2020 Winter Classic sweater reviews, a standings update and Top-10 NHL power rankings.
Nick and Colby recap the headlines from the last month as well as take a look at all of the New York market teams and try to figure out if any of them are actually any good as Season Six of the podcast begins.
How’s your bracket doing? Not great? Well, you should have taken my advice for the last round (except for Calgary and Tampa). Maybe you’ll nail the Second Chance Bracket the NHL is offering.
Or maybe you won’t.
Regardless, the First Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs is over and the Second Round starts on Thursday. As such, let’s take a look at every matchup like we did for the last round.
A2 Boston Bruins (49-24-9, 107 points) vs EWC2 Columbus Blue Jackets (47-31-4, 98 points)
The Bruins went 2-1-0 against the Blue Jackets in the regular season and matched Columbus’ intensity at times throughout all three games in the season series.
Boston is coming off a seven game series win over the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second year in a row and is getting more than enough production from their bottom six forwards as of late.
Charlie Coyle has consistently been the best player on the ice for the B’s– going hard to the corners and dirty areas, carrying the puck and adding 3-1–4 totals (tied for 5th on the roster in scoring).
As usual, Brad Marchand leads the Bruins this postseason in goals, assists and points with 4-5–9 totals entering the Second Round, while the rest of the first line– Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak— has five and six points, respectively.
Yes, short of Krejci and Pastrnak’s performance in the First Round matchup, the B’s are looking to get a little more from DeBrusk (one goal against Toronto) against Columbus.
Tuukka Rask (4-3-0 record, 2.31 goals against average, .928 save percentage in seven games this postseason) has been solid in his last few starts and looks to maintain momentum as things get going with the Blue Jackets.
For the first time in franchise history, Columbus advanced past the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Not only that, but they rocketed past the Tampa Bay Lightning– sweeping the 2018-19 President’s Trophy winners with the best regular season record of 62-16-4 (tying the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for the most wins in a season) in just four postseason games.
Blue Jackets head coach, John Tortorella, is quite familiar with what it takes to knockoff one of the best teams already heading into the Second Round and he has a Stanley Cup championship to his name with the (you guessed it) 2004 Lightning.
Columbus is led by trade deadline acquisition, Matt Duchene, in scoring with sevens points (three goals, four assists) in four games this postseason.
The Blue Jackets have a lot of speed and firepower and they have guys like, former Bruin, Riley Nash on their penalty kill.
Though he finished the regular season with a career-worst 12 points (three goals, nine assists) in 78 games played (ignoring his nine points in 32 games in the lockout shortened 2012-13 season and previous one point in five games in 2011-12), Nash has reached the back of the twine once already in the playoffs.
After recording a career-high and league-best nine shutouts in the regular season, Sergei Bobrovsky (4-0-0, 2.01 GAA, .932 SV% in four games this postseason) has the upper hand in goaltending– statistically speaking, of course.
He is in the midst of his postseason career-best performance, but he has faced the Bruins before in the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 2011 as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers. That year, Boston swept Philly and went on to win the Cup, while Bobrovsky suffered two losses in three starts (six games played) and amassed a 3.23 GAA and .877 SV%.
He was just a rookie, but if anyone’s done their research on how to beat Bobrovsky it might just be the Bruins. In his two starts against Boston this season (March 12th and April 2nd) he allowed four goals in each game.
Granted, the playoffs are a different breed from the regular season, Boston should still find a way to deal with Tortorella’s all-in crew in six games.
Regular season outcomes:
6-2 BOS at Nationwide Arena on April 2nd, 2-1 F/OT BOS at TD Garden on March 16th, 7-4 CBJ at Nationwide Arena on March 12th
4/25- Game 1 CBJ @ BOS 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
4/27- Game 2 CBJ @ BOS 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS
4/30- Game 3 BOS @ CBJ 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
5/2- Game 4 BOS @ CBJ 7:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
5/4- Game 5 CBJ @ BOS 7:15 PM ET on NBC, TVAS*
5/6- Game 6 BOS @ CBJ*
5/8- Game 7 CBJ @ BOS*
M2 New York Islanders (48-27-7, 103 points) vs EWC1 Carolina Hurricanes (46-29-7, 99 points)
New York went 3-1-0 against Carolina in the regular season, but don’t let that influence anything.
The Islanders split their games against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the regular season, then went on to sweep them in the First Round and the Hurricanes lost every game against the Washington Capitals in the regular season, but defeated the defending Stanley Cup champions in seven games.
Welcome to the playoffs.
Barry Trotz is in his first season behind the bench of the Islanders and brought his usual anchor of a defensive style, while General Manager Lou Lamoriello brought some stability to the front office, as well as the roster as New York said “goodbye” to John Tavares last July.
The Isles led the Metropolitan Division at times this season, but faltered late in February and March to 2nd place in the division standings.
Yet, this team has almost always performed better when just about everyone is counting them out.
When Tavares left, many experts didn’t see anything that could make up for the hole in the roster.
When the puck dropped against the Penguins in the First Round, many thought Pittsburgh’s three Cups in the last ten years would have brought more than enough experience to outperform the defending Stanley Cup champion head coach.
New York has been led by Jordan Eberle in scoring this postseason as the former Edmonton Oiler has amassed a goal a game and six points (four goals, two assists) in four playoff games this year.
As for Mathew Barzal? He leads the team in assists with five.
In goal, Robin Lehner (4-0-0, 1.47 GAA, .956 SV% in four games played this postseason) is blazing through his prior struggles in the crease in his first postseason as a starting goaltender.
It’s a team effort that’s gotten the Isles this far. But it’s also a team effort that’s let the Hurricanes into the Second Round.
Making their first postseason appearance since 2009, Carolina entered Game 7 in Washington boasting a 4-0 record in such games since relocating from Hartford.
The Canes trailed 2-0, and 3-1, but they forced overtime and won the game, 4-3, in double overtime– improving to 5-0, since the Whalers last existed, in Game 7s and knocking off Alex Ovechkin and his pals.
For the 19th time in the last 20 postseasons, there won’t be a repeat champion.
Rod Brind’Amour won a Cup with Carolina as player in 2006. He’s in his first season behind the bench as the Hurricanes head coach and joined Dallas Stars head coach, Jim Montgomery, as the only rookie coaches this season to advance to the Second Round.
Brind’Amour’s lineup has been led from the back-end out with Jaccob Slavin leading in scoring with nine assists in seven postseason games.
In the crease, Petr Mrazek (4-3-0, 2.53 GAA, .899 SV% in seven games played this postseason) has battened down the hatches for the Canes.
The last time Carolina won a Game 7 on the road in overtime, they beat the Boston Bruins in the 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals. There’s no reason not to believe in a team after what we’ve witnessed from that said organization which has promised others to Take Warning all season long.
