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Game of the week: December 3-9

It’s time once again for DtFR’s weekly featured matchup! Let’s take a gander at the NHL’s offerings for this edition, shall we?

NHL SCHEDULE: December 3-9
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, December 3
7 p.m. Tampa Bay New Jersey 5-1
8 p.m. Buffalo Nashville 1-2
8:30 p.m. Edmonton Dallas 1-4
Tuesday, December 4
7 p.m. Boston Florida 0-5
7 p.m. Winnipeg Jets New York Islanders 3-1
7 p.m. Colorado Pittsburgh 3-6
7 p.m. Calgary Columbus 9-6
7:30 p.m. Toronto Buffalo 4-3 (OT)
7:30 p.m. Ottawa Montréal 2-5
7:30 p.m. Tampa Bay Detroit 6-5 (SO)
10 p.m. Minnesota Vancouver 3-2
10 p.m. Washington Vegas 3-5
10:30 p.m. Arizona Los Angeles 2-1
Wednesday, December 5
8 p.m. Edmonton St. Louis 3-2 (SO)
10:30 p.m. Chicago Anaheim 2-4
10:30 p.m. Carolina San Jose 1-5
Thursday, December 6
7 p.m. Detroit Toronto 5-4 (OT)
7 p.m. Colorado Florida 5-2
7 p.m. Columbus Philadelphia 4-3 (OT)
7 p.m. New York Islanders Pittsburgh Penguins 2-6
7:30 p.m. Montréal Ottawa 5-2
7:30 p.m. Boston Tampa Bay 2-3
9 p.m. Minnesota Calgary 0-2
9 p.m. Washington Arizona 4-2
10 p.m. Nashville Vancouver 3-5
10 p.m. Chicago Vegas 3-4
10:30 p.m. New Jersey Los Angeles 6-3
Friday, December 7
8 p.m. San Jose Dallas 2-3
8 p.m. St. Louis Winnipeg 1-0
9 p.m. Minnesota Edmonton 2-7
10 p.m. Carolina Anaheim 4-1
Saturday, December 8
1 p.m. Philadelphia Buffalo 6-2
4 p.m. Vegas Los Angeles 1-5
7 p.m. Toronto Boston 3-6
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Ottawa 1-2 (OT)
7 p.m. New York Islanders Detroit Red Wings 3-2
7 p.m. Colorado Tampa Bay 1-7
7 p.m. New York Rangers Florida Panthers 5-4 (SO)
7 p.m. Washington Columbus 4-0
8 p.m. San Jose Arizona 5-3
10 p.m. Nashville Calgary 2-5
Sunday, December 9
3 p.m. Vancouver St. Louis
3 p.m. Philadelphia Winnipeg TVAS
5 p.m. Boston Ottawa RDS2
6 p.m. Montréal Canadiens Chicago Blackhawks NHLN, RDS, SN, SN1
8 p.m. New Jersey Anaheim
9 p.m. Dallas Vegas
9 p.m. Calgary Edmonton SN, SN1

This week’s rivalries included the Battle of the QEW (Toronto at Buffalo), Ottawa at Montréal, Detroit at Toronto, the Islanders at Pittsburgh, Montréal at Ottawa, Toronto at Boston, Montréal at Chicago and the Battle of Alberta (Calgary at Edmonton).

In a similar strain, there were also more than a few rematches of playoff fixtures from last spring. Tampa Bay continued its beat down of New Jersey on Monday, while Vegas exacted some revenge against Washington on Tuesday. The Bolts then headed home to host Boston on Wednesday, winning 3-2. Vegas is heading to Los Angeles this afternoon looking for its fifth-straight victory against the Kings, followed by tonight’s tilt between the Capitals and Blue Jackets.

Finally, in the “player returns” department, only two really stuck out among this week’s tilts. Now a member of the Avalanche, D Ian Cole made his first trip back to Pittsburgh Tuesday to take on the club he was a member of for the past four seasons. Then, Wednesday night, C Kyle Brodziak made his first return to St. Louis as a member of a visiting team, having spent three seasons with the Blues.

Of all those, the one I’m most interested in is the Battle of Alberta, so pack your coat and start heading to the City of Champions!

Don’t everyone look all at once (it’ll make the team self-conscious), but with last night’s 5-2 win over Nashville, the 19-9-2 Calgary Flames have claimed a one-point lead for first place in the Western Conference.

Not the Pacific Division, mind you. The Flames have been running that show for about a month now. We’re talking about the entire conference.

I guess Head Coach Bill Peters knows a bit more than we give him credit for around here.

A major reason Calgary is in the position it’s in right now is due to the impressive 9-1-1 record it’s riding right now – a stretch that started with a 4-2 victory over the Oilers on November 17.

A solid argument could be made that no team in the NHL has been better than the Flames in the past three weeks, as they are among the top-three in the league in goals per game, goals against per game and shots against per game.

Starting with the offense (a stat in which Calgary ranks sixth on the entire season, averaging 3.47 goals per game), the Flames have been the class of the conference since November 17, as their 4.45 goals per game in their past 11 outings tops the West and ranks second in the NHL, trailing only Tampa Bay’s 4.58 goals per game.

Leading the charge with 6-14-20 totals in those 11 games is exactly who you expected: LW Johnny Gaudreau. Only RW Nikita Kucherov (5-18-23) has registered more points in the past 22 days than Johnny HockeyTM , but he’s also had the benefit of one extra game played.

But don’t think Gaudreau has been doing it all on his own. C Sean Monahan (9-7-16), F Elias Lindholm (7-8-15), LW Matthew Tkachuk (4-8-12), suspended D Mark Giordano (1-10-11 in 10 games played) and even fourth-liner C Alan Quine (he scored a goal in his season debut last night) are all averaging a point per game or better over this run.

Defense has been a major strength of Calgary’s all season long (the Flames’ 28 shots against per game for the entire campaign ranks third-best in the NHL), and the same can be said for the Flames’ last 11 games. Led by D Rasmus Andersson and D Travis Hamonic (both averaging 1.5 blocks per game since November 17), RW Garnet Hathaway (2.6 hits per game in the past 22 days) and Monahan (his 16 takeaways in the past 11 games lead the club), the Flames have allowed only 27.18 shots against per game since November 17- the third-lowest mark in both the Western Conference and NHL in that time.

While Peters might say he appreciates that solid defensive play, no one is happier for the Flames’ success than 11-7-1 G Mike Smith. And even though the blue line is making his job easy, Smith is putting together one of the best runs of his season so far – especially in light of his season stats.

On the campaign as a whole, Smith boasts a lowly .894 save percentage and 2.88 GAA – both stats considerably worse than backup 8-2-1 G David Rittich’s .919 and 2.39, to the point that there were more than a few calling for the Czech to assume starting duties.

However, Smith’s past six appearances have been reminiscent of his incredible 2011-12 season with the Coyotes (he posted a .93 save percentage and 2.21 GAA and led the team to the Western Final), as he’s won six-straight games with a dominant .936 save percentage and 1.59 GAA in those showings.

Having been in net for last night’s home win over Nashville, Smith will likely ride the pine this evening with Rittich getting the start.

Though the 15-12-2 Edmonton Oilers currently sit in 10th place in the Western Conference, they only trail the second wild card Vegas Golden Knights by a point (with two games in hand, no less), so it is possible for tonight’s hosts to force themselves into the playoff picture with as little as an overtime or shootout loss.

Wait, I thought the Oilers were back to being bad again. I’m so confused.

Sometimes a change of voice from behind the bench is exactly what a team needs to get in shape, because the Oilers have been playing some solid hockey since hiring Head Coach Ken Hitchcock on November 20. Before Hitchcock arrived in Northern Alberta, the Oil boasted a record of 9-10-1, but they’ve gone on a solid 6-2-1 record since then to position themselves right on the playoffs’ doorstep.

Considering Hitchcock’s history, it wasn’t unexpected that his first goal upon taking over Edmonton was teaching his club how to play defense. Instead, the bigger surprise is that the team – one rarely known for its defensive play for its entire history – actually responded and is finding success.

Under Hitchcock, the Oilers have allowed only 29.11 shots against per game, the seventh-best mark in the NHL since November 20. Injured F Drake Caggiula (averaging 4.3 hits per game during this run), D Oscar Klefbom (averaging 2.6 blocks per game in the last 20 days) and C Connor McDavid (his 12 takeaways in his last eight appearances pace the team) have all been integral in leading this strategic shift, and the results are clearly showing in the standings.

Both G Mikko Koskinen and G Cam Talbot have shown considerable improvement playing behind this revamped defense, but Koskinen seems to have gained Hitchcock’s favor as the Oilers’ starting goaltender – at least for the time being. Though he has managed a decent .925 save percentage and 2.23 GAA for the entire season, Koskinen has posted a solid .934 save percentage and 1.82 GAA in his last six starts and will get the nod tonight.

For those wondering, Talbot’s .895 save percentage and 3.12 GAA for the season have been steadily improving under Hitch as well, as he’s managed a .925 save percentage and 2.29 GAA in his last three starts.

So, it’s time for that priceless question: who wins tonight?

With both defenses playing as well as they are right now, my immediate reaction is to pick the team with the superior offense. As that is not the style Hitchcock is having the Oilers play, that leads me to lean towards Calgary earning two points despite playing yesterday and having to travel last night/this morning.

However, with so much for Edmonton to play for and the fact that this is one of the better rivalries in the league, the only thing we can truly predict is unpredictability!

2018-19 NHL Schedule Analysis

It’s that time of year again – it’s time to analyze the NHL’s schedule for the upcoming season.

As mentioned in last year’s edition of this post, these sorts of columns aren’t usually associated with the NHL due in large part to the fact that every team plays every other team at least twice – once at home and once on the road – for a fairly even strength of schedule for each and every club. However, there’s more than a few benchmarks on the league’s calendar, as well as some important stretches in each organization’s individual schedule, that makes each team’s campaign unique.

In terms of how the schedule can be divided, the NHL’s offering for this upcoming season is very similar to the one we just completed in June in that it can be divided into fourths. One quarter of the season – approximately 21 games played for every team – is compacted between Opening Day (scheduled for October 3) and American Thanksgiving, the second of nine days this year without any regular season play.

American Thanksgiving is not an arbitrarily picked date, mind you. Longtime fans of DtFR know there’s more than a few stat-heads in residence around here, and one of our favorites is that teams in playoff position by American Thanksgiving qualify for the postseason over 75 percent of the time. For those wondering, last season was a bit wild in regards to that statistic, as only 11 (instead of the usual 12) of the teams in playoff position by the Thanksgiving Break punched tickets to the dance.

I’m not here to point fingers, but the St. Louis Blues were on top of the Western Conference when they sat down for their 2017 turkey feasts. Maybe the tryptophan stuck around for the remainder of the season?

Excuse this Blues fan’s digressions.

I usually consider the second and third quarters as one group (for those bad at math, that’s half the schedule), meaning Black Friday (November 23) to February 24 provides the main bulk of the season – approximately 41 games per team (funny how that works out to half an 82-game season, isn’t it?). Just like Thanksgiving, February 24 is not a date simply drawn out of a hat. Instead, that is the last day of play before February 25’s trade deadline.

It is in this chunk of the season that a team truly proves itself in the face of a grinding schedule, as clubs will be playing at least three games a week for 13 weeks with only two major breaks – the standard three-day Christmas holiday and the All-Star Break/bye week (more on that in a moment).

After the trade deadline, the NHL’s regular season schedule is hot and heavy until it comes to a close on April 6 (You hear that Boston? No extending the season this year!). With every club packing approximately 20 games into only 41 days, teams will effectively be in action every other day as they scramble to complete their playoff qualification or improve upon their seeding.

