Tag Archives: Jim Rutherford

DTFR Podcast #136- We’ve Got The Future Blues

More on the Arizona Coyotes latest debacle with Seattle expansion looming, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith did something never done before, the Calgary Flames rise in the Western Conference and the St. Louis Blues dismal season. Bob Murray and the Anaheim Ducks made a few moves– signing Murray to an extension, claiming Chad Johnson off waivers and a minor trade.

Plus, Nick and Connor review the last 15 years of first round picks by the Pittsburgh Penguins and do a deep dive on their future and what it might look like.

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DTFR Podcast #135- Welcome to Seattle

This week’s episode is chock full of coffee infused, Seattle inspired, artisanal Seattle expansion discussion in addition to William Nylander’s new deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Plus, waivers and trades are rampant this time of year, Tom Wilson: The Bad and the Bad Things That Happened This Week, Chuck Fletcher was hired as General Manager of the Philadelphia Flyers and a 15-year first round draft pick look back of the Los Angeles Kings.

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DTFR Podcast #132- Hall of Guardians and Turtlenecks

The 2018 Hockey Hall of Fame Class was inducted on Monday, plus we remember the NHL Guardians and celebrate Joe Thornton’s milestones. Tomas Plekanec retired– leaving us a turtleneck to pass on ceremoniously– and Milan Lucic was fined $10,000.

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ plight comes with an extension for General Manager Jim Rutherford, while the Los Angeles Kings battle the injury bug in net (we finished recording before Wednesday’s trade between the two clubs).

Meanwhile, Tom Wilson is back, a concussion lawsuit was settled, the 2019 NWHL All-Star Game was announced, Jakob Chychrun got a six-year extension and Nick and Connor discuss when they’ll eventually let their kids (if they ever have any) play contact sports.

Support the show on Patreon.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

DTFR Podcast #127- Tip Of The Hat(s)

John Tavares and Patrice Bergeron both had hat tricks in the last week, so Nick and Connor discuss hat trick ethics and more, since celebrations are hot topics these days. Also, everything else that happened in the first week of regular season action.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

DTFR Podcast #125- 2018-19 Metropolitan Division Season Preview

Injuries, Stealth, Miles Wood, Brian Gionta’s retirement, Gritty, Ottawa, Shea Theodore and our 2018-19 Metropolitan Division Season Preview. Bring on the regular season already.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

Toronto Maple Leafs 2018-2019 Season Preview

Toronto Maple Leafs

49-26-7, 105 points, third in the Atlantic Division

Lost in First Round to Boston, 4-3

Additions: RW Adam Cracknell, F Tyler Ennis, C Josh Jooris, C Par Lindholm, G Eamon McAdam, D Igor Ozhiganov, D Jordan Subban, C John Tavares

Subtractions: F Miro Aaltonen (signed with Vityaz Podolsk, KHL), RW Kyle Baun (signed with Belfast Giants, EIHL), C Tyler Bozak (signed with STL), W Martins Dzierkals (signed with Dinamo Riga, KHL), F Colin Greening (signed with Toronto Marlies, AHL), F Leo Komarov (signed with NYI), W Matt Martin (traded to NYI), C Tomas Plekanec (signed with MTL), D Roman Polak (signed with DAL), F Ben Smith (signed with Adler Mannheim, DEL), LW James van Riemsdyk (signed with PHI), LW Nolan Vesey (traded to EDM)

Offseason Analysis: Let’s just get this out of the way early: Johnny T is coming home!

I’m not even a Maple Leafs fan and that gets me mildly excited.

After all, Tavares is departing a team that qualified for the playoffs only thrice during his nine-year tenure and joining one that scored a (t)third-best 270 goals last season without his offensive acumen. With Tavares’ 272-349-621 career totals effectively replacing Bozak’s 136-229-365 marks in just as many seasons (the only difference being Tavares will play no lower than on the second line, while Bozak was the Leafs’ third-line center), it’s safe to say Toronto’s offense – which was already stacked by simply mentioning C Auston Matthews‘ name – is now rivaled only by Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Winnipeg.