It’s ten years in the making, but the Hurricanes will get back to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since they last appeared in that round against the Penguins in 2009 (Pittsburgh swept the series to advance to the Stanley Cup Final).
Carolina will defeat the Islanders in six games and meet up with the Bruins in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final.
PNC Arena is louder than Barclays Center– and overall better– and it’s shame the Islanders can’t just keep using the NYCB Live for the Second Round.
Regular season outcomes:
4-3 CAR at NYCB Live/Nassau Coliseum on Jan. 8th, 4-1 NYI at Barclays Center on Nov. 24th, 2-1 NYI at PNC Arena on Oct. 28th, 2-1 F/OT NYI at PNC Arena on Oct. 4th
4/26- Game 1 CAR @ NYI 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
4/28- Game 2 CAR @ NYI 3 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS
5/1- Game 3 NYI @ CAR 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
5/3- Game 4 NYI @ CAR 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
5/5- Game 5 CAR @ NYI*
5/7- Game 6 NYI @ CAR*
5/8- Game 7 CAR @ NYI*
Brad Marchand tied the game on the power play in the second period and Ryan Donato had the only goal in the shootout to secure the 2-1 victory for the Boston Bruins on Thursday at TD Garden against the New York Islanders.
Tuukka Rask (6-4-2, 2.54 goals against average, .917 save percentage in 12 games played) turned aside 28 out of 29 shots against (.966 SV%) in regulation and all four shots he faced in the shootout in the win for the Bruins.
Meanwhile, Robin Lehner (4-6-1, 2.79 GAA, .918 SV% in 12 GP) made 35 saves on 36 shots against in regulation (.972 SV%) and went three-for-four on shots against in the shootout in New York’s loss.
Prior to Thursday night’s matchup, Boston retired Rick Middleton‘s No. 16 and raised his jersey banner to the rafters in a ceremony that pushed back puck drop about an hour later than usual.
Middleton is the 11th player to have his jersey number retired by the Bruins, joining Nos. 2 (Eddie Shore), 3 (Lionel Hitchman), 4 (Bobby Orr), 5 (“Dit” Clapper), 7 (Phil Esposito), 8 (Cam Neely), 9 (Johnny Bucyk), 15 (Milt Schmidt), 24 (Terry O’Reilly) and 77 (Ray Bourque) in the rafters at TD Garden.
He ranks 3rd all-time in franchise history in goals (402) and 4th all-time in assists (898) with the Bruins, while leading the club record in shorthanded goals with 25 (Derek Sanderson had 24, Brad Marchand has 23) and spent 12 seasons with Boston from 1976-88 after being acquired in a trade with the New York Rangers.
One of the many highlights of the ceremony was when Middleton quipped in his speech about not inviting a lot of former teammates to his special night because he didn’t want to have too many men on the ice again (Middleton then gave a glance over to former Bruins head coach, Don Cherry, who was in attendance).
B’s fans alive during the 1979 Stanley Cup Playoffs will remember. Keep reading on if you don’t and/or weren’t alive then.
With Thursday night’s shootout victory, the Bruins improved to a 14-7-4 record (32 points) on the season. The Islanders fell to 12-9-3 (27 points) on the year.
Prior to the matchup, Ryan Donato was recalled from a stint with the Providence Bruins (AHL), while Anders Bjork was assigned to Boston’s AHL affiliate after his less than stellar play just over a quarter of the way through the regular season.
Kevan Miller will be reevaluated after five weeks, having sustained a cartilage injury to the larynx, per Bruce Cassidy earlier in the week and Brandon Carlo may rejoin the Bruins blue line on Saturday against the Detroit Red Wings.
Charlie McAvoy remains out with a concussion, but participated in Thursday’s morning skate in a red non-contact sweater.
On defense, however, Torey Krug was paired with Connor Clifton on the first pairing, John Moore played alongside Steven Kampfer and Jeremy Lauzon was matched with Matt Grzelcyk on the bottom defensive pair.
Anders Lee (8) kicked off the game’s scoring past the midpoint of the first period, giving the Islanders a, 1-0, lead on a garbage goal in stereotypical fashion from Lee after an odd carom off the end boards went his way into the low slot.
Entering the first intermission, the Bruins were outshooting New York, 13-7, and held an advantage in blocked shots (8-7), hits (15-13) and face-off win percentage (56-44). The Islanders led in takeaways (6-5) and both teams had three giveaways each.
Almost midway through the second period, Acciari tripped up Islanders forward, Anthony Beauvillier, and gave New York their first and only power play of the night at 8:05 of the second period. It was not successful.
Moments later, Nick Leddy, caught David Backes with a stick up high and received a minor infraction for high-sticking at 11:43. Boston converted on the ensuing power play thanks to the quick work of Krug to David Pastrnak and a cross-ice pass to Brad Marchand (7) for the one-timer past Lehner at 12:09 of the second period.
Marchand’s power play goal ended a seven-game goalless drought for No. 63 in black-and-gold and tied the game, 1-1. Pastrnak (10) and Krug (11) were credited with the assists and the score remained tied throughout the remainder of the period.
Heading into the dressing room for the second intermission, the score was tied, 1-1, and the Bruins led in shots on goal (25-16), as well as face-off win% (61-39). The Islanders had the advantage in takeaways (14-8), giveaways (9-7) and hits (26-22), while both teams had 11 blocked shots apiece.
New York went 0/1 on the power play on the night, while the B’s went 1/1.
Neither team could breakthrough on the scoreboard in the third period– or in overtime, for that matter– so here’s a quick glance at the stats from the back-and-forth battle over the final 20 minutes of regulation, plus five minutes of 3-on-3 overtime.
After Three: Shots on Goal, 34-27 BOS (9-7 in the 3rd period alone for BOS), Blocked Shots, 16-16, Takeaways, 23-12 NYI, Giveaways 11-8, NYI, Hits 35-30 NYI, Face-off Win% 61-39 BOS
After Overtime: SOG (36-29 BOS, 6-2 in OT for NYI), BS 16-16, Takeaways (27-12 NYI), Giveaways (11-8 NYI), Hits (35-32 NYI), Face-off Win% (62-39 BOS)
In the shootout Barzal shot first for the Islanders and was denied by Rask. Jake DeBrusk had the first attempt for Boston and was denied by Lehner. The remaining rounds went as such:
Round 2: NYI, Brock Nelson (saved), BOS, Pastrnak (hit post)– (0-0 after two rounds of the shootout)
Round 3: NYI, Valtteri Filppula (saved), BOS, Marchand (saved)– (0-0 after three rounds)
Round 4: NYI, Josh Bailey (saved), BOS, Donato (goal)– (1-0 BOS after four rounds)– Bruins win shootout, 1-0, and the game, 2-1
The shootout victory was Boston’s first shootout win of the season in their first shootout appearance of the regular season– in just their 25th game on the schedule.
