Tag Archives: Koivu

Whiteout Whitewashing: Jets take the series with Game 5 shutout victory

 

For the first time since the birth of the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise 19 years ago, the team will see the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. For the city of Winnipeg, a 31-year wait has ended with thunderous applause.

For Minnesota, however, an arduous struggle has ended in back-to-back blankings at the hands of a Jets squad that far outclassed them. The Wild fought as best they could, but with the absence of Ryan Suter on defense, and the loss of Zach Parise after Game 3, the tools for them to compete with a stacked Winnipeg roster just weren’t there. Pile on some notably lackluster performances from key players like Jason Zucker, Nino Niederreiter, and Charlie Coyle (all held scoreless in the series) and there was really no hope to overcome the juggernaut Jets.

The Wild knew to have any shot at surviving Game 5 they’d need to play the perfect road game and try to keep the Jets from building momentum and getting the raucous crowd involved. This strategy lasted all of 31 seconds.

A strong opening shift was capped off when Jacob Trouba received a cross-ice pass from Mark Scheifele at the top of the right circle, took a few strides towards the net and ripped a wrist shot past Devan Dubnyk to ignite Bell MTS Place in the first minute.

A Winnipeg penalty shortly after the goal threatened to kill the energy, but strong work on the PK kept the tide in the Jets’ favor, and shortly after the conclusion of the penalty Trouba (who had himself a game) nearly scored on an odd-man rush, before nearly tipping home a follow-up shot right after. Dubnyk was trying desperately to keep his team alive and settle things down.

Unfortunately for the Minnesota netminder, his efforts were for nothing, as on the following faceoff Dustin Byfuglien let go a wrist shot from the right point that Bryan Little redirected beautifully past an unsuspecting Dubnyk for the 2-0 lead, still just 5:42 into the game.

Still the Jets kept coming, and the Wild had no answer. A Brandon Tanev shot nearly went in off the skate of Dubnyk after bouncing off of the end boards. Then Niederreiter tried to create a scoring opportunity by dancing around one Winnipeg defender only to get blown up by Big Buff as he attempted to let the shot go. Then Tanev, apparently upset at his previous failure, stripped a fumbling Jonas Brodin of the puck at his defensive blueline and fired a quick turnaround wrister through Dubnyk before he had time to react, Winnipeg taking a 3-0 lead with 8:50 to play. Tanev’s first career playoff goal.

Just 49 seconds later things went from calamity to catastrophe when an initial attempt from Andrew Copp rebounded out high to a locked and loaded Byfuglien, who proceeded to unload a bomb that redirected off of Joel Armia (his first playoff goal, just to stick with the theme) and into the net.

It was now 4-0 with 8:01 to play in the first period, and a mercy pulling was in order. Bruce Boudreau sent Alex Stalock in to relieve Dubnyk of his nightmare, and he returned to the bench to a standing reception from his teammates. Captain Mikko Koivu walked down to the end of the bench after Dubnyk sat down, seemingly to say “We’re sorry, this is on us.” to his visibly emotional goaltender.

Winnipeg fans, however, did not share in Koivu’s sympathies, as a chant of “We Want Dubnyk” rang out not long after the resumption of play. Apparently even after a long, cold winter, Winnipeg still has plenty of salt to go around.

The period ended with the Jets outshooting Minnesota 13-7, but the play was even more lopsided than that would indicate.

Early in the second Minnesota got their proverbial “This one just isn’t going to go your way” sign from the hockey gods, as a Mikael Granlund rush drew Connor Hellebuyck out of his net, giving Granlund an open cage to tuck a wraparound into, only to see the puck sail across the crease along the goal line and bounce off of multiple Winnipeg skates just inches from paydirt, only to be cleared away.

Minnesota did finally gain some offensive traction to their credit, though the second notable opportunity was a Niederreiter rush that was met with a shot block and subsequent leveling hit by Trouba. Ironically even though they controlled a lot of the play early in the second, the Wild would not record a shot for nearly eight minutes of play.

The game’s only real notable save came from the left pad of Stalock who denied a seemingly sure-thing one-timer right on the doorstep at the bottom of the left circle from Scheifele just past the game’s halfway mark.

A Wild power play around the 11:00 mark brought some more offensive traction to the visitors, who had a few quality chances on the power play followed up by a Niederreiter breakaway all turned aside. Jason Zucker found iron on a later power play, but Hellebucyk simply couldn’t be solved.

The Jets put a stamp on the game just 32 seconds into the third with a beautiful high-low-high passing sequence from Blake Wheeler, Paul Stastny, and Scheifele capped off by a beautiful one-time rip from #55 into the net from the low slot.

Sensing victory was now firmly in hand, the Winnipeg Whiteout crowd started to take over the third period. Multiple renditions of Bananarama’s ‘Na Na Na Na Hey Hey Hey, Goodbye’ were belted out in perfect harmony at numerous points in the frame, starting with the initial performance just after the puck had dropped following the 5-0 goal.

When Hellebucyk made a great stop on Matt Cullen off of a Marcus Foligno rebound, the crowd responded with the wave, then some more Bananarama.

Blake Wheeler nearly made it 6-0 on a beautiful backhand tip of a Scheifele centering pass, but the hockey gods had decided enough was enough, so it found the crossbar and vacated the goal crease without further incident.

‘We Want Nashville!’ is now the chant. Bold, Winnipeg. Bold.

Later in the period a fan took a deflected puck to the face, only to be tossed a towel by Matt Hendricks (making his series debut) and signal to everyone in attendance that they were still very much alive, drawing a rousing round of applause.

The standing ovation started with 2:30 to play, and was only interrupted by an obligatory singalong to ‘Sweet Caroline’ at 2:10. The final minute of play was basically just one long explosion of noise as the city erupted into a party that I assume will still be occurring when the sun rises. On Monday.

In the end, Connor Hellebucyk posted his second-consecutive shutout to seal the series, and the Parise-less Wild fail to score a single goal. It’s hard for Minnesota to argue that injuries were the only reason they couldn’t climb this mountain, as Winnipeg faced games without Tyler Myers, Nikolaj Ehlers and Josh Morrissey among others, and played the entire series without Toby Enstrom. It just speaks to their incredible depth that even when missing key contributors they could still trounce Minnesota with relative ease.

Now with a long rest ahead of them to get healthy before a likely (at least as of this writing) Second Round matchup for the ages with Nashville, the Jets have a little time to celebrate before looking towards what lay ahead.

Special shoutout to 20-year veteran and three-time Stanley Cup winner Matt Cullen, who may have just played the final game of a fantastic career.

True North Stronger: Jets edge Wild to open series; win first-ever playoff game

 

For those expecting this to be a one-sided series, Game 1 would like to have a word with you.

On the opening night of the 2018 NHL Playoffs (also known as the most wonderful time of the year) the Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets treated us to exactly what we expect from playoff hockey: a hard-hitting, fast-paced, raucous affair with something for everyone.

In the end, it would be Winnipeg firing the opening salvo in the series, treating the thundering crowd at Bell MTS Place to the first playoff victory in franchise history. What a victory it was.

The city of Winnipeg hosted its first playoff series Game 1 since 1985 (insert joke about how many current players weren’t even alive) and they did not disappoint. The legendary Winnipeg Whiteout was as incredible a sight as ever, there may have been more people filling the downtown streets around the arena than there were in the arena (it’s a small venue joke and also a legitimate observation), and the Jets took the ice to an earth-shaking ovation. Pregame festivities were actually slightly delayed by a crowd that simply refused to cease their chant of ‘Go Jets Go!”

For Minnesota, the uphill battle was obvious. On the wrong end of some heavy betting odds, missing top defenseman Ryan Suter (28+ minutes of ice time suddenly unaccounted for), and likely unable to hear themselves think, the Wild’s gameplan was to hopefully control the pace and take the crowd out of it.

That did not go well in the early minutes.

Winnipeg came out flying. After buzzing offensively for the first couple minutes, they turned their focus to their other greatest weapon: Physicality. First it was a booming open ice hit on Daniel Winnik by Ben Chiarot. On the very next shift, Brandon Tanev stapled Eric Staal to the boards at one end, then linemate Adam Lowry crushed Jared Spurgeon (in his first game back from injury) at the opposite end.

