Pekka Rinne signed a two-year extension, John Stevens and Joel Quenneville were fired, Willie Desjardin’s back and there’s a new guy in Chicago (Jeremy Colliton), Philadelphia Flyers goaltending is in the news again, people in Ottawa are fired up about Uber, Lou Lamoriello reached 2,400 games as a GM as the New York Islanders lead the Metropolitan Division and is Halloween the new Thanksgiving? Nick and Connor discuss.
Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams concludes with the Washington Capitals and their outlook for the summer– headaches, lots of headaches and not the salary cap related kind.
It only took 13 NHL seasons, but Alex Ovechkin is finally a Stanley Cup champion– and once you’re a Stanley Cup champion, you’re a Stanley Cup champion. No more “annual Second Round exit” jokes, no more counting the number of seasons or games until Ovechkin finally wins the Cup.
Instead, we’re left counting the number of beers all of the Capitals can consume in one offseason– and that’s from winning, not being eliminated this time around.
Kidding aside, Barry Trotz led the Caps to a 49-26-7 record and 105 points on the season. That was good enough for 1st in the Metropolitan Division in a season when most thought they’d never be as competitive as years past.
This team wasn’t “supposed” to win the Cup. But they did.
Now, Trotz’s two-year extension clause that would’ve kicked in having won the Cup led Trotz to resign as head coach, leaving General Manager Brian MacLellan searching for the next best coach available to step in behind the bench.
Trotz has every right to test the waters of free agency like players can and coaches salaries have risen for top-notch talent (Claude Julien makes $5.000 million a year– guaranteed, while Mike Babcock and Joel Quenneville both make at least $6.000 million a year).
He’s the first head coach to not return to his team after winning the Cup since Scotty Bowman retired after winning with the Detroit Red Wings in 2002 and Mike Keenan left the New York Rangers after winning in 1994 to take the job as head coach of the St. Louis Blues.
2018 NHL Entry Draft
Washington has the 31st overall pick in Friday’s draft thanks to winning the Cup.
They’ll either a) keep the pick and use it on a player inside the first or second round rankings, then overcook said prospect until he is ripe for an NHL debut or b) trade the pick for some assets (more picks in lower rounds or replenish some holes on the roster within the tight cap space that they have.
Pending free agents
The Capitals currently have about $11.200 million free in available money to spend this summer. There’s good news and bad news that comes with that.
Good news, Washington will keep some of their glue guys. Bad news, John Carlson is for sure gone because he can make bank (probably around $9.000 million per year) with his next contract elsewhere and MacLellan’s going to trade backup goaltender and pending-RFA, Philipp Grubauer.
This begs the obvious question, can the Capitals go back-to-back?
Yes and no.
Trotz plays a huge role in the postseason run that Washington had. The buy-in, the chemistry in the lineups and the changing strategies that got them further than they had ever gone under Trotz’s tenure– all of that comes under a combo of Trotz and the roster MacLellan built (okay, tweaked, since most of the Capitals were drafted by George McPhee anyway).
And no, because Washington’s run might just be one of those one-off acts where a team slays the competition in the playoffs, then stays competitive in the first or second round(s) for another year or two before returning to Earth.
Chiasson, 27, had nine goals and nine assists (18 points) in 61 games in his first season in Washington. He’s been around the league (Dallas, Ottawa, Calgary and D.C.) and likely will find a new address for 2018-19.
Beagle, 32, had 7-15–22 totals in 79 games played this season. Compared to Chiasson, that’s not that much better in 18 additional games. Beagle’s been part of the bottom-six soul of Washington’s forwards, but in an increasingly younger and faster game, he may be outpaced and outdone by the salary cap for the Capitals to retain his services.
Smith-Pelly, 26, had seven goals in 75 games in the regular season. He had seven goals in 24 gams this postseason. There’s no greater time than now for Smith-Pelly to cash in as one of the most important glue guys to any roster and given Washington’s cash strapped outlook, only time will tell if he’s rocking the red next season.
Wilson, 24, has his antics, reputation and scoring ability? The controversial forward and 16th overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft had his best season in 2017-18 notching career-highs in goals (14), assists (21) and points (35). Washington’s going to want to lock him up if they can, while Wilson may opt for a bridge deal to drive up his value with another productive season or two.
Boyd, 24, hasn’t had a fair shake at the NHL level, having finally reached the Capitals roster in eight games (one assist) this season. He’ll be a low-cost, potentially high-reward (though anything more than one assist is automatically more rewarding) extension if a deal gets done.
28-year-old pending-UFA defender, John Carlson, will be the hottest blueliner on the market and unless MacLellan dumps some salary in a trade, Carlson won’t be back in the U.S. capital.
Michal Kempny, 27, on the other hand, has the chance to become more than a rental player, proving his worth over the course of 22 games in the regular season with Washington after being traded by the Chicago Blackhawks and 24 games in the postseason. He’s a top-6 defenseman that can play top-4 minutes, but like everything in Washington, only time will tell.
Given when this post runs, maybe some of these guys will have signed their name on the dotted line to stick around?
