Tag Archives: Komarov

Game of the week: December 24-30

Now that the holiday break has come and gone, it’s time to get back into some hockey. Let’s take a gander at all the tilts the NHL has crammed into four days this week.

NHL SCHEDULE: December 24-30
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, December 24
No Games Scheduled – Christmas Eve
Tuesday, December 25
No Games Scheduled – Christmas
Wednesday, December 26
No Games Scheduled – Boxing Day
Thursday, December 27
7 p.m. New Jersey Boston 5-2
7 p.m. Columbus Blue Jackets New York Rangers 4-3 (OT)
7 p.m. Detroit Pittsburgh 2-5
7 p.m. Carolina Washington 1-3
7:30 p.m. Philadelphia Tampa Bay 5-6 (OT)
8 p.m. Buffalo St. Louis 1-4
8 p.m. Dallas Nashville 2-0
8 p.m. Calgary Winnipeg 4-1
8:30 p.m. Minnesota Chicago 2-5
9 p.m. Vancouver Edmonton 4-2
10 p.m. Colorado Vegas 1-2
10:30 p.m. Arizona Los Angeles  1-2
10:30 p.m. Anaheim San Jose  2-4
Friday, December 28
7 p.m. Montréal Florida RDS, TSN2
7 p.m. Ottawa Senators New York Islanders RDS2
7 p.m. Toronto Columbus ESPN+
Saturday, December 29
1 p.m. Carolina New Jersey SN
4 p.m. Vegas Los Angeles SN1
4 p.m. San Jose Edmonton  
4 p.m. Minnesota Winnipeg  
7 p.m. Boston Buffalo  
7 p.m. New York Islanders Toronto Maple Leafs CBC, ESPN+, SN1
7 p.m. Washington Ottawa CITY, SN360
7 p.m. Montréal Tampa Bay SN, TVAS
7 p.m. Philadelphia Florida  
8 p.m. Pittsburgh St. Louis  
8 p.m. New York Rangers Nashville Predators ESPN+
8 p.m. Detroit Dallas  
9 p.m. Chicago Colorado  
10 p.m. Arizona Anaheim  
10 p.m. Vancouver Canucks Calgary Flames CBC, CITY, SN, SN1, SN360
Sunday, December 30
8 p.m. Vegas Arizona ESPN+, SN, TVAS

Rivalries on tap this week included Detroit at Pittsburgh, Calgary at Winnipeg, Minnesota at Chicago and Anaheim at San Jose on Thursday; Boston at Buffalo and Vancouver at Calgary today and Vegas at Arizona tomorrow.

We also got the pleasure of taking in a few playoff rematches from this spring, including the previously mentioned Anaheim at San Jose tilt Thursday night,  as well as Minnesota at Winnipeg and Vegas at Los Angeles on this evening.

Finally, a few tilts involved players making homecoming trips to former longtime homes. Now a member of the Sabres after an offseason trade, F Vladimir Sobotka made his first trip back to St. Louis on Thursday, while F Leo Komarov returned to Toronto – his former home of five seasons – today.

Of all of those, the showdown I’m most interested in is taking place in the Queen City. The Bruins are the healthiest they’ve been all season, while the Sabres are looking to once again regain the form that earned them a 10-game winning streak through much of November.

Though the 20-14-4 Boston Bruins can currently lay claim to the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot, they are far from comfortable or safe in that position considering the New York Islanders are only two points behind them in the standings with two games in hand.

However, playing in the Bruins’ favor is their previously mentioned return to good health. With the exception of D Urho Vaakanainen, Boston’s 2017 first-round pick who has a whopping two NHL appearances to his credit, D Charlie McAvoy and LW Brad Marchand, the Bruins have almost achieved full health once again – albeit with F David Backes taking in tonight’s tilt and the next two as well from the press box after he was suspended for a high hit against New Jersey’s F Blake Coleman on Thursday.

Yes, Boston fans, you did the math correctly: Backes will be unavailable for New Year’s Day’s Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium, nor the tough matchup with the Flames on Thursday.

Of course, there’s always the question of just how much he’ll be missed. He’s been involved in all of the Bruins’ last seven games in which they’ve posted a 3-4-0 record, contributing only four assists and a -5 rating in those outings.

Now, it might sound like I’m piling on Backes and implying that he does more harm than good when he’s on the ice. While it would certainly be a stretch to say he’d be the best player in white this evening if he were dressing, there’s no doubting the former captain’s defensive contributions. He’s top eight among Bruins forwards since December 14 in hits per game, blocks per game and takeaways (for those wondering, the forwards leading those stats in that time frame are F Noel Acciari [3.8 hits per game], F Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson [1.3 blocks per game] and Marchand [eight takeaways]).

Instead, what has been letting Boston down during its last seven games is clearly some sub-par goaltending. Despite a defense that has yielded only 28.86 shots against in its last seven showings (a mark that’s sixth-best in the NHL in that time), neither 12-6-2 G Jaroslav Halak nor 8-8-2 G Tuukka Rask – tonight’s starter – has looked all that impressive.

