Tag Archives: Jonathan Drouin

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 14

Skater of the Week: Mathew Barzal

These bye-weeks are making things weird.

Barzal gets the nod for this week’s award having only played one game during that span. But what a game it was.

Helping his Islanders to a 7-2 rout of the rival Rangers, young Barzal tallied his second five-point game of his breakout rookie campaign with two goals and three helpers. Perhaps more amazing is the fact that all five points were scored at even-strength, no power play help needed. This also landed Barzal a perfect +5 rating for the night, to go along with a .5 shooting percentage and even tallying the official game-winning goal (probably not worth much in a rout, but it pads the stats all the same).

With 44 points in 44 games to this point in the season, Barzal continues to make a very strong case for a Calder Trophy nod come season’s end.

Tendy of the Week: Mike Smith

Posting a perfect 3-0-0 record this week on the strength of just four goals allowed in those contests to rack up a .963 save percentage and a GAA just a smidge over 1.30, Smith has his Calgary Flames scorching. (Pun entirely intended)

Smith started the week stopping 33-of-35 shots faced in an overtime victory against the Wild, before nullifying 33-of-34 against the league-leading Lightning and 38-of-39 against Carolina to extend his winning streak to six games.

Calgary went out and got Smith to fill the one glaring weakness they felt they had, and if he can keep this level of play up, they could be deadly.

Game of the Week: Boston Bruins 4 vs Montreal Canadiens 3 (SO), Saturday January 13th, 2018

The 739th all-time meeting between the Original Six arch-rivals had a little something extra to offer, as it was the first meeting of the two squads since Claude Julien‘s firing from Boston and hiring by Montreal late last season. A little bit of extra hype that this tilt ended up living up to.

In total this one saw seven goals, 62 shots, 77 hits, and two power play goals on five opportunities.

Max Pacioretty would get things rolling just 3:22 into the game, collecting the rebound from a deflected Victor Mete point shot and stuffing it just inside the near post behind Tuukka Rask to give the Habs the early advantage. Most of the first period would then pass by with little affair until Brad Marchand would streak in on the back door and receive a gorgeous Patrice Bergeron centering feed from the far board and bury it top shelf to even the score at the 17:40 mark on the power play, and the two teams would carry the 1-1 score into the first intermission.

The second period would see things really open up, starting with a Jake DeBrusk breakaway tally just 2:55 into the frame. Charlie McAvoy caught the Montreal defense standing still and fed a gorgeous tape-to-tape pass to a streaking DeBrusk who made no mistake en route to his 10th goal of the year. Just 2:50 later, though, Nic Deslauriers would pounce on a Zdeno Chara turnover at center ice and streak past the stumbling Boston captain into the high slot, where he would unleash a laser of a wrist shot past the blocker of Tuukka Rask to draw his Habs back even. Then just 3:06 later Montreal would retake the lead on the power play, as Alex Galchenyuk would receive a cross-ice pass from Jonathan Drouin, take a couple strides towards the net, and absolutely smoke a wrist shot over the shoulder of Tuukka Rask into the top of the net to put his team up 3-2. The Bruins controlled a lot of the play throughout the rest of the 2nd, but were met with some solid Carey Price saves at every opportunity until at the 17:42 mark David Krejci was able to corral a bouncing puck in the slot and wire it past a surprised Price and even the game at three heading into the second intermission.

 

The third period would see both teams register the most shots of any period (12 for Boston, 10 for Montreal), but strong play by both goaltenders (and a few clutch saves by the goalpost to the right of Rask) kept things knotted at three to end regulation and send the proceedings to three-on-three overtime. Montreal looked to have it won in the waning seconds when a Jakub Jerabek shot found it’s way up and over Rask, but a diving Torey Krug managed to bat the puck out of the blue paint before Pacioretty or Plekanec could get a stick on it.

So off to the shootout we went. Both Paul Byron and Jake DeBrusk would score in the first frame, but after that the two goaltenders shut things down for the remaining two shooters a side to force shootout overtime, where Rask would shut the door on Galchenyuk to allow Brad Marchand to streak in and bury the game-winner right through the five hole of Carey Price and directly into the hearts of the Montreal faithful.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

I saved the Phillip Danault story from the Boston/Montreal game for this section, because it definitely deserves to be highlighted. Danault is reported to be doing alright and was released from the hospital Sunday after an overnight evaluation. The Habs forward took a Zdeno Chara slapshot off the side of the head in Saturday night’s contest, and was eventually stretchered off of the ice. A truly sombering scene in a very exciting contest, Chara was one of the first to Danault’s aid and appeared to apologize to him as he was loaded up and carried off the ice. Between this and the Girardi/Frk incident last week, I’m thinking maybe people should stop trying to block the hardest shots in the game with their faces.

Speaking of near-disasters, Milan Lucic came millimeters from life-threatening danger himself when he tangled with Golden Knights forward Tomas Nosek and, upon the two falling to the ice, had his neck cut by Nosek’s skate. The picture of the stitch job is pretty unnerving, and according to Lucic the cut was mere millimeters too shallow to open up his jugular vein.