In a lesser sense, near-trade deadline acquisition, Jakub Jerabek, 27, could become more important this season if he’s re-signed as a top-6 guy to fill in behind Kempny, as Kempny fills in for Carlson (assuming both Jerabek and Kempny re-sign).
Madison Bowey, 23, is the only pending-RFA defender for the Capitals.
Star-goaltender, Braden Holtby, 28, has two-years remaining with a $6.100 million cap hit on his current contract and is Washington’s surefire starter for at least another seven years (probably).
Pheonix Copley, 26, likely will inherit the backup role with one-year remaining on his current contract ($650,000 cap hit) as MacLellan finds a trading partner to send 26-year-old backup turned probable starter (and pending-RFA) for a team in need of a goaltender, Philipp Grubauer.
While the Caps have to make the move for salary reasons, there’s a big potential to nail the perfect return.
Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:
Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Chicago Blackhawks and their outlook for the summer.
It was their worst season since before the days of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. With a 33-39-10 record and 76 points on the season in 2017-18, the Chicago Blackhawks finished last in the Central Divison and missed the playoffs for the first time in Kane and Toews’s careers with the organization.
Unfortunately for the Blackhawks and their fans, things are only going to get worse or stay the same before they get better. There is no one offseason fix-all cure for Chicago given their salary cap structure and overall prospect development.
While Kane and Toews are on the books at $10.500 million each through the 2022-23 season, Brent Seabrook is actually on the books for a season longer– albeit at a $6.875 million cap hit instead of $21.000 million combined in Kane and Toews.
The only point to make here is there’s no need to overreact and dump Kane and/or Toews– yet– but rather, Seabrook is currently 33-years-old. Duncan Keith is 34-years-old. Both have no-movement clauses in their contracts in the midst of a redeveloping defense for the Blackhawks.
2018 NHL Entry Draft
The long days of the offseason were made even longer for Chicago fans used to their team going all the way to the Stanley Cup Final– a la 2010, 2013 and 2015 when the Blackhawks won three Cups in five years– after the team was eliminated from even participating in the postseason as the days of the 2017-18 season wound down.
With the 8th overall pick in the 2018 Draft, Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman should put his focus on drafting a defenseman.
Why? Because one of their top-2 defenders (Keith or Seabrook) will have to be moved to attain pieces for the future as part of this rebuild at some point in time and since Trevor van Riemsdyk left via the Vegas Golden Knights 2017 Expansion Draft, Chicago hasn’t had a legitimate defensive prospect.
Someone like Evan Bouchard, Adam Boqvist, Ty Smith or Bode Wilde should be available at 8th overall and the Blackhawks should take a stab at one of them.
As for the 27th overall pick (from the Nashville Predators acquired in the Ryan Hartman trade)? Bowman can pursue what he sees fit for the organization’s prospect pool.
Pending free agents
There aren’t that many pending free agents on Chicago’s current NHL roster and with about $6.200 million to spend this offseason, that’s just all right.
Vinnie Hinostroza, Tomas Jurco and Anthony Duclair are the only pending free agent forwards from the end of the regular season roster. Both Hinostroza, 24, and Duclair, 22, should be re-signed with Duclair likely eyeing more dollar value or shorter term to cash in later as the two forwards are pending-restricted free agents.
Jurco was given a second chance at his NHL career in the Blackhawks’s acquisition of his skillset in the 2016-17 season from the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for a third round pick in the 2017 Draft (Keith Petruzzelli), but only played in 29 games in 2017-18, spending most of his time as a healthy scratch under Joel Quenneville‘s watchful eye.
The 25-year-old forward amassed 6-4–10 totals, yielding his best point-per-game production (.344 pts/game) since his rookie appearance with the Red Wings in 2013-14 (.394 pts/game, 8-7–15 totals in 36 games). In other words, he’s not good and should not be re-signed.
Chicago only has one pending free agent defenseman– 39-year-old, Michal Rozsival— and will walk away from him this offseason, undoubtedly.
Corey Crawford, 33, has two-years remaining on his contract with a $6.000 million cap hit. The starting goaltender isn’t getting any younger and is overcoming an injury plagued season that played a large part in the Blackhawks sudden demise.
Crawford likely won’t go anywhere any time soon, but the planning for the next number one in Chicago has to start sooner or later.
Meanwhile, backup Anton Forsberg has one-year left at $750,000 as a 25-year-old. He’ll be a pending-RFA in 2019 and likely won’t see a dramatic raise unless he usurps Crawford in the depth chart.
Overall, the Blackhawks cannot afford to go after any big names this summer, regardless of the Marian Hossa outcome. Hossa’s on the books through the 2020-21 season at $5.275 million AAV even though his playing days are over.
The winger isn’t going to retire before his contract expires so he can collect his salary– which is actually only $1.000 million for the next three years– and Chicago doesn’t have to trade him if they’re fine with placing him on the injured reserve from season-to-season as they did heading into 2017-18.
