hall is still putting up incredible numbers, as he’s already managed 8-19-27 totals to lead the team this season. But as we saw last campaign, one good player cannot atone for the sins of an entire team.
Enter Jersey’s youth. Rookies W Jesper Bratt (8-9-17 totals) and C Nico Hischier (5-13-18) complete Hall’s line, and they’ve been able to find more than their share of success. Though not yet at Hall’s caliber, they still rank (t)second and fourth-best in New Jersey’s list of offensive producers.
D Will Butcher (2-16-18) has also been a pleasant addition to this team, as he’s the player tied with Hischier for second-most points on the team. Even though the plays on the third defensive pairing with D Steven Santini, he’s been an especially valuable asset along the blueline during the Devils’ power plays, as his 10 points with the man-advantage are most on the squad.
Of course, the most frightening player to Bobrovsky might actually play on the third line. In case you don’t watch the Devils often, allow me to introduce you to F Brian Gibbons, Jersey’s purest sniper. Not only does the journeyman have the best shooting percentage on the team with his 32.4 percent success rate, but his 11 goals are also the most on the club.
Talk about depth scoring.
Of note, this evening is the first of a home-and-home series between these clubs. Neither squad will be in action until this Friday, when the Blue Jackets make their first visit of the season to the Prudential Center. To put things lightly, this is a big week in the Metropolitan Division (more on that Thursday).
These types of games are always fun. Throwing a solid offense at a goaltender that allows almost exactly one fewer goal against than they manage on a normal night is a true test of which platoon is better. Since this is a home game for Columbus, I’m leaning towards Bobrovsky earning his 15th win of the season.
The Washington Capitals never trailed in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they beat the San Jose Sharks 4-1 at Capital One Arena.
The contest started with both defenses commanding play early, as only 18 total shots were fired in the first period. However, Third Star of the Game W Devante Smith-Pelly (D John Carlson and F Jay Beagle) finally broke through for the Capitals with 3:11 remaining before the first intermission to set the score at 1-0.
It’s always a convenient time to score, but it’s especially so when Second Star W Alex Ovechkin buries a backhanded shot 7:11 into the second period for what proved to be the game-winner. The Russian did all the work for his tally, as he stole a misplayed puck from D Brent Burns and began tearing towards G Martin Jones. Taking advantage of an almost perfect one-on-one situation (D Brenden Dillon had an opportunity for a diving one-in-a-million play, but he couldn’t pull of the block), Ovechkin fired his backhander between Jones’ body and his right arm.
In a weird bit of circumstance, Ovechkin’s 20th goal of the season propelled him into sole ownership of 20th place in the list of the NHL’s all-time goalscorers, surpassing RW Mark Recchi‘s total of 577. The next name to fall victim to Ovechkin snipe from the left face-off circle will be RW Jari Kurri, who scored 601 goals in 1251 games played. Considering Ovechkin has only 949 games in his career so far, the sky is the limit to where he ends up on the list of all-time greats.
W Timo Meier (D Justin Braun) followed up Ovechkin’s marker 4:21 later to pull San Jose back within a goal, but W Brett Connolly (Ovechkin and F Evgeny Kuznetsov) scored a power play backhander with 52 seconds remaining before the second intermission to return a two-goal advantage to Washington.
First Star G Philipp Grubauer earned the victory after saving 24-of-25 shots faced (.96 save percentage), leaving the loss to Jones, who saved 25-of-29 (.862).
Starting with Minnesota’s victory over Vegas on November 30, home and road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have exchanged wins daily. It was the 35-21-6 hosts’ turn today, and they now have a 16-point advantage over the roadies.
Halloween is great, but it’s the first couple of weeks in November that are truly great because you get to eat your candy. What better way to watch a hockey game?
Speaking of which, you’ll have a few more contests to choose from while experiencing your sugar high than your typical Wednesday. The action starts at 8 p.m. when Philadelphia visits Chicago (NBCSN), followed half an hour later by Pittsburgh at Edmonton (SN1/TVAS). The real meat of tonight’s schedule occurs on the West Coast, as two matchups (New Jersey at Vancouver [SN360] and Toronto at Anaheim) are slated for 10 p.m., 30 minutes before tonight’s nightcap: Nashville at San Jose (NBCSN).
The Predators-Sharks game should be nothing short of excellent considering they’re tied for eighth place in the Western Conference, but we just featured San Jose Monday. With that in mind and the fact that F Brian Boyle could make his season debut tonight, let’s take a look at the Devils’ yearly trip to British Columbia.
These two clubs have been some of the best stories to start the season. Though I think it’s still too early to be adjusting playoff predictions for either of them, the fact that they are both among the top four in their respective conferences a month into their campaigns is certainly an admirable feat.
