Dates, awards finalists, opting out, new faces, exhibition schedule and the Ottawa Senators rebrand.
As the entire hockey world awaits training camp action next month, let’s make some (un)educated guesses about the upcoming season that will totally pan out because everything always goes as expected. (It doesn’t.)
The projected standings below are only a forecast.
They are based on recent indications– as well as the last few seasons of stats– and cannot account for variations in roster construction (a.k.a. trades and free agency moves).
There’s a lot of variables that will turn the tables upside down, including transactions, injuries and otherwise. Anything can happen.
As always, it’s more important to remember 1) the spread and 2) the positioning.
Just how many points separate the projected division winner from the last wild card spot (the spread) and where a team is supposed to finish in the division standings (the position) can imply that things aren’t always what they seem.
A team that’s projected to win it all still has to play an 82-game regular season, qualify for the playoffs and go on to amass 16 wins in the postseason.
Projected Standings After ZERO Months
- p-Tampa Bay Lightning, 109 points
- x-Boston Bruins, 105 points
- x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 91 points
- Florida Panthers, 89 points
- Montreal Canadiens, 89 points
- Detroit Red Wings, 84 points
- Ottawa Senators, 78 points
- Buffalo Sabres, 71 points
Tampa Bay Lightning: Pros and Cons
The Lightning are annual favorites among the experts to win the Stanley Cup, so it’s no surprise, really, that they haven’t yet. There’s either too many expectations to live up to or there’s too much of a casual atmosphere from season-to-season.
You know what they say when you assume.
Just like the Washington Capitals and their 2018 Stanley Cup championship, it’s better for the Bolts if nobody is talking about them. Prior to the Caps winning in 2018, there was a “Cup or bust” mantra that just didn’t work.
Nothing is willed without hard work and humility.
That’s not to say Tampa doesn’t work hard or isn’t humble, but rather, they must lose on the big stage repetitively until everyone expects them to fail. That’s when they’ll go on a run.
They’ve managed to keep their roster together (granted, RFA center, Brayden Point, is still unsigned) while trimming the fat (gone are the days of Anton Stralman and Dan Girardi on the blue line) and are still Stanley Cup front-runners, but they likely won’t get back to the 60-win plateau in back-to-back seasons.
The Lightning will still get to 50 wins for the third season in-a-row, have Nikita Kucherov set the league on fire in scoring and yield out-of-this-world goaltending from Andrei Vasilevskiy before the real season starts– the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
How would the Lightning fail?
Everyone keeps talking about the Lightning as if they’re some godsend (too much hype, remember?). That, or General Manager Julien BriseBois blows up the roster and/or Jon Cooper is fired as head coach.
Boston Bruins: Pros and Cons
The Bruins core remains strong among their forwards and as long as they’re able to negotiate an extension with RFAs Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo without any bumps in the road, then their defense is pretty sound too.
Jaroslav Halak signed a two-year deal last summer, so the 1A/1B tandem of Tuukka Rask and Halak in the crease seems fine for another run in 2019-20.
Boston exceeded expectations in 2017-18 and went under the radar in 2018-19– though they managed to amass only 10 losses in regulation since Jan. 1st, which means they were actually pretty loud in the points percentage column.
Injuries come and go.
If the Bruins are able to stay healthy instead of dropping like flies to their 12th defenseman on the depth chart, they might actually pick up a few more points than they did last season.
With Bruce Cassidy as head coach, things should remain status quo in the regular season, but Boston still needs to address their top-six forward problem.
David Pastrnak can play on the first or second line, but on any given night that leaves one of their top two lines in need of a scoring winger.
General Manager Don Sweeney managed to patch a hole at the third line center– acquiring Charlie Coyle as last season’s trade deadline loomed– and Coyle was one of their better players in their 2019 Stanley Cup Final postseason run.
But with a couple of depth signings for bottom six roles in the offseason (Par Lindholm and Brett Ritchie), everyone getting another year older and David Backes’ $6.000 million cap hit through 2020-21 still on the books, Boston’s hands are tied.
How would the Bruins fail?
There’s enough bark in the regular season, but not enough bite for a deep postseason run. It’s harder than ever before to make it back to the Stanley Cup Final in back-to-back seasons– and that’s before you consider age, injuries and regression.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Pros and Cons
Toronto has Auston Matthews as their second best center. Yes. Second best. Why? Because John Tavares enters the second year of his long-term seven-year deal that he signed last July.
That alone will continue to keep the Leafs afloat with a strong 1-2 duo down the middle.
Regardless of the Mitch Marner contract negotiations (or lack thereof), the Maple Leafs are just fine with their forwards– having traded Nazem Kadri to the Colorado Avalanche and acquiring Alex Kerfoot in the process (Calle Rosen and Tyson Barrie were also swapped in the deal).
Patrick Marleau is gone and it only cost Toronto a conditional 2020 1st round pick (top-10 lottery protected) and a 2020 7th round pick in the process, but an affordable Jason Spezza at league minimum salary ($700,000) on a one-year deal for fourth line minutes will do just fine.
By puck drop for the 2019-20 season, the Leafs will save $10.550 million in cap space thanks to David Clarkson (yes, his contract’s back after a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights that sent Garret Sparks the other way) and Nathan Horton’s placement on the long-term injured reserve.
The stars are aligning for Toronto to still need to get past the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2004.
With Kadri gone, however, perhaps they will be able to do so with or without Boston in the equation.
How would the Leafs fail?
They don’t sign Marner and they lose in another Game 7 because of it. There’s a lot of turbulence ahead for Toronto General Manager Kyle Dubas considering the Leafs have one defender under contract after 2019-20. If the team doesn’t breakout in the postseason, it’s really just status quo until proven otherwise.
Florida Panthers: Pros and Cons
The Panthers are beginning to ripen with a mix of youth and experience among their forwards, plus a defense that quietly does their job.