Lowry was a standout in this game. He and Tanev combined for multiple quality scoring chances, and he played most of the game with the apparent mindset that if it was wearing white, it needed to die. He did leave the ice with about 50 seconds left in the first period, but returned for the second and played the rest of the game without issue. If Minnesota wants to change their fortunes (and potentially save the lives of some of their players) going forward, they’ll need to find a way to neutralize #17.

Potentially as a result of Lowry’s play, the first tv timeout was extended due to some maintenance on a pane of glass in the Minnesota end. After play resumed it was all Winnipeg for the rest of the period. If not for stellar play by Devan Dubnyk (including a spectacular robbery of Andrew Copp after he picked up a deflected point shot at the side of the net) and a great effort by Minnesota to keep most of the chances to the outside, the score could have been out of hand within the first 20 minutes.

My personal highlight of the first was Dubnyk snagging a left wing shot in his glove, before delivering a beautiful Booker T-esque spinebuster to a net-crashing Mathieu Perreault. Not much came of it, but it looked awesome and Dubnyk talking to the referee and very visibly laughing was terrific.

The shot clock read 13-4, but the scoreboard said 0-0 after 20 minutes.

Things picked up slightly in the second, as just 20 seconds in it would be Eric Staal taking the game’s first penalty (a trip on Mark Scheifele). The power play was mostly uneventful, but did include a shorthanded bid by Joel Eriksson Ek that was first negated by Patrik Laine, before ‘J.E.E.’ was absolutely obliterated by a backchecking Dustin Byfuglien.

After the power play it was Hellebucyk’s turn to save his team’s skin, as a terrible giveaway by Jacob Trouba behind his own net gave the Wild essentially a stationary 2-on-0, that luckily the Winnipeg goaltender was able to negate with a blocker save. Eriksson Ek would get another breakaway opportunity, this time avoiding being murdered by Big Buff, but would not find paydirt. The puck then went the other way and saw Kyle Connor unleash a beautiful toe-drag wrist shot from the high slot only to have Dubnyk windmill his hopes and dreams.

Just when it was starting to really look like we would see another scoreless period, Winnipeg would repeat a play they had tried on their previous power play to no avail and find success, with Mark Scheifele taking a sneaky centering feed from Blake Wheeler and ripping a one-timer past Dubnyk to finally break through with 2:23 to play.

Ironically, the Wild would outshoot the Jets in the 2nd, but find themselves trailing 1-0. But Winnipeg found itself down by one in its own right, having lost Mathieu Perreault to an upper body injury, after the diminutive centerman seemed to be the focus of some physical play throughout the period. After taking a huge open ice hit from Mikko Koivu, a tie-up and subsequent body slam from Nick Seeler seemed to be the final blow to end Perreault’s night.

After two periods of goaltenders stealing the show and solid defensive work, the doors got blown wide open in the third.

It started off the opening draw, with Winnipeg executing a perfect set play to spring Connor on a breakaway only to be denied by Dubnyk. The Wild quickly turned the tables, however, as less than two minutes into the frame it would be rookie Jordan Greenway tallying his first ever playoff point in his first ever playoff game by feeding three-time Cup winner and oldest man in the playoffs Matt Cullen for a beautiful one-timer over the shoulder of Hellebucyk to tie the game at one.

A two-minute track meet ensued, before a bad pinch by Dustin Byfuglien allowed Mikko Koivu (who got blown up by Lowry just as he chipped the breakout pass ahead) to feed Mikael Granlund to lead a 2-on-1 with Zach Parise. Granlund showed shot all the way, before feeding a pass to Parise’s stick at the last possible instant for a back-door tap-in to complete the two-goal swing and give Minnesota the lead just over two minutes after tying the game.

The once-booming Winnipeg crowd fell silent. Briefly.

Then Paul Stastny left a drop pass for Patrik Laine just inside the blueline and the 19-year-old phenom ripped a shot from the top of the circle that Dubnyk simply couldn’t catch up to. 2-2, just like that, less than a minute after the second Wild goal.

On the very next shift it looked like Winnipeg was going to take the lead right back, as Joel Armia took the puck on a cross-ice feed and got robbed blind by Dubnyk. The puck squeaked behind the Minnesota goaltender, but his teammates piled on to make sure it couldn’t find the promised land, and a big scrum followed.

The Jets would fire 15 consecutive shots on net after the second Minnesota goal, dominating most of the third period. Then with just over seven minutes left in the game, Joe Morrow would net his first ever playoff goal (and first career game-winner of any kind) with a blast from the point that deflected off of a Minnesota stick and fooled Dubnyk.

Hellebucyk and his teammates would fend off the Minnesota attack for the final minutes, including stops on a beautiful rush by Koivu, and a combined effort from Mathew Dumba and Jason Zucker to hold the fort and secure the 3-2 victory.

Minnesota has nothing to hang its head about, however. It gave a fired-up, heavily-favored Winnipeg team all it could handle, and Dubnyk showed the kind of form that can steal some games. Throw in the abundant physicality, and we’ve got ourselves a very entertaining under-the-radar series to watch.

Speaking of which, Game 2 will come to you Friday at 7:30pm Eastern on USA Network, SN and TVAS2. If you happen to miss it, though, do not fret. Our very own @kephartc will have a recap for you.

January 25 – Day 110 – Daddy’s home!

Unless you’re headed to a game, make sure to sit down in front of your TV tonight because there’s much to be watched!

As hinted at yesterday, the NHL is closing out the unofficial first half of the season with a bang today, as all but Los Angeles is in action (and believe me, the Kings are 100 percent happy with this situation). Like it does most weeknights, the action begins at 7 p.m. with three games (Nashville at New Jersey, Tampa Bay at Philadelphia [SN1] and Minnesota at Pittsburgh), followed half an hour later by four more (Carolina at Montréal [RDS/TSN2], Boston at Ottawa [RDS2], Chicago at Detroit [NBCSN] and Washington at Florida). Next up is Colorado at St. Louis in the 8 p.m. time slot, with Toronto at Dallas dropping the puck 30 minutes later. 9 p.m. marks the beginning of a pair of tilts (Calgary at Edmonton and Columbus at Arizona), while three contests (Buffalo at Vancouver, the New York Islanders at Vegas [SN1] and Winnipeg at Anaheim) wait until 10 p.m. to get underway. Finally, the New York Rangers at San Jose close out the evening as the 10:30 p.m. nightcap. All times Eastern.

There’s more than a few of tonight’s games that I’ll have my eye on…

  • Minnesota at Pittsburgh: It’s the return of F Matt Cullen to PPG Paints Arena. Time for him to grab his third Stanley Cup ring!
  • Boston at Ottawa: No matter how poor the Sens are this year, it doesn’t take away from their playoff run from a season ago – which began with a six-game series with the Bruins.
  • Chicago at Detroit: Original Six matchups are always fun, right?
  • Colorado at St. Louis: Welcome back to the Gateway City, W Nail Yakupov.
  • Calgary at Edmonton: This rivalry always has the chance of getting truly nasty.

It’s been a while since we’ve featured either the Pens or the Wild, so let’s head to the Steel City.

 

Remember when you were little and you would run to your dad every night when he got home from work?

That’s kind of what happened at the Penguins’ morning skate today when Cullen showed up – and yes, all of them probably did call him “dad.”

Cullen has been a bit of a journeyman over the course of his career. Since being selected 35th-overall in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft by Anaheim (back when they were the Mighty Ducks), he’s worn eight different sweaters, including two stints with both the Hurricanes (with whom he won the 2006 Stanley Cup) and the Wild.

One of those teams is, of course, Pittsburgh. After not being offered a deal after two years in Nashville, he signed a one-year, $800 thousand contract with the Pens to be their fourth-line center, as well as provide a veteran voice in the dressing room, for the 2015-’16 season.

It goes without saying that it was a marvelous relationship. He posted 16-16-32 totals (all top-eight marks on the team that season) from his bottom-six position during the regular season, followed up by decent 4-2-6 marks in the postseason to help the Pens to their fourth Stanley Cup.