Boston takes on the Red Wings on home ice this Saturday before traveling to Sunrise, Florida for the start of a quick, two-game, road trip against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday (Dec. 4th) and heading up to Tampa, Florida to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning next Thursday (Dec. 6th).
For those of you who expected less cringe-inducing puns with @connorzkeith on the IR, these past 3 days have surely been painful. My gracious cohorts have blessed me with the weekend’s slimmest pickings on this 4-game Sunday, so let’s just have a rundown of the games on the slate, shall we?
At 12:30pm EST (so that’s 11:30am local, on the morning of the time change, so let’s see how well the legs get moving at a typical morning skate timeslot on short rest) we have the scorching-hot Boston Bruins taking on 2003’s Chicago Blackhawks (for those of us who can remember a time where they were a bad team). An Original 6 matchup at the Madhouse on Madison would normally get the nod for Game of the Day (NBC gave it to them) but the Hawks are a shell of their former selves and are limping home to lick their wounds in the offseason while Boston runs roughshod over nearly every opponent they come into contact with. I’m not expecting a barnburner here.
At 7:30pm EST we have a tilt that could be fun, with two high-flying offenses squaring off in Pittsburgh as the Penguins host the Dallas Stars. The Penguins’ balanced attack will attempt to counter the OP Benn-Seguin-Radulov combo in a showdown that wouldn’t actually shock me if the final score was 9-8. But the possibility of a blowout snoozer (in either direction) definitely persists with a pair of teams that occasionally lay absolute eggs defensively, so I’m going to pass on this one for today’s honor.
At 9:00pm EST we have the very, very bad Arizona Coyotes hosting the ‘so bad we traded Thomas Vanek for Jussi Jokinen and Tyler Motte‘ Vancouver Canucks in the ‘Duel for Dahlin’. I…I just cannot be bothered to care about this game.
So then we are left with just one option, and the matchup that has earned the nomination for my first (and hopefully only) Game of the Day matchup:
Yes the old bitter rivalry between the Islanders and Flames is well-documented, and this one should live up to all the hype! [/sarcasm]
Alright, but really, this has the potential to actually be sort of fun.
Calgary is returning home after winning two straight on the road (a 5-1 thumping of Buffalo and a 2-1 victory over the Sens) for the start of a brief homestand, and are currently neck-deep in an absolute knock-down, drag-out, bare-knuckle brawl for the Western Conference wild card spots (5 points seperate 5 teams) and also trail San Jose and Anaheim by just 3 and 2 points respectively for 2nd and 3rd in the Pacific division.
Meanwhile, in Long Island (Brooklyn), the Isles are clinging desperately to their playoff dreams, as they haven’t won a game since February 16th, but have managed to snag pity points in 4 of the 8 losses. They’re a solid distance off of the final wild card spot, but the Devils team they’re chasing has been a bit shaky recently, and with their next 4 games against divisional opponents, with 3 coming on home ice (in fact they play 7 of 10 at Barclays to close out March), they desperately need to use this game to grab some momentum if they hope to mount any sort of a charge at sneaking into the postseason.
In the ‘fun-to-watch’ department, both of these squads give you no shortage of reasons to tune into this tilt. Calgary boasts a trio of 20-goal men in Michael Ferlund, Johnny Gaudreau, and Matthew Tkachuk, along with 30-goal scorer Sean Monahan. The latter is probably the most underrated pure sniper in the league today, possessing the kind of shot that leaves jaws agape and goaltenders waving hopelessly at thin air. Gaudreau is as shifty and entertaining as anyone, and routinely makes plays that make you question his relationship with physics. Throw in the young trio of offensively talented spark plugs in Ferlund, Tkachuk, and Sam Bennett (55 goals, 111 points, and 134 penalty minutes between them), and you have a fun group up front.
Even on defense the Flames have no shortage of entertainers. Captain Mark Giordano continues to make his case for the best defenseman in the league that no one has heard of, joining the flashy TJ Brodie and power play specialist Dougie Hamilton as Calgary’s trio of 30+ point d-men. Plus you can always count on some bone-jarring hits from Travis Hamonic to liven things up.
For the Islanders, the offense borders on the overpowering. New York has 3 players at point-per-game paces (okay, fine, Tavares has 67 in 68 games, whatever) and a host of others scoring more than their fair share. Captain John Tavares and linemate Anders Lee are both sitting on 31 goals this year, with Tavares’ aforementioned 67 points slightly overshadowing Lee’s 51. Josh Bailey continues his breakout campaign posting 65 points in 64 games, while new addition Jordan Eberle has posted 47 points so far, himself. But the biggest story is without a doubt rookie sensation Mathew Barzal. The diminutive youngster has posted 69 points in 68 games and is the hands-down favorite for the Calder Trophy this year.
The Isles can’t boast the same defensive firepower as Calgary, but Nick Leddy‘s 38 points outdo any single member of the Flames’ big three (although his Mike Commodore ‘Green Jacket’-worthy -33 rating beggars belief). Ryan Pulock and his 105mm Howitzer of a point shot come 2nd on the team at 21 points, but possibly most impressive has been young Thomas Hickey, who’s 20 points are accompanied by a +15 rating. On a team with a -24 goal differential, that’s immensely impressive.
The biggest divider between the two squads comes in net.
Mike Smith has been everything the Flames and their flashy-but-risky style of play could have hoped for. Posting a .921 save percentage and 2.53 GAA on the year, he has been just the steadying influence the Flames have asked him to be.
Now…for the Islanders…basically the entirety of their problems can be traced to their goaltending situation. As I wrote in my season preview article many months ago, for New York it was going to come down to either Jaroslav Halak takes over the net and leads them to success, or they’re going to have a bad time.
They’re having a bad time.
Halak has managed just a .908 save percentage with a 3.23 GAA in 47 contests this year, and while backup Thomas Greiss does possess a seemingly-fine 11-7-2 record, many of his appearances have been in relief and his numbers are even more abysmal at .891 and 3.84. If the Islanders had even average goaltending, that offense would have them firmly in the playoff picture. Instead, they’re clinging to hopes and dreams.
Two hungry teams with flashy offenses and risky styles of play should make for a fun game, so I’ll put my stamp on Islanders @ Flames for today’s DTFR Game of the Day.
In yesterday’s Game of the Day segment, @nlanciani53 told you that you should watch the Washington Capitals attempt to right the ship on their west coast swing against the San Jose Sharks.
I assume he’d like me to apologize for that.
On a day full of fun games, the Sharks and Caps played to a bit of a snoozer, with Washington eventually winning 2-0 in the Shark Tank.