If either of these teams are to hold on to their position in the standings, I’d put my money on the 8-2-0 Devils that are currently leading the Metropolitan Division.
Few were better in the month of October with the puck on their sticks, as Jersey has laid claim to the third-best scoring offense in the league through 28 days of action. Led by the incomparable F Taylor Hall and his 3-10-13 totals in his second season with the team, New Jersey has scored an impressive 3.8 goals-per-game.
Though Hall is certainly deserving of any and all praise he receives, one of my favorite players for New Jersey is rookie D Will Butcher. Not only are his 11 assists most on the team (not to mention the second-highest point-total), but he’s also been heavily involved in a Devils power play that has already scored 11 man-advantage goals in 10 games played for a 27.5 percent conversion rate that is fifth-best in the NHL.
Maybe you didn’t hear me: Fifth-best in the league. We’re talking better than the high-flying Maple Leafs, better than W Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals, and even better than the Sabres who ended last season with the top special teams in the NHL.
Anyways, back to Butcher. Seven of his 11 assists have been struck while the Devils have a man-advantage, which makes him the strongest contributor to Jersey’s power play by a mile (rookie W Jesper Bratt and Hall tie for second with five power play points).
What has made New Jersey’s man-advantage so spectacular is Butcher has had more than his fair share of options to pass to. Playing on the Devils’ top power play unit, he’s been able to pass to Bratt, Hall or C Adam Henrique – all of whom have scored two goals on the man-advantage. Tack on W Drew Stafford‘s two power play goals from the second unit, and you have a squad that G Jacob Markstrom can’t wait to see leave Rogers Arena.
Speaking of Markstrom, Vancouver has found most of its wins this season by playing some stellar defensive hockey. Having allowed only 2.36 goals-per-game through 11 showings, the Canucks are the third-best defense in the NHL.
It’s pretty tough to allow goals when not too many shots are reaching your goaltender. That’s the exact approach being taken by Head Coach Travis Green. Even though he was a center during his playing days with the Islanders (what does he know about defense?), his team has allowed only 29 shots against-per-game, the third-fewest in the league.
The Canucks have been so good defensively, it’s hard to decide where to start. We could discuss D Ben Hutton‘s 11 takeaways in as many games played, or we could talk about RW Derek Dorsett‘s more physical approach to forcing a change in possession, as he leads the team with 2.3 hits-per-game. And even if those methods don’t work, D Michael Del Zotto has been there to block loads of shots, averaging 2.5 per game.
Regardless of how they’re doing it, Markstrom is not complaining one bit that his defense is keeping lots of pucks out of his crease. And much to the delight of Vancouverites, Markstrom has been no slouch in his own right when the occasional shot comes his way. So far this season, he’s managed a solid .911 save percentage and 2.4 GAA, both of which rank inside the top-15 among goaltenders with at least five starts.
It’s a game of strength-on-strength, which usually leads me to predicting how things will go on the opposite end of the ice to help me make my pick. Go figure that Vancouver’s offense and New Jersey’s defense both rank 11th-worst in goals for or against.
Therefore, I’m leaning towards the Canucks winning this game and snapping the Devils’ two-game winning streak on the simple basis of being the home team. This should be a very competitive and exciting game that could require more than 60 minutes to determine a winner.
In what proved to be a very defensive game, the Winnipeg Jets were able to beat the Minnesota 2-1 at the Xcel Energy Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
Only one goal was struck in the first two periods, and it belonged to LW Kyle Connor (C Mark Scheifele and D Tyler Myers) 7:10 into the first period. His wrist shot remained alone on the scoreboard for the next 33:33 of play, much to the delight of the Jets.
In the time between goals, First Star of the Game G Connor Hellebuyck played like an absolute stud. He faced a total of 17 shots in the first period and second period, and saved them all. For the entire evening, he saved 28-of-29 shots faced for an impressive .966 save percentage.
Only 43 seconds after returning from the second intermission, Second Star W Nikolaj Ehlers decided that it was time Winnipeg had an insurance goal. Ehlers came in possession of the puck after a terrible decision by D Matt Dumba to perform a no-look backwards pass in his own defensive zone. Ehlers took advantage of the unattended puck, maneuvered around F Mikael Granlund and buried a backhanded shot after deking G Alex Stalock.
Though Third Star F Luke Kunin (W Nino Niederreiter and C Eric Staal) was able to pull the Wild back within a goal at the 5:36 mark of the third period, Minnesota could not find a second goal in the remaining time to force overtime.
In the home loss, Stalock saved only 17-of-19 shots faced for an. 895 save percentage.
Speaking of home losses, that’s the first in the past three days in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Home teams now have a 16-9-4 record that is only eight points better than the visitors’.