They also added Noel Acciari, Brett Connolly, Anton Stralman and (most importantly) Sergei Bobrovsky to the mix.
While Acciari’s $1.667 million cap hit through 2021-22 is a slight overpay for a fourth line center, at least it could be worse. Connolly’s making $3.500 million for the next four years and even Stralman has a cap hit of $5.500 million through 2021-22 when he’ll be turning 36 on August 1, 2022.
Ok, so it was an expensive offseason for Florida– and that’s before you add the $10.000 million price tag for the next seven years of Bobrovsky in the crease.
Yes, despite landing one of the better goaltenders in the league in free agency, General Manager Dale Tallon managed to make matters complicated after, say, the fourth year of Bobrovsky’s contract.
Bobrovsky will be roughly 37-years-old by the time his contract with the Panthers expires and not everyone can be like Dwayne Roloson in the net forever.
At least they drafted Spencer Knight (in the first round– a goaltending prospect curse).
Though they missed the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs by 12 points for an Eastern Conference wild card spot, the Panthers are in a position to gain more than a few wins with new head coach (and three-time Stanley Cup champion) Joel Quenneville behind the bench.
How would the Panthers fail?
Florida’s already landed the biggest prize in head coaching free agency with Quenneville reuniting with Tallon in Sunrise. What could possibly go wrong (besides Tallon being replaced by a clone of Stan Bowman and then the Panthers go on to win three Cups without Tallon in command)?
Montreal Canadiens: Pros and Cons
Montreal didn’t get Matt Duchene or Sebastian Aho in free agency, so they got the next best thing– not overspending on July 1st.
That’s not to say Duchene and Aho aren’t quality players, but rather just an observation of cap concerns for the Habs with Max Domi as a pending-RFA in July 2020 and the rest of Montreal’s future core (Ryan Poehling, Nick Suzuki, Victor Mete, Cayden Primeau and Jesperi Kotkaniemi) to consider going down the road.
Granted, Aho could’ve sped the process up a bit if it weren’t for those pesky RFA rights and compensation in the CBA, right Montreal?
The Canadiens need a legitimate number one center, but General Manager Marc Bergevin has been preoccupied restructuring the defense in the meantime.
That’s not a bad thing.
Shea Weber is 34 and under contract through the 2025-26 season, though after 2021-22, his base salary drops to $3.000 million in 2022-23 and $1.000 million from 2023-26 (meaning he could be traded with ease in a few years, despite his $7.857 million cap hit).
But Karl Alzner and Jeff Petry are both over 30 and have no-trade and/or no-movement clauses in their contracts.
At least free agent addition, Ben Chiarot, is 28-years-old, but he also carries a no-trade clause as part of his three-year deal.
How would the Canadiens fail?
Claude Julien inexplicably reverts back to his old ways and doesn’t play the kids, Carey Price is injured for most of the season and/or Bergevin overcompensates in a trade because of his failure to secure a free agent center.
Detroit Red Wings: Pros and Cons
Steve Yzerman has come home and is rightfully the General Manager for the Red Wings, but as we’ve seen in Tampa, his masterplan takes a little time.
Detroit is four or five years out from being an annual Cup contender, but that doesn’t mean the Red Wings haven’t already sped things up in their rebuild.
Trading for Adam Erne isn’t a grand-slam, but it does make the average age of the roster a tad younger.
It also means that the Red Wings now have seven pending-RFAs on their NHL roster and roughly $37.000 million to work with in July 2020.
How would the Red Wings fail?
Having Yzerman in the front office at Little Caesars Arena is like adding all of the best toppings to a pizza. The only downside is that leftover pineapple is still on the pizza from all of the no-trade clauses delivered by the last guy.
Ottawa Senators: Pros and Cons
The Senators are looking to spend ba-by.
Just kidding, they don’t plan on being good until 2021, so does that mean starting with the 2020-21 season or the following year in 2021-22?
But they do have a ton of draft picks stockpiled including two in the 1st round in 2020, three in the 2nd round, one in the 3rd, 4th and 5th, a pair in the 6th and one in the 7th.
Plus they have roughly $15.600 million in cap space currently and eight players under contract for next season that aren’t on the injured reserve.
For some reason (Eugene Melnyk) current-RFA Colin White is still unsigned and 38-year-old, Ron Hainsey, was signed in free agency, but at least Cody Ceci is a Maple Leaf now.
Oh and former Leafs assistant coach D.J. Smith is Ottawa’s head coach now. That’ll show them!
How would the Senators fail?
More importantly, how would Ottawa succeed?
Buffalo Sabres: Pros and Cons
Pro: The Sabres will probably be better than last season.
Con: Ralph Krueger is Buffalo’s new head coach and nobody knows what to expect (he went 19-22-7 in the lockout shortened 48-game season with the Edmonton Oilers in 2012-13).
Pro: Only eight skaters are under contract next season.
Con: Only eight skaters are under contract next season, including Rasmus Ristolainen and nobody is sure whether or not the club is trying to trade him.
Pro: Marcus Johansson!
Con: Jimmy Vesey! (Only cost Buffalo two third round picks over three years to get him.)
Pro: The average age of the roster is about 26.
Con: Matt Hunwick is the oldest player at 34-years-old, followed by Carter Hutton at 33 and Vladimir Sobotka at 32.
Pro: Royal blue in 2020!
Con: It’s not until 2020.
How would the Sabres fail?
If Buffalo actually finishes last in the division, instead of any improvement whatsoever.
The Board of Governors meeting gets underway next week involving the Seattle expansion vote, Bill Peters took a puck to the jaw and Rick Middleton and Vic Hadfield are having their numbers retired this week.