In fact, the pairing was so good that General Manager Jim Rutherford offered Cullen another one-year deal to stay with the club for the 2016-’17 season, this time with a $1 million price tag.

The results came up spades once again for Pittsburgh, as the resident father figure posted even better 13-18-31 totals (all top-11 on the squad) in 10 fewer games played, followed by a 2-7-9 effort in the playoffs as the Penguins beat Cullen’s former team for their second-consecutive and fifth-overall title.

However, this offseason wasn’t as simple as the year before’s. Not only did Rutherford have to figure out how to successfully navigate multiple signings, but Cullen was mulling retiring from the NHL. That forced the Penguins to look elsewhere to fill their holes at center on the third and fourth line (with a roller coaster of results, ranging from the highest heights to the lowest lows), making Cullen’s decision on whether he would return to the club or not for him.

With Cullen on the outside looking in, Minnesota General Manager Chuck Fletcher caught wind that he was interested in at least one last ride and signed him to a one-year, $1 million deal to play the same veteran fourth-line center role he did in Pittsburgh.

I can’t vouch for his presence in the dressing room, but the Virginia, Minn. native’s solid performance on the ice has not followed him back to his hometown team. Missing only one game so far this season, Cullen has posted only 4-7-11 totals for .23 points-per-game, well under the .41 he managed in 154 regular season games in Pittsburgh. If he continues scoring at this pace, Cullen is in line for 19 points in 81 games played. It’d be the worst season of his career.

Fortunately for 26-17-5 Minnesota – the sixth-best team in the Central Division – it has 18-9-3 G Devan Dubnyk at its disposal. When he’s on fire like he is right now, he keeps the Wild in every game they play. As a result, Minnesota has earned a point in six-straight games with a 4-0-2 record.

Dubnyk has started four of the Wild’s last six games, and with much success. He’s posted a .94 save percentage and 1.73 GAA to improve his season numbers to .919 and 2.59. As a result of his winning ways and the opportunity to play behind a defense that has allowed only a 12th-fewest 30.5 shots against-per-game since January 9, the Wild have allowed a (t)second-best average of 1.83 goals against per game during this solid run.

As mentioned before, Cullen rejoining the Wild was a result of the Penguins turning to other players to fill the third and fourth-line center positions. Currently, those players are C Riley Sheahan and F Jean-Sebastien Dea, and it seems Pittsburgh is starting to find success with them in those positions.

However, the real reason 26-21-3 Pittsburgh – the Eastern Conference’s second wild card – has been wining lately is because of some stellar play in net. Over their past eight games, the Pens have gone 6-2-0 by allowing only 2.13 goals per game, the fourth-best mark in the league since January 5.

Specifically, much of that defensive success has occurred in the crease since the Pens’ defense has allowed 30.88 shots against during this run. Of the three goaltenders that have played since January 5, 2-2-0 G Casey DeSmith has easily been the most impressive and will be in net this evening for the Pens.

In line for the fourth start of his NHL career tonight, DeSmith has posted an imposing .96 save percentage and 1.35 GAA since January 5 in three starts. In fact, he’s been so solid lately that, to make room for 15-12-1 G Matthew Murray returning to the roster, the Penguins sent 9-4-2 G Tristan Jarry back to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the AHL instead of him. After starting the season as Jarry’s backup with the Baby Pens this season, that is certainly a major compliment to DeSmith and the potential Head Coach Mike Sullivan sees in him.

The Penguins have already made their annual trip to St. Paul this season, but it is not a trip they look back upon fondly. Minnesota ended up winning the October 28 game 2-1 thanks to First Star C Mikko Koivu‘s game-winning goal at the 9:03 mark of the third period.

If picking winners of games was as simple as choosing the team with the superior overall record, Minnesota would be in line for two points this evening. However, the Wild have a miserable 9-13-1 record on the road this season, so it’ll be interesting to see if they can perform well away from the State of Hockey.


With an overtime winner from Third Star of the Game LW Tanner Pearson, the Los Angeles Kings beat the Calgary Flames 2-1 at the Scotiabank Saddledome in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The Flames’ lone goal of the game was struck with 5:57 remaining in first period, courtesy of Second Star C Sean Monahan (LW Johnny Gaudreau and W Micheal Ferland). The wrist shot is Monahan’s 22nd goal on the season, the most on the club.

Including this game, Calgary’s average of 10:52 penalty minutes per game is fifth-most in the league. The Flames certainly lived up to their reputation, as they served a whopping 22 PIM, including a C Mikael Backlund misconduct. Most of those infractions took place in the second period, as both squads committed four infractions each.

However, the penalty that led to the Kings’ game-tying goal didn’t take place until the 3:23 mark of the final frame when C Mark Jankowski was caught tripping C Anze Kopitar. 46 seconds later, D Jake Muzzin (Kopitar and D Drew Doughty) buried a power play slap shot to tie the game at one-all.

With neither squad able to break the draw, the contest advanced into the five-minute three-on-three overtime period.  Almost all five of those minutes were necessary, but Pearson (Doughty and W Dustin Brown) was able to avoid the shootout with 27 seconds to spare. The main action on the scoring play occurred when Doughty faked a clapper from above the face-off circles. That fake made G Mike Smith commit just long enough that he wasn’t able to react in time when Doughty set up the Pearson wrister, which beat him five-hole.

First Star G Darcy Kuemper earned the victory after saving 30-of-31 shots faced (.968 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Smith, who saved 25-of-27 (.926).

The road teams are coming in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Visitors in the series have won five in a row and earned points in seven-straight, pulling them within 17 points of the 59-36-15 hosts.

November 30 – Day 57 – Ain’t no Haulaback girl

Nothing is better than Thursday night in the NHL! Grab your favorite brew and head to the rink to watch your favorite crew!

That may have been forced, but I don’t really care.

Anyways, the NHL has lined up seven games for our viewing pleasure this evening, starting with Los Angeles at Washington at 7 p.m. and Montréal at Detroit (RDS/TSN2) half an hour later. Two more contests (Vancouver at Nashville and Vegas at Minnesota) drop the puck at 8 p.m., while Dallas at Chicago gets underway 30 minutes after. Finally, tonight’s co-nightcaps (Arizona at Calgary [SN360] and Toronto at Edmonton [TVAS]) see the green light at 9 p.m. to close out the night’s – and the month’s – action. All times Eastern.

Like I usually do, let’s highlight a couple of the games that might strike your fancy:

  • Montréal at Detroit: Did someone say Original Six?
  • Vegas at Minnesota: It’ll be a trip down memory lane tonight for F Erik Haula, as he’s returning to the Xcel Energy Center for the first time since being picked by the Golden Knights in the expansion draft.

The Stars-Blackhawks game also merits considerable attention since they’re tied for fourth place in the Central Division, but it’s not being considered for Game of the Day status due to Chicago being featured nine times already this season – as recently as two days ago.

As such, let’s make the trip to St. Paul and see if the Wild can do anything to slow down the best offense in the Western Conference.

 

 

 

 

 

Before we get started, I know what you’re thinking: no, I’m not all that interested in the game between the Maple Leafs and Oilers. I get that C Auston Matthews and C Connor McDavid are squaring off, but I don’t have it in me to make my loyal readers watch the Oil’s horrendous defense. That game will probably end with some ridiculous 7-3 score or something like that.

Instead, let’s focus in on Minnesota’s defense that is only a little bit better!

Ok, more on that in a minute. First, let’s recap the first four years of Haula’s NHL career.

The Finn was a seventh-round selection from the USHL’s Omaha Lancers by the Wild in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, but he didn’t start his NHL rookie season until the 2013-’14 campaign after a year with the Lancers, three seasons at the University of Minnesota and 37 games in the AHL.

Of Haula’s four campaigns with the Wild, his latter two were easily the most successful of his Minnesotan tenure. During the 2015-’16 season, he posted a career-high in points with 14-20-34 totals, and followed that up last campaign with a 15-11-26 effort – the most goals he’s scored in a season since his junior year of college.

