Tag Archives: John Tavares

NHL Power Rankings: “Better Late Than Never” Edition

Apologies for being a day late with our NHL Power Rankings this week, as I’m sure so many people were looking forward to it… *Crickets*

Ok, moving on!

Things get a little tricky with bye weeks in play, but we still gave you the latest and greatest in terms of games played this past week. We’re rolling with the theme of this week’s edition because many of these teams were not in this position earlier in the season. As one might say, it’s better late than never, someone just be sure to remind them that the NHL season starts in October. With that said, let’s take a look at who made our top ten this week:

#1 Calgary Flames (59)

Current Record – 25-16-4

Last Ten Games – 7-2-1; Streak – W7

Don’t look now, but the Flames are on some kind of run. We’re a bit afraid to talk about it because that usually means it will come to a screeching halt. Jokes aside, Calgary is our top team for a reason. They are 7-2-1 in their last ten, with all of those wins coming in a row. Mike Smith is in pure beast-mode, which has helped his team crawl into the final playoff spot in the Pacific Division. Maybe scratching the ageless wonder was the answer after all.

#2 Pittsburgh Penguins (47)

Current Record – 24-19-3

Last Ten Games – 6-4-0; Streak – W4

A few weeks ago, the Penguins seemed in really bad shape. It was almost as if they had lost their identity because they really didn’t look like the back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions. As of late, they have picked up their play and are now back in playoff position. They were never really that far out, as the Metropolitan Division may very well be the tightest race in the NHL. Although just 6-4-0 in their last ten, Sidney Crosby and his crew seems to have turned the corner to get out of their slump.

#3 Colorado Avalanche (46)

Current Record – 24-16-3

Last Ten Games – 8-1-1; Streak – W7

The phrase “better late than never” could not be truer for the Avalanche. They started playing great hockey a few weeks ago and haven’t looked back. Winning seven games in a row, they are within striking distance of a playoff position. Colorado will look to make it eight-straight when they take on the Sharks tomorrow night.

#4 Minnesota Wild (45)

Current Record – 24-17-5

Last Ten Games – 6-2-2; Streak – OT1

The Minnesota Wild are back in the conversation, as they ride the shoulders of Devan Dubnyk. They downed the Blackhawks and the Jets, but came up short in overtime against the Canucks. It doesn’t get any easier for them, as they take on the Lightning and Penguins in two of their next three games. They are currently just a point shy of a Wild Card position in the Western Conference.

#5 New York Islanders (27)

Current Record – 23-19-4

Last Ten Games – 4-6-0; Steak – L1

You may be reading this thinking, really, Islanders in the top five? Keep in mind before a weak performance against the Devils, they were riding a string of three wins. What is more impressive is their stellar offense. During those three games, they scored 17 goals. For John Tavares and his teammates, when it rains, it pours. If the Islanders can rebound during this next stretch, they should be able to propel themselves to a playoff spot, at least for now.

#6 Nashville Predators (25)

Current Record – 26-11-6

Last Ten Games – 5-3-2; Streak – W3

The Predators are right back on track, winning key games against the Kings, Oilers, and Golden Knights. Although offense is usually the story for this squad, they are playing well at the other end of the ice. They were able to hold Edmonton to just one score, while shutting out Vegas (albeit a 1-0 barn-burner). The Coyotes and Panthers are up next, before a marquee matchup with the Lightning.

#7 Washington Capitals (20)

Current Record – 28-14-3

Last Ten Games – 6-2-2; Streak – W1

More of the same this week for the Capitals, as they continue to skate through their schedule. Although not making up much ground in the Presidents’ Trophy race, they are still sitting atop the Metropolitan Division. A loss to the Hurricanes is their only blemish in the last five games.

#8 Edmonton Oilers (20)

Current Record – 20-23-3

Last Ten Games – 3-6-1; Streak – W2

The Edmonton Oilers may be among the bottom ten teams of the league, but don’t tell them that. As of late, they have picked up their play a bit. The offense led by Connor McDavid is improving, but they need to do something about that defense. Before winning their last two games, they allowed 15 goals in their last five games, with nine of those coming in back-to-back contests. They will need a big run to make up ground in the Wild Card race.

#9 Vegas Golden Knights (11)

Current Record – 29-11-3

Last Ten Games – 7-2-1; Streak – L1

Isn’t it more fun when the Golden Knights win? They have been up and down as of late, winning just two of their last five games. Two of those are one-goal losses to the Blues and Predators, which is obviously nothing to be ashamed of. They need a big rebound against a strong Tampa Bay team, or they could fall into a bit of a slump. They might not want to do that, as everyone would immediately jump off the bandwagon.

#10 San Jose Sharks (11)

Current Record – 24-13-6

Last Ten Games – 6-2-2; Streak – W3

The Sharks are wedged between the Flames and the Golden Knights (honestly, didn’t think I would be saying that one this season), as they continue to push toward the playoffs. With only two regulation losses in their last ten games, including winning their last three contests, they are fairly safe moving forward.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #88- The Undesirables

The Original Trio reunite for a very fun-filled podcast. The Carolina Hurricanes were sold, Jaromir Jagr is soon to be unsigned, All-Star Rosters were scrutinized, US and Canada men’s national teams were analyzed and more in this action packed episode. #HealthBeforeHockey

Listen to this week’s podcast on our Libsyn page (and/or on your favorite podcast listening app that snags our RSS Feed).

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

January 5 – Day 90 – Break out the Beastie Boys

It’s the first Friday of 2018! Whether you worked all week or haven’t started back yet, you deserve to watch some hockey tonight!

The festivities begin at 7 p.m. when Pittsburgh visits the New York Islanders (SN/TVAS), followed half an hour later by a pair of contests (San Jose at Ottawa [RDS2] and Florida at Detroit). 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of Buffalo at Winnipeg, while tonight’s nightcap – Vegas at Chicago (SN1) – waits 30 minutes before getting underway. All times Eastern.

There’s only one rivalry game on the schedule today, and with both participants having fallen outside the playoff picture, it should be an exceptionally competitive and important matchup. We’re off to Brooklyn!