One of the NHL’s most impressive streaks is coming to an end. After 830 consecutive games, Anaheim’s Andrew Cogliano will be forced to miss the next two contests after being suspended for a very-not legal hit on Kings forward Adrian Kempe. A very heated contest led to a lot of physicality, and the play was certainly very out of character for Cogliano, who sacrifices a streak that could have broken the NHL record next season had it continued.

The Vegas Golden Knights have formed their first rivalry, but not exactly the sort you’d expect. The United States Army has filed a copyright challenge to the franchise on the grounds that they already possessed the rights to the name ‘Golden Knights’ for its West Point parachute jump team. The franchise’s response? A spectacularly sarcastic tweet, obviously.

Jack Johnson has requested a trade out of Columbus. A pending UFA, it is generally believed that Johnson wants to be traded to a team where he will have a chance at seeing more playing time in an effort to raise his stock on the market, after seeing his minutes plummet in recent weeks. While many CBJ fans (myself included) hold ‘JMFJ’ in high regards as a person, trading the defender had become a very common topic in Columbus long before the player’s request, as his production has dipped significantly, highlighting his defensive shortcomings and bringing about the argument for his replacement by younger options within the CBJ system.

Tampa has lost star defender Victor Hedman for 3-6 weeks with a lower body injury. I’m pretty sure if they lost every game in that time they would still be like 4th in the league, but still, it’s a bummer.

Am I the only one who thinks these Olympic Games are actually gonna be pretty fun? As rosters get released, obviously the star power we’re used to isn’t there, but convince me that these lesser-known guys, most of them being players who probably never even dreamed they’d get this chance, aren’t going to play their absolute hearts out every single second of every single game. I think it’s gonna be great.

On a final note, we learned this week via Doc Emrick that Pierre McGuire has undergone successful surgery to remove a cancer-infected prostate. He is recovering and is hopeful to rejoin the broadcast team in time for the Olympics. Now I, like many, can admit to yelling at Pierre to stop yapping on about whatever ridiculous stat or story he knows about some third-line player on a team I don’t like, but I think I speak for everyone when I say that cancer should take a Chara slapshot to the mush and a few skates to its main artery. So get well, Pierre, Eddy-O and everyone else that has to fight this miserable disease.

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.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #87- 87s Galore (Crosby’s Favorite Episode)

The Original Trio discuss the 2018 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship and more in separately recorded sessions of the podcast. Also, we’re available for hire. In memoriam: Part of Joe Thornton’s beard that Nazem Kadri ripped off (2015-2018).

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.

December 28 – Day 82 – Show your shield

I love when the NHL feels guilty. The league went dormant for three days, and it’s trying to make up for it by playing scheduling lots of games this week.

I’m not complaining.

There’s seven games on the schedule today, starting with three (Boston at Washington [NBCSN/SN360/TVAS], Montréal at Tampa Bay [RDS/TSN2] and Philadelphia at Florida) at 7:30 p.m. The next game, Toronto at Arizona, doesn’t drop the puck until 9 p.m., but it starts the chain reaction of contests, as two (Chicago at Vancouver [SN360] and Vegas at Los Angeles [NBCSN]) get underway an hour later and tonight’s nightcap – Calgary at San Jose – clean things up at 10:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

Three matchups in particular have caught my eye this evening…

  • Montréal at Tampa Bay: Welcome back to Cigar City, F Jonathan Drouin. How Bolts fans greet him will be… interesting, to say the least.
  • Chicago at Vancouver: In days gone by, these teams fiercely battled for Western Conference supremacy. This season, they’re simply trying to qualify for the postseason.
  • Vegas at Los Angeles: For three seasons, D Brayden McNabb called Hollywood home. Now he’s a top-two defenseman for the Golden Knights.

While I wouldn’t exactly say that McNabb’s return is exactly headline worthy, the fact that these teams are [playing for the lead in both the Pacific Division and the Western Conference] definitely is. Off to Staples Center with us!

 

 

 

 

 

 

If Goal No. 1 was being better than the Avalanche this season, Goal No. 2 must have been leading the Western Conference, because that’s exactly what the 24-9-2 Golden Knights are doing right now.

It’s no secret how Vegas is finding its wins, as the Knights’ offense has managed a whopping 3.46 goals-per-game for the best mark in the conference.

Head Coach Gerard Gallant‘s favorite player from their days in Florida has kept right on ticking, as F Jon Marchessault, who’s riding a four-game point streak, leads the team with his 12-21-33 totals from his spot on the second line. That line as a whole has been phenomenal, as C William Karlsson (17-12-29), Marchessault and W Reilly Smith (9-17-26) have combined for 38 of the Knights’ 123 goals on the season (30.9 percent).

But if we want to get really picky, Marchessualt is not among the best scorers in the league. After all, his 33 points are only (t)31st among all skaters, and his 1.03 points-per-game are (t)17th. But it is that very fact that tells the true strength of this Vegas attack. A whopping 14 players have earned at least 10 points on the season, including five defensemen.

With only an average power play success rate of 19.5 percent ([t]14th-best in the league), every single player on the Knights’ roster has bought into Gallant’s system, and it’s obviously coming back spades.

Lastly, 6-1-1 G Marc-Andre Fleury will get the start in net this evening after 9-2-0 G Malcolm Subban earned a 4-1 victory in Anaheim last night. Though Subban was stellar while Fleury was recovering from his concussion (he’s among the top six goaltenders in the league in both save percentage [.926] and GAA [2.18]), there’s no doubt who owns the Knights’ starting role.