Playing between RW Nino Niederreiter and RW Jason Pominville, Haula completed the Wild’s solid third line in what proved to be his final season with the club. Unfortunately, the good work that trio did was not enough to keep Haula on the squad, as General Manager Chuck Fletcher arranged a deal with Vegas GM George McPhee to ensure Haula would be selected during the expansion draft.

While his selection may have been choreographed to ensure Minnesota retained all the pieces it wanted, selecting Haula has only come up spades for the 15-7-1 Golden Knights. Haula has been promoted from lowly third-liner to Vegas’ top center and acclimated very well to his new role, averaging a career-high .68 points-per-game on the season with his 7-6-13 totals.

Of course, it’s hard to struggle with a linemate like W James Neal (12-7-19 totals), especially when they have the luxury of W Reilly Smith (6-13-19), C William Karlsson (13-9-22) and F Jon Marchessault (8-13-21) playing behind them as a brilliant second line. As such, the Pacific Division-leading Knights sport a nasty 3.52 goals-per-game average that trails only the Islanders and Lightning for best in the NHL.

Given the unenviable task of trying to slow down Vegas’ attack is 11-10-3 Minnesota, the worst team in the Central Division and third-worst in the Western Conference.

Hinted at before, the Wild’s biggest struggle this season has been keeping the opposition off the scoreboard. They allow 3.04 goals against-per-game, the (t)11th-worst effort in the NHL. Since I’m struggling to determine if responsibility for this issue falls on G Devan Dubnyk or his defense, I’m led to believe both share in the blame.

Let’s start with Dubnyk, who’s struggling to replicate last season’s .923 season save percentage and 2.25 GAA that earned him the fifth-most votes towards the Vezina Trophy. So far this year, he’s managed a .911 season save percentage and 2.85 GAA, which are 17th- and 14th-worst, respectively, among the 34 goaltenders with at least 10 starts (read: Dubnyk’s been average).

Unfortunately, he’s not getting all that much help from his d-corps. Even with LW Marcus Foligno‘s three hits-per-game, C Mikko Koivu‘s team-leading 18 takeaways and D Jared Spurgeon‘s 2.2 blocks-per-game, Minnesota is allowing a 12th-worst 32.2 shots against-per-game.

It is probably very telling that D Jonas Brodin, the team’s leader in individual goal-differential with a +8, is the only blueliner with a +/- better than +1. Meanwhile, defensemen like Spurgeon and Ryan Suter that have at least 14 points to their name have been neglecting their defensive duties, as neither have positive goal-differentials even though they’re among the Wild’s top-six point earners.

Unless Dubynk stands on his head – which is something he hasn’t done since his 30-for-30 performance against Philadelphia over two weeks ago – it’s hard to believe that the Wild will have much luck slowing down the Golden Knights’ offense.


With two goals in the span of 2:20, the Montréal Canadiens beat the Ottawa Senators 2-1 at the Bell Centre in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The Senators had a hot start to this game, as Second Star of the Game RW Mark Stone scored an unassisted shorthanded backhanded shot only 4:36 into the contest to quiet the loudest arena in the NHL.

Ottawa’s lead lasted until the 2:56 mark of the second period. That’s when First Star F Jonathan Drouin scored his fifth goal of the season, a penalty shot that pinged off G Mike Condon‘s right goalpost. 2:18 later, F Phillip Danault (F Andrew Shaw and LW Max Pacioretty) set the 2-1 final score with a wrist shot.

This goal was a result of some lightning-fast puck movement. Pacioretty and Shaw were busy behind Condon’s net, scrapping with C Derick Brassard and D Cody Ceci for possession. The moment Shaw had the opportunity, he forced the puck back above the goal line to Danault, who was screaming towards Condon’s right goalpost. Before the goalkeeper could get turned the right way, Danault sent his one-timer into the back of the net.

Though I was unable to watch the game, I’m led to believe that Third Star D Karl Alzner played a major role in keeping the Sens off the scoreboard after Stone’s first period tally. In 21 minutes of ice time, he threw three hits, blocked four shots and tacked on an additional takeaway to help the Habs earn two points.

G Carey Price earned the victory (his third-straight since returning from injury) after saving 27-of-28 shots faced (.964 save percentage), leaving the loss to Condon, who saved 29-of-31 (.935).

Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are on quite the roll, as they’ve won the last five games. Tonight’s victory improves their record to 32-19-6, 15 points better than the roadies’ effort.

November 4 – Day 32 – Another Saturday, another rivalry

I made a snarky comment in yesterday’s column about the NHL holding out on its fans by scheduling only two games on Friday.

Boy was I just served.

There’s a full slate of games on tap this Saturday – 13, to be exact, which is just as many as Thursday. It all gets started with our lone matinee of the day at 2 p.m. when Vegas makes its first-ever visit to Ottawa (TVAS2). The real fun begins at 7 p.m., as that’s when six games (Toronto at St. Louis [CBC], Montréal at Winnipeg [SN/TVAS], Washington at Boston [NHLN], Columbus at Tampa Bay, the New York Rangers at Florida and Colorado at Philadelphia) will drop the puck, followed by two more (Buffalo at Dallas and Chicago at Minnesota) an hour later and Carolina at Arizona at 9 p.m. The West Coast finally gets involved at 10 p.m. with the beginning of Pittsburgh at Vancouver (CBC/SN), trailed half an hour later by tonight’s co-nightcaps: Nashville at Los Angeles and Anaheim at San Jose. All times Eastern.

As usual, there’s a compelling reason to keep tabs on almost every game. That especially goes for the action at the Xcel Energy Center and SAP Center this evening, as rivalry games always bring out the best in every player involved.

I’m in the mood for a heated rivalry game. Since we just featured the Ducks yesterday, lets see what action the State of Hockey has to offer this evening.

 

Thee straight playoff meetings has a way of creating more than a bit of animosity between two clubs – especially when the same team won all three series.

Interestingly, as the Western Conference table currently stands coming into tonight’s game, neither club has the chance of seeing the other during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs because they’re both slated to be golfing come this April.

The chance of that situation holding for the rest of the season is unlikely, and that makes tonight’s game even more important as the 6-5-2 Blackhawks and 5-4-2 Wild work to climb the Central Division standings.

When Chicago has found success this year, it’s all been by the work of 6-4-0 G Corey Crawford – even in spite of his defense. Even though the Hawks allow a third-most 34.5 shots-per-game to reach their own crease, the Windy City is home to the (t)sixth-best goals-against average in the league at 2.62.

Forget being the better of the Blackhawks’ two goaltenders, or even the best in the Central Division. Heck, saying Crawford’s .941 save percentage and 1.92 GAA is at the top of the Western Conference (yes, even better than G Jonathan Quick) does not even do him justice. Among all 29 netminders in the NHL that have started at least six games, Crawford is number one in both statistics.

Given the 32-year-old’s performance for the season, perhaps it’s no surprise that the Hawks’ penalty kill is also among the top-10 in the league. Even though Crawford’s .918 save percentage against the power play is only fifth-best in the league, Chicago has killed 83.3 percent of opposing man-advantages to tie for ninth-best in the NHL. If D Brent Seabrook, who leads the team with 2.4 blocks-per-game, can find a way to inspire his defensive corps to be even just a little stiffer while shorthanded, this Chicago team can keep riding its goaltender’s career season to a 10th-straight playoff appearance.

This evening, Crawford will face a good test against an offense that knows what it’s doing, as Minnesota’s 3.36 goals-per-game is the third-best effort in the West.

What makes the Wild so difficult to defend against is their unpredictability. D Jared Spurgeon currently leads the team in production with his 2-7-9 totals from the top defensive-pair. Minnesota’s leading forward is its top-line center Mikko Koivu, who is equally potent passing and shooting – made evident by his 4-4-8 totals.

Both Koivu and Spurgeon’s seasons might be foreseeable, but it’s the fact that third-liner W Chris Stewart‘s 6-2-8 campaign begins the list of depth scorers that makes the Wild so potent. Utilizing his incredible .273 shooting percentage, he’s provided 16 percent of the Wild’s goals from his spot on the third line. Add in the fact that Minnesota is also home to players like C Eric Staal, D Ryan Suter and W Jason Zucker, and you have a team that is capable of scoring regardless of which personnel is on the ice.