The Chicago Blackhawks and Arizona Coyotes made another trade with each other, Karl Alzner is being Wade Redden’ed, Ron Hextall got ousted as the Philadelphia Flyers GM, the Buffalo Sabres win streak reached double digits and the Winnipeg Jets brought back their Heritage Jerseys.
Nick and Connor also encourage all of Long Island to go to the New York Islanders game at NYCB Live (it’s the Nassau Coliseum) this week and quickly plan a hopeful trip to see Sporting KC play in Atlanta.
The Boston Bruins got out to a two-goal lead in the first period, then the Montreal Canadiens were mounting what looked to be a comeback in the third– until John Moore scored his first goal as a Bruin on a power play thanks to Jonathan Drouin‘s costly high-sticking double-minor penalty.
Boston won, 3-2, in Montreal Saturday night at Bell Centre.
These two rivals will meet again December 17th in Montreal before closing out their season series on January 14, 2019 in Boston with the season series currently tied, 1-1-0 after their 744th all-time meeting (the most among all NHL clubs). The Bruins previously lost to the Canadiens, 3-0, on October 27th.
Tuukka Rask (5-4-2, .913 save percentage, 2.72 goals against average in 11 games played) got the start for Boston after Jaroslav Halak made 36 saves en route to Friday night’s, 2-1, overtime win at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Rask made 31 saves on 33 shots against for a .939 SV% in the win for Boston, while Carey Price (7-6-4, .897 SV%, 3.17 GAA in 17 GP) turned aside 32 out of 35 shots faced for a .914 SV% in the loss.
Boston improved to 13-6-4 on the season (30 points) in 23 games played– good enough to maintain 4th in the Atlantic Division, while Montreal fell to 11-8-5 (27 points) in 24 games played (5th in the Atlantic).
Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, made one change to his lineup, swapping John Moore on the second defensive pair with Connor Clifton. Moore spent the night paired with Jeremy Lauzon as the bottom-pair, while Clifton was back with Torey Krug on the second pairing.
Cassidy left his forward lines and first pair on the blue line the same from Friday night’s, 2-1, overtime win against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Anders Bjork and Steven Kampfer were once again healthy scratches with Brandon Carlo (upper body), Zdeno Chara (lower body, left MCL), Patrice Bergeron (upper body), Urho Vaakanainen (concussion) and Charlie McAvoy (concussion) still out of the lineup due to injury.
Andrew Shaw was charged with the game’s first minor infraction for elbowing David Pastrnak at 8:26 of the first period, but Boston’s power play would be short-lived as Brad Marchand was penalized for cross-checking Karl Alzner in retaliation to a couple of chops from the Canadiens defender that went uncalled at 9:16.
Nothing happened on either abbreviated power play for both squads.
Shortly past the midpoint of the first period, David Backes (1) forced a turnover at Montreal’s blue line and broke into the zone, firing a wrist shot past Price to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead at 13:01.
Backes’ goal was unassisted and was just his second point of the season in 18 games played after missing five games due to a concussion.
After a stoppage in play about a minute later, Marchand again went back to the penalty box, but this time with a Hab in hand as Drouin and Marchand were tabbed with roughing minors at 14:26.
While on the ensuing 4-on-4 action, Krejci sent a pass to Krug down low for the give-and-go back to Jake DeBrusk (10) as DeBrusk was heading for low slot whereby the young Bruins forward wristed a shot past Price to make it, 2-0, Boston at 14:42 of the first period.
Krug (8) and Krejci (16) had the assists on DeBrusk’s goal and the B’s had a two-goal lead, having scored a pair of goals in 1:41 elapsed time.
Schlemko later sent a shot on goal that actually hit the twine, but time had expired and the first intermission had begun.
As the intermission was getting underway, Brendan Gallagher was busy slashing Kevan Miller below the belt. Miller responded in kind with his own shoves after the horn and both players were assessed minor penalties at 20:00 of the first period– Gallagher for slashing and Miller for roughing.
After one period, Boston led, 2-0, on the scoreboard and, 14-12, in shots on goal. The Bruins also led in blocked shots (9-5) and face-off win percentage (63-38) heading into the dressing room for the first intermission, while Montreal led in takeaways (4-2) and hits (14-8). Both teams had four giveaways each and the Habs were 0/2 on the power play, while the B’s were 0/1.
There were no goals scored in the second period, but there were plenty of penalties to go around as Max Domi led the string of minor infractions in the middle frame with an interference minor for a late hit on Pastrnak at 4:11.
The Bruins did not convert on the ensuing power play opportunity.
Jeff Petry was guilty of tripping Matt Grzelcyk at 15:30 of the second period as Grzelcyk entered the offensive zone on a rush with a decent scoring chance. Boston’s power play was short-lived as Krug cut a rut to the sin bin for high-sticking Artturi Lehkonen at 17:15.
While on the power play, Montreal couldn’t stay out of hot water as Petry hooked Acciari at 18:51. About a minute later, Krejci was guilty of holding Michael Chaput and the Bruins abbreviated skater advantage came to an end at 19:36 of the second period.
Through 40 minutes of play, Boston held onto a 2-0 lead and led in shots on goal, 26-21. The Bruins also led in blocked shots (14-12), giveaways (10-6) and face-off win% (61-40). Montreal maintained an advantage in takeaways (9-5) and hits (32-22).
The B’s were 0/4 on the power play after two periods and the Canadiens were 0/3.
Early in the third period, Lehkonen thought he had scored a goal as a mad scramble in front of the net led to Lehkonen crashing the crease and pushing the puck in the goal. There was just one problem– he pushed Rask and the puck in the goal, thereby disallowing what would’ve cut Boston’s lead in half.
But the Canadiens began to mount momentum for what was looking like a surefire comeback as Drouin (9) worked his way to the goal with a soft shot that deflected off of Rask and trickled through the Bruins netminder’s five-hole and into the net to put the Habs on the scoreboard, 2-1.