Fleury has a 6-3-2 record against the Kings from his time in Pittsburgh, including a 3-2-1 record at Staples Center. However, his last three outings against Los Angeles have all been losses, even though he forced overtime in two. He comes into tonight’s game with a .938 save percentage and 1.97 GAA on the season.

If there’s only one thing the second place 22-11-4 Kings have in their favor, it’s that they will be playing tonight’s game on four days of rest since the Golden Knights were in action last night.

However, I’d venture to say that Los Angeles has a bit more going for it than simply full bellies and time off the ice – namely 17-11-1 G Jonathan Quick. Quick has been among the league’s best this season, as his .928 save percentage, 2.23 GAA, 17 wins and two shutouts are all among the top eight efforts in the NHL.

But these Kings aren’t only about Quick. W Dustin Brown, D Drew Doughty and C Anze Kopitar have also been studs this campaign. Brown (+15 rating) and Doughty (+18) have been most prevalent on the defensive end, as their ratings are both among the top eight efforts in the NHL, while Kopitar’s 17 goals are (t)eighth-most in the league.

The Kings and Knights have already tangled once this season at T-Mobile Arena. Vegas won that game 4-2 on a two-goal performance by Karlsson that chased Quick from the Nevadan crease. Of everybody involved in that contest, he’ll certainly be looking to show the most improvement.

In medieval times, kings outranked knights regardless of how many colorful adjectives they added. Though we’ve come a long way since castles and crusades, I think that organizational chart will still apply tonight as Los Angeles defends home ice.


Yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day was exactly the competitive matchup we expected, as the Nashville Predators beat the St. Louis Blues 2-1 at Scottrade Center.

Just like in the first contest between these clubs, First Star of the Game G Pekka Rinne dominated conversation. Even though the Blues fired a total of 22 shots on his net over the first two periods, it was his team that scored a goal in each frame.

The first of those tallies belonged to F Craig Smith (D Roman Josi), as he scored a tip-in with 9:23 remaining in the first period. Third Star F Calle Jarnkrok (F Filip Forsberg and D Matt Irwin) followed that up with a slap shot with 3:11 remaining in the second period, and it was that goal that proved to be the game-winner.

What made Jarnkrok’s goal spectacular is its blazing speed. Forsberg set him up for a one-timer from the left face-off dot, but it didn’t originally look as if the play had much chance of success. There were no skaters in front of Second Star G Jake Allen to act as screens, and he appeared to be in the right position to make an easy save. However, Jarnkrok ripped his blitz of a clapper over Allen’s shoulder before the netminder could even move.

St. Louis did eventually manage to sneak a goal past Rinne, as F Vladimir Sobotka (F Kyle Brodziak and D Alex Pietrangelo) bagged a tip-in with 6:23 remaining in regulation, but the Notes – even with Allen pulled for the last 1:53 of the game – could not find a way to level the game.

In all, Rinne saved 29-of-30 shots (.967 save percentage) in the victory, while Allen took the loss after saving 24-of-26 (.923).

With the Predators wearing white, they pull the visitors in the DtFR Game of the Day series back within 19 points of the 46-27-9 home teams.

DTFR Overtime: Just Get It Over With Already

Connor and I discussed trading Erik Karlsson on the latest episode of the Down the Frozen River Podcast, which got me thinking about how ridiculous NHL GMs can be as to why they haven’t made any trades yet at this point in the season or why they’re holding onto players for excruciatingly long periods of time (‘sup, Super Joe? Remember the Matt Duchene saga– hey, you won the trade, I’ll give you credit).

This is DTFR Overtime and I’m going to rant about how GMs should break trade traditions.


We all know those couples. They’re dating, then they’re not. They change Facebook relationship statuses more than burgers are flipped at Wendy’s.

NHL GMs are often given a bad rap concerning their ability to make sound decisions in player transactions.

Sometimes players really just don’t have a good fit in an organization– so the player needs to be traded or not re-signed– and do well elsewhere, but more often than not, GMs are left with the blame regardless of the success that comes after the spark (trade).

Sure, not all GMs are good at general management, but I’m not here to reason with the questions of what makes a good GM and what makes a poor GM. Rather, I’m here to critique an oddity that’s been part of the National Hockey League’s 100-year history.

Why aren’t there more trades during the season?

Just break up already

The Matt Duchene-Colorado Avalanche saga is the most recent (and best) example of “why don’t NHL GMs make more trades during the season”. Avalanche general manager, Joe Sakic, had every right to stall, but did he wait too long for too little in return? That’s debatable depending on where you stand.

Ignoring what Colorado got (Shane Bowers, Andrew Hammond, Samuel Girard, Vladislav Kamenev, a 2018 1st round pick (OTT), a 2018 2nd round pick (NSH) and a 2019 3rd round pick (OTT)), what the Ottawa Senators got (Duchene) and what the Nashville Predators ended up with (Kyle Turris) in the deal, there’s some universal feelings of agony for how long it took to finally trade Duchene both in-and-out of the Avalanche fan base.