It goes without saying that Rask is having the worst season of his career this year. His .911 season save percentage and 2.72 GAA are both on pace to be the worst marks of his professional career (barring, of course, his four-game 2007-08 campaign). Making matters even more dreadful for the Bruins’ faithful, Rask’s last two starts have been even more alarming, as he boasts only an .873 save percentage and 4.15 GAA in those outings.

It probably goes without saying, but he lost both of those games (4-2 against Buffalo and 5-3 at Carolina).

With a 21-12-5 record, the Buffalo Sabres have settled into third place in the Atlantic Division, though just like Boston, there’s not many points separating them from teams trying to chase them down. Montréal trails the Sabres by only two points, while the Bruins could pull within a point of Buffalo with a win tonight.

Much of the reason the Sabres are starting to fall back to Earth is their playing .500 hockey of late. Over Buffalo’s last eight games, it has managed only a 4-3-1 record, losing ground on the Maple Leafs in the division standings during Toronto’s five-game winning streak.

If anyone is to blame for Buffalo’s inconsistencies of late, it’s certainly not 8-1-3 G Linus Ullmark. He’s managed a solid .922 save percentage and 2.71 GAA for the entire season, but he’s been even better in his last three starts, winning all three and posting an impressive .953 save percentage and 1.65 GAA.

Making those numbers even more impressive, he hasn’t had the luxury of playing behind one of the league’s best defenses. In fact, it’s been quite the opposite. In the Sabres’ last eight games, they’ve allowed 32.75 shots against per game, the 10th-worst mark in the NHL since December 11.

It is unclear if Ullmark or 13-11-2 G Carter Hutton will be in net tonight, but I would argue that it is this decision that will ultimately determine the outcome of this tilt. Just like Rask, Hutton has not looked particularly good lately, as he has earned only three points in his last five starts due to an average .91 save percentage and 2.78 GAA in those showings (compared to his .916 save percentage and 2.64 GAA for the season).

Should Hutton get the start, I am confident the Bruins’ offense, which has averaged 3.29 goals per game in their past eight showings, should be strong enough to earn the road victory. However, if Head Coach Phil Housley gives the nod to Ullmark, he has proven to me that he is more than able to lead the Sabres to two points.

Toronto Maple Leafs 2018-2019 Season Preview

Toronto Maple Leafs

49-26-7, 105 points, third in the Atlantic Division

Lost in First Round to Boston, 4-3

Additions: RW Adam Cracknell, F Tyler Ennis, C Josh Jooris, C Par Lindholm, G Eamon McAdam, D Igor Ozhiganov, D Jordan Subban, C John Tavares

Subtractions: F Miro Aaltonen (signed with Vityaz Podolsk, KHL), RW Kyle Baun (signed with Belfast Giants, EIHL), C Tyler Bozak (signed with STL), W Martins Dzierkals (signed with Dinamo Riga, KHL), F Colin Greening (signed with Toronto Marlies, AHL), F Leo Komarov (signed with NYI), W Matt Martin (traded to NYI), C Tomas Plekanec (signed with MTL), D Roman Polak (signed with DAL), F Ben Smith (signed with Adler Mannheim, DEL), LW James van Riemsdyk (signed with PHI), LW Nolan Vesey (traded to EDM)

Offseason Analysis: Let’s just get this out of the way early: Johnny T is coming home!

I’m not even a Maple Leafs fan and that gets me mildly excited.

After all, Tavares is departing a team that qualified for the playoffs only thrice during his nine-year tenure and joining one that scored a (t)third-best 270 goals last season without his offensive acumen. With Tavares’ 272-349-621 career totals effectively replacing Bozak’s 136-229-365 marks in just as many seasons (the only difference being Tavares will play no lower than on the second line, while Bozak was the Leafs’ third-line center), it’s safe to say Toronto’s offense – which was already stacked by simply mentioning C Auston Matthews‘ name – is now rivaled only by Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Winnipeg.

So, that means the Leafs are locks for the Stanley Cup, right? I mean, that’s what all the Toronto fans have been telling me…

Regrettably, I must poke a hole in that balloon, at least until the squad proves me wrong in the first month or so of the regular season.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no doubts about the Leafs’ offense. Few are going to keep up with Toronto’s attack, which may very well be capable of flirting with the 300-goal mark this year (that’s 3.66 goals per game, Leafs fans).

Instead, my concerns reside along Toronto’s blue line, and I’m sure G Frederik Andersen agrees with me. With Andersen in net last season, the Maple Leafs allowed at least 30 shots on goal 44 times.

He started 66 games last campaign.

For those struggling to do the math, Andersen – who started 80 percent of the Maple Leafs’ games last season and accrued 3889 minutes – faced at least 10 shots per period in two-thirds of his appearances.

Talk about a heavy workload.