 

Oh boy, where to start with this game? Both clubs have had reason for optimism at different points this season, yet – if things stay the way they currently stand – they could be scheduling tee times on April 8.

Of course, after winning two consecutive titles, 20-19-3 Pittsburgh figured to be in far better position than 10th in the Eastern Conference. Playoff qualification was supposed to be a given! Adding insult to injury, if they had simply beat Carolina at home last night instead of lose 4-0, the Pens would at least be in the postseason picture as the second wild card.

There’s reasons galore for why the reigning champs find themselves in the position they do, ranging from front office decisions to injuries and performance to plain bad luck, but we don’t have time to tackle all those things.

The biggest thing that is missing from this Penguins team is the very thing that has made the club so dominant for the last decade: offense. Pittsburgh averages only 2.71 goals per game through 42 games, the 10th-worst in the NHL.

However, the issue isn’t that simple. This offense has proved it is still capable of figuring things out, because the Penguins’ power play is actually the best in the league. Similar to the Sabres of the last two years, Pittsburgh can convert when the game is supposedly at its easiest – converting 25.7 percent of its man-advantage opportunities – but has only a league-worst 56 five-on-five goals to its credit.

That’s right, the Penguins were just compared to the Sabres. That hasn’t happened since the ’90s, and it was a compliment then.

So where did the offense go?

The easiest person to point at is C Sidney Crosby and his 14-22-36 totals. Managing only .857 points per game (regardless of the number of players on the ice), he’s on pace for the worst season of his career. Even his 36-49-85 effort in 2015-’16 season is superior, as he managed 1.06 points per game that year.

Oh yeah, and the Pens did more than simply qualify for the playoffs that year.

So far this season, Crosby has posted 17 points at even-strength and another 19 on the power play. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not too far off the pace of RW Phil Kessel, who’s managed 17-27-44 totals to lead the team. 19 of Kessel’s points have come at even-strength (only two more than Crosby’s) and 25 on the power play, a total that actually leads the league.

But points are very different than goals, and that’s where Crosby has slipped. He’s scored only eight goals at even-strength (compared to Kessel’s 11), a total that is tied with F Jake Guentzel for third-most on the team (13-10-23 totals) and one fewer than W Conor Sheary‘s – who’s having an absolutely miserable 11-5-16 third year while occupying a spot on the top line – nine.

Before we pick on the Islanders, don’t think F Evgeni Malkin escapes judgement. He’s posted 14-24-38 totals through 38 games played this season, which in and of itself is stellar. Averaging at least a point-per-game is the goal of all elite players in this league.

However, when we start breaking his stats down, he follows the same trend as Crosby. Eight of Malkin’s 14 tallies have been struck on the power play, meaning he’s scored only six times at even-strength. Centering Kessel’s second line has elevated his even-strength point total (20 of his points have come in five-on-five situations), but the fact that both of Pittsburgh’s franchise players aren’t finding the back of the net in the very situation most of the game is played is having ripple effects throughout the roster.

Road trips are hard, and the 20-17-4 Islanders – who currently sit in ninth place and two points outside playoff position – just got back from a tough one. New York has played three of its last four games away from the comforts of Barclays Center, and it returns home riding a four-game losing skid.

For most of the season, the Isles’ top line of F Josh Bailey (12-38-50 totals), F Anders Lee (24-15-39) and C John Tavares (22-28-50) has worked miracles to cover for the sins of their teammates, but it seems even they have run out of whatever secret sauce was keeping them on the scorecard.

Now that they aren’t bearing the load as well, New York’s atrocious defense is getting lit up. Since December 29, the Islanders have allowed a league-high 155 shots against, and that’s resulted in a whopping 21 goals against in four games played (5.25 per game), far and away the worst effort over that stretch.

It’s hard to blame 11-11-2 G Jaroslav Halak for his poor performance of late considering his insane workload, but he hasn’t been able to keep the Isles competitive during this run, managing only a .881 save percentage and 4.94 GAA in his last three starts.

What’s truly alarming about New York’s defense is that four defensemen – Thomas Hickey, Nick Leddy, Scott Mayfield and Adam Pelech – are managing at least two blocks-per-game over this losing skid. If I were Halak, I’d be truly frightened imagining my workload without their efforts.

Tonight’s tilt is the second in a four-game season series. Game 1 on December 7 went the way of the Penguins, who needed an overtime goal from D Matt Hunwick to beat New York 4-3 at PPG Paints Arena. Meetings 3 and 4 won’t take place until March, so both clubs will want to leave a positive impression on the other before diverging paths for two months.

Who wins a game between a sputtering offense and an anemic defense? Probably the team that can find success on the other end of the ice. Given the Isles’ home ice and their usually dynamic offense, I wouldn’t be surprised to see New York earn two points in the standings tonight.


Though they needed the shootout to get it done, the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the San Jose Sharks 3-2 at Air Canada Centre in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Though two goals were struck in the first period, they were both scored in the last two minutes before intermission. The first tally belonged to First Star of the Game C Auston Matthews (D Connor Carrick and F William Nylander) with 1:23 remaining on the clock, followed only 31 seconds later by D Brenden Dillon (D Brent Burns and W Timo Meier) leveling the game with a snap shot, his first goal of the season.

Two more tallies were struck in the second period, but C Nazem Kadri (F Mitch Marner and D Morgan Rielly) didn’t wait until until the end of the frame to make his mark. He buried a power play tip-in with 7:20 remaining before intermission to give Toronto a 2-1 lead. However, San Jose would once again manage to find a leveling goal, this one courtesy of C Chris Tierney taking advantage of Second Star G Frederik Andersen misplaying the puck in front of his crease 5:38 later.

As no goals were struck in the third period or three-on-three overtime, the game was thrust into the shootout. As hosts, the Maple Leafs elected to go first.