Sakic, understandably, wanted what was best for his organization and kept his demands elevated, but at what cost? Did the emotions of being part of the worst team in the NHL last season take a toll on Duchene’s play at times? Did the holdout cause any bumps in the road in the locker room?

We might not get these answers, but just about everyone around the league wondered when the dominoes would fall.

A player that doesn’t want to be part of a franchise’s future doesn’t make for a pleasant time and leaves many wondering what took so long when a deal gets done.

Fans, players and general managers alike could be all the more excited if player-front office relations go sour and result in players being traded sooner rather than later (because it’s very rare for a player to not end up getting traded after being disgruntled with a team’s front office).

Before Duchene there was the Jonathan Drouin-Tampa Bay Lightning saga. We all know how that ended after many “relationship experts” called for Lightning GM Steve Yzerman to just get it over with already and “breakup” with Drouin for better assets.

Yes, Drouin and Tampa resolved some differences, but it was only temporary as alas, Drouin got dumped to the Montreal Canadiens for Mikhail Sergachev this offseason.

Montreal didn’t fully appreciate what they had and the Lightning are happily suited in a rebound now that looks like it could be the one.

Before Drouin, it was Phil Kessel and the Boston Bruins as a high-profile “why don’t they just break up already” case. Before Kessel, one could technically make a case for Eric Lindros‘s drama with the Quebec Nordiques as the original case of “just break up already”– though the Nordiques made off pretty well with Peter Forsberg in the fold.

What is this, the NBA?

Back to that three-team trade the Avalanche, Senators and Predators made in November for a moment.

Are three-team trades an option for NHL GMs to satisfy their cravings for an improved roster midseason, while also not feeling the Catholic guilt of making a trade midseason?

Sure. It’s possible.

The Duchene trade– in its immediate aftermath and one month later– made an already good team even better (Nashville), a bad team replenish a lack of depth (Colorado) and a team that was overhyped end up with overhyped talent (Ottawa).

It was also unprecedented for the NHL.

When you think of three-team trades in professional sports, you think of superstars being tossed around in Major League Baseball, like the Manny Ramirez trade the Boston Red Sox made with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates, whereby Ramirez went from Boston to Los Angeles and Jason Bay jettisoned the Pirates for the Red Sox (among other pieces involved for all three professional baseball clubs).

Or you think of literally any trade in the National Basketball Association, like, ever. That last sentence just now might have been a stretch, but just Google “NBA three team trades” or something and you’ll get the point.

It’s not something that happens in professional hockey at the highest level.

The confusion surrounding who’s getting what in a three-team trade is something that happens to everyone, but gets worked out and well, either makes for an exciting blockbuster or dilutes the point of trading players from the beginning.

Either you’re improving organizations or you’re just maneuvering contracts for some unexplained obligation like the business of entertainment that the sport actually is (spoiler alert) via a three-team trade– or not.

Baby, I’m an outlier

Star players don’t get traded during the season because they’re too good to lose.

Well, if they’re too good to lose, why trade them in the first place?

This is where some general managers try to slip things unnoticed *ahem, in the offseason* in hopes that it’ll make their team better. You might know these guys by the names of Peter Chiarelli or Marc Bergevin, but we’ll just call them “dangerous outliers”.

They’ll save face from the embarrassment of what they got in return for consciously uncoupling with (trading) guys like Tyler Seguin, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, P.K. Subban and Sergachev in their careers thanks, in part, to the timing of all of those trades.

Seguin was part of a seven-player deal between the Boston Bruins and Dallas Stars on July 4, 2013– a day most American fans might not remember if they were celebrating their independence with a few brews.

Or the alternative to trading a star while most fans are probably inebriated at a cookout is to trade said star and talk about how you’re most excited for the upcoming season and that you believe this trade is what will make your team better.

Maybe you’ll take a shot or two at the player’s “character” or something else to get everyone talking the rest of the summer, but the focus levels off by August (when everyone in the hockey world is on vacation) before gaining steam in October– once the guy you traded away immediately makes an impact on his new team (‘sup, P.K.).

In short, if making moves in the offseason actually leads to bad trades and making your team worse (in the long run), why not avoid making offseason trades altogether and save them for during play?

The dangers of doing it in-season

Yes, making a trade, even weeks before the trade deadline can actually still do just as much harm to your team as making a trade in the offseason like normal GMs.

Case in point, the Dion Phaneuf trade.

It was a blockbuster trade that seemed inevitable when the Ottawa Senators had let it be known they were interested in acquiring Phaneuf and had talked it over with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Those talks went quickly and Phaneuf was dealt to Canada’s capital along with forwards Matt Frattin, Casey Bailey, Ryan Rupert and defenseman Cody Donaghey. The Senators gave up struggling defenseman Jared Cowen, forwards Milan Michalek, Colin Greening, Tobias Lindberg and their 2nd round pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.

Other than Phaneuf can anyone think of where any of the other players in the trade are these days? Greening’s with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, Michalek’s career is basically over due to injury, Cowen tried to land a spot with the Maple Leafs and earned a PTO with the Colorado Avalanche back in September (spoiler alert, he was released with one preseason game remaining) and the rest of them?

Yeah, that’s right. Nobody remembers.

Bailey’s now with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (New York Islanders AHL affiliate), Frattin’s in the KHL, Donaghey’s in the ECHL– in case you were wondering.