To Andersen’s credit, he posted five shutouts and a solid .918 save percentage last season, so he performed marvelously given the immense pressure on him. However, there’s no doubt he would have preferred to see fewer than the 33.9 shots against per game coming his way, a regression from the 32.6 shots the Leafs allowed in 2016-2017.

In my last season preview, I mentioned how Pittsburgh might be a team looking to trade a defenseman should Juuso Riikola continue to impress. If that proves to be the case, General Manager Kyle Dubas would be wise to get in contact with counterpart Jim Rutherford to at least inquire about an asking price, as the Pens have exactly what the Leafs are in the market for: an established, NHL-ready defenseman with significant playoff experience.

The asking price would likely be high considering both are expected to be major players in the Eastern Conference. However, with visions of Stanley Cups dancing in their dreams, the initial cost of addressing the Maple Leafs’ defensive deficiencies likely pale in comparison to the time wasted in a contention window with a porous blue line.

Offseason Grade: B+

Yes, the Maple Leafs landed Tavares. As a result, they automatically earn better than a passing grade. However, doing little to improve a blue line that allowed the fourth-most shots has me very concerned that this club won’t see much of an improvement on that end of the ice. Dubas had better have a plan to address that issue soon, as Matthews’ contract next summer is not going to be cheap, which will make it difficult to retool the defense. In the meantime, hopefully the offense will meet or exceed expectations, as Scotiabank Arena could see more than a few high-scoring games this year.

David is Goliath: Pastrnak’s hat trick; 6 points too much for Leafs

 

 

 

 

 

If Pastafarianism wasn’t already a religion, Boston would definitely be trying to make it one. (But seriously, it is already a religion. Look it up. It’s a hoot.)

It was a rocking night at TD Garden, with Rene Rancourt bringing his two-game fist pump totals to 8 (kid’s on a roll) and the Boston crowd (that included our own @nlanciani53) was thunderous.

After having the proverbial sand kicked in their faces in Game 1, it was expected that Toronto would come into Game 2 looking for redemption, and prove they were the threat they were made out to be. Sure they’d have to do it without Nazem Kadri (serving the first of his 3 game suspension, replaced by Andreas Johnsson playing his first career NHL playoff game) in the lineup, but Boston would be without Tommy Wingels (the one who received the suspension-worthy hit, replaced by Ryan Donato also playing his first career NHL playoff game) so that should even things up, right?

It, uh…it didn’t.

The first solid action kicked off just 1:30 into the game, as Jake DeBrusk sprung Rick Nash on a breakaway with a beautiful stretch pass, but Nash would fire just wide of the net.

Soon after, it was Tuukka Rask making the game’s first notable stop, grabbing a redirect off the stick of William Nylander. On the following shift Rask covered up another puck and took a snow shower from young Kasperi Kapanen, drawing the ire of…basically everyone wearing black and gold. This seemed to be when the troubles really started for the Leafs, actually.

First it was Kevan Miller absolutely freight train-ing James van Riemsdyk in the corner to Rask’s right, igniting the Boston crowd and giving a jolt of energy to his team.

Just over 30 seconds after the big hit, the Bruins’ top line started zipping the puck around, capped off by Torey Krug firing a hard pass to a streaking David Pastrnak. The pass caught a Toronto stick and deflected up in the air, but Pastrnak somehow managed to corral the puck and settle it on his tape while doing a 360 past a Leafs defender and tucking a backhand past the outstretched pad of Frederik Andersen to take the 1-0 lead at 5:26. If you haven’t seen this goal yet, go find it.

Krug would make the church bells ring a few minutes later, firing one off of the post, shortly before Toronto took a penalty. Early in the penalty kill it looked like Toronto was going to tie the game, as Kapanen broke in alone and deked Rask out of his pants, but fired the puck right off the post and sent the play in the other direction where shortly after DeBrusk would tip in a centering feed from Krug (who had pinched all the way to the goal line on the right wing boards) to score Boston’s 4th power play goal of the series to put his team up 2-0 9:46 into the game.

Less than two and a half minutes later Boston would find the back of the net again, with another defenseman, this time being Kevan Miller from the left wing boards, would fire a pass to the middle of the ice from along the goal line. Miller’s pass hit the skate of Leafs defender Nikita Zaitsev and beat Andersen, putting Boston up 3-0 with 7:47 to play in the first.

Mike Babcock decided he had seen enough, and rather than burning a valuable timeout, he chose to make a goaltending switch to get the attention of his team, pulling Andersen in favor of Curtis McElhinney, who made just the second playoff appearance of his entire career.

Unfortunately for Babcock and the Leafs, the Bruins were having none of this attempt to slow things down. Tim Schaller made sure the building stayed in it by flattening Mitch Marner on the forecheck, leading to a fight with Ron Hainsey.

On the power play resulting from Hainsey’s instigator penalty, the Bs extra man unit improved to five-for-eight in the series when Rick Nash cleaned up the garbage from a ricocheting Pastrnak shot just 11 seconds into the man advantage, giving the Bruins a 4-0 lead at the 15:00 mark.