It’s not that the organization needs to reach the cap floor or that they really need to rid themselves of the dead cap space to attract any talent this summer, but Hossa’s contract will be on their radar as something to move by July 2019 once the Blackhawks set a course of action for what likely has become a rebuild.
Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:
Nick and Connor ponder whether or not Taylor Hall is a legitimate Hart Trophy candidate, which Western Conference team (NSH, WPG or VGK) will make the Stanley Cup Final and dive into the odds of the Florida Panthers making the playoffs and/or fielding a competitive team. Also, thoughts on the Detroit Red Wings and goaltender interference.
I will now attempt to write a coherent article as I lay near-comatose full of grilled chicken, hamloaf, turkey, mashed potatoes, corn, biscuits, rolls and whatever else I might have eaten that my holiday-overloaded mind can’t recall. Thumbs up, let’s do this.
Skater of the Week: Mathew Barzal
I told myself I wouldn’t pick Josh Bailey again, so this time I picked his teammate. I promise you I’m not actually an Islanders fan.
The Isles continue to score at a torrid pace, and while John Tavares and Bailey both matched Barzal’s six-point output in this week’s three games, I’m giving the nod to the rookie. A bit of a dark horse to even make the squad at the beginning of the year, I did make note of Barzal in my preseason preview article about the Isles, and he’s making me look smarter than I actually am.
With 35 points in 36 games so far this season, the 20-year-old from Coquitlam, B.C. has really come into his own in recent weeks. Currently riding a four-game point streak, Barzal chipped in four goals and two assists in three contests this week, including a hat trick Saturday night at Winnipeg.
If guys like Barzal and Bailey (not to mention Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle) continue to produce the way they are, the Isles look to be very dangerous, as they finally possess the complimentary firepower to free up some space for Tavares.
Tendy of the Week: James Reimer
Chill, Bruins fans (looking at you, Lanciani), I know Tuukka Rask had a crazy good week himself. But, considering their major stats were nearly identical, I’m giving the nod to Reimer based on him grabbing a shutout when Rask didn’t, and the fact that he faced 23 more shots than the Boston netminder.
Smilin’ Reimer was truly on it this week. Winning all three games, he allowed just four total goals, scooping up a 1.33 GAA and a .964 save percentage across the contests. With Roberto Luongo still on the shelf, the Panthers desperately need Reimer to continue playing at a high level for them to have any real shot at keeping pace in the Atlantic. At least for the time being, he’s doing just that.
Game of the Week: Basically the entire night of Thursday, December 21st
10 games. Seven of them needed OT or the shootout to decide them. Even the three regulation games were at least weird if nothing else. The Hurricanes toppled the Predators, the Stars blanked the Blackhawks, and the Oilers upset the juggernaut Blues.
Among the games decided in extra time, you had everything from defensive struggles (Bruins over Jets 2-1 in the shootout, Kings over the Avs 2-1 in OT), offensive showcases (Ducks over Isles and Sharks over Canucks, both 5-4 contests), and a couple rivalry showcases (Devils take out the Rangers 4-3, and Penguins edge the Jackets 3-2 in an extremely heated affair, both in shootouts).
Just one of those strange nights where the hockey gods decide that everything gets an extra sprinkling of awesome.
News, Notes, & Nonsense:
Radko Gudas got suspended for about 137 games for a slash, because at this point he has to be doing stupid stuff on purpose.
Boone Jenner had a game misconduct penalty retroactively rescinded (because that’s apparently worth something) by the league after being kicked from the CBJ/PIT game by possibly the softest game misconduct ever issued.
Alexander Burmistrov has ‘retired’ from the NHL to return to his native Russia and play in the KHL. A once-promising prospect of the Atlanta/Winnipeg organization, Burmistrov left the NHL for the KHL back in 2013 before returning in 2015. His NHL career never really blossomed into what was hoped, and it sounds like the 26-year-old simply enjoys playing at home much more than playing in North America.
Zac Rinaldo again finds himself amid controversy, staring a likely-lengthy suspension in the face. After laying a hard (though seemingly clean) hit on Nathan MacKinnon, Rinaldo sucker punched Avs rookie Samuel Girard who had come over to confront him after the hit. Erik Johnson then stepped in and used the fact that he is the size of a Chevrolet Silverado to his advantage, but by this point things had already entered into the category of line brawl. Girard never dropped his gloves, or even looked as though he had any intention of actually fighting Rinaldo, so it’s easy to see where the impending punishment has grounds to stand on (particularly in the case of oft-suspended Rinaldo), but counter-points have been made by more than a few people, most notably former NHL tough guy Paul Bissonnette, most to the tune of ‘Girard probably shouldn’t have gone after someone he didn’t intend to fight’. Regardless, expect to see a lot less of Rinaldo over at least the next few games.
Ken Hitchcock reached the 800-win plateau as a head coach when his Dallas Stars beat the Blackhawks in the aforementioned Thursday night 4-0 blanking. Hitch is only the 3rd coach in NHL history to reach the milestone, with just that night’s opposing coach Joel Quenneville and Scotty Bowman ahead of him.
Editor’s note: The common thread between those coaches? All three have coached the St. Louis Blues, yet none could lead the Notes to the Stanley Cup.