So, that means the Leafs are locks for the Stanley Cup, right? I mean, that’s what all the Toronto fans have been telling me…

Regrettably, I must poke a hole in that balloon, at least until the squad proves me wrong in the first month or so of the regular season.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no doubts about the Leafs’ offense. Few are going to keep up with Toronto’s attack, which may very well be capable of flirting with the 300-goal mark this year (that’s 3.66 goals per game, Leafs fans).

Instead, my concerns reside along Toronto’s blue line, and I’m sure G Frederik Andersen agrees with me. With Andersen in net last season, the Maple Leafs allowed at least 30 shots on goal 44 times.

He started 66 games last campaign.

For those struggling to do the math, Andersen – who started 80 percent of the Maple Leafs’ games last season and accrued 3889 minutes – faced at least 10 shots per period in two-thirds of his appearances.

Talk about a heavy workload.

To Andersen’s credit, he posted five shutouts and a solid .918 save percentage last season, so he performed marvelously given the immense pressure on him. However, there’s no doubt he would have preferred to see fewer than the 33.9 shots against per game coming his way, a regression from the 32.6 shots the Leafs allowed in 2016-2017.

In my last season preview, I mentioned how Pittsburgh might be a team looking to trade a defenseman should Juuso Riikola continue to impress. If that proves to be the case, General Manager Kyle Dubas would be wise to get in contact with counterpart Jim Rutherford to at least inquire about an asking price, as the Pens have exactly what the Leafs are in the market for: an established, NHL-ready defenseman with significant playoff experience.

The asking price would likely be high considering both are expected to be major players in the Eastern Conference. However, with visions of Stanley Cups dancing in their dreams, the initial cost of addressing the Maple Leafs’ defensive deficiencies likely pale in comparison to the time wasted in a contention window with a porous blue line.

Offseason Grade: B+

Yes, the Maple Leafs landed Tavares. As a result, they automatically earn better than a passing grade. However, doing little to improve a blue line that allowed the fourth-most shots has me very concerned that this club won’t see much of an improvement on that end of the ice. Dubas had better have a plan to address that issue soon, as Matthews’ contract next summer is not going to be cheap, which will make it difficult to retool the defense. In the meantime, hopefully the offense will meet or exceed expectations, as Scotiabank Arena could see more than a few high-scoring games this year.

Pittsburgh Penguins 2018-2019 Season Preview

 Pittsburgh Penguins

47-29-6, 100 points, second in the Metropolitan Division

Lost in Second Round to Washington, 4-2

Additions: F Matt Cullen, D Stefan Elliott, C Derek Grant, RW Jimmy Hayes, D Jack Johnson, G John Muse, D Juuso Riikola

Subtractions: D Lukas Bengtsson (signed with Linköpings, SHL), C Vincent Dunn (signed with Orlando, ECHL), D Matt Hunwick (traded to BUF), C Josh Jooris (signed with TOR), W Tom Kuhnhackl (signed with NYI), D Andrey Pedan (signed with Ak Bars Kazan, KHL), F Carter Rowney (signed with ANA), LW Tom Sestito (retired), W Conor Sheary (traded to BUF), D Jarred Tinordi (signed with NSH)

Offseason Analysis: Almost every season during C Sidney Crosby and F Evgeni Malkin‘s tenure has started with the goal of hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup.

However, this campaign is a little bit different than any before it.

Pittsburgh entered last season as the reigning back-to-back champion. The Pens had their ups and downs during the regular season, but after a six-game victory over intrastate rival Philadelphia in the First Round set up yet another conference semifinals meeting with Washington, fate seemed to be in the black-and-gold’s corner once again.

After all, the Penguins almost always beat the Capitals in the playoffs.

That modifier proved to be important, as the Caps defeated the battle-worn Penguins 2-1 in overtime in Game 6 to eliminate them for only the second time in 11 postseason meetings.