Toronto did manage to somewhat stop the bleeding for the final five minutes, and mounted a bit of a counter-attack, but never got a serious scoring opportunity out of it and went to the room trailing by four with little in the way of positives to build on. Boston scored four goals on eight shots, including the last three on consecutive shots.

Early in the second, Toronto finally found life, with Zach Hyman and Mitch Marner pouncing on a David Krejci turnover to set up a two-on-one, where Marner would bang in the back door goal to make it 4-1 just 1:22 into the middle frame.

Again, it took no time at all for Boston to push Toronto’s faces right back in the dirt, coming out on the very next shift and responding with two thundering hits. First it was David Backes stapling Zaitsev to the end boards behind his own net, then just a few seconds later Leo Komarov tried to step into Miller and instead ended up laying on the ice seemingly unsure of his whereabouts. Or identity. (He’d return only briefly on a power play shift a few minutes later, taking the ice for about 10 seconds before immediately returning to the locker room and never reappearing)

Then just 2:24 after the Marner goal, it would be Krejci making amends for his costly turnover by tipping a Pastrnak shot past McElhinney as he skated across the front of the net, restoring Boston’s four-goal lead 3:46 into the second.

The Leafs would get a power play soon after, but the only real opportunity they’d have was a hard wrist shot by Auston Matthews labeled for the glove side corner that Rask seemingly lackadaisically snagged out of the air.

Rick Nash and Auston Matthews traded breakaway opportunities, both on terrific power moves through defenders, but both were turned aside by the respective netminders.

Toronto again pulled within 3 when Tyler Bozak tipped home a nice spinning feed from below the goal line by Connor Brown with 10:57 remaining. They managed to build a little momentum off of this, having a few good scoring chances (Gardiner one-timer out of a netfront scramble, Marleau getting his own rebound off the end boards and nearly beating an off-balance Rask) turned aside in the next few minutes. Rask continued to be the story for most of the dying minutes, making two of his best stops with just over 4 to play, first on Matthews walking out from behind the net, then stretching out the opposite side pad to deny Patrick Marleau on the rebound. Shots were evened up at 22 at the end of the second period.

Boston defenseman Matt Grzelcyk spent the last part of the second and the third period nursing an apparent leg injury of some sort, often limping noticeably, but finished the game.

The early minutes of the third passed without incident, until Brown and Tomas Plekanec jumped on a loose puck after Charlie McAvoy tripped near his own blueline for a two-on-one, but Rask again turned it aside. On the following shift at the opposite end it would be McElhinney stopping a Patrice Bergeron one-timer on a feed by Brad Marchand.

With 8:26 remaining Boston would strike again, Marchand turning the puck over from Gardiner and walking in on a breakaway that Gardiner somehow managed to get back and poke check away at the last second, but before Toronto could regroup Bergeron had already retrieved the puck in the corner and handed it to Pastrnak, who walked to the front of the net almost uncontested and roofed a shot over the blocker side of McElhinney for the 6-2 lead.

JVR managed to again cut the defecit to 3 with 5:07 to play when he banged home a rebound past Rask, who had little help on the play, after a hard forecheck by Bozak caused Zdeno Chara to lose his stick, leaving him unable to tie up van Riemsdyk in front of the net.

Just to make sure the winning margin was four goals, and just because he could, Pastrnak took a Marchand pass from behind the goal line, toe dragged it between his own legs, then backhanded the puck into the net past a prone McElhinney to scored the hat trick, bring his point total to six on the night (nine in the first two games of the series), and drive the dagger firmly into the hearts of the Toronto faithful with 1:36 to play. ‘Pasta’ became the first player in franchise history to score 3+ points in each of the team’s first two playoff games of the year.

The simple fact in this series is that Toronto has yet to find any answer for the Bruins’ top line (14 points between them in Game 2). Should they be able to, they could find success, as the rest of the Boston lineup is not supremely dangerous (New Jersey has found a way to keep the Miller/Stamkos/Kucherov line quiet, but can’t match the Bolts’ ridiculous depth). But the Toronto defense looks almost helpless at times, and Rask has simply been too good for Toronto to rely upon their offense to solve all their problems.

Mike Babcock and his team will search hard for an answer, I’m sure, and will hope for a little reinvigorating energy from an energetic home crowd at the ACC. Game 3 will come to you on Monday night at 7 p.m. Eastern with DTFR coverage brought to you by shameless Boston homer @nlanciani53

March 14 – Day 154 – Somebody’s gotta win

We’re reaching the midway point of March, meaning there’s only a few weeks separating us from playoff hockey! It’s time to get excited, fans!

Arenas start coming to life at 7 p.m. this evening with Dallas at Toronto (SN/TVAS), followed an hour later by Pittsburgh at the New York Rangers (NBCSN). San Jose at Edmonton (SN1) drops the puck at 9:30 p.m., while tonight’s co-nightcaps – New Jersey at Vegas and Vancouver at Anaheim – wait half an hour before wrapping up the night’s events. All times Eastern.