  1. Who else is Head Coach Mike Babcock to send out than Matthews? The second-year stud converted the fourth shootout opportunity of his career, setting his mark as a pro at 4-for-12.
  2. Facing an early hole, F Logan Couture was the first Shark to participate. However, his backhanded shot was saved by Andersen, giving Toronto a 1-0 advantage through the first round.
  3. With the opportunity to force a miss-and-lose situation for San Jose, Marner’s wrist shot was saved by Third Star G Martin Jones.
  4. Unfortunately for the Sharks, F Joe Pavelski‘s wrister met the same fate: saved by Andersen. Toronto led 1-0 through two rounds.
  5. What a weird situation for F Patrick Marleau to be in: if he scored a goal, he’d defeat the very club he played with for 19 years. Whether he wanted that honor or not, he found iron, giving San Jose the opportunity to continue the shootout.
  6. And that’s exactly what RW Kevin Labanc did. He beat Andersen to tie the shootout 1-1 through three rounds, forcing extra frames.
  7. You probably noticed that the goaltenders played pretty well tonight. That trend continued when Jones saved Nylander’s wrister.
  8. With his back against a wall, Andersen duplicated Jones’ performance by saving RW Joonas Donskoi‘s wrister to maintain the 1-1 tie.
  9. Consider this a ditto for Jones, but this time against a LW James van Riemsdyk wrister.
  10. Make it a double for Andersen as well, as he saved Burns’ wrister to extend the shootout to six rounds.
  11. Finally someone found the back of the net! C Tyler Bozak sneaked his shot past Jones to force a sudden death situation for San Jose.
  12. Tierney came as close as he could to continuing the shootout, but his attempt found iron to give the bonus point to Toronto.

Both goaltenders performed marvelously, but only one could come away with the victory. That proved to be Andersen, as he saved 33-of-35 (.943 save percentage) through 65 minutes of play. That left Jones with the shootout loss after he stopped 26-of-28 (.929).

Home ice has been a big deal in the DtFR Game of the Day series this year, as the 51-28-11 hosts, who have earned points in seven of the last eight games, have a 24-point advantage on the visitors in the series.

Numbers Game: Oh We’re Halfway There (Kind Of)

At the time of this writing it was January 1st, so first, Happy New Year everyone. Now, onto the more important manners, shall we?

Entering January, all 31 National Hockey League franchises have played at least 36 games. Only the Arizona Coyotes and St. Louis Blues have played at least half a season (41 games played) so far, while the San Jose Sharks have played the fewest games (36) through December. Everyone else falls somewhere in between– and that’s not including Monday’s 2018 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, which would bring both the Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers to 39 games played thus far.

Considering there’s no perfect way to slice it, we’ll consider this the midpoint of the 2017-18 regular season.

In the Western Conference, at least seven teams are destined to reach the 100-point plateau on the season, with the Los Angeles Kings (106 projected points) leading the charge followed by the Winnipeg Jets (102), Vegas Golden Knights (101), St. Louis Blues (101), Chicago Blackhawks (101), Sharks (101) and Nashville Predators (100).

Last season’s dominance of the Metropolitan Division alone– where four teams reached 100-points or more in 2016-17– has migrated west this season.

The Washington Capitals (118), Pittsburgh Penguins (111), Columbus Blue Jackets (108), Montreal Canadiens (103) and New York Rangers (102) tipped the balance of the 100-point plateau to the Eastern Conference last season, with five members of the NHL over 100-points compared to the Western Conference’s four teams over 100 members (Chicago, 109, Minnesota Wild, 106, Anaheim Ducks, 105 and Edmonton Oilers, 103).

This season, the West takes the reigns of the 100-point guild, with seven projected members while the Eastern Conference may only amount to four teams with over 100-points on the league table at the end of the regular season.

Everything seems to be going the Western Conference’s way, except for the fact that the Tampa Bay Lightning exist and they are here to make a claim to this season’s President’s Trophy with a projected 110 points on the regular season.

Meanwhile the Battle for Second in the Atlantic Division is hotly contested between the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs with the three divisional spots in the playoffs (TB, BOS and TOR, in no particular order) all but a sure lock at this rate.

Despite everyone’s fears that the Capitals might not be able to pull it together this season, they emerge on top of the Metropolitan Division once again in April with 103 points on the season– and a two-point lead over the biggest surprise of the season (Golden Knights aside), the New Jersey Devils.

Two-time defending Stanley Cup champion, Matthew Murray, and the Pittsburgh Penguins may be outside of the playoff picture right now, but they’ll slide their way into the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs with the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. An exciting rematch of the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals between the Penguins and the Lightning would be exactly what the league needs for a 2018 First Round matchup.

2017-2018 Projected Standings after Three Months

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

  1. p-Tampa Bay Lightning, 110 points (38 GP so far)
  2. x-Boston Bruins, 106 points (37 GP so far)
  3. x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 99 points (40 GP so far)
  4. Detroit Red Wings, 85 points (38 GP so far)
  5. Montreal Canadiens, 84 points (39 GP so far)
  6. Florida Panthers, 79 points (38 GP so far)
  7. Ottawa Senators, 78 points (37 GP so far)
  8. Buffalo Sabres, 67 points (38 GP so far)

It’s no surprise for the top-three teams in the Atlantic, then it’s all downhill from there. The Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Canadiens find that being average plagues them. Meanwhile the Florida Panthers and Ottawa Senators exist in mediocrity (‘sup Erik Karlsson free agency watch 2019). There’s not much to say for the Sabres other than, well… how early can you schedule a tee time?

Metropolitan Division

  1. z-Washington Capitals, 103 points (40 GP so far)
  2. x-New Jersey Devils, 101 points (38 GP so far)
  3. x-New York Rangers, 97 points (38 GP so far)
  4. x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 96 points (40 GP so far)
  5. x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 94 points (40 GP so far)
  6. New York Islanders, 93 points (39 GP so far)
  7. Carolina Hurricanes, 87 points (38 GP so far)
  8. Philadelphia Flyers, 86 points (38 GP so far)

The Metropolitan Division is stacked with teams on top of one another. Thankfully, by April, the division sorts itself out just enough with Washington, New Jersey and the Rangers rising as its leaders. Despite their ongoing struggles, there’s nothing to fear if you’re a Blue Jackets or Penguins fan and all you care about is making the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the first place.

Apologies to the New York Islanders, but it’s not their year in more ways than one *ahem, John Tavares free agency watch*.

Somehow the Carolina Hurricanes are making noise right now, but that should quiet down. And for the Philadelphia Flyers and their fans, at least you’re better than five of the Atlantic Division teams in these projections.

