Tag Archives: Kari Lehtonen

Down the Frozen River Podcast #106- We Recorded This Before Vegas Won (Unedited)

The Original Trio reunite for a special look at the Carolina Hurricanes, Buffalo Sabres, college coaches landing NHL jobs and Conference Finals takeaways. Also, we meant Andrei Svechnikov.

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

April 6 – Day 177 – SoCal two-step

In anticipation of all but three teams’ final game of the season being played tomorrow, the NHL’s schedule is rather light this evening with only four matchups to offer.

Two puck drops (Ottawa at Pittsburgh [RDS] and Buffalo at Tampa Bay) get the evening underway at 7:30 p.m., while St. Louis at Chicago waits an hour before following suit. Finally, Dallas at Anaheim (NBCSN) closes out the night’s festivities with a 10 p.m. fixture. All times Eastern.

With Sunday being the last day of the regular season, the playoffs are king with tonight. Let’s choose today’s featured matchup based on its playoff impact:

  • Ottawa at Pittsburgh: The Pens need at least one point to clinch second place in the Metropolitan Division.
  • Buffalo at Tampa Bay: The Bolts are tied with Boston in points and games played; currently winning the regulation+overtime tiebreaker by one victory.
  • St. Louis at Chicago: The Blues trail Colorado by one point with a game in hand. No matter if they win or lose this rivaly game, Saturday’s showdown with the Avs determines their playoff fate.
  • Dallas at Anaheim: The Ducks currently trail Los Angeles for third place in the Pacific Division by one point, but they have one game in hand (tonight’s game). Saturday’s results will ultimately solidify the Ducks’ and Kings’ spots in the standings.

Since I’m almost certain we’re going to be focused on tomorrow’s game in Denver, let’s head to The Pond to see if the Ducks can capitalize on their game in hand.

 

Even though the 41-31-8 Stars have been eliminated from playoff contention since Sunday (thanks to an Anaheim overtime win, as luck would have it), they’ve shown some impressive character to post a 3-1-0 record over their last four showings, with wins coming over the Flyers and Wild at home and in San Jose on Tuesday.

In particular, Dallas’ defense has been putting up a solid fight lately by allowing an average of only 30 shots against per game during this run, the (t)11th-best mark in the NHL since March 27. Led by C Radek Faksa (averaging a takeaway per game since March 27), D Marc Methot (2.8 hits per game in that time) and D Greg Pateryn (2.5 blocks per game over this run), the Stars have been doing their best to make 14-14-3 G Kari Lehtonen look good to close the season.

Speaking of Lehtonen, he’s tried his hardest to take full advantage of everything is defense is doing in front of him. Having started all of the last four games, he’s posted a .912 save percentage and 2.79 GAA – both numbers right in line with his season marks of a .911 save percentage and 2.58 GAA.

However, it will not be Lehtonen in net this evening, as Head Coach Ken Hitchcock indicated this morning that 1-0-0 G Mike McKenna will get the nod instead. Tonight will be McKenna’s first NHL start since February 16, 2015, when he led the Coyotes into Denver only to lose 5-2.

But wait, Stars fans: don’t mark this game down as a loss just yet. After Lehtonen exited Tuesday’s game in San Jose late in the first period with an upper-body injury, McKenna kept the Sharks off the scoreboard with 17 saves to turn a 2-0 deficit into a 4-2 Dallas victory, earning his first NHL win since December 23, 2013 when he was a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

In 23 NHL appearances going back to the 2008-09 season, McKenna has an .892 career save percentage and 3.35 GAA.

I’ve already said it once this week, but there’s no team hotter in the Pacific Division than 42-25-13 Anaheim. Since March 14, the Ducks have posted a dominating 8-1-1 record to keep third place in the Pacific Division still within reach.

One needs look no further than the Ducks’ defense to figure out where they’re finding all their wins. Led by C Ryan Getzlaf (13 takeaways in his last nine games) and D Josh Manson (3.6 hits and 1.8 blocks per game since March 14), Anaheim has allowed only 29.9 shots against per game during this 10-game run to rank seventh-best in the NHL since March 14.

There was undoubtedly concern in the Ducks’ dressing room and front office when 31-18-7 G John Gibson went down with a lower-body injury Sunday against the Avalanche. After all, Gibson had been playing even better than his .926 season save percentage and 2.43 GAA lately, posting a .936 save percentage and 1.9 GAA in his nine starts before going down.

But then everybody in Anaheim remembered they had the 2010 Vezina winner as their backup, and they all settled back into their seats.

With a .927 season save percentage and 2.43 GAA, 10-6-6 G Ryan Miller has been a stellar backup goaltender this season that’s only gotten better now that he’s been temporarily thrust into the staring role. In his last two appearances, Miller has allowed only three goals for a .938 save percentage and 1.77 GAA – numbers that bring back memories of that 2009-10 campaign with the Sabres.

With the Ducks making the trip to Arizona after the conclusion of tonight’s game for a tilt tomorrow night against the Coyotes, it remains to be seen whether Miller or 1-1-0 G Reto Berra will take the start tonight. Should Berra get the nod, he brings a .926 season save percentage and 2.31 GAA in five NHL appearances into consideration.

Altogether, Gibson, Miller and Anaheim’s defense have united to allow an average of only two goals against per game in their past 10 games – the (t)best mark in the NHL since March 14.

As mentioned before, this game simply plays setup for tomorrow’s action. A win of any variety this evening gives Anaheim a one-point advantage on the Kings for third place in the Pacific – at least for the night.

An interesting – and likely dreadful – situation arises should the Ducks fall in extra time and only earn one point this evening. Currently trailing Los Angeles by five victories in the regulation+overtime wins tiebreaker, there’s no chance the Ducks succeed their bitter rivals if they end the regular season tied. Therefore, a loss of any variety this evening has effectively the same result for Anaheim: putting all its eggs in beating the Coyotes in Arizona tomorrow and hoping the Kings lose to Dallas at Staples Center.