Alzner (1) and Victor Mete (4) had the primary and secondary assists on Drouin’s goal at 6:46 of the third period.
Less than a couple of minute later, Pastrnak was caught retaliating for a late hit from Andrew Shaw and penalized for slashing at 8:15 of the final frame of regulation.
In the closing seconds of the ensuing power play, Tomas Tatar (10) pocketed one behind Rask on the skater advantage to tie the game, 2-2, at 10:09. Shaw (6) and former Bruin, Kenny Agostino (3), recorded the assists on Tatar’s tying goal.
With a seemingly insurmountable swing in momentum the Bruins kept working the puck back into the attacking zone, but to no avail until Drouin caught Backes well behind the play with a high-stick that drew some blood and resulted in a four-minute double-minor penalty at 14:39.
While on the power play, after finally generating some zone time on offense, Boston fired chances on goal that Price started churning into rebounds as Danton Heinen failed to come up with a loose puck on one of the opportunities.
Price was down and out of position in desperation as Heinen fanned on a rebound and Moore (1) swept in from the point to bury what would become the game-winning goal on the power play.
Backes (2) and Krejci (17) had the primary and secondary assists on Moore’s first goal as a Bruin at 17:03 of the third period.
Montreal head coach, Claude Julien, pulled his netminder with two minutes remaining in regulation for an extra attacker, but it was too little, too late.
At the final horn, Boston had beaten the Canadiens, 3-2, and outshot the Habs, 35-33. Montreal finished the night leading in hits (51-27), while the B’s led in blocked shots (28-17) and giveaways (16-11). Both teams were 50-50 in face-off win% and had one power-play goal aside with the Canadiens going 1/5 on the skater advantage and the Bruins going 1/6.
The B’s improved to 9-0-2 this season when scoring first as a result of their victory at Bell Centre on Saturday.
Boston rolls on to face the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena on Monday night before returning home to take on the New York Islanders on Thursday. The Bruins will retire Rick Middleton’s No. 16 sweater prior to Thursday’s matchup with the Islanders.
Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens shutout the Boston Bruins, 3-0, Saturday night at TD Garden. Price (4-1-2, 2.13 goals against average, .922 save percentage in seven games this season) made 33 saves in the win, while Brendan Gallagher, Max Domi and Jordie Benn each had a goal in the victory.
Boston netminder, Tuukka Rask (3-3-0, 3.15 GAA, .902 SV% in six GP this season), stopped 20 out of 22 shots faced for a .909 SV% Saturday night in the loss.
The win moved Price past Patrick Roy for 2nd place all-time in wins for the Canadiens as Price now has 290 to Roy’s 289 career wins with Montreal. Jacques Plante is 1st in franchise history for the Habs with 314 wins.
Another fun fact, Price leads Montreal all-time in losses with 202 currently. He’s been their starting netminder since the 2007-08 season and is in his 12th career NHL season. Ken Dryden and Plante had shorter careers with Montreal than Price and Roy, while Roy spent 1985-96 with the Canadiens before being traded to the Colorado Avalanche.
As a result, Roy ranks 2nd all-time in losses as a Hab with 175, while Jose Theodore is 3rd with 158 losses as a Canadien.
Had Roy not been traded to the Avalanche in the 1995-96 season, who knows what might’ve happened.
As a result of Saturday’s loss, the Bruins fell to 6-3-2 (14 points) on the season– dropping to 4th in the Atlantic Division thanks to, you guessed it, the now 6-2-2 (14 points) overall Montreal Canadiens. Montreal has played 10 games thus far, while Boston has played in 11, yielding a one-game in-hand advantage for the Canadiens in the standings.
Bruce Cassidy made two minor moves in his lineup for Boston, moving Anders Bjork to the right side of Joakim Nordstrom on the third line and swapping Chris Wagner and Ryan Donato on the left side of the third and fourth line.
Early in the first period, David Pastrnak was guilty of slashing Canadiens defender, Xavier Ouellet, at 4:42. Montreal did not convert on the ensuing power play, but momentum began to swing in their favor.
Moments later, the Habs were first on the scoreboard and they’d remain the only ones on the scoreboard.
Brendan Gallagher (6) spun away from Acciari, then cut to the inside to fully free himself from entrapment and found an opening under the glove of Rask to give the Canadiens a 1-0 lead 9:18 into the first period.
Matthew Peca (3) and Ouellet (3) picked up the tab on the primary and secondary assists on Gallagher’s goal.
Just 1:21 later, Max Domi (5) made it 2-0, Montreal, after an aerial pass sent Artturi Lehkonen into the zone, with Boston’s defense collapsing and a few quality rebound chances leading up to Domi’s goal.
Jonathan Drouin (5) and Lehkonen (6) had the assists on Domi’s goal at 10:39 of the first period.
Less than five minutes later, Peca cut a rut to the penalty box for tripping Bjork at 15:24 of the opening frame. Boston did not convert on their first skater advantage of the evening.
After 20 minutes of play, the Canadiens led, 2-0. Montreal also had the advantage in shots on goal (9-7), takeaways (7-2), giveaways (6-1) and hits (14-9), while Boston led in face-off win percentage (53-47). Blocked shots were even, 2-2, and both teams were 0/1 on the power play heading into the dressing room for the first intermission.
Early in the second period, the Bruins thought they had gotten on the scoreboard and cut Montreal’s lead in half with a goal by Donato, however, former Bruins bench boss and current Canadiens head coach, Claude Julien, used his coach’s challenge to get the call on the ice rightfully overturned after review.
The Bruins had entered the zone offside prior to Donato’s would-be goal, hence the call on the ice being overturned and the score remaining, 2-0, Montreal.
Past the midway-point of the second frame, B’s defender Brandon Carlo caught Drouin with a stick up high and was sent to the sin bin for high-sticking at 12:30 of the second period.