Of course, there’s always a few wildcards that try to mess with this system. Take, for example, the Florida Panthers, who for the second season in a row have a backlogged schedule. With only 19 games on their calendar before Thanksgiving, the Panthers will play a whopping 22 games after the deadline to close out the season, meaning they just might complete they playoff push they came so close to pulling off last season.

On the flip side, Nashville is a team that has potential to see a stellar position in the standings – say, possession of the Presidents’ Trophy like Tampa Bay had for much of the season – slip through its fingers at the bitter end. The Predators will lace up their skates only 18 times after the trade deadline for the fewest number of tilts in that time span of any club in the NHL.

In terms of spacing their games evenly across the season, the teams with the most-balanced schedules include the Avalanche, Blackhawks, Bruins, Canadiens, Flyers, Lightning, Rangers, Senators, Sharks, Stars and Wild.


This season marks the third season of bye weeks in the NHL, and the league is continuing to make adjustments on the breaks to maximize the benefits for players while minimizing the impact on its overall product.

Year 1 featured byes scattered throughout the schedule from New Year’s all the way into March, creating confusion among fans and, presumably, opposing coaching staffs alike as we tried to keep track of which organizations had taken their breaks already and which were still playing on tired legs.

To alleviate that concern, the NHL condensed all byes into the span of two weeks in January last season with relative success. Gone was the chance of catching a team that had played for four-straight months without much of a break, as well as the chance a team could enter the playoffs with any sniff of an edge due to enjoying their bye later in the season. However, what that design created was a month book-ended by the Christmas and All-Star Breaks that lacked much action, as it’s tough to have games taking place when literally half the league is resting.

In my opinion, the league just might have found a winning formula in its third try. This year’s schedule sees every team’s bye week attached to the All-Star Weekend in San Jose. 21 clubs will enjoy the majority of their breaks following the festivities on January 24-27, while the remaining 10 will take their byes before the weekend or have it split on either side of the break.

What results is a minimum of four days off for all players regardless of their participation in San Jose, plus the four days allocated to the All-Star events that only a handful of players will attend. In addition, by selecting a majority of the 10 teams that will take their byes before the All-Star Break from the Eastern Conference, the NHL can schedule those sides for enough games to fill the scheduling void since travel between those cities is far shorter than in the West.

The players get their breaks and the NHL keeps hockey in arenas and on TV: I’d say everybody wins.


My favorite days of the regular season are always when there’s 15 games on the schedule, leaving only one team inactive. I guess that means I’ll have to do my Christmas shopping on a different day, because the first of those dates is November 23 – right after American Thanksgiving.

Unfortunately for Kings fans, their favorite club will be left out in the cold that day (who am I kidding, is there ever a cold day in Los Angeles?), but they’ll get to participate in December 29’s loaded schedule at the expense of Columbus.

Finally, the last 15-game day of the calendar is on April 6 – the final day of the regular season. Just like the Kings were the first team to be absent on a slammed schedule, the Ducks will be the odd team out, as their 82nd and final game of the regular season will take place the day before against Los Angeles at Honda Center.

ANAHEIM DUCKS – eliminated in First Round, 101 points

It’s hard to tell: did the Ducks have the worst road record of any 2018 Pacific Division playoff team because of all their injuries, or because their style of play is on the verge of extinction in the NHL’s current era of speed and skill?

I have a sneaking suspicion we’ll know soon enough, as four of Anaheim’s first six games are away from Honda Center. Should the Ducks struggle in Glendale against the potentially up-and-coming Coyotes in Game 2 of the regular season on October 6, there just might be cause for concern in Orange County.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 13 days (December 15-27)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 14 days (December 29-January 11)

BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Colorado, vs. Florida, vs. Winnipeg, vs. San Jose, at Los Angeles, at Vancouver, at Calgary, at Edmonton, vs. Calgary, vs. Los Angeles

ARIZONA COYOTES – 29th, 70 points

Going 0-10-1 in your opening 11 games is going to have a majorly detrimental effect on more than your overall record, so it’s no surprise the Coyotes ended the season with the worst home and road records of any club in the Western Conference. However, Arizona posted an 11-7-2 record in its last 20 games to close the campaign, so perhaps the Yotes aren’t as far off the mark as they seem on the surface.

Just like last season, Arizona’s first 11 games could answer a lot of questions about this organization moving forward, as the Coyotes have drawn a balanced schedule to open their season. Six of their first 11 opponents qualified for the playoffs last season (including Winnipeg [Oct. 20] and the Lightning [Oct. 27]), but almost all of the other five were nowhere close to the playoff bubble (Dallas [Oct. 4] was closest, but still missed the postseason by three points). Now, the Coyotes don’t necessarily have to have a winning record by the time October is through, but at least a .500 record would be reason enough to begin believing in this squad.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 17 days (January 20-February 5)

BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 14 days (February 24-March 9)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Tampa Bay, at Florida, at New Jersey, at NY Islanders, vs. Chicago, at Colorado, vs. Minnesota, vs. Los Angeles, at Vegas, vs. Winnipeg

BOSTON BRUINS – eliminated in Second Round, 112 points

Known for its brutal winters and Nor’easters, few look forward to making the trip to Boston during the wintertime. Count hockey players in particular among the professionals unexcited about a visit to New England, as TD Garden was home to the best home team in the Atlantic Division.

The Bruins fell just one point short of claiming the Eastern Conference crown last regular season, but they’ll have a chance to take an early lead this year when they open the season with eight-straight games against teams that failed to miss the playoffs. After visiting Washington D.C. for the Capitals’ banner raising ceremony on October 3, Boston will head to Buffalo (Oct. 4) before returning home to host the Senators (Oct. 8), Oilers (Oct. 11) and Red Wings (Oct. 13). Then, they’re off to Canada, taking on Calgary (Oct. 17), Edmonton (Oct. 18), Vancouver (Oct. 20) and Ottawa (Oct. 23) before returning home.

BYE WEEK: January 20-28 (nine days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days (February 15-23)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 12 days (February 26-March 9)

LAST 10 GAMES: at NY Islanders, at New Jersey, at Florida, at Tampa Bay, vs. NY Rangers, vs. Florida, at Detroit, at Columbus, at Minnesota, vs. Tampa Bay

BUFFALO SABRES – 31st, 62 points

Is it a surprise that the worst home team of the NHL ended up being the worst team at the end of the season? KeyBank Center was not a friendly place for the Sabres last year, but that’s sure to change with first-overall draft pick D Rasmus Dahlin joining the club to excite the loyal Buffalo fans.

Surely to the surprise of many, the Sabres did not finish the 2017-18 season with the worst road record in the league (that belonged to division rival Montréal). 14-20-7 away from home is far from pretty, but is is certainly something to build off of as Buffalo tries to return to the postseason for the first time in eight years.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 17 days (January 14-30)

BYE WEEK: January 19-28 (10 days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 15 days (February 1-15)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Toronto, at Montréal, at New Jersey, at Ottawa, vs. Detroit, at NY Islanders, vs. Columbus, vs. Nashville, vs. Ottawa, at Detroit

CALGARY FLAMES – 20th, 84 points

Teams with outstanding road records in the regular season are usually pretty dangerous in the postseason – but only if they qualify. Enter the curious case of the Calgary Flames last season, as they tied St. Louis for the honor of Best Road Team among those that failed to qualify for the playoffs with a 20-15-6 mark away from the Saddledome.

If new Head Coach Bill Peters can maintain that success in white, he’ll need to make sure his troops are in tip-top shape at the start of the New Year when the Flames begin their longest home stand. During that extended stay in Alberta, Calgary will host tough competition of the likes of the Avalanche (Jan. 9) and Panthers (Jan. 11), as well as the improving Coyotes (Jan. 13) and Sabres (Jan. 16).

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 10 days (January 9-18)

BYE WEEK: January 23-31 (nine days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in eight days (February 9-16)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Columbus, vs. Ottawa, at Vancouver, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Dallas, vs. Anaheim, at San Jose, at Los Angeles, at Anaheim, vs. Edmonton

CAROLINA HURRICANES – 21st, 83 points

Upon first glance at their 36-35-11 record, you might think you would want the Hurricanes to be traveling to your favorite team’s arena in hopes of them earning two points. However, just the opposite was true, as the Canes tied Florida for the best road record of any Eastern Conference club to miss the postseason.

With that in mind, Metropolitan rivals Pittsburgh (Feb. 5) and New Jersey (Feb. 10) cannot afford to rest on their laurels when Carolina takes to its longest road trip of the season just after the bye week, as the Hurricanes are going to be more than eager to defend their Road Warrior title.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 14 days (November 10-23)

BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in eight days (February 5-12)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Minnesota, vs. Montréal, at Washington, vs. Washington, vs. Philadelphia, at Pittsburgh, at Toronto, vs. New Jersey, at Philadelphia

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS – 25th, 76 points

My, how the mighty have fallen. After winning its most recent Stanley Cup only three years ago, Chicago took a massive tumble last season to end up in last place in the Central Division, only six points removed from the bottom of the Western Conference. To add insult to injury, the Hawks’ 18-18-5 record at home and 15-21-5 record on the road qualified them for the division’s worst in both categories.

Playoff teams take care of business at home, so that is where the Blackhawks should focus most of their energy at the start of the season. It won’t take United Center very long to spring back to life if the Hawks can earn at least 10 points on home ice in October – an easy task considering four of their seven visiting opponents that month failed to qualify for the playoffs last season.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Four games in seven days (December 12-18)

BYE WEEK: January 23-31 (nine days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Three games in five days – 3x (February 1-5; February 27-March 3; March 26-30)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Philadelphia, at Colorado, vs. Colorado, at Arizona, at San Jose, at Los Angeles, vs. Winnipeg, vs. St. Louis, vs. Dallas, at Nashville

COLORADO AVALANCHE – eliminated in first round, 95 points

This might be intrinsic of any 16 seed, but the Avs had the worst home record of any Central Division playoff team and the worst road record of all playoff teams.

Excitement in Denver for the Avalanche is growing by the minute, so I think it’s a safe assumption that Colorado will improve on its 28-11-2 mark at Pepsi Center this season. However, it’s the Avs’ 15-19-7 away record that I’m most concerned with, and they’ll get a nice, balanced road trip in January to work out the kinks in their white sweaters. That road swing starts in Winnipeg with a tough match against the Jets (Jan. 8), followed by two softer tilts against the Flames (Jan. 9) and Canadiens (Jan. 12). The intensity gets ratcheted up again with a stop in Toronto (Jan. 14) before culminating with a visit to Ottawa (Jan. 16). If Colorado can come home with at least seven points from that Canadian swing, it will be more than set up for another playoff appearance.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days (January 8-16)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 18 days (January 19-February 5)

BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Minnesota, at Dallas, vs. Chicago, at Chicago, vs. Vegas, vs. Arizona, at St. Louis, vs. Edmonton, vs. Winnipeg, at San Jose

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS – eliminated in first round, 97 points

A 2-0 advantage heading back to Nationwide Arena wasn’t enough to get the Blue Jackets their first playoff series victory, so it’s back to the drawing board again this season.

Going off last year’s table, the toughest stretch in Columbus’ schedule is surely its six-game run leading up to the Christmas break. The Jackets host the Kings (Dec. 13), Ducks (Dec. 15), Golden Knights (Dec. 17) and Devils (Dec. 20) before heading east to take on Philadelphia (Dec. 22) and New Jersey (Dec. 23). Since those last three matchups are in the division, they’re obviously more important, but if Columbus is as good as I think it is, it should come away with at least eight points over that stretch.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 13 days (December 8-20)

BYE WEEK: January 20-28 (nine days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in nine days (March 16-24)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Calgary, at Edmonton, at Vancouver, vs. NY Islanders, vs. Montréal, at Nashville, at Buffalo, vs. Boston, at NY Rangers, at Ottawa

DALLAS STARS – 19th, 92 points

Dallas’ 26-12-3 home record tied with Columbus for the 13th-best home mark in the NHL last season, yet the Stars failed to qualify for the postseason (in fact, the Stars had the best home record of any Western Conference club to miss the playoffs).