If the season series is any indicator, the Ducks don’t have to worry about overtime tonight as neither of their previous two meetings with Dallas have gotten that far. February 21’s match on The Pond ended in a 2-0 Anaheim victory (Miller took First Star honors with a 41-save shutout), while the Ducks’ trip to Dallas on March 9 saw the Stars earn a 2-1 win (LW Jamie Benn scored the game-winner).

The Stars have already proven they’re willing to play spoiler now that they’ve been eliminated, and that spells major trouble for an Anaheim club that wants to win in the most desperate of ways.

This game should boil down to which Ducks netminder is between the pipes and whether he can best McKenna. With that in mind, I think Anaheim will continue its winning ways tonight.


Though they still have yet to clinch home ice for the first round of the playoffs, the Pittsburgh Penguins completed their season sweep of the Columbus Blue Jackets by beating them 5-4 in overtime at Nationwide Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Everything fans look for in a good game was present in this tilt. Back-and-forth scoring; 44 combined hits; three power play goals… Should we get a second-consecutive playoff series between these clubs, it will surely be entertaining and extremely competitive.

The first period was a high-scoring affair, yet the four goals were evenly distributed between the two sides to leave a 2-2 score going into the first intermission. D Zach Werenski (Third Star of the Game F Pierre-Luc Dubois and LW Artemi Panarin) broke the scoreless draw 5:11 into the game, but First Star RW Phil Kessel (D Justin Schultz and C Sidney Crosby) took advantage of D Seth Jones tripping W Tom Kuhnhackl 4:39 later to level the game with a power play wrist shot at the 10:26 mark. Columbus once again took a one-goal lead when LW Matt Calvert (D Jack Johnson) scored a backhanded shot with 7:21 remaining in the frame, but Pittsburgh once again had an answer – this time a snap shot by Second Star RW Patric Hornqvist (Schultz) 2:56 after the cannon fired for Calvert – to tie the game once again.

After such a busy opening 20 minutes, perhaps its no surprise that only one goal was scored in the second period. With D Jamie Oleksiak in the penalty box for hi-sticking Calvert at the 4:59 mark, F Boone Jenner (W Thomas Vanek and F Sonny Milano) gave the Jackets their third lead of the game 6:35 into the period.

Obviously, that meant it was the Penguins’ turn to score next. That’s just what they did 2:58 into the third period, courtesy of D Kris Letang‘s (F Evgeni Malkin and Hornqvist) power play wrister. To the surprise of no one, the Jackets claimed their fourth lead of the night at the 8:25 mark when RW Cam Atkinson (Dubois and Panarin) scored a tip-in, but it lasted only 3:51 before W Conor Sheary (Kessel) scored the final goal of regulation to level the game at 4-4.

Only one shot apiece was fired in overtime, but Kessel’s unassisted wrister 1:06 into that five minute frame proved to be all Pittsburgh needed. Following G Matt Murray‘s lone save in overtime, Kessel collected the loose puck and began streaking towards the other end of the ice. Once he reached the left face-off circle, he ripped his blistering wrister to the far post, beating G Sergei Bobrovsky bar down.

Murray earned the victory after saving 26-of-30 shots faced (.867 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Bobrovsky, who saved 38-of-43 (.884).

Even though the Penguins won on the road, the 101-54-22 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day are still riding a four-game point streak. Due to that, they still have an impressive 49-point advantage on the series’ roadies.

March 20 – Day 160 – Stars upon thars

Get ready for a wild Tuesday of hockey! 11 games are on tonight’s schedule!

The action finds its start at 7 p.m. tonight with four tilts (Pittsburgh at the New York Islanders [SN/TVAS], Columbus at the New York Rangers, Dallas at Washington and Edmonton at Carolina), followed half an hour later by three more (Florida at Ottawa [RDS], Philadelphia at Detroit [NBCSN] and Toronto at Tampa Bay). Los Angeles at Winnipeg is next up at 8 p.m., while Colorado at Chicago waits 30 minutes before dropping the puck. 10 p.m. marks the beginning of Vancouver at Vegas, leaving New Jersey at San Jose (NHLN/SN1) as tonight’s nightcap since it drops the puck at 10:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

A couple of the games I’d tagged on my calendar include…

  • Pittsburgh at New York: It’s rivalry night in Brooklyn! Though the Isles’ playoff chances have been all but officially pronounced dead, there’s still fun to be had in playing spoiler.
  • Philadelphia at Detroit: Tonight marks G Petr Mrazek‘s first return to the Motor City since being traded. With a 72-58-20 record over six seasons with the Wings, it remains to be seen how warm a welcome he’ll receive.

However, the game I’m most intrigued by is taking place in the nation’s capital between two teams in desperate need of points for totally different reasons. To the District of Columbia we go!

 

The 38-27-8 Stars are completing a six-game road trip tonight, and they’re still looking for their first victory since departing Big D March 9 after beating Anaheim.

This 0-3-2 skid has resulted in Dallas giving up the first wild card position it possessed almost all season – as well as the second wild card position it got forced into – leaving it on the outside looking into the playoff picture as things currently stand.

Defense is certainly not the reason for the Stars’ recent struggles. Led by D Stephen Johns and RW Brett Ritchie (both averaging four hits per game since March 11), C Radek Faksa (four takeaways in his last five showings) and D Greg Pateryn (2.2 blocks over this losing skid), Dallas has allowed only 27.6 shots against per game during this road trip – the fourth-lowest average in the NHL since March 11.

Instead, I’ve been most disappointed with the play of 12-10-3 G Kari Lehtonen, who has started three and earned the result in four of Dallas’ last five games and will be seeing even more time in net considering the lower body injury to 26-17-5 G Ben Bishop against the Jets on Sunday. Though Lehtonen has been decent all season with a .913 save percentage (slightly behind Bishop’s .916) and 2.46 GAA (slightly better than the starter’s 2.49), his .87 save percentage and 3.67 GAA in these last four showings has been anything but inspiring.