Western Conference

Central Division

  1. y-Winnipeg Jets, 102 points (40 GP so far)
  2. x-St. Louis Blues, 101 points (41 GP so far)
  3. x-Chicago Blackhawks, 101 points (38 GP so far)
  4. x-Nashville Predators, 100 points (38 GP so far)
  5. Dallas Stars, 93 points (40 GP so far)
  6. Minnesota Wild, 91 points (39 GP so far)
  7. Colorado Avalanche, 83 points (38 GP so far)

If it’s any consolation to the Nashville Predators, being a wild card team isn’t always a bad thing– oh wait, they figured that out last season en route to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final? Okay, they should be fine.

Otherwise, look out for the Winnipeg Jets, ladies and gentlemen. They’ve been skyrocketing all season long and they look ready to control the skies of the league. It’s a shame the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks will have to play each other in the First Round in April– not like that series will have any excitement or anything.

Despite their recent success and uptick in game-play, the Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild lost too many times to recover earlier on in the season.

Pacific Division

  1. z-Los Angeles Kings, 106 points (39 GP so far)
  2. x-Vegas Golden Knights, 101 points (37 GP so far)
  3. x-San Jose Sharks, 100 points (36 GP so far)
  4. x-Anaheim Ducks, 96 points (40 GP so far)
  5. Calgary Flames, 84 points (39 GP so far)
  6. Vancouver Canucks, 84 points (39 GP so far)
  7. Edmonton Oilers, 78 points (39 GP so far)
  8. Arizona Coyotes, 56 points (41 GP so far)

All three California teams in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs? Consider me hooked.

The Vegas Golden Knights continue to write history as they knock off the San Jose Sharks in the First Round of the playoffs– in their first playoffs appearance which just so happens to come in their inaugural season. It’s pure insanity, but it’s bound to happen.

If you were worried about the Anaheim Ducks, worry not. The Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers know not what they are doing. Unfortunately for Calgary and Vancouver, they play in a division with the State of California and Vegas.

Unfortunately for the Oilers, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are eating $21 million in salary cap space next season. They’re not bad players, but that’s bad asset management when you consider other large contracts on the books (Milan Lucic, in particular).

Arizona, how does Seattle sound if the league is foolish to not take $650 million in expansion fees and run?

Down the Frozen River Podcast #86- Best Misnomers of 2017

Nick and Connor pick apart the Central Division, provide injury updates, preview the 2018 Winter Classic and discuss the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship so far.

Listen to this week’s podcast on our Libsyn page (and/or on your favorite podcast listening app that snags our RSS Feed).

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

Merkle’s Christmas Bumblings

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.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 10

The prodigal son has returned, and it is time, once again, for me to assault your reading receptacles with my meaningless awards and incessant ramblings. Thanks to Cap’n for stepping in for me while I was off going to random ECHL games and concerts.

A special note: I’ve dropped the ‘Team of the Week’ section of these articles in favor of a new bit of weekly content that will be debuting here shortly. It will be replaced by a split of the ‘Player of the Week’ section, now giving one award to a skater, and one to a goaltender.

Skater of the Week: Josh Bailey

Heyyyyyyyyyy, HEYYY BAI-LEY, ooh…ahh, I wanna KNOWWWWOhhohhohh-Ohhoh, if you’ll score my goals…and assists…

Anyway, in the season’s first repeat performance, Josh Bailey again earns the nod for being the only Islander better at being underappreciated league-wide than John Tavares. The New York centerman is on a five-game point streak, four of those taking place this week. In those four games, he has four goals and four assists, including a hat trick in a losing effort to the Columbus Blue Jackets (the first time in franchise history the CBJ allowed a hat trick and won the game, a stellar 1-32-1 record for my boys in blue), and has a scarcely-believable 40 points in just 33 games this season. For reference, Bailey has previously topped the 40-point plateau only twice in a full season in his entire career. 28 years old seems a bit late for a coming-out party, but Isles fans are hardly going to complain about finally giving JT some depth scoring support.

Tendy of the Week: Brian Elliott

Possibly the only thing hotter than the Philadelphia Flyers of late is their own goaltender. Riding a six-game winning streak overall, including a perfect three-win performance this week, Ells has drastically altered the fortunes of the once-floundering Flyers, and has the Philly Phaithful at least starting to bother watching anything but Eagles games.

Starting off the week with 20 saves on 22 shots to down the Leafs, Elliott followed that up with single-goal games against Buffalo and Dallas to carry a superb .943 save percentage and 1.31 GAA through the week. The Flyers are still a few games back from the current Wild Card teams, but they hold games in hand on a good portion of the conference, and are much closer than any team that at one point lost 10 consecutive games should realistically be.

Game of the Week: Pittsburgh Penguins 1 @ Vegas Golden Knights 2, Thursday December 14th, 2017

I’m not even going to bother with the advanced stats, or play-by-play, or whatever else you think pertains to being the game of the week. This game was basically from a movie script. Recently-returned Marc-Andre Fleury facing the only team he had ever known prior to this season, he gets a hug from opposing goaltender Matthew Murray, who’s reasoning was simply “I missed the guy!”, and if you don’t love that you have no friends.

Four total former Penguins have found refuge with the upstart Knights, who continue to crush every single expert’s opinion about what an expansion team is capable of and are slowly shedding their ‘Island of Misfit Toys’ appearance in favor of being a legitimate contender.

Fleury stops 24 of 25, two of the three other former Pens tally points, and the franchise that didn’t exist last year beats the two-time defending Stanley Cup champs. Somebody call Disney.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Longtime Senator Chris Neil decided to hang up the skates this week, after a career spanning 15 seasons and over 1,000 games. One of the last of the ‘enforcer’ breed remaining, Neil was always known as one of the most complete players to wear the tough guy label, and was a highly-respected player both within his own locker room and throughout the league. All the best to Chris in his future endeavors.

In other Senators news, owner Eugene Melnyk said this week that while he has no aspirations of selling his team, he would consider relocating the franchise. While I’d imagine this resulted in numerous flaming bags of feces being placed upon his doorstep by Ottawa residents, I’m sure Quebec City natives happily sacrificed their shoes for their new hero.