That’s what draws me to the Stars’ Halloween road trip throughout the Eastern Conference. If American Airlines Center is going to maintain its status as one of the tougher places to play in this league, the Stars are going to need to expel some ghosts and improve on their road effort if they want to extend their season beyond 82 games.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 10 days (October 28-November 6)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 21 days (January 12-February 1)

BYE WEEK: January 20-29 (10 days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Florida, vs. Colorado, vs. Pittsburgh, at Winnipeg, at Calgary, at Edmonton, at Vancouver, vs. Philadelphia, at Chicago, vs. Minnesota

DETROIT RED WINGS – 27th, 73 points

How nice is it that the league is letting the W Filip Zadina Era officially get underway with his NHL debut taking place at home? That game might be against a solid Blue Jackets team, but there shouldn’t be an empty seat in Little Caesars Arena on October 4 in anticipation of seeing what this kid is capable of.

Unfortunately for the rebuilding Red Wings, there’s 81 more games remaining on their schedule that might not be met with quite the same fanfare. Even if Detroit is still in contention late in the season, it’ll be hard pressed to make up any ground in the standings as six of its last 10 games – including five straight – are on the road.

BYE WEEK: January 23-31 (nine days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 10 days (February 17-26)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 10 days (March 19-28)

LAST 10 GAMES: at NY Rangers, at St. Louis, at Vegas, at San Jose, at Buffalo, vs. New Jersey, vs. Boston, vs. Pittsburgh, at Pittsburgh, vs. Buffalo

EDMONTON OILERS – 23rd, 78 points

With one of, if not the best player in the game in C Connor McDavid on their team, the Oilers surely have to be better than last season, right? If that is the case, Edmonton’s comeback story will find an interesting start when it squares off against New Jersey at Sweden’s Scandinavium – the home nation of LW Pontus Aberg, D Oscar Klefbom, D Adam Larsson and RW Jesse Puljujarvi – on October 6.

However, the point of the Oilers’ schedule I’m most interested in is the seven games leading up to their bye week. All seven of those tilts will be against clubs that missed the playoffs last year, with all but one taking place at Rogers Place where the Oil were the best home team in the Pacific Division that failed to qualify for the postseason. If Edmonton can’t capitalize on a juicy stretch like that, this team is beyond hope.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 14 days (December 18-31)

BYE WEEK: January 23-February 1 (10 days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in eight days (February 25-March 4)

LAST 10 GAMES: at St. Louis, vs. Columbus, vs. Ottawa, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Dallas, vs. Anaheim, at Vegas, at Colorado, vs. San Jose, at Calgary

FLORIDA PANTHERS – 16th, 96 points

Though finishing in ninth place in the Eastern Conference in 2017-18 is usually reason enough to predict the Panthers could qualify for the playoffs this season, there’s even more evidence for those willing to dig a little bit deeper.

The Devils (Nov. 26), Ducks (Nov. 28), Lightning (Dec. 1), Bruins (Dec. 4) and Avalanche (Dec. 6) may be coming to Sunrise during Florida’s longest home stand, but the fact that the Panthers were the NHL’s best home team to miss the playoffs will surely play in their favor. Similarly, there will be no fear in the Cats’ eyes when they travel to Philadelphia (Nov. 13), Columbus (Nov. 15) or Tampa Bay (Nov. 21) during their longest sabbatical from BB&T Center, as Florida also boasts (along with Carolina) the best road record of any Eastern Conference team to fail to qualify for the 2018 postseason.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 11 days (November 13-23)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Eight games in 15 days (November 24-December 8)

BYE WEEK: January 22-31 (10 days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Dallas, vs. Arizona, vs. Boston, at Toronto, at Montréal, at Ottawa, at Boston, vs. Washington, vs. NY Islanders, vs. New Jersey

LOS ANGELES KINGS – eliminated in First Round, 98 points

This year’s winner of the 2018-19 Bye Lottery is none other than the Kings of Tinseltown, who’ll get a whopping 11 days off the ice to rest and recuperate for the final 32 games of their regular season.

Speaking of byes, keep an eye on the Kings in the days following American Thanksgiving. From November 24-December 4, they’ll play seven games, all of which are against competition who’s 2017-18 campaigns ended after 82 games last season. Making that slice of their schedule even sweeter, six of those sides are from within Los Angeles’ own division, meaning the Kings could start staking a real claim for the Pacific before Christmas if they take care of business – something they didn’t exactly do a good job of last season (the Kings had the worst home record of any playoff team last season).

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 17 days (October 28-November 13)

BYE WEEK: January 22-February 1 (11 days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 10 days (February 2-11)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. San Jose, vs. Anaheim, at Calgary, at Edmonton, at Vancouver, vs. Chicago, vs. Calgary, at Arizona, at Anaheim, vs. Vegas

MINNESOTA WILD – eliminated in First Round, 101 points

Every team looks forward to its bye week, but none will need it as much as the Wild. The toughest stretch of Minnesota’s schedule is the six games leading up to the festivities in San Jose, as all of those matchups are against clubs that qualified for the playoffs a season ago.

Minnesota starts that run in Philadelphia on January 14, followed only a day later by a visit to Xcel Energy Center by the Kings. After that, the Ducks (Jan. 17) and Blue Jackets (Jan. 19) both make trips north before the Wild head west to take on Vegas (Jan. 21) and Colorado (Jan. 23). It’s a tough run (especially the game against the Avs, against whom the Wild lost three of four games last season by a combined 19-4 score), but this Minnesota club is a veteran group that should rise to the occasion.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Seven games in 14 games (October 29-November 11)

BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in nine days (March 11-19)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. NY Islanders, vs. Colorado, at Washington, at Carolina, vs. Nashville, at Vegas, at Arizona, vs. Winnipeg, vs. Boston, at Dallas

MONTRÉAL CANADIENS – 28th, 71 points

The start of the season has a decent chance of being painful for the Habs (they open their campaign at Toronto [Oct. 3] and Pittsburgh [Oct. 6] before returning home to host the Kings [Oct. 11] and Penguins [Oct. 13]), but they’ll then have five-straight tilts against teams that missed the playoffs last season to warm up in anticipation of their first meeting of the year against arch-rival Boston (Oct. 27).

If the Canadiens are going to improve this campaign, they’re going to need to figure out their road woes from a season ago. Finishing the season with a league-worst 11-26-4 record away from Bell Centre is simply not going to cut it – unless Montréal is planning on drafting D Bowen Byram, F Cole Caufield or C Jack Hughes with another lottery pick next summer.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 13 days (December 19-31)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 22 days (January 19-February 9)

BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Philadelphia, vs. NY Islanders, vs. Buffalo, at Carolina, vs. Florida, at Columbus, at Winnipeg, vs. Tampa Bay, at Washington, vs. Toronto

NASHVILLE PREDATORS – Presidents’ Trophy winner, 117 points

The Predators had their sights on something a little bit bigger than the Presidents’ Trophy last season (the Capitals know all about that plight), but their championship window is still wide open – just as long as they figure out when they want to hand the crease over to G Juuse Saros.

Of the many games and series I’m looking forward to this season, few shine as bright as the Preds’ four showdowns with Winnipeg. Fortunately for us, the first of those is scheduled for October 11 – only nine days into the 2018-19 season – but the series will really heat up in March when the final two meetings take place in the span of 23 days. Though Winnipeg is known for its home-ice advantage, Nashville has full intentions of improving on a NHL-best of its own: a 25-9-7 road record.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in nine days (November 25-December 3)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 10 days (January 4-13)

BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at San Jose, vs. Toronto, vs. Pittsburgh, at Winnipeg, at Minnesota, at Pittsburgh, vs. Columbus, at Buffalo, vs. Vancouver, vs. Chicago

NEW JERSEY DEVILS – eliminated in First Round, 97 points

Like a top-flight college football team, the Devils are playing a neutral-site game to open their regular season. However, what sets New Jersey apart from Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State, Oklahoma, USC and the likes is that its tilt against the Oilers will not take place in North America, but instead at Scandinavium in Gothenburg, Sweden (homeland of W Jesper Bratt and F Marcus Johansson).

Talk about a truly impartial crowd.

Few teams are going to be looking forward to the Christmas break quite like Jersey. Starting with a showdown in Washington on November 30, the Devils will begin a series of 10-straight games against teams that were in the playoffs last season – none more anticipated than a home rematch against the Lightning on December 3.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Four games in eight days (October 11-18)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Seven games in 13 days (October 30-November 11)

BYE WEEK: January 20-27 (eight days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Colorado, vs. Washington, vs. Boston, vs. Arizona, vs. Buffalo, at Detroit, vs. St. Louis, vs. NY Rangers, at Carolina, at Florida

NEW YORK ISLANDERS – 22nd, 80 points

As someone who’s never visited either Barclays Center or Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, I do not know if the Isles’ three homecoming games are going to be awesome because (a) the team returns to the building where they won four-straight Stanley Cups or (b) they’re playing in a building actually built for hockey, but I do know they’ll be awesome nonetheless.

Another thing I know is that the Islanders’ longest home stand (five games, all of which will be contested in Brooklyn) will likely not be a fun one, as C Mathew Barzal‘s side will be hosting the Maple Leafs on February 28 (complete with former captain C John Tavares), Capitals (Mar. 1) and Flyers (Mar. 3) in the span of four days, all of which were playoff teams only a few months ago. That tough stretch will do the Islanders no favors as they try to shed the label of the Metropolitan Division’s worst home team.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in eight days (October 13-20)

BYE WEEK: January 23-31 (nine days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in eight days (February 26-March 5)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Boston, at Montréal, at Philadelphia, vs. Arizona, at Columbus, at Winnipeg, vs. Buffalo, vs. Toronto, at Florida, at Washington

NEW YORK RANGERS – 24th, 77 points

There’s a few fans and analysts out there that think the Rangers can complete their rebuild and get right back into the playoffs this season. That remains to be seen, but we’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect from these Blueshirts by the end of November.

No, I’m not talking about the American Thanksgiving thing that was mentioned earlier – though that is mathematically backed. Instead, I offer this note: good teams can beat other good teams, but great teams almost always defeat the clubs they’re supposed to. In that strain, eight of New York’s last nine tilts before Thanksgiving are against sides that failed to make the playoffs last year, with a majority of those tilts taking place in the Big Apple. If the Rangers can earn at least 12 points during that run, I’ll buy in that this team is for real. For them to do that, they’ll need to improve on a Metropolitan Division-worst 13-23-5 record away from Madison Square Garden.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in eight days – 2x (October 25-November 1; February 12-19)

BYE WEEK: January 20-28 (nine days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in nine days (February 2-10)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Detroit, at Toronto, vs. Pittsburgh, at Boston, vs. St. Louis, at Philadelphia, at New Jersey, vs. Ottawa, vs. Columbus, at Pittsburgh

OTTAWA SENATORS – 30th, 62 points

We shared our hot-like-a-Canadian-Tire-fire takes in the season previews earlier this summer, but I always have my concerns about a team enjoying its longest home stand before October even comes to a close. That means much of the Senators’ travels will be condensed into six months without the opportunity for an extended series of nights sleeping in their own homes.