Through two periods of play, the Canadiens held onto a 2-0 lead and shots on goal were even (19-19) as were blocked shots (5-5). Montreal led in takeaways (10-8), giveaways (9-3), hits (23-17) and face-off win% (53-47). Entering the second intermission, the Habs were 0/2 on the skater advantage, while Boston was still 0/1.
Joel Armia kicked off the action in the third period by tripping Donato and being sent to the penalty box at 5:10.
While on the power play, Rask caught Paul Byron behind the net and promptly tripped the Canadiens forward, sending Donato to the box to serve the Bruins netminder’s minor infraction for tripping.
About two minutes later, Drouin and Brad Marchand were tangled up in an altercation after Drouin was going to be penalized for interference. Marchand received a roughing penalty and both sides sent a skater to the box for 4-on-4 action at 8:07 of the third period.
While the Bruins continued to fire shots at Price, eventually taking the lead in shots on goal, they weren’t nearly of any challenging, quality, caliber.
Nicolas Deslauriers hooked David Krejci at 12:30 of the third period and the Bruins went on the power play once again. They did not score. By now, you should definitely remember the first sentence in this recap mentioned the Canadiens shutout the Bruins on Saturday.
Cassidy pulled his goaltender with 2:59 remaining in regulation for an extra skater. It didn’t go as planned, even after Boston used their timeout after a stoppage with 1:25 left in the game and an offensive zone face-off.
Using physics and trick shots he learned by playing pool (I’m assuming), Jordie Benn (1) banked an indirect shot off the boards and into the empty net in for the insurance empty net goal.
Montreal led 3-0 as Lehkonen (7) picked up his second assist of the night on Benn’s first goal of the season at 19:31 of the third period.
At the final horn the Canadiens sealed the victory with the advantage in blocked shots (12-8), giveaways (14-7), hits (28-20) and face-off win% (51-49), while the Bruins lost, 3-0, despite outshooting the Habs, 33-23. Both teams finished the night 0/3 on the power play.
Price picked up his first shutout against the B’s since February 8, 2016 in the most shots he’s faced so far this season (33).
The Bruins travel to Raleigh, North Carolina for Tuesday’s matchup with the Carolina Hurricanes before visiting the Nashville Predators on Nov. 3rd. to wrap up a quick two-game road trip.
Among other stats from Saturday’s loss…
Boston’s first line of Patrice Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak, as well as defender Matt Grzelcyk were each minus-two in the plus/minus category. Pastrnak led the B’s in shots on goal with six, while Bergeron had the next highest total with four.
John Moore and Jake DeBrusk led Boston in hits with three apiece, while Bjork led his teammates in blocked shots with two.
Montreal’s Artturi Lehkonen was a plus-two and his teammates Gallagher and Byron led the Habs in shots on goal with three shots on net each.
Deslauriers and Karl Alzner had five hits, leading the Canadiens in that category, while Ouellet led the Habs in blocked shots with three.
He exceeded expectations, he outperformed everything beyond imagination– in his contract year, after a 17-point (7 goals, 10 assists) season in 2016-17.
His 15-26–41 totals included two power play goals and three power play points, but no shorthanded goals and no shorthanded points while being one of Boston’s biggest penalty killers.
His CorsiFor% has remained stagnant around 52.00% for the last three seasons.
Consistent? Yes. Bound to be the next mistake by a GM that’s willing to throw money around carelessly? Also yes.
How much of Riley Nash is the real Riley Nash? How much of his play this season was impacted by playing alongside impressive rookie Danton Heinen and David Backes– let alone his appearances on Boston’s first line with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak when the Bruins were hampered by injuries down the middle?
Riley Nash isn’t a passenger, but rather this offseason’s biggest miss for a team looking to buy low and potentially sell high when they realize that one free agent signing alone won’t make all the difference in terms of depth and contending for a playoff spot– depth that you can’t otherwise have if you sign too many top-nine forwards to too big of a contract.
At 29-years-old, Nash cannot get any better from a physical potential standpoint. In a game that’s getting younger and placing more emphasis on speed and skill than ever before, he may be out of an NHL job by the time he’s 35.
In his best seasons as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes, Nash had 24, 25 and 22 point seasons from 2013-16. Through 59 games into this season, he bested his career-high 25 points in 2014-15 with 10-18–28 totals.
He added five goals and eight more assists in 17 games over the course of the remainder of the season, before being shutdown thanks to a shot to the side of the head as a result of friendly fire from defender Torey Krug.
For someone who hadn’t reached the 40-point plateau before, 41 points sounded impressive. Yet his faceoff win percentage has remained stagnant in his full-time NHL days around 48 percent. He’s never scored 20 goals and just broke the 20-assist plateau this season– his seventh year in the NHL.
Happy accidents are great.
They’re fun to watch as players soar and teams roll along, but from a management standpoint there’s only so much cap room to work with.
When Beleskey had his 22-10–32 totals in 65 games with the Anaheim Ducks in 2014-15, the Boston Bruins had a need for someone that could become their immediate fill-in on the second line to replace Milan Lucic (who had been traded that June to the Los Angeles Kings).
Beleskey signed a long-term, five-year contract worth $3.800 million AAV with Boston that July and followed up a successful season in Anaheim with a career high 37 points (15 goals, 22 assists) in 80 games in his first year as a member of the Bruins in 2015-16.
Despite attaining career highs in assists and points in a season, Beleskey’s point-per-game production decreased. It fell off the face of the Earth when injuries and a lack of offense led to just three goals and five assists (eight points) in 49 games the following season (2016-17).
Then through 14 games played in 2017-18 with the Bruins, Beleskey had nothing to show on the scoresheet.
As part of taking on Rick Nash’s contract, both teams had to eat some salary and the Bruins ended up retaining $1.900 million of Beleskey’s cap hit through the end of his contract (July 1, 2020).