Philipp Grubauer managed a 23-save shutout, but teammate Alex Ovechkin was also shutout once again in his pursuit of 600 career goals. In fact, aside from Nick Backstrom tally in the final 2 minutes of the 2nd period, nobody managed to beat a goaltender the entire game, as Lars Eller‘s 2-0 dagger was scored into an empty net in the 3rd.
Skater of the Week: Connor McDavid
Likely a byproduct of the abysmal season Edmonton is having, McDavid has been enjoying a solid if less-than-stellar season (he’s still put up 64 points in 54 games, we’re just talking about the arguable best player in the world) and hadn’t made this esteemed list until now. But with eight points in four games this week (including a four-goal, five-point performance against the almighty Lightning), Edmonton’s lord and savior has claimed the throne.
McDavid saw a five-game point scoring streak (seven goals, 11 points) come to an end in Edmonton’s final game of the week, but managed to put up eight points in the week’s three prior contests, so he definitely is worthy of the nod.
Tendy of the Week: Devan Dubnyk
In a week of slim standout goaltending performances (apart from Andrei Vasilevskiy making what might actually be the greatest save in the history of hockey), Dubnyk’s 2-0-1 record manages to stand out, particularly paired with his .950 save percentage and 1.96 GAA.
Apart from giving up four goals in the overtime loss to Arizona (which came on 40 shots, allowing Dubnyk to still manage a .900 save percentage), Dubnyk backstopped two victories over division rivals to cap a stellar week, turning aside 35-of-37 shots faced against St. Louis, and posting a 44-save blanking of Chicago.
The lanky Saskatchawinian (I have no idea if that’s a real word, but it was fun to say) hasn’t quite matched his ridiculous numbers from last season to this point, but he’s still been more than solid and has the Wild poised for another playoff run.
*Editor’s note: It’s “Saskatchewanian,” Pete. But close enough.*
Game of the Week: Detroit Red Wings 6 @ New York Islanders 7 (OT), Friday February 9th, 2018
Someone pick up the damn phone, the 1980s are calling.
This was one of those games that just made you laugh, because nothing about it made any sense. Three goaltenders played in the game, none of them posting a save percentage higher than .857 (Petr Mrazek had a frankly disturbing .759 and played for the team that DIDN’T switch goaltenders). Nine, count them, nine skaters had multi-point games, including a hat trick for Brock Nelson, a four-point outing for Henrik Zetterberg, and Mathew Barzal‘s five-assist performance making him the first rookie in 100 years to post three five-point games in a season.
Detroit was all over the Isles early, dominating the first period and taking a 3-0 lead into the locker room. New York could only answer one time in the second period, before drawing to within one early in the third, only to have the Wings score twice more in a 2:12 span to regain a three-goal lead. But with about six minutes to play, Tyler Bertuzzi would attempt to chop off the leg of Cal Clutterbuck, giving the Islanders a five-minute major power play opportunity. An opportunity they would capitalize upon thoroughly.
Brock Nelson. 5-3. Anders Lee. 5-4. Nick Leddy. Tie game. Josh Bailey. The Isles now somehow lead this game 6-5 with 1:49 to play after scoring four times on a single power play. Who could have predicted this? Who could even believe this? Who is writing the script for this movie? Who’s got Mike Green in the slot? Oh, nobody does, and with 29 seconds to play the Red Wings complete the circus act to tie the game at six and force overtime.
Nelson would complete his hat trick to finally end the chaos 3:15 into the extra frame, but if we’re honest, everyone who watched this game were the real winners*.
*Except my father, who is still questioning how his team could score six goals and lose a hockey game.
News, Notes, & Nonsense:
Sidney Crosby scored the 400th goal of his career on Sunday against the Blues. I can only speak positively of him for so long at any given time, so I’ll just end this right here.
Lars Eller got himself a five-year, $17.5M extension with the Capitals, making him probably the highest-paid person in the world named Lars that doesn’t play drums.
Alexandre Burrows decided not to appeal his 10-game suspension for being an absolute piece of…err…I mean kneeing Taylor Hall in the head…a lot. Personally, I was really hoping he would appeal the suspension, and the league would respond by making it an 11-game suspension, just because it’s Alex Burrows.
Mark Scheifele is back off of IR, adding even more firepower to a Jets squad that might just screw around and grab a Presidents’ Trophy.
The Rangers basically announced in a letter to their fans that they are dropping the franchise on a landmine and starting over, which is probably disheartening to the fanbase, but New York was only one point behind my Blue Jackets when the letter was published so, like, I’m definitely not thinking about that when I try to go to sleep or anything.
Jack Eichel is out for at least a month after suffering a high-ankle sprain. This is devastating news for the Sabres, as they lose a key piece in their pursuit of a playoff spot. (Nobody say anything and let’s see if any Buffalo fans know that was sarcasm)
1. Washington Capitals– 31-17-5 (67 points, 53 GP)
After spending a couple of months figuring themselves out and weathering the storm that’s been Braden Holtby‘s second-to-last career worst season (his 2.76 goals against average and .915 save percentage in 39 games played are better and the same as his 2013-14 2.85 GAA and .915 SV% in 48 games played respectively).
It’s a bit of an off year for Washington, but even an off year for the Capitals is still a pretty good season, considering they’re currently first in a division that is more active than a lava lamp in terms of rising and falling.
Washington has a plus-11 goal differential through 53 games played despite the loss of Marcus Johansson in a trade with the New Jersey Devils this offseason and an injured Andre Burakovsky seeing limited time so far. That doesn’t even mention the loss of depth for the Capitals last July either– remember Justin Williams (signed with Carolina) and Karl Alzner (signed with Montreal)?
Luckily for the Capitals they only have about $412,000 in cap space as I write, so their trade deadline plans are pretty much already determined for them.
If they’re able to dump a guy like Brooks Orpik— and his $5.500 million cap hit that runs through next season– that would provide the organization with some much needed relief.
Potential assets to trade: F Jay Beagle, D Brooks Orpik
2. Pittsburgh Penguins– 30-22-3 (63 points, 55 GP)
After bouncing around the Metropolitan Division standings, the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins are currently four points behind first place in the division.
Much like his rival in Washington, Matthew Murray is having a season to forget. Injuries and the death of his father have taken a toll on the two-time Cup winning goaltender, limiting Murray to just 34 games thus far with a 2.97 GAA and .903 SV% (again, both career worsts– though he is in just his second full season since his 13 GP in 2015-16).
Despite their plus-three goal differential and gifted scorer (turned 2018 All-Star snub), Phil Kessel (24-41–65 totals in 55 games), the Penguins have been porous on defense. Pittsburgh’s best defenseman, Kris Letang, is a minus-15 through 52 games played.