If Ottawa can, by some unpredictable act of God, manage to get back on track this season, it has a very favorable schedule to close the campaign. Seven of its last 10 opponents failed to qualify for the playoffs last season, and the three that did all have to come to Canadian Tire Centre. If the Sens are within six points of a playoff spot by mid-March, they could be just the team to squeak into a fifth postseason berth in the last eight seasons.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 14 days (October 10-23)

BYE WEEK: January 23-31 (nine days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in eight days (February 14-21)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Vancouver, at Calgary, at Edmonton, vs. Buffalo, vs. Florida, vs. Toronto, vs. Tampa Bay, at NY Rangers, at Buffalo, vs. Columbus

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS – eliminated in First Round, 98 points

To all Flyers season ticket holders: consider grabbing a holiday ticket package to the 76ers this December, because you’re going to be hard pressed to watch much hockey at Wells Fargo Center that month. Of the 14 games Philadelphia will play in the final month of the year, a whopping 10 will be away from Broad Street.

Making matters even more difficult, eight of those December games will be against clubs that qualified for the postseason last year, including two contests against division rival Columbus. By midnight of January 2 (the Flyers are in Nashville on New Year’s Day), we will surely know if this season’s Philadelphia club can build upon last year’s success. If last year’s campaign is any indication, these Flyers should return to the City of Brotherly Love in good shape, as they had the best road record of any team in the Metropolitan Division last season.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 10 days – 2x (November 8-17; February 2-11)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 10 days (December 23-January 1)

BYE WEEK: January 20-27 (eight days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Montréal, at Chicago, vs. NY Islanders, at Washington, vs. Toronto, at Carolina, vs. NY Rangers, at Dallas, at St. Louis, vs. Carolina

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS – eliminated in Second Round, 100 points

Last season, Penguins fans bemoaned the number of back-to-back games on their favorite club’s schedule. The NHL must have heard those complaints, because there’s only 11 instances of that occurring this season, the first of which isn’t until November 23 (at Boston) and 24 (vs. Columbus) – the weekend following American Thanksgiving when every team but Minnesota and Ottawa plays two games in three days.

However, what Pittsburgh got in fewer back-to-backs, it gave up in home stands. The most consecutive home games the Pens will play this season is three, which they do a whopping six times in a 41-game home schedule at the toughest arena in the Eastern Conference (at least according to the Pens’ home record last season). That’ll lead to a lot of plane rides and hotel stays, which could wear on the squad as the season progresses.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Three games in eight days (October 4-11)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days (January 11-19)

BYE WEEK: January 20-27 (eight days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Philadelphia, at Carolina, at Nashville, at Dallas, at NY Rangers, vs. Nashville, vs. Carolina, at Detroit, vs. Detroit, vs. NY Rangers

SAN JOSE SHARKS – eliminated in Second Round, 100 points

Good luck finding a more balanced schedule in the Pacific Division, if not the entire NHL. The Sharks have two five-game road trips to go with their six-game home stand, and it’s rare that they have only a one-off stay at SAP Center. That means the Sharks should spend more nights in their own beds than other clubs, which will surely pay dividends later in the season when other teams are getting tired after a full season of play.

Based on last year’s standings, one of the toughest stretches of San Jose’s schedule looks like it will occur in mid-March, as the Sharks will host the Predators (Mar. 16) and Golden Knights (Mar. 18) before heading south to take on their California brethren on back-to-back days (Mar. 21 and 22). With that in mind, I’d expect San Jose to be in the mix for its seventh Pacific Division title and maybe, just maybe, a shot at the top seed in the Western Conference.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 10 days (October 5-14)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 13 days (November 11-23)

BYE WEEK: January 23-February 1 (10 days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Vegas, at Los Angeles, at Anaheim, vs. Detroit, vs. Chicago, vs. Vegas, vs. Calgary, at Vancouver, at Edmonton, vs. Colorado

ST. LOUIS BLUES – 18th, 94 points

One of the most striking things about the Blues’ schedule is that, of the five times they play Chicago all season, three of those showdowns are scheduled in October. If that doesn’t get F Ryan O’Reilly excited to play for the Notes, I don’t know what will.

Undoubtedly, one of the most important six-game stretches in St. Louis’ schedule occurs around American Thanksgiving, as the Blues will square off with five of last season’s Western Conference playoff teams, including a home-and-home series with the Predators on Thanksgiving Eve and Black Friday. For the Blues’ sake, hopefully G Jake Allen will choose any other time of the season for his annual month-long meltdown.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 18 days (October 25-November 11)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 18 days (January 21-February 7)

BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Edmonton, vs. Detroit, vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Vegas, at NY Rangers, at New Jersey, vs. Colorado, at Chicago, vs. Philadelphia, vs. Vancouver

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING – Prince of Wales Trophy runner-up, 113 points

There’s no way to start a campaign quite like an extended home stand, and that’s just what the Lightning have the privilege of this season. However, the Bolts can’t afford to get too comfortable (even if the toughest competition they’ll face during that home stay is Columbus on Oct. 13), as they’ll immediately embark on their longest road trip (a tour of the Western Conference) after a division tilt against the Red Wings (Oct. 18). Fortunately, they boasted the Eastern Conference’s best road record last season, so that surely won’t be a problem for them.

Coincidentally, we can combine a Californian road trip and the Blue Jackets to find the toughest stretch of Tampa Bay’s schedule – at least in terms of last season’s standings. The Bolts will head to Orange County for a New Year’s Eve showdown against the Ducks, followed three days later by a Tinseltown tilt and a jaunt up to San Jose on January 5. When C Steven Stamkos and co. return to the friendly confines of Amalie Arena on January 8, Columbus will be waiting for them to cap a four-game streak against playoff teams from a season ago – the longest such run on Tampa’s schedule.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 13 days (October 6-18)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in eight days (October 20-27)

BYE WEEK: January 20-29 (10 days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Arizona, at Washington, at Carolina, at St. Louis, vs. Boston, vs. Washington, at Ottawa, at Montréal, at Toronto, at Boston

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS – eliminated in First Round, 105 points

The Maple Leafs were good before Tavares showed up, but now Torontonians have Stanley Cups dancing in their dreams. We’ll have a discussion about the Leafs’ chances in their season preview later this summer (spoiler: that defense still hasn’t been fixed), but first it’ll be worth mentioning that they seem to have a balanced schedule in front of them.

Toronto gets a nice and easy initiation into its 2018-19 campaign by playing its first five games against clubs that failed to qualify for the 2018 postseason, but the pedal hits the metal on October 13 when five of the Maple Leafs’ next six opponents finished in the NHL’s Sweet 16. In fact, from Opening Day until American Thanksgiving, just under 60 percent of Toronto’s first 22 games will be against 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff teams, meaning the Leafs will need to be ready right out of the gate if they want to avoid playing catch-up in the standings for the remainder of the regular season.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Four games in 10 days (December 29-January 7)

BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 11 days (February 9-19)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Nashville, at Buffalo, vs. NY Rangers, vs. Florida, at Philadelphia, at Ottawa, at NY Islanders, vs. Carolina, vs. Tampa Bay, at Montréal

VANCOUVER CANUCKS – 26th, 73 points

With RW Brock Boeser and C Bo Horvat already in Vancouver and F Elias Pettersson champing at the bit to fulfill the Canucks’ Swedish quota, it’s hard to believe British Columbia’s NHL representative can remain at the bottom of the table for many more seasons.

Pretending, if only for a moment, that this is the year the Canucks start their upward climb, their seven-game home stand that effectively closes the season (Games 81 and 82 are in Nashville [Apr. 4] and St. Louis [Apr. 6]) will play a major role in determining their postseason fate. That series starts slow with visits from the Senators (Mar. 20) and Flames (Mar. 23), but picks up some real steam when Columbus (Mar. 24), Anaheim (Mar. 26), Los Angeles (Mar. 28), Dallas (Mar. 30) and San Jose (Apr. 2) roll into town. Every point is precious that time of year, so the blue-and-green’s extended time in their own beds could provide just the edge they need to qualify for the playoffs for the second time in six seasons.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 13 days (October 6-18)

BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 14 days (March 20-April 2)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Chicago, vs. Ottawa, vs. Calgary, vs. Columbus, vs. Anaheim, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Dallas, vs. San Jose, at Nashville, at St. Louis

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS – Stanley Cup runner-up, 109 points

In their inaugural season, the Golden Knights got blessed with an unbelievable seven-game home stand to open T-Mobile Arena (the venue that proved to be the best home-ice advantage in the Pacific Division). It looks like it’s time for the NHL to cash that $500 million check, as Vegas will embark on a five-game road trip only three days into the season after hosting the Flyers on October 4 (much to the chagrin of the rest of the league, Vegas finished last season tied with Los Angeles for the honor of “Best Visitor in the Pacific Division,” as they both had matching 22-14-5 records away from home).

Speaking of five-game runs, an important one for Vegas will get underway on Valentine’s Day. The Golden Knights host Toronto that night, followed by a visit from the Predators two days later. Then Vegas is off to Colorado (Feb. 18) before returning home to host the Bruins (Feb. 20) and Jets (Feb. 22). That is Vegas’ longest stretch of consecutive games against 2018 playoff teams, and the fact that three of those clubs are Western Conference foes means postseason seeding could be on the line.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in eight days (October 6-13)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 13 days (October 16-28)

BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at San Jose, vs. Winnipeg, vs. Detroit, at St. Louis, at Colorado, vs. Minnesota, at San Jose, vs. Edmonton, vs. Arizona, at Los Angeles

WASHINGTON CAPITALS – Stanley Cup champion, 105 points

Winning a championship is hard, but successfully defending that title can be even harder. That’s the next challenge facing W Alex Ovechkin‘s crew, and we’ll see if they’re up to it after their first five games – all of which are against clubs that qualified for the playoffs last season, including rival Pittsburgh (Oct. 4) and the reigning Western Champion Golden Knights (Oct. 10).

Even if the Caps don’t come out with a solid record after that series, they’ll still have more than enough time to whip their play under new Head Coach Todd Reirden into shape, as their next eight opponents all failed to extend their seasons beyond 82 tilts.

BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 11 days (February 1-11)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 12 days (February 12-23)

LAST 10 GAMES: at New Jersey, vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Minnesota, vs. Philadelphia, vs. Carolina, at Carolina, at Tampa Bay, at Florida, vs. Montréal, vs. NY Islanders

WINNIPEG JETS – Campbell Bowl runner-up, 114 points

RW Blake Wheeler and the Jets took a major step forward last season to advance all the way to the Western Conference Finals before falling in five games to Vegas. Expectations in Manitoba are going to be extremely high this campaign, but it’ll be interesting to see if this young roster can perform with a large target on its back.

A good indication of how Winnipeg will perform under that pressure will come in the first month of play. After a nice, long home stand that ends with a major matchup against the Maple Leafs (Oct. 24) at the league’s most intimidating home arena, the Jets will take to the road for a back-to-back in Detroit (Oct. 26) and Toronto (Oct. 27), then fly to Finland (RW Patrik Laine‘s homeland) for another back-to-back against the up-and-coming Panthers (Nov. 1 and 2). If G Connor Hellebuyck and co. can come away with a winning record after that extended, 9328-mile (that’s 15 megameters, Canadians) road trip, I have no doubt these Jets will be challenging for their first division title since 2006-07’s Southeastern title as the Atlanta Thrashers.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 11 days (October 14-24)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in 13 days (January 17-29)

BYE WEEK: January 20-27 (eight days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Anaheim, at Vegas, vs. Nashville, vs. Dallas, vs. NY Islanders, vs. Montréal, at Chicago, at Minnesota, at Colorado, at Arizona

Jackets and Oilers Are Perfect Trade Partners

There have been a lot of rumors swirling in recent weeks about the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Edmonton Oilers. Jackets GM, Jarmo Kekalainen, was recently at the Oilers-Devils game.  Oilers GM, Peter Chiarelli, was at the Jackets-Sabres game on Monday.  Darren Dreger went on TSN 1050 in Toronto yesterday and had this to say:

“But things have changed a little bit. So let’s go back to the draft in Chicago. I know Columbus was willing to consider a top pick for Ryan Murray. Now they want player-for-player, and they’re in the market for a center. Is it Ryan Nugent-Hopkins out of Edmonton. Who might it be. Right now Nuge is playing great hockey for the Oilers, so I don’t think they’re interested in parting with him. But my sense is the asking price – if it’s Ryan Murray, or for most defenseman that the Oilers have some interest in – is still too high.”