Though this contest is being played at Xcel Energy Center, I’m leaning towards Crawford being able to ensure a victory for his Blackhawks.


The Nashville Predators have won their last two games played at the Honda Center, as they beat the Anaheim Ducks 5-3 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The Preds found a fast start to the contest, as they registered their first goal only 6:26 into the matchup courtesy of a LW Scott Hartnell (First Star of the Game D Roman Josi and W Pontus Aberg) tip-in. Anaheim nearly made it to the dressing room for first intermission with the opportunity to regroup after giving up only one goal, but Josi (C Colton Sissons and C Frederick Gaudreau) scored a snap shot with 49 seconds remaining in the frame to give Nashville a two-goal advantage.

Just like in the first period, the Predators were quick to pounce on the Ducks at the start of the second frame. Scoring his first goal of the season, D Matt Irwin (D Yannick Weber and Gaudreau) gave Nashville a 3-0 advantage 3:05 into the period. Anaheim finally got on the scoreboard 79 seconds thanks to F Antoine Vermette (W Ondrej Kase and LW Nick Ritchie) and his wrist shot, but could not build any momentum off the marker. That led to 12:56 of scoreless action.

Ritchie proved important in breaking the game’s scoreless skid, but it wasn’t in the Ducks’ favor. Instead, he earned a seat in the penalty box (his second of the period) for slashing Gaudreau with 3:35 remaining in the frame. 55 seconds later, W Viktor Arvidsson (D Mattias Ekholm and LW Kevin Fiala) registered what proved to be the game-winning goal.

Arvidsson owes every bit of his successful slap shot to a patient Predators power play. Fiala was working with the puck in the right face-off circle and along the boards, but he simply didn’t like the look he was getting at G John Gibson‘s net with D Hampus Lindholm in his way. He eventually returned the puck to Ekholm at the point, who slid a pass across the zone to Arvidsson at the top of the opposite circle that the wing whipped past Gibson’s glove into the back of the net.

Whether he was working to match Arvidsson’s power play goal or Josi’s late-period heroics, Lindholm (F Rickard Rakell) scored a slapper with 15 seconds remaining on the second frame clock to pull the Ducks back within a 4-2 deficit.

Anaheim fans finally had a chance to truly believe their club had a chance at the 7:41 mark of the third period when Second Star W Jakob Silfverberg (C Derek Grant and Third Star F Chris Wagner) notched a slapper to pull the Ducks back within a goal. But, try as they might with their 13 shots-on-goal, the Ducks simply could not find a way past G Pekka Rinne, eventually forcing them to pull Gibson. D P.K. Subban (Rinne and F Austin Watson) took advantage of the empty cage with 18 seconds remaining in regulation to ensure a Predators victory.

By saving 35-of-38 shots faced (.921 save percentage) – not to mention earning his first point of the season – Rinne did all he could to earn his sixth win of the season. On the other side, Gibson took the loss after saving 25-of-29 (.862).

Nashville’s win away from Bridgestone Arena earns another two points for road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, but visitors still trail the 17-11-4 hosts by six points.

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.

March 14 – Day 146 – Potential Stanley Cup Finals preview? We’ll have to see…

Nine games are being contested in the NHL tonight, and there’s more than a few good ones. Like it almost always does on a weeknight, the action starts at 7 p.m. with three contests (Winnipeg at New Jersey, Minnesota at Washington and the New York Islanders at Carolina), followed by another trio (Chicago at Montréal [NBCSN/RDS], Tampa Bay at Ottawa [RDS2] and Toronto at Florida [TVAS]) half an hour later. The Western Conference starts getting involved at 9 p.m. with Dallas at Edmonton, followed 90 minutes later by tonight’s co-nightcaps: Arizona at Los Angeles and Buffalo at San JoseAll times eastern.

Since the Blackhawks make only one trip to the Bell Centre per year, it’s always an exciting Original Six game. That being said, the match I’m most attracted to features the class of each conference squaring off at the Verizon Center.

 

There’s not many hockey fans that would complain about a Stanley Cup between these clubs. They’ve been at the top of their respective conferences for almost the entirety of the year, and both feature the full package. They have explosive offenses, and are backed goaltenders that, by the time the 2017 NHL Awards Show is over, have both won Vezina Trophies (Yes, I’m giving Devan Dubnyk this year’s Vezina. Show me a more worthy candidate.).

The fourth-best team in hockey, the 43-18-6 Wild currently have a narrow one-point (but with a game-in-hand) lead over Chicago for first place in both the Central and the Western Conference. As said before, Dubnyk has been absolutely exceptional this year, but Minnesota‘s offense has grown into one of the most dominant in the game.

Two hundred twenty goals in 67 games sounds impressive on its own, but who would’ve guessed the Wild would host an offense that trails only Pittsburgh for league superiority? That attack is spearheaded by first-line right wing Mikael Granlund, who has a career-high 63 points to his credit. In fact, he’s so good his .94 points-per-game scoring rate is 15th-best in the entire NHL.

You have to keep layering the accolades on Granlund when you focus on Minnesota‘s goal-scoring, as he leads the club with 23 tallies – another career high. He’s closely trailed by Eric Staal, Jason Zucker and Nino Niederreiter, who have 22, 21 and 20, respectively. To put things simply, Minnesota‘s top-two lines are deadly.

As you’d expect, that attack doesn’t stop when the Wild earn a man-advantage. When an opponent commits a penalty, Minnesota converts 21.1% of their power plays into goals, the eighth-best rate in the league.

Guess who leads that effort.

Yup, it’s Granlund, as he has 18 power play points on his resume this year. Yet he doesn’t have the clubhouse lead in man-advantage goal-scoring – that responsibility belongs to Niederreiter, who has eight power play goals even though he hasn’t scored one since February 12.

If the power play is good, the penalty kill is great, as the Wild‘s 84% success rate ties for sixth-best in the league (more on that later). Although I usually give credit to the leading shorthanded shot blocker in this situation (fine… way to go Jared Spurgeon with your 18 blocks), it’s better to acknowledge Dubnyk’s play. Even though he’s faced 203 shots when down a man (14th-most in the NHL), his .897 save percentage in that situation is sixth-best in the league.

One of the few teams better than the Wild are the 44-17-7 Capitals, but they shouldn’t take that to heart – nobody’s better than Washington (just ask Al Capone about the IRS)! The Verizon Center must be the second home of the Department of Defense, as Washington has allowed only 147 goals all season – the best total in the league.

34-11-5 Braden Holtby is an absolute machine. Winner of last year’s Vezina Trophy, he’d be a shoe-in for this year’s season’s award if not for the stellar play of Dubnyk as his .926 season save percentage and 2.03 GAA are fifth-best and tops in the league, respectively, among the 41 netminders with at least 26 appearances.

Part of the reason Holtby’s found such success is due to a solid blueline playing in front of him. Led by Karl Alzner and his 142 shot blocks (tied for 10th-most in the NHL), the Caps‘ defense has allowed only 27.7 shots-per-game to reach his crease, which is the fourth-best rate in the league.

Remember how Minnesota was tied for the sixth-best penalty kill in the league? That other team is the Washington Capitals, who have also rejected 84% of the power plays they’ve faced. The defense leads the way in that effort – especially Alzner, who has 35 shorthanded shot blocks, which ties for fourth-most in the league.

Oh yeah, and then there’s also the notorious Washington offense, which has been solid since, I don’t know… 2005, when Alex Ovechkin entered the league. That offense especially comes to mind when the Capitals earn the power play, as their 21.3% success rate is the seventh-best mark in the NHL. Although Ovechkin would love you to think it him and his team-high 12 man-advantage goals, Nicklas Backstrom is actually the mastermind behind the Caps‘ power play with his 26 extra-man points.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Minnesota‘s Dubnyk (.931 save percentage [tied for best in the NHL] and a 2.07 GAA for 36 wins [both second-best in the league], including five shutouts [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]), Granlund (+28 [eighth-best in the league]), Mikko Koivu (+31 [tied for fourth-best in the NHL]), Spurgeon (+32 [third-best in the league]), Ryan Suter (+34 [best in the NHL]) and Zucker (+33 [second-best in the league]) & Washington‘s Backstrom (47 assists [third-most in the NHL] for 68 points [ninth-most in the league]), Holtby (eight shutouts [most in the NHL] and a 2.03 GAA [best in the league] and .926 save percentage [fifth-best in the NHL] for 34 wins [third-most in the league]), Dmitry Orlov (+27 [ninth-best in the NHL]) and Brooks Orpik (+31 [tied for fourth-best in the league]).