Since November, Pittsburgh has been trying to move defenseman, Ian Cole– though head coach, Mike Sullivan, has been forced to play him (thereby keeping him on the Penguins roster) due to injuries affecting Schultz and friends.
Antti Niemi didn’t pan out and bring stable backup goaltending to the Steel City (he’s since departed via waivers to Florida, then Montreal). Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith have been left to pick up the tab with some impressive performances at times.
Midseason acquisitions F Riley Sheahan, as well as Oleksiak, have not been enough to fill holes left by Nick Bonino (the forward signed with Nashville in July) and Trevor Daley (left via free agency, landed in Detroit) respectively.
But with roughly $425,000 in cap space to work with currently, the Penguins can’t afford to make much noise on February 26th– but they should definitely snag a defenseman and rental backup goaltender.
Potential assets to acquire: F Sam Reinhart (BUF), D Cody Franson (CHI), D Mike Green (DET), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Nick Holden (NYR), F Derick Brassard (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ), D Erik Gudbranson (VAN), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), D Jason Garrison (VGK), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)
3. New Jersey Devils– 27-17-8 (62 points, 52 GP)
New Jersey has almost $8.000 million to work with currently as things approach the trade deadline at the end of the month.
The Devils are one of the biggest surprises this season east of the Mississippi River.
First overall pick in the 2017 draft, Nico Hischier, has been quietly setting the tone with forwards, Miles Wood, Jesper Bratt and Pavel Zacha in the resurgence of youth. Travis Zajac is back in his dominant, physical, ways and the Sami Vatanen–Adam Henrique trade has worked out quite well for both teams.
Will Butcher is quite the offensive threat on the blue line and John Moore is firing on all cylinders. Despite Marcus Johansson’s concussion, New Jersey hasn’t faced much adversity in overcoming injuries this year.
There’s a lot of cap room to work with, but not a whole lot that this team can really give up to bring in the best guys on the trade market, like Evander Kane, unless the Devils are comfortable parting ways with prospects and draft picks (spoiler alert, they might be).
New Jersey really should be in the hunt for Kane, Rick Nash, Max Pacioretty, David Perron and other great offensive assets– either as the front-runner or the stealthy dark-horse that’ll make one or two big moves to carry them to glory.
The Devils have the time and space to add a veteran forward or defenseman that might eat some salary, but put them lightyears beyond their Metropolitan counterparts.
It’s a buyers market.
Potential assets to acquire: F Evander Kane (BUF), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Mike Green (DET), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Rick Nash (NYR), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Tyler Bozak (TOR), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)
4. Philadelphia Flyers– 25-19-9 (59 points, 53 GP)
Aside from the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Vegas Golden Knights, the Philadelphia Flyers are one of the hottest teams in the league right now.
Goaltender, Brian Elliott, has found his top-notch form once again while Travis Konecny and Claude Giroux are rolling along. With almost $3.000 million to spend at the deadline, the Flyers could make some improvements to their team.
Trading away Brayden Schenn was costly for Philadelphia this offseason, but thankfully Jakub Voracek and the rest of the roster decided to pick up some of the points left behind by Schenn’s departure.
Adding Jori Lehtera, on the other hand, was a big mistake– both in production value and in cap management.
The Flyers could really solidify their offense with one or two moves and probably should anchor their defense with at least a depth blue liner or two coming down the stretch. Someone like David Perron, Patrick Maroon or Nic Petan could flourish in the Philly system. Meanwhile, a defenseman like Cody Franson would help put them over the edge if someone’s injured.
Potential assets to acquire: D Cody Franson (CHI), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), D Nick Holden (NYR), F David Perron (VGK), F Nic Petan (WPG)
5. Columbus Blue Jackets– 27-22-4 (58 points, 53 GP)
After getting a fast start out of the gate the Columbus Blue Jackets have really cooled off. It’s not that they’re a bad team, but rather, they’re just average.
Sergei Bobrovsky can’t stop the puck and play every other position too. Otherwise, the Blue Jackets would probably be first in the division. But good news, Columbus, you’ve got some cap space to work with at the end of the month.
As I write, the Blue Jackets have about $5.000 million to work with in cap room.
That’s good enough to bring in just about any player without considering what the future impact on the team his cap hit might have (unless Jarmo Kekalainen brings in a clear-cut rental player that won’t be re-signed in July). The point is this, Columbus has enough room to mess around with something valuable at the deadline, but they’re going to have to re-sign a plethora of core/future core pieces of the franchise this offseason.
The Blue Jackets aren’t doomed– they know their future plans more than anyone else.
But what could they bring in to make this team better? Someone. Is there anyone they could snag now and really shake things up as a contender moving forward? Short answer, yes.
For all of the return of Rick Nash to Columbus talk, well, that’s not ideal. Kekalainen should consider someone like Ryan McDonagh from the New York Rangers before taking back a guy like Nash– who will only break the franchise’s heart again in July when he goes back to the Rangers *bold prediction alert*.
Potential assets to trade: D Andre Benoit, D Jack Johnson
Potential assets to acquire: F Evander Kane (BUF), F Sam Reinhart (BUF)F Blake Comeau (COL), D Mike Green (DET), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), F Thomas Vanek (VAN)
6. New York Islanders– 26-22-6 (58 points, 54 GP)
The biggest question heading into the 2018 trade deadline for the New York Islanders is the same one that’s been asked since Steven Stamkos signed his extension with the Tampa Bay Lightning– will John Tavares re-sign with the Islanders?
New York has expressed that they are not looking to trade Tavares should things go detrimentally south between now and February 26th, but if things do…
The Islanders have almost $1.500 million in cap space to play around with before the deadline. They also have 13 pending free agents at season’s end, meaning there’s plenty of options the franchise could pursue.
Should Tavares get a raise and a long-term deal? Absolutely.
The Islanders could pack it up and go home on this season given their injuries, lack of defense and well, let’s just say, things aren’t going so great for the team that ranks 31st (out of 31 NHL teams) in average attendance this season.
Potential assets to acquire: F Sam Reinhart (BUF), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Mike Green (DET), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Zack Smith (OTT), F Tyler Bozak (TOR), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), D Erik Gudbranson (VAN), F David Perron (VGK)
7. Carolina Hurricanes– 24-21-9 (57 points, 54 GP)
New Carolina Hurricanes owner, Tom Dundon, might call an audible heading into this year’s trade deadline and decide to spend money on the roster. With almost $15.500 million in cap space, the Hurricanes are in the best possible position to land not just one or two of the big names floating around the rumor mill, but rather three or four quality pieces.
The trouble is, who would they get rid of, since their prospects and youth are worth keeping for further development and overall organizational growth?