Of note, Lindberg was traded this October to the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for goaltender, Calvin Pickard.

Other than the lack of talent tossed around between the then rebuilding Maple Leafs and the often underpaid Senators, the biggest surprise from this move was that Ottawa was willing to take on the majority of Phaneuf’s remaining years on his contract that has a $7.000 million cap hit that runs through the 2020-21 season.

Weird, right?

In foresight, maybe the Senators won’t have to worry all that much with a looming lockout around 2020. Then again, they do have to re-sign their best player, defenseman, Erik Karlsson, before or during the 2019 offseason and well, he’s going to cost them a lot more than $7.000 million a season.

Accepting your death– I mean, that you’ll never be good enough

Whether you’re holding out on the best possible return for a superstar or someone with a lot of “character”, the most important thing to remember whenever you go through a breakup with them is that you may never end up with someone as good as what you had (and definitely not in the immediate heartbreak– stop eyeing those free agents you’re about to overpay).

Look, at some point every NHL GM is going to have to make a trade.

Phil Esposito hated being traded from the Bruins to the New York Rangers as much as Jean Ratelle hated going from Broadway to Boston, but both teams knew it was a trade that had to be done. Brad Park led a resurgence for the black and gold, while Esposito proved he still had something in him in his twilight years.

If you want to get something in return, rather than lose a player for nothing, just know that you’ll probably be downgrading for the time being. Rebounds don’t always last, but they can be worth it if you just made a clean break.

You could end up with a guy like Antoine Vermette and win the Stanley Cup like the Chicago Blackhawks did in 2015 before he left them for his ex that summer– rejoining the Arizona Coyotes for a season (before being bought-out and swimming with the Anaheim Ducks ever since).

Or maybe you go through a weird phase of Loui Eriksson, Joe Morrow, Reilly Smith and Matt Fraser, who then became just Morrow and Jimmy Hayes before one wasn’t tendered a qualifying offer (Morrow) and the other was the victim of a buyout (Hayes) this past summer.

Sometimes things just don’t work out. We get it. You’ll find a better person. You were too good for them anyway.

You just might have to do a little soul searching and cut the cord midseason from time to time.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #79- Zone Time 101

Nick, Connor and Cap’n recap the Matt Duchene trade and pick a winnner(s). The crew also discussed how good the Tampa Bay Lightning are and how the Montreal Canadiens haven’t been smart with asset management in recent years and where they could go from here.

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.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #77- Boo: A Very Merry Boone Jenner Halloween

Nick, Connor and Cap’n address the news and notes from the past week of NHL action, discuss the demise of Antti Niemi, as well as take a gamble on the Vegas Golden Knights. The Los Angeles Kings are good (and lucky, according to Cap’n) and the Montreal Canadiens are bad (very bad). Also, Dwayne Roloson was 42 in 2011 (not 39).

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.

October 8 – Day Five – Selections are slim, Vol. I

What a day yesterday! 15 games of NHL action is the best way to spend an evening.

But all good things must come to an end, and this one in particular comes to a screeching halt. There’s only one game on the schedule today, making 1-1-0 Montréal’s 7 p.m.* visit to Madison Square Garden (NHLN/RDS/SN1) to face the 0-2-0 Rangers our de facto Game of the Day.

*Eastern time

 

Everybody loves a good Original Six matchup, especially when it’s a rematch from the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs.

It’s a postseason Habs fans would like to forget though. After winning the Atlantic Division by five points over Ottawa last season with a +26 goal differential, Montréal managed only 11 goals against the first wild card Rangers before being eliminated in six games.

Most noticeable in the Canadiens’ offensive struggles this April was the disappearance of LW Max Pacioretty. He managed .83 points-per-game for 35-32-67 totals to lead his squad in the regular season, but he registered only one assist – albeit on Game 2’s overtime game-winner – as his lone postseason offensive contribution.

Instead, it was RW Alexander Radulov that rose to the challenge, earning a team-leading seven points – including two goals – against G Henrik Lundqvist. But, there’s one problem with that going into tonight’s game: Radulov now wears a green Dallas Stars sweater after signing with them as a free agent this offseason.

To replace his scoring contributions, General Manager Marc Bergevin traded for F Jonathan Drouin‘s RFA rights and then signed him to a six-year, $33 million contract. Though it’s far too early to say it was a bad decision, Drouin has only provided a lone assist in two games played as the offense has deferred to RW Brendan Gallagher‘s 1-1-2 effort to start the season. Pairing that with Pacioretty’s two points in his past 10 non-preseason games, the Canadiens’ stars are struggling to find much attacking rhythm.

As a result, the Habs have not exited the gates as strongly as they were hoping for. They escaped with a shootout victory in Buffalo to open their season Thursday before going to Washington and getting whipped 6-1 last night by W Alex Ovechkin.

Of course, those two points are still miles ahead of where the Blueshirts are to start the year, as they lost 4-2 to Colorado, the presumed worst team in the NHL, in their first game followed by a wild 8-5 loss in Toronto last night. In fact, New York is the only club in the Eastern Conference to have not earned a point already this campaign, even though they have yet to depart the comforts of home.