After pairing the efforts of Lehtonen and his defense, the Stars have allowed a whopping 3.8 goals per game since March 11, the seventh-highest average in the league in that time.

Of course, he hasn’t gotten much help from his offense either. With the exception of BFFs LW Jamie Benn (3-3-6 totals since March 11) and F Tyler Seguin (2-3-5 over this run) on the top line, Head Coach Ken Hitchcock has struggled to find any consistent attack out of his team, as it has averaged only 2.4 goals per game during this road trip – (t)eighth-worst in the NHL since March 11.

In other words, Lehtonen is setting games up so that the offense has to summit Mount Everest on a nightly basis, and they’re only making it 18 thousand feet up – well short of the 29 thousand foot summit.

Unfortunately for Dallas, the 41-24-7 Capitals’ offense has been gelling lately, which is a major reason that they have posted a 4-1-0 record over their last five showings.

With a team that’s averaging 4.2 goals per game over its last five showings (the [t]third-best mark in the league since March 10), it’s no surprise there’s more than a few Capitals averaging at least a point per game over this run.

In total, six players – five of which are healthy (F Evgeny Kuznetsov missed the last game with an injury to his left arm and is not likely to dress this evening) – are averaging a point per game since March 10, but none have been as impressive as C Nicklas Backstrom.

The Swedish center has been dominant lately, made evident by his 3-5-8 totals in his last five showings to average 1.6 points per game. Having spent almost the entire season on the second line, the 30-year-old continues to be one of the most underrated play-makers in the game, as four of his five most recent assists have been secondary even-strength apples.

Surprisingly, his promotion to the top line against Philadelphia on Sunday to rejoin W Alex Ovechkin did not see the instantaneous success many expected. Predictions were that Backstrom would resume setting Ovechkin up for multiple scoring chances just like in seasons past, but the only play they converted together was helpers on a D John Carlson third period marker.

Of course, that’s not to say Backstrom and Ovechkin have no chemistry at all, it’s just that their time playing together this season has been limited to the power play. Of Backstrom’s last eight points, three have occurred with the man-advantage, including providing the secondary assist on Ovechkin’s second goal of the game against Winnipeg.

Perhaps tonight, after a bit more practice to rediscover each other’s grooves during five-on-five play, they can light up the scoreboard like they want to.

Joining Backstrom in averaging a point per game since March 10 include Kuznetsov (1-6-7), Ovechkin (3-3-6), Carlson (2-4-6), D Dmitry Orlov (1-4-5) and RW Alex Chiasson (1-2-3 in two games played).

With only a two-point advantage on Pittsburgh for the Metropolitan Division crown, every point the Capitals can earn over their last 10 games is priceless. Fortunately for the Caps, Pittsburgh has played just as many games as them and Washington has what seems to be a weaker schedule to close out the season with only three tilts against current playoff teams to the Pens’ five.

Playing in the same division as Presidents’ Trophy-leading Nashville, division titles are the furthest things from the Stars’ minds. Instead, they need to buckle down and win some games to stay within reach of Anaheim, which leads Dallas by two points, for the second wild card.

If the past is any indicator, the Capitals have a slight upper hand in this game given their performance at American Airlines Center on December 19. After both teams scored a goal apiece in all three periods to force overtime, W Andre Burakovsky took First Star honors by scoring the final goal in a 4-3 Washington win, his second tally and third point of the night.

The Caps’ attack is not going to think twice about taking advantage of Lehtonen’s recent struggles. Expect Washington to come away with at least a three-goal victory.


There was a little bit of everything in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as the Los Angeles Kings beat the Minnesota Wild 4-3 in overtime at Xcel Energy Center.

The first period almost ended with the same score it started with, but LW Tanner Pearson (W Dustin Brown and First Star of the Game D Drew Doughty) apparently wasn’t interested in that. He buried a snap shot with 1:13 remaining in the frame to give Los Angeles a 1-0 lead.

That advantage doubled to 2-0 at the 6:21 mark of the second period courtesy of a power play tip-in from Second Star F Jeff Carter (D Jake Muzzin and Doughty). The Wild finally found their response 5:47 after Carter’s tally courtesy of a LW Zach Parise (RW Nino Niederreiter and D Ryan Murphy) wrist shot, and Third Star C Eric Staal (D Ryan Suter and D Mathew Dumba) sneaked a snapper past G Jonathan Quick with 56 seconds remaining in the frame to level the game at 2-2

After trailing in this game for 20:17, Minnesota finally earned its first lead with 2:31 remaining in regulation when C Joel Eriksson Ek (W Jason Zucker and F Charlie Coyle) scored a wrister to set the score at 3-2. With the Kings backs against the wall and in desperate need of points, Head Coach John Stevens was forced to pull Quick with 1:37 remaining on the clock. Los Angeles did not waste its extra attacker, as Brown (Doughty and C Anze Kopitar) buried a tip-in with 47 seconds remaining in regulation to tie the game at 3-3.

Just like the theme had been for most of the night, the game-winning delayed until the waning minutes of overtime before showing itself. With only 34 separating this tilt from the dreaded shootout, F Adrian Kempe collected a clear by Quick from behind his net and drove the length of the ice until he was right on G Devan Dubnyk‘s doorstep. However, instead of attempting a shot from such close range, he slid a pass backwards through the slot to a trailing Carter, who ripped a wrister top shelf over Dubnyk’s right shoulder to win the game for the Kings.

Quick earned the victory after saving 24-of-27 shots faced (.889 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Dubnyk, who saved 26-of-30 (.867).

Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have saved their best for the end of the season, as tonight’s victory gave them points in nine of the last 10 games. As such, the 88-52-20 hosts in the series now have only a 33-point advantage over the visitors.

March 10- Day 150- Kane you sweep the Caps out of California?