Even though they’re losers of their past four games, Vegas favors Washington to win tonight’s game with a -145 line. I’m absolutely appalled the spread is that large, even though I do think the Capitals manage to pull out the win tonight with home ice.

The special teams units of both teams are solid, and the goaltenders are even better. Everything is going to boil down to each team’s defensive play, and I’m certain the Caps are better in that department. Washington wins a close one.

Hockey Birthday

  • Vaclav Nedomansky (1944-) – This right wing spent only six seasons in the NHL, and most of that time was with the Red Wings. After four years in the WHA, his best season was in 1978-’79 when he buried 38 goals for 73 points.
  • Patrick Traverse (1974-) – Drafted 50th-overall by Ottawa in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft, this defenseman appeared in seven seasons between 1995 and 2006. Spending most of his time with the club that drafted him, he finished his career with an overall +2 rating.

The Blues notched a huge 3-1 victory against Los Angeles in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day to expand their lead over the ninth-place Kings to five points in the race for the second Western wild card.

Things really started heating up with 6:23 remaining in the second period when Third Star of the Game David Perron (Alexander Steen) scored a wrist shot to break the scoreless draw. The Kings fired an incredible 21 shots-on-goal in the frame, but First Star Jake Allen saved them all to preserve St. Louis‘ one-goal lead going into the second intermission.

Only 70 seconds after returning to the ice for the final period, Magnus Paajarvi (Patrik Berglund and Alex Pietrangelo) provided what proved to be the game-winning goal with a power play wrister. Los Angeles finally got on the board when Dustin Brown (Drew Doughty and Tyler Toffoli) scored a wrister with 2:55 remaining in regulation to pull within a score, but Steen (Pietrangelo) scored on an empty net with seven seconds remaining in the game to seal the Notes‘ victory.

Allen saved all but one of the 39 shots (97.4%) he faced to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Jonathan Quick, who saved 23-of-25 (92%).

Not only is St. Louis‘ victory important in the NHL standings, but it also strongly impacts the DtFR Game of the Day series as well. Thanks to the Blues, the 74-52-22 road teams now have a one-point lead over homers in the series.

March 12 – Day 144 – Wild-Hawks: not a biker gang

Every Sunday is Sunday Funday during hockey season.

I’m going to consider that my application for the NHL’s marketing department. Feel free to tweet me (@connorzkeith) to set up an interview. That’s what professionals do, right? Tweet people important things?

Anyways, while they’re composing their tweet, let’s watch some hockey. There’s lots to watch today, starting with the Minnesota at Chicago (NBC/TVAS) matinee at 12:30 p.m. The usual 7 p.m. starting time marks the beginning of two contests (Montréal at Edmonton [RDS/SN] and the New York Rangers at Detroit [NBCSN]), followed two-and-a-half hours later by Washington at Anaheim (NHLN). Finally, Dallas at San Jose drops the puck at 10 p.m. to close out the day’s action. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Minnesota at Chicago: A rivalry game between the top-two teams in the Western Conference? Yes, please.
  • New York at Detroit: Original Six? Check. Return of Brendan Smith to Motown? Check.

It’s been hard to ignore a game between the Blackhawks and Wild all season, so we can’t stop today. Off to the United Center!

 

This is the fourth time these teams have met this season, and the fourth time the matchup has been featured as the DtFR Game of the Day.

In other words, I’m really committed to this rivalry.

But I should be! Today’s game features two of the top-five teams in the league and, should Chicago win, could leave the Wild with only a one-point lead in the Central Division with under 16 games remaining in the regular season.

As they’ve been for a majority of the season, the 43-17-6 Wild enter tonight’s game as the best team in both the Central Division and the Western Conference. The reason for that success? Their incredible offense, which has managed 218 goals – the second-most in the NHL.

Speaking of topping the charts, Mikael Granlund has been doing just that within Minnesota‘s offense on his team-leading 62 points. In only the fifth year of his NHL career, he continues to raise the bar regarding his abilities and contributions, as he sets a new career-high in all scoring statistics each year. Another of those stats is his 22 goals, another way he paces Minnesota. Four Wild skaters have 20 or more tallies, an incredible total.

While I would argue Minnesota is better when facing a full-strength defense compared to a short-handed opponent, that’s not to say its power play is poor. Led by – you guessed it – Granlund and his 18 extra-man points, the Wild have successfully converted 21.2% of their power plays – the eighth-best rate in the league. Granlund transitions into more of a passing role in Bruce Boudreau‘s offensive special team, instead opting to set up Nino Niederreiter, who has the club-lead in power play goals with eight.

Oh, and the penalty kill? Minnesota is pretty good at that, too. Thanks in large part to Jared Spurgeon‘s squad-leading 18 shorthanded shot blocks, the Wild have properly defended 83.7% of their undermanned situations, the seventh-best rate in the NHL.

Playing host this evening are the 42-20-5 Blackhawks, the second-best team in both the Central and the West. In a surprising turn of events, the facet of Chicago‘s game that I’ve been most impressed with has been their goaltending. While the offense is still as imposing as ever, the Hawks have allowed only 168 goals so far this year – the sixth-fewest in the NHL.

Of course, that effort always starts with the goaltender, and the Blackhawks have a good one in 26-15-3 Corey Crawford. He’s earned a .918 season save percentage for a 2.55 GAA, the 12th and (t)18th-best marks, respectively, among the 46 goalies with at least 22 appearances.

If the netminder is good and the offense is good, why does he have 15 regulation losses? You’ll notice defense is left out of that list, mostly because the Hawks‘ blueline has been… forgettable this year. Even though Niklas Hjalmarsson has an impressive 157 shot blocks to lead the team (he’s also tied for fourth-most in the league), his defense still allows 31.1 shots-against-per-game, the 10th-worst rate in the league.

But since the trade deadline, things are slowly improving in the Windy City. The Hawks‘ big add on the last day of February was Johnny Oduya. While not influencing shots the way he did two or three years ago, he does add experience along the blueline that has dropped to eighth-fewest shots-against since his arrival.

No matter how good the goaltender is, a bad defense usually yields a poor penalty kill. That’s the biggest pitfall for the Hawks this year, as they’ve neutralized only 77.6% of their shorthanded situations, the fourth-worst rate in the league. Just like he does the rest of the time, Hjalmarsson is the primary defenseman in this situation with his team-leading 34 shorthanded shot blocks. He’s not the problem.

Instead, he and Brent Seabrook are the only two blueliners with at least 15 shorthanded blocks to their credit this season, a lousy, too-small group. If this club has any intentions of winning four-straight even-numbered year Stanley Cups, more defensemen will need to get involved in the penalty kill.

If previous meetings are any indication, Chicago should win tonight’s game, albeit narrowly. Against the Wild this season, the Hawks have gone 2-1-0, including a 5-3 victory in the Xcel Energy Center in their most previous meeting on February 21.

Some players to keep an eye on this afternoon include Chicago‘s Scott Darling (.931 save percentage [second-best in the league] for a 2.13 GAA [fourth-best in the NHL]) and Patrick Kane (71 points [tied for third-most in the league] with 42 assists [seventh-most in the NHL]) & Minnesota‘s Devan Dubnyk (36 wins on a .932 save percentage [both best in the league] and a 2.03 GAA [second-best in the NHL], including five shutouts [tied for fifth-most in the league]), Granlund (+28 [eighth-best in the NHL]), Mikko Koivu (+31 [tied for fourth-best in the league]), Spurgeon (+33 [tied for second-best in the NHL]), Ryan Suter (+35 [best in the league]) and Jason Zucker (+33 [tied for second-best in the NHL]).