While Riley Nash turned heads around the league, becoming a more prominent bottom-six forward, that’s just it– he’s a bottom-six forward, who– like Beleskey did in July 2015, is about to get paid.
Even though Nash brings more offensive upside to his game than Beleskey does, they could be making the same salary because of one outlier season.
One good season is not an indication of consistency.
But NHL GMs have a tendency to eat it up and see a (possibly) short-term fix for an otherwise thought to be long-term hole on their roster.
The ebbs and flows of the market will always lead to poor financial planning in the long run for some teams. Riley Nash does deserve a raise for his efforts with Boston while on a $900,000 cap hit the last two seasons, but buyer beware– maybe not at the price you think.
If you’re willing to take a risk and have the right combination of youth that can help boost his numbers, then Nash is the guy for your team– provided you already have that youth locked up and you aren’t projecting someone else coming up through your system to battle for a roster spot any time soon.
There hasn’t been much of an indication as to how much a guy like Riley Nash might ask for in terms of money this offseason, nor has there been any public indication of how long of a deal he’d like to sign.
That can be a blessing in disguise, if you consider the fact that Rick Nash will likely be available this July too, but at substantially more dollars for about the same impact on a roster (Rick Nash had 20-13–33 totals this season in 71 games with the New York Rangers and Bruins).
Both Nashs are third liners at best that can play on a second or first line if your team is struggling (looking for a creative spark) or going through a lot of injuries.
For comparisons sake, if you’re an NHL GM looking to avoid signing “the worst contract of the summer”, then signing Riley Nash (or literally anyone) at less money than Rick Nash will make you look pretty good.
Rick Nash has sheer name-brand power. Riley Nash, on the other hand, has being one of the funniest, nicest, underrated guys in the locker room going for him.
But Rick Nash has already indicated he’d be willing to re-sign with Boston “if the dollars work out”. Given Boston’s salary cap navigation with Charlie McAvoy entering a contract year in 2018-19 (his final year on his current entry-level deal), the chances of Rick Nash being back in a Bruins uniform at $5.000 million-plus are slim.
Especially when there’s pending-RFA Austin Czarnik to re-sign and others. For Boston, Czarnik may be the key to moving on from Riley Nash if the younger Nash has truly priced himself out.
Sean Kuraly and Czarnik can compete for the third line center job, while the loser reigns as the fourth line center– and that’s ignoring Trent Frederic, Jack Studnicka, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, Colby Cave and others in the system that’ll also be fighting for roster spots at training camp.
After NHLers were not allowed to participate in the 2018 Winter Games and due to the success of last week’s episode, Nick and Connor decided to create rosters with NHL players anyway for Team Canada. Also discussed, Alexandre Burrows, Max Domi and the New York Rangers plan for the future.
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)
For the second day in a row, the NHL has scheduled only four games in a row. While a limited schedule makes it easier to keep an eye on everything, it does make it a slow night for our fantasy teams, doesn’t it?
What’s really nice about tonight’s slate is that all four games have a different starting time, which should hopefully ensure that there’s at least one contest being actively played from 7 p.m. – when San Jose makes its yearly visit to Washington (NHLN) – until Philadelphia at Calgary, which drops the puck at 9 p.m., wraps up around midnight. Starting between those games are the New York Islanders at Florida at 7:30 p.m., followed by Boston at Nashville (SN/TVAS) half an hour later. All times Eastern.
The only game I had circled on my calendar since the start of the season is taking place in the Saddledome, as G Brian Elliott is making his return to Calgary – his home for the 2016-’17 season – but I can’t say that matchup gets me all that excited. Instead, I think we need to wander towards The Capital of the Free World.
Though both these clubs currently occupy playoff positions, I wouldn’t go so far as to assume they are two of the top 16 teams in the NHL.
I find that especially apparent with tonight’s visitors, the 14-9-2 Sharks. Even though they’re in third place in the Pacific Division, they sport an offense that manages a third-worst 2.56 goals-per-game, putting them in the same conversation as Anaheim, Arizona, Boston, Buffalo, Detroit and Philadelphia in terms of offensive inefficiency – all teams currently sitting on the outside looking in at the tournament for the Stanley Cup if it started today.
Of course, having a winning record with an offense as bad as San Jose’s makes the defense look really, really good. In fact, it’s because the Sharks allow only 2.24 goals against-per-game (second in the NHL) that this team is able to thrive.
A major player in that effort is 10-6-1 G Martin Jones, who has managed a solid .926 season save percentage for a 2.23 GAA to rank sixth and fourth, respectively, in those statistics among the 34 goaltenders with at least 10 starts to their names.
But it’s not simply Jones. The Sharks’ physical defense has also been among the league’s strongest, allowing only 29.7 shots against-per-game to rank second-best in the NHL. Stand-out skaters include D Justin Braun (2.2 blocks-per-game), F Logan Couture (team-leading 27 takeaways) and D Brenden Dillon (2.8 hits-per-game), but it’s the entire team’s commitment to excellence in their own zone that really makes this San Jose team a tough out.
Meanwhile, the best word to explain the 15-11-1 Capitals is “average” (we’ll be generous and not tack on any adverbs). Gone are the days of dominating both ends of the ice, as Washington manages the (t)13th-fewest goals (2.89 per game) while allowing the 12th-most against (3.07 per game).
If anyone is going to take the blame for Washington’s struggles, it’s not going to be its stars. W Alex Ovechkin has been stellar this season with his league leading 19 goals (ok, he’s tied for the with Tampa’s RW Nikita Kucherov), while F Evgeny Kuznetsov has been equally stellar on the second line with his 9-20-29 totals.
14-6-0 G Braden Holtby has also been solid, posting a .919 save percentage for a 2.63 GAA to rank (t)12th and 11th, respectively, among the group of 34 netminders mentioned when we discussed Jones.