Saturdays are a great day in the National Hockey League. Then again, Saturdays in March are pretty great in general even though we’re all going to be watching the sport on ice instead of flipping channels with that sport that started with a peach basket (ATLANTA HAD TWO NHL TEAMS!) and that Canadian guy (HOCKEY, EH!!) in Springfield, Massachusetts (AHL HOCKEY!!!).

Please ignore college basketball for one day, okay? Thanks guys.

So yeah, Saturdays are pretty great. Especially when you wake up and the heat is still running– thank you very much, power company.

While our usual DTFR Game of the Day writer, @connorzkeith, is day-to-day and recovering from minor upper body surgery, I’d like to extend a special “thank you” to @jdettro for filling in yesterday.

Thanks to the second nor’easter in about a week, I was unable to fulfill my scheduled duty of doing Connor’s job for a day as was originally planned. Luckily, the power is back on and I’m here to be the Daily Matchup boss for the day.

In the meantime, looks like New England’s going to get ravaged again by another nor’easter on Monday/Tuesday– so if this experience isn’t for you, don’t worry, my power will probably be knocked out again in a couple days.

Anyway, on with the show.

There’s a boatload of games (11, in fact) on the docket today and only one can be our DTFR Game of the Day, but if you’re trying to catch them all…

The puck drops first in the Hub of Hockey at 1 p.m. between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Boston Bruins nationally on NHL Network (NBCS Chicago and NESN in their respective local markets)– with the Vegas Golden Knights paying a visit to the Buffalo Sabres, Montreal Canadiens at Tampa Bay Lightning (RDS) and Winnipeg Jets at the Philadelphia Flyers all facing off at the same time.

Two hours later, the Arizona Coyotes visit the Colorado Avalanche at 3 p.m. An hour after that, the St. Louis Blues try to climb back into the playoff picture against the Los Angeles Kings on NHL Network at 4 p.m. Meanwhile, the Washington Capitals and San Jose Sharks square off at four in the afternoon as well.

If you’re content with watching NHL Network all day and sitting through the thousands of J.G Wentworth commercials, then you can treat yourself to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Toronto Maple Leafs at 7 p.m. on NHL Network in the United States (CBC, Sportsnet & TVAS in Canada). If that’s not your thing, perhaps the New York Rangers and Florida Panthers are more of your cup of tea, because they’re also getting underway at seven o’clock.

The New Jersey Devils and Nashville Predators face-off an hour later (8 p.m.) at Bridgestone Arena and the Minnesota Wild wrap up the night in Edmonton against the Oilers at 10 p.m. on CBC and Sportsnet in Canada. All times Eastern.

Here’s a few important ones circled on my calendar:

  • Chicago at Boston: Tommy Wingels will be in the lineup for the first of this home-and-home series weekend matchup against his former team. Also, Boston’s without David Backes, Patrice Bergeron and Charlie McAvoy, so there’s that.
  • Montreal at Tampa: If you like good Atlantic Division matchups, this is usually one of them, even if the Canadiens are in a rebuild.
  • Winnipeg at Philadelphia: The Jets are scary good and the Flyers are physically scary, what’s not to love in the City of Brotherly Love?
  • Arizona at Colorado: You would’ve laughed at me if I mentioned this last season, but the Coyotes are ruining their draft lottery chances by winning a lot lately and the Avalanche might be a wild card team this year, so…
  • Washington at San Jose: Both of these teams have 81 points on the season and are 2nd in their respective divisions (Capitals in the Metropolitan, Sharks in the Pacific). Fight it out!
  • Pittsburgh at Toronto: This could be a playoff matchup if the Leafs make it that far. In any case, it’s a Battle of Mikes behind the bench– Mike Sullivan and Mike Babcock.

Plenty of great match-ups to chose from, but only one can be our Game of the Day, after all. As such, let’s turn our attention to SAP Center, shall we?

Washington Capitals Logo                             Unknown

Saturday afternoon is a great time to tune into the Washington Capitals at San Jose Sharks. Other than the whole “2nd place theme” going on, the Capitals are riding into San Jose on a two-game losing streak (a 4-0 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday and a 3-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday).

Washington is being outscored by the entire State of California (so far), 7-1. Braden Holtby‘s had no brakes going down the tracks all season and it doesn’t appear his defense is doing anything to help.

After allowing three goals in a little over 25 minutes against the Ducks, Holtby was pulled. Philipp Grubauer then only faced eight shots on goal, turning all of them aside.

An empty net goal was enough to seal their fate at Honda Center, however.

Head coach, Barry Trotz, gave Grubauer a nod of confidence in giving him the start against the re-surging Kings, but the night did not go as planned for the team with the league’s leader in goals– Alex Ovechkin with 40 goals thus far– being held off the scoresheet in both SoCal games.

Grubauer allowed two goals before the Capitals gave up yet another empty netter in the closing minutes at Staples Center.

For all intents and purposes, Ovechkin is two-goals shy of 600 career NHL goals.

If he’s able to get at least two pucks past a San Jose goaltender on Saturday, he’ll become just the 20th player in NHL history to score 600 goals.

Looking to recapture the momentum of their 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2018 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium last week, Washington could use two points in regulation against the on-again-off-again Sharks.

San Jose, in the meantime, enters Saturday night 2-1-0 in the month of March, outscoring opponents 11-6. A 7-2 victory at home against the Chicago Blackhawks yielded itself to an embarrassing 4-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets at the Shark Tank.

Thankfully a 2-0 win on Thursday night lifted the spirits of Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski, Martin Jones and crew against St. Louis.

Trade deadline acquisition, Evander Kane, has fit in pretty well with the Northern California based franchise, amassing 1-4–5 totals in four games since trading in his Buffalo Sabres gear for a new teal-colored sweater.

In fact, Kane has fit in so well, he’s rejuvenated the Pavelski line with Joonas Donskoi on the other wing.

Jones will likely see his seventh straight start, but that’s no worry for the plus-14 goal differential Sharks now that Burns has begun to find his rhythm alongside… Joakim Ryan!?!