Lee Stempniak might make his annual trip around the league, but other than that, who are the Hurricanes actually going to offer up from their forwards? If anything, Carolina would move a guy like Noah Hanifin given the contract extensions (and pay raises) that kick in next season for Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin.
Potential assets to trade: G Scott Darling, D Noah Hanifin, F Lee Stempniak, F Derek Ryan, draft picks
Potential assets to acquire: F Evander Kane (BUF), G Robin Lehner (BUF), D Cody Franson (CHI), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), D Mike Green (DET), G Petr Mrazek (DET), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Tomas Plekanec (MTL), F David Desharnais (NYR), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Rick Nash (NYR), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK)
8. New York Rangers– 25-24-5 (55 points, 54 GP)
Look, the New York Rangers are still (technically speaking) in contention– but they absolutely shouldn’t waste another year of Henrik Lundqvist‘s career in the National Hockey League without a Stanley Cup.
The team they have right now? Yeah, they aren’t winning.
They’ve aged out. The core’s been decimated by the Vegas expansion draft and some offseason moves (namely trading Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta to Arizona after losing Oscar Lindberg to Vegas in June).
Not every player is washed up.
Some will find better homes and rejuvenate their careers before potentially signing with the Rangers in free agency and going back “home” *ahem, Rick Nash*.
Others will simply be a superb rental/long term participant in a franchise, like Michael Grabner.
Basically I’m saying that all the guys New York’s been rumored to trade should get traded and the team can pull off a quick turnaround with their up-and-coming youth, plus whatever they get in return for Nash, Grabner and Co.
And with only about $1.400 million in cap space, the Rangers could have some fun blowing things up (partially).
Build around Mika Zibanejad and friends. Do it, New York. Do it now.
Potential assets to acquire: D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Zack Smith (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK)
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
Still trying to figure out why your favorite team has games all next week, but your rival gets to take five-straight days off? Or maybe you’re most concerned about your fantasy hockey team? Either way, *NSYNC has the answer:
The NHL is in Year 2 of its experiment with bye weeks. Some things – like the average length of each team’s break – stayed the same. 19 of the 31 clubs are taking the minimum five days off, while 11 others get an extra sixth before returning to action. Of course, the winners of the bye week lottery are the Ottawa Senators, who get a whopping seven days to rest, regroup and rediscover the art of ice hockey before hosting St. Louis.
But there are a few differences from last year, most notably where these breaks occur within the league schedule. Last season when the bye weeks debuted, the Islanders and Penguins had already started and finished their breaks by now, while others wouldn’t see the gap in their schedule until well beyond the All-Star Break or even the trade deadline. In fact, the Ducks didn’t take their week off until the beginning of March.
It was probably because Anaheim is on Pacific Time. That’s how time zones work, right?
Anyways, all 31 bye weeks this season – whether five, six or seven days – will start and end in the span of the 18 days between today and January 19.
Though initial thoughts were that the bye weeks were consolidated in anticipation of the NHL potentially releasing its players to their respective national federations for the XXIII Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, it instead will simply be an opportunity for the league’s scheduler to determine which format is better for business.
But we’re not worried about attendance, advertising dollars or TV ratings here at Down the Frozen River (actually, that’s a lie: we love to talk about that stuff during podcasts). Let’s talk about who’s going to be off when. Teams are presented in order of the league table as it stands entering play January 7, and you might find some notes from myself and @nlanciani53.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
29-9-3, 61 points, leading Presidents’ Trophy race
Final game before the bye: Hosts Calgary on January 11
Bye week: January 12-17 (six days)
First game out of the bye: Hosts Vegas on January 18
Nick’s Notes: A hot team must cool off a bit and then play the Vegas Golden Knights on their first night back to action? Talk about a prison sentence. At least they’ve still got the Presidents’ Trophy (lead) as consolation.
VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS
28-10-2, 58 points, leading the Western Conference
Final game before the bye: Hosts the NY Rangers on January 7
Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)
First game out of the bye: Hosts Edmonton on January 13
Nick’s Notes: Son, where the Golden Knights are from, they don’t need no breaks. Polar opposites of the Tampa Bay Lightning bye week, Vegas plays a good team before taking time off. Then they play Edmonton. Next!
Connor’s Notes: That may be true, but there’s surely some concern among Gerard Gallant and his staff that the Knights just might lose some of this positive energy over the break. They’ve posted a 9-1-0 record over their last 10, and it’d be a shame if the only reason this club drops from Cloud 9 to Cloud 8 is just five little days off.
24-11-7, 55 points, leading the Central Division
Final game before the bye: At Minnesota on January 13
Bye week: January 14-19 (six days)
First game out of the bye: At Calgary on January 20
Nick’s Notes: The Winnipeg Jets are vying for first place in the Central Division this season after missing the playoffs last year. Their second best point-scorer (that’s right, point-scorer, not goal-scorer, Patrik Laine), Mark Scheifele‘s been nursing an upper body injury and this break won’t hurt the team for a week while he remains out of the lineup.
24-11-6, 54 points, second in the Central Division
Final game before the bye: Hosts Edmonton on January 9
Bye week: January 10-15
First game out of the bye: Hosts Vegas on January 16
Nick’s Notes: Most people think the party never stops in Vegas, but they’re wrong. The party never stops in Smashville and let’s just hope none of the Predators players get carried away on Broadway in their week off.
ST. LOUIS BLUES
26-16-2, 54 points, third in the Central Division
Final game before the bye: Hosts Florida on January 9
Bye week: January 10-15 (six days)
First game out of the bye: At Toronto on January 16
Connor’s Notes: Any way to avoid playing games while Jaden Schwartz‘ ankle is still healing is a good thing. While he won’t be ready to go until the end of the month, the Blues will hope to get out of a rut that has led to them posting a 4-6-0 record over their last 10 games entering Sunday.
25-13-3, 53 points, leading the Metropolitan Division
Final game before the bye: At Carolina on January 12
Bye week: January 13-17 (five days)
First game out of the bye: At New Jersey on January 18
Nick’s Notes: It’s not that Braden Holtby‘s been bad, but he’s having his worst season since 2013-14, so like, maybe send him to a remote mountain top or whatever it takes for Holtby to regain his form and focus (a water bottle usually does the trick). Seriously though, his 2.68 GAA and .917 save percentage is not great, Bob.
LOS ANGELES KINGS
24-13-5, 53 points, second in the Pacific Division
Final game before the bye: Hosted Nashville on January 6, lost 4-3
Bye week: January 7-12 (six days)
First game out of the bye: Hosts Anaheim on January 13
Nick’s Notes: Best of luck to the Los Angeles Kings who will smash bodies against the boards with Nashville leading into their bye week and then smash bodies all over again with the Anaheim Ducks fresh off their vacations. It’s a grueling game. Ice those bruises.