With Washington going on to win its first championship in franchise history, it put the onus on Head Coach Mike Sullivan‘s squad to win this year – not only to reclaim one of the most coveted trophies in the world from a division rival, but also to stake claim to the title of the NHL’s 10th dynasty and first since the 1983-1990 Oilers.

The league officially declares a club a dynasty if it claims at least three championships in the span of four years. With two titles in the past three seasons, this is a make-or-break season for Pittsburgh if Crosby and co. want to add that impressive listing to their resumes.

Offensively, Pittsburgh’s biggest addition for the 2018-2019 season actually occurred at the 2018 trade deadline when it completed a three-way trade for C Derick Brassard. It didn’t help that Brassard suffered a lower-body injury so close the regular season, but Pittsburgh is hoping it will see an improvement from the 4-8-12 totals the former Senator posted in 26 regular season and playoff games after he had a full summer to rest, recuperate and learn Sullivan’s system.

Brassard is just about as close to a lock for the third line’s center position as possible.

After a year of service to the Wild, soon-to-be 42-year-old Cullen was also added back into the mix and will surely assume fourth-line center duties, forcing F Riley Sheahan to the wing. With his immense experience at center, Sheahan will be a valuable commodity capable of playing on either the third or fourth line to serve as the backup face-off man should Brassard or Cullen get kicked out of the dot.

Any other changes to the Pens’ attack will come from within the organization. The clamor around the Steel City for RW Daniel Sprong is deafening (he posted 32-33-65 totals in 65 games played last year in the AHL), but his 2-1-3 effort in eight NHL games last season was not enough to convince Sullivan that he should stay with the senior team full time. He still has one more year left on his contract after this season, but the limited minutes awarded a former second-rounder gives many – including myself – the indication that Penguins coaches and management are running out of patience with the youngster’s growth.

In the same turn, F Dominik Simon and F Zach Aston-Reese earned their first Stanley Cup Playoff minutes last season, but only registered respective three and one assists in their eight or nine postseason outings (Simon managed 4-8-12 totals in 33 NHL regular season games last season, while Aston-Reese posted 4-2-6 marks in his 16 regular season showings).

None are locks for the roster, especially with the signings of Grant (12-12-24 totals in 66 games played with Buffalo last season) – another center that could transition to the wing – and Hayes (3-6-9 in 33 appearances with the Devils). General Manager Jim Rutherford is going to have to be very decisive with who makes the squad and who doesn’t, as he will not want to risk losing any of his talented youths to the waiver wire if he’s forced to make a move during the regular season.

The Penguins were even more quiet on the defensive front this summer, but there is two signings along the blue line worth talking about. While a defensive corps that includes Brian Dumoulin, new hire Johnson, Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, Jamie Oleksiak and Justin Schultz looks like it’d be more than solid enough to keep life easy for G Matt Murray, Pittsburgh could be in line for an upgrade if Riikola continues to impress even more than he already has.

The 24-year-old (he’ll turn 25 on November 9) from Joensuu, Finland has played a majority of the last six seasons playing in SM-Liiga  (Finland’s top professional league) with KalPa – including playing exclusively with the senior team since 2015-2016 – and he’s been reported to be adjusting to the North American game very quickly and is garnering a lot of attention early in the Pens’ training camp.

Now, that’s not to say Riikola (yes, pronounced like the cough drop company) will avoid Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and automatically make the team. With Pittsburgh’s top six defensemen locked into contracts through next season (seventh-man Chad Ruhwedel will be a UFA next summer), it’s hard to find him a spot on the roster as things stand currently.

However, should the organization decide he’s the real deal (for what it’s worth, he’s been practicing with both Dumoulin, a left-handed shot, and Letang, a right-handed shot), I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rutherford begin fielding trade offers for one of his defensemen in efforts to create a spot for Riikola and improve his bottom-six offensive depth.