Welcome to another Saturday in the NHL. With everybody else watching the college football conference championships, that leaves more hockey for you and me.
Oh, that’s not how television works?
While I get that figured out, the first Saturday of December brings with it a big bag of presents from the NHL, as there’s a dozen games on today’s schedule. The action starts at 1 p.m. with Boston at Philadelphia (SN), followed by the only other matinee of the day: St. Louis at Minnesota at 6 p.m. The usual 7 p.m. starting time is chock-full of action with six games (Toronto at Vancouver [CBC/CITY], Detroit at Montréal [SN/TVAS], San Jose at Tampa Bay, Buffalo at Pittsburgh [NHLN], Columbus at Washington and Florida at Carolina) slated to drop the puck, with two more (New Jersey at Arizona and Anaheim at Nashville) in tow an hour later. 9 p.m. marks the start of Chicago at Dallas, while tonight’s nightcap – Edmonton at Calgary – will get underway 60 minutes after. All times Eastern.
What a collection of games! All but two matchups are between teams separated by eight points or less in the standings. As for our Game of the Day, I had a few picked out at the start of season…
- Boston at Philadelphia: Ever since the Flyers beat the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals to become the first expansion team to win a title, these clubs have not gotten along.
- St. Louis at Minnesota: Speaking of playoff rematches, this one was far more recent – as in, last year’s Western Conference Quarterfinals, recent.
- Detroit at Montréal: To keep the Stanley Cup theme going, no clubs have hoisted the trophy more than these two Original Six teams.
- Anaheim at Nashville: The Ducks and Predators squared off in a gritty, nasty seven-game series for the right to represent the Western Conference in last year’s Stanley Cup Finals.
- Chicago at Dallas: F Patrick Sharp‘s two tenures with the Blackhawks was divided by two seasons spent with the Stars. Tonight marks his first trip back to Texas since moving back to the Windy City.
- Edmonton at Calgary: In this rivalry, the teams don’t only represent only themselves, but also a stark feud between two Albertan cities.
Let me say it again for everybody in the back: What. A slate. Of games.
This is a tough pick today, because I don’t like featuring the same teams all the time (*cough* take a hint NBC and NHL *cough*). That being said, the contest that attracts my attention the most is taking place in the Lone Star State.
For those concerned, I’m not drawn to this game simply because of the Sharp story, though I suppose it is one worth noting.
After being a third-round pick by Philadelphia in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, Sharp was traded to the Blackhawks during the 2005-’06. He would proceed to play 10 seasons in Chicago, scoring 511 points – including 239 goals – over 679 games en route to three Stanley Cup championships.
As seems to be the case following many championship seasons nowadays, Chicago faced some serious salary cap issues after the 2014-’15 season, which led to Sharp and D Stephen Johns getting shipped to Dallas in exchange for D Trevor Daley and C Ryan Garbutt.
Sharp spent the last two seasons with the Stars, but they only really got one good season out of him. During the 2015-’16 campaign, the forward provided 20-35-55 totals to help get Dallas back to the playoffs for only the second time since the 2007-’08 season when the Stars were Western Conference finalists.
Unfortunately, Sharp’s second season with the club was nowhere near as good as his first. Limited to a measly 48 games, he provided Dallas only 18 points and a -22 rating as the Stars failed to earn a postseason berth. Though I’m not going to argue that Sharp is the reason the Stars struggled last year (*cough* G Kari Lehtonen and G Antti Niemi *cough*), he was not renewed for this season, allowing him to return to his beloved Blackhawks on a one-year contract.
So far, Sharp has been rather uninspiring from Chicago’s third line, as he’s managed only 3-4-7 totals playing alongside young studs F Alex DeBrincat (11-8-19) and F Ryan Hartman (4-9-13). Considering he’ll turn 36-years-old before you hang up your 2018 calendar, his recent bodies of work might force him to consider the dreaded “R” word once this campaign is through.
In the meantime, he’ll try to help his 12-9-4 Hawks get back into the Western Conference playoff picture.
Figuring out why Chicago is on the outside looking in is a difficult task. After all, they back up a ninth-ranked offense (3.16 goals-per-game) with an even better defense (2.68 goals against-per-game) that’s ranked fifth-best in the NHL.
One of my biggest complaints with the Blackhawks is their incredibly unsuccessful power play. Converting only 17.1 percent of their man-advantage opportunities, the Hawks are tied with San Jose for the eighth-worst extra-man attack in the NHL.
This struggle has led Head Coach Joel Quenneville to try some crazy units to resolve his club’s problem. As of Friday’s practice, DeBrincat, D Gustav Forsling, D Duncan Keith, RW Richard Panik and C Jonathan Toews made up Chicago’s top power play team, with F Artem Anisimov, D Cody Franson, F Patrick Kane, W Brandon Saad and F Nick Schmaltz taking second-team duties.
Let’s see, what’s weird about Chicago’s first unit? Oh, maybe that there’s a rookie earning solid power play minutes alongside two defensemen… or maybe that Kane isn’t on the unit…
Like I said, crazy things.