Devan Dubnyk went down with a lower-body injury this week and is considered ‘week-to-week’, and if you open your window and listen very carefully, you can hear the screams of Wild fans from hundreds of miles away. (Note: If you’re in the Eastern Time Zone and north of the Ohio-Michigan border, these screams do mix in with the screams of Nordiques fans trying to remove their flaming pants.)

Oh, also in Ottawa news, holy frigg did that NHL 100 Classic look cold. I mean, I know with it being Ontario there were probably shirtless locals in attendance, but I was more than happy to watch from home.

Seattle looks poised to be the next expansion city, which is great, but I’m only going to really get on board if they decide to go with popular opinion and name the team the Seattle McSeattle Faces.

Kari Lehtonen joined a fairly exclusive club this week, as one of just 33 goaltenders to earn 300 wins in an NHL career. All the props in the world to him, because as someone who has spent his entire career with mostly-lackluster teams (I mean, he played for the Thrashers), it’s one hell of an accomplishment. Kari also surpassed Miikka Kiprusoff for most games played by Finnish goaltenders in the same contest, and trails only Kipper in wins by Finns. But with Preds stud Pekka Rinne at 285 career wins, the race to catch that record could be interesting. Cam Ward also reached 300 wins this week, but only managed to hold on to the distinction of ‘Most Unlikely 300-win Goalie’ for about 24 hours before Lehtonen would steal the distinction.

DTFR Overtime: Seattle Shockwave

Connor and I went long about why Seattle would be an exciting venture for the NHL on the most recent Down the Frozen River Podcast. I was going to write something like this before recording, until the league went ahead and spilled the beans a little earlier than expected (keep reading, you’ll see what I mean) and well… This is DTFR Overtime– go ahead and pour yourself a fresh cup before we dig in.


Something’s brewing in Seattle and it ain’t just another cup of Starbucks.

Last Monday, the Seattle City Council approved a deal for a $600 million renovation of KeyArena that just might put Seattle on the map of NHL cities– let alone mean that there’s hope for everyone wishing the NBA’s Seattle SuperSonics were a thing again.

Los Angeles-based Oak View Group (OVG) expects to complete the renovations by October 2020, which would be just in time for a possible NHL team to take the ice for the 2020-21 season.

Before anyone gets their hopes up, as per the proposal, OVG does not need a team in place to go through with KeyArena’s renovations and has pledged $40 million in a transportation fund for the city to address traffic and parking problems around the arena. An additional $20 million will go from OVG to local charities.

Here’s the kicker out of The Seattle Times report: the NHL is expected to make an announcement by July (2018, for those of you who haven’t realized next year is almost here) regarding a franchise in Seattle via expansion or relocation.

And by last Thursday, the league made an announcement. Seattle can begin the expansion process after formally receiving authorization to file for an application for an NHL expansion team.

This time around, the expansion fee would be $650 million (up $150 million from when the Vegas Golden Knights went through the expansion process two years ago).

Though every sign points to Seattle becoming part of the NHL’s brand, there’s no guarantee the league will expand to the Emerald City. Relocation could be an option (though league commissioner, Gary Bettman, denies that any current team will be moving) and the NHL still has a lot of homework left (feasibility studies and a season ticket drive– run by OVG– to gauge interest) before the final exam (expansion to Seattle).


The NHL sees green (as in the other 31 teams see about $21 million in expansion fee payouts, not just the Emerald City):

If you’re thinking, “would an NHL team in Seattle be a good idea?” the answer is yes. Don’t be stupid.

Seattle is known for their boisterous Seahawks and Sounders fans (where you at in decibels Mariners fans), as well as their SuperSonics fan base that never died– despite the NBA franchise relocating to Oklahoma City in 2008– but the city’s played a larger part in hockey history than most people might know.

The Seattle Metropolitans– not the New York Rangers– were the first American team to win the Stanley Cup. The Rangers, of course, can lay claim to the fact that they were the first American NHL club to win the Cup in 1928, but the Metropolitans were technically the first American hockey team to win it back in 1917. The Metropolitans were members of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association and appeared in three Stanley Cup finals (1917, 1919 and 1920).

Seattle defeated the Montreal Canadiens, then members of the National Hockey Association, three-games-to-one in 1917. The 1919 Stanley Cup Final featured a rematch of the Metropolitans and the Canadiens– now members of the National Hockey League since its inaugural season of 1917-18– was cancelled after five games due to the outbreak of the Spanish Flu with the series tied, 2-2-1. In 1920, the Metropolitans were defeated in the Final in five games by the original Ottawa Senators.

The feasibility of an NHL franchise sustaining itself in Seattle is very high, given the diehard fan base that already exists in all of the other major league sports in the city, let alone the historical significance of hockey in the region. Plus, who wouldn’t love a Pacific Northwest rivalry between neighbors, the Vancouver Canucks and whatever Seattle would be known as (it has to be the Metropolitans or else).

Instead of “can a team last?” the better question would be “can a team move in while renovations are ongoing, a la how the Rangers dealt with Madison Square Garden’s improvements a few years ago?”

The timeline (now through 2020) within the overarching timeline (2020 and beyond), if it even exists, might be crucial to navigating what the looming NHL announcement might be (relocation or expansion). Though given last Thursday’s league statement, it’s (probably) going to be expansion and the Seattle [TEAM TO BE NAMED] will begin play for the 2020-21 season.


And now for something totally inspired by the works of Dave Lozo:

How relocation would work for Seattle if a Western Conference team were on the move:

There are two primary candidates for relocation to Seattle from the NHL’s Western Conference and both of them are already in the Pacific Division, which would negate the need for yet another division realignment this decade. And the candidates are… the Arizona Coyotes and the Calgary Flames.

First up, the Coyotes.

They’re an annual source of relocation rumors, their ownership group has met with people in Seattle before and they don’t have a lease deal in place (technically speaking) with Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes aren’t wanted by the local government in Glendale and their ex (Phoenix) isn’t looking to get back together anytime soon; given the lack of a joint proposal for a new stadium downtown to be shared by the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and the NHL’s Coyotes.