23-10-6, 52 points, second in the Atlantic Division
Final game before the bye: At Pittsburgh on January 7
Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)
First game out of the bye: At Montréal on January 13
Connor’s Notes: Similar to Vegas’ current run of success, with an 8-0-2 record over their last 10 games played entering Sunday, the Bruins arguably have the most positive energy to lose by going on break of any team in the Eastern Conference. Fortunately for them, they’ll play in what I expect to be a rivalry game that’s even more heated than usual given the Habs’ position in the standings to get right back into the swing of things.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
25-16-2, 52 points, third in the Atlantic Division
Final game before the bye: Hosts Ottawa on January 10
Bye week: January 11-15 (five days)
First game out of the bye: Hosts St. Louis on January 16
Connor’s Notes: While the Leafs aren’t currently certain he’ll be ready to go by then, the original hope was that sophomore defenseman Nikita Zaitsev‘s lower-body injury would be healed by the time Toronto returned to action against the Notes. If St. Louis’ offense is ticking that day, his presence in the defensive zone will be a big help to Frederik Andersen.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
22-11-7, 51 points, second in the Metropolitan Division
Final game before the bye: At the NY Islanders on January 7
Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)
First game out of the bye: Hosts Philadelphia January 13
Nick’s Notes: The New Jersey Devils have been quietly good as of late. They’re this year’s biggest surprise outside of the Golden Knights. Nico Hischier just turned 19, so unless he’s going outside of the United States for his break, he can’t (legally) party hard.
24-16-3, 51 points, fourth in the Central Division – first wild card
Final game before the bye: Hosted Edmonton on January 6, won 5-1
Bye week: January 7-12 (six days)
First game out of the bye: Hosts Colorado on January 13
Nick’s Notes: Wouldn’t it be mean if nobody tells Kari Lehtonen when the break is so he just drives up to the practice rink on the first day like “where’d everybody go”? Just a thought.
NEW YORK RANGERS
22-14-5, 49 points, third in the Metropolitan Division
Final game before the bye: At Vegas on January 7
Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)
First game out of the bye: Hosts the NY Islanders on January 13
Nick’s Notes: Great, another week off means Henrik Lundqvist has to wait even longer for a Stanley Cup.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
23-16-3, 49 points, fourth in the Metropolitan Division – first wild card
Final game before the bye: Hosts Vancouver on January 12
Bye week: January 13-17 (five days)
First game out of the bye: Hosts Dallas on January 18
Nick’s Notes: The Columbus Blue Jackets have been the St. Louis Blues of the Eastern Conference this season. One week they’re amazing, the next week they’re losing. A lot.
Connor’s Notes: Nick is right, and the Jackets are in one of their losing funks right now. Entering Sunday, they’ve posted a 3-5-2 record over their last 10 games played. They won’t regain any of their four injured players during the break, but perhaps John Tortorella can find a way to regroup his troops before they lose any more ground in the Metro.
SAN JOSE SHARKS
21-12-6, 48 points, third in the Pacific Division
Final game before the bye: At Winnipeg on January 7
Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)
First game out of the bye: Hosts Arizona on January 13
22-16-3, 47 points, fifth in the Central Division – second wild card
Final game before the bye: Hosted Minnesota on January 6, won 7-2
Bye week: January 7-12 (six days)
First game out of the bye: At Dallas on January 13
Connor’s Notes: Goaltender Semyon Varlamov should be prepared to return to action following the bye week after suffering a lower body injury on January 2, and there’s a possibility J.T. Compher get back into the lineup too. However, considering the Avs’ unbelievable position in the standings, does Jared Bednar even think about pulling Jonathan Bernier?
22-17-3, 47 points, sixth in the Central Division
Final game before the bye: Hosts Vancouver on January 14
Bye week: January 15-19
First game out of the bye: Hosts Tampa Bay on January 20
Nick’s Notes: Oft-injured and finally healthy, the Minnesota Wild should place everyone in bubblewrap for their bye week. Just a suggestion.
19-15-9, 47 points, fourth in the Pacific Division
Final game before the bye: At Calgary on January 6, lost 3-2
Bye week: January 7-12
First game out of the bye: At Los Angeles on January 13
Connor’s Notes: With Corey Perry returning to action last night against the Flames, Anaheim is effectively at 100 percent once again after losing basically every star at one point or another this season. After seeing what an injured Ducks team was capable of, the Pacific Division should get ready, because a rested and healthy Ducks team just might wreck havoc against weak competition.
21-16-4, 46 points, fifth in the Pacific Division
Final game before the bye: At Carolina on January 14
Bye week: January 15-19 (five days)
First game out of the bye: Hosts Winnipeg on January 20
Nick’s Notes: Whoever’s running the airport gates in Calgary should make sure that wherever the player’s are going doesn’t actually say “Seattle” on their ticket. Unless the gate agent is originally from Seattle. *dramatic Twin Peaks music plays in the background*
19-14-8, 46 points, fifth in the Metropolitan Division – second wild card
Final game before the bye: Hosts Calgary on January 14
Bye week: January 15-19 (five days)
First game out of the bye: At Detroit on January 20
Nick’s Notes: One thing’s for sure, even with their potential new majority owner, none of the Carolina Hurricanes players are going back to Hartford for their break. What a shame.
21-19-3, 45 points, sixth in the Metropolitan Division
Final game before the bye: Hosts Boston on January 7
Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)
First game out of the bye: Hosts Detroit on January 13
Nick’s Notes: Phil Kessel doesn’t like time off (remember the 2016 World Cup of Hockey?) and Matthew Murray should probably go to the same place as Braden Holtby for a week. Murray’s goals-against average is almost a 3.0.
19-15-6, 44 points, last in the Central Division
Final game before the bye: Hosts Detroit on January 14
Bye week: January 15-19 (five days)
First game out of the bye: Hosts the NY Islanders on January 20
Nick’s Notes: Jeff Glass is the feel good story of 2018 so far, so why would anyone want to see him take five nights off? *Checks standings* Oh, right, this team isn’t in playoff worthy right now.
18-15-8, 44 points, seventh in the Metropolitan Division
Final game before the bye: Hosts Buffalo on January 7
Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)
First game out of the bye: At New Jersey on January 13
Nick’s Notes: Someone make sure the Philadelphia Flyers don’t try to move to the Atlantic Division over their bye week. They’ll do anything to make the playoffs this season.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
20-18-4, 44 points, last in the Metropolitan Division
Final game before the bye: Hosts New Jersey on January 7
Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)
First game out of the bye: At the NY Rangers on January 13
Connor’s Notes: The reason the Islanders have been making by with their horrendous defense, which was made worse by Calvin de Haan requiring a season-ending shoulder surgery, has been their explosive offense. Josh Bailey should be back at 100 percent following New York’s bye to reunite the BLT Line, allowing the Isles to get back to their version of Russian Roulette: finding out which goaltender is going to allow just one more goal than the other.