Offseason Grade: B

It’s hard to say the Penguins had an A-class offseason considering their overall inactivity, but I’d also argue that there was less to fix than a second round elimination at the hands of the eventual champs would indicate. The real work for this roster will be done when deciding to go with youth or experience, as the core of this group is still certainly capable of winning the Stanley Cup once again.

2018 Offseason Preview: Pittsburgh Penguins

Only a few more teams’ offseason previews remain before the 2018 NHL Entry Draft gets started this Friday. First up today is the Pittsburgh Penguins!

The chance to become the NHL’s first official dynasty since the 1983-90 Edmonton Oilers is still available to C Sidney Crosby‘s Penguins, but falling in the second round of the playoffs to the eventual champion Washington Capitals has forced them into a situation that requires another title in 2019.

Among others, the major flaw in this Penguins club during the postseason was clearly a disappearance of the depth scoring that became so expected during their previous two Stanley Cup runs, as well as a defense that – while playing well overall (their 26.6 shots against per game in the playoffs was best of all 16 teams) – had a habit of allowing its few mistakes to become major problems.

Was this just a result of a tired squad, or is General Manager Jim Rutherford going to have to make some major adjustments?

2018 NHL Entry Draft

For any Pittsburgh fans planning on addressing these issues in the draft, you’re in for some bad news: the Penguins’ first round pick belongs to Ottawa as a result of the trade that yielded C Derick Brassard.

Slated to turn 31-years-old this September, Brassard certainly does not provide the Penguins the scoring youth they would have received in the draft (speaking of, I’d expect Ottawa to select C Benoit-Olivier Groulx [Halifax Mooseheads], RW Martin Kaut [HC Dynamo Pardubice], F Isac Lundeström [Luleå HF] or RW Serron Noel [Oshawa Generals] with Pittsburgh’s pick). However, there’s a reason Columbus selected him sixth-overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.

Under contract for one more year, Brassard is still capable of providing the depth scoring Pittsburgh needs, as he’s notched at least .64 points per game in three of his last four seasons. After a summer off the ice to fully recover from his groin injury, I have no doubt Brassard will make Rutherford’s trade look like an excellent idea.

Pending free agents

With almost $4.8 million to play with, Pittsburgh needs to sign or trade for a minimum of three players just to reach the minimum 20-man roster required by the NHL. That’s not very much wiggle room, especially since that would leave the Pens without a 13th forward and a seventh defenseman.

To put it simply, Rutherford is going to need to put in some serious work if he wants to get his club back to the Stanley Cup Final for the third time in four years.

With nine forwards on the current roster, it’s a no-brainer that a minimum of three rosters are going to be added into the mix. If the Penguins elect to change things up in their bottom-six, they’re certainly going to have that option, as W Tom Kuhnhackl, F Carter Rowney, W Bryan Rust, C Riley Sheahan and F Dominik Simon are all pending free agents, with all but Rowney being of the restricted variety.

Of the five, Rust is clearly the most talented offensively, as his 13-25-38 totals in 69 games played are the most of the group. Making him more impressive, Rust bounced all over the Pens’ lineup this season, proving that his numbers weren’t just a result of playing with Crosby or F Evgeni Malkin.

With unrestricted free agency only one year away, odds are very slim of seeing Rust settle for much of a team-friendly deal given his two championship rings. If I were a gambling man, I’d put my chips on Rutherford shipping Rust’s rights to a team that has cap space and needs a proven winner (perhaps F Ryan Dzingel or W Micheal Ferland would be available if Pittsburgh could find an acceptable package).

Sheahan is another player that I wouldn’t be surprised to be wearing a different sweater next season. Though he is still excellent at the face-off dot (he won 54.2 percent of draws this season), it’s hard to justify his 11-21-32 totals (.4 points per game) at the $2.075 million price tag he was awarded in 2016 by Detroit. Unless Sheahan – who will be eligible to test unrestricted free agency following his next contract’s completion – is willing to take a pay cut, he might meet the same fate as Rust.