When the schedule was released before this season, I was most excited for the action in Alberta this evening since it was a rematch of a Western Quarterfinal matchup from a year ago. However, the game that must attract our attention is the other tilt taking place in Canada tonight.

 

The past two weeks have not been a stellar run for the 40-22-7 Maple Leafs, as they’ve posted a lowly 1-2-2 record over their past five games after rattling off a four-game winning streak.

For me, what has been really disappointing about Toronto – both lately and, really, for the entire season as a whole – has been its performance on the defensive end. Over their last five games, the Leafs have allowed 34.2 shots against per game, the ninth-most in the NHL since February 26. F Leo Komarov (3.6 hits per game since February 26), F William Nylander (eight takeaways in his past five games) and D Nikita Zaitsev (1.8 blocks per game in his last four showings [he missed Saturday’s home game against the Penguins with the flu]) have stood out lately, but the Maple Leafs just don’t seem to be getting consistent production in their own zone from the entire roster.

However, that is just a microcosm of Toronto’s season as a whole. In terms of shots against, the Leafs have been the fourth-worst team in the NHL having yielded 34 pucks per game. As Head Coach Mike Babcock’s side is quickly learning, Komarov (three hits per game for the season), F Mitch Marner (team-leading 66 takeaways in 69 games played) and Zaitsev (2.5 blocks per game all season) cannot carry this club on their own defensively.

What makes this current defensive play all the more glaring is the recent struggles of 33-18-5 G Frederik Andersen. Having managed a .919 save percentage and 2.76 GAA for the entire season, those numbers have dropped to an .885 save percentage and 4.21 GAA in his past four starts.

This is not an attack on Andersen, because his decline in play has to be related to the pure exhaustion of facing over 1900 shots this year. In fact, it’s almost entirely because of him that Toronto has allowed only 2.83 goals all season, the (t)12th-best mark in the NHL. Fortunately, he’s played only two games in the past 10 days and is coming off a 5-2 win in his past outing, so he should be well rested entering tonight’s affair.

Speaking of teams currently in playoff position not playing necessarily well right now, Toronto is hosting the 38-26-6 Stars this evening, a club that has posted only a 1-3-1 record in its last five games.

While Toronto has struggled on the defensive end lately, all of the Stars’ issues have occurred when they have the puck on their own sticks. Dallas has averaged only 1.4 goals per game since March 5, a mark that is tied with Vancouver for worst in the league in that time.

However, that’s not to say none of the Stars are finding success. In fact, with 2-3-5 totals during this run, F Tyler Seguin has managed to average a point per game since March 5 to elevate his season totals to 36-29-65, far and away the best marks on the club.

Unfortunately, it’s the rest of the team that is putting Seguin at risk of delaying his sixth playoff appearance by at least a season. Besides the three-point efforts of stellar linemates (at least as of puck drop last night) LW Jamie Benn and RW Alexander Radulov (with 2-1-3 and 1-2-3 totals, respectively), no Stars have registered more than two points over this five-game stretch.

One source of offensive production that has fallen quiet lately is D John Klingberg. Having posted 7-50-57 totals for the season, he’s managed only two assists in his past six showings. Whether he focuses on creating plays for the Benn-Seguin-Radulov super line or increasing the potency of the other three trios, he’ll be a big key in getting this Stars team back on track.

I have a hard time believing a team in any sport has nothing to play for when it steps onto its playing surface, but the Leafs have literally nothing to play for as far as the standings are concerned. Toronto trails second-place Boston by nine points, and the Bruins will have two games in hand after tonight’s events. Even if the Maple Leafs win out starting tonight, the Bruins would need only 18 points (nine victories) in their remaining 14 games to hold on to home ice in the first round of the playoffs. I just don’t see Boston dropping that many games in regulation, especially since it can still grasp the Eastern Conference’s top seed.

“Well,” you say, “maybe the Maple Leafs could still lose third place in the division?”

Yeah, that’s not happening either. Florida is in fourth place in the Atlantic, and it trails the Leafs by a dozen points. Even with the Panthers’ two games in hand – which will increase to three following tonight’s tilt – the bottom is going to need to drop out on Toronto for it to become a wild card.

Instead, this game – and every other one until the end of the regular season – is effectively a live practice situation. The Maple Leafs should take these opportunities to get healthy, work out any kinks in their game and prepare for the return of C Auston Matthews and the postseason.

The same cannot be said for the Stars, as this is a very important game for them. After losing last night in Montréal in regulation, Dallas has fallen behind Colorado and is currently the Western Conference’s second wild card. Mix in the fact that three teams trail the Stars by a maximum of only three points, and Dallas is in desperate need of a victory tonight.

When the Leafs made their annual trip to Dallas on January 25, 7-4-1 G Curtis McElhinney stole headlines with his dazzling 39-save performance. Pairing that with a two-goal performance by C Nazem Kadri, Toronto earned two points with a 4-1 victory.