DETROIT RED WINGS
17-16-7, 41 points, fourth in the Atlantic Division
Final game before the bye: Hosts Tampa Bay on January 7
Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)
First game out of the bye: At Pittsburgh on January 13
Nick’s Notes: If the Detroit Red Wings were a young, rebuilding, team I’d recommend a five-day long pizza party at The Pizza Box (Little Caesar’s Arena). Maybe they can figure out the right way to tank during their time off instead of winning a lot before the break.
17-18-5, 39 points, fifth in the Atlantic Division
Final game before the bye: Hosts Calgary on January 12
Bye week: January 13-18 (six days)
First game out of the bye: Hosts Vegas on January 19
Connor’s Notes: Just as James Reimer is beginning to run out of steam, Roberto Luongo is expected to return to the Panthers’ crease with his club seven points outside playoff position. Whether he resumes his starting job before or after the bye, the break allows both of them to be fully rested.
18-21-3, 39 points, sixth in the Pacific Division
Final game before the bye: At Vegas on January 13
Bye week: January 14-19 (six days)
First game out of the bye: Hosts Vancouver on January 20
Nick’s Notes: Peter Chiarelli can’t possibly figure out how he’s going to save his team in six days when he spent $21 million on Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in about that amount of time over the summer.
16-19-6, 38 points, seventh in the Pacific Division
Final game before the bye: At Minnesota on January 14
Bye week: January 15-19 (five days)
First game out of the bye: At Edmonton on January 20
Nick’s Notes: Like Mark Scheifele and the Winnipeg Jets, Bo Horvat and the Vancouver Canucks haven’t seen each other in a little while due to injury. Take some time and rest up.
17-20-4, 38 points, sixth in the Atlantic Division
Final game before the bye: Hosts Vancouver on January 7
Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)
First game out of the bye: Hosts Boston on January 13
Nick’s Notes: I’m pretty sure you can’t trade players during your bye week, so don’t try to move Max Pacioretty while nobody’s paying attention, Montreal.
14-17-9, 37 points, seventh in the Atlantic Division
Final game before the bye: At Toronto on January 10
Bye week: January 11-17 (seven days)
First game out of the bye: Hosts St. Louis on January 18
Nick’s Notes: The Ottawa Senators will find a way to lose games over their seven day break. Meanwhile, Eugene Melnyk will have just enough time to figure out an escape plan while nobody’s at Canadian Tire Centre.
10-22-9, 29 points, last in the Eastern Conference
Final game before the bye: Hosts Columbus on January 11
Bye week: January 12-17 (six days)
First game out of the bye: At the NY Rangers on January 18
Nick’s Notes: The Sabres should hold an exhibition matchup with some bantam teams while on their break. You know, so they can get better.
10-27-6, 26 points, last in the NHL
Final game before the bye: Hosted the NY Rangers on January 6, won 2-1 in a shootout
Bye week: January 7-11 (five days)
First game out of the bye: Hosts Edmonton on January 12
Nick’s Notes: Wait, you mean Arizona hasn’t already been taking time off all season?
Final notes: I strongly dislike how the NHL is abandoning entire markets for a week at a time. This is most noticeable in the United States’ two biggest cities: New York and Los Angeles. All five teams that play in those markets will be dormant for the same five days (January 8-12). Why didn’t they stagger these byes so those important markets would still have at least one squad active at all times? After all, if there’s one thing Devils fans love to see as much as a Jersey win, it’s a Rangers loss. Whether they take in that loss at Madison Square Garden or from their couch doesn’t ultimately matter. The fact that those markets could turn their attention away from the NHL to either the Clippers, Knicks or Friends reruns on TBS does.
But this extends further. The entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will be shut off from NHL hockey from January 8-12 (The same days as New York and Los Angeles? Who is making these decisions?), as neither the Flyers nor Penguins will be in action. Boston and Montréal? Nope, they’re both on the bye at the same time too (you guessed it, January 8-12). The Blues and Predators can vacation together as well – though I doubt they’d want to – as they are both out of action from January 10-15.
I’m sure the league’s competition committee is going to claim that they’re trying to reduce the possibility of one particular team getting too much of an advantage, but this just seems silly from a business perspective. If that is truly the case, perhaps one day when the league reaches 32 teams it will simply shut down an entire conference for five days and then the other (the odd number of teams right now makes scheduling a little… interesting in that scenario), or – the more likely of these two options – perchance expand the distribution of byes over the course of three weeks instead of just two. Who knows?
Beyond this issue, while I don’t necessarily like where it is in the schedule, I do like that the NHL has condensed the time period for bye weeks in the season. Keeping track of which teams had and hadn’t taken their week off last season was a bother, and this system eliminates that. Of course, we’ll know how NBC and Sportsnet react based on how these byes are arranged next year.
As for my final complaint, the byes have the possibility of creating a very staggered January. We just got out of the three-day holiday break 12 days ago. Each team has played an average of only 5.4 games since then. Now we have these bye weeks of at least five days, and the four-day All-Star Break (January 26-29) is only 20 days out. If those sentences were confusing, I’m concerned that’s how the month of January is going to feel – scattered hockey thoughts until Groundhog’s Day.
The NHL Players’ Association demanded these bye weeks in return for the league turning the All-Star Game into the divisional three-on-three format we have had for the past two years. They’re not going anywhere: the players obviously like the idea of getting some time off, and putting it near the midway point of the season seems like a logical idea.
However, how this change is impacting the league’s product is still being understood. Unless we could see a plausible situation where bye weeks don’t happen until the end of February or March (remember, that’s likely after the trade deadline), the existence of the midway-point byes could be yet another reason the NHL could axe the All-Star Game, eliminating that break altogether.
Throw in the fact that the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement could expire as soon as 2020’s offseason – should either party opt out early – and no later than the summer of 2022 and we could be looking at a whole heap of changes – or a whole heap of no hockey – within the next four years.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Unfortunately for the Sharks, F Joe Pavelski‘s wrister met the same fate: saved by Andersen. Toronto led 1-0 through two rounds.
- 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.
- And that’s exactly what RW Kevin Labanc did. He beat Andersen to tie the shootout 1-1 through three rounds, forcing extra frames.
- You probably noticed that the goaltenders played pretty well tonight. That trend continued when Jones saved Nylander’s wrister.
- With his back against a wall, Andersen duplicated Jones’ performance by saving RW Joonas Donskoi‘s wrister to maintain the 1-1 tie.
- Consider this a ditto for Jones, but this time against a LW James van Riemsdyk wrister.
- Make it a double for Andersen as well, as he saved Burns’ wrister to extend the shootout to six rounds.
- 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.
- 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.