Of their free agents I’d actually expect the Penguins to resign, Simon looks to be the best bet. Turning 24-years-old in August, the Czech posted 4-8-12 totals in 33 NHL appearances this season, spending time on the first and third lines. Considering how good Crosby has made young players look in the past (ex: F Jake Guentzel, W Conor Sheary and Rust), there’s a strong chance Rutherford gives Simon a slight raise to a three-year, $1 million AAV contract to keep him in town.

A resigning of Simon also makes Kuhnhackl expendable if the two parties cannot come to terms on a team-friendly deal. The German provided only 2-6-8 totals in 69 games played from his fourth-line role at a $625 thousand price tag. If he tries to leverage his two championships for a raise, Rutherford will likely go no higher than $1 million per season.

Lastly, if Rutherford resigns Rowney for a cent more than the league minimum ($700 thousand starting this season), he loses his job. It’s that plain and simple in my book. The Penguins simply don’t have the cap space to keep a player who’s averaged only .17 points per game for his career.

His only saving grace in staying with the team is the Pens not wanting to risk having too few players. He’s a known commodity, which makes him a better asset on the fourth line than a player from outside the organization.

One thing to keep in mind regarding the signing of any of these free agents is the fact that Guentzel will be looking for a contract this time next year. Given his 23 goals and 42 points in 37 Stanley Cup playoff games, the Nebraskan will fetch a pretty penny that Rutherford will need to plan for if he sees Guentzel as a longtime member of the organization.

With Pittsburgh set in net (G Matt Murray and G Casey DeSmith have respective two and one seasons remaining on their contracts), the only contract to focus on defensively is RFA D Jamie Oleksiak. Oleksiak’s 17:24 time on ice per game was seventh among Penguins defensemen, while his .3 points per game clocked in at fourth-best.

For the past three offseasons, Oleksiak has signed one-year deals of increasing value, the most recent of which was worth almost $965 thousand.

Figuring out if Oleksiak gets a new contract is a difficult task, as Pittsburgh could certainly save money by promoting from within. Since 2015, the Penguins have drafted eight defensemen – including three in the first three rounds – but none of those players have even been signed by the club.

If promotion is in fact the route Pittsburgh elects to take, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s best option, D Andrey Pedan, is no longer on the table due to his decision to take his talents to Russia. Similarly, both D Frank Corrado and D Kevin Czuczman are in the same position as Oleksiak, as their identical one-year, $650 thousand contracts expired following the Charlotte Checkers’ three-game sweep against the Pens.

If Rutherford can pull off the signings listed above, he’ll have approximately $2 million to play with to keep Oleksiak around and/or acquire additional skaters.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #95- Call The Ex-Sturm-inator

Nick and Connor recap the 2018 trade deadline, 2018 Winter Games and 2018 overall even though it’s only March. Marco Sturm is worthy of an NHL coaching job, but will anyone take the risk? Hint: They should. Also, more thoughts on the Erik Karlsson saga.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

February 6 – Day 118 – Episode II: Return of the Flower Power

I may not get to watch hockey on Tuesday nights, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Fortunately for you, there’s a whopping 11 games on the schedule to choose from, so surely one game strikes your fancy.

Like most nights, the action starts at 7 p.m. with four puck drops (Anaheim at Buffalo, Vegas at Pittsburgh [SN1/TVAS], Philadelphia at Carolina and Washington at Columbus), followed half an hour later by three more (New Jersey at Ottawa [RDS], Boston at Detroit and Vancouver at Florida). The next two games (Minnesota at St. Louis [NBCSN] and Arizona at Winnipeg) get started at 8 p.m., with Calgary at Chicago waiting 30 minutes before getting underway. Finally, San Jose at Colorado closes out the night with their tilt at 9 p.m. All times Eastern.