The 24-year-old rookie defenseman has three goals and nine assists (12 points) in 58 games played and is a plus-10 this season.

Veterans Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun are carrying their weight on the second defensive pair. Each of them are plus-7’s so far. Meanwhile Brenden Dillon and Dylan DeMelo (try saying that ten times fast) solidfy the bottom pairing on the blue line.

Whereas the Capitals added Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek to their defensive zone leading up to the deadline, San Jose went after more of a spark.

It’s kind of hard to imagine where Joe Thornton will return to the lineup the way San Jose has been playing as of late. Then again, maybe that’s not a bad thing for someone who’s 38-years-old and still looking for his first Stanley Cup.

As long as the top-six forwards (Kane, Pavelski, Donskoi, Tomas Hertl, Logan Couture and Mikkel Boedker) don’t disappear when it counts, the Sharks should be poised to be a nice dark horse as long as they reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs down the stretch.

Despite being cash-strapped and weaker on defense, the Washington Capitals are putting together a solid season. Trotz’s team is offensively driven. It might just be enough to finally match the Pittsburgh Penguins style of constant offense in the Second Round of the postseason– but I’d hate to get ahead of ourselves.

Washington’s led the Metropolitan Division and they’re looking to regain the division lead with a win in any fashion on Saturday and a Penguins loss in regulation to Toronto later that evening.

In any case, whoever ends up in the Stanley Cup Final will have to go through a rigorous Western Conference team.

For San Jose, it could be three long rounds. For the Capitals, it might be any of the California teams they’ve played this week and, well, they’ve got some work to do.

Regardless, the Sharks want to stay hot and remain competitive– firmly in the grasp of a Pacific Division playoff spot instead of a wild card manifestation. Look for San Jose to take a bite out of Washington’s goaltending with their recent scoring prowess and 3-1-0 record through four games of their six game home stand.


The Dallas Stars took yesterday’s DTFR Game of the Day against the Anaheim Ducks by a score of 2-1 at American Airlines Center.

Ryan Getzlaf (10) kicked off the game’s scoring, giving Anaheim a 1-0 lead heading into the first intermission. Corey Perry (27) and Rickard Rakell (29) notched the assists on Getzlaf’s goal at 17:16 of the 1st period.

Devin Shore (9) tied the game, 1-1, at 8:50 of the 3rd period on a power play goal. Tyler Seguin (27) and Jamie Benn (37) recorded the assists on Shore’s goal.

Benn (23) scored the game winning goal on another Stars power play at 14:50. Dallas blueliner, John Klingberg (50) reached the 50-assist plateau and Seguin (28) picked up his 2nd point of the night on Benn’s game-winner with a little more than five minutes remaining in regulation.

Dallas netminder, Kari Lehtonen, picked up the win with 26 saves on 27 shots against for a .963 save percentage. Ducks goaltender, Ryan Miller, allowed two goals on 37 shots for a .946 SV% in the loss.

The Stars were 2/2 on the power play, while Anaheim failed to convert on three man-advantages. Dallas travels to Pittsburgh for a Sunday night matchup at PPG Paints Arena on NBCSN (7:30 p.m. ET).

Anaheim is off until Monday night on home ice at Honda Center against the St. Louis Blues (10 p.m. ET).

Down the Frozen River Podcast #96- Hart to Hart Talk

Nick and Connor ponder whether or not Taylor Hall is a legitimate Hart Trophy candidate, which Western Conference team (NSH, WPG or VGK) will make the Stanley Cup Final and dive into the odds of the Florida Panthers making the playoffs and/or fielding a competitive team. Also, thoughts on the Detroit Red Wings and goaltender interference.

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

2018 Trade Deadline Preview: Central Division

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1. Nashville Predators– 34-12-9 (77 points, 55 GP)

The Nashville Predators are amazing. They’re pulling off their spectacular season on the heels of last year’s Stanley Cup Final run with almost $3.000 million in salary tied up in buyouts.

Oh, and they somehow added to their depth down the middle in the whole Matt Duchene, three-team trade saga that saw Kyle Turris swap out Ottawa Senators gear for a Preds sweater.

They don’t need to add, but general manager David Poile still might work a little magic by adding without subtracting if he can. Mike Fisher, 37, is trying to come back from retirement because he believes Nashville’s time is now. Only time will tell if he can go from his current PTO to a one-year deal that just might get him his first taste from the Stanley Cup.

If Poile wants to add anything, he’s going to have to do so with about $3.200 million in cap space currently.

Potential assets to trade: Honestly, don’t.

Potential assets to acquire: F Derek Ryan (CAR), D Cody Franson (CHI), F Boone Jenner (CBJ), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Michael Grabner (NYR), F Thomas Vanek (VAN)

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2. Winnipeg Jets– 33-15-9 (75 points, 57 GP)

Injuries are beginning to mount for the Winnipeg Jets and it’ll be interesting to see what the GM Kevin Cheveldayoff does by February 26th considering his team’s current backup goaltender is 22-year-old, Eric Comrie. Their starter is 24-year-old, Connor Hellebuyck, who’s emerged as clear-cut starting goaltender this season (aside from his All-Star appearance back in January).

But what considerations has Cheveldayoff made with Jacob Trouba out for a signifcant portion of “the stretch”? What’s the game plan if a guy like Kyle Connor or Patrik Laine goes down?

Winnipeg has about $5.400 million in cap space to play with as of this writing.

They are what should be a destination for rental players looking to take a team that’s on the verge of breaking out in the postseason deeper than they could ever imagine.

And the Jets have just enough to offer other teams to bring in the right pieces to the puzzle.

Potential assets to trade: D Ben Chiarot, F Matt Hendricks, F Nic Petan

Potential assets to acquire: F Boone Jenner (CBJ), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Nick Holden (NYR), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Josh Leivo (TOR), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), F David Perron (VGK)

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3. St. Louis Blues– 34-21-4 (72 points, 59 GP)

There’s almost $125,000 in cap space for the St. Louis Blues right now. While it’d be great for the Blues to add one or two of their missing pieces that’d send them right over the edge of victory (once-and-for-all), the better time to readjust appears to be this summer.