One thing I really like about putting Anisimov, Kane and Schmaltz on the same unit is that it puts Kane in what I’m considering the “joker” position. Take into account that all seven of Anisimov’s power play points are goals (the most on the team), while all five of Schmaltz’ are assists – that makes them a logical pair.
Meanwhile, Showtime has earned a team-leading nine points this season with the man-advantage, but only two of them have been goals. Of course, with 295 career regular season goals to his name, Kane is far from a “pass first” player. Putting Kane with Anisimov and Schmaltz, he’s able to take on the role of goal-scorer or join Schmaltz as another play-maker.
If I’m an opposing goaltender, in this case G Ben Bishop, that versatility is a very scary threat.
Meanwhile, things seem like they’re going 14-10-1 Dallas’ way. They’re currently riding a three-game winning streak, including a 4-3 overtime victory over these Blackhawks Thursday night (more on that later).
We came into the season celebrating what the Stars’ offense could be capable of with LW Jamie Benn, RW Alexander Radulov and F Tyler Seguin combining to form an ultimate super-line. Instead, the story of late has been Dallas’ defense, which has allowed only seven goals since November 24, the (t)second-fewest in that time span.
12-7-0 Bishop has been solid over this run – he’s managed a .925 save percentage in these last three games – but I’ve been much more impressed with the defensive corps playing in front of him.
Behind the unexpected leadership of D Greg Pateryn – who’s thrown eight hits and blocked seven shots during this run – from the second defensive pair, Dallas’ D- corps has allowed only 94 shots to reach Bishop in the past week, the third-fewest in the NHL.
What makes this game especially fun – you know, beyond the Blackhawks trying to get past Dallas for fourth place in the Central Division – is that it’s a rematch of Thursday’s matchup. In that game, F Mattias Janmark scored two goals – including the game-winner – to earn the Stars a 4-3 overtime victory against the Hawks at the United Center. Something tells me Chicago would like to return the favor of sending the home fans at the American Airlines Center away unhappy.
That being said, I’m leaning towards the Stars taking this contest with their excellent defense.
The Los Angeles Kings showed no mercy in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they beat the St. Louis Blues 4-1 at Scottrade Center.
In fact, the Kings were so on top of their game that they registered their game-winning goal before a full seven minutes had ticked off the clock. First Star of the Game F Tyler Toffoli (C Nick Shore and LW Tanner Pearson) opened the scoring with a wrist shot 1:43 after the opening puck drop, followed 4:29 later by Third Star C Anze Kopitar‘s (F Alex Iafallo and D Jake Muzzin) fourth game-clincher of the year.
The play that led to Kopitar’s goal stretched the entire length of the rink. Muzzin started with the puck in his own defensive zone and fed a quick pass to Kopitar at the red line. Once he established the offensive zone, Kopitar dished to Iafallo along the right boards, who fired a snap shot towards G Carter Hutton. Hutts made the save with his pads, but the rebound bounced right to the Slovenian, who deftly pocketed his wrister in the back of the net.
St. Louis finally got on its shiny new scoreboard with 4:43 remaining in the second period courtesy of a power play deflection from F Patrik Berglund (D Colton Parayko and D Vince Dunn), his first goal of the season. Unfortunately for the Notes, that positive momentum was erased 3:39 later when F Adrian Kempe (D Alec Martinez and D Drew Doughty) set the score at 3-1 going into the second intermission.
Only one goal was struck in the third period, but it was enough to signal defeat to the home fans. Toffoli (Pearson and Muzzin) scored his second goal of the game with a deflection 9:06 before the end of regulation, setting the 4-1 final score.
Second Star G Darcy Kuemper earned the victory after saving 39-of-40 shots faced (.975 save percentage), leaving the loss to Hutton, who saved 18-of-21 (.857) before being pulled in favor of G Jake Allen for the third period. Allen saved six-of-seven (857) for no decision.
Los Angeles’ road victory snaps a six-game winning streak by home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, but the visitors still trail the 33-20-6 hosts by 15 points.
If you’re a hockey fan and don’t look forward to Tuesdays, I don’t know what’s wrong with you. This is one of the busiest and most exciting days of the week!
The final Tuesday of November is no exception, as the NHL as scheduled 10 games to take place today. Like it usually does on a weeknight, the action starts at 7 p.m. with five contests (Tampa Bay at Buffalo, Vancouver at the New York Islanders, Florida at the New York Rangers [TVAS], San Jose at Philadelphia and Carolina at Columbus), trailed half an hour later by Los Angeles at Detroit. Chicago at Nashville (NBCSN) drops the puck at 8 p.m., with two more tilts (Toronto at Calgary and Arizona at Edmonton) in tow an hour after. Finally, tonight’s nightcap finds its start at 10 p.m. when Dallas visits Vegas (SN1). All times Eastern.
Like every busy day, I have already circled a few games on my personal calendar (it’s actually an Excel spreadsheet, if we want to get really technical).
- Chicago at Nashville: This rematch of a Western Quarterfinal has already occurred twice this season, but it’s yielded two stellar games.