Last night, the Oilers got absolutely hammered in St. Louis, losing to the Blues by a final score of 8-3. It is the second time in the last week they have lost to St. Louis, having lost 4-1 on November 16.  In between, they managed another blowout loss to Dallas, 6-3.  While Cam Talbot isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire with a 5-on-5 save percentage of 91.2 percent, he’s also faced more shots against 5-on-5 than all but two other goalies—Frederik Andersen and Andrei Vasilevskiy – not to mention facing the fifth-most high-danger chances against in the league.

No doubt, Edmonton is currently having some bad luck. The luck stat, PDO, has them third from the bottom with 96.67 percent combined shooting and save percentage.  Their shooting percentage is particularly noteworthy because they are shooting an abysmal 5.8 percent.  This is particularly interesting given that their expected goals for is top-five in the league.  This means they are not just getting shots, they are getting quality shots and for whatever reason they are not going in to this point.

So, what we know about the Oilers is that they are doing a good job in the offensive zone though they have been unlucky, and they are letting opponents get too many shots on net, which may be asking too much of Cam Talbot. If they were going to try and salvage this season, the fix has to be on defense.  Darnell Nurse has finally started to look like the player that people hoped he could be.  Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson have struggled a bit.  But the biggest problem is still Kris Russell.  It should be no surprise that Russell is their worst defenseman when you look at Corsi For Percentage as that has been a problem for Russell for a long time.

Meanwhile, Columbus’ struggles have been finding a center who can play with Artemi Panarin. An early experiment with Alex Wennberg failed when Wennberg became too passive.  There was no chemistry with team captain, Nick Foligno, who only converted to a center out of necessity.  While Pierre-Luc Dubois has shown some promise in recent games on a line with Panarin and Josh Anderson, the Jackets may not want to rush Dubois and may want insurance in case he hits the dreaded “wall” later in the season.  This is a team that is near the top of its division, a division that includes the Stanley Cup champs, despite not playing its best hockey and it is clear that management feels with an addition that the team can contend for a Cup this season.

Meanwhile, the Jackets top defensive pair of Zach Werenski and Seth Jones has been out of this world. With John Tortorella loosening the reigns and allowing Jones and Werenski to “rove” in the offensive zone, the dynamic duo has already accounted for 7 goals. You shouldn’t be shocked to learn that their possession stats are also quite good. What has been a surprise, has been the play of young Markus Nutivaara.  In just his second season, the 2015 seventh round pick of the Jackets has suddenly contributed offensively the way that Tortorella had hoped that he would, putting up 7 points and solid possession numbers.

On the other hand, David Savard and Jack Johnson have struggled and it isn’t the much maligned Johnson who has struggled the most, it has been Savard. Tortorella finally had seen enough and scratched Savard last week against the Rangers.  Savard was back in against Buffalo on Monday and both he and Johnson were significantly better.  If that pair can get back to playing at the level they did last season, the Jackets have a better shot of making it deep into the playoffs.  Don’t listen to rumors from out-of-town reporters that throw around Savard’s name.  It seems highly unlikely a team weak in depth on the right side is going to give up on Savard just because of some early-season woes.

The one regular defenseman I haven’t yet mentioned is Ryan Murray, who has spent the season paired with Nutivaara. As has been the case for most of Murray’s career, his role on that pair has been to be the “responsible defenseman” freeing up Nutivaara to roam in the offensive zone. He’s quietly excelled in this unheralded role, managing a positive Relative Corsi, but, more interestingly, the highest expected goals for percentage of any Blue Jackets defenseman.

The Jackets are blessed to have a seventh defenseman who is ready to take on a regular role. Gabriel Carlsson played for the Jackets during their playoff series against the Penguins and showed some promise playing a similar role to what Murray is currently playing.  And, while he still needs some work, Carlsson’s possession numbers aren’t bad in the limited minutes he’s been given.  The problem is that Carlsson won’t crack the lineup as long as the other six defenseman are on the roster and the AHL isn’t going to give Carlsson the development he needs at this stage, though it is a fine temporary solution to get him playing time.

Additionally, both Johnson and Murray will be free agents in the off-season. Murray is still a restricted free agent, but after taking a bridge deal on his last contract, he’ll be looking to get some real money this summer.  Meanwhile, the Jackets have another prospect in Vladislav Gavrikov who will be in Russia through the end of his current contract in the summer of 2019, but will then likely be looking to make the jump to the NHL.  With the Jackets re-signing Cam Atkinson and looking ahead to extending Werenski and potentially Sergei Bobrovsky in the summer of 2019, they may not be able to commit to Murray long-term.

Enter the Oilers and frequent trade rumor candidate Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Nugent-Hopkins is having a great season from a production standpoint, despite finding his line mates changing with some frequency.  He’s on a pace to have his best season to date with 17 points including 8 goals through 21 games.  That’s roughly a 30-goal pace and nearly 70 points. On the flip side, his possession stats are not particularly stellar.  He has a negative Relative Corsi For Percentage and Relative Expected Goals For Percentage.  I do have to wonder how much of that is based on the line mates he is playing with to this point in the season.  He’s spent the most time out there with Milan Lucic (who has lost a step) and Ryan Strome.  At times they have had him out there with Lucic and Zack Kassian.  All of those players are negative possession players.  Kassian has only 3 points, all assists, to this point in the season.

With Leon Draisaitl counting $8.5 million against the cap and Connor McDavid’s new deal with a $12.5 million annual cap hit kicking in next year, it has been clear for a while that Nugent-Hopkins was the odd man out. Paying $6 million for your third line center or playing an $8.5 million center as a wing is not exactly the best use of resources when McDavid is already getting $12.5 million against the cap.  Using Nugent-Hopkins to land a defenseman to round out the top 4 and send Kris Russell down to anchor the bottom pair would be a wise move for the Oilers, but one they need to pull off sooner than later if they have any hope of making the playoffs this spring.  While I think there is a good argument that the deal should be one-for-one given Nugent-Hopkins’ $6 million cap hit, I think it is likely the Oilers want something more and that may be the hardest part for the Jackets.  I’d keep Sonny Milano or Boone Jenner in mind as a possible second piece in a deal.  Milano might fit the Oilers’ game plan better than he fits with Torts’ system.  Jenner is another possible cap casualty for the Jackets who is going to be coming off his bridge deal this summer.

While a deal makes sense for both sides and both sides seem to be investigating the possibility, that doesn’t mean it gets done. The Jackets hold the cards here in the respect that they are near the top of the standings and don’t need to make a move right now, particularly as long as Dubois and Panarin are playing well together.  If this deal doesn’t happen, there will be other options for the Jackets.  I’ll look at some of those options in my next column, barring a trade in the meantime.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round – May 5

For the first and second rounds of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writer is Connor Keith.

 

Nashville Predators at St. Louis Blues – Game 5

Pekka Rinne stood tall, but not tall enough to prevent the Predators from falling 2-1 to St. Louis at the Scottrade Center in their Western Conference Semifinals matchup.

Instead, it was the Blues’ defense that played exceptionally well to earn the victory. Every single blueliner blocked two Predators shots, but the defensive corps was paced by Carl Gunnarsson‘s three. Add in the forwards’ rejections, and 25 total shots were blocked before reaching First Star of the Game Jake Allen, who saved all 22 shots faced except James Neal‘s (P.K. Subban and Roman Josi) five-on-three power play wrist shot with 6:10 remaining in the second period.

Speaking of Nashville’s special teams, they played incredibly. Not only did they convert the only extra-man opportunity of the combined eight in the contest, but the penalty kill also stood especially strong. In total, the Preds were shorthanded for 7:51, including 1:50 of five-on-three action late in the first period, but did not yield a tally.

But the Notes’ postseason success has not been due to their power play. Even though they played the eighth-best man-advantage during the regular season, they’ve managed an anemic 6.9% conversion rate in their 10 playoff games, the worst in the league since the end of the regular season.

Instead, it’s been grind-it-out goals like Second Star Dmitrij Jaskin‘s (Alex Pietrangelo and Vladimir Sobotka) wrister. Making his first appearance of the 2017 postseason, he took advantage of the rebound of Pietrangelo’s shot from the far point off Rinne’s right pad to beat the goaltender to the near post at the 5:43 mark of the second period.

With Jaskin and Neal both finding the back of the net in the middle frame, the score read 1-1 throughout the second intermission. That score remained for only 25 seconds in the third before Third Star Jaden Schwartz (Colton Parayko) buried St. Louis’ game-winner. Parayko intercepted an attempted clear by Josi at the far point and eventually fired a wrister on Rinne’s net. The netminder was more than able to make the save, but he couldn’t contain the rebound. Schwartz saw an opportunity, and he capitalized by lifting a wrister over Rinne’s right pad for his fourth goal of the postseason.

The Blues wanted a Game 6, and a Game 6 they’ll have. It’s scheduled for Sunday at 3 p.m. Eastern time and will be broadcast on NBC in the USA or SN and TVAS in Canada.

 

Edmonton Oilers at Anaheim Ducks – Game 5

With its 4-3 double-overtime victory over the Oilers at the Honda Center Friday, Anaheim has pulled within one game of the Western Conference Finals.

After Leon Draisaitl (Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson), Connor McDavid (Mark Letestu and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) and Drake Caggiula (McDavid and Kris Russell) all scored in the second period to set the score at 3-0, the Oilers were feeling confident going into the second intermission.

That confidence only grew the longer that score was displayed on the scoreboard. Cam Talbot played brilliantly for the opening 56:44 of play, saving all 40 shots the Ducks threw at him.

But as it turns out, all the Ducks needed was another attacker.

John Gibson left his net for the first time with 3:34 remaining in regulation. 18 seconds later, Second Star of the Game Ryan Getzlaf (Jakob Silfverberg and Ryan Kesler) scored a slap shot from the far point to set the score at 3-1.

Gibson reclaimed his net for the face-off at center ice, but departed with 2:59 remaining before the final horn. Exactly 18 seconds later once again, Cam Fowler (Silfverberg and First Star Corey Perry) struck his first goal of the 2017 playoffs to pull Anaheim within a tally.

Of course, the first two goals wouldn’t matter without a third. Once again Randy Carlyle sent Gibson into his crease for the center ice face-off, but the netminder deserted his post with 72 seconds remaining in play.

Though they didn’t score after only 18 seconds with the extra man this time, all that matters to the Ducks is that they scored. It was a wild play that was almost overturned by replay. With 21 seconds remaining in regulation, Fowler fired a wrist shot from the far point that Talbot was able to deflect. However, he was unable to contain the rebound, which Perry tried to collect and force into the net.

Darnell Nurse shoved him to the ice before he could fire, leaving the puck exposed on the near side of the crease. Third Star Rickard Rakell found the loose biscuit with 17 seconds remaining to miraculously squeeze a backhanded shot between Patrick Maroon‘s legs, under Nurse’s stick, past Kesler’s stick and through Talbot’s five-hole.

To put it simply, Rakell wouldn’t be able to pull off the shot twice in a row.

But all those heroics did was force overtime. In all, 23 shots were recorded between the two clubs – including 14 by Anaheim – but none could find the back of the net in the first overtime period.

The second overtime period didn’t even last half as long as the first, as Perry (Getzlaf and Rakell) buried a wrist shot at the 86:57 mark to give the Ducks a 3-2 advantage in the series.

Though he was probably exhausted, Perry’s goal was a crash-course in patience. After receiving a pass from Getzlaf from the far boards, Perry crossed the slot from far to near waiting for Talbot to commit. Once he did, he was unable to seal his near post as quickly as he would have liked, and Perry took advantage for only his second tally of the 2017 playoffs.