Having managed seven goals in two games (led by Mats Zuccarello‘s 1-4-5 effort to start the season), offense is definitely the problem in The Big Apple. Instead, Head Coach Alain Vigneault‘s club is struggling on the defensive end, specifically between the pipes.

This is not the start to the 2017-’18 season Lundqvist envisioned. In two starts, he’s saved only 34-of-42 shots faced for a .809 save percentage and a whopping 6.13 GAA. Making those numbers even more alarming, he allowed five goals in the opening period last night against the Leafs before being pulled.

Though the Rangers’ defense looks far from perfect, Lundqvist can’t blame them for his struggles. Led by newcomer D Kevin Shattenkirk‘s team-leading five blocks, the blue line allows only 33.5 shots-per-game to reach the net, a number that ties for 13th-best in the league.

So, does Vigneault sit Lundqvist in favor of G Ondrej Pavelec tonight? Something tells me the answer is no.  Personally, I’d leave King Henrik in the net to face an offense that has yet to find its groove, especially since he sat the last two periods last night and should be rested enough to have another go at earning his first win of the season. Though he’s experienced enough that you wouldn’t think he needs a confidence boost, it’s that experience that gives Vigneault the belief he can bounce back.

As I stated in my Rangers offseason recap/preview, this Rangers club will go as Lundqvist goes. That’s great when he’s playing like his usual self, but until then New York could be in dire straits. With that in mind, whichever team can control Montréal’s offensive zone will win this game tonight.


With his second game-winning goal in as many games played this season, Second Star of the Game W Brandon Saad and the Blackhawks beat the visiting Blue Jackets 5-1 at the United Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Chicago wasted no time in taking command of this game, as First Star F Patrick Kane (W Ryan Hartman and D Gustav Forsling) buried a wrist shot only 93 seconds into the contest to take a quick 1-0 lead. Assisted by Third Star C Jonathan Toews and F Patrick Sharp, Saad followed up Kane’s score only 4:31 later with a power play wrister to beat G Joonas Korpisalo.

Saad was the beneficiary of an ugly free-for-all in front of Korpisalo’s crease.  Sharp started the scoring play by firing a shot on goal from above the right face-off circle. Though Korpisalo was able to make the save, both Toews and Saad collapsed on his crease to apply pressure. Toews had intentions of collecting the puck to score on his own, but couldn’t corral it and instead nudged it across the crease to Saad. Considering Chicago’s prodigal son was able to bury the goal to set a 2-0 score, he’ll be happy to settle for the assist.

Toews (Saad) did eventually find the back of the net for his first goal of the year to add to the Hawks’ lead with 9:46 remaining in the second period, but LW Sonny Milano (F Nick Foligno and D Gabriel Carlsson) pulled the Jackets back within two goals only 31 seconds later on a wrister. Unfortunately for Columbus, that goal could not provide enough of a spark as D Jan Rutta (Kane) buried a wrister with 7:09 remaining in the second frame to set the score at 4-1.

RW Richard Panik provided Chicago’s final insurance goal with 5:55 remaining in the game.

G Corey Crawford earned the victory after saving 32-of-33 shots faced (.97 save percentage), leaving the loss to Korpisalo, who saved 24-of-29 (.828 save percentage).

For those wondering, both of the Blackhawks’ victories have come against opponents from the Metropolitan Division, the best in the league last season. They’ve won those games by a combined score of 15-2. If that’s not an indication of the caliber of these Hawks, I don’t know what is.

Though not as comfortably as yesterday, the 3-2-0 road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series still hold a one-point advantage over their hosts.

Montreal Canadiens 2017-’18 Season Preview

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Montreal Canadiens

47-26-9, 103 points, 1st in the Atlantic Division

Eliminated in the 1st round by the New York Rangers

Additions: D Karl Alzner, C Jonathan Drouin, C Byron Froese, RW Ales Hemsky, C Peter Holland, D Joe Morrow, D David Schlemko, D Mark Streit, D Matt Taormina

Subtractions: D Nathan Beaulieu, C Connor Crisp, RW Bobby Farnham, C Brian Flynn, LW Dwight King, D Andrei Markov, D Nikita Nesterov, RW Alexander Radulov, D Mikhail Sergachev, D Dalton Thrower

Offseason Analysis: I wonder if Marc Bergevin‘s phone has stopped smoking yet…

After a roller coaster 2016-’17 campaign, which saw a scorching 13-1-1 start simmered by an 18-18-7 stretch and then doused by a 1-5-1 run that ended Michel Therrien’s coaching tenure (again) and saw Claude Julien replace him (again), they finished the season with a 16-7-1 hot streak to win the Atlantic Division and carry solid momentum into the playoffs.

And then the Rangers beat them in 6.

Sports. They’re weird.

After looking like potential Cup contenders, the Habs now found themselves facing a very ominous offseason with little to show for it. GM Marc Bergevin had loaded up at the deadline in an effort to take a shot at a deep playoff run, and now many of his assets were pending UFAs. There was also the endless stream of Carey Price rumors to add to the pressure. But Bergevin didn’t wait long to start silencing his critics.

With Tomas Plekanec‘s production declining rapidly (the former 70-point producer managed just 10 goals and 28 points in 78 games) and questions over young Alex Galchenyuk‘s ability to shoulder the load of #1 center duties, Bergevin stunned the hockey world when he shipped promising defensive prospect Mikhail Sergachev and a 2nd round pick to Tampa Bay for human highlight reel Jonathan Drouin and a 6th round pick.