Instead, what seems to be holding the club back is simply the absence of yesteryear’s stars, specifically those on the blueline. With the exception of D John Carlson and his stellar 2-18-20 totals, there are no defensemen contributing on the offensive end anymore.
Though D Kevin Shattenkirk has moved on to the Big Apple, I think the major reason for this decline is the departure of D Karl Alzner to Montréal. No, Alzner was never a major offensive threat: he managed only 19-98-117 totals in his nine seasons with the Caps (.2 points per game, 13 per campaign). But it’s the fact that Alzner can dominate the defensive zone almost single-handedly that allowed the offense – and his defensive partner – the freedom and versatility to take chances when they had the puck on offense.
Should the Capitals desire to hold on to their playoff spot, I bet they’ll find a way to bring in another solid defenseman of Alzner’s mold. Until then, the Caps are a living example of what can happen when you overpay too many players.
below average is enough to get by in the Eastern Conference right now, because Washington currently occupies seventh place in the conference and the second wild card position. That being said, I think Washington’s offense has enough in it to get past the Sharks’ vaunted defense and earn two points tonight.
The Dallas Stars didn’t skip a beat playing in back-to-back DtFR Game of the Days, as they beat the Colorado Avalanche 7-2 at the Pepsi Center.
Though it took him a moment to get going, the first period ended up being dominated by First Star of the Game F Tyler Seguin, who buried an unassisted backhanded shot with 5:16 remaining in the frame, followed 4:26 later (RW Alexander Radulov and Third Star D John Klingberg) by a tip-in to set the score at 2-0 going into the first intermission.
In my preview for this game, I commented on RW Mikko Rantanen scoring fewer goals since making the trip to Stockholm, Sweden. He apparently read the column (thanks for reading, Mikko), as he scored a wrist shot (F Nathan MacKinnon) 39 seconds into the second period to pull Colorado back within a goal.
C Jason Spezza (C Devin Shore and Klingberg) returned the two-goal advantage to the Stars 6:09 later with what proved to be the game-winning tally. For a contest clincher, it was far from an incredible marker, but more a reward for good work in the defensive zone. D Erik Johnson and Shore battled along the boards for a solid five seconds before the center was able to move the puck back to Klingberg in the left corner. When the defenseman returned the pass, Shore was off to the races, screaming up the boards before sliding a centering pass to Spezza, who redirected a the puck through G Jonathan Bernier‘s five-hole.
Another player I brought up in my preview was D Greg Pateryn, though it was for his efforts on the other end of the ice. This evening, he was rewarded for his hard work with his first goal of the season (Radulov and LW Jamie Benn), a slap shot scored at the 7:52 mark of the second period to set the score at 4-1. W Blake Comeau (W Matthew Nieto and F Carl Soderberg) was able to net a wrister with 7:15 remaining in the frame, but it proved to be the Avalanche’s final goal of the night.
Second Star RW Brett Ritchie (LW Curtis McKenzie), Shore and Ritchie (C Radek Faksa and D Esa Lindell) again for a second time provided the Stars’ three insurance goals in the final frame to set the 7-2 final score.
G Kari Lehtonen earned the victory after saving 25-of-27 shots faced (.926 save percentage), leaving the loss to Bernier, who saved five-of-nine (.556). Bernier was replaced by G Semyon Varlamov following Pateryn’s goal, who saved 16-of-18 (.889) for no decision.
Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series seem to be finding their groove again, as they’ve earned points in three-consecutive games. That being said, they’ll need quite a few more wins to catch up with the 34-21-6 hosts, who lead the series by 14 points.
There may be some great college football games and the World Series on today, but remember to make room for hockey!
There’s only one matinee on the schedule today, and it occurs in Buffalo when the Sabres host San Jose (SN) at 1 p.m. The rest of tonight’s action starts at its usual time of 7 p.m. when six contests (Los Angeles at Boston, Philadelphia at Toronto [CBC], the New York Rangers at Montréal [CITY/NHLN/SN1/TVAS], Anaheim at Tampa Bay, Detroit at Florida and Arizona at New Jersey) drop the puck, followed by three more (Columbus at St. Louis, the New York Islanders at Nashville and Pittsburgh at Minnesota) an hour later. Chicago pays a visit to Colorado at 9 p.m., while Washington makes its yearly trip to Edmonton (CBC/SN1) 60 minutes later to complete the night’s festivities. All times Eastern.
Before the season started, I had the New York-Montréal fixture circled on my calendar for being a rematch from last season’s playoffs and an Original Six game. Considering how both those clubs have started their seasons, I’m reconsidering that decision and am instead far more interested in seeing W Alex Ovechkin and C Connor McDavid try to outscore each other.
Somehow, we’ve made it 25 days into this season without featuring the Oilers. I know they’ve had a slow start to a season of high expectations, but what kind of atrocity have I committed?
Yes, now that NHL coaches have had an offseason to prepare plans for taking on 3-5-1 Edmonton’s high-flying offense, life hasn’t been quite as simple as many orange-clad fans would have hoped while analysts were pegging the Oilers for a deep 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs run.
Figuring out what has been the Oil’s problem is a tall task, as it seems they’re under-performing on both ends of the ice. Of course, the most obvious struggles have occurred on the offensive end.
As we all so well remember, Edmonton’s offense last season was a truly thrilling pleasure to watch, as they averaged 2.96 goals-per-game – the third-best mark in the league. This year, the Oilers are performing a tribute to the 2010-’11 season that earned them the opportunity to select C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins first overall in the ensuing NHL Entry Draft, as their 2.22 goals-per-game is second-worst in the NHL.
Though it’d be easy to say that they’ve grown complacent after earning massive contracts this summer, this lackluster effort is no fault of F Leon Draisaitl or McDavid. Both are averaging more than one point-per-game (a benchmark for the best forwards in the game), and their first line (completed by LW Patrick Maroon) has accounted for nine of the Oil’s 20 goals on the season.