There’s been a few games this season where I’ve felt so confident in a prediction that I’d consider betting the house. Today is one of those times. Dallas’ offense is anemic right now, and it is coming off a miserable 4-2 performance against a bad Canadiens team last night. Mix in the fact that the Stars have a lowly 14-16-3 record on the road, and this has the clear appearance of a Toronto victory.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Colorado Avalanche earned a 5-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Xcel Energy Center.

Only one goal was struck in the first period, and it’s probably no secret which club it belonged to. With 3:38 remaining in the frame, Second Star of the Game F J.T. Compher (D David Warsofsky) buried a wrist shot to give the Avs a 1-0 advantage.

The second period was a far more evenly-matched affair, as both sides came away with a marker. The first belonged to Third Star C Mikko Koivu (F Charlie Coyle) and the Wild, as he registered a wrister with 6:04 remaining in the period to level the game at 1-1. However, that scoreline lasted only 59 seconds before D Nikita Zadorov (W Blake Comeau) provided what proved to be Colorado’s game-winning goal.

Playing under four-on-four conditions due to LW Gabriel Landeskog and D Nate Prosser taking matching roughing penalties 25 seconds before Koivu’s marker, excellent forechecking by the Avalanche created this goal. Comeau initially advanced play into his offensive zone, but a sloppy pass to F Carl Soderberg resulted in F Mikael Granlund possessing the puck in the corner to G Devan Dubnyk‘s right. However, Colorado wasn’t ready to give up on the play yet, as Soderberg engaged the Finn to dislodge possession and allow Comeau a second chance at glory. He didn’t miss, as he centered a pass to Zadorov that was one-timed past Dubnyk’s glove, off the right post and into the net.

The pattern of scoring the same quantity of goals as the period’s number reached its trifecta in the final frame, as Colorado laid it on Minnesota with three markers. Having been held off the scorecard so far, F Nathan MacKinnon (D Patrik Nemeth) scored a wrister only 11 seconds into the period to give Colorado a two-goal advantage. He was followed by Compher (D Samuel Girard and W Sven Andrighetto) and F Tyson Jost (D Tyson Barrie and RW Mikko Rantanen) later in the frame, both with power play goals to set the 5-1 final score.

First Star G Semyon Varlamov earned the victory after saving 33-of-34 shots faced (.971 save percentage), leaving the loss to Dubnyk, who saved 17-of-22 (.773).

Though they would have obviously preferred to earn two points last night, the Wild are probably the happiest of the two teams coming out of this game because they know they won’t see the Avalanche again this regular season. In four meetings, Colorado dropped only one point to dominate Minnesota all year.

Things have been looking up for road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series lately. Colorado’s victory was the fourth consecutive by a visitor in the series, meaning the 86-49-19 hosts’ lead has been trimmed to 37 points (Yes, those numbers don’t line up with yesterday’s. I discovered some clerical errors that have now been resolved.).

January 23 – Day 100 – Happy birthday Leo Komarov

Manic Monday gets started at its usual 7 p.m. starting time with two games (Los Angeles at the New York Rangers [SN/SN1/TVAS] and Carolina at Washington), followed half an hour later by Calgary at Toronto. Next up is Anaheim at Winnipeg at 8 p.m., trailed an hour later by tonight’s co-nightcaps: San Jose at Colorado (NBCSN) and Florida at ArizonaAll times eastern.

There’s not a single game this evening being contested between two teams currently qualifying for the playoffs, but Toronto could be right back in that discussion by the time the night closes with a victory tonight.

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Although riding a two-game losing skid, the 24-22-3 Flames still find themselves in eighth-place in the Western Conference, which could improve to seventh with anything better than a regulation loss. Calgary has been led by its offense this season, which has scored 128 goals – tied for 14th-most in the league.

There’s a reason Mikael Backlund sweaters have been flying off the shelves in Southern Alberta these days, as his 33 points lead the Flames. That being said, Sean Monahan‘s 15 goals leads Backlund’s total by a tally.

Playing host this evening are the 21-14-9 Maple Leafs, who currently occupy ninth-place in the Eastern Conference. and similar to their opposition, simply getting to overtime will propel Toronto into seventh. Much of the reason for the Leafs‘ success has been their offense, which has managed 135 tallies in 44 games, the sixth-best scoring rate in the NHL.

In this edition of what has become the weekly Leafs update, Auston Matthews now shares the club points-lead with James van Riemsdyk, as both have been involved in 38 goals this season. That being said, the amazing rookie still has the team scoring title with his 22 tallies.

Last season, Toronto was home to the second-worst power play in the league. My, how the times have changed. Led by rookie William Nylander‘s 15 power play points, the Maple Leafs are now second-best, scoring on 24.1% of attempts. Veteran Nazem Kadri has also played a vital role in that success, burying nine pucks with the man-advantage.