- Dallas at Vegas: D Marc Methot was a Vegas Golden Knight for five days this offseason before being traded to Dallas. But what a Knight he was!
Since the Chicago-Nashville series has already yielded two stellar games this season, I see no reason why we shouldn’t expect a third.
Somehow, 14-6-3 Nashville having only a four-point advantage over the 12-8-3 Blackhawks in the Central Division still undersells how competitive the games between these teams have been.
As hinted at before, these clubs are already well into their season series, having already played two of their four games this year. Game 1 at the United Center went the way of Chicago thanks to an overtime goal by W Brandon Saad, but home ice didn’t work in the Blackhawks’ favor 13 days later when the Predators beat them 2-1 on G Pekka Rinne‘s almost-perfect night. Those results mean Nashville has a 1-0-1 advantage against the Hawks so far this year.
Exactly one month has passed since the Predators made their second trip to the Windy City, but not much has changed in either team’s style. Nashville still plays stellar defense backed by Rinne – though the Preds’ offense has climbed to 11th-best in the NHL – while the Hawks continue to rely on the incredible play of G Corey Crawford to find wins.
Let’s jump into that for a minute, starting with tonight’s hosts, who currently occupy third place in the Central Division.
Averaging only 31.3 shots against-per-game to rank 11th-best in the NHL, the Predators play an above average defense that isn’t enough to write home about.
That being said, above-average is all Head Coach Peter Laviolette really needs when he has 13-3-2 Rinne in goal. It seems the Finn has finally bucked the trend of the past five seasons where he alternated yearly between success and misery, as he has followed up last season’s .918 save percentage and 2.42 GAA with superior .926 and 2.31 marks this campaign. Under Rinne’s leadership, the Predators have allowed only 2.78 goals against-per-game to rank ninth-best in the NHL.
Knowing Rinne can effectively dominate the defensive end on his own means the Preds’ blueliners can turn their attention to contributing on the offensive end. As such, defensemen Mattias Ekholm (6-9-15 totals), Roman Josi (5-10-15) and P.K. Subban (4-14-18) have all earned at least 15 points to rank among Nashville’s top-six point-earners. Mix in the incredible F Filip Forsberg (11-13-24 totals), and you have an offense that averages an 11th-best 3.09 goals-per-game.
No discussion about the Preds’ offense is complete without mentioning their special teams, as Nashville is home to the third-best power play in the NHL and best in the Western Conference. Of the players listed above, Forsberg and Subban are the brightest when the Predators have the man-advantage as both have at least nine power play points. The forward deserves special recognition for his seven power play goals, as he’s tied with the likes of C Sean Monahan, F T.J. Oshie and C Steven Stamkos for most in the NHL.
Facing the tall task of taking down a very complete team are the Blackhawks, who could use two points to hold off three teams trying to move into the top wild card position Chicago currently occupies.
When Chicago is at the top of its game, it’s the toughest team to score against in the division, as the Hawks allow only 2.61 goals against-per-game to rank fourth-best in the NHL. A major reason for that success has been the brilliant play of 11-7-1 Crawford, who has managed a .933 save percentage and 2.21 GAA (both second-best among goaltenders with at least 18 starts) behind a defense that allows a fourth-worst 34.1 shots against-per-game.
Unfortunately for Chicago, it seems unlikely that Crawford will see the ice tonight, as he played to 7-2 victory against the Anaheim Ducks last night at the United Center. Instead, the start will probably go to 1-1-2 G Anton Forsberg, who has earned only a .904 save percentage and 3.81 GAA.
I was surprised to see Crawford given last night’s start, considering the injury-riddled Ducks sport an offense vastly inferior to Nashville’s. Forsberg will need to put up a performance similar to his 40-for-42 (.952 save percentage) showing against the Oilers on October 19 to give the Hawks a chance in this game.
Since the odds of that aren’t exactly likely, the onus falls on Chicago’s eighth-ranked offense to find a way to earn a victory.
Usually this is when most would start talking about F Patrick Kane and C Jonathan Toews – and with good reason. Kane has managed 9-16-25 totals to lead the team, followed by Toews’ 6-10-16 effort for third-most points on the team.
However, it would be highly irresponsible to not highlight rookie F Alex DeBrincat. Having yet to celebrate his 20th birthday, DeBrincat has earned the second-most points for the Blackhawks this season with his 10-7-17 totals and is coming off the game of his life. Yesterday against Anaheim, the youngster had a four-point night that included the first hat trick of his career. Whether or not he can duplicate at least half of that effort tonight could determine the result of this contest.
If Vegas (the bettors, not the Golden Knights) is right, the Predators should be in line for a win tonight, as they’re favored at a -160 money line by most bookies. I’m siding with the bookies on this one since I believe Head Coach Joel Quenneville made a mistake in playing Crawford last night against the Ducks. The Predators’ offense should feast on A. Forsberg tonight.