Would it be easiest to move Arizona to Seattle? Certainly, if you’re a hockey traditionalist who doesn’t think that the mere existence of the Coyotes in Arizona had anything to do with the fact that Auston Matthews is wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater right now (and totally beating Connor McDavid in the McDavid vs. Matthews argument).

Does it make sense to move the Coyotes? Yes. Out of Glendale at least. The league has been committed to the desert since the franchise jettisoned from Winnipeg in 1996. Even more so now with the existence of “local” rivals, the Vegas Golden Knights, also sharing that desert theme.

So if you’re thinking the Arizona Coyotes could relocate, it’s not going to be to Seattle. Can Vegas be home to two teams? Just wondering.

But what about the Calgary Flames?

The City of Calgary and Calgary Sports and Entertainment are in a standoff over the use of public funds for a new arena to replace Scotiabank Saddledome. The city has made it clear that they won’t spend one penny on even a pile of dirt for a new home for the Flames, while the Flames have threatened to leave if they don’t get what they want.

We’ve heard this before (hello, NFL’s Los Angeles Rams vs. their former home in St. Louis) and professional sports franchises have moved before because their owners don’t want to finance things privately.

So it’s more than likely that if a team is coming from the Western Conference to Seattle that it’ll be the Flames, which, come to think of it, could make for a killer flaming “S” logo. Why waste the moniker that stuck with the team from Atlanta to Calgary in 1980? Just copy the “C” and paste it upside down and there you have it. I’ve already taken the liberty of creating the logo for you, Flames fans in Seattle.

Screen Shot 2017-12-07 at 2.20.59 AM.png
“To begin, draw an ‘S’ for ‘snake’ [or Seattle]” – Strong Bad
Should Calgary lose their NHL team over a temper tantrum? No, but crazier things have happened. I mean, we’re talking about the city that hosts Calgary Stampede every year.

How relocation would work for Seattle if an Eastern Conference team were on the move:

Hear me out on this one. *It would have worked until the purchase agreement announced last Thursday included a seven-year stipulation that Carolina will not be relocated.*

Peter Karmanos screws Hartford over one more time by giving them the finger while seated in a private jet as the Hurricanes fly over Connecticut’s capital en route to Québec’s capital city. *But we now know this part, at least, won’t be happening, since the purchase agreement calls for Dallas billionaire, Tom Dundon,– who’s buying a majority stake of the Hurricanes– to not relocate the team for seven years (conveniently the length of time remaining on Carolina’s PNC Arena lease. #Québec2024).*

Thanks to the Houston Astros for finally putting the United States’s fourth most populated metropolitan area on the map with their World Series title this year, the Florida Panthers begin to wonder if they could actually win a Cup by moving to a real sports city– that sports city being the WHA hockey hotbed of Houston, of course.

The Panthers relocate and replicate Major League Baseball’s outlook on the State of Texas, whereby Houston is part of the American League and would be part of the NHL’s Eastern Conference for no other reason than not to disturb the finally balanced conferences after Seattle joins as the 32nd team in the league (because that makes sense).

Finally, the New York Islanders abandon all hope in the Big Apple when it becomes apparent that nobody’s loved them since the 1980s and John Tavares will lea[f]e them for the 6ix in the offseason.

Because of their great relationship with Bridgeport, CT (home of the Islanders’s AHL affiliate, Bridgeport Sound Tigers) and now Worcester, MA (home of the Islanders’s ECHL affiliate, Worcester Railers HC), the Islanders choose to put themselves “between” their farm clubs and successfully bring back the Hartford Whalers (while also continuing to struggle for a new arena, but in Hartford now– shouts XL Center).

Or consider this curveball *which, again, cannot happen as a result of the purchase agreement, pending Board of Governors approval of the final sale of the Carolina Hurricanes*:

The Carolina Hurricanes relocate to Seattle and the NHL finally accepts the deferred expansion bid Quebecor submitted back in 2015 and welcomes Québec City as the 32nd team in the league (welcome back, Québec Nordiques). The conferences are kept in-tact this way and everybody’s happy because the Hurricanes really need to leave Raleigh for an ownership group that will actually love them (along with some fans).

As for Florida and the Islanders, well, they’re on their own in this hypothetical curve.

December 11 – Day 68 – No sleep ’til!

Thank goodness for hockey, or else this would’ve been another one of those brutal Mondays.

There’s a half-dozen games on the schedule today, starting with three (Washington at the New York Islanders, Dallas at the New York Rangers and Colorado at Pittsburgh [SN/TVAS]) at the usual time of 7 p.m. and Florida at Detroit half an hour later. 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of Vancouver at Winnipeg, while tonight’s nightcap – Carolina at Anaheim – waits until 10 p.m. to get underway. All times Eastern.

It’s hard to find action better than the two games taking place in the Big Apple this evening, but lets head south from The City, cross the Manhattan Bridge and take in an important Metropolitan Division rivalry taking place in Brooklyn.

 

 

 

 

Before you start complaining, yes: we did already feature this matchup this once this season on November 2. In fact, it was a stellar 4-3 game at Capital One Arena won by C Lars Eller and the Capitals with only 3:21 to spare before three-on-three overtime.

I’m expecting more of the same when these rivals square off tonight at the Barclays Center, because second place in the division is on the line this evening.

The 18-11-1 Capitals are not only the current owners of that second-place spot, but they’ve also won seven of their last eight games – including a current four-game winning streak.

Both ends of the ice have been impressive during this run, especially considering Washington’s offense has averaged four goals-per-game since November 22 (led by none other than W Alex Ovechkin and his 8-5-13 totals). However, I’ve been most impressed by the Caps’ defensive effort of late, as they’ve allowed only 18 goals over this run to tie Boston for second-fewest in the NHL in that time.

Now, when you have a Vezina-winning goaltender on your team, the job of defenseman is usually not a tough one. G Braden Holtby has posted a .92 season save percentage and 2.57 GAA to rank among the top 11 netminders in the NHL with at least 11 starts.

He’s been just as good of late too, as he’s managed a .92 save percentage and 2.34 GAA since November 22, both of which rank among the top 10 of the 26 goaltenders with at least six starts since then.