One player that has really stood out to me is Zack Kassian, the third-line right wing that had a major coming-out party in the playoffs by scoring two game-winning goals against the Sharks. So far this year, he only has an assist to his credit, well under his .31 points-per-game scoring rate for his career.
Perhaps Kassin is one of those “Mr. April”-types: a player that has a knack for coming through in the clutch. That’s all fine and well when the calendar is flipped to that month, but it can be a major burden on the club in the remaining six months of the season. For Edmonton’s sake, let’s hope he can find a way to rediscover his scoring touch.
If he – and the rest of his team, for that matter – can’t, you have to wonder how much longer Head Coach Todd McLellan will keep Draisaitl on the top line if the offense continues to struggle. Though the Oilers have solid depth at the center position (Nugent-Hopkins, Ryan Strome and Jujhar Khaira are currently the bottom-three at the position), moving the German to his natural position on the second line could spread the offensive spark needed to get this team going.
Of course, I say all this after the Oil posted a 5-4 victory over the Stars Thursday. Perhaps the offense is finally finding its groove after all and McLellan will be able to keep his super line intact.
While the better half of Edmonton’s game so far has been defense, it still has not been as exemplary as last season. For the entirety of 2016-’17, the Oilers allowed 207 goals against, or 2.52 goals-per-game, which was the fifth-best effort in the Western Conference and eighth-best in the entire NHL.
A major part of that success was G Cam Talbot, who rocked a .919 save percentage to a 2.39 GAA, both of which ranked eighth-best in the league among goaltenders with at least 49 starts. Making those numbers even more impressive was the fact that Talbot, then 29-years-old, started a whopping 73 games last season to 4294 minutes.
Remember, those are only regular season numbers. Add in the postseason, and Talbot saw 5093 minutes last year. The fact that he showed up for camp this year is a true testament to his character given that workload.
Maybe it’s last season’s work schedule that is playing its part on 3-4-1 Talbot this year, because he simply has not been as good in his eight starts this season (out of nine games played by Edmonton, for those keeping track). Though it doesn’t help that he’s playing behind a defense that gives up a 10th-most 31 shots-per-game, his .909 save percentage and 2.96 GAA are the biggest change from last year’s Oilers team to this one, so either he needs to return to last season’s form or McLellan needs to better utilize backup G Laurent Brossoit, or else General Manager Peter Chiarelli will be forced to further tax his tight budget to improve the defense while keeping in mind Draisaitl and McDavid’s contracts.
One team that knows more than its fair share about the salary cap is the 4-5-1 Capitals. As a result of following a “this is the year” mentality for the last three seasons (at least), General Manager Brian MacLellan was forced to make some tough decisions that eventually resulted in D Karl Alzner, F Marcus Johansson, D Kevin Shattenkirk and RW Justin Williams all exiting the Washington fold.
What’s left is a team that is struggling on both ends of the ice, made most apparent by their two-game losing skid at the hands of Florida and Vancouver.
While the offense is far from its former form (the Capitals average a 13th-worst 2.9 goals-per-game), it has been G Braden Holtby that has been the biggest blemish on Washington’s efforts. Even though he has a defense in front of him limiting his workload to 32.7 shots-per-game (14th-most in the NHL), he’s managed only a .913 save percentage for a 2.87 GAA.
For a netminder that owns career .921 and 2.32 marks, this is the definition of a slump.
Unfortunately for Head Coach Barry Trotz, helping Holtby out of his tough stretch is not as simple as starting G Philipp Grubauer, as the backup has been even worse than the starter with an .85 save percentage and 4.67 GAA.
I think Grubauer is a fine backup, but I can’t vouch for his ability to bounce back and get his season turned around. Holtby, however? I’ll bet you every cent I own (it’s a depleting total, cash in now!) that he’ll find a way to get this campaign back under his control to help a downgraded, but certainly not talent-less Capitals team to a fourth-straight playoff appearance.
The question is, of course, if his comeback begins tonight. It’s certainly possible, but considering both of Edmonton’s top-two lines got on the scorecard at least twice in its last game, I think the Oilers can keep their positive momentum rolling in tonight’s tilt.
Behind the impeccable play of First Star of the Game G Pekka Rinne, the Nashville Predators beat the Chicago Blackhawks 2-1 at the United Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
Rinne allowed only one goal on 44 shots faced for a .977 save percentage. Making that stat even better – or worse, depending on your perspective – his lone blemish was an unassisted shorthanded wrist shot by F Artem Anisimov with 26 seconds remaining in the first frame.
Though G Corey Crawford entered the second period in line for the win, he exited the ice for the second intermission in line for what proved to be his fourth loss of the season. The only way for that to happen was for Crawford to allow both of the Predators’ goals in the middle frame, and he did just that.
First up was C Calle Jarnkrok, who leveled the game only 57 seconds into the period with an unassisted wrister, his first goal of the season. But it was Second Star F Craig Smith‘s (D P.K. Subban and LW Kevin Fiala) power play wrister, buried with 8:58 remaining in the frame, that proved to be the deciding goal.
The Predators’ extra-man opportunity owes its start to D Jan Rutta for tripping C Frederick Gaudreau at the 9:30 mark of the period. Chicago was within 28 seconds of a successful kill before Smith took advantage of C Colton Sissons‘ screen to beat a blinded Crawford’s blocker with a wrister from the top of the left face-off circle.
Though the Blackhawks would fire 15 shots in the third period, Rinne stood tall to earn his fifth victory of the season. Crawford took the loss after saving 28-of-30 shots faced (.933 save percentage).
Nashville’s victory helped road teams avoid the business-week sweep at the hands of the 14-7-4 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, but visitors still trail the series by eight points.