Besides, Joel Edmundson, Robby Fabbri and Carter Hutton will all need new contracts. Not that they’re going to cost St. Louis tens of millions of dollars, but it’ll likely mean that someone will have to get traded either at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft or later this summer.

Jay Bouwmeester is 34-years-old and has a $5.400 million cap hit through next season. He also has a no-trade-clause that could make things difficult for the foreseeable future, given that when the Blues are on their “A” game they can really make a claim for Cup contender status this season.

It’d be unwise to part with Bouwmeester now, but it only makes sense to do it later.

Just don’t get behind the eight ball is the best advice for St. Louis looking past the end of this month. Otherwise, salary cap hell isn’t all that fun.

Potential assets to trade: D Jay Bouwmeester

Potential assets to acquire: F Derek Ryan (CAR), F Blake Comeau (COL), F Matt Cullen (MIN), F Josh Leivo (TOR), F Nikita Soshnikov (TOR), F David Perron (VGK)

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4. Dallas Stars– 33-20-4 (70 points, 57 GP)

The Dallas Stars currently cling to the first wild card spot in the Western Conference, though they trail the St. Louis Blues by two points for 3rd in the Central Division in what’s shaping up to be the tighter points battle in the West compared to the lackluster Pacific Division.

Yes, I’m fully aware Los Angeles did something to their defense Tuesday night, why do you ask?

The Central is all about racking up points while the Pacific bangs bodies off of each other in hopes of amounting to something more than your standard pylon.

So where do the Stars fit into the playoff picture? They should be in the running for at least a wild card spot coming down the stretch– and with almost $889,000 in cap space right now it’s going to be hard to add what they really need to push them over the hill.

Backup goaltender, Kari Lehtonen, is a pending-UFA at season’s end, so it’s not like Dallas needs to make a move there, but they could help their starter, Ben Bishop, a little more.

While other teams in the league are searching for the right rental forward, the Stars should be looking for the right rental defenseman. Whether that’s a Mike Green or a Cody Franson, well, only Stars GM Jim Nill will know, based on what he must give up.

Potential assets to trade: F Martin Hanzal, D Greg Pateryn

Potential assets to acquire: D Cody Franson (CHI), D Mike Green (DET), D Nick Holden (NYR), D Ian Cole (PIT), D Ben Hutton (VAN)

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5. Minnesota Wild– 31-19-6 (68 points, 56 GP)

There’s good news and bad news for the Minnesota Wild as the trade deadline nears. The good news is that the Chicago Blackhawks are more than likely taking a pass on this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. The bad news is the Wild might do that too (oh, and Minnesota only has about $129,000 in cap room– with Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba as pending-RFAs this July).

For all of the talk regarding trading Jonas Brodin, there sure hasn’t been any radio chatter this time around as the deadline nears this month.

Though the Wild hold on to the second wild card spot in the Western Conference, there’s at least two California based teams (Los Angeles and Anaheim) that should be in the playoff picture coming down the wire.

If it’s make or break, then Minnesota has all the time in the world to wait and see what’s to come this summer.

But if they’re on the fence about determining whether to buy or sell, well, they could do a bit of both. If they’re looking for a quick retool, it’s within their means, but if they’re content with sinking before they swim, there’s always the reset (rebuild) button.

Still, it’d be a shame to rebuild with Devan Dubnyk in net. Alas, this is the world of the salary cap and bad contracts *ahem, Ryan Suter and Zach Parise*.

Potential assets to trade: D Jonas Brodin, F Matt Cullen, D Kyle Quincey, F Chris Stewart, F Daniel Winnik

Potential assets to acquire: D Cody Franson (CHI), F Jordan Kyrou (STL), D Ben Hutton (VAN)

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6. Colorado Avalanche– 31-21-4 (66 points, 56 GP)

In theory, the Colorado Avalanche could be buyers at this year’s trade deadline.

They’re in great shape cap-wise, with about $8.400 million to spend currently, but Avalanche general manager, Joe Sakic, knows it by now– the best thing to do for Colorado is let their youth gain experience, make minor moves until the offseason, then address specific needs.

Colorado has expendable components, but cannot touch its core.

With Matt Duchene out of the picture, the focus has turned to making the Avs– in every way– Nathan MacKinnon‘s team. Gabriel Landeskog‘s just along for the ride at this point. If he’s patient, many rewards may find their way to the Mile-High City. If he’s sick of waiting, Sakic might be forced to reap another surplus of players, picks and prospects like he did in the three-way Duchene deal.

After Francois Beauchemin‘s $4.500 million buyout penalty comes off the books at season’s end, the Avalanche will have at least $13 million to spend on giving backup-turned-potential-starting goaltender, Jonathan Bernier, a fair raise while also making decisions on several pending-RFAs.

Potential assets to trade: D Tyson Barrie, F Gabriel Bourque, F Blake Comeau, F Rocco Grimaldi, G Semyon Varlamov, F Nail Yakupov

Potential assets to acquire: Literally anyone, F Jeff Skinner (CAR), F Boone Jenner (CBJ), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), G Petr Mrazek (DET), F Gustav Nyqvist (DET), F Tomas Plekanec (MTL), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Rick Nash (NYR), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Josh Leivo (TOR), F Nikita Soshnikov (TOR), D Ben Hutton (VAN), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK), F Nic Petan (WPG)

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7. Chicago Blackhawks– 24-25-8 (56 points, 57 GP)

Reward contracts have killed the Chicago Blackhawks dynasty. This is what drives parity in a salary cap league (see “Detroit Red Wings downfall since 1998, thanks to 2004-05”), so once again, welcome to the Salary Cap Era.

Depending on your methods of calculation, the Blackhawks will either have $0 to spend at the deadline or maybe up to about $3.100 million in wiggle room.