Part of the reason Edmonton struggled so mightily in the late stages of the game was due to their injuries on the blue line. The Ducks came out of the gates flying, throwing hard hits on Matt Benning and Andrej Sekera that forced both from the game for a short while. Though Benning was able to return to action late in the opening frame, Sekera could not retake the ice, leaving the Oil with only five defensemen for most of the game.

The Ducks will have their first opportunity to punch their ticket to the Western Conference Finals this Sunday at 7 p.m. Eastern time at Rogers Place. Viewers in America should tune their sets to NBCSN, while Canadian fans are advised to watch either SN or TVAS.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round – May 3

For the first and second rounds of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writer is Connor Keith.

 

Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 4

With a 3-2 victory over the Capitals at PPG Paints Arena Wednesday, Pittsburgh has pulled within a win of advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals for the fifth time in the last decade.

After the events of Game 3, two things could have happened in this contest. The Penguins could have taken to the ice with intentions of revenge for Matt Niskanen unintentionally downing Sidney Crosby with at least the fourth concussion of his career, or they could let the scoreboard do the talking.

Since Mike Sullivan and his club still have intentions of hoisting the Stanley Cup for a second straight season, cooler heads prevailed and they decided on the latter option.

Of course, missing Crosby and Conor Sheary – both first-liners – will put a damper on the offense no matter how brilliant Jake Guentzel and Evgeni Malkin perform. That’s where First Star of the Game Marc-Andre Fleury comes in.

Just like he’s done for most of his appearances this postseason, the veteran goaltender posted another exemplary 60 minutes. Though the Capitals fired 38 shots at him, he saved all but two for a solid .947 save percentage.

As far as scoring is concerned, almost all the action – save Second Star Patric Hornqvist‘s (Olli Maatta and Matt Cullen) marker 4:39 into the game – occurred in the second period when the Capitals scored three goals.

Wait, three?

Officially recorded as Guentzel’s eighth goal of the playoffs, Dmitry Orlov started Washington’s scoring with his right skate at the 3:51 mark. It looks like he intended to catch the puck with his skate then collect with his stick, but the second half of his plan never came to fruition. Because of that, Guentzel’s shot deflected into Braden Holtby‘s net to set the score at 2-0.

But the Caps didn’t waste any time getting that goal back. First up was Third Star Evgeny Kuznetsov (Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson), who buried his wrist shot from the at the 7:21 mark to pull Washington back within a goal. Nate Schmidt (T.J. Oshie and Kevin Shattenkirk) followed that marker up 72 seconds later to level the game at two-all with his first-ever postseason marker.

After Washington had tied the game at two-all, the Penguins defense clamped down. In the remaining 31:27 of play, they allowed only 17 shots to reach Fleury’s net. That effort was led in large part by Ian Cole, who blocked three Capitals shots in addition to his team-leading six hits by the end of the game.

With that in mind, it’s only fitting then that the game-winning goal belongs to one of Pittsburgh’s blueliners. Buried with 8:36 remaining in the second period, Justin Schultz (Malkin and Guentzel) banged home a power play slap shot over Holtby’s stick shoulder for the final tally of the contest.

The Capitals certainly had their chances to score at least one more goal in the third period to force overtime. They had all the momentum in the final frame and maintained possession in their offensive zone most of the time, but were done in by a questionable penalty with 1:52 remaining in regulation.

On initial look, it seemed like Oshie’s stick caught Nick Bonino in the face when they made contact in the far corner behind Fleury’s net. The penalty for that is, of course, a seat in the penalty box for hi-sticking.

But a replay later, the truth came out: the stick only caught Bonino’s shoulder – the eighth-year center sold/embellished/flopped (pick your favorite) to force the Caps to the penalty kill, effectively neutralizing any chance of an equalizer.

Of course, that’s only part of the story.

Guentzel actually suffered a hi-stick from Andre Burakovsky late in the third period that went uncalled, even though the officials knew he was bleeding.

And of course, this was all played out a year after this same narrative was played out by the exact same players. That time, Oshie was crossing Matt Murray’s crease and Bonino hit him in the chest in Game 5. Though a stick came nowhere near his face, Oshie threw his head back in faux pain to draw a penalty and force off elimination for one more game.

In either case, Penguins fans see the Oshie penalty as a makeup call.

Pittsburgh’s first opportunity to advance to the Conference Finals is scheduled for Saturday at 7:15 p.m. Eastern time at the Verizon Center. American viewers can look for Game 5 on NBC, while Canadians will be serviced by CBC, SN and TVAS.

 

Anaheim Ducks at Edmonton Oilers – Game 4

After trailing 2-0 – in more ways than one – the Ducks beat Edmonton 4-3 in overtime at Rogers Place to make their Western Conference Semifinals matchup a best-of-three series.

Third Star of the Game Drake Caggiula (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Patrick Maroon) did so well to tie the game with 102 seconds remaining in regulation. The rookie’s first postseason goal was struck only seconds after Cam Talbot was pulled for the extra attacker.

It was a typical grind-it-out style tally we’ve come to expect in the playoffs. He took advantage of John Gibson being unable to contain Nugent-Hopkins’ initial shot from the far face-off circle and collected the rebound to bury the puck over the netminder’s glove shoulder.

And only 2:27 of action later, it was all for naught.

Following intermission, the Ducks exploded onto the ice. Beyond Ryan Kesler losing the face-off to open overtime, Anaheim did not let the Oilers do anything else. 35 seconds into the fourth period, Adam Larsson tried to fire a puck at Gibson, but his shot was stopped by First Star Ryan Getzlaf.

Getzlaf maintained possession following the block and began Anaheim’s attack into the offensive zone by passing to a streaking Second Star Jakob Silfverberg. Silfverberg couldn’t take control of the puck and lost possession to Oscar Klefbom, who passed to Larsson.

Once again, Getzaf had other plans than letting the Oilers dump the puck into the neutral zone or start a counterattack. He intercepted Larsson’s pass and dished across the face-off circles to a waiting Silfverberg, who absolutely ripped a wrist shot past Talbot to end the game and level the series at two-all after losing both games at the Honda Center.

Making the Ducks’ victory all the more impressive is the fact that Edmonton effectively dominated the first period. Milan Lucic had the Oil riled up as they were hitting in the first period like it was going out of style. In total, Edmonton threw 37 hits before Silfverberg’s game-ending marker, led by both Zack Kassian and Lucic’s five blows apiece.

Lucic (Leon Draisaitl and Mark Letestu) was eventually rewarded for his physical play by scoring a power play goal with 4:22 remaining in the first period. Similar to Caggiula’s tally to force overtime, it was a hard-nosed goal struck from Gibson’s crease after he didn’t collect Draisaitl’s initial shot.

Only 2:05 after that, Connor McDavid (Draisaitl and Maroon) caught Gibson sprawled on the ice following a botched diving save to set the score at 2-0, the same score that read going into the first intermission.

Then Getzlaf happened.

The Ducks’ captain was involved in all four goals on the evening, starting with his first of two tallies only 97 seconds after the start of the second frame. After receiving a pass from Brandon Montour from the far point,  he rang home a wrister to pull Anaheim within a goal.

Unfortunately for him, that goal was slightly controversial. Talbot was not caught off-guard for this tally, but was instead fighting to see around Corey Perry.

Screens are perfectly legal in hockey, and a very effective way to produce goals. Perry rushed towards the crease from the far boards to act as one, but bounced off Larsson in the process. That slight change of direction changed his course from screening Talbot to making contact with Talbot.

The nudge was enough to force Talbot off his spot and the netminder immediately threw his hands up in frustration. That led Todd McLellan to quickly challenge the play. Though the officials deliberated for a few minutes, they ultimately decided to count the goal even though contact with the goaltender is clearly made.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think it should have counted. But then again, I don’t wear black-and-white stripes to hockey games.

The Ducks’ relentless, 21-shot attack in the second period continued 3:56 later when Rickard Rakell (Getzlaf and Perry) did his best tic-tac-goal off Getzlaf’s pass from the far post of Talbot’s net. Getzlaf passed across the crease to Rakell, who was waiting in the slot, and the right wing beat Talbot to the near post with his fast hands.

Getzlaf completed the surge on an unassisted slap shot  with 5:35 remaining in the frame for his seventh goal of the playoffs. Of all the goals the Oilers defense allowed in this contest, this is the one they want back the most.

After Talbot had saved Rakell’s initial wrist shot from the slot, Nugent-Hopkins had the puck on his stick near the far corner of the crease. Instead of quickly dumping the puck to allow his team to fight another day, he remained motionless and looked for a pass to start a counterattack. Getzlaf took advantage and attacked the puck through Nugent-Hopkins’ stick to bury it five-hole.

With hosts in this series having yet to successfully defend home ice, these remaining three games will be must-see TV.

Speaking of, the pivotal Game 5 is set for Friday at 10:30 p.m. Eastern time at the Honda Center. Residents of the United States will find the contest on NBCSN, while Canadians should tune to either SN or TVAS.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round – April 26

For the first and second rounds of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writer is Connor Keith.

 

Nashville Predators at St. Louis Blues – Game 1

The Predators’ record in the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs reads 5-0 after beating St. Louis 4-3 Wednesday at Scottrade Center.

Even before Colin Wilson (First Star of the Game P.K. Subban and Ryan Ellis) scored his power play tip-in 11:24 after puck drop to open the scoring, this series was already showing its true colors.

If the character of the game can be summed up in one hockey buzzword, it would have to be gritty. Of course, a tip-in tally would qualify for that adjective too, but it’s more defined by the violent interactions between the skaters. In that first period alone, a combined 28 hits were thrown between the two clubs. In total? 70 blows were thrown before the final horn, with the Blues leading the total by only two hits.

Then again, what should have been expected in a series featuring Cody McLeod (eight hits) and Ryan Reaves (10 hits)?

Unfortunately, that commitment to contact can sometimes have unintended results. 1:43 into the second period, Kevin Fiala got smashed into the boards by Robert Bortuzzo with his legs spread in an unnatural position. Fiala could not get back to his skates and remained on the ice.

The injury (trainers focused exclusively on the upper part of his left leg) was severe enough that he laid on the ice for more than five minutes and had to be stretchered off the ice and taken by ambulance to a St. Louis hospital for further evaluation and treatment. Wilson moved into Fiala’s left wing spot on the second line, but the Predators have since stated Fiala is in stable condition. His status for Game 2 on Friday is unknown.

Though Fiala’s condition and treatment was far more important, his injury certainly had an impact on the contest. The most immediate effect was the amount of downtime between play. Even after he was removed from the ice, play was further delayed until another ambulance arrived per NHL rules. In all, over 15 minutes elapsed between Matt Irwin‘s shot at the 1:45 mark to Ryan Johansen‘s face-off victory at the 1:46 mark.

After sitting inactive for that long with nothing but a serious injury on the mind, both the Blues’ and Predators’ response out of the break would be extremely important. Nashville’s reaction was by far the better of the two, made evident by Subban’s slap shot (Johansen) from the point 36 seconds after resuming play to set the score at 2-0.

Not all contact is legal, though – especially when it involves a netminder. David Perron forced St. Louis to learn the tough “If you knock their goalie down, you’re going to pay” lesson 9:38 into the game when he was caught interfering with Pekka Rinne. It was that penalty that yielded Wilson’s game-opening marker 1:46 later.

Blues penalties were certainly trendy in the second period. After Second Star Colton Parayko (Joel Edmundson and Kyle Brodziak) pulled the Notes back within a five-hole wrist shot at the 8:04 mark of the second period, all three ended up in the sin bin for individual infractions. Before the end of the frame. Though Nashville couldn’t take advantage four-on-three or five-on-three situations, Filip Forsberg (Subban and Roman Josi) did score a power play goal with his skate with 7:49 remaining in the second frame, setting the score at 3-1.