The defensive special team has also been a big role in the Leafs‘ resurgence, refusing to yield a tally on 84.7% of opponent’s extra-man opportunities. The fourth-best penalty kill in the league has been led by Roman Polak, whose 22 shorthanded blocks not only lead the team, but ties for 17th-most in the league.

The Maple Leafs have already made their annual visit to the Saddledome, and it’s a trip they’d rather forget. Led by Chad Johnson‘s shutout, the Flames sent Toronto packing by beating them 3-0.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Calgary‘s Johnson (three shutouts [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]) and Toronto‘s Matthews (22 wins [tied for fourth-most in the league]).

Vegas has marked Toronto a -142 favorite, and it’s a hard pick to argue with. The Leafs have some superior special teams compared to Calgary‘s average efforts, not to mention Toronto‘s impeccable offense.

Hockey Birthday

  • J.F. Sauve (1960-) – Although undrafted, this center managed 290 games over seven seasons in the NHL, most of which in Quebec. He notched 203 points before retiring after the 1986-’87 season.
  • Brendan Shanahan (1969-) – The second-overall pick in the 1987 NHL Entry Draft by New Jersey, this left wing played 21 seasons – most of which in Detroit. It’s easy to say he earned his Hall of Fame inauguration in 2013, as he was an eight-time All Star, three-time Stanley Cup winner and the owner of the 2003 Clancy Trophy.
  • Leo Komarov (1987-) – This center was drafted in the sixth round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft by Toronto, and that’s where he’s spent his entire career. Last season’s 19 goals and 36 points were career highs, and a goal tonight against Calgary would be his first birthday tally.

They needed overtime, but the Flyers emerged from Brooklyn with a 3-2 victory in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The lone goal of the first period belonged to Nick Leddy with 6:35 remaining in the frame. His unassisted wrister gave the Islanders a 1-0 lead.

Alan Quine (Shane Prince and Dennis Seidenberg) doubled that lead 4:47 into the second period with a backhander, but Second Star of the Game Wayne Simmonds (Brayden Schenn and Radko Gudas) pulled Philadelphia back within a tally with a wrister with 5:50 remaining in the period.

Once again, only one goal was struck in a period, but this one belonged to Ivan Provorov (Schenn and Simmonds) and the Flyers. Buried only 1:47 into the period, it proved to be the final goal of regulation to force three-on-three overtime.

Only 100 seconds remained in extra time when First Star Claude Giroux (Shayne Gostisbehere and Jakub Voracek) ended the game with his wrap-around winner.

Steve Mason takes credit for the win after saving 36-of-38 shots faced (94.7%), leaving Third Star Thomas Greiss, who saved 44-of-47 (93.6%), the overtime loss.

Philly‘s victory was the third-straight for a visiting team in the DtFR Game of the Day series, pulling the roadies within three points of the hosts’ 52-34-16 record.

March 2 – Day 139 – The best versus, Laich, literally the worst

The Minnesota Wild took command of the third period with three goals to beat the Colorado Avalanche 6-3, replacing them as the second wildcard in the process.

It was the road Avalanche who scored the first goal, only 33 seconds into the game on a power play slap shot from Jarome Iginla, who was assisted by Tyson Barrie (his 32nd helper of the season) and Mikkel Boedker.  10:04 later, the Wild leveled the score with a wrister from First Star of the Game Nino Niederreiter (his 13th tally of the season), assisted by Second Star Jason Pominville.  That goal opened the floodgates for Minnesota, as Pominville scored only 1:01 later with a wrister of his own, assisted by Niederreiter (his 19th helper of the season).  The Wild ended the period with a 3-1 lead, as Erik Haula scored with 2:12 remaining, assisted by Matt Dumba and Marco Scandella.

Colorado‘s best period was the second, as they accounted for both goals scored in the frame.  The first of those tallies was Chris Bigras’ first of the season at the 3:25 mark, assisted by Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon (his 28th helper of the season).  The Avs leveled the game at three-all at the 12:33 mark with a Cody McLead wrister, assisted by Jack Skille and John Mitchell.

Minnesota‘s game-winner found the back of the net 5:34 after resuming play from the second intermission, courtesy of Charlie Coyle, whose wrister was asssited by Third Star Zach Parise.  Coyle accounted for his own insurance goal, scored with 1:27 remaining in regulation on an empty net.  He was assisted by Ryan Suter (his 35th helper of the season) and Parise.  Niederreiter accounted for the final goal of the game, also an empty netter, with only 44 seconds remaining on the clock, assisted by Pominville (his 22nd helper of the season).

Devan Dubnyk earns the win after saving 30 of 33 (90.9%), while Calvin Pickard takes the loss, saving  15 of 16 (93.8%).  He replaced Semyon Varlamov after a three-goal first period, saving only nine of 12 (75%).

With Minnesota‘s win, the DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 62-34-13, favoring the home squads by 32 points over the roadies.

There’s only three games on the schedule, with the action getting started at 7 p.m. eastern in Washington when Toronto pays the Capitals a visit.  8 p.m. eastern brings with it the Chicago at Detroit (NBCSN) puck drop, which is trailed by two hours by Montréal at Anaheim.