In a game chock-full of momentum swings, the Pittsburgh Penguins emerged from overtime at PPG Paints Arena victorious over the Philadelphia Flyers 5-4 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
All in all, the game started calmly enough with only one goal struck in the first period. First Star of the Game F Jake Guentzel (D Justin Schultz and G Matthew Murray) is the guilty party, as his snap shot with 3:57 remaining before the first intermission gave Pittsburgh the lead.
It was in the second period when all heck broke loose, which played right into the hands of the Flyers. For starters, both D Brian Dumoulin and D Olli Maatta earned seats in the penalty box to allow D Shayne Gostisbehere (F Nolan Patrick and F Claude Giroux) to score a five-on-three power play slap shot 3:40 into the frame. Philadelphia then took the lead with 4:55 remaining in the second period courtesy of a F Travis Konecny (D Brandon Manning and Third Star W Michael Raffl) tip-in.
The next major play took place only 34 seconds after Konecny’s goal, but it won’t show up on the score sheet. RW Jakub Voracek blew an edge and crashed into Murray with, according to Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, his skates directed towards the netminder’s midsection. Whatever the injury was, it forced G Tristan Jarry to enter the game, who proceed to allow C Sean Couturier (D Ivan Provorov and Giroux) to set the score at 3-1 with 32 seconds remaining before the second intermission.
It seems power play goals are the way to steal momentum, because that’s exactly how RW Patric Hornqvist (Guentzel and Second Star C Sidney Crosby) pulled Pittsburgh back within a goal 67 seconds into the third period. The Penguins completed their comeback 39 seconds later courtesy of a W Bryan Rust wrist shot.
Courtesy of an unassisted backhanded shot by Raffl, Philly reclaimed a one-goal lead with 3:41 remaining in regulation to put the pressure on the hosts, but the Pens were up to the task. Guentzel (Schultz and Crosby) leveled the game at four-all with 64 seconds remaining before the final horn to force three-on-three overtime.
The overtime period lasted only 1:48 before Crosby (D Kris Letang and RW Phil Kessel) top-shelfed a redirection to win the game. Following Kessel returning the puck to the point while the Penguins were still on a four-on-three power play, Letang blasted a clapper intentionally wide of the goal to Crosby, who was waiting near the right post, at the same time the door opened to allow Voracek back onto the ice. The captain angled his stick just right to elevate the shot over G Brian Elliott and into the top of the netting.
Jarry earned the victory after saving eight-of-10 shots faced (.8 save percentage) in place of Murray, who saved 20-of-22 (.909) before exiting the game. Elliott, DtFR’s honorary Fourth Star, takes the overtime loss after saving 47-of-52 (.904).
Don’t all look at once, but home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are now riding a three-game winning streak. That elevates the hosts’ record to 30-19-6, which is 11 points better than the visitors’.
We’re halfway through the month of November and only a week away from American Thanksgiving, an important benchmark in the NHL for separating the men from the boys in terms of probable playoff teams. Though it wouldn’t seem it with over four months of play remaining, this is a pivotal week.
Calgary makes its yearly visit to Detroit (SN/TVAS) to get this stretch started at 7:30 p.m., followed half an hour later by the New York Rangers at Chicago (NBCSN). Finally, this evening’s nightcap of Boston at Anaheim (SN360) will drop the puck at 10 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.
All three games should be very competitive, as they are being contested by opponents separated by only two points or less in the league table. That being said, there’s going to be no game more exciting than the one between Original Six clubs taking place in the Windy City.
I apparently really like these Central vs. Metropolitan matchups, because this is the fourth game we’ve featured between these two divisions in the last five days.
9-7-2 New York’s wild ride through the month of November continues since the last time it was featured in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Starting with Halloween night against the Golden Knights, the Rangers have yet to drop a point in any of their past six contests, including tilts against Tampa Bay (you know, the best team in the NHL) and Columbus.
In fact, the Blueshirts have played so well they’ve converted their goal-differential, which was once an ugly -10 on October 23, into a positive number for the first time this season. And with that success, the Rangers find themselves in a tie with their crosstown rivals for eighth-place in the Eastern Conference.
This may seem elementary, but the best way to improve a goal differential – and by default, win – usually involves burying some goals. Offense has been all the rage at Madison Square Garden lately, as the Rangers have scored a league-high 26 goals since October 31, averaging 4.33 per game.
In the league-wide list of top-10 point earners since Halloween, there is only one defenseman listed: Kevin Shattenkirk. Managing 3-5-8 totals in his past six games, the New Rochelle, N.Y. native and first-year Ranger has been a major driver in this surge. Of note, half his points – both for the season and during this run – have come on the power play (an effort the Rangers rank third-best for the season with a 25.8 percent conversion rate), indicating his impact in all situations.
Not to be overshadowed too much, top-line C Mika Zibanejad has also earned eight points over this stretch, but he’s been earning his pay more as a play-maker than a goalscorer, as he’s buried only one goal in this stretch. His favorite player to assist of late has been sophomore W Pavel Buchnevich, who has scored four goals in six games – an effort eclipsed only by fourth-liner W Michael Grabner.