Whether it was St. Louis’ offense truly coming alive or a coach seeing something in the Predators’ play during intermission, Scottrade Center’s scoreboard came alive in the final frame. 6:48 after resuming play, Third Star Jaden Schwartz (Paul Stastny and Edmundson) scored the Blues’ second five-hole goal to pull the home team back within a tally, followed 2:34 later by a Vladimir Sobotka (Magnus Paajarvi) wrist shot that found the top shelf of Rinne’s net.

The crowd tried as hard as it could to spur its team to another goal, but Vernon Fiddler (Austin Watson) had other plans – though the goal was more a mistake by Jake Allen than the center’s hard work. After receiving a pass from Watson along the far boards, Fiddler drove towards Allen’s crease. The puck started to get away from him, so the netminder tried to dive and bat the puck away with his stick. But Allen’s stick never made contact with the puck, so it slid underneath him and into the back of the net for the game-winning goal.

As hinted before, Game 2 will be contested Friday at 8 p.m. Eastern time at Scottrade Center. Americans intending to watch the game can do so on NBCSN, while Canadian viewers will find the contest on CBC and TVAS.

 

Edmonton Oilers at Anaheim Ducks – Game 1

With a thrilling third period, the Oilers beat previously unbeaten-in-the-playoffs Anaheim 5-3 Wednesday at the Honda Center.

Through the first two periods, it was a great goaltending matchup. If not for Second Star of the Game Ryan Getzlaf (Cam Fowler and Ryan Kesler) and Third Star Mark Letestu (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl) both scoring power play goals in the second frame to set the score at one-all, both John Gibson and Cam Talbot would have perfect shutouts on 20 shots faced apiece.

Then the final 20 minutes happened.

First Edmonton had its spurt. Letestu (Draisaitl and Connor McDavid) buried a power play wrist shot 6:23 into the frame to give the Oil their first lead of the night, followed 100 seconds later by First Star Adam Larsson‘s (Draisaitl and Patrick Maroon) wrister that flew past Gibson.

But the Ducks were more than able to hold serve after that strike with one of their own. 79 seconds after Larsson was finished celebrating the second playoff goal of his career, Patrick Eaves (Getzlaf and Brandon Montour) scored a wrister and pulled Anaheim back within a tally of the young Oilers. Jakob Silfverberg (Andrew Cogliano and Kesler) completed the comeback on a tip-in with 9:13 remaining in regulation, tying the contest at three-all.

The first time Larsson scored a goal in the postseason was his first-ever playoff game: May 1, 2012 with New Jersey. That nearly five-year-old weight could not be lifted soon enough, as Larsson scored his third postseason goal (Oscar Klefbom and Maroon) on a wrister only 7:17 after his second.

Making it all the sweeter, it proved to be the contest’s game-winner, as the Ducks could not find a way to get another goal past Talbot in the remaining 4:40 of action. When that looked not to be the case, Draisaitl (Milan Lucic and Larsson) scored on an empty net to ensure the victory.

The match closed like many in the playoffs do: with many skirmishes. In all, three Ducks (Getzlaf, Kesler and Corey Perry) and three more Oilers (Drake Caggiula, Zack Kassian and Andrej Sekera) were sent to their dressing rooms four seconds early for roughing penalties. What’s interesting is that these types of fights are already happening in Game 1. The rest of this series will be physical and scrappy.

Game 2 will be right back at the Honda Center Friday at 10:30 p.m. Eastern time. Residents of the USA will find the game on NBCSN, while Canadians can watch the contest on SN and TVAS.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round – April 12

For at least the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writer – unless noted otherwise –  is Connor Keith.

 

New York Rangers at Montréal Canadiens – Game 1

On nights like these, it doesn’t matter who the goal comes from. All that matters is that it goes in the net. That was the case for the Rangers, who bested the Habs 2-0 at the Bell Centre to take an early lead in their playoff series.

After collecting a face-off Tomas Plekanec had originally won for Montréal, Second Star of the Game Tanner Glass sneaked an unassisted backhanded shot over Third Star Carey Price‘s glove shoulder at the 9:50 mark of the first period for what proved to be the netminder’s only goal allowed on the night. Michael Grabner (Jesper Fast) provided the lone insurance tally on an empty net with 70 seconds remaining in regulation.

We knew coming into this series it was a matchup between two incredible goaltenders in 31-20-4 First Star Henrik Lundqvist and 37-20-5 Price, and they didn’t disappoint, combining for 59 saves. Lundqvist saved all 30 he faced for the 10th postseason shutout of his career.

New York truly took command of this game after the first intermission, limiting the Canadiens to only 15 shots over the remaining 40 minutes. Even when the Habs were able to control the posession, the Blueshirts would not let them get a shot on Lundqvist’s net, managing 24 blocks – led by Dan Girardi‘s four.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boston Bruins at Ottawa Senators – Game 1

By: Nick Lanciani

After going 0-3-1 against the Ottawa Senators in the regular season, the Boston Bruins opened up their edition of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 2-1 victory on road ice.

Fresh off of his two-game suspension for the last two games of the regular season, Brad Marchand scored the game winning goal with 2:33 to go in the 3rd period– capping an almost two-minute long shift.

Ottawa Senators goaltender, Craig Anderson, played a stellar game despite the loss. Anderson made 23 saves on 25 shots faced for a .920 save percentage.

Both teams swapped tremendous chances in the first 20 minutes, but neither Boston’s David Pastrnak, nor Ottawa’s Derick Brassard could score on back-to-back breakaway chances. After an eventful 1st period which nearly witnessed Bruins forward– and Ottawa native– Ryan Spooner pocket one in the twine with about four seconds to go, the score remained tied at 0-0.

The Sens kicked off the series’s goal scoring in the 2nd period with a goal from Bobby Ryan (1) at 10:28. Ryan crashed the net and followed up on one of his own chances, firing the puck short side by Bruins goaltender, Tuukka Rask. Erik Karlsson (1) notched the only assist on the goal.

For the first time since May 10, 2014 an NHL team was held without a shot in a single period in a Stanley Cup playoff game, as Boston did not record a shot on goal in the 2nd period. The Anaheim Ducks, by the way, were the last team to do so in their matchup with the Los Angeles Kings. The Ducks wound up winning the game 2-0, however.

After going without a goal in his last 15 games of the regular season, Frank Vatrano (1) found the back of the net with 15:05 to go in the 3rd period in his first career Stanley Cup Playoff game. Riley Nash (1) and Adam McQuaid (1) were credited with the assists on the goal.

Vatrano became the 6th Bruin since 1999 to score in his playoff debut and Boston tied the game, 1-1.

Late in the 3rd period, Marchand (1) put the Bruins ahead for the first time in the game with the game-winning goal off of a blocked shot by Dion Phaneuf. Patrice Bergeron (1) and Pastrnak (1) collected the assists on Marchand’s 17th career NHL playoff goal.

Boston’s Rask made 26 saves on 27 shots against for a .936 save percentage in the win. The Bruins lead the series 1-0 with Game 2 scheduled for Saturday at Canadian Tire Centre and can be viewed on NBC/TVAS/SN at 3 p.m. ET.

 

Columbus Blue Jackets at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 1

When Matthew Murray went down in warmups, things were looking grim for the Penguins, at least for their playoff opener. Instead, First Star of the Game Marc-Andre Fleury saved all but one shot faced to lead Pittsburgh to a 3-1 victory over the Blue Jackets at PPG Paints Arena.

Just like Pierre McGuire said during the broadcast, sometimes the best trade a club can make is the very one they don’t. Trade rumors swirled about the Penguins’ former first-overall pick all season, but he turned in a 31-save performance and a Game 1 victory for First Star honors.

Jeff Zatkoff, anyone? Maybe Fleury has too much playoff experience to be the Pens’ new “Mr. Game 1,” but the story is beginning to sound eerily similar to last year’s Cup run.

Offensively, the Pens showed one period of greatness after a sluggish opening frame. The Jackets held them to only three shots on the opening 20 minutes – including none in the last 14:49 – due in large part to their 23 first period hits .

The Penguins came out on fire after the intermission, notching all three of their tallies. Only 1:15 after returning from the dressing room, Bryan Rust (Second Star Phil Kessel and Third Star Evgeni Malkin) broke the ice with a snap shot. Kessel’s assist was especially impressive, as he used his skate to pass to the right wing.

Rust’s tally was followed only 2:30 later by Kessel’s (Justin Schultz and Malkin) eventual game-winner. Kessel’s tally was a strong power play wrist shot from the near face-off dot over Sergei Bobrovsky‘s glove shoulder.

Nick Bonino (Patric Hornqvist and Olli Maatta) provided Pittsburgh’s final tally with 3:35 remaining in the frame.

Columbus finally got on the board with 7:19 remaining in regulation courtesy of Matt Calvert (Josh Anderson), but the Jackets couldn’t convert any more of their 32 shots on goal into markers.

 

St. Louis Blues at Minnesota Minnesota Wild – Game 1

Overtime game-winners in the playoffs can come from the most unlikely of sources. In Game 1, it was First Star of the Game Joel Edmundson that gave St. Louis the 2-1 overtime victory over the Wild at the Xcel Energy Center.

No matter how hard Minnesota’s offense tried, it could not get past Second Star Jake Allen. The Blues’ goaltender saved 43 straight shots faced for an unblemished effort.

That is, until only 23 seconds remained in regulation. Zach Parise (Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund) scored a wrist shot to match Vladimir Sobotka‘s (Alex Steen) snap shot at the 6:21 mark of the second period to force the first overtime period of the 2017 postseason.

Similar to the Notes’ long playoff run a year ago, the Wild found its success when it made its presence known. Led by Jared Spurgeon and Chris Stewart‘s four checks apiece, Minnesota threw an impressive 28 hits in regulation to St. Louis’ 13, which led to 11 takeaways.

In all, Allen saved 51 shots faced before Edmundson (Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz) scored the game-winning wrister. It wasn’t the prettiest play the Blues have ever run, but they aren’t complaining. Tarasenko was crashing Third Star Devan Dubnyk‘s crease, but lost control of the puck before he could manage a shot. Fortunately for him and his club, the loose puck found the defenseman’s stick and he easily scored on Dubnyk’s stick side.

 

San Jose Sharks at Edmonton Oilers – Game 1

The Sharks arguably entered the playoffs in their worst slump of the season, but those losing ways just might be behind them. San Jose beat Edmonton 3-2 in overtime at Rogers Place to take an early one-game lead in their first round series.

San Jose’s worst fears were realized in the first period, as Edmonton’s offense made it known that it has no trouble picking Martin Jones apart when he’s off his game. Both Oscar Klefbom (Jordan Eberle and Milan Lucic) and Lucic (Mark Letestu and Connor McDavid) scored in the opening frame to give the Oil an early 2-0 lead.

Playoff experience is one of the most valuable things a club can have. Whether it was the Oilers’ offense not having much of it or the Sharks’ defense being able to match the hosts’ efforts (Edmonton managed only nine shots on goal after the first period), San Jose was able to fight its way back into this contest by constricting Edmonton’s attack. As a result, Joel Ward (Joonas Donskoi and Marc-Edouard Vlasic) took advantage of Drake Caggiula‘s hooking penalty late in the opening period to score a power play wrist shot 1:43 into the second.

Paul Martin (Tomas Hertl) completed the comeback 5:22 into the final frame. He buried the rebound off Second Star of the Game Cam Talbot‘s left pad after Hertl’s inial shot to tie the game at two-all and force the second extra-time game of the night.

It only took 3:22 of extra time, but that playoff experience was truly apparent in that time. San Jose fired six shots to the Oilers’ two, and the final one, a snap shot by First Star Melker Karlsson (Joe Pavelski and Valsic), was able to get past Talbot for a Sharks victory.