But don’t read into Holtby’s performance as a reason for the defense to mail in their efforts, because it’s been in fact the opposite. Over the past eight games, Washington’s defensive corps has allowed only 241 shots against – the third-fewest in the NHL. That incredible defensive effort has been spearheaded by D John Carlson‘s 2.75 blocks-per-game, as well as D Brooks Orpik and RW Tom Wilson‘s 3.37 hits-per-game.

That defense will prove especially important tonight when Washington takes on the 16-10-3 Islanders, who currently occupy fourth place in the Metropolitan Division and the first wild card. When New York has found its success, it has employed one of the most potent offenses in the game.

So far this season, the Islanders have scored a whopping 103 goals, which averages into 3.55 per game. Pick your favorite offense that doesn’t wear a lightning bolt as its crest, and the Islanders are better (in laymen’s terms, New York is second-best).

I’ve said it multiple times this season, but the core of this attack is the Isles’ incredible Sandwich Line. F Josh Bailey (5-27-32 totals), F Anders Lee (17-12-29) and C John Tavares (17-12-29) are the three leading point earners on this club, though they are followed close behind by rookie sensation C Mathew Barzal (8-20-28).

One of the best ways to get past the Caps’ defense is to take one of their players off the ice, as their 79.43 penalty kill rate is the 12th-worst in the league. While New York’s power play isn’t exactly the league leader its base offense is, I have a sneaking suspicion it’ll improve on its 11th-ranked 20 percent success rate if it earns to points tonight.

Though it’s not exactly that important right now, the Caps and Isles won’t resume their four-game season series until they play a two-day home-and-home series in mid-March. Of course, head-to-head record is the second tiebreaker if these clubs are tied come

As for who wins this evening, I’m having tough time picking against the Caps. The fact that they have Ovechkin at their disposal should be enough to propel them to their fifth-straight win.


Though the San Jose Sharks were able to mount a tremendous two-goal comeback in the third period to force overtime, the Minnesota Wild was able to hold on for a 4-3 victory at the SAP Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Usually, the “tale of two halves” expression is used to describe a basketball, football or soccer match, but it applied to yesterday’s featured hockey game quite well as the Wild were able to score the first three goals of regulation.

Minnesota started its attack 4:19 into the game on a D Ryan Murphy (W Jason Zucker and Second Star of the Game C Eric Staal) power play wrist shot, his first goal of the season. That goal was followed 6:08 later by Staal (D Ryan Suter and F Mikael Granlund) burying a wrister of his own to set the score at 2-0.

Staal (Murphy and Granlund) further expanded the Wild’s lead at the 4:58 mark of the second period, but his wrap-around tally proved to be the final one Minnesota could manage in regulation.

After that, it was all San Jose.

Third Star D Brent Burns (C Joe Thornton and F Tomas Hertl) was the first Shark to register a goal, as he banged home a power play slap shot with 53 seconds remaining before the second intermission to pull San Jose back within a 3-1 deficit.

Someone must have told Burns how much catching up he needs to do to match his performance from last season, because 2:41 after he returned to the ice, he (F Joe Pavelski) scored another power play clapper to trim Minnesota’s lead to one. Hertl (D Dylan DeMelo and D Tim Heed) completed the comeback with 5:01 remaining in regulation with a wrister.

Speaking of people saying things to players, Head Coach Bruce Boudreau was probably furious with his squad for squandering a 3-0 advantage, and I’ll bet he let them know it during the break before three-on-three overtime. Apparently First Star W Nino Niederreiter took that message to heart, because he scored an unassisted wrister with 1:34 remaining before the shootout to earn Minnesota the bonus point.

G Alex Stalock earned the victory after saving 31-of-34 shots faced (.912 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to G Martin Jones, who saved 20-of-24 (.833).

If all it takes to constitute a good game is one that extends beyond regulation, we’ve gotten some real treasures the past five days in the DtFR Game of the Day series as all of them have required either overtime or a shootout to determine a winner. With the road team winning yesterday, visitors have pulled within 15 points of the 38-22-8 hosts.

December 7 – Day 64 – More Metro mayhem

It’s time for me to keep the promise I made Tuesday.

We have a relatively busy schedule today, as there’s nine of a maximum 15 games to be played. Like it does almost every night, the action begins at 7 p.m. with two contests (Arizona at Boston and the New York Islanders at Pittsburgh [SN/TVAS]), followed by three more (Calgary at Montréal [RDS/TSN2], Colorado at Tampa Bay and Winnipeg at Florida) half an hour later. Dallas at St. Louis is the only tilt to drop the puck at 8 p.m., and the next game, Philadelphia at Vancouver, doesn’t get underway until 10 p.m. Finally, tonight’s co-nightcaps (Ottawa at Los Angeles [RDS] and Carolina at San Jose) get started at 10:30 pm. to close out the evening. All time Eastern.

I hinted Tuesday that this was a big week for the Metropolitan Division. Phase two of that claim occurs tonight in the Steel City.

 

 

 

 

 

Making this relatively important matchup even more exciting is knowing how much these teams don’t get along. Whenever this series comes up on the calendar, I remember the first time I saw the fights between these organizations in February 2011 that led to 346 PIM, including 16 major penalties and 21 misconducts.

With that in mind, it almost makes the record between these clubs moot – except for the fact that playoff position is not determined by most or least penalties.

While this series has been relatively evenly matched since it began in 1973 (Pittsburgh owns only a 116-106-22 record against the Isles all-time), the Pens has absolutely dominated the New York since the 2004-’05 lockout. Over the past 12 seasons, the Penguins have won 10 of the past 12 season series, including winning seven-straight series from 2007-’08 to 2013-’14.

Of note, last year’s series between these clubs did end in a 2-1-1 tie, but the Penguins won the series based on the regulation+overtime wins tiebreaker 2-1.

This rivalry has also extended into the postseason four times. This is where New York has really put its foot on Pittsburgh’s throat, as the Islanders have advanced to the next round three of the four times they’ve run into the Penguins.

Playoff series between these teams have been an absolute thrill in the past. The first time they squared off was in the 1975 Quarterfinals. This series was dominated by the Penguins early, as they jumped out to a 3-0 advantage. But RW Ed Westfall wasn’t interested in losing to the higher seeded Pens, so he scored three goals, including the series clincher in at Civic Arena, to lead New York to four-straight wins arrange a date with the other Pennsylvanian team, with which they played another seven-game series.