Vegas has marked Chicago a -130 favorite to win this afternoon’s contest. While I am concerned about the Hawks‘ penalty kill against the Wild‘s solid power play, I’ll stick with the experts. This should be a fantastic game, but I’ll give the home team the advantage.

Hockey Birthday

  • Bronco Horvath (1930-) – A two-time All Star, this center spent most of his nine-season NHL career in Boston. His best campaign was easily his 1959-’60 effort when he buried 39 goals for 80 points.
  • Douglas Murray (1980-) – San Jose selected this defenseman in the eighth round of the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he spent almost his entire nine-year career in the league. In 2007-’08 he managed a +20 with 10 points, but he was never able to replicate that defensive prowess over the remainder of his playing days.

After spotting the Panthers two first period goals, Tampa Bay notched three unanswered goals to win yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day 3-2.

Florida didn’t score its first tally until 3:28 remained in the opening frame. The Ageless Wonder Jaromir Jagr (Aleksander Barkov and Jon Marchessault) takes credit for his 14th of the season with a wrist shot to beat Second Star of the Game Andrei Vasilevskiy. Mark Pysyk (Reilly Smith and Barkov) provided the Panthers‘ second tally only 2:41 later, setting the score at 2-0 going into the first intermission.

Jon Cooper must have had some choice words for the Lightning during the break, because the team that emerged from the dressing room was not the one that entered it. 3:43 after retaking the ice, Nikita Kucherov (Victor Hedman and Jonathan Drouin) buried a power play slap shot to pull the Bolts back within a goal of the Panthers. Third Star Yanni Gourde completed the comeback with 9:49 remaining in the period with an unassisted shorthanded goal, the first tally of his young career.

The game-winner waited a long time to present itself, but First Star Ondrej Palat (Andrej Sustr) forced it to present itself with 2:23 remaining in regulation. He sneaked his tip-in past James Reimer to earn the victory.

Vasilevskiy saved 32-of-34 shots faced (94.1%) to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Reimer, who saved 31-of-34 (91.2%).

The third win in four days by the home team in the DtFR Game of the Day has pulled series hosts  within a point of the 73-51-22 visitors.

March 7 – Day 139 – Yeo, what’s up?

First and foremost, my extreme thanks to @kephartc and @nlanciani53 for covering my post while I was traveling. Their efforts were much appreciated, and I hope that they enjoyed making this column their own.

But now, whether you like it or now, it’s back under control.

That’s obviously me, laughing maniacally.

Anyways, the action starts when it usually does  – at 7 p.m. – with New Jersey at Columbus, followed half an hour later by a trio of games (Philadelphia at Buffalo [NBCSN], Detroit at Toronto [TVAS] and the New York Rangers at Florida). St. Louis at Minnesota is the only contest to drop the puck at 8 p.m., but two (Carolina at Colorado and the New York Islanders at Edmonton) get underway an hour after. The final two matchups of the day – Montréal at Vancouver (RDS) and Nashville at Anaheim (SN1) – get the green light at 10 p.m. to close out tonight’s action.

Short list:

  • New Jersey at Columbus: After six seasons with the Blue Jackets‘ organization, Dalton Prout makes his first appearance in Columbus against the club that drafted him.
  • Detroit at Toronto: Oh, you know, it’s just one of the better all-time rivalries of the NHL.
  • New York at Florida: Brandon Pirri is another player who has connections with the team his current club is facing tonight.
  • St. Louis at Minnesota: A little sooner than planned, Mike Yeo is coaching his first contest at Xcel Energy Center since being released last season.
  • Nashville at Anaheim: It’s a rematch between last year’s Western Conference Quarter-finalists.

Since the Blues-Wild game also serves as an early preview of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, let’s head up to the Twin Cities.

Yeo joined the Wild organization before the 2010-’11 season when he took command of the Houston Aeros, Minnesota‘s former AHL farm team. That in itself was a homecoming, as Yeo had spent five seasons as a player for the Aeros. While captain, he led the team to the 1999 Turner Cup.

Only one year into his tenure with the Aeros as head coach, the club improved immensely. He took over a team that finished last in its division, and turned it into conference finalist – an impressive feat.

When the Wild were looking for a coach the following season, they didn’t have to look far. Yeo earned his promotion to the NHL 366 days after being signed to Houston, and he ended up leading Minnesota for more than four seasons.

The turnaround wasn’t quite as instantaneous as it was in Houston. His first season finished in fourth-place in the Northwest Division, outside of playoff contention. Yeo’s magic started kicking in during the 2012-’13 season when his club took second in the Northwest.

That began the treacherous trend against the Blackhawks. Starting with the 2013 playoffs, Yeo’s Wild faced Chicago three-straight seasons, and three-straight times they were eliminated.

The 2015-’16 campaign proved to by Yeo’s last in the Twin Cities. The Wild were under-performing at  23-22-10, so Chuck Fletcher decided to hire John Torchetti for the remainder of the season.

This offseason, Yeo was hired by the Blues as an assistant coach and head-man-in-waiting behind Ken Hitchcock, but – in a similar situation as Yeo a season ago – the club has not been as successful as management would like. Doug Armstrong hit the fast-forward button on his organization and promoted Yeo to head coach. Results have… varied… but the Notes are currently qualifying for the playoffs.

*Author’s note: Since I’m still on the road, I could not record final stats from Monday night and, more importantly, rankings. Consider any rankings unofficial.*

Even though they’ve lost their last four games, the Blues enter tonight’s game with a 31-26-5 record, good enough for fourth in the Central Division and eighth in the Western Conference. St. Louis is certainly an offensive-minded team, but their 175 goals in 64 games is tied for only 15th-most in the league.

Vladimir Tarasenko is easily the best forward on this team – who would’ve guessed? He has a team-leading 56 points to his credit, but the more frightening number is his 28 goals. That total ties for 10th-most in the NHL.

The best way to beat the Blues is to not let them earn a power play, as they’re proud owners of the fifth-best effort in the league. Kevin Shattenkirk has been at the head of that attack with his 20 extra-man goals, and his seven power play goal-total is tied with Tarasenko for most on the team.

The Notes certainly don’t get beat on special teams, as they’ve also been very successful when short a man. Thanks in large part to Alex Pietrangelo‘s 29 shorthanded shot blocks, the Notes have stopped 84% of opposing power plays – the eighth-best mark in the league.

Bruce Boudreau has turned Yeo’s work into a hockey powerhouse, as the 41-15-6 Wild are the best team in the Central and the Western conference. Minnesota is incredible on both ends of the ice, but the offense has been the stronger of the two facets of their game of later. Accounting for 209 goals in 63 games, the Wild score the second-most goals-per-game in the NHL.

Mikael Granlund gets to take a lot of credit for that success, as his 59 points are tops in Minnesota. 21 of those have been goals, which is also the best mark on the team.

It’s splitting hairs to say that the Wild’s power play is worse than St. Louis‘, as Minnesota is tied for sixth-best with their 22.1% success rate. As you’d expect, Granlund has been at the forefront of that effort with his 18 power play points, but it’s been Nino Niederreiter burying most of the goals – his eight extra-man tallies top the team.

Similarly, Minnesota‘s penalty kill is also barely better than the Blues‘. Successful 84.3% of the time, the Wild are seventh-best in the NHL. Jared Spurgeon has had a heavy hand in this effort with his 17 shorthanded blocks – the most on the team.

Minnesota has had the upper-hand in this series so far this season. The last time they squared off, the Wild expanded their record against the Blues to 2-1-1 with a 5-1 victory on January 26.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Minnesota‘s Devan Dubnyk (35 wins on a .933 save percentage [both best in the league] and a 2.01 GAA [second-best in the NHL], including five shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the league]), Granlund (+28 [tied for sixth-best in the NHL]), Mikko Koivu (+28 [tied for sixth-best in the league]), Spurgeon (+34 [second-best in the NHL]), Ryan Suter (+35 [best in the league]) and Jason Zucker (+31 [tied for fourth-best in the NHL]) & St. Louis‘ Pietrangelo (127 blocks [most on the team]), Ryan Reaves (168 hits [most on the team]), Shattenkirk (31 assists [most on the team]) and Tarasenko (28 goals for 56 points [both most on the team])

It’s hard to pick against the best in the West when they have home ice. I like the Wild to win by at least two goals tonight.