October 14 – Day Three – Everyday I’m Russellin’

Yesterday’s Game of the Day between Washington and Pittsburgh was exactly what we’d hoped it would be. Exciting. Tight. Competitive. It took a shootout for Pittsburgh to earn two points on a 3-2 victory that improved their record in banner-raising games to 3-0-1.

Third Star of the Game Andre Burakovsky (Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson) scored five-hole on First Star Marc-Andre Fleury only 59 seconds after the opening puck drop to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead.

The Pens leveled 8:47 into the second frame with a power play tally when Patric Hornqvist (Kris Letang and Second Star Evgeni Malkin) deflected a shot from the point to score on Braden Holtby. With 1:08 remaining in the frame, they took the lead when Malkin (Conor Sheary) faked out Holtby to sneak the puck behind his left skate.

Washington returned the favor with another Burakovsky (Backstrom and Matt Niskanen) tally to level the game with 13:47 remaining in regulation. That score held until the clock read zeroes, forcing three-on-thee overtime and, thanks to some incredible saves by Fleury, the shootout.

Pittsburgh elected to shoot first.

  1. Nick Bonino found glass.
  2. T.J. Oshie? Bueno.
  3. Malkin: Tickled the twine, top-shelf.
  4. Evgeny Kuznetsov: Fleury makes the stop.
  5. Letang: Lit the lamp.
  6. Backstrom: Keeps the shootout going.
  7. Phil Kessel: Rang one off the post. Originally called no good, it bounced out that fast.
  8. Alex Ovechkin: Rejected to give the Penguins the win.

Fleury saved 39-of-41 (95.1%) in his first victory of the season, while Holtby saved 28-of-30 (93.3%) in the shootout defeat.

With that result, the home teams improve to 4-1-0 in the DtFR Game of the Day series.

There’s three games going on this evening – a nice, light schedule. Chicago at Nashville kicks things off at 8 p.m. (NBCSN/TVAS), followed an hour later by Edmonton at Calgary (SN1/SN360). Philadelphia at Los Angeles clean things up at 10:30 p.m. All times eastern.

All three are great contests, but I’m drawn to the Battle of Alberta for the second time in three days. Not only is it a serious rivalry (any rivalry that has a name is serious), but it’s also Kris Russell‘s first game in Calgary since being traded to Dallas at the deadline last season.

Unknown-5Unknown-4This is both teams’ second fixture of the season, as well as their second meting of the three-day-old season. Wednesday night, the Oilers defended home ice 7-4 with Leon Draisaitl (A), Jordan Eberle (G), Zack Kassian (G), Oscar Klefbom (A), Adam Larsson (A), Patrick Maroon (G), First Star of the Game Connor McDavid (2G/A), Darnell Nurse (A), Tyler Pitlick (G), Jesse Puljujarvi (G), Second Star Russell (2A) and Andrej Sekera (A) all getting on the score sheet.

Who else to seal the Oil‘s first victory of the year than newly-christened Captain McDavid. His second goal of his sophomore season was an unassisted breakaway goal during four-on-four play in the middle frame.

Scoring for Calgary in the game was Third Star Mikael Backlund (2A), Lance Bouma (A), T.J. Brodie (A), Troy Brouwer (G), Alex Chiasson (G), Michael Frolik (G), Mark Giordano (A), Matt Stajan (A) and Dennis Wideman (G).

The shared province of Alberta is physically represented this season by defenseman Russell, who as of Wednesday has played for both clubs. Three seasons ago, Russell moved from St. Louis to Calgary. While there, he helped lead that 2014-15 Flames team to the Western Semifinals, a team that turns more into an aberration instead of foreshadowing by the game. He scored two goals and seven points that postseason, the most of any playoff appearance in his career, but the Flames were unable to build off that success and missed the playoffs last year.

Some players to keep an eye on tonight include Calgary‘s John Gaudreau (78 points last season [tied for sixth-most in the league]) and Edmonton‘s McDavid (two goals [tied for second in the league] and three points [tied for fifth in the NHL]), Russell (+3 [tied for seventh in the league]) and Cam Talbot (a win [tied for second-best in the league] on a .902 save percentage [10th-best in the NHL]).

Calgary enters the game favored by Vegas anywhere from -125 to -130, but I have a hard time thinking the Flames can pull out the win given the seven goals McDavid and co. put up the other night. Oilers improve to 2-0-0.

Hockey Birthday

  • Dave Schultz (1949-) – The Hammer was not simply an enforcer, he was an enforcer on the Philadelphia FlyersBroad Street Bullies teams of the 70s. An enforcer for enforcers, if you will. It’s not something he puts on his résumé anymore, even if he still holds the distinction of most penalty minutes in a season (472).  Nowadays, he’s a successful businessman.
  • Sylvain Lefebvre (1967-) – Most known for his days in Colorado, the defenseman played 14 seasons and hoisted one Stanley Cup. He’s still involved in hockey, specifically coaching the St. John’s IceCaps within Montréal‘s system, the first club he played for.

December 15 – Day 69 – Wait, what did you say about the Oilers?

The Washington Capitals paid back the Pittsburgh Penguins for beating them in the Verizon Center in October by taking a 4-1 victory in Consol Energy Center in last night’s Game of the Day, spoiling Mike Sullivan’s debut.

Third Star of the Game Nicklas Backstrom scored his 10th goal of the season at the 3:53 mark of the first period after being assisted by Second Star T.J. Oshie and Karl Alzner.  The eventual game-winner was fired only 3:11 later when Jason Chimera and Jay Beagle assisted John Carlson to the Caps‘ final goal of the period.  Evgeni Malkin fired the lone goal of the game for the Pens at the 13:59 mark, assisted by Ben Lovejoy and Phil Kessel.  The 2-1 Washington lead held through both intermissions before expanding.

Oshie again found his way onto the stat sheet with his first of two goals in the final period.  He was assisted by Backstrom at the 8:50 mark to give the Caps a two-goal lead.  His second was a five-on-three power play goal, scored at the 19:11 mark after being assisted by Backstrom and Carlson.

First Star Braden Holtby saved 45 of 46 (97.8%) shots to improve his record to 19-4-1, while Marc-Andre Fleury (13-10-2) takes the loss after saving only 30 of 34 (88.2%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands 22-10-5 in favor of the home team, who lead the roadies by 17 points.

Tonight’s schedule is a busy one, with a total of 11 games being played.  Four get their start at 7 p.m. eastern (New Jersey at Buffalo [Bell TV], Florida at the New York Islanders, Edmonton at the New York Rangers and Carolina at Philadelphia), followed half an hour later by two more (Tampa Bay at Toronto [TVAS] and San Jose at Montréal [RDS]).  Starting at 8 p.m. eastern are three games involving the Central Division (Calgary at Nashville, Vancouver at Minnesota and St. Louis at Winnipeg), followed half an hour later by the two nightcaps of the evening (Colorado at Chicago [NBCSN] and Columbus at Dallas).

Four of tonight’s games involve division rivals (Carolina at Philadelphia, Tampa Bay at Toronto, St. Louis at Winnipeg and Colorado at Chicago), while another represents the lone matchup between two teams currently qualifying for the playoffs: Edmonton at New York.  To commemorate the potential for Edmonton‘s first playoff push since falling in the Stanley Cup Finals to Carolina in 2006, let’s tune into the Oilers visiting the Rangers.

200px-Logo_Edmonton_Oilers.svgNew York Rangers Logo

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, you read that correctly.  The 14-15-2 Edmonton Oilers are currently qualifying for the playoffs.  Nevermind that three Pacific Division teams are technically tied for second place in the division and Edmonton narrowly leads Vancouver by Regulation+Overtime wins, focus more on the fact that Edmonton only needs Arizona to lose two games for the Oilers to officially move past them in the standings.  The future is bright for the Oil!

But how have they made it to this position?  Did Connor McDavid get healthy and the media not let us know? No, he still has near a month before he sees the ice again, but that has not stopped the squad from winning six games in a row coming into tonight’s matchup, including a 3-2 victory over Boston in the TD Garden last night.

So far this season, Edmonton‘s offense has been little more than average.  They’ve scored 80 goals so far, led by Taylor Hall’s 14 tallies, on 865 shots (led by Hall’s 124).  While the shot total trails the league average, the Oilers have made up for it by scoring on 9.2% of their attempts.

Even the power play has been average, as they’ve scored 18 goals on 95 attempts (six players have two goals, including Hall and McDavid), the same 18.95% the average team has earned.

The defense has been where Edmonton has really struggled this season.  Most teams have given up 79 goals so far this season: Anders Nilsson (10-7-1) and co. have given up a whopping 90.  This hasn’t been all the goaltenders’ fault though, as they’ve faced 913 shots already this season.  Oscar Klefbom has a team-leading 62 blocks, but the rest of the defense needs to do more to prevent opponents from putting so much pressure on their keeper.

Luckily, one of the saving graces of this defense has been their penalty kill.  They’ve given up 18 goals on 91 attempts for a 80.22% kill rate that is, once again, simply on par with the rest of the league.

Also, speaking of keepers and the like, it would be wrong to ignore 3-8-1 Cam Talbot who was such an important part of New York‘s season last year when King Henrik went down.  Unfortunately for him, he has not found the same success in Edmonton and has been again relegated to a backup position.

While it is exciting for the Oil to be in the position they’re in after years of futility, they face a stiff opponent this evening that will surely test their grit, as they head to Madison Square Garden to face the 18-9-4 New York Rangers, who currently own the third-best record in the Metropolitan Division and fourth in the Eastern Conference.  With their eyes on a deep playoff run, even though they’re currently riding a three-game losing skid (including a 5-4 OT loss in Calgary on Saturday), the Blueshirts employ a strong game on both ends of the ice.

Beginning with the offense, we find a team that has scored 89 goals this season (led by Mats Zuccarello’s 13), well exceeding the league average of 79.  I usually say that goals are a symptom of a high quantity of shots, which still holds true with the Rangers‘ 878 total shots (led by Rick Nash’s 88), but I think this is actually an instance of impeccable and opportunistic shooting accuracy, made evident by a whopping 10.1% of shots tickling the twine.

The Blueshirts are an imposing offense when evenly matched, but their power play has been especially strong, as they’ve scored the league average of 18 goals on 12 fewer attempts (21.69%).  While Edmonton‘s penalty kill may be good, it would be in the Oil‘s best interest to avoid going down a man as much as possible.

Of course, we cannot talk about Nash, Zuccarello and the offense without discussing 14-6-3 Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers‘ defense. They’ve given up only 70 goals this season, and saved 959 shots (well exceeding the league average) for a 93.1% save percentage.  But it’s not been just King Henrik, but also the defense, specifically Dan Girardi and his 70 blocks.  Unfortunately for him, one of those blocks cost him a knee, as he is currently dealing with swelling in that spot and listed as day-to-day.

Just like Edmonton, New York is also good on the penalty kill.  They’ve faced 100 penalties already this season, and only allowed 16 goals.  That 84% kill rate exceeds the league average by over 3%.

The Blueshirts and Oil have already met once this season, a 7-5 Edmonton victory last Friday in Rexall Place.

Some players to watch in tonight’s game include Edmonton‘s Hall (34 points [tied for fourth in the league], +14 [tied for fifth in the league], 20 assists [tied for sixth in the league] and 14 goals [tied for eighth in the league]) and New York‘s Lundqvist (14 wins [tied for fourth in the league], .933 save percentage [tied for fourth in the league], two shutouts [tied for seventh in the league] and 2.14 GAA [ninth in the league]).

The Oilers may be hot and caught the Rangers on a long Canadian road trip last week, but I do not think they will be so fortunate in Madison Square Garden.  I expect the Rangers to easily take care of the Oil, potentially even shut them out, to break this losing skid.