Though he’s had his struggles in Tampa (including a controversial holdout after an AHL demotion), a breakout performance in the 2016 playoffs followed by dominant stretches of the ’16-’17 campaign showed that the former Halifax Mooseheads superstar is coming into his own in the pro game, and is likely to soon be making fools of NHL defenders just as he did to QMJHL d-men a few years ago. As long as his play at center continues to improve, Montreal will have a devastating 1-2 punch up the middle for many years to come.

Next up was possibly the biggest fish Montreal needed to fry: Locking up arguable best-goalie-in-the-world Carey Price. With Price’s deal entering its final year, dark clouds seemed to be looming in the distance. What were the Habs going to do? Would they re-sign him? COULD they re-sign him? Was there any foreseeable way to replace him?

Well, as often happens in situations such as these…homeboy got paid. In fact, this particular homeboy got paid more than any goaltender in history, to the tune of about $10.5M per year from the time it takes effect in 2018 until it expires in 2026. Habs fans, go ahead and buy that #31 jersey.

Now we get to the meat and potatoes of Montreal’s offseason. On July 1st, the Habs lost roster regulars Dwight King, Brian Flynn, and Nathan Beaulieu on top of key components Andrei Markov and Alex Radulov. The former has been the guiding force of the entire defensive corps for the better part of a decade, and the latter was a free agency homerun from last season, contributing 18 goals and 54 points. But with Shea Weber now firmly at home in red and blue, and Drouin arriving to bolster the offense, Bergevin could afford to let them go in the interest of cap space.

Speaking of cap space gained on July 1st, Bergevin wasted little time utilizing it. On the opening day of free agency alone, he brought in useful depth in the form of Byron Froese and Joe Morrow, and solidified his blueline with former Washington Capitals stalwart Karl Alzner. Though certainly not an offensive dynamo, Alzner’s career +61 rating and ice time average north of 20 minutes per game show his value as a reliable blueline anchor. Alzner is also one of the league’s resident ironmen, having not missed a single game of action since the 2009-10 season. Couple that with being on the right side of 30 years old, and his 5-year, $4.625M contract carries very little apparent risk.

Two days later the Habs brought in speedy winger Ales Hemsky on a 1-year, $1M contract. Though his production has dipped in recent years, he can still be relied upon for around 15 goals and 40-45 points in a full season, and with a low-risk deal, he could be another free agent success story similar to Radulov.

Hemsky also potentially fills a hole in the Habs lineup, as they really don’t possess a bonafide top line RW. But if he would happen to find chemistry with Drouin and captain Max Pacioretty, that line would feature a generous mix of speed, elusiveness, skill, and power. Add in a 2nd line of last year’s big surprise in Phillip Danault, who put up 40 points in 82 games after netting just 10 in 53 prior NHL appearances, Galchenyuk, and pesky Brendan Gallagher, and opposing teams have more than just one line to pay attention to.

The bottom six is going to be a brawl. I have Charles Hudon, Tomas Plekanec, and Artturi Lehkonen making up the 3rd line with Paul Byron, Torrey Mitchell, and Andrew Shaw completing the lineup. But Montreal has a spoil of riches at forward on the depth chart, with the option of adding size (6’3″ 214lb Jacob de La Rose, 6’3″ 220lb Andreas Martinsen, or 6’6″ 237lb Michael McCarron), skill (former 1st round picks Peter Holland and Nikita Scherbak), or versatility (veterans Chris Terry and Byron Froese) all at their disposal.

Scherbak is a particularly interesting option, as the 21 year-old 26th overall pick from 2014 is possibly more highly skilled than anyone not named Drouin or Galchenyuk on the entire roster. A WHL standout, his production has been solid (if not spectacular) in the AHL. Depending on his preseason/training camp showing, Scherbak could land himself anywhere from a continued AHL role all the way up to knocking Hemsky off of the top line.

On the blueline, I expect to see Shea Weber sharing top pairing minutes with Jordie Benn, with new arrival Karl Alzner partnering with Jeff Petry on the 2nd pair (though Alzner could certainly swap with Benn should the latter faulter under heavy minutes). I’d expect the 5-6 defensemen to be Brandon Davidson and David Schlemko, with veteran free agent signing Mark Streit likely to draw in should they need a little extra firepower. There isn’t nearly as much competition here as in the forward group, but Joe Morrow and Zach Redmond could throw a wrench in the top 6 with strong preseason showings, as could PTO invite Eric Gelinas.

The goalies are Carey Price and Al Montoya, with little likelihood of that changing, as youngsters Charlie Lindgren and Zach Fucale continue getting their feet wet in the AHL.

Offseason Grade: B+

With so much on his plate, it would have been easy for Bergevin to falter over the summer. But he managed to replace (and arguably upgrade) multiple lost pieces, all on reasonable terms, and lock up the cornerstone of his franchise well into the next decade. They’ll need to rely on the improvement of some young talent, but should they get that, the Habs look poised for another division title and maybe even a solid playoff run.