Another incredible series occurred between these sides in the 1993 Patrick Division Finals. With neither team able to take control of the back-and-forth series (even though the road team won both Game 1 and Game 3), they required a deciding Game 7 in Pittsburgh to settle the matter.

Further stressing how evenly matched these clubs were, regulation was not enough to determine which side was to advance to the Prince of Wales Conference Finals against Montréal. 5:16 into the first overtime period, W David Volek, who had scored only eight goals during the regular season, snapped the 3-3 tie to eliminate the two-time reigning Stanley Cup champions.

Even in the series they lost, the Islanders were still a tough out for Pittsburgh. During the 2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, the top-seeded Penguins needed six games to beat the Islanders, due in large part to the combined efforts of C John Tavares (3-2-5 totals) and future Penguin D Mark Streit (2-3-5).

Anyways, enough talk about the past. It’s time to figure out who has the upper-hand in the opening meeting of the four-game series between these clubs this year.

Let’s start with the 16-9-2 Islanders, who currently occupy the East’s top wildcard spot and are winners of eight of their past 11 games.

For both the entire season as a whole as well as this recent run of success, offense has been the name of the game in Brooklyn. Only one team – the Tampa Bay Lightning – can claim an offensive proficiency better than the Isles’ 3.66 goals-per-game, and New York has posted an even better 4.09 goals-per-game since November 11.

The man leading this vaunted attack is none other than Captain Tavares, who has managed 17-14-31 totals to position himself in third place in the race for the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy.

Of course, he also has the luxury of playing the role of misunderstood fruit on everyone’s favorite line in hockey: New York’s Sandwich Line. Named after the classic BLT, F Josh Bailey (5-26-31 totals) and F Anders Lee (16-12-28) join with Tavares to form the unstoppable trifecta at the top of the Islanders’ roster.

Add in the solid efforts of rookie C Mathew Barzal (7-19-26 totals) on the second line and you have a scary good group of forwards, even without mentioning RW Jordan Eberle (11-9-20) and F Joshua Ho-Sang (2-10-12).

The second wild card 15-11-3 Penguins are another team that likes to do their work on the offensive end, but they’ll need a little bit of help from the Isles’ D Scott Mayfield and his team-leading 23 penalty minutes to get the opportunity to employ their fourth-ranked power play.

What makes Pittsburgh so successful with the man-advantage is that it is so unpredictable. Led by RW Phil Kessel‘s 3-14-17 effort on the power play, five players have at least 10 extra-man points to help the Pens convert 25.68 percent of their man-advantage opportunities into goals. Of that group, C Sidney Crosby and RW Patric Hornqvist have been stellar, scoring six power play goals apiece.

Unfortunately, that success hasn’t translated into even-strength play. For the entire season, Pittsburgh averages only 2.96 goals-per-game to rank 15th-best in the NHL, well below last season’s league-leading 3.39 goals-per-game.

That’s why I feel like RW Ryan Reaves might be one of the bigger keys to the game for the Penguins this evening. With his team-leading 88 hits, perhaps he can find a way to get under Mayfield’s skin to earn the Pens a power play opportunity. If the Pens can get to the man-advantage, they should be able to convert given New York’s (t)second-worst 75 percent kill rate.

Since the Islanders are shorthanded 3.26 times-per-game (the 12th-fewest in the NHL), I think they’ll be able to keep their cool this evening and earn two points on the road.


Though they needed a shutout, the Toronto Maple Leafs were able to beat the Calgary Flames 2-1 at the Air Canada Centre in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Calgary’s lone regulation goal was struck in the first period. Thanks to W Matt Martin getting caught holding RW Garnet Hathaway at the 9:27 mark, D Mark Giordano (C Sean Monahan and W Troy Brouwer) was able to take advantage of the ensuing power play to bury a wrist shot 1:10 later.

The Maple Leafs leveled the game in the waning minutes of the second frame courtesy of D Morgan Rielly‘s unassisted snap shot with 1:13 remaining before the second intermission. It was Rielly’s fourth goal of the season.

The Flames especially tried to end the game in regulation, as they fired 17 shots at First Star of the Game G Frederik Andersen, but neither they nor the Leafs could break the tie in either regulation or the five minute three-on-three overtime period.

As the home team, Head Coach Mike Babcock had the option to shoot first or second in the shootout.

  1. He chose first and sent out C Auston Matthews. As you’d expect from a player of his caliber, he beat Third Star G Mike Smith to give the Leafs an early 1-0 lead.
  2. Head Coach Glen Gulutzan called on Monahan to level the shootout score. After converting his first two opportunities of the season, he was unable to make his third as fired his shot over the net.
  3. Next up for Toronto was F Mitch Marner, who had the opportunity to force a miss-and-lose situation for the Flames if he could get a shot past Smith. The netminder knew the situation as well, because he was able to save the snapper.
  4. With the opportunity to make yet another headline, LW Matthew Tkachuk was tapped as the Flames’ next shooter. He didn’t disappoint and leveled the shootout at one-all.
  5. With the opportunity to win the game against his old Pacific Division rivals, F Patrick Marleau did what I’d probably do in that situation: he sailed his attempt over the net.
  6. Now it was LW Johnny Gaudreau‘s turn to end the game. He did a little better than Marleau by putting his shot on frame, but Andersen was able to save the wrister.
  7. Second Star F William Nylander went two NHL seasons without scoring a shootout goal, but last night ended the skid. He set the shootout score at 2-1, setting up a miss-and-lose situation for Calgary.
  8. Looking at the stats, it’s a wonder C Mikael Backlund represented the Flames’ best opportunity to continue the game. Last night marked the sixth shootout opportunity of his career, and Backlund has missed all six.

Andersen saved 47-of-48 shots faced (.979 save percentage) to earn the victory, leaving the shootout loss to Smith, who saved 28-of-29 (.966).

For the seventh consecutive day, home and road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have exchanged victories (it must be everyone’s holiday spirit). With yesterday being the home team’s turn, they’ve improved their record to 36-22-6, 15 points better than the visitors’.