Hockey Birthday

  • Mike Eagles (1963-) – Selected by Quebec in the sixth round of the 1981 NHL Entry Draft, this forward played 16 seasons in the NHL – most of which with the Capitals. Though he scored nearly 200 points over his career, he was more known as an enforcer: he collected 928 minutes in the penalty box.
  • Terry Carkner (1966-) – The Rangers picked this defenseman 14th-overall in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft, but he spent most of his career with the rival Flyers. He fit the character of Philadelphia to a t, earning nearly 1600 penalty minutes.
  • Eric Godard (1980-) – It’s the birthday of enforcers. This right wing spent most of his eight-year NHL career with the Penguins – specifically Pittsburgh‘s penalty box. He served a total of 833 minutes in the sin bin.
  • Niclas Bergfors (1987-) – Last playing in the NHL in the 2011-’12 season, New Jersey selected this Swedish right wing 23rd-overall in the 2005 NHL Entry draft. He has 83 points to his credit, but he currently plays Djurgarden Hockey in the Swedish Hockey League.

February 27 – Day 131 – Qui(c)k Trip to Minnesota

This Monday in the NHL is no different than many of the others in that there aren’t too many games on the schedule this evening. The staggered starts begin at 7 p.m. with Montréal at New Jersey (RDS), followed half an hour later by Ottawa at Tampa Bay (RDS2). Finally, tonight’s nightcap – Los Angeles at Minnesota (NBCSN/TVAS) – drops the puck at 8 p.m. All times eastern.

Jonathan Quick‘s triumphant return to the ice Saturday has significantly increased Los Angeles‘ chances of making the playoffs, but they face a stiff test against the Wild tonight. What better way to see if they’re up to the task for a magical run?

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Just as I was prepared to count the Kings out of this year’s edition of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Quick reemerged from injured reserve and proved he is more than capable of resuming the high quality play we know he’s capable of. He proved that by allowing only one tally against the Ducks.

He resumes control of a team 30-27-4 Kings team that is currently three points outside a playoff spot, as it’s only fifth-best in the Pacific Division and ninth-best in the Western Conference. Unfortunately for Los Angeles, Quick’s return probably will have little impact on the offense, where it needs the most help. The Kings have managed only 149 goals  in 61 games this season, which ties for the sixth-worst scoring rate in the NHL.

The issue becomes immediately apparent when one analyzes the Kings‘ individual performances. Jeff Carter has had an incredible season and is far-and-away Los Angeles‘ brightest spot as his 30 goals and 55 points are both team-highs. But he leads second-best Tanner Pearson by 11 tallies and 18 points, a wildly large disparity.

Compare that same differential to Minnesota‘s much more well-rounded attack. Mikael Granlund, the Wild‘s leading point-scorer, has 55 points to his name, only nine more than Mikko Koivu. Similarly, he and Nino Niederreiter – who both have 19 tallies – lead Jason Zucker‘s effort by only one goal.

Not surprisingly, the offense continues to struggle even when presented with the man-advantage. Even with Carter’s 16 power play points and nine extra-man goals, the Kings have found success only 16.7% of the time, the seventh-worst rate in the league.

What’s kept Los Angeles alive this season is that as bad as the power play has been, the penalty kill has been good. Led by Alec Martinez‘ 26 shorthanded shot blocks, the Kings have properly defended 84.5% of opposing power plays, the fifth-best effort in the NHL.

Of course, no matter how good Quick looked against Anaheim, the Wild is a far superior opponent. Even more alarming, it’s not even the offense that makes this team the best team in both the Central Division and the West. Instead, it’s the incredible play of their netminder, who has allowed only 136 goals against – the second-fewest in the league.

To put things simply, 32-11-3 Devan Dubnyk has been one of, if not the best goaltender in the NHL this season. Not only is his .933 save percentage and 2.01 GAA the best in the State of Hockey, but they’re also the best and second-best marks, respectively, in the league.

His effort is made only more impressive by the fact that he faces an average of 31 shots-per-game, the (t)10th-highest rate in the NHL. Jared Spurgeon has done all he can to limit his netminder’s work with 106 shot blocks, but he’s the only skater with more than 80 to his credit. But, with as well as Dubnyk, is playing, I doubt Bruce Boudreau will hear him complain too much.

The Wild continue to be an impenetrable force even when they’re down a man, as their 83.1% penalty kill rate is 10th-best in the league. Just has he does at even-strength, Spurgeon headlines the penalty kill, as his 15 shorthanded blocks lead the club.

The Wild‘s penalty kill is good, maybe even great, but their power play is even better. Actually, to be more specific, it’s tied for best in the league with Toronto, as both are successful on 22.8% of attempts. Granlund headlines that attack with his 17 power play points, but it’s Niederreiter who will keep Quick on his toes. The Swiss wing has buried eight extra-man goals, the most on the squad.

On January 7, the Wild made their annual trek to the Staples Center to face Los Angeles, and they almost came away with two points. Instead, Pearson scored an overtime winner to give the Kings a 4-3 victory.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Los Angeles‘ Carter (30 goals [tied for second-most in the league]) & Minnesota‘s Dubnyk (32 wins on a .933 save percentage [both best in the NHL] and a 2.01 GAA [second-best in the league], including five shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the NHL]), Granlund (+29 [seventh-best in the league]), Koivu (+30 [sixth-best in the NHL]), Spurgeon (+32 [tied for second-best in the league]), Ryan Suter (+33 [best in the NHL]) and Zucker (+32 [tied for second-best in the league]).

With Minnesota favored -145 by Vegas, I’d be very surprised if the Kings manage to even force overtime this evening. Abysmal might be a compliment for this offense, and it will be made only worse by the overpowering play of Dubnyk. The Wild should continue to fight for the Western lead with relative ease this evening.

Hockey Birthday

  • Braydon Coburn (1985-) – Currently playing his third season in Tampa Bay, this defenseman was originally selected eighth-overall by Atlanta in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. Most of his 12-season career was spent in Philadelphia, and he was a member of that 2010 Flyers team that won the Eastern Conference from the seven-seed.
  • Dustin Jeffrey (1988-) – Drafted in the sixth-round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft by Pittsburgh, he last appeared in the league with Arizona in the 2015-’16 season.

Twice scoring two goals in a period, the Columbus Blue Jackets took it to the Rangers in Madison Square Garden in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, winning 5-2.

Only 1:02 into the game, First Star of the Game Alexander Wennberg (David Savard and Oliver Bjorkstrand) got the Jackets‘ attack started with a tip-in tally. Rick Nash (Jimmy Vesey and Derek Stepan) pulled New York back even with his snap shot 3:05 later, but a Second Star Cam Atkinson (Sam Gagner and Zach Werenski) power play snapper at the 6:47 mark once again gave the Blue Jackets a lead. That 2-1 score held into the first intermission.

The same man to strike first in the opening frame took credit for the lone tally of the second. Wennberg’s (Bjorkstrand) 12th goal of the year was a backhanded shot at the 9:47 mark of the period, and proved to be the eventual game-winner.

The Wennberg-Atkinson pattern continued 4:12 into the final frame, as Atkinson (Brandon Dubinsky) buried a snapper to give Columbus a 4-1 lead. With 24 seconds remaining in the game, Josh Anderson (William Karlsson and Scott Hartnell) scored the Jackets‘ final tally of the night, followed by Jesper Fast‘s (Marc Staal and Oscar Lindberg) goal with a second remaining on the clock.

Third Star Sergei Bobrovsky earned the victory after saving 28-of-30 shots faced (93.3%), leaving the loss to Henrik Lundqvist, who saved 21-of-26 (80.8%).

It’s been nine days since a road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series has lost. That incredible streak has given the 69-43-21 visitors an 11-point lead over hosts.