It’s also been a tale of two months for the 8-8-2 Blackhawks, but they’re not exactly as happy with the change as the Blueshirts. Going back to October 24’s 4-2 loss in Vegas, Chicago is an uninspiring 3-6-0. That includes losses to the Avalanche, Canadiens and Flyers, who among them have a combined 24-24-5 record and a -15 goal-differential.
What should be truly concerning for the Blackhawks is their record in meaningful games since April 1 of last season. They went 0-2-2 to finish out the 2016-’17 regular season campaign, followed by an 0-3-1 performance in the playoffs. Add that in with this year’s record and Chicago has gone 8-13-5 in its last 26 competitive matches.
If this is an April Fools’ Day joke, it should go down in the Guinness World Records as the longest and most convoluted, because this Hawks team should be in much better position than 11th in the Western Conference.
After all, the Hawks boast players such as F Patrick Kane (winner of 2016’s Hart, Lindsay and Ross Trophies), D Duncan Keith (a two-time Norris Trophy winner) and C Jonathan Toews (the 2013 Selke Trophy winner), all of whom have thrice hoisted the Stanley Cup.
What’s most frustrating is that the Hawks aren’t really doing anything wrong statistically. Sure, the offense’s 2.94 goals-per-game for the season could technically be better (it’s only [t]13th-best in the league, after all), but allowing a (t)ninth-fewest 2.72 goals against-per-game should be more than enough to keep Chicago competitive.
Of course, season averages have a way of camouflaging recent momentum – or lack thereof. Since October 24, the Blackhawks have scored only 21 goals, tying Detroit for sixth-fewest in that stretch.
Perhaps the most telling point about this squad during this nine-game stretch is that W Alex DeBrincat, a rookie on the third line, is leading the attack with his 5-2-7 totals (6-5-11 for the season), followed close behind by F Artem Anisimov‘s – a player that’s never scored more than 45 points in a season – 5-1-6 effort. Not Kane; not Toews; heck, not even W Brandon Saad.
DeBrincat and Anisimov.
Head Coach Joel Quenneville will never complain about depth scoring. Depth scoring is one of the top things that separates the best teams in this league from pretenders. But you can’t have depth scorers without stars like Kane and Toews doing their jobs as the primary forwards. Until they rediscover their groove, Chicago will continue to struggle.
It’s with that in mind that I’m forced to favor the Rangers in this contest. Though I’m sure G Corey Crawford – who’s having a Vezina-caliber season so far – will prove a solid test against New York’s red-hot offense, I don’t think the Blackhawks’ offense will be able to break through G Henrik Lundqvist and his defense.
A combined seven goals were struck in the second period of yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, but the Nashville Predators weathered the storm to beat the Washington Capitals 6-3 at Bridgestone Arena.
Though the middle act of this three-ring circus was the wildest, the first period still provided some excitement for the home fans when F Craig Smith (First Star of the Game LW Kevin Fiala and D Anthony Bitetto) scored a tip-in with 8:12 remaining before the first intermission. 5:55 later, Third Star C Nick Bonino (D Roman Josi and F Calle Jarnkrok) doubled the Preds’ advantage to 2-0.
It took only 6:28 of play in the second period for the Caps to level the game. Aided by Jarnkrok earning a seat in the penalty box for hooking him 45 seconds earlier, F T.J. Oshie (D John Carlson and F Evgeny Kuznetsov) scored Washington’s first goal of the night at the 4:29 mark with a power play tip-in. 1:59 later, RW Alex Chiasson (W Brett Connolly and Carlson) tied the game at two-all with a slap shot. That tie lasted exactly 17 seconds before F Filip Forsberg buried an unassisted wrist shot to reclaim a lead for Nashville.
Scoring subsided for almost two-and-a-half minutes before Fiala (Second Star D Mattias Ekholm) decided to get things ramped back up with a tip-in that proved to be the game-winner at the 9:04 mark to set the score at 4-2, but his tally was quickly answered by Oshie’s (F Chandler Stephenson and C Nicklas Backstrom) wrister 17 seconds later to pull Washington back within a 4-3 deficit.
Now that we’ve reached the midway point of the frame, let’s take a second and recap: five goals have already been scored in this second period! There’s still 10 more minutes to play! Meanwhile, the last three teams to face Wild G Devan Dubnyk have not been able to score even one goal against him.
Hockey is a fickle game.
Anyways, only two more goals were struck in the period, and they both belonged to the Preds. W Miikka Salomaki (C Colton Sissons and D Matt Irwin) scored his second goal of the season with 5:54 remaining in the frame, and Ekholm (C Kyle Turris and Sissons) finished the period off with a power play clapper two minutes before the second intermission.
It seems both teams used up all their offense in the second period, because not a single goal was struck in the third period. That left G Pekka Rinne with the victory after saving 26-of-29 shots faced (.897 save percentage) and G Braden Holtby, who saved 19-of-25 (.76), with the loss. Holtby was lifted for G Philipp Grubauer at the start of the third period, and he saved all six shots he faced.
Nashville’s victory is the second-straight by the home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series. With their record now improved to 22-16-5, hosts now own a four-point advantage over the roadies.