What a slate of games! There’s potential for the playoff picture to look wildly different Wednesday morning. As for matchups that have caught my eye…

  • Vegas at Pittsburgh: Welcome home Flower. Welcome home.
  • Boston at Detroit: Where are the Original Six fans at?
  • Minnesota at St. Louis: D Nate Prosser played exactly one game this season with the Blues before being placed on waivers. Was there any doubt the Wild would pick him up?

Of course, that list ignores important fixtures like Philly at Carolina, Washington at Columbus, Calgary at Chicago and San Jose at Colorado – all of which should be competitive matchups between teams either currently qualifying for the playoffs or trying to climb the table.

In an effort to appease both lists, I think its clear we have to make the trip to Pittsburgh to take in G Marc-Andre Fleury‘s return.

 

Fleury’s tenure in Pittsburgh began when he was selected with the first-overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft from the QMJHL’s Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.

Though he was sent back to Nova Scotia after playing 21 games with the Pens to complete his final year of junior eligibility, Fleury had certainly impressed with his .896 save percentage and 3.64 GAA. He made 46 saves in his NHL debut and posted a shutout in only his sixth professional game.

Pittsburgh knew it had made a good choice in trading RW Mikael Samuelsson to Florida for the pick. I mean, Samuelsson only won one Stanley Cup in his career (ironically, against the Penguins in 2008). Fleury has won three.

It seems like basic math to me.

After joining Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for the 2004 Calder Cup playoffs, he remained in the AHL for the entire 2004-’05 season before laying claim to Pittsburgh’s starting position a year later.

2005-’06 wasn’t exactly a stellar year for the Penguins – in fact, quite the opposite. Pittsburgh finished dead last in the Eastern Conference and only a point ahead of St. Louis – the worst team in the league. However, Fleury showed improvement from his first stint in the world’s top hockey league, posting a .898 save percentage and 3.25 GAA.

It didn’t take long for the Pens to assume the form we’ve come to expect. Behind a season .906 save percentage and 2.83 GAA, Fleury – who posted a 40-16-9 record – qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time of his career in 2007. The postseason ended almost as quickly as it began (Ottawa needed only five games to advance to the Eastern Semifinals), but Fleury and the Pens were establishing themselves among the league’s best teams.

That climb up the league table was officially realized during the 2007-’08 season when Fleury, with a career-best .921 save percentage and 2.33 GAA, led Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1992. Though Detroit was able to win its 11th Stanley Cup in franchise history, Fleury performed marvelously by posting a .933 save percentage and 1.97 GAA in the playoffs – by far the best marks of his postseason career.

Of course, the Penguins were able to exact revenge against the Red Wings only a year later. Perhaps the most memorable play from that June 12, 2009 Game 7 in Detroit occurred with two seconds remaining on the clock. D Nicklas Lidstrom, himself a four-time Stanley Cup champion and winner of the 2002 Conn Smythe Trophy, had the opportunity to beat Fleury near side to tie the game at 2-2 and force a Cup-clinching sudden-death overtime, but Flower flopped in that direction just in time for his 23rd save of the game, securing the Penguins’ third championship and Pittsburgh’s second of the year (the Steelers had won their sixth Super Bowl four months earlier on February 1).

From 2009-’10 to 2014-’15, the Penguins toiled away to limited playoff success considering the talent on their roster. Though some would rightly say Fleury was part of the problem during those seasons, that’s not to say he didn’t have incredible performances. In fact, he managed a whopping 10 shutouts during the 2014-’15 season, a career-high that led the league that season.

I’d argue all those shutouts were a major reason for the resurgence of Flower Power in Pittsburgh in the 2015′-16 season. That year, Fleury matched his current career-high .921 save percentage and set a new career-best 2.29 GAA in the regular season.

The emphasis on regular season is important here, because that’s when Fleury’s tenure in Pittsburgh began to take a turn. Just as we began with Fleury as a rookie netminder, the emergence of rookie G Matthew Murray during the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs is a major reason the Sorel, Quebec native now calls the desert home.