Tampa Bay Lightning 2017-2018 Season Preview

Unknown-3Tampa Bay Lightning

42-30-10, 94 points, 5th in the Atlantic Division (’16-’17)

Additions: D Mat Bodie, F Michael Bournival, F Alex Gallant, D Dan Girardi, F Chris Kunitz, G Michael Leighton, D Jamie McBain, D Mikhail Sergachev, F Carter Verhaeghe

Subtractions: F Jonathan Drouin (traded to MTL), F Byron Froese (signed with MTL), G Kristers Gudlevskis (traded to NYI), F Nikita Gusev (traded to VGK), F Henri Ikonen (signed with Jokerit, KHL), G Jaroslav Janus (signed with HC Slovan Bratislava, KHL), F Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond (retired), F Greg McKegg (signed with PIT), G Mike McKenna (signed with DAL), F Tanner Richard (signed with Genève-Servette, NLA), D Matt Taormina (signed with MTL), F Joel Vermin (signed with Lausanne, NLA), D Luke Witkowski (signed with DET)

Still Unsigned: D Dylan Blujus, F Stefan Fournier, F Mike Halmo, D Jonathan Racine

Offseason Analysis: Steve Yzerman is a man with a plan for the Tampa Bay Lightning– not just because he’s the general manager, but because he literally has to have a plan somewhere with how he’s been able to carefully navigate avoiding salary cap hell while managing to keep a solid, young, core group of players in town.

Nic Cage is already writing the script for the Disney movie.

The Lightning just missed out on a 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs appearance as the Toronto Maple Leafs secured the final spot on the second-to-last day of the regular season in a comeback win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. While frustrating for some, skipping a year of the postseason might have been a blessing in disguise from the hockey gods.

A healthy Steven Stamkos is a major bonus.

Tampa’s plus-7 goal differential was the 2nd worst goal differential in the Atlantic Division. Not that goal differential means everything in terms of league standings, but Stamkos’s absence was felt in the drop in offensive production compared to the season prior (plus-26 goal differential in 2015-2016).

Chris Kunitz brings his four Stanley Cups (the most of any current active player) and his 29 points in 71 games last season with Pittsburgh to the Lightning after signing a 1-year, $2.000 million deal. The 37-year-old forward has been in decline since the 2013-2014 season, but provides stability as a top-9 forward on the left side for the Bolts.

Even for his expertise, Kunitz’s numbers won’t be enough to replace the biggest loss from this offseason *ahem, a certain trade involving the Monreal Canadiens*.

On the blue line Tampa added Dan Girardi, which gives the Bolts three defensemen who are at least 31-years-old, but thankfully all of them have two-years and modest salary remaining on their deals, while rookies and 2017 1st rounder, Callan Foote, look to crack the roster.

And to give credit where credit is due, Yzerman’s biggest loss this offseason might just be one of his biggest gains in the seasons to come.

Yes, the Lightning sent forward, Jonathan Drouin, and a conditional 2018 6th round pick to the Canadiens in exchange for 19-year-old– high caliber– defensive prospect, Mikhail Sergachev and a conditional 2018 2nd round pick.

Drouin witnessed a 21-point improvement from his rookie year (32 points in 2014-2015) to last season, notching 21 goals and 32 assists for 53 points in 73 games played. In just 21 games played the year prior, after a minor-league holdout and team suspension, Drouin had 4-6-10 totals.

While Kunitz enters on the downhill of his NHL-career and Drouin was traded, one cannot forget that 40-goal scorer Nikita Kucherov exists. Kucherov’s 85 points led the Lightning in scoring last season and look to be matched, if not improved, this year.

For the Canadiens, acquiring Drouin was necessary to replace the departed Alexander Radulov, however trading Sergachev– especially after trading Nathan Beaulieu to Buffalo– weakened their blue line depth and increased their average age.

Drouin wasn’t the only forward traded away from Tampa, as Nikita Gusev found himself victim of the 2017 Expansion Draft, whereby the Lightning sent Gusev, a 2017 2nd round pick and a 2018 4th round pick to the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for future considerations (a.k.a. not selecting a certain player). Vegas claimed defenseman, Jason Garrison, as one of their own instead and the Bolts went on their way.

Finally, the post-Ben Bishop era Lightning that we got a glimpse of last season are exactly who we expect this season. Andrei Vasilevskiy returns as the starting goaltender with Peter Budaj as his backup according to Yzerman and Jon Cooper’s master plan for getting Tampa back into the playoffs and maybe– just maybe– back into the Stanley Cup Final.

Of course, this meant that NHL-ready backup, Kristers Gudlevskis fell victim to being too good to sit lower in the depth chart, stopping pucks for the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch. The Lightning traded Gudlevskis to the New York Islanders this offseason and received forward, Carter Verhaeghe, in return.

Offseason Grade: C+

For what they had to address (re-sign everyone that you can and do nothing), Tampa had an average offseason. They added guys who replaced expendable parts (like most teams these days, shelling out one or two-year contracts) and they might have shot themselves in the foot in the immediate fallout of the Drouin trade. But like anything, only time will tell.

A “C+” here doesn’t reflect that they’ll be a bad team– they’ll be a playoff team in 2018– it merely reflects that they were smart this offseason and didn’t overspend, overcompensate in trading or have a lack of transactions.