Regardless, they’re not buying this year. They’re buying for the future– so draft picks and prospects. One thing that might get in their way (other than the salary cap) is what they have to offer.

Large reward contracts were handed out to Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews while Duncan Keith took a discount. Marian Hossa is on the books at a cap hit of $5.275 million through the end of the 2020-21 season, whether he plays or not.

If Hossa never plays again, Chicago can always place him on the long-term injured reserve (eh, just paperwork), buyout his contract (yikes) or trade him to a team like the Arizona Coyotes (preferable) who took on the large salary of Pavel Datsyuk in his final NHL-contract year just to meet the cap floor, knowing he had jettisoned for the KHL.

The bottom line is Chicago’s cash-strapped. Someone important is going to have to be dealt in order to protect the organization’s future endeavors.

With Toews and Kane at a combined $21.000 million cap hit through the 2022-23 season, unless the cap rises significantly, this just might keep the Blackhawks down in the dumps for a while.

Potential assets to trade: F Artem Anisimov (before his NMC/modified-NTC kicks in), D Cody Franson, F Marian Hossa (if he’ll waive his NMC), F Brandon Saad, D Brent Seabrook (if he’ll waive his NMC),

Potential assets to acquire: Draft picks, prospects and cap room

February 3 – Day 115 – Green with envy

With as many games as are on a Saturday schedule, there’s always a possibility of something special happening. Let’s just see if one of the 13 games on today’s slate can fit the bill.

There’s two matinees on tap today (Anaheim at Montréal [RDS/TSN2] and Ottawa at Philadelphia [NHLN/RDS2]), both of which drop the puck at 1 p.m. The NHL kicks into high gear at 7 p.m. with a half-dozen tilts (Colorado at Winnipeg [SN], Toronto at Boston [CBC/CITY/NHLN/TVAS], St. Louis at Buffalo, Detroit at Florida, Pittsburgh at New Jersey and Columbus at the New York Islanders), followed by two more (the New York Rangers at Nashville and Minnesota at Dallas) an hour later. Next up is the 10 p.m. time slot, which features another pair of matchups (Tampa Bay at Vancouver [CBC] and Chicago at Calgary [SN]), while Arizona at Los Angeles waits half an hour before closing the evening out. All times Eastern.

What a selection of games! Here’s just a couple that caught my eye for reasons other than the standings:

  • Toronto at Boston: Not only is it an Original Six matchup, but the Leafs are only three points back of the Bruins for second in the Atlantic Division.
  • New York at Nashville: W Cody McLeod was traded to the Predators and they made a run to the Stanley Cup Finals. Does that mean the Rangers are going to the Finals this year?

Of those listed, the Toronto-Boston game is obviously the most enticing, but we just featured the Bruins two days ago. Instead, I think we turn our attention to an important Central Division battle.

 

In a wild turn of events, 28-18-5 Minnesota started play yesterday on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. Beating Vegas 5-2 propelled the Wild past Colorado into the second wild card, but Minnesota can continue its climb tonight with a victory against the 29-19-4 Stars.

Let’s start with the Wild, who have been screaming up the standings lately by going 6-1-2 over their past nine games. As you might be able to tell by that recent run, everything seems to be going right in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, as the Wild are (t)fifth in both goals-for (3.11 per game) and goals-against (2.33 per game) since January 9.

With players like F Mikael Granlund and C Eric Staal on the same team, magic can happen any given night. Fortunately for Minnesota, that magic has been in abundance over the last nine games, as they’ve respectively posted 4-6-10 and 3-6-9 totals to average at least a point-per-game over this run to elevate their respective season marks to 15-25-40 and 22-24-46.

If there’s any problem with Granlund and Staal, it’s that there’s not six of them apiece. That’s not a knock on the rest of the Wild as much as it’s a compliment to the superb streak those two players are currently riding.

However that should be taken, it is of note that – even during this run of success – Minnesota gives up more than its fair share of shots against (30.67 per game since January 9, to be exact – the 14th-best in the league in that time). That’s where 20-10-3 G Devan Dubnyk comes into play, who’s posted a .921 save percentage and 2.26 GAA in his last seven starts. Both of those numbers are superior to his .917 and 2.63 marks on the season and are a testament to how well he’s been playing of late, and he’ll need to be on top of his game once again this evening against one of the better attacks in the NHL (more on that in a moment).

Dunyk’s three shutouts are the (t)seventh-most in the NHL this season, but I wouldn’t bet on him adding another this evening. Not only is Dallas’ offense one of the better corps in the league (again, we’ll get there in a second), but he was also in net for yesterday’s 5-2 victory against the Golden Knights. Though I would usually err on the side of caution on back-to-back games when it comes to netminders, I still expect him to start over 8-8-2 G Alex Stalock.

As for Dallas, the current fourth-best team in the Central Division and first wild card, everything has been going right over the past 18 days, as it is ranked third in goals-per-game (3.25), goals against-per-game (1.88) and shots against-per-game (27.88) since January 15. As might be expected with one of the most complete performances in the league in that time frame, the Stars have posted a solid 5-2-1 record in those eight games.

If you prescribe to my opinions on how the game should be played, I think we’ll agree that this almost unbelievable success is a direct result of nearly unbeatable puck possession in the offensive zone, which in and of itself yields goals.

Since I have yet to find a source that consistently tracks zone time, let’s go off the assumption that the team that spends more time in the offensive zone should fire more shots than the defending team. That seems like sound logic, right?

If that’s the case, the Stars have out-shot their last eight opponents 258-223 – a rate that approximately works out to 15 Stars shots for every 13 they’ve allowed during this run. That doesn’t seem like much of an advantage, but it equals 35 more shots for Dallas than it has allowed, which breaks down into a differential of 4.375 per game.

Does your head hurt yet? Then let’s talk about what’s ultimately matters: the scoreboard.