With Fleury sidelined with a concussion suffered during the regular season, Murray exploded onto the scene to lead the Penguins to the Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning. In Game 4, Fleury was able to take the ice for the third period with Pittsburgh trailing 4-0. The goalie swap rejuvenated the skaters, inspiring a comeback that fell one goal short of forcing overtime.

Head Coach Mike Sullivan saw this as an opportunity to return the crease to his starter as well as continue the positive energy from Game 4. Instead, Fleury laid an egg in Game 5, allowing three goals in regulation and the game-winner only 53 seconds into overtime.

With the Pens trailing the series 3-2, Sullivan went back to Murray in Game 6. The renewed nod of confidence is all the youngster needed, as he led Pittsburgh past the Lightning in Games 6 and 7 against the Lightning as well as a Stanley Cup Finals victory against the San Jose Sharks.

With Murray starting 47 games in the 2016-’17 to Fleury’s 34, the Flower Power Era in Pittsburgh had effectively come to a close – but not without one last ride.

Just like a Fleury injury opened the door for Murray to earn playoff starts, the youngster suffered a non-contact ailment before Game 1 of the First Round against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Enter Fleury, who needed only five games to knock off the Jackets, including a dominant 49-save performance in the series clincher.

Fleury would continue to be a stellar force in the Eastern Semifinals against the rival Washington Capitals, leading the Pens to a seven-game victory. The most memorable occurrence of the series involving Fleury wasn’t exactly his save against W Alex Ovechkin in Game 7, but his celebration afterwards.

He’s… uh… playing an electric guitar, kids.

However, Fleury’s Penguins career would last only three more games. He was pulled in Game 3 of the Eastern Finals against the Ottawa Senators after allowing four first period goals in 12:52 of action. Murray returned to the crease to lead Pittsburgh to a second-consecutive Stanley Cup Finals after a double-overtime victory in Game 7, as well as another championship following a six-game series against the Nashville Predators.

But this most recent success is all Vegas General Manager George McPhee needed to convince him who his first goaltender in franchise history was going to be. With Pittsburgh wanting to officially deed the crease to Murray, General Manager Jim Rutherford left Fleury exposed to the Expansion Draft and shipped his second-round pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft to the Golden Knights to ensure Fleury would be selected.

With the exception of a concussion that kept the goaltender off the ice for two months, just about everything has gone 35-13-4 Vegas and Fleury’s way in the Knights’ inaugural season. Should he continue playing like he is, Fleury is in line for the best save percentage of his career (currently a .939) as well as an unbelievable 1.84 GAA – also a potential career-best mark.

Over their past four games, the Golden Knights gave earned a 3-1-0 record. 15-4-2 Fleury has been in net for all three victories and played well, posting a .917 save percentage and 2.29 GAA.

However, I’ve been most impressed with the effort of the defense playing in front of him over this run. Led by the stellar efforts of D Deryk Engelland (three blocks and 1.5 hits per game over this run) and D Nate Schmidt (six takeaways in his last four games), Vegas has allowed only 29.75 shots against per game, the seventh-best mark in the NHL since January 30.

With a win tonight, Vegas – who already leads the Pacific Division and the Western Conference – can claim the top spot in the NHL with 76 points, one more than Tampa Bay in as many games played.

However, the Golden Knights will have to get past 29-22-3 Pittsburgh to do that, and beating the Penguins has been a tough ask of late. Making the matchup even more exciting, it puts Fleury and his defense even more at the center of attention, as the Pens’ offense is absolutely dominating lately.

Since January 23, no offense has been as imposing as Pittsburgh’s. Led by the incredible efforts of F Evgeni Malkin, the Pens are averaging a league-leading 4.4 goals per game in that time, almost half a goal more than Toronto and Washington’s imposing attacks.

In his last five games played, Malkin has been the most frightening goalscorer in the NHL, posting 8-3-11 totals (the most goals and points in the league in that time) to average over two points per game to increase his season totals to 29-31-60. Making the Penguins even more intimidating, RW Phil Kessel (2-7-9), C Sidney Crosby (0-7-7) and W Bryan Rust (3-2-5) all join Malkin in averaging at least a point per game, giving Pittsburgh three explosive lines.