ChicagoDetroit is the only game between teams currently qualifying for the playoffs, but the game that attracts my attention the most is actually Toronto at Washington, due to the return of longtime Capital Brooks Laich.

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Washington Capitals LogoToronto has been featured in the Game of the Day series three times before tonight, with their most recent being a 2-1 overtime loss to the Red Wings on home ice on November 6 to set their series record at 0-2-1.  As you’d expect from the best team in the league, Washington has been featured a dozen times before tonight’s game, and own a 9-3-0 record in such games.  Their most recent in the series was February 18, a 3-2 overtime victory in Brooklyn.

Laich joined the Washington Capitals in a mid-season trade during the 2003-’04 season from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for Peter Bondra, himself another longtime member of the Caps‘ organization.  He received his first consistent time with the senior squad in the 2005-’06 season, scoring 21 points in 73 games.  His breakout offensive season came two years later in 2007-’08, when he began his streak of 16+ goals and 16+ assists (31+ points) for five straight seasons.

Although not the squad’s captain, Laich served as the team representative during the 2012 lockout.  This was due to his long career with the organization (in fact, his tenure was the longest active in all of Washington‘s sports teams), which ended up lasting 12 seasons before being traded to the Leafs before the trade deadline due to cap issues.

Laich’s 21-30-10 Toronto Maple Leafs currently rank worst in the NHL, much less the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference, and should already be preparing Auston Matthews’ locker for next season.  If you could say the team is being led by anything, it would have to be their defense, which ranks eighth worst in the league, as the offense is third worst.

Although the Maple Leafs haven’t played well overall this season, they have done a relatively decent job of keeping shots off the goalkeepers, as only 1871 pucks have found their way to 7-16-3 Jonathan Bernier and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 91% for 182 goals against, eighth most in the league.  In the grand scheme of things, Toronto‘s penalty kill hasn’t been too bad this season, as their 80.3% kill rate, allowing 40 power play goals against, ranks 13th worst in the league.

The real problem for the Leafs has been their offense.  Led by Nazem Kadri’s 209 shots, the Leafs have fired the puck a solid 1908 times, but only 7.4% have found the back of the net for 147 goals (led by Leo Komarov’s 18 tallies), third fewest in the league.  The Maple Leafs‘ power play almost perfectly reflects that, as their 14.43% success rate, good for only 28 power play goals (led by P.A. Parenteau’s six extra-man tallies), is worst in the league.

Toronto is currently riding a two-game losing skid, with their most recent being a 2-1 loss to the Lightning on Monday.  At this point in the season, the Leafs should not be concerned about what wins do for them, as they should be more worried about bettering their odds for the Matthews sweepstakes.

The 46-12-4 Washington Capitals not only lead the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference, but they even lead the league by 13 points.  They’ve made it to that position by playing the best defense in the league, paired with the second best offense.

Led by Karl Alzner’s 153 blocks, the Caps have allowed only 1760 shots to reach 39-7-3 Braden Holtby and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 92.3% for only 142 goals against, the fewest in the NHL.  That success has only slightly left them on the penalty kill, where their 83.94% kill rate, allowing only 31 power play goals, ranks fifth best.

The offense, led by none other than Captain Alex Ovechkin, is only steps behind the defense.  Led by his 312 shots on goal, the Caps have fired the puck 1869 times, of which a whopping 10.6% have found the back of the net for 202 goals (led by Ovechkin’s 40 tallies), second most in the NHL.  Washington‘s power play is beyond deadly, successful on 23.71% of attempts for 46 extra man tallies (led by Ovechkin’s 16 power play goals), tops in the league.

Washington played the Penguins last night, winning 3-2 on home ice.  With a win tonight, the Caps improve their lead in the division and conference to 18 points, and have the potential to improve their lead for the Presidents’ Trophy to 15 points.

Washington currently leads the season series 2-0-0, but the Leafs did take them to a shootout in their first meeting in early November.  These squads more recently met on November 28 in Toronto, where the Caps earned a 4-2 victory.

Some players to keep an eye on include Toronto‘s Kadri (22 assists and 209 shots [both lead the team]), Komarov (35 points,18 of which are goals, 13 at even strength and one short-handed, and 255 hits [all lead the team]), Parenteau (six power play goals and three game-winners [both lead the team]) and Morgan Rielly (17 even strength assists [leads the team]) & Washington‘s Nicklas Backstrom (41 assists [eighth most in the league]), Holtby (40 wins [leads the league], 2.22 GAA [tied for eighth best in the league] and .923 save percentage [10th best in the league]), Evgeny Kuznetsov (+30 [leads the league], 45 assists [tied for third most in the league] and 65 points [fifth most in the league]) and Ovechkin (40 goals [most in the league], +23 [tied for fifth best in the league] and 58 points [10th most in the league]).

It doesn’t take much to determine that Washington should win this game easily.  The real question is the size of the goal differential.