As mentioned before, the Stars are averaging 3.25 goals per game since January 15. That’s a lot of scoring, and RW Alexander Radulov and D John Klingberg have been responsible for much of it. Respectively posting 4-5-9 and 0-9-9 totals over these last eight games, they’ve increased their respective season marks to 20-28-48 and 6-43-49 – the two highest point totals in Big D.

What makes both of them averaging more than a point-per-game over this run most impressive is the fact that they’ve joined together on one scoring play only once since January 15. That means these two players have had a hand in creating or scoring 17 of the Stars’ last 26 individual goals – more than 65 percent.

Talk about presence creating presents.

Of course, talking exclusively about Klingberg (who’s 43 assists lead all defensemen and ranks [t]second among all skaters) and Radulov totally ignores the fact that F Tyler Seguin also wears victory green. Seguin has been nearly unstoppable all season, as his 24 goals are (t)eighth-most in the NHL.

Dominating the offensive zone also has the luxury of creating a safe defensive end. After all, the opposition can’t challenge 8-5-1 G Kari Lehtonen if it doesn’t have the puck!

You’ll notice I brought up Lehtonen and not 21-14-3 G Ben Bishop. That’s because Bishop will be unavailable this evening due to taking a puck to the face Thursday night while sitting on the bench. Considering Lehtonen’s .915 season save percentage is a little bit lower than Bishop’s .917, Dallas’ skaters limiting Minnesota’s opportunities will be of the utmost importance if the Stars want to keep the Wild below them in the table.

Tonight’s game is only the second meeting between these division rivals this season. The first occurred December 27 at Xcel Energy Center, and the Wild came away with a 4-2 victory thanks to D Jared Spurgeon‘s one-goal, four-block game that earned him First Star honors.

Bishop being out this evening is a major blow to the Stars. Even though Lehtonen is riding a three-game winning streak, I just don’t see him being able to slow down a Minnesota offense that has found a nice groove.


The Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Washington Capitals 7-4 yesterday at PPG Paints Arena in an expected barn burner of a DtFR Game of the Day.

Don’t mistake the final score for Pittsburgh dominating the entire game. While it is true the Pens didn’t trail in this game, it was in fact a very competitive matchup, as the clubs were tied 3-3 entering the third period.

The first period ended in favor of Pittsburgh, as Second Star of the Game RW Phil Kessel (C Riley Sheahan and F Jake Guentzel) buried a wrist shot 2:11 into the frame, followed 13:39 later by an unassisted LW Carl Hagelin wrister. However, it wasn’t just the Penguins that found success in the frame, as Third Star W Alex Ovechkin (D Christian Djoos) sneaked a wrister between the pipes with 1:50 remaining in the period to pull the Caps within a 2-1 deficit.

If my imagination is correct, Kessel stood in the middle of the dressing room during the first intermission and challenged his teammates to score faster than him in the second period. RW Patric Hornqvist (C Sidney Crosby and First Star F Evgeni Malkin) heeded that call, as he scored his power play snap shot only 26 seconds after the initial puck drop. However, that was the only goal the Pens struck in the middle frame, as D Dmitry Orlov (C Lars Eller and D Matt Niskanen) scored a slap shot only 2:42 later to pull Washington back within a goal. F Evgeny Kuznetsov completed the comeback with 8:03 remaining in the second period, setting the score at 3-3 on a wrister.

Two exciting periods set the table for a thrilling third, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Things started quickly, as Malkin (Kessel and D Olli Maatta) returned the lead to the Pens only 1:01 into the frame, but an Ovechkin (Kuznetsov and Orlov) snapper pulled Washington right back into a 4-4 tie only 49 seconds later.

The Capitals’ decline began when C Nicklas Backstrom was sent to the penalty box at the 4:40 mark for hi-sticking W Bryan Rust. As luck would have it, Rust (D Kris Letang and Sheahan) would be the one to take advantage of the man-advantage, cleaning up a saved Letang wrister by tapping the loose puck past G Braden Holtby‘s left skate only 32 seconds before Backstrom was to be released from the sin bin.

At the 7:59 mark, the Penguins added their first insurance goal courtesy of a Kessel (Malkin and Hagelin) snapper. 2:01 later, Malkin (Crosby and Guentzel) made use of the man-advantage caused by D Madison Bowey tripping F Dominik Simon to score the final goal of the game, a power play tip-in, to set the 7-4 final score.

G Matthew Murray earned the victory after saving 29-of-33 shots faced (.879 save percentage), leaving the loss to Holtby, who saved 27-of-33 (.818). After Kessel’s insurance goal, Holtby was lifted in favor of G Philipp Grubauer for the final 12:01 of play. The backup saved five-of-six (.833) for no decision.

Home teams are standing their ground in the DtFR Game of the Day series of late, as they’ve won the last three matchups. As a result, they’ve improved their record in the series to 63-37-15, which is 23 points better than the visitors’.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #91- Our USA Wins Gold

After NHLers were not allowed to participate in the 2018 Winter Games, Nick and Connor decided to create USA rosters with NHL players anyway. Also discussed, All-Star weekend, Jaromir Jagr and the Winnipeg Jets.

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

Hey, why isn’t (insert NHL team here) playing?

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.

WINNIPEG JETS

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.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

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.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS

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.

BOSTON BRUINS

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.

DALLAS STARS

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

Nick’s Notes: Joe Thornton should use this break to regrow that part of his beard that got torn off his face by Nazem Kadri in Toronto.

COLORADO AVALANCHE

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?

MINNESOTA WILD

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.

ANAHEIM DUCKS

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.

CALGARY FLAMES

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*

CAROLINA HURRICANES

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.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

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.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

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.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

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.

FLORIDA PANTHERS

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.

EDMONTON OILERS

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.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

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.

MONTRÉAL CANADIENS

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.

OTTAWA SENATORS

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.

BUFFALO SABRES

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.

ARIZONA COYOTES

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.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 10

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

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

Skater of the Week: Josh Bailey

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

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

Tendy of the Week: Brian Elliott

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

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

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

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

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

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

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

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

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

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

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

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

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