For those wondering, 17-12-1 Murray has been decent of late too. Even though his defense has allowed a terrible 34.8 shots against per game over this run, he’s won both his starts with a .92 save percentage and 3 GAA. He’ll need to be better against a Vegas offense that ranks second-best on the season (3.37 goals per game), but he’s well rested since his last showing was February 2 against the Capitals.

The Penguins made their trip to The Silver State on December 14, but they didn’t receive very warm hospitality. Behind a 24-save performance by First Star Fleury in his first game back from a concussion, the Golden Knights claimed a 2-1 victory.

This is going to be an emotional game for Fleury, Penguins fans and probably a few of the Pens as well. The team that can put the tears behind them fastest will likely come out the winners, which is why I’m leaning towards the Penguins’ offense taking two points this evening.


With a two-goal, three-point night from First Star of the Game F William Nylander, the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Anaheim Ducks 7-4 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Air Canada Centre.

There may have been 11 goals struck in this game, but almost all of them were scored in the final two periods. Second Star C Auston Matthews (F Zach Hyman and Nylander) registered the lone tally, burying a wrap-around shot 6:32 into the game.

One intermission is all this contest needed to find the wild side. A whopping six goals were buried in the middle frame, starting with C Ryan Getzlaf‘s (Third Star F Rickard Rakell and W Corey Perry) wrist shot 43 seconds after play resumed to level the game at 1-1. Toronto answered back 5:09 later thanks to Nylander’s (D Jake Gardiner) first goal of the night, but the game was tied once again only 2:31 after the horn stopped blaring due to a Rakell (Getzlaf and Perry) backhanded shot.

With F Leo Komarov in the penalty box for hi-sticking D Kevin Bieksa, Anaheim took its first lead in the game when W Ondrej Kase (Perry and W Jakob Silfverberg) scored a power play wrister with 8:54 remaining in the period, setting the score at 3-2. However, it was a case of “whatever you can do, I can do better” as F Mitch Marner (C Nazem Kadri and LW James van Riemsdyk) took advantage of LW Nick Ritchie serving a slashing penalty against D Roman Polalk by scoring a power play snap shot of his own 4:22 later. Komarov (Gardiner and Kadri) completed the period’s scoring with 2:20 remaining, setting the score at 4-3 in favor of the Leafs with a snapper.

After a wild second period, there was no chance the Ducks were going to allow that score to stand. Rakell (Perry and D Josh Manson) tied the game at 4-4 with a wrister 2:07 into the frame, but that turned out to be Anaheim’s final goal of the night. That set up Nylander’s (Gardiner) second tally of the match to be the game-winner.

A sloppy pass by D Brandon Montour intended for Silfverberg ended up on Gardiner’s stick, and the Leaf knew exactly what to do with the gift. Spotting Nylander tearing towards the offensive zone, the defenseman ripped a perfect blue line-to-blue line pass to set up a one-on-one opportunity for the 21-year-old, which he used to beat G Ryan Miller glove side.

Insurance goals from Matthews (RW Kasperi Kapanen) and Hyman (RW Connor Brown and Matthews) sealed the Leafs’ victory, keeping them within three points of the Bruins in the race for second place in the Atlantic Division.

Though he didn’t start the game, G Curtis McElhinney earned the victory after saving 15-of-16 shots faced (.938 save percentage), leaving the loss to Miller, who saved 33-of-39 (.846). McElhinney replaced G Frederik Andersen with 6:15 remaining in the second period after taking a kick to the head from Perry. He saved 25-of-28 shots faced (.893) for no decision.

Winners of five of the last six games in the DtFR Game of the Day series, the 65-38-15 home teams are absolutely rolling of late. With the Leafs’ victory, the hosts now have a 25-